Thursday, August 13, 2009

Amami Festival

The first weekend in August was the Amami Festival. Usually we leave Amami before this, and I'm disappointed that I miss it, the biggest celebration on the island.

Friday night was the big fireworks display over the harbor. We went to Masami’s uncle’s house for a barbecue and to watch the fireworks. His son and daughter and her family were in town. It was a great fireworks display, and they were going off right in front of us. The explosions were really loud, louder than thunder, and echoed off the water, the buildings, the cement of the city, and the paved hillsides. We could physically feel the shockwaves from the explosions.
People came out in droves. I had no idea there were that many people in Amami.

After the big display, the kids lit some of their own fireworks. Masami’s cousin shot off some roman candle type things in the street that went up over the roofs of houses. It was kind of scary, since the houses are so close together. One firework fell over and jetted around the street, shooting flaming balls all over the place. I guess it's ok as long as you don't set soemone's house on fire. Cops passed by and didn’t say anything.
Saturday was the boat races. It was brutally hot, so we didn’t watch for very long, although we were offered shelter under one of the many shade canopies that were set up along the water.One of the guys there was the guy who targeted me during the parents' volleyball game, so we had a laugh over that.

The women were racing when we got there. The rowers were women, but they always had men steering (so they wouldn’t get lost?).

I tried rowing with one of these teams last year when they were training for the races. Rowing is a lot of work, although the races are short. I think the boats are more exciting to row than to watch.
We managed to stay until a couple of the guys' teams raced. When the boats turned, the sides came pretty close to the water level, so I hoped that someone would capsize and make it more interesting, but no such luck. I was told that it does happen.
That night was the Odori, or dance groups in the streets all through downtown. The streets looked festive, lined with red lanterns. I guess they were doing different dances, but they all kind of looked the same to me.
Some dance groups were more organized than others, with costumes and rehearsed dances. Some looked more like, as Masami has said of these festivities, an excuse to get drunk.
As soon as we had walked into the street we were handed drinks and ended up in a dance circle with leaves wrapped around our heads.

The final day was the parade, or parades (all of these things go on for hours and hours, so we only caught little snippets of them). More dancing and banging drums and chanting and costumes.

Cowhide drums with the hair on them.

Typical Japanese schoolgirls. I can never figure out why they wear their school uniforms during summer vacation.

The drink haulers were splashing people with water to cool them off.

I think the drink haulers were taking a little extra for themselves. I think these guys would have fallen over without the support of the bucket.

It was nice to see this sleepy city transformed with a colorful celebration. And I can finally say that I've seen it. This will probably be the last post for awhile, since it is very time consuming working with this technology (always something going wrong). I'll post some more pictures on Picasa of the rest of our trip. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Waterfall Tour

Amami Oshima is all mountains. With 120 inches of rain a year, that means waterfalls! There must be waterfalls everywhere, but finding them is the hard part. There are a couple on the tourist maps, and I've found a couple on my own. A foreign guy who lives here has a blog and he gave me directions to some pretty spectacular waterfalls that I wouldn't have found otherwise.

My bike, Bandit. It's kind of rusty, has a bald front tire and doesn't shift really well, but it's transportation. I'm borrowing it for the second year in a row from Masami's cousin. It's hard to even find a parking space for it here, as we have to vie with the neighbors for every inch of space. If visitors come, they just park in the middle of the street, blocking "traffic," not that there is much.

The bike is a crotch rocket, and really uncomfortable. My hands get numb after 15 minutes, followed by the rest of my body. Here's a typical gravel road, just mud and rocks really, and a streambed when it rains. I try to avoid these, but paved roads just peter out on you. The paved ones in the mountains are all covered in leaves and have moss growing on them anyway. I thought rolled on stones gathered no moss ...

This is a nice one, Funangyo Falls. A huge waterfall. Same as the one at the top.

This is one I found riding my bike around years ago. It's a good swimming hole.

This one, Tangyo Falls, is near Santaro. You actually have to hike up a streambed and swim to get to it. I had my camera in three plastic bags and tied around my head. I still dropped it a couple of times, but it was ok. I forgot my underwater camera case, but couldn't miss out on this one.

View from under the falls. Great swimming hole on this blazing hot day.

Shinsui Park near Yuwan was an amazing shady refuge on a brutally hot day. There was a whole series of cascades over a stretch of the river.

This Hyan Coral Snake was a nice bonus. It was the first time I'd seen one of these.

One of the bigger cascades.

Its twin, on the other side of a big rock.

Working my way downstream.

One more.

This place is so lush, with epiphytes and moss growing all over everything.

I stopped at the Forest Polis, a camping and nature observation area, on the way back. I don't know what the name is supposed to mean. Is is supposed to be the Forest Police, the way people pronounce it, like the nature cops, or is it Forestopolis, like a metropolis of forest creatures? They have some artificial wetlands there, where I always hope to find the elusive wetland birds. The only one I've ever seen here is the moorhen, which I can see in Chico any time. They do have a nice assortment of dragonflies, though.

Neon beauty.

These little fish were cleaning my feet for me.

Decaying tourist infrastructure, built for those hypothetical tourists. This is supposed to be some kind of waterplay area, all moldy and overgrown. This place was new when I came a few years ago, extensive boardwalks which had rotted through a couple of years later. The jungle reclaims things quickly. I like places like this, and there are a lot of them on this island. They have that ghost town type feel. There was nobody at all in the whole park when I visited.
One waterfall that is on the tourist map, Materiya. I'd been here a few times before, but it looked paltry next to the others.

Finally, I saw a bird! But it's dead. There are a lot of crows around, and I imagine they are a pest to farmers. Still, it seems a little barbaric to hang them on sticks like this, and I doubt it's an effective deterrent at all.

Monday, July 27, 2009

More Wild Amami

View from one of many observation towers.

MSNBC has called Amami Oshima the Galapagos of Japan. Maybe that says more about Japan than it says about Amami, but there are some spectacularly beautiful places, and some plants and animals you can find almost nowhere else. Most of these pictures were taken at the Amami Nature Observation Forest in Tatsugo. It's a developed park, with trails, ponds, and three (!) observation towers, all being delightfully reclaimed by nature. One of those tourist developments for hypothetical tourists.
Fungi love Amami. They average about 120 inches of rain a year here, compared to about 24 in Chico.

The Lidth's Jay is one of those species that can only be found on this island and a neighboring one. I ususally only get a glimpse of them as they fly over, but I got to watch this one for about 15 minutes.

You have to carry a spider stick as you walk a lot of trails, or you'll be eating spider webs, or worse, spiders. Nothing poisonous, I'm told.

Striped spiders.

And spotted spiders.

Big shiny beetles. They were dive bombing us all night at uncle's barbecue.

We saw at least three of these Green Snakes. This one was talking to us. Picture by Theo.
Lizard with tiny legs.

Dragonflies love the decaying artificial ponds.
As do the sword-tailed newts.

Strangler fig taking over another tree.

Spider with babies emerging from the egg sac.
Crab in the mangroves.
Planted flowers.