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One of Okinawa’s Best Kept Secrets: Kitadaito Island
post : 2019.05.24 07:00
“Do you know of any outer islands that’s off the beaten track?” If someone were to ask me that, I’d respond, “Kitadaito Island.” This island is located 360km east of Okinawa Island, an hour and 15 minutes by plane or 15 hours by ferry that departs from Tomari Port. From the sky, the island is shaped like an ocarina. This romantic island is truly a secluded island floating on the great open seas.
What I enjoy on Kitadaito Island is going fishing and to the “snack” bars. Fishing there is like “fishing off a tanker in the middle of the Pacific Ocean”. At the tiny snacks on the island, I enjoy the island’s liquor accompanied by karaoke among the cheerful locals. The vast seas and the night sky glittering with stars, and small watering holes. The complete opposite in the sizes of these charms offered at Kitadaito inevitably forces one to realize how huge the cosmos is and how little we humans are.
Kitadaito Island doesn’t have a whole lot of tourist spots. But I do recommend visiting the phosphate mine remains and seeing the cluster of stone structural remains surrounding it, as well as the folk museum. Phosphate was discovered during the pioneer days in the Taisho period (1912-1926) in Japan, and up until about the 1950s, phosphate mining flourished during that time as the central industry of the island. The old site speaks of the bygone days and has a very unique atmosphere. The folk museum offers information about the history, culture, and nature of Kitadaito Island, an island of the great pioneers. Some of the exhibits, particularly about the dialect are interesting, and the museum lets you know a lot about Kitadaito Island in a short visit.
At its peak, the island’s population was high as 4,000 residents, but presently, there are 660 people living here. Take a nice bike ride on the island, and you’ll likely see more cats and goats than people.
Depending on how you look at things, some may think this is a lonely island. On the other hand, you can also say that Kitadaito Island is charming simply because there aren’t many people and tourist spots. Besides the morning “rush” hour, lunchtime, and evenings when people are heading home, there aren’t many cars on the roads either. A bike ride on the island’s quiet roads offers a comfortable feeling that you have the whole island to yourself.
Pedaling away on your bike along the roads lined with sugarcane fields, you’ll see the leaves of the canes dancing in the breeze. The rape-flower blossoms along the paths welcome you, and in the grass in the distance, you may see a cat or two in hiding, and looking at you suspiciously with glaring eyes. In this environment, you really don’t feel alone nor lonely.
The island is also known for its potato farms. As the island’s main industry, sugarcane farming has risks of plant diseases when grown consecutively, so since some few years ago, farmers have been actively engaging in crop rotations. The potatoes harvested here have a very strong flavor, as they are grown with abundant minerals that are carried to the island by the sea breeze. Besides its taste, they’re also getting attention for its rarity, since they are not commonly found off the island. Being an isolated island, transportation of goods can get costly, and so these potatoes are in the spotlight as a “rare” specialty product. I tasted the potatoes, and it was so flavorful that I didn’t even need to shake any salt on it. Although the potatoes from Kitadaito Island are hard to find anywhere else, you can enjoy the potatoes which are used to distill Potechu, a potato shochu liquor, as well as in the Okunawa Curry, created with specialty products from five different outer islands of Okinawa. If you get a chance, definitely give them a try.
Another fun thing about strolling on the island on a bicycle is that you’ll likely see some interesting things like the old tractor shown above. It’s not just an old tractor, but it’s a Massey Ferguson and it’s still in working order. Perhaps this is one of the remnants of the period when Okinawa was under American administration after the war.
Next is this uniquely colored structure, combined with a pine tree at front. There are many people on Kitadaito Island who moved here from the island of Hachijojima, and apparently the language and traditional events are different from the other areas of Okinawa. In various locations throughout the settlements, you’ll see Yashiro shrines erected instead of the Utaki seen in other places in Okinawa.
In a Japanese movie, this secluded island was where the main character’s long-distance love interest lived. I hope that you’ll visit Kitadaito Island as well as Minamidaito Island to enjoy a uniquely simple and down-to-earth atmosphere found here.
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda