Sunday, July 27, 2008

More Adventures in Amami

Well, it's our last day on Amami Oshima. We leave today for Okinawa, then to Osaka, then home to Chico in a couple of weeks.I'm ready to go, but I'll miss Amami, too. Theo and I did our last tour of the island yesterday, motorcycle riding, snorkeling, walking in the hills, and watching our last Amami sunset of the year. 

We've had a busy week with visitors. Masami's brother came for 3 days, then her friend from the Kawasaki city museum, then 6 American professors and students came for 3 days. Masami has been giving speeches and appearing on tv and radio promoting events that are being planned around next year's solar eclipse. It's going to be a particularly long one and Amami Oshima is one of the best places to see it.

One of Masami's talks.

Masami got some free tickets from a promoter to a 2 day music festival (value $100 each). We thought it was a great deal for us. The music schedule was kind of strange, from about 6PM to 6AM each day, but we thought we'd check it out. We borrowed Masami's uncle's car and drove to the site, about 45 minutes away. They actually bought a private beach for this festival, and plowed roads and parking lots with bulldozers. It was a pretty nice beach area, and there are so many of them here. There weren't many people there, maybe 100. There were 2 stages, but no live music, only some recorded techno. After a couple of hours we realized that nothing was going to happen anytime soon, so we went home. The free Amami music festival a couple of weeks before was better, however amateur, at least it was live music. We saw a ska band, a blues band singing "Sweet Home Chicago (!)," another band doing a hilarious version of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" (the video erased somehow, a great lost cultural artifact), and a scary death metal band with painted faces doing choreographed slow motion wrestling moves.

Masami's friend Kodama came the next day. We stopped at Amami Park, an art and nature/culture museum on the way back from the airport. There was an art show opening, a cooperative French/Japanese exhibit, so there were a bunch of French people there. One French artist was improvising abstract art on stage to the sound of Amami folk music, kind of black ink blobs on a big white sheet of paper. The exhibition had French art inspired by Amami. There was this one, where the artist used an official garbage bag filled with sand and the shape of Amami Oshima. It reminded me of the garbage wars we had with Masami's mother. I wonder if the artist had a similar experience with obsessive garbage hording. 
This year I tried to introduce Masami's mother to the concept of putting a plastic bag in the garbage can after I saw her pulling out the vegetable garbage with her hands and wrapping it in newspaper, then putting it in a plastic bag. I was sneaky and just put a plastic bag in the garbage can, hoping that she would just take the whole thing out, but there she was again the next week picking the rotten vegetables out by hand and putting them in another plastic bag. I usually don't interfere, but I went and got Masami to talk to her about it.

We decided to give the "music" festival another shot, since Masami knew when an actual live person would be on stage. The old woman sang Amami folk songs with the traditional jyamisen (Amami snakeskin banjo), along with sitar and African drum. They played for about half an hour, then that was it. For the next 2 hours they had folk dancing to mostly recorded music. I can't believe they charged $1oo for that. If it had been America, there would have been a riot.  

Kodama came with us for our yearly visit to Masami's uncle's house on Kakeroma, a neighboring island where Masami spent her summers as a girl with her grandmother. 

The island looks like a little chunk of Amami Oshima broke off the bottom. We had a car this time (for the first time), so we were able to see some of the island. Mostly we drove around looking for someplace to have lunch. The island still has coral walls with red tipped habu sticks for killing the venomous snakes that live in all the cracks in the walls. We happened on a beach called Suribama, which had the first healthy coral reef that I've seen here. It was a kind of a funky, low budget resort area, with a huge (for Japan) restaurant with live music and fishing paraphernalia stuck to the wall.
We had the usual barbecue at Masami's uncle's place. It was nice to be somewhere where we could actually sit outside and enjoy the evening without someone yelling at us to watch out for habus. There were so many stars (after we walked away from the obnoxious fluorescent lights of town), and we laid down on the warm road and watched shooting stars. Later, we went down to the beach, lit sparklers, and watched the yellow moon rise.

Theo and I went snorkeling in the morning at the local beach in front of the house, but all the coral was dead. Masami's uncle was being nice to us since we brought company, and he took us in his boat to some promising sites. We did find one great healthy spot, but most places were dead. 

Amami has a small area of tiny mangroves (like pretty much everything in Japan, they're smaller than other kinds). The next day we went kayaking through the diminutive forest and watched the tiny crabs crawling all over the trees and mud. It was fun navigating the narrow channels and ducking under the tree branches.

We went to the main tourist beach, Ohama Kaigan, but it was kind of depressing after Kakeroma. Kodama said the giant reef of coral skeletons  looked like the ruins of an ancient civilization. Theo and I buried each other in the sand on the beach. He wanted to be buried so that he couldn't get out. Strange kid. I tried burying him standing up, but he always managed to make it out. 

I was invited by the father of one of Theo's school friends to participate in his boat race practice for the Amami festival in August. I've never seen the festival, but a big part of it is racing the old wooden boats with 7 man teams. Masami wanted to go for a ride, so Masami, Theo and two other kids came in place of two of the rowers. It was pretty tough pulling those heavy wooden oars, especially with the dead weight in the boat. My arm got pretty sore, but I rowed the whole time. I asked the guys if one of their arms got bigger than the other from rowing, since they never switch sides. 

It's been fun in Amami, but I'm ready to do some traveling. I don't know if I'll have time or computer access to continue this blog, so this might be the last one for a while.

Nice yard. Japan loves cement. 

Deadly habus.

No comments: