Journeys in Japan
- Program Info
Tue. 0:30 - 1:00 (UTC) etc.
English-speaking reporters travel around Japan, meeting the people, exploring the local culture, and offering travel hints rarely found in normal guidebooks.
Topics of the Week:
May 21, Tue. 0:30 - 1:00 (UTC) etc.
Living in harmony with the Ocean - Ishigaki Island
A master craftsman of traditional masks
Minyo sakaba tavern
Surrounded by pristine water and coral reefs, Ishigaki Island lies at the far southwestern tip of Japan, around 1,900 kilometers from Tokyo. The largest of the Yaeyama islands, it is part of Okinawa Prefecture. Many tourists visit Ishigaki throughout the year to enjoy its beautiful cobalt blue seascapes.
Every aspect of the islanders' lives is closely connected to the sea. Since ancient times, the local people have believed there is another world on the other side of the ocean called Nirai-Kanai, and that all life comes from it and eventually returns there.
Teodora Vegh came to Okinawa from Hungary 5 years ago to study the traditional culture. On this edition of Journeys in Japan, she meets with a number of Ishigaki islanders, and finds out about the strong connection the local people feel for the sea.
Located in the northwest of Ishigaki, Kabira Bay is renowned as one of the most beautiful spots on the whole island. The brilliant white sand of the beach contrasts with the sparkling water, which has a distinctive hue that has come to be known as Kabira Blue.
Kabira Bay area is also a good location for marine activities. There are many companies that organize cruises in glass-bottom boats, as well as kayaking, snorkeling and diving.
The guide introduced in the program works for Apnea Adventure Ishigaki Island
http://www.apnea.jp/ (in Japanese only)
Address: 1216-354 Kabira-Yamabara, Ishigaki, Okinawa Pref.
Minyo Sakaba "Bashofu"
In the Yaeyama Islands and other parts of Okinawa, you can find taverns where you can enjoy a drink while local folk music is played live. Known as minyo sakaba, these places are a vital part of everyday life for the local people.
Live performances of folk music are held every night. Customers often join in with the performers' songs and dances. Visiting a minyo sakaba is a great way to get a glimpse of the way people live on Ishigaki.
The tavern visited by Teodora is run by musician Takashi Hatoma. Called Bashofu, it is a comfortable place with a cheerful atmosphere, where first-time customers are welcomed.
Address: 12-12 Misaki-cho, Ishigaki, Okinawa Pref.
Open from 8 p.m. each evening
Charge: 2,000 yen per person per set (2 drinks included)
Ritual masks are an essential item in the traditional Angama festival, an annual event in which the spirits of the ancestors are welcomed back by people on Ishigaki Island. Maruta Kogei is the studio where master craftsman Yusei Taba has produced ritual masks for 55 years. The studio is open to visitors free of charge.
Address: 80-2 Hirae, Ishigaki, Okinawa Pref.
Hours: daily 8 a.m. -6 p.m.
This annual event is held in the middle of August to commemorate the souls of the islanders' ancestors. Two local people play the roles of an old couple, wearing ritual masks. They go from door to door around the island and have a good time with the islanders who are living on the island, with songs and dancing in front of the family altars.
Ishigaki City Tourist Association
Detailed tourist information about Ishigaki and the other islands in the Yaeyama group is available online and from tourist information counters.
http://www.yaeyama.or.jp/en/ (in Japanese, English, Chinese)
Address: 1-1-4 Yamazaki-cho, Ishigaki, Okinawa Pref.
Direct flights to Ishigaki Island from Tokyo takes about 3 hours. If you fly via Naha, it takes about 2.5 hours between Tokyo-Naha, plus about 50 minutes between Naha-Ishigaki.
Apr. 8 - Apr. 12 2013
Teodora Vegh, artist (Hungary)
On the first day, directly from the airport, I headed to the sea for snorkeling and kayaking. The intense blue variations of the water, the colorful fish and corals and the picturesque rock formations made me fall in love with the island and her waters at the first sight. The sunset of this exciting day found us listening to the gentle waves and the wind in our kayaks by Kabira Bay, a location that is among the most beautiful landscapes not only of the Ryukyu Islands, but whole Japan.
The weather was not very gracious in the next days, Ishigaki didn't show her tropical face to us. We had cold north wind and rain with cloudy skies. This shifted my focus from the outside beauty of the island to her people. I spent a lot of time indoors, doing interviews or just talking to locals, who were generously and patiently sharing their time and knowledge with us.
It was a pleasure to meet Mr. Taba, who is a craftsman, carving traditional wooden masks called Angama. He and his son are the only ones who still continue this tradition, so their studio is busy with orders throughout the year. He has spent around 50 years carving masks; it was amazing to see him at work: his hands steady, every movement controlled. Seeing his works and the quality of his craft was already a unique chance, but what was even more unforgettable about him was his attitude. He is a very simple, happy and content man, enjoying his work in good health even in his 80's!
Another meeting I cherish in my memory is with grandma Katsuko. She had the same air around her as Mr. Taba, old and happy, healthy, full of life and energy. She has a beautiful smile and very gracious movements. She is a dancer too, teaching traditional dances for the younger generations. On the day I visited her home she was surrounded by many grandchildren. They gathered to celebrate Sanizu, an interesting tradition on Ishigaki. I was invited to participate, so we went down to the beach, all the girls and women washed their faces with seawater, symbolically cleansing themselves. After this we were looking for shells, crabs and seaweed and we ended the celebration with a picnic on the beach. Delicious local food was prepared by grandma Katsuko and her beautiful daughters. It was good to see a family laughing together, enjoying the sunshine and the sea, giving each other time and attention, making the family bonds stronger. Looking at them made me want to spend time with my own family.
One night I had the chance to visit a local music pub, Bashofu, where Mr. Hatoma, the owner and his wife entertained the tourists with old local songs. Mr. Hatoma played the sanshin, a traditional Ryukyu instrument and his wife played the taiko drum. Her voice was stunningly clear and beautiful. Although the songs were in Ishigaki language, their singing and the melodies were very expressive: I could feel happiness, sorrow, longing, love in the songs. I also had the chance to talk to Mr. Hatoma after the performance, who told me they opened this pub because in their times young people of the island would meet by the sea in the evening, play music and dance together. These gatherings were called moashibi. He wanted to create a similar space for people to get together, enjoy music and each others' company. I was happy to see that even on a weekday his pub was full of visitors.
The last day of our trip the sun shone on us again. I climbed a mountain in the center of the island, and from the top I had a spectacular view of the villages, fields, lush, green forests and the endless sea on both sides of the island. For a moment I felt timeless but the clouds passing over the blue skies cast playful ever-changing shadows on the ground, reminding me once again to the passage of time. It was the perfect place and time to say goodbye to this beautiful island and the simple, respectful and content people I have met during my stay there. Besides the breathtaking tropical scenery, I take home with me that one moment of timelessness and the happy and content smiles of the elderly surrounded, loved and supported by their families.
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