Travel & Culture

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Japanese culture and lifestyles through the eyes of NHK WORLD personalities

August 4, 2016

Islands off of Islands, a natural gold mine. But, shhh, keep it quiet!

Charles Glover / Actor, Photographer
Charles Glover

Charles Glover is a man whose face and voice are well-known in Japan. He works both as an actor and a narrator. On NHK WORLD, he contributes to Journeys in Japan, Dining with the Chef, and KABUKI KOOL.

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Can you keep a secret? Okay...but you have to promise. I have found some rather amazing places in Japan that might surprise you. They surprised me and many Japanese people I know. Japan is known as an island nation, it is often spoken of that way out of pride and also slightly derisively, explaining how the country is isolated in good ways and maybe not so good. Being from a land locked place, several days drive by car to any ocean, going to an island is a bit of a thrill, or at least that is my excuse for having a Huckleberry Finn like excitement about going to a secluded piece of land, cut off from anywhere else.

An island off of an island nation may not seem that unique, but indeed it can be and Japan has some gems. Islands off of Japan often boast their own distinct culture, dialect and topography. Look no further than Sado Island in the Sea of Japan, off the coast of Niigata to find a charming place that has fostered its unique cultural diversity to produce a major, world class arts festival. Near Hiroshima we can find Miyajima with its picturesque culture and lush natural settings; a picturesque Tori (gate) in the ocean, deer strolling around soothing groves of pine trees, giving it an almost fantasy like feel. These are fairly well known, and enjoyable for sure, but there are some lesser known treasures to be found on some of the islands if you look for them.

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South of Tokyo bay you can find the Izu Island group. They are surprisingly easy to access, over-night on a ferry or a few hours by hovercraft (that trip alone is EXCITING!).
One island in particular is Niijima, a long thin island that has its own unique culture, ranging from numerous Moyai rock sculptures around the island. If you have been to Shibuya station in Tokyo, on the west side, that rock face is from Niijima. Also an internationally famous glass art festival, even a very nice onsen (warm spring) that is free, when I was there, on the west coast. The truly amazing part of Niijima though, is the east coast. Habushi Beach stretches its white sands for 6.5 kilometers. It is worshiped by surfers. It is another world. I had heard it was very nice, the further south you go, so I walked all the way to the end of the island. I can honestly say it was one of my best travel moments, in any country. It was like the end of the world, no sign of humans. Towering cliffs gazing out over endless expanses of white sand with cobalt blue water, gently massaging its shores. It was hard to leave. It took a while to walk there, so to be practical, I sadly needed to start the walk back. It is such a special place that selfishly, I wanted to keep it to myself, my own private piece of paradise that I literally walked to.

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One of the most impressive places I have ever been (really), is further south of Niijima , again in the Izu Island chain, the island of Mikurajima. The island juts out of the ocean like a lush, green plateau with massive cliffs that seem at attention, guarding its natural beauty within. There are thick, undisturbed forests that go on for ever, in its rolling hills, with a pristine silver water fall, dramatically dropping to the ocean. The island is basically round, about 5.5 kilometers across. The human population is a mere 350, all tucked into a small area in the northwest corner. Nature and wildlife are the lords of this island. During a nocturnal safari, if you are quiet, you can find some Streaker Shearwater, an albatross like bird that spends its days on the ocean yet nests underground at night.

What sets Mikurajima apart though...this is between you and I right? are...dolphins, yes dolphins. Wild dolphins. Researches are quite sure that pods of Bottlenosed Dolphins cruise around the island year round. Indeed the dolphins are there and boat operators will take you out to see them. Ultimately though, it is up to the dolphins themselves if they will interact and how long with you. This is not a 'seaworld' attraction, you are in THEIR world. The boat will go around the island, looking for a pod (group) and then you get in for a swim. I have been scuba diving for quite a while, been in lots of different waters. I have even been lucky enough to encounter dolphins underwater before, but the few days I spent in Mikurajima were unforgettable. I was lucky enough to have a few, long inquisitive encounters with these amazing creatures. There really is an amazing tingle you feel when a dolphin swims up close to you, and looks you squarely in the eye. No hiding from their gaze. All at once you are bare, no attitude or affectation. Undeniably, these are intelligent creatures.

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Sounds too good to be true? Nope. This place does exist. The only strange thing is getting back on a boat and before you know it, you are back in Tokyo. Indeed there are some real treasures to be found on islands off of this island nation. Do me a favor though, let's keep it a secret.

Photographs by Charles Glover©2004-2016 All Rights Reserved

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Charles Glover / Actor, Announcer, Presenter, Photographer

Born in the U.S. Charles is an accomplished and respected actor, whose career ranges from serious roles in major motion pictures to comedic roles on television, as well as being trained for the stage. He also shares his passion for travel as a periodic presenter/traveler in the popular travel program "Journeys in Japan". He also narrates "Dinning with the Chef" and 'KABUKI KOOL' on NHK WORLD. Charles has one of the more recognizable voices in Japan and Asia, doing the voice logo for Panasonic and Mitsubishi Motors among others. Having traveled to the 7 continents and over 120 countries, Charles shares his continuing explorations around the world as an award winning photographer.

Question How long have you been in Japan?
26 years! Gasp... more than half my life!
Question What was your original reason for coming to Japan?
I was a Peace Corps volunteer. After I finished my 2 years stint I wanted to see a bit more of the world. I thought I would stay here, 'a few years'.
Question What's your favorite scenic spot in Japan?
Tough question, so many amazing sites but probably the Ogasawara Islands in the far south. They are very wild, beautiful, untouched, hard to get to and have amazing scuba diving.
Question What's the one thing that's essential to your life in Japan?
A camera! And lots of batteries!
Question What is your favorite Japanese word? Please briefly describe what it means in English.
有言実行
"Yuugen jikkou" Simply put... To do what you say you are going to do.

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