Island Hopping: Transportation around Kagoshima Prefecture

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One thing that distinguishes Kagoshima from other prefectures is many islands that lie between the prefecture mainland and Okinawa. From north to south, the main islands are: Tanegashima, Yakushima, Amami Oshima, Kikaijima, Tokunoshima, and Okinoerabu. While you can get around the mainland on the trains, or travel across Kagoshima Bay on the ferry, getting to and from the many islands can be a daunting, confusing, and often expensive task, but island residents get a discount on most air or sea travel within the prefecture.

North Islands: Tanegashima and Yakushima

 

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      On the left: Yakushima       On the right: Tanegashima

Japan Air Commuter (JAC) flies direct between Tanegashima and Kagoshima Airport. There are two flights a day, and a round trip with the island discount costs about ¥14,000. Yakushima is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also famous for inspiring the setting of Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke.  JAC also operates 3 direct flights per day to Yakushima

 

You can also get from Kagoshima to Tanegashima via three different ferry options: Cosmo, Toppy and Rocket, and Hibiscus. The latter two also go to Yakushima.

  • The Cosmo line ferry runs once a day between Kagoshima and Tanegashima and takes about 3.5 hours, costing about ¥6000 round trip with the islander discount.
  • Toppy and Rocket] is a high-speed jet foil ferry that runs several times daily between Kagoshima and Tanegashima, and also between Kagoshima and Yakushima. The trip lasts about 1.5 hours, and costs around ¥10,000 with the islander discount.
  • Finally, the Hibiscus Ferry runs once a day between Kagoshima and Yakushima, stopping at Tanegashima along the way. The Kagoshima-Tanegashima leg lasts 3.5 hours and the Tanegashima-Yakushima leg lasts 2 hours. The full trip from Kagoshima to Yakushima costs about ¥6000 round trip, or you can take either of the individual legs for less.

South Islands: Amami Oshima, Kikai, Tokunoshima, and Okinoerabu

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Amami Oshima is the biggest of the Kagoshima islands and also has the most travel options. There are 7 flights run by JAL to and from Kagoshima Airport daily. Direct flights are also available to and from Kikai, Tokunoshima, and Okinoerabu via JAC, though there are only 2-3 each day per island.  JAC also runs about 3 flights daily between each of the smaller islands (Kikai, Tokunoshima, and Okinoerabu) and Kagoshima Airport. A round trip ticket from any of the islands to Kagoshima airport will cost somewhere in the range of ¥25,000 with the islander discount, and a round-trip ticket from the smaller islands to Amami will cost about ¥10,000 with the islander discount.

For travel by sea, the Kagoshima ferry route travels between Kagoshima and Okinawa every day, stopping at Amami, Tokunoshima, and Okinoerabu along the way. There are also two additional routes, the Amami ferry route and the Kikai ferry route, that also stop at Kikai and a second port in southern Amami. Taking the ferry is about half as expensive as flying, but expect the trip to last at least 12 hours, most of it overnight.

While travelling between the islands and the mainland can be inconvenient, seeing the different cultures on each island allows you to experience the full range of what Kagoshima has to offer.

Maranda Li is a second year JET on Amami Oshima

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9 Ways to Enjoy and Appreciate Your Island Placement

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Kurasaki Beach
  1. Appreciate the uniqueness of Japanese island life. You probably didn’t ask to be placed on a remote island, right? There are very few island placements, and you got one of them! It’ll be all right. You get the special experience of living in a place that is so different from the Japan that everyone knows. And your backyard might be a beach.
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Tokunoshima Scuba Diving – Credit to Micah Mizukami

 

2. Pick up a water sport. You can snorkel, dive, surf, do SUP, or more than one! You may even make some local friends while out on the water, too.

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My first hula class

3. We are always on 島時間 down here. If you are stuck behind a truck full of sweet potatoes and end up being late for something, blame it on island time.

4. Join a local cultural activity in your community like shamisen, eisa, or hula. Dont feel too bad about missing out on all the fun culture events on the mainland. The islands have plenty of culture, too!

5. It is so exciting when you have the chance to go to the mainland. Going to _Uniqlo or Starbucks in Amu Plaza is all the more exciting when you have to take a plane or overnight ferry to get there!

 

 

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Islanders love Starbucks

6. Islander bonding. Even if you are on an island by yourself, you still have the other islanders who understand you.  And you can always hop on the ferry and visit another island for the weekend. Your Island card helps you save a little money on travel costs.

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Ready for Mangroves!

7. Island life is cheap. You will probably save a lot of money living down here. Unless you spend all your paycheck on island mangoes. Those are like 2000 yen for just one.

8. Island people are ridiculously nice. One time we asked for directions to a restaurant at a gas station on Okinoerabu, and the guy got in his car and had us follow him so he could show us the way.

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Bashayama Beach

9. When it’s summertime, you are living in a tropical paradise. Most tourists skip us and head right to Okinawa, so a crowded day at the beach can sometimes mean you are sharing the sand with 5 other people.

Enjoy!

 

Becca Simas is a 1st year ALT on Amami Oshima

Dressing for the Islands

First, wecome to all the new JETs! For those of you heading to the southern islands, i have some clothing tips for you.

From April until November the southern islands enjoy and struggle throug hot and humid weather, but as teachersw we are expected to dress in long pants/skirts and dress shirts (or polo shirts). For these reasons, try to find light and breathable clothing. During these months, intense rains can also occur so I recommend a light rain jacket.

However, from November to March the weather cools down. Because we are next to the ocean and houses are not insulated, 14 degrees celsius – or 50-60 degrees farenheit – feels cold. For these months you want clothing which is insulated: a light wind breaker is a good example. Uniqlo sells clothes perfect for both season sbut you will have to order online because we have no Uniqlo on the southern islands.

Hopefully this helps you with your preparations regarding which clothes to bring to the southern islands, and congratulations on coming to Kagoshima!

 

13330545_10154151123671192_558415697_nNathaniel Hayes is an ALT on Amami Oshima Island

Living on an Island: The Island Experience

Post by Becca Simas, an ALT on Amami Island

 

Like most prefectural ALTs, I didn’t find out exactly where I would be placed in Kagoshima until about a month before my departure. I dreamed about all the different places I could end up—the Osumi or Satsuma peninsula, Kagoshima City, or one of the islands. But I never really imagined I would end up on an island. Then on June 27th, I received an email from the Kagoshima BoE about my exact placement.

The first time I looked up Oshima High School’s address on Google Maps and it dropped a pin in the middle of the ocean…I cried. I was banished from the mainland! Was I going to be the only ALT there? I don’t speak any Japanese…how am I going to survive? How will I travel to all of the places I want to see in Japan?

I immediately announced in the KAJET Facebook group that I was headed to the islands. Within a few hours, I was greeted by two of my sempais, warmly welcoming me to island life. I thanked the gods old and new that I wasn’t going to be alone.

The day I arrived, my predecessor and three of my English teachers warmly greeted me at the airport with a giant sign and some hugs. As we drove to my new apartment, I constantly interrupted myself in conversation because I couldn’t stop gushing about the view along the coast —the crashing turquoise waves peppered with surfers and paddle boarders, the seemingly endless stretch of bone-white sand and palm trees, the towering rock formations jutting out of the water. My predecessor stopped at a lookout so I could marvel at the beach up close. I breathed in the salty ocean air and thought, “I could get used to this.”

But the best part about living on Amami is not the gorgeous views of the endless sea or the tropical atmosphere: it’s the people.

IMG_4307There are six ALTs on Amami—or islanders—as we like to call ourselves. We also have six fellow islanders spread out on Kikai, Tokunoshima, and Okinoerabu. A few times a year we plan islander events because it is much more convenient for us to island hop for a weekend than it is to ship up to the mainland. If we choose to leave Amami, the overnight ferry to Kagoshima takes 11 hours, and the hour-long plane ride costs about 25,000 yen round-trip. Sometimes I have the green-eyed monster over missing out on events that happen up in Kagoshima, like the recent culture day festival. Sometimes it even feels weird to call the southern islands a part of Kagoshima prefecture when we are actually closer to Okinawa. We are our own entity.

But as islanders, we all look out for each other. On weekends, you can usually find some of us cycling to Bashayama for an afternoon at our favorite bakery and beach, spending hours at one of the island’s hidden cafés, snorkeling, running along the ferry port, singing karaoke with our Eikaiwa friends, driving down to Koniya for a random festival, or seeing who can stack up the most sushi plates at Manten.

Island life harbors a strong sense of community. Our Japanese friends who knew our predecessor’s predecessor’s predecessor have so many great stories and memories to share. One of our long-time members of Eikaiwa has been friends with the ALTs down here for almost a decade! It was so comforting to walk into a built-in family here and feel so included upon my first step off the airplane.

I’ve been living on Amami Oshima for only three and a half months now, and already I can’t imagine myself anywhere else. I love the routine I’ve created on my island, and I’ve never felt more relaxed, despite my busy job at my high school. In shimaguchi (island dialect), we have the word yui— which I’ve been told translates to connection, or bond. It’s crazy how a bunch of strangers from all over the world have created an inseparable yui on our islands. Even though I cried upon first hearing about my  placement, I wouldn’t trade where I am right now for anything.

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Author Bio: Becca is a second-year ALT living in “the big city” on Amami Oshima. This will be her second year not living through a cruel New England winter and she is so excited. Becca loves running, teaching, and writing. She is also the Co-Sports Editor for AJET Connect Magazine. You can read more of her work at beccamayhem.wordpress.com

Waido! Waido! The Bullfighting Island of Tokunoshima

By Micah Mizukami, an ALT in Amagi-cho (Tokunoshima)

 

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For many, bullfighting conjures images of Spain and its matadors with red capes. The first thing that comes to mind is probably not a tiny tropical island located between Okinawa and Kagoshima, especially one that most people have never heard of. However, this tiny tropical island called Tokunoshima is essentially the capital of bullfighting in Japan. Unlike Spanish bullfighting, however, bullfighting on Tokunoshima pits two bulls against each other.
 
Bullfighting (tougyu in Japanese) is believed to have started about 400 years ago in the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa and the Amami Islands. On Tokunoshima, the bullfight beings with each bull entering the ring with its owners and supporters, who beat taiko drums, play horns, whistle, and dance in excitement. The two bulls lock horns and butt heads until one bull runs away in defeat. During the fight, one trainer from each team stays in the ring alongside the bull encouraging it to fight. Once the fight is over, the drums and horns start up again in celebration and bull trainers and their supporters ride the bulls in delight. They cry out, “Waido! Waido!” – a traditional bullfighting cheer – to express their euphoria. (An example can be seen here.).
 
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Here on Tokunoshima, with a population of about 27,000 people, bullfighting is a way of life. It is not uncommon to see trainers walking their bulls on the road or on the beach. Many children also aspire to continue Tokunoshima’s tradition of bullfighting. In the classroom, children break out dancing while shouting “Waido! Waido!” to celebrate winning a game. During lunch breaks, students even fold simple origami bulls to fight.
 
On Tokunoshima there are three championship bullfights a year – in January, May, and October. If you ever find yourself on Tokunoshima during one of these months, please check out a bullfight and experience Tokunoshima’s unique waido culture.
 
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