Freediving at the Kerama Islands: Aka Island and Zamami Island Edition (Part 2)

Furuzamami Beach on Zamami Island. The overcast weather was actually ideal!

After a successful day of freediving and seeing turtles in Aka Island, I decided to spend the next day on Zamami Island, which is also famous for its coral reefs and is just a short ferry ride away! Zamami is bigger than Aka Island but has a very similar feeling to it. There is a whale monument near the port and also the Marilyn dog statue on the way to Ama Beach which I really wanted to see. Though I thought about spending the night here, I found the resorts on Aka Island to be more charming so I stayed there. However, unlike Aka, Zamami is more famous for whale watching and even has a an entire music festival devoted to it! So if you’re into whales, then this is definitely your kind of island. I decided to skip the whale watching and focus on freediving, but I may come back here in the future for the whale music festival because that just screams awesome!

Getting to Zamami Island

From Aka Island Port to Zamami Island Port, tickets are only 300 yen and the ride only takes 15 minutes which is why you should see more than one Kerama Island—they are very close together and easy to reach! Please see the monthly ferry time table to plan your trip. You can buy tickets on the day of your trip because there is usually always space on the ferries.

I decided to only do a day trip to Zamami Island and take the last ferry back to Naha at 5:45pm because I was able to see everything I wanted to in one day. However, there are a number of great accommodations available on Zamami for those who are interested! At the Zamami Island Visitor Center across from the port, there is a great coffee shop and also a cute Kumamon painted buoy. I love how Kumamon (the Kumamoto mascot) is literally all over Japan!

Renting a Bike

My favorite part of the Kerama Islands is that none of the rental bikes have locks or keys. Either everyone here trusts one another a lot, or likely it would be impossible to smuggle these rental bikes back on a ferry because they are too distinctive and everyone on the island knows one another so any thief would definitely be ratted out. Anyway, like Aka Island everything I wanted to see on Zamami Island was accessible by bike so I rented one at a 24 hour self-service bicycle shop called Rental Miyamura. This concept would not fly in almost any other part of the world, but it fits here perfectly here in the wholesome Kerama Islands.

Address: 156 Zamami, Shimajiri District, Okinawa 901-3402
Price: Depends on how many hours, but cheap.

Freediving on Zamami Island

Zamami Island has two main beaches for swimming and freediving that you can easily reach by bike: Ama Beach and Furuzamami Beach. Ama Beach is more designed for sunbathing than it is for swimming, but I did get some good practice in there. Like the smaller beaches on Aka Island, it still was filled with gorgeous coral reefs that were worth checking out. I asked a tanned man that looked like a local there where the best place to dive was, and he said it was Furuzamami Beach so I rode there after about 40 minutes of swimming at Ama.

I really liked the vibe of Furuzamami Beach more because it had a fantastic beachfront and a shack with food vendors and rental gear in it. I stayed here for about and hour and a half diving and seeing all kinds of tropical fish, then ended my day by eating Blue Seal sweet potato ice cream. Another day well spent! One mistake I made this day was not renting a wetsuit though. I wanted to practice freediving without one, but it was an amateur mistake. My back was badly sunburned (and still is) but fortunately it is getting better with the help of Aloe Vera gel. When I go to Hawaii, I will sure to wear a wetsuit at all times. I am glad I learned this now so I have time to recover!

Here is a video of the the coral reef at Furuzamami that I took with my GoPro:

Because I had a hearty breakfast, I didn’t eat much on this island but if you’re hungry I recommend stopping at sabaidee cafe near the port because they have delicious sandwiches and smoothies. I had one smoothie which I didn’t take a picture of, but I very much enjoyed it!

At around 5pm, I returned my bicycle to the rental place and waited at the port for the ferry to pull up at 5:45pm. I had a smooth ride back to Naha where I checked into my hotel and decided to call it a night. I was satisfied with everything I had seen on both Aka and Zamami Island and was ready for my final day in Naha before heading back to Tokyo. I will never forget the beautiful turtles and aquatic life I saw on the Kerama Islands.

The next article will be the final one in my 2022 Okinawa series where I talk about exploring Umikaji Terrace and my resort at Strata Naha. Please look forward to it!

Freediving at the Kerama Islands: Aka Island and Zamami Island Edition (Part 1)

Free diving with a turtle at Hizushi Beach on Aka Island.

After an amazing two days of dining and chasing sunsets in Naha and Okinawa City, I decided to take a ferry to the Kerama Islands and spend my next two days there focusing on freediving. The Kerama Islands consists of a cluster of 20 big and small islands, but the main 3 that people travel to are Aka Island, Zamami Island, and Tokashiki Island. I chose to go to Aka Island and Zamami Island because they have 2 dog statues that have quite a famous love story together; Shiro and Marilyn. Shiro (found on Aka Island) and Marilyn (found on Zamami Island) are known as “the Hachiko of the sea” and inspired the Japanese movie I want to see Marilyn. Hiking to the statues is a fun experience as outside of Shibuya’s famous Hachiko statue, I have not seen many other statues that are similar in Japan. Funny how these two dogs ended up in Okinawa!

On top of that, the coral reefs on Aka Island are said to be the most beautiful of Kerama so that’s where I decided to start. I was not disappointed because I got the chance to swim with turtle on my very first day there! I also enjoyed getting acquainted with the culture of the Kerama Islands because they are very small and the people that live there friendly and wholesome. Since I came here right before Golden Week, the islands were peaceful and quiet too. I will never forget the two days I spent here!

Getting to the Kerama Islands

From Naha’s Tomari Port, I took a high speed ferry that reached Aka Island in about one hour. Please see the monthly ferry time table to plan your trip and see the ticket cost. Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the day of your trip but they may sell out.

Tomari Port Address: 3 Chome-25-1 Maejima, Naha, Okinawa 900-0016

From Aka Island’s Port, I was able to walk to my hotel in under 5 mins and rent a bike to get around the island. All of the best beaches on Aka Island and Zamami Island are accessible by bike so there is no need to rent a car. You can even walk or run to some of the main sightseeing spots too.

Please note that the Kerama Islands are mostly for swimming and aquatic sports. There are not many restaurants or bars on the island, so you will probably want to eat at your accommodation (most hotels include meals). If you are interested in beaches with more of a nightlife, the main island of Okinawa is better to stay at (you can still day trip to one of the main Kerama Islands and have enough time for sightseeing). However, if you wish to see multiple Kerama Islands then it is best to stay there. I think Aka Island has the best selection of hotels so that is where I decided to stay. Please keep reading for more details.

Freediving on Aka Island

I arrived to Aka Island around 10am, checked into my accommodation (see details further below), rented a wetsuit and bike from my hotel for 2000 yen total, then decided to explore the 3 best beaches for swimming and diving which are: Aka Beach, Nishibama Beach, and Hizushi Beach. These beaches are within 10 – 15 mins of biking from each other and you can visit all of them in the day if you start around 1pm. Aka Beach is where I started since it was near my hotel, but the swimming area is roped off so you can only see a small portion of the coral reefs. I stayed here for about an 40 minutes and was able to see some tropical fish, but after that I decided to pack up my gear and bike to Hizushi Beach where I had the best luck because it is not roped off. After about 10 minutes of swimming, I found not only multiple schools of colorful fish, but also a sea turtle!

Here is a video I took on my GoPro of me swimming above the turtle:

This experience was absolutely magical given that the waters were so crystal clear and I felt comfortable swimming at this depth. The beaches of the Kerama Islands are so beautiful and pristine that they are often referred to as the “Kerama Blue” because they are some of the clearest in the world visited by many tourists who love the ocean. As I was diving, I felt like my vision was enhanced because I was able to see so many different shades I would never be able to see anywhere else other than underwater. Diving is an experience that will definitely change your perspective, so I recommend trying it or snorkeling at least to get a feel for it so you can experience the “Kerama Blue” as well.

Swimming and diving at the Kerama Beaches is typically safe, but do be careful of black and white branded sea snakes because they are extremely venomous. I saw 4 of them during my 2 days here, but they mostly stick to the bottom of the reef and only one came near me. Fortunately I was wearing a wetsuit and was able to swim away. I am guessing that the snake was coming up for air and was pulled by the current towards me, but you never know—it’s better to be safe than sorry! Despite this, I did not feel scared and continue to dive after waiting 15 minutes. Fortunately there were no more close encounters with snakes. Unlike land snakes, sea snakes slither much more slowly through the water so they are easier to avoid from my personal experience.

After about and hour and a half of swimming and diving at Hizushi Beach, I rode my bike to Nishibama Beach. This is more of an aesthetic beach for photography and sunbathing and has several cafes as well, but the coral reefs here are beautiful. I did not see any turtles here, but I did see a lot of unique fish and enjoyed the atmosphere. I spent about an hour here, but not all of it was spent diving. I spent time doing photography on the shore and also found a shell here that I took home as a souvenir so I could remember this day forever. This day felt completely and I was extremely satisfied with everything I saw here.

Please note that the peak turtle season is May – August but you can see them year round.

Staying at Hanamuro Inn

Out of all of the accommodations that I looked at on Aka Island, Hanamuro Inn was without a doubt the most fun and unique one to stay at! With its cheap rental gear (including snorkeling gear and bikes) it had a great system that was more of a deal than other rental shops on the island. It also had rooms with both and air conditioner and a fan, “hot tubs”, and delicious meals, so I think it was well worth the experience. The “hot tubs” were little bath tubs that you could wade and sun bathe in at any time of the day. They were ideal for relaxing in before and after the beach. The dinner I was served was a Japanese/American styled bento box with curry and french fries—the perfect combo. I loved how accommodating the staff was throughout my entire visit.

Please note that there are two Hanamuro Hotels on the island. There is a fancier one with a pool for those who are interested! Please see their website for more information as prices can change with the season. I paid around 12,000 yen for one night but it was worth it for the experience I had.

Hanamuro Inn is very close Maehama Beach where you can see wild deer roaming around the island! Unlike the deer in Nara, these deer are a little more timid but mostly seem to be calm around humans. Instead of senbei, they eat green grass on the island and it is advised that you do not feed them. The statue of Shiro the dog is very easy to find because it is directly north Aka Island’s Port. I think Shiro was the very first picture I took on this island, and I will hold it as a fond memory. At night you can see the stars shine brightly in the sky so I highly recommend staying overnight here if you can.

Other Dining Options

Since my hotel only served dinner and breakfast, I decided to have lunch at Hahna Cafe, which was just a short walk away from my hotel. They had delicious seafood pasta served with bread which I found to taste amazing because island food does not disappoint. They also have Okinawan soba and frozen cocktails and smoothies here. For dessert, I found a tiny cafe around the corner called guu guu that served some rice dishes, cakes, and desserts. I ordered no sugar coconut ice cream with azuki beans as the topping, and as expected it really hit the spot! I think since there are not very many restaurants on Aka Island, each one has a special charm.

Running to Geruma Island

Aka Island has a bridge that connects to Geruma Island where the Kerama Airport and elementary school is so I decided to explore this small and rural island before going to Zamami. Flying to Kerama Airport is typically more expensive, but perhaps is you wanted to come to the Kerama Islands directly without taking a ferry from Naha it would be to your advantage. Geruma was about 3.5 km from my hotel so I decided to run here. Walking here would take around 35-40 mins but if you run you can easily get here in 20 mins. Geruma has the lowest population of there Kerama Islands so there is not a lot to see here besides the main road that connects to the bridge, more coral reefs, and residential housing. The scenery did make it an interesting run though. My only complaint was that there seemed to be now vending machines to buy water at around, so be sure to stay hydrated if you come here! The beaches on this side appeared to have some washed up plastic on the shores so I would recommend not swimming here. Geruma is just something to check out if you are very curious like myself!

Thank you for reading my first article on the Kerama Islands! In my next article, I will talk about my experience exploring the next island I went to; which is Zamami. Look forward to reading more about my tropical adventures later this week!

Exploring Ogawa Falls and Kanoya City in Kagoshima

Ogawa Falls in Kanoya, Kagoshima.

While looking for destinations I wanted to travel to in Kagoshima after Amami Island, the two that stood out to me the most were Ogawa Falls and Sakurajima. Ogawa Falls are located remotely in a forest in the city of Kanoya, directly southeast of Sakurajima. Getting to Kanoya is a challenge because there are no trains that run through the city—you have to either take a bus from Kagoshima Airport or rent a car to get here. I opted to take the bus which was around 1.5 hours and 2100 yen. Though the city of Kanoya is quite rural, it is considered a nice town to stay in and has a number of delicious restaurants, shrines, and beautiful nature spots. I enjoyed my time here because it was very quiet and relaxing.

Here are my top recommendations that you can do over the span of two days!

Jintoku Inari Shrine

My first stop was Jintoku Inari Shrine, which I ran to from my hostel in the morning. This is a small shrine but has over 100 red gates and many fox deity statues. I also enjoyed seeing the fox-shaped ema with people’s wishes written on them too! When I arrived here at 9am (which is the opening time), I was the only person here which was quite relaxing. I really enjoyed the privacy of this shrine and felt at peace here.

Address: 1771-4 Shineicho, Kanoya, Kagoshima 893-0063
Admission: Free

Ogawa Falls

Ogawa Falls is a remote waterfall located south of Kanoya City with beautiful shades of water and rock formations. It takes about 45 mins to reach by car. I had my hostel call a taxi here and back because there is no other way to reach it by public transport. It’s really a shame that there’s not a local bus from Kanoya City that goes here, but I suppose there are not enough travelers that come to the city to justify the cause. The taxi here cost around 8000 yen one way which is quite expensive, but trust me the views were extremely worth the price! The hike to the falls is roughly 20 mins on pretty even terrain and there is a viewing deck with 2 floors you can stand on to see them. This place really didn’t feel like Japan because it looked more like a destination from Thailand or the Philippines. However, this truly shows how beautiful places in Kagoshima can be and I really encourage more people to make the journey here!

Additionally, there is a lovely cafe called aqua base by the parking lot where you can try fresh juice and sweet potato flavored monkey-shaped pastries. It truly was a dream come true for an aesthetic food lover so I bought their earrings of the pastry too! I will never forget my time here because it was truly unique and once again, I was the only person here which made it special!

Address: 5876-2 Tashirokawahara, 錦江町 Kimotsuki District, Kagoshima 893-2402
Admission: Free

Take Bakery and Cafe

While looking for pescatarian-friendly places in the area, Take Bakery and Cafe was one of the very first that popped up so I figured I would check it out. For breakfast before I went to Ogawa Falls, I decided to try their salmon and cream cheese bagel with a soy latte. It gave me just the energy I needed to hike through the falls and was delicious so I would highly recommend it. Since I was curious about their salads, I came back here for lunch after my trek since their bread and cheese was so amazing. I also started day drinking while I waited for my bus back to the airport and I can’t recommend their local wine enough! They recognized me from this morning and generously thanked me for coming twice. I would have gladly come for dinner too had I stayed another night here!

Address: 5-5 Kitadacho, Kanoya, Kagoshima 893-0007

Accommodation

Since my stay here was very short and I spent a good chunk of money on my resort in Amami, I opted to stay in Hotel & Hostel Haru. Rooms are around 2000 yen per night and I was the only person staying in my dormitory so it was a comfortable stay. Not only were the rooms extremely clean, the staff was very friendly and gave me free sake and helped me call my taxi to Ogawa Falls too. I was lucky to have found such a nice place in a remote city! In my opinion 2 days is all you need to see the highlights of Kanoya.

Another fun point of interest close to this hostel is Wadaiseki Park which has a statue of a kappa. I enjoyed being friends with him during my time here and we really vibed. Look forward to reading about Sakurajima in my next article!

Sailing through the Skies of Amami Island – First Paragliding Experience

Seeing northern Yo Beach from a new perspective via paragliding!

On my second day on Amami Island, I decided to knock out paragliding on my bucket list because it’s something I had wanted to do for years and it felt like the ideal time. Out of all the locations you can try it in Japan, Okinawa and Kagoshima are the most recommended due to their stunning ocean views. I first tried to go paragliding on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa 5 years ago on my birthday, but unfortunately the winds were too strong and my reservation was cancelled. This time the opposite problem occurred—the winds were initially too weak but picked up after an hour of waiting. Paragliding is simple in the fact that all that you need to do is run and jump in time with when you’re instructed to and the motor will do the rest. Before you know it you’ll be up in the sky staring down at the distant scenery below you. In case you fall there is a soft cushion of sand beneath you which is why I highly recommend paragliding on the beach. The beautiful hues of the ocean below my feet glittered in the shining sun and I felt as if I was truly alive!

Here is some footage from my GoPro over Amami Island’s most northern beach (Yo Beach). I originally thought the white building was a lighthouse, but it is actually a government office!

I booked my paragliding experience through パラグライダーハッピースカイ (Paragliding Happy Sky) online for 10,500 yen and had an incredible experience. Though this might be a bit more expensive compared to other countries like Thailand or the Philippines, Japan is probably the safest country to learn in as their instructors are very cautious and well-trained. I appreciated how they waited an hour with me for the winds to pick up an even offered to show me around the island so I could see the stars at night. The experience lasts for around 15 minutes and you can freely use your camera equipment while a license professional controls the motor and direction. The company will contact you with the best meeting point the night before and fortunately all of the paragliding locations are easy to reach by taxi.

To me it was an extremely exhilarating experience that increased my love for the ocean so I can’t recommend it enough—if you’re an adventurous person then you need to try paragliding!

Kayaking through Amami Mangrove Forest

Immediately after kayaking, I set off for the Amami Mangrove Forest via local bus because I really wanted to try kayaking there. This is one of the top destinations in Amami and the second largest mangrove in Japan. The waterways will take you deep through the forest so you can see various wildlife and the experience was very relaxing to me after paragliding. Renting a kayak is 1500 yen for an hour, but I noticed they were pretty lax on time. I had the opportunity to explore a lot of canals and was very satisfied with the experience despite the long 2 hour bus ride. If you rent a car then you can get around Amami Island much faster, but this mangrove is still somewhat remote from the main resort area. However, I passed through the downtown area on my way back and stopped for delicious Indian food at Durga Dining before heading back to relax at my resort!

Chasing Sunsets

Another fun activity I enjoyed was waking up with the sun and falling asleep with the moon. Every day and night I would watch the sun fall over the ocean and the landscape magically change color. As the land of the rising sun, Japan has a lot of neat places where you can chase sunsets but I definitely prefer it at the beach!

Other Activities

Snorkeling and diving is also extremely popular on Amami Island, but since I did this in Okinawa earlier this year I opted to try new things mentioned in this article. When it all comes down to it, appreciating nature and wildlife and relaxing is really the best thing you can do on this island. All of the resorts are extremely affordable and you can bike around to a number of attractions easily so Amami is a great destination for people who have already been to Okinawa and are looking for something more. I can proudly say that booking my trip here was my best decision of the year because I got the chance to see and experience so many things. Three days was the perfect amount of time to spend here too.

Though this was my last day on Amami Island, my adventure through Kyushu still continues! In my next article, I will talk about exploring the volcanic island, Sakurajima, in Kagoshima. Please look forward to it!

Journey to Amanohashidate: Kyoto’s Picturesque Sandbar

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View of Amanohashidate from Kasamatsu Park’s ropeway.

Due to the abrupt school closure and cancellation of public events put into effect by the Japanese government as prevention of the Corona Virus spread last week, I suddenly found myself with an abundance of free time.  Not wanting to waste this newfound freedom, I decided to hit up my friends in Kansai and see what the situation was like in the west.  As predicted, they informed me that there were noticeably less tourists around Kyoto and the prices of hotels had dropped drastically.  This was my chance!  Avoiding the public areas where the usual masses occupy (and now an increase of students too), I set my sights on a remote sandbar located in northern Kyoto: Amanohashidate.

If you follow my adventures, you’ll know that I went to Amanohashidate last year after Nanoboro Festa in August (see An Eerily Beautiful Beach in Northern Kyoto).  However, because I visited the fishing village of Ine first that day, it was already dark when I reached Amanohashidate and I could only take pictures of the highly aesthetic neon-colored beach.  It was definitely worth the trip, but this time I wanted to arrive during the day time so I could take pictures from the top of the ropeway.  The ropeway is at the north end of the sandbar located in Kasamatsu Park, so you must arrive before 5pm if you want to get to the top.  Fortunately I made it there early and managed to take a lot of awesome photos!

I arrived at Amanohashidate Station from Kyoto Station around 2pm and decided to walk on the beach for a while.  It was windy and a bit chilly, but the coast was still beautiful to see because the sun was out.  All shops still seemed to be in operation here, and it was easy to ask people at the tourist center for directions.  A few Japanese tourists were here in addition to myself, but the numbers were considerably less than the summer.  I was happy because that meant I had the optimal photo opportunity.  I found it funny how Amanohashidate has an anime girl personification in addition to a cute pinecone mascot!

For lunch I grabbed a kani meshi (krab rice) bento and a small selection of sushi from Kyoto Station.  See my Tentacle Bento Article for more information about the best on-the-go lunches in Kyoto.  In addition to octopus, crab here is also amazing (sorry, Mr. Krabs)!

To cross the sandbar, you can either rent a bike for 200 yen/2 hours and ride 20 mins to the other side, or take a boat ride for 600 yen and cross it in 10 mins (from the Amanohashidate Official Tourism website).  I’m normally a biker, but since it was windy I opted for the boat ride.  A family and their dog joined me so I wasn’t alone.  Kasamatsu Park is just a short walk from Ichinomiya Pier and the chair lift is very fun to ride.

Here is footage from my GoPro of the sandbar and the chairlift.  It’s really amazing to see how big Kyoto is:

At the souvenir shop at the top of the mountain I found some nice oddities.  The pinecone nuts were very interesting, and even more so were the pastries with a design of a person staring at you while bent over.  Apparently this is the pose many people use in their photos with the sandbar when they reach the top.  I guess it looks cool because you can see the sandbar inbetween your legs but… why?  Stay weird, Japan.

After riding back down the chairlift, I spent my remaining time on the beach as planned.  I highly recommend coming here in the summer if you have time because it gives you some of the best views of Kyoto.  I would like to come in the summer again and attempt to go swimming here!

Access

Monju, Miyazu, Kyoto 626-0001 (from Amanohashidate Station)

Directions: From Kyoto Station, take the Hashidate Limited Express 5 towards Toyo-Oka.  This costs around 5000 yen but it has the fewest transfers and will get you there in 2 hours.  The express train also has an antique vibe to it and is fun to see.

I will be writing about fun places in Kansai as well as the all you can drink capsule hotel I found in central Kyoto next.  The fear of the virus has not stopped my traveling or events organized by my friends even though large scale events such as Anime Japan have been cancelled.  Please remember that it’s safe to travel in Japan if you continually wash your hands, use sanitizer, and practice good hygeine.

Exploring the Rocky Coast of Yehliu Geopark (Taiwan)

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The coast of Yehliu Geopark (captured with GoPro).

Located on the north coast of Taiwan, Yehliu Geopark contains uniquely-shaped rock formations such as the Queen’s Head and Fairy’s Shoe making it a popular hiking and sightseeing destination.  Besides the famous Taroko Gorge, this is one of my most favorite parks in Taiwan.  Since this park is a bit remote from Taipei City, I decided to book a cheap bus tour through GetYourGuide that stopped here and the famous lantern towns of this area (Jiufen and Shifen).  The tour was extremely laid back and you could freely wander around all the areas, so I would recommend it to people who are trying to make the most of their day.  I came here on the 2nd day of January, but the weather was sunny and I managed to take some decent photos despite the crowds:

Though I have been to a number of parks similar to this in Asia, the architecture here really amazed me!  The surface of the rocks reminded me of craters on the moon so I felt as if I was in my own sci-fi adventure.  Definitely be sure to follow the guideposts to the elegantly-shaped Queen’s Head rock (fortunately most of the signs are written in English).  The hike around the cape was very pleasant and it was awesome to see the ocean.  The entire park is walkable within 2 hours so you can definitely fit in other activities if you plan your day out.  The signs below indicate the major points of interest in the park (as you can see, there’s quite a lot):

I asked my guide on how these rock formations were formed because I was curious, and apparently it was due to seawater erosion.  Each layer of contains a different level of hardness (I recall learning this long ago in primary school), so the unique shape of the rocks is caused by the ocean waves weathering them over time.  It’s amazing how flat some of the surfaces are, yet others look like they have circular shapes in them like coral.  You can get a great view of the entire park if you follow the trail to the lighthouse:

Located next to the park is Yehliu Ocean World if you’re interested in seeing dolphin and sea lion performances among other aquatic lifeforms.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see them, but I’ve had the chance to see them before in Thailand and Japan.

This was a fantastic 2nd day in Taiwan, and I will be covering the lantern towns in my next post!  Yehliu Geopark was the first outdoor area where I used my GoPro, so it will always have a special place in my heart!