Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Stone Gaki

Ishigaki Island (means "stone gaki")
We flew to the Ishigaki island from Haneda airport, my favorite place in Tokyo. Seriously, I love Haneda. It's Tokyo's domestic airport, which means people visiting friends and relatives or going home. Japanese people are obligated to bring souvenirs of their trip, and of course they don't want to carry them around, so they buy them at the airport. There are hundreds of stalls selling souvenir foodstuffs, cheesecakes, cookies,
puddings, crackers, all at inflated prices. But since there's so much competition, the stalls lure customers with the manna of the budget traveler- FREE SAMPLES! Half of them are some variation on the squid cracker, or pickled and dyed things, but there are plenty of sweets, enough to keep us busy for hours. Some of the sales people were familiar with gaijin and hid the samples behind the counter when they saw us coming, but most were obliging.
Ishigaki is part of the Yaeyama Islands, the southernmost group of islands in Japan. It's also part of Okinawa prefecture (like a state), so it has strong connections with Okinawa. (see the Big Nawa post from 2008). Masami booked us an internet special for $75 a night at the RASSO, which stands for Resort  And Special Spending Offtime, of course. Japanese English is so cute. They like to use random nice sounding words that don't necessarily mean anything, or end up meaning something inadvertently. It was quite a deal, and we had our own studio apartment with 3 beds, a kitchenette, and a washing machine in a cement block apartment building. Masami gets excited about washing machines in Japan and does laundry incessantly, which is weird, because she never goes near the one we have at home in Chico. Her Japanese programming starts kicking in or something. It was quite a change from a smoky cramped tatami room at the onsen for $120 in Tokyo (the world's most expensive city). 
We got all our food at the grocery store across the street. It was father's day, so stuff all over the store had these labels on it. So this is my father's day present to myself, a pizza. Corn is a staple of Japanese pizza,which a lot of people think is odd. Makes sense to me really, pizza is american and corn is American, so it's a natural. I'm not really sold on the idea of canned tuna and mayo on pizza, but at least it wasn't squid.
Another fun sign in the bathroom. Toilets in Japan are traditionally squat style (one step removed from a hole in the ground), but most people have these kind in their houses now, so I hardly think this sign is necessary. The directions seem pretty detailed. I think there's one stick missing from the left figure.
We rented a car cheap from the hotel and explored the island. We visited a small grove of endangered palms in the jungle.

The cicadas are deafening in Japan in the summer. It's kind of like a horror movie, when you're hiking through the forest, like something horrible is about to happen. Then they go completely silent and you wait for the mad axeman to come crashing out of the jungle. Lots of cicada exoskeletons around. A new pizza topping?
Curious signs in the park, instructions on the proper way to observe nature?
I led the family down a path through the jungle on the mountain Bana Dake, a nice mossy paved path, with lots of stairs, all downhill. It took them a while to figure out it was all uphill on the way back. But it was good exercise and there were all kinds of bugs out, lots of butterflies, like this colorful one that looked like a dead leaf when folded up.
Gimpy the five legged stick bug.Gimpy the five legged stick bug.
A rotting boardwalk. The jungle eats things up so fast. I had to step lightly and carefully since the boards were breaking under my feet.
Ishigaki has some nice limestone caves, some of which are quite extensive. This one is open to the public. You pay to take the self-guided tour and are met at the opening by a big stone phallus and a recorded intro. The narration was in that high-pitched female voice so popular in Japan, which made the cave seem haunted by a hyperactive chipmunk.
The cave was all lit up in dramatic lighting, with wires running everywhere through the cave. With all the water dripping from the ceiling, I was a little nervous standing in puddles of water with wires running through them, but I guessed they had it all figured out. I lost a little confidence after seeing the rest of the place, which was some kind of ill-kempt petting zoo, generally run down with broken and empty cages. Anyway, we survived.
 Since we had the car, we drove the whole island from end to end. The island has a bottleneck where you can see the Pacific ocean on one side and the East China sea on the other. They don't look that different.
Some nice lighthouses on Ishigaki. This one perched dramatically on the edge of a cliff. On the edge of civilization here. Nothing but a few vending machines and an ice cream truck.
Fun climbing the rocks and teetering on the sheer cliffs in the wind.

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