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Life is a journey -Registered as a World Heritage Site! Amami Oshima and Tokunoshima Island Hopping-

Recently, ” Amami-Oshima Island, Tokunoshima Island, northern part of Okinawa Island, and Iriomote Island,” which stretches from Kagoshima Prefecture to the southwestern islands of Okinawa Prefecture, was registered as a World Natural Heritage site.

The journey began in early July, just before the World Heritage registration.

I have visited Amami, northern Okinawa and Iriomote Island, but I have never been to Tokunoshima. Therefore, I decided to exclude Okinawa, which is currently under emergency measures, from my list of destinations and set out in early July, just before it was registered as a World Heritage site, to reconfirm the appeal of Amami Oshima and to explore Tokunoshima, which I had not yet visited.

My lifestyle is mainly as a professional skier, so winter is my busy season, and during the rest of the year, it’s rather easy to make time.
That’s part of the reason why my routine used to be to ski uphill and run in North America in the spring, and then go on a surf trip to the southern islands of Indonesia and Hawaii. Yes, until the COVID-19 situation…

I heard that a friend of mine who I always met when I went to Bali has started a guesthouse right in front of the surfing point of Amami Oshima, so I went to Amami Oshima first. We spent the first half of the stay meeting him and enjoying surfing while feeling the Balinese breeze. And in the second half, island hopping by ferry! To Tokunoshima! Such a plan.

The ticket was a cheap ticket from Peach, an LCC, for 9,000 yen round trip. This time I brought two surfboards, a snorkel, mask, long fins, and a 4-meter-long hand harpoon to play with when there were no waves. The cost of all that luggage is 10,000 yen round trip, which is more than my body can afford. Which one of us is the baggage?
However, it is still much cheaper than tickets from major airlines.
Moreover, I would like to drive to the airport because I’m traveling for two weeks and have a lot of luggage, but parking a car at Narita Airport, where Peach operates, is quite expensive. However, after careful search, I found a hotel that offers free parking for up to two weeks if you stay the night before departure! I decided to use that hotel this time, so I checked into the hotel after finishing my work in Tokyo the day before. The next day, I took the hotel shuttle bus to the airport and flew to Amami. Convenient!

Rent a car? Or bicycle?

I recommend renting a car or a motor scooter when you go to any island, not just Amami Oshima or Tokunoshima. On the islands, transportation is basically limited to buses or cabs, and the number of buses and cabs is very limited. And the number of rental cars is also very small compared to the number of tourists coming to the islands, so it is best to book early.

The last time I visited this place was in 2009, when the total solar eclipse could be seen.
I miss the days when I surfed every day and danced till morning at the total solar eclipse party at night.
It’s been 12 years since then. Well, while I recommended renting a car earlier, I did most of my traveling on my bicycle, which I carried on the plane. I attached a surfboard rack to my bike and rode around the island with my surfboard, snorkel and fins attached. If you like that sort of thing, I recommend a bicycle.
However, both Amami Oshima and Tokunoshima are quite large for bicycling, and there are quite a few ups and downs due to the surprisingly solid mountains that form the islands, so be prepared for that.

Surfing was one of the main objectives again, but the end of the rainy season is not a good time for surfing as it is difficult to get swell. But I had two weeks to spare. I thought I would have some good days.
This time, I only encountered a few waves of the size and power that Amami is known for on the last day, but I was still able to enjoy surfing every day during my stay, even if it was small.

A True Heritage to be Protected

Katoku Beach, an untouched unexplored area, about an hour drive from Nase Port.

One of my personal favorites is Katoku, a beautiful beach in a bay surrounded by mountains rising out of the sea.
The beautiful beach in this unspoiled and unexplored area, which is a short distance from the town and stretches out beyond the winding mountain roads, is known as “Jurassic Beach” because it is the only place in Japan where leatherback turtles, which are said to be survivors of the dinosaur era, come ashore. A beautiful, untouched beach that is now rare even in Amami.
I love the mellow surf time here. As usual, I was able to surf on my own.

However, since this area has been removed from the World Heritage List, although it is designated as a national park, plans are now underway to build a seawall around this beautiful beach. The plan is to build a concrete seawall 530 meters long and 6.5 meters high across the beach, breaking and crossing the beautiful Adang dunes and covering the entire beach.
Many activities, including signature campaigns, have been carried out to stop this worthless seawall construction using a huge budget, but the construction plan is still in progress and it will start as soon as this fall.
A true heritage of nature that should be preserved worldwide is about to be destroyed.
It seems to me that by identifying the World Natural Heritage areas, we are making it easier to allow development in other areas. Or is that what they are trying to do by removing the area from the World Heritage list? I don’t know, but in any case, I don’t feel good about it.

However, it is also a fact that the sandy beach of Katoku is becoming narrower and narrower as a result of large-scale runoff. It is said that this is due to the sand extraction business in the nearby sea, and also due to the loss of natural breakwaters and sand retention due to the death of corals caused by global warming. Even so, there must be a better way. I will continue to monitor this movement closely.
References (English following Japanese)

This is a world heritage site, a paradise for precious creatures.

The area to be inscribed as a World Heritage Site is all mountains in both Amami and Tokunoshima, as shown in the disclosed map, and hardly includes the sea or coastal areas. There are no roads in these mountain areas, and they are not easily accessible. This is why there are so many endemic and rare species. The importance of these species was recognized and they were registered as a World Heritage site.

Ref : BCB Japan from Twitter

But just because there are no roads doesn’t mean you can’t see endemic or rare species. I’m not suggesting that you should go into the bush. That would only make us prey for the habu(Okinawan snake). Even if you don’t do that, they often show themselves to us. Especially on the roads at night in mountainous areas where there is little human traffic. So, when driving at night in Amami Oshima, please be careful, slow down and drive slowly. If you do, many creatures will entertain you, and if you don’t, you will run them over and kill them. In fact, roadkill of rare species is becoming a problem, so please be careful.

I don’t need to explain what’s under the sea when the mountains are so abundant on a southern island.
With no waves to speak of, I spent more time diving than surfing.
There were countless beautiful corals, colorful and tasty fish, and a very high probability of seeing sea turtles. Anyone who comes here can become a mermaid. In my case, I wonder what I should call it. Merman?
I just searched for “merman” while jokingly muttering that it was “merman”!!lol
I’m Merman, and I hope you don’t mind.
When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a parman (I hope my readers are old enough to know that). (I hope my readers are old enough to know that.) In my childhood, I used to say that my dream was to be a parman. I think I’m a little closer to the sound of it.

This beautiful scenery without modification…

I would also recommend Kakeroma Island, which is part of Amami Oshima and can be reached by boat from Koniya Port in the south of the island.
There is nothing special about it. Nothing at all.
This can be said of most small islands, and that is the charm of the island.
The environment is the complete opposite, but as I wrote in my last article about my trip to the Eastern part of Hokkaido, such empty places have everything to evoke instinctive feelings in humans.

The Banyan Tree of Takena, said to be over 400 years old, on Kakeroma Island.

<Kakeroma Island>
From Amami Oshima, Koniya Port, 20 min. by ferry/360 yen, 15 min. by sea taxi/400 yen

And this was my first visit to Tokunoshima.
Tokunoshima has… well, I’ve already reached 3000 words here. It’s a long story, so I’ll write more about it in the next article.

I hope you all enjoy the summer and take care not to get heat stroke.


Riki Nakajima

Guide Company HP for Winter :https://rikijg.com/jp/
Guide Company HP for Green Season :https://www.rikijapowguide.com

Born in Shiga Prefecture in 1981. While studying in Whistler, Canada, he became a certified CSIA instructor and the first Japanese freeski instructor to receive the CFSA freeski instructor certification. After returning to Japan, he expanded his activities to include backcountry skiing in addition to participating in numerous freeskiing competitions. For the past few years, he has been working at Tomamu Ski Resort in Hokkaido, giving ski lessons, guiding, managing events, and acting as an MC. He also travels abroad every spring to try his hand at high adventure mountain climbing, and expresses his experiences through videos, photos, and events. He is the representative of the guide company “RIKI JAPOW GUIDE”.