The three typhoons passed without incident although Typhoon Noru, zigzagging across the Pacific in an unpredictable manner, did have us on our toes until the last moment when it finally took a more northerly turn. We are now on our journey onwards, hoping that there will be no more close calls with typhoons. We arrived in Koniya port on the southern side of the Amami Oshima island a few days ago, having sailed from Okinawa for two days and one night. The journey here was otherwise uneventful, but two heavy thunderstorms that we passed on the way did give us some chills. It is one thing to be in a marina surrounded by other boats (particularly as there are always boat with taller masts than ours) in a thunderstorm, but quite another to witness one at nighttime when alone in the middle of the ocean. Both times, we took evasive action since we could see the lightning miles away in the dark, managing to stay out of the way of the storm, but it cost us dearly in terms of nautical miles and time. Also, we were more tired than normal after an overnight sail when we got to Amami Oshima, since we didn’t really manage to sleep due to the roar of the thunder. Well, apart from Lil Sis who slept like a log and probably wouldn’t wake up even if we were actually struck by lightning.
Amami Oshima differs greatly from the other, rather flat islands that we have visited in Japan in that the terrain here is very hilly. The southern end of the island runs parallel to the northern end of another island, Kakeroma-jima, and the sheltered fjord-like water area in between called “Oshima Kaikyo” is a fantastic location for sailing. It is also an astonishingly beautiful and lush area. Koniya town has a very welcoming “visitor’s berth” in the harbour area for boats like ours despite the fact that it is a small, very non-touristy town. There is no fee to berth, and boats can get water from the park next to the concrete berth. A supermarket and some small local restaurants are within walking distance. The only thing missing from the setup is a place for rubbish disposal. We asked the town’s information centre where we can leave our rubbish, and they said there is no place to leave the rubbish and that we would have to take ours with us. Hopefully there is a place to dispose rubbish in the next port of Naze! This is not the first time that we have been surprised by the total lack of rubbish bins, let alone larger rubbish disposal areas, in Japan, but it is the first time that we truly have been unable to find any place to leave our rubbish bags.
We loved our previous location Okinawa for the convenience that it afforded in terms of shopping, boat repair and entertainment. We also met some lovely people in the marina with whom we will for sure stay in contact going forward. However, Naha and its surroundings were also very modern, and as a relatively sizeable place (not to mention its huge American army population), it didn’t have as much the feel of Japan as the other places we have visited. Well, in Koniya we are back to (what to us feels like) Japan proper. People greet us with a happy “konnichiwa” in the streets and children call out to us with a “hello” to try out their English. Here in Koniya, we have also once again experienced the astonishing friendliness of ordinary locals. Lil Sis has just finished reading the sixth book in the Harry Potter series, and when the girls saw a DVD rental shop in town, they asked us for a Harry Potter movie night on the boat. We told them that we would not be able to rent a DVD since we don’t have a local address, but they begged us to at least try, and so into the shop we went with absolutely no expectation of actually being able to rent the film. The shopkeeper soon realised that we did not speak Japanese, and that we did not have a rental membership card as required. We also managed to explain to him by way of the few Japanese words that we know, and some miming efforts, that we had arrived in town by boat. Instead of telling us the obvious fact that we did not fulfill even the smallest requirements of a rental customer, the shopkeeper slid the DVD into the box and handed it over to us without asking for any kind of documentation, and without even knowing our names. Not only that, but he completely refused to accept payment for the DVD! He just happily said “free service” and gave Mr Finn a high-five. So the girls got their movie night, and Mr Finn and I were smiling all evening too. In the morning, we returned the DVD to the shopkeeper together with some bags of sweets – and a high-five from Mr Finn – which we hope in turn made him smile.
Today, another unexpected thing happened. We woke up to someone knocking on the hull, and when Mr Finn stuck his head out of the companionway, he saw a cheerful Japanese gentleman who handed him a bag of fresh mangoes and then told Mr Finn that he would pick us up in an hour for some sightseeing. And so he did! He drove us up to a viewpoint from where we had a fantastic view over Koniya, and could also see the whole beautiful strait between Amami Oshima and Kakeroma-jima. He had brought along some ice creams in an ice box, and we stopped by a picnic area to enjoy the sweet snack. He drove us back, and refused our offers to refuel the car. He then left just as quickly as he had first appeared, but at least we had had the chance to give him some vendance or “muikku” fish that we had brought along from Finland as a tiny thank-you for the wonderful sightseeing tour and local information. Once again, we are overwhelmed by the friendliness of the locals.
The police and Coast Guard have visited us here (this is now becoming routine), and we’ve told them we are off tomorrow, so as long as the weather forecast doesn’t change overnight, we had better be on our way. We’ll try to find time to give an update next from Naze, located on the other side of Amami Oshima and a day’s sail away.