Just got back from 3 great days exploring Dogo, the largest of the Oki Islands.
The Okis lie off the Shimane coast, just north of the westernmost part of Honshu. From the ferry terminal in Matsue City's Shichirui-wan Bay it takes about two and a half hours by ferry (2,530 yen one-way) , or one hour by hydrofoil - which are getting a rep as whale-killers (4,990 yen one-way).
From Osaka it would take the best part of six hours on a combination of shinkansen bullet train to Okayama (60 min), the Hakubi Line (West Tottori-Okayama Railway) to Maigo (2 hr 10 min), the Sakai Line to Sakai-Minato (45 min), the bus to Shichirui (17 min), then the ferry to Dogo (2 hr 20 min).
Clean air, crystal clear azure waters, wonderful sunsets, steep mountains NOT covered in tree farms, great food, and friendly locals.
The Okis are famous as a place of exile, the most notable being Emperor Gotoba and Emperor Godaigo. The presence of the emperors and their considerable entourages meant that until recently the locals spoke Kyoto dialect, in spite of the islands being about 260km from the old capital as the crow flies.
One of the amusements arranged for the Emperors was bull-fighting. No tight satin pants, capes and swords though. It's actually more like bull
sumo. The bulls lock horns and push until one turns tail and runs away.
There were no matches going on while we were there, but I did manage to catch a glimpse of some bulls relaxing between matches. Oki is famous for its beef, though I don't think the flavor is related to the fighting.
The Okis are reputedly home to particularly beautiful women, so in the interests of research I kept my eyes open and, sure enough, I would have to agree.
Another thing that Oki is known for - though they still don't like to talk about it - is that during the forced separation of Buddhism and Shinto at the start of the Meiji Era, every single temple in the Okis was destroyed, making it the most extreme example of the separation anywhere in Japan. There still are very few Buddhist temples on the islands, but there are masses of Shinto shrines, many of them in the distinctive Oki-zukuri (literally 'Oki-built') style.
The trip was largely to conduct research on these shrines, so we took a little 90cc motorbike with us so we could easily get around the main island of Dogo and get to the out-of-the-way places that couldn't be reached by bus.
The Okis play a part in one of Japan's current disputes with Korea. The Dokdos are uninhabited rocks lying in the sea between Japan and Korea. In 1905 an Oki man filed papers in Japan to claim them for Japan where they are now known as Takeshima. All over the Okis are maps which show Takeshima and which explain Japan's "rightful" claim to them. Historical evidence suggest they do in fact belong to Korea, but the main economy of the Oki's is fishing, and the Dokdos are surrounded by fishing grounds.
We stayed 2 nights at a minshuku in the port town of Saigo. Minshuku are plentiful all over the islands, and I dont know if we were lucky, but the food was excellent. I'm no great fan of Japanese food - I can take it or leave it- but all the meals we had were especially tasty with lots of fresh seafood and beef. More surprising is that for the very first time ever I left the table after a Japanese meal feeling quite full!
As well as the peace and tranquility of the islands, the coastline is spectacular with many colored cliffs and strange rock formations. My wife was particularly impressed with the public toilets - they were everywhere, and in spotless condition, some even sporting lace curtains.
Read a guide to the Oki Islands
Books on Japanese Nature
Images of Japan
Japan Books and DVDs
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
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