Okinoerabu which is called the "Island of Flowers and Limestone Caves" is a beautiful and peaceful island. Over 300 limestone caves can be found here. Visitors to these ancient caves discover the natural beauty and mysteries which have spawned many of the legends and stories surrounding these natural treasures.
Geographically, Okinoerabu (沖永良部) might as well be a part of Okinawa rather than Kagoshima. It's near enough that I can see it almost every day and the only place closer is the neighboring Kagoshima island of Yoron. So, why would you want to make the journey all the way down here? Okinoerabu-jima is only about 56km around and home to about 16000 people in the two towns of China (知名) and Wadomari (和泊), but has a great many points of interest. First and foremost would be the sea. It's our front yard and back yard. Erabu is a coral island; opportunities for snorkeling and diving are abundant. Both inside and outside the reef, you can float by and watch: fish of all shapes and resilient colors, turtles, sea snakes, sea cucumbers, starfish, the occasional octopus, and if your lucky stingrays and reef sharks (I have not been one of those lucky ones). If swimming is not your thing, you can still enjoy the coral. At low tide, you can walk out onto the reef and check out what's hiding in the tidal pools. Also, as you'll notice coming into the island, fossilized remnants of the reef thrust right up onto the land along most of the coastline. The cliffs that have formed make for an excellent hike along the ocean and give you the chance to discover numerous hidden, little beaches that are rarely tread upon. Down past the airport, there is a great spot called the Fucha (フーチャ). The Fucha is a spray cave formed by years of erosion from the waves against the cliffs. While it's said that the spray has been known to reach up to heights of 70m, you usually have to suffice with watching the waves crash down below, inside the cave. Unless there is a switch nearby that I can't find. It's still a fantastic sight and has some of the most beautifully colored water anywhere around the island.
We're definitely not short on beaches down here by any means. The most popular ones would have to Okidomari (沖泊)Sea Park (on the China end of the island) and Kasaishi (かさいし) Sea Park (down in Wadomari). Both of these have the necessary facilities (including camping areas), but also attract the most visitors. If you're looking for a little less frequented areas you can find your way around to Wanjo (ワンジョ) beach or to Sumiyoshi (住吉) beach where the coral is at it's best. If you want a little preview, there is a live underwater camera at Sumiyoshi beach, as it's a popular hangout for the turtle population. Check out this link:
Although it's a sub-tropical island, there is actually a lot more to it than beaches and sea (but who needs more than that, right?). No visit to Okinoerabu is complete without a visit to the limestone caves. The island has an extensive cave system. A 1.2 km section of it is open to the public, for only \1000. Inside, you are treated to the breathtaking stalactite and stalagmite formations, with loads of information along the way (but only in Japanese I'm afraid). Another one of Erabu's natural wonders resides at Kunigami (国頭) Elementary School, in Wadomari. It's the largest banyan tree in all of Japan. It's so wide that it blocks out most of the school and bars have been installed to support the ever expanding branches, so as to maintain it's notoriety. It's well worth a picture or two, and of course one of the shadier places in during the hot season (which is most of the year).
On the more historical side of things, an important stop is the grave of Yononushi Ganashi (世之主がなし). Once upon a time, each of these little islands had their own kingdom. Yononushi Ganashi was the very first king of Okinoerabu. His grave, albeit a rather humble one, is near to Koshiyama Park (越山公園) in Wadomari. A less humble site, is at the Ujiji (ウジジ) shore, in China. The first thing you may notice are amazing rock formations, that look like plumes spouting from the ground, but aside from those is a remarkable scale model of the Canadian ship The Lizzie C. Troop. In September of 1890, it was here that this ship, from my home province of New Brusnwick, went down in a typhoon. Ten members of the crew drowned in the storm, and two of the twelve rescued - including the captain - died soon after. The people of China looked after the remaining survivors, until they were rescued 17 days later. The people of China never forgot this tragic even and commissioned this monument to mark the 110th anniversary.
The people here are some of the nicest you could meet. While you should have no problem communicating with the younger population, you may run into a couple of hitches meeting the older generation. Like all places in Japan, Okinoerabu has its own local dialect and the seniors often prefer to speak it. And, it sounds nothing like Japanese. So, to help you along with a little bit of an icebreaker, here's a little rundown what you need to know. I guarantee this'll get you a round of our locally made shochu (which is heaps better than what's offered on the mainland).
ミヘデロ -- ありがとう (Thank You)
アヤブラン -- どういたしまして (You're Welcome)
ウガミヤーブラ -- こんにちは (Hello!) or はじめまして (Nice to meet you!)
And of utmost importanceﾉ
ワヌはユータン -- わたしはよっぱらいです。 (I'm drunk!)
Unfortunately, this is my little good-bye to Okinoerabu.
I came here two years ago and have loved every minute of it. During my time here I was able to throw myself into the culture and lifestyle. It's a place that is incredibly 住みやすい (easy to live), and I'll miss it terribly. However, I'm only going as far as Kagoshima City for the next year, and will be more than happy to fill you in on anything else you might want to know, if you can track me down. Maybe I'll even tag along and we can "let's enjoying Okinoerabu together."
ガラヤ (また ね) !
- 2004. July -
ALT stands for Assistant Language Teacher.
They work in local government organinzations throughout Japan.