We woke up to a bright and sunny morning here at Tukayama-sou guest house. The thin mattresses rolled out on tatami mats, and small pillows stuffed with plastic beans made for a not quite comfortable night – it’s a good indication of how far I have to go to be truly flexible in mind and body! But the warm and friendly spirit here, and the very good food served at dinner, more than compensates by giving us a culturally authentic experience.
This is not actually a backpackers’ place as we’d first thought when we arrived – when we came to the communally served dinner last night, we saw people of all ages – some in family groups, some couples, some singles – perhaps thirty in all – enjoying the warm conversation and delicious food. And some of the rooms here are small, made for just one person or a couple, and some are like multi-room suites, made for groups of friends or families, who have come out here to the sugar cane fields to enjoy the nearby beaches on this tropical island. After breakfast, we had a chat with a geography teacher, who with his colleague, was on a working trip to Miyakojima, and had decided to stay at the Tukayama sou rather than at one of the island’s many tourist hotels.
Today we plan to combine beach time with a tour of the island, as we arrived on Miyakojima yesterday with just enough time to go to nearby Yonaha Maehama Beach for a swim, and then get ready for the 6:00pm dinner hour at the guesthouse. After an early breakfast of a wide variety of assorted greens and root vegetables, along with rice and tea, we went for a drive around the island.
In much of rural Japan, shops are closed for one or two days a week, but there are no specific days when most places are closed – it’s up to the shop owner when he closes. Here in Miyakojima, Sunday is definitely a day when most places are closed, as we quickly saw on our drive. Fortunately, the ubiquitous roadside soft drink machines offering delicious unsugared iced tea (the machines also sell dozens of sugared versions of iced or hot coffee, water, and sodas) never close, so we were able to pick up plenty of liquid refreshments along the way.
We drove in an easterly direction along the southern coastal road, and stopped at a few of the beautiful beaches, mostly empty of people, to have a look and take a few photographs. We curved around the far eastern cape and started north, and then back west, through the agricultural landscape of sugar cane fields, a few pastures for animals, and some vegetable gardens, with not many houses along the way. As we made our way back towards our starting point, we talked about how the cultures on many islands around the world have many similarities – for example, the islands of northern Denmark that we toured by bicycle several years ago are also devoted to agriculture once you move away from the shoreline, where there are fishing fleets and a few restaurants and guesthouses, just as there are here.
Before we headed for the beach that we had gone to yesterday, Yonaha Maehama Beach, on the southwestern coast, we tried to find the small road that leads to the end of the cape beyond this beautiful beach. After a couple of misses, we hit upon the small unmarked road that took us to a small parking area just a short walk from the cape. To our amazement, at the end of this path was a gorgeous, totally empty beach! We couldn’t believe that a beach this beautiful, with calm, warm water, wasn’t packed with tourists and locals…but we didn’t spend too much time questioning…
In a flash, we were frolicking in the water together, feeling so fortunate to have happened upon this spot, and to be enjoying the sun and the beach together, as if we were the only people on the island. After an hour or so, we ran out of bottled drinks, and we’d had quite a bit of sun, so we started driving back towards Tukayama sou, on the road that took us right by Yonaha Maehama Beach. Unlike yesterday, when this beach had just a few people on it, today it was packed, with cars parked not only in the parking area, but also halfway down the entrance road. We had to go and check it out…
It was like a California beach party movie! I half expected it to be the Beach Boys performing on the upper deck of the cafe at the entrance to the beach…but instead it was a local band that played everything from Bluegrass to Sixties hits with the same high degree of enthusiasm. All along the water’s edge were jet skis and other toys for rent that were constantly in use. The young women who were there were either in tiny bikinis, or were fully covered from head to toe, to protect their pale white complexions from too much sun – there is still a belief among some Japanese that dark colored skin implies that you do manual labor in the fields for a living, and that higher class people who work in offices (and who make more money) have very white skin.
In another sign of changing times, there were lots of tattoos in evidence, on both young men and young women, something that would have been unheard of not long ago, when tattoos implied a seedy or criminal character. In fact, on the website of one of Miyakojima’s old-style luxury hotels there is still this warning prominently posted: “Guests with a tattoo may not be permitted to use the hotel’s pools or other facilities where the tattoo might be visible to other guests.”. Amazing, isn’t it?…such a clear statement of generational differences, as the young, with global tastes and beliefs, gradually replace the old…Pretty soon that luxury hotel may be owned by someone sporting a tattoo!!!
We had a great time swimming at the beach, and observing beach culture, but finally we needed to get back to Tukayama sou, so we could shower and get ready for dinner. Chef Chiyo san does not like her guests to be late!