August 2014 - Vikingess Voyages

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sightseeing in Okinawa: Kuroshima Island

6:49:00 PM
The Okinawan archipelago was originally an independent nation known as the Ryukyu kingdom until it was annexed to Japan by the Meiji state in 1879. Today 49 of the about 160 islands are inhabited, and the tropical climate makes it a popular tourist destination for Japanese tourists longing for white beaches and crystal blue ocean. It is certainly no wonder why a lot of people refer to the islands as Japan's Hawaii. 
The port at Kuroshima Island
This year I had the chance to go to Okinawa for the Japanese summer holiday known as Obon along with my boyfriend Yuma and his father. As I mentioned in my previous blogpost we spent one day in Ishigaki before we took a ferry (takes about 35 minutes from Ishigaki) to a tiny island called Kuroshima. Although Kuroshima litterarily means Black Island a lot of people refer to it as the "heart island" due to its shape. It is also known as an island that hosts more cattle (approx. 2800) than people (approx. 220)!
A cow statue by the harbor
A ninja-cow on one of the farm buildings
You can easily get around the island if you have a bike-cycle. Some of the Minshuku (Japanese inns) on the island offer free bike-cycle rental when you stay with them, so this is a great opportunity to get around the island and explore everything it has to offer. Although it is a tiny island it even has some roadsigns in English, which makes it even easier to find your way even without knowledge of Japanese.
Tourist sign in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean
There are no police on the island.. Except for this guy ;)
Ikosanbashi (伊古桟橋)
A white toorii by the harbour
If you go to the right by the toorii you'll find this hidden path to the beach
The hidden path to the beach
A big hermit crab I found on the beach. These cute creatures are known as yadokari (宿借 -lit. house borrower) in Japanese!
The hidden beach close to the Kuroshima habour
Although the beach from the photos above was nice and clean there was unfortunately a number of beaches in Kuroshima where you can see a lot of plastic rubbish probably washed up from other nearby islands. This really shows how important it is to make sure that our garbage is disposed properly (or even better: avoid pet bottles etc etc)!
One of the main tourist attractions on the island is the Sea Turtle Research Center located on the west side of the island. Kuroshima's Sea Turtle Research Center was founded in 1973, and has made a great contribution to sea turtle research and conservation. The entrance fee to the center is only 300 yen/person, and in addition to the cute turtles you also get access to a small museum inside the center.

By the entrance to the Sea Turtle Research Center
Different types of turtles (apparently found drowned in fishermen's nets) on display and information about them.
The museum also has a huge collection of coral 
..and shells
From the aquarium part of the research center
Turtle pool outside the research center
The big turtles are kept outside in a large pool, and there are also some small pools for the baby turtles not yet ready to be released into the ocean. You can read more about the Sea Turtle Research  Center on the Ishigaki website.

A small restaurant called Undoya where you can try some local ramen
After a day of sightseeing you might want to visit a restaurant to try out some local dishes. As you might have expected there aren't really that many restaurants to choose from here, but you can still get yourself a decent meal in the few restaurants available. We stopped by a restaurant called Undoya one day, and their ramen was delicious.
Undoya ramen
During our 3 days in Kuroshima we stayed at a Japanese-style inn called Minshuku Kuroshima. It was a small inn run by a couple probably in their late 50s originally from mainland Japan (I guess the husband must have fallen in love with Okinawa and refused to go back to Tokyo). Although the standard at Minshuku inns is simple the place was nice and tidy. The stay included free bike-cycle rental, and the main building had a roof balcony where one could see the stars clearly at night. The owner of the inn was offering both snorkeling and diving trips, and we went along with him on diving trips a couple of times.
Minshuku Kuroshima
Kuroshima is a great base for people interested in underwater activities in Okinawa, and is definitely among the things I would recommend for a stay here although I haven't added any pictures from our diving/snorkeling trips to this post. Feel free to check out the links below for more information about Kuroshima:

Other pages:
Minshuku Kuroshima @ Rakuten: English or Japanese

Other blogposts:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Plastic Fantastic? Biodegradable Plastic for our Environment

8:31:00 PM
I just wanted to share this video of the amazing 16-year old Elif Bilgin from Istanbul in Turkey. All by herself she researched about how to make plastic from banana peel and came up with a solution. Bioplastic is a possible solution to the problems caused by petroleum based plastic, so hopefully her project will lead to a decrease in the usage of plastic bad for the environment.

Video Description:
Meet Elif Bilgin, winner of the Scientific American Science in Action Award and winner of the Voter's Choice Award for the Google Science Fair 2013. 

Wanting to reduce pollution in her home city of Istanbul, Elif manufactured a new environmentally-friendly bio-plastic that uses banana peels - an organic material - instead of traditional petroleum sources.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sightseeing in Okinawa: Ishigaki Island

10:57:00 PM
The annual Obon holiday has been celebrated this week in Japan, and I've utilized the opportunity to stay out of the office for three working days to make a short visit to Okinawa. This time I traveled with my boyfriend Yuma and his father, and our final destination was a small island called Kuroshima situated about twenty minutes from Ishigaki Island. Upon arrival we did however have some spare time until the last ferry of the day, so we rented a car and went sightseeing around Ishigaki. For this blog post I've decided to share some of the spots we visited on our sightseeing day in Ishigaki.

View from the northernmost point of Ishigaki Island
Ishigaki (石垣) is the second larges island of the Yaeyama archipelago. It is mostly known for its natural beauty, and the place is a popular tourist destination especially among people from mainland Japan and Taiwan. 
Hirakubo Lighthouse
Since we only were staying for a short while we didn't have the chance to explore the whole of Ishigaki, but we did drive up to the northernmost point of the island where you find a great view of the ocean that along with Hirakubo Lighthouse makes a great motif for pictures. On the way there and back again we also passed some other interesting sites and local restaurants. Most of them were closed although it was only afternoon, so the working culture is obviously slightly different from mainland Japan, haha.. (Restaurants in the city center of Ishigaki do of course stay open till late though)
A popular restaurant we passed along the way. 
We found a local restaurant that looked really nice, but it was also quite popular so after having waited for a while we decided to give it up. After having search around for open restaurants for a while without any luck we finally found an open restaurant where we tried a local dish called Yagi-Soba (山羊蕎) (Soba with goat meat). It actually tasted quite good.!
After lunch we continued our drive towards the south part of the island again. I've included a couple more photos of the trip, but since our stay was rather short this post doesn't really cover a lot of what Ishigaki has to offer.
A beach close to the road

An Okinawan restaurant with the characteristic guardian shisa statues outside
In our case we spent most of our time on Kuroshima Island, but it is totally possible to visit this and other nearby islands such as Taketomi and Kohama for instance for a day-trip. As such, if you're looking for less touristy places to visit in Okinawa then Ishigaki might be a good place to start.

For more information about Ishigaki, check out the following links:

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Sighteeing in Karuizawa: Old Karuizawa Main Street

11:17:00 AM
Old Karuizawa Main Street (旧軽井沢)
Karuizawa is an area famous for its many high-end resorts and luxurious summer houses owned by the country's many billionaires and celebrities. In the summer it is a popular destination for people who want to get away from the hot and humid city life in Tokyo, and in the winter the area attracts visitors from people interested in winter sports.
Old Karuizawa Main Street (旧軽井沢)
Last weekend I went to Karuizawa along with my friend and co-worker Kristian, some of his friends and my boyfriend Yuma to spend some time outside the increasingly hot and humid Tokyo. The first day was spent mostly relaxing, but the second day we had the chance to do some sightseeing too. We went to the old shopping street known as the Old Karuizawa Main Street, sometimes also is referred to the Old Karuizawa Ginza. Here you can find both expensive brand stores, but also interesting local stores that offer some of Karuizawa's local specialities.  

Pictures of a man with a bee beard

Kristian trying on some gigantic crocs

You can also visit a small bakery called the France Bakery where John Lennon apparently used to stop by frequently. There is a picture of him on the wall inside the bakery taken during one of his visits.

Another place that might be worth a visit is the small Karuizawa Photo Studio (軽井沢写真館) situated further down the Old Karuizawa Main Street. You can have your photo taken with dresses that make you look like you've just been traveling back in time to Europe in the 18th century or something. Apparently this photo studio is quite well-known, and it has previously been introduced on Japanese TV as well. Next time I visit Karuizawa I might want to get my picture taken here, it looks pretty cool.. Haha..

Some of the dresses you can try on for your own back-in-time photo
But of course, Old Karuizawa is also packed with more traditional Japanese places to visit. You can shake off most of the tourists and shoppers once you get further down the road, and see some nice old buildings at the same time. At the end of the road you'll find yourself almost at the brink of the forest. So if you get tired of the swarm of shoppers at the beginning of the street you might want to head over to this part of the street instead.

Typical Japanese 雰囲気

An old house at the end of the Old Karuizawa Main Street

How to get there
You can easily get to Karuizawa by Shinkanzen from Tokyo, a trip that costs 5000 yen and takes little more than an hour. If you're on a budget you can also get there for only 2000 yen by bus leaving from Ikebukuro Station. The bus trip takes about 3 hours (during the weekend you usually have to add an hour due to the congested traffic). To get to the Old Karuizawa Main Street from the station you walk north and turn right after about 1km.

Other Pages:
Karuizawa Tourist Guide
Some information about Old Karuizawa in Japanese (w. pictures)

Related Blogposts:
Rakuten Travel Hotel Training: Karuizawa Prince Hotel

About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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