Posts Tagged ‘Taketomi’

I posted some time ago about the Hoshinoya Resort on Taketomi Island, and the locals’ fear that “resort(s) could consume the entire island, like a wave crashing upon it.” The resort has since been completed and opened; I haven’t heard much about the impact, but I remain not optimistic.

Then, a year ago, I was excited to see the Yaeyamas featured in American Airlines’ magazine (of all the places in the world they could have chosen), but the way the magazine is just a total tool of the tourism industry is so disgustingly obvious

I sent them an email, criticizing their recommendation of the Hoshinoya Resort, which promises to overwhelm, irrevocably alter, and damage in various ways the small island of Taketomi, known as one of the greatest “traditional culture” destinations in the country, and the private B&B business of the small local community. To my surprise, the editor emailed me back almost immediately, promising to “balance” the story next time, by also including the B&Bs. I retorted that advertising the resort and the B&Bs is not “balance” and that the proper thing to do would be to advertise the island’s traditional culture appeal & B&Bs, and to denounce the resort for the threat it poses to all of that.

I’m not sure what else to say right now… I’m hoping to visit Okinawa again next September, and to hopefully squeeze in a visit to Taketomi as well. With any luck, the island’s local and traditional character won’t be too irrevocably ruined yet.

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I spoke in my last post about an Okinawa Board of Tourism promotional session I attended last week. Sure, it was cheesy and promotional, but I got free stuff out of the deal :) Okay, maybe just a cheapo bingata handkerchief. But the performances by Ukwanshin Kabudan were pretty awesome. I’m really going to miss the frequent and easily accessible Okinawan music & dance performances (and classes/practice in such) when I leave Hawaii…

Anyway, as I said in my last post, I made off with some nice pamphlets advertising not just the resort hotels, and not just sites on Okinawa Island, but providing some nice information about the Sakishima Islands – that is, the Miyakos and Yaeyamas, which I’ve long wanted to visit, but didn’t really know exactly what to go there to look to see.

So, for the benefit of readers who don’t know much about Okinawa Prefecture and what it has to offer, a quick rundown of some of the things I’d like to see if/when I get to visit the Ryukyus.

Okinawa is the largest of the northernmost grouping of islands in the prefecture, located roughly halfway between Kyushu and Taiwan; it is the political center of the prefecture, and the historical political center of the Ryukyu Kingdom.

Traditional culture varies greatly from island to island. The dances, pottery, textiles, music, theatre etc. differ considerably, from Okinawa to the Miyakos to the Yaeyamas, and in fact the indigenous native languages differ so much that a native speaker of Okinawan and a native speaker of Miyako would not understand one another; but, if you’re reading this post as a potential tourist, have no fear – just about everyone speaks standard Japanese as well, and on Okinawa Island at least, you should be okay to get by in English. That said, the traditional culture (dances, music, crafts, etc.) are similar enough that they definitely constitute a single related family of culture, differing less, I’m sure, than, for example, the many cultures across China. Anyway, for me, it is this traditional culture – and the contemporary culture grounded in it & that still draws extensively upon it – which is the main appeal for me. Whether on Okinawa Island itself, or elsewhere in the archipelago, I eagerly look forward to the music, dances, pottery, textiles, and traditional architecture. Most, if not all, of the islands teem with traditional culture, so I won’t be reiterating that as I describe each island. It would be awfully repetitive and redundant & boring if I wrote for each and every island “oh, and the traditional crafts, music, etc.” So, take that as assumed.

In this post, I will focus on the lesser-known Sakishima Islands. In a later post, I’ll talk about the things to see and do on Okinawa Island proper.

*The Miyako Islands
… Okay. Now that I look into it, I’m not sure there’s anything in particular that stands out for me in the Miyakos. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s fantastic. If I ever find myself in the Miyakos for some reason, I’m sure I’ll enjoy immensely the beaches and natural beauty, the sugarcane fields, the goats, the astronomical observatory, the bonito for which some of the smaller outlying islands are apparently famous (mmm, bonito), and the traditional arts and crafts. The golf is not for me. But, in any case, let’s turn to the Yaeyamas.

*The Yaeyama Islands
The Yaeyamas consist of Iriomote, Ishigaki, Taketomi, Yonaguni, Hateruma, and a few other smaller outlying islands. These include three islands repeatedly declared the top designations in all of Japan for traditional culture (Taketomi), natural beauty (Iriomote), and resort experience (Ishigaki).

Taketomi is a small island about 9.2 km around, accessible via ferry from Ishigaki in only about 10 minutes (though it occurs to me just now that it may not be the easiest or quickest thing to get to the ferry departure point on Ishigaki… I dunno). Taketomi is known especially for its traditional culture. There may not be very many TV shows or movies filmed in Okinawa, but a great many of those are filmed in Taketomi, for its distinctive white sand roads, lined with limestone walls, and traditional-style homes with red clay tile roofs.

Staying on Taketomi means staying in one of these traditional Ryukyuan-style homes, minshuku/B&B-style, an option that has great appeal for me.

A year or so ago, there was a whole thing where resort developers were trying to build a resort on the island (what else is new?). Sadly, it looks like they’ve succeeded. I sincerely hope this doesn’t have too much of a negative impact on the island, though I fear that it will…

Some of the local Obaasan and Ojiisan (elderly men & women) lead walking tours of the island, and there are also cycling tours and the opportunity to ride in suigyûsha – carts pulled by water buffalo. Yes. Water buffalo. So cool.

Taketomi is also the site of the Tanadui Festival, a particularly famous example of Ryukyuan festivals featuring traditional music and dance. I’m sure that the other islands each have their own festivals as well, but, having learned about Tanadui Festival from visiting professor Chao Chi-feng, I’m pretty excited to see for myself the dances she spoke about.

Finally, while each island has its own textile traditions, Taketomi’s minsa sashes seem particularly iconic and recognizable. Made in white and indigo-dyed deep blue threads, the sashes feature a geometric pattern of squares that’s very simple, but somehow very appealing, perhaps primarily because of its recognizability as a Ryukyuan design. I imagine that these handwoven sashes could be pretty expensive, but surely they must be quite a bit cheaper than a whole garment – if/when I visit Taketomi, I would love to buy a minsa; though I might not ever end up being able to afford the nicest kimono, at least I can wear something very authentic and handmade – and with a Ryukyuan flair – in my sash.

Iriomote Island, as I said, is known especially for its natural beauty. All of the Ryukyu Islands (and, indeed, much of those parts of Japan that aren’t covered in concrete) are gorgeous, but Iriomote is apparently especially known for it. The activities that these pamphlets promote mainly center on hiking, kayaking, and the like. Iriomote is also known for its star sand beaches, where through some accident of nature, the sand is made up of tiny star shapes; it’s supposed to be beautiful.

Also, though it’s extremely rare to get to see one, I’d love it if I were lucky to get to see an Iriomote wildcat (aka Iriomote yamaneko, yamamayaa), an extremely rare and endangered type of wildcat that is among the closest, in evolutionary terms, to the evolutionary ancestor of all felines.

Kohama Island is one of the smaller islands, known particularly as the home of Kohagura Eri, fictional protagonist of the popular TV drama “Churasan.” The pamphlet highlights the island’s traditional textiles.

Yonaguni is the westernmost island in all of Japan, and it’s said that on a clear enough day, you can see Taiwan. Yonaguni is one of a few islands known for its horses. Yeah, you wouldn’t think that anywhere in the Ryukyus would be famous for its horses. After all, horses come originally from Central Asia, so what would the Ryukyuans be doing breeding horses and sending them as tribute gifts to China? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Well, I’ve never tried horseriding, though I’d love to try, and these Yonaguni horses look mighty cute. The pamphlet says they have a particularly friendly and quiet nature, making them easy for anyone to ride.

Finally, there’s Hateruma Island, the southernmost island in Japan. Maybe nothing too much to see here that you can’t get somewhere else, except for Awanami shaved ice, made from awamori (distilled rice wine, essentially Okinawa’s equivalent to vodka), which sounds pretty neat. But, I’m not exactly planning out a vacation here so much as imagining that one of these days I will hopefully find myself living in Okinawa a little more semi-permanently, and able to poke around the islands much more affordably and easily. If I decide to spend a spring break touring some of the Yaeyamas, and make a little day trip out of checking out Hateruma and getting my picture taken at the southernmost point, I think that seems not unreasonable, as compared to the idea of fitting Hateruma into some crazy whirlwind tour of all the islands as squeezed into a two-week vacation as planned from the US mainland, or something.

That’s it for now! Thanks for reading! In my next post, I’ll highlight sights on Okinawa Island and its more closely neighboring islands. Until then, あんしぇーや!

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A most exciting and intriguing place was brought to my attention today, along with a most sad and distressing threat facing it.

I had heard of Taketomi Island before, and perhaps had some idea somewhere in the back of my mind that it’s a good place to go to see more traditional Ryukyuan architecture and village layout and such; to experience a more traditional side of Ryukyu. I had not realized Taketomi was so small – less than 6 km2 and home to less than 400 people. As the rest of the islands in the Ryukyu archipelago slowly come to be more and more dominated by resorts, and by urbanization, the people of Taketomi have for nearly 25 years dedicated themselves to resisting such predations and maintaining their village as a tourist destination for those interested in experiencing something more closely approximating genuine traditional Ryukyuan culture. All the buildings on the island follow a traditional architectural scheme, surrounded by white limestone walls and constructed of wood, with red clay tile roofs, ornamented with shisa. The roads are covered with white sand, and all in all the people are devoted to maintaining the village’s Yaeyaman (Ryukyuan) character. There are no hotels on the island; visitors stay in one of 14 minshuku (something like a bed & breakfast), where they’ll have a more personal experience directly interacting with their hosts and other villagers and staying in a traditional room in a real family’s home. Now, the fact that 70% of the income of the people of Taketomi comes from tourism rings alarm bells in my mind that the island may have become something of a theme park of some plastic false version of “traditional Okinawan culture,” but I am nevertheless given the impression that this has not occurred; that somehow the people of the island have managed to maintain the character of their community and not allow it to be twisted by the demands of playing host to tourists. On a recent ranking of the best vacation destinations in Japan, Taketomi scored 2nd, and was praised as the best place to go for traditional culture (neighboring islands Iriomote and Ishigaki came in 1st and 3rd, for ecotourism and resorts, respectively – not just in Okinawa, but for the whole country). It seems a wonderful place to visit.

See more photos of the beautiful village of Taketomi from a general search on Flickr for keyword “Taketomi”.

Sadly, however, that is all threatened by a resort which is scheduled to open later this year, or next year. The resort, owned and operated by the Hoshino Resort Company, will contain roughly the same number of houses (resort luxury bungalows, whatever) as the actual village, all constructed according to traditional architectural modes, as per the village charter. But the operation as a whole, by its very existence, goes totally against the spirit of the charter, and against the 1987 designation of Taketomi as a National Historical/Cultural Preservation District.

Though the Hoshino Corporation claims that every effort will be made to protect the island’s delicate ecological and cultural character, from the talk I heard today, it seems certain that such a thing is not actually going to happen. The demands created by the resort for workers, electricity, fresh water, produce, and other goods will put a serious strain on the tiny community of Taketomi residents, and the garbage and other outputs from the resort – not to mention the sheer amount of foot traffic the resort is likely to bring in – will likewise put a strain on the community and present a danger to the local environment. Furthermore, though the resort claims it won’t compete with the island’s minshuku, as the resort’s rooms, at roughly 50,000 yen (US$500) per night are an unbelievable 10x the price of the quite reasonable minshuku (roughly 5000 yen = US$50 per night), it seems to me that surely there will be some kind of impact upon the health of the minshuku business. Already, this presenter said, many regular visitors have said they won’t come back if the resort is built, and will look further afield for an untainted traditional cultural experience. (Though I can’t imagine where they’ll find it. I was sort of given the impression that Taketomi is the last bastion…)

I don’t know what can be done about this, but I have sent an email to the Hoshino company (though my Japanese is probably not so great…) and am also expecting to hear back soon from my colleague who presented this talk. Hopefully there is a petition to sign, or a form letter that can be sent, and hopefully the Hoshino Corporation will be willing to hear people’s voices and alter their plans.

An article in the Ryukyu Shimpo from two years ago indicates that the people of Taketomi are watching carefully and warily, as they fear that “resort(s) could consume the entire island, like a wave crashing upon it,” but doesn’t seem to indicate any more solidly what is being done by the town council, the villagers themselves, or by anyone else to resist and oppose this development.

There’s a reason that so many TV programs feature as the villains developers seeking to build hotels, resorts and theme parks in Okinawa. … It’s really happening, and it’s very scary, disappointing, distressing, and scary.

If you read & write Japanese, you can fill out a questionnaire or send a message at http://taketomijima.org/, and read more about the Association for the Preservation of Taketomi’s Charter.


Thanks to Flick users Ippei-Janine and Ajari for their Taketomi photos!

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