On my summer vacation to the Oki Islands last year (which was fantastic in so many ways), I took two half-days to try out an art project: mud dyeing.

It was something I decided rather randomly. I showed up on Nishinoshima having only decided that I wanted to see horses (and I saw lots of horses), but I had no plan for the next day. The tourism information office directly across from the ferry port was extremely helpful, and has lots of information lined up to answer my “what shall I do?” question. Not only did they give me suggestions, but they made all the reservations for me. That’s also how I suddenly wound up SCUBA diving the following morning.

Following my dive and my seafood lunch, I went out to start my art project. Mud dyeing starts with bright red rocks like this, one of the many, many geological features in this UNESCO Geo-Park.

It’s broken up into even brighter pieces like this, which we use for the dye. You can also make it into clay for pottery.

It can be used to dye many differents of fabrics, I was sticking with a very simple weave that would make the color show up really well for a tie-dye effect. I enjoyed trying out a bunch of different ways of folding and tying the cloths so that I could see what sort of effects I’d get, but if I were ever to do this again, I’d probably start with a pattern in mind and attempt to stick to it. As you can see in these charcoal tie-dyes, you can do a lot of cool stuff with it if you have some clue what you’re doing.

After binding the parts of the cloth you want to leave undyed, you work the mud water into it…

…and then hang it out to dry.

The following day, I returned to finish up. Usually, in order to get a very deep color, you’d want to leave them out longer before giving them a salt water rinse, but in the interest of time we sped up the process a bit. Off to the beach we went!

The water was super clear and you could see lots of tiny fish until you rinsed the cloths and the muddy color clouded about. While out there in the sun, the lady who taught to do this and I had a fun conversation about her sudden decision to move from Gifu to the Oki Islands after seeing a segment about them on TV, and about how pleasant it is to live among both mountains and the sea. (Later, she also made me lunch, drove me to the port, and just when I thought we had said good-bye, she came back and asked if I wanted ice cream. So we had ice cream together, too.)

While giving them a little more time to dry in the sunshine before packing them up and taking them with me, I took a stroll around the area to see the greenery, the flowers, and the water.

My “designs” turned out kind of cool, but very uncoordinated.

That’s okay. I went to the islands to enjoy going with the flow and doing things in the moment instead of trying to stick to a plan.


This is a well-known story in the Oki Islands. It’s a story about Yurahime Shrine on Nishinoshima, but it is said to have originated on Chibu. They are both small islands to the west, and Nishinoshima is one of my favorite hiking spots in Japan. Despite all the semi-wild horses that roam Nishinoshima, the island’s mascot is a squid.

One day, Yurahime, who was said to be a daughter of Susano-o*, floated out to sea in a wash bucket for potatoes. What she was doing in the bucket, I do not know.

Along the way, she amused herself by lightly dipping her hand in the water. A squid thought it would be funny to mess with her and yanked on her hand. Some say that it bit her.

As punishment for that one squid that picked on her, giant groups of squid has to gather in the harbor right in front of Yurahime Shrine every year.

(*Some people say that this is another name for Suseri-bime, but I don’t see much to back this up, and that’s just asking for more confusion. At least I’m pretty sure she’s not a potato.)

I don’t know, if I were Yurahime and was trouble by the squid teasing me, I probably would not want bunches of them showing up at my door step.

This is a real occurence, though. So many squid would show up in this harbor that, from the Meiji period through about 1945, there used to be about thirty fisherman’s’ shops set up annually right around the harbor to wait for them, and they come in huge group into such shallow water that they can just put on a pair of rubber boots and then scoop up bucketfuls with their hands.

However, the squid eventually figured this out and stopped flooding the harbor. Or at least, they don’t do it as often any more. Every few years it still occurs, it seems.

However, even if this phenomenon is not quite what it used to be, squid fishing is still a big, big thing on the Oki Islands (and other places along the Sea of Japan coast of the San’in region).

Especially around Oki, fishing for them at night is very common, and they use boats with lots and lots of giant light bulbs. They’re really massive, cool looking things that are also used for decoration around some spots on the islands, and their light is so bright that the seasoned squid fishers have tanned skin from working all night right under them. The squid think that this bright light is daylight and come to the surface, only to caught. Who is the joke on now, squids?

They look somewhat squid-like, too.

They look somewhat squid-like, too.

I didn’t used to like squid, but I’ve come to appreciate it while living here, the translucent raw squid that is often served as part of a sashimi course at fancy dinners. For those looking to try it for the first time, dried squid is nice. One of my earlier interpreting jobs was explaining how to gut the things and prep them for drying, but I didn’t do it myself.

My most distinctive San’in squid memory was last December, on a winter night spent at the Takobana cottages in Shimane-cho, overlooking the Sea of Japan from high cliffs. While making hot pot and playing games with my coworkers and waking up to the sound of the waves was nice, we all shared a strange experience looking out at the sea that night and seeing the bright white lights on the horizon. In the sky, however, they were straight, vertical lines of white light, not reaching down to the horizon and not reflecting off of any visible clouds. If we were not away that it was squid abduction going on, we all would have been convinced that it was alien abductions going on.

In anticipation of 海の日 (Umi-no-Hi, “Marine Day”) this Monday, a public holiday set aside for enjoying and giving thanks for the ocean, here are a bunch of photos of various ocean scenes around Oki! Speaking of public holidays for appreciating nature, the land-locked prefectures (hard to believe there would be land-locked prefectures in Japan, huh? There’s 8 by my count!) can’t enjoy this public holiday like everyone else, so this year they decided to create a new public holiday, 山の日 (Yama-no-Hi, “Mountain Day”) to start on August 11, 2016.

This will wrap up my Oki entries for now, but the content of the rest of the trip might come up in the future, too. For now, enjoy the pretty ocean (and neat Geopark rock formations!)! And then go to the beach! If you’re not land-locked, anyway.

We saw comb jellies at this beach when we went back a little later in the day–they’re so cool! Photos don’t really do justice to how they light up. Oh, and this is one of many beaches appreciated by poets and other high-class people banished to the islands. You can still live a comfortable life here, so they are considered appropriate for banishing nobles to.

After visiting the horses and fishes around Nishinoshima, I headed to the big island of Okinoshima. Among my adventures there was a sea kayaking trip. It wasn’t quite as sunny as when I went scuba diving and there were more waves, but the four of us–a couple fellow JETs, our guide, and myself–got to explore several caves and observe the creatures living in them. That was in addition to all the explanations of unique geological formations the island is known for, but rather than reexplaining them all here myself the official homepage of the Oki Islands Geopark should provide a more useful and enlighting explanation beyond “cool looking rocks! Lava did this!”

Yoroi-iwa, “Armor Rock”

So! On to the kayak tour!

This is at the northern tip of Okinoshima–people don’t live on this little island, but birds nest here, and in seems there used to be customs of swimming to this point for some kind of ritual or festival. Or just to show off your swimming skills, maybe.

Speaking of birds, this guy was part of a nest inside a cave, but he’s still a little clumsy at flying! We watched him fall in the water after a not so graceful flight attempt across the cave, then he swam in front of us for a while before hopping around the rock walls again. His hopping wasn’t very graceful, either. Ah, and the mom and dad birds weren’t so pleased with our visit when they came back later.

This sea slug (or sea hare) wasn’t very thrilled to see us, either. See that purple ink? It’s a last line of defense. Had it have been in the water, you’ve have lost sight of it in a cloud.

Now if we were lobsters, this stuff would gotten all over our scent receptors and made it difficult for us to smell the tasty sea slug. Cool, huh?

We also saw a number of other fish, jellies, barnicles, crabs, and even caught some good glimpses of sazae–turban shells, a local specialty both on the shores of the Oki Islands and the shores of the mainland.

Click for source. Not one of my favorites, but I tolerate them in some dishes like sazae curry or sazae rice.

See look, no sight of sazae! Just harmless little bite-sized pieces.

I much prefer the other local specialty that we saw plenty of, though I’ve only tried kame-no-te (“turtle hands”) once in soup form.

Click for source. Not actually related to turtles, these things grow in groups like barnicles.

Alas, I did not have any more kame-no-te on this trip, but in addition to squid (a major part of local industry) and an assortment of very fresh sashimi, I also tried oysters for the first time in recollection. Although they do serve them raw, right after we got the suggestion for the daily special from our sea kayaking guide, I opted for fried oysters (kaki, not to be confused with persimmons) in curry. Apparently curry style is the best way to serve something one is unfamiliar with, but I’ll stick with normal curry in everyday life, thanks.

That’s a lot of oyster. I prefer shijimi clams, though…

Next time, let’s just stick to some light sight-seeing.

Besides the iconic rock formations and 257 meter Matengai cliff, Kuniga Coast on the northwest side of the northwestern island of Nishinoshima is also famous for semi-wild horses and cows.

Nishinoshima has a human population of about 3,600, and a horse population of about 50, and a higher bovine population than 50. Having seen so many photos of the coastline and horses, this is what really brought me to Nishinoshima. While I was enjoying the hike along the coast for a while and energized by the beautiful scenery, I was just a little disappointed that I didn’t see any horses in the area. They’re free to roam, so you’re not certain to find them in the typical photogenic spots–though it’s clear they roamed there, so watch your step.

It was when I was nearing Matengai Cliff that I finally spotted a few horses and circle of cows. Yay!

If you continue hiking back around from Matengai instead of stopping there, you get you a fork in the road (one leading back to the start of the course along the coast, the other down to Urago Port). From this point you can see two coasts, and this is where the rest of the horses were hanging out. Yaaaay! So for your viewing pleasure, here are some more horse photos.

Back to sea adventures next time!

A couple weeks ago, I took a wonderful little vacation to the Oki Islands, which were added to the Global Network of National Geoparks last year. Even taking the slow (and cheap) ferry, you can get there from Matsue or Sakaiminato within hours, yet I had not done so until now.

Me? Reusing an old map? Never.

Even for technically being the rainy season, I had perfect timing–despite being the rainy season it didn’t rain during my trip, and since the official swimming season is July-August, my friends I didn’t run into much competition for beach space. Then again, this is Oki–there is always another beach and never the number of tourists you’d find elsewhere.

Besides enjoying the unique sights of the Geopark and the islands’ history, I made sure to go out and do summery things I don’t typically venture to do in daily life. Despite living so close to so many beaches, my bathing suit has had zero use the whole time I’ve lived here. That had to be amended! So I fixed it right away with my first scuba diving experience.

Ready to go! The water at Sotohama Beach was clear, and the sand has a lot of iron, so the beach looks pretty black.

When you arrive at Beppu Port on Nishinoshima Island, the Nishinoshima Tourism Association is directly across from the port, and they have everything you need to guide yourself around and book excursions and workshops for you (thanks, Nicola!). While I was there I sort of decided at random to do some scuba diving with Club Noah the following morning. I was a little bit nervous, but the weather was sunny and windless, the 2~3 hour class was designed for beginners, and I’d have a professional with me to make sure I wouldn’t die in a freak low-speed collision with a rock in 2 feet of water. Perfectly safe, right?

Yeah, perfectly safe. But the first breath underwater was so scary I stood straight up out of the water as if on reflex. Never fear, the guys at Club Noah are used to dealing with people who are sort of freaked out by the thought of deep breaths while you’re surrounded by water. Aided by cheerfulness and patience, I got used to the whole breathing thing, and then we could actually swim around.

It was very shallow water and we only got as far as three meters deep, but there was still a lot to see there. Perhaps we could have gone further if I had been less chicken and more true to my name from the start–just as I was really absorbed in the dive and having a lot of fun and no longer so conscious of breathing, it was time to head back to shore. At least what I saw was pretty!


This was a bouncy one that was safe to touch. Gently, of course!

This type of sea slug is called “umiushi” in Japanese–“sea cow.”

We saw rainbowfish that looked more rainbow-y, but this is the one we got a picture of.

No sea horses… but there were lots and lots of horses on Nishinoshima. Next time!

Two thirds of the Kojiki myths take place in the San’in region. Though most of them take place in the Izumo region (primarily modern the cities/towns of Izumo, Matsue, Unnan, and little bits of Okuiizumo and Yasugi), the White Hare of Inaba–Inaba-no-Shirousagi–takes place primarily on the eastern end of modern day Tottori in what used to be known as Inaba Province. The name makes my inner Persona 4 fan smile, but the name typically only remains as a general area name rather than a town itself (though there are districts in larger cities in other prefectures called Inaba, too). The white hare itself is originally from the Oki Islands, which you can read more about in this entry. Izumo still has a guest mention in this myth, as Onamuji and his 80 brothers are originally from Izumo.

While the actual location of the hare’s entry point on the mainland and godly encounters are fairly definitive, I haven’t found any materials indicating his point of departure from Oki. Based on the point of the island located closest to the Tottori shore, Daft Logic says it would be a 109.449 kilometer journey in a straight line. What’s more, if the hare’s fur was already white, then it would have been winter at the time. Talk about a brisk journey! And how about counting those sharks/crocadiles? If we were to assume a meter for each of them, then that’s 109,449 sharks/crocodiles. I think it’s fairly safe to assume the hare wasn’t counting.

I decided to have this blog cover the whole San’in region instead of just the Izumo region specifically to include this story in the Kojiki narrative, but I have to admit I still have yet to visit eastern Tottori, the Oki Islands, or for that matter, anything west of Hamada in Shimane. The Izumo region is where I gather most of my material, and I’m a touch biased. I meant to take my own photos though, really! For this entry, you’ll have to bare with borrowed photos, and I’ll focus on other sights when I eventually get to Tottori-shi and the Oki Islands myself.

First off, a huge thank-you to Bernice at Made in Matsue for letting me use some of her photos. Please check out her entries for more photos of Hakuto Beach and Hakuto Shrine.

Hakuto Beach is where the white hare was said to arrive, lose his fur, get fooled by the 80 brothers, and finally have his encounter with Onamuji. The place where the potential suitors met Yagami-hime is likely close to there, and though it is not explicit, it’s probably okay to assume she lived in or somewhere around Menuma Shrine, which is dedicated to her.

Thanks, Bernice!

Thanks, Bernice!

Hakuto Shrine, the shrine across the road from the beach, is said to be the specific place where the hare met Onamuji and healed himself in the Mitarashi Pond. As this is a shrine dedicated to the hare, it is also an En-musubi shrine, as well as a shrine to go to ask for healing from skin diseases. This also the sight of the most photographed statue of Onamuji and the hare (there are a handful of other statues in the Izumo region, too).

Thanks, Bernice!

Thanks, Bernice!

According to this 6 minute Japanese video about visiting the shrine, a special En-musubi custom of the shrine is to purchase a bag of white stones (five for 500 yen), and try to toss them on top of the stone torii gate. If it lands on top, your wish will be granted for sure. Otherwise, just leave the stone with the rabbit for good luck. This is just one of many, many special shrine customs in addition to the usual omikuji, ema, and omamori customs common to just about any Shinto shrine. En-musubi customs are especially popular.

Those are the primary points to cover for where the legend actually is said to take place. The Izumo region, though it is home to Yamata-no-Orochi and Yomi legends as well as legends I haven’t even touched on yet, doesn’t let the Inaba keep its claim to Kojiki fame. No, the hare has left its mark everywhere on this side of the region. Apparently it was a well traveled little hare, but if it hopped across over 100,000 beastsworth of sea, I supposed it’s not surprising it if made a tour around other parts of ancient Japan.

Congratulations, Oki Islands Geopark! It was announced on September 9, 2013, that they are to be a new member of the Global Geoparks Network.

Click for photo source and English article on Kyodo News.

The islands can now be accessed by ferry ports in Matsue and Sakaiminato, as well as by flights from Osaka and Izumo. Although archeological evidence suggests the islands have been inhabited since at least the Jomon era (1000~300 b.c.), they had been regarded as a far removed place suitable for sending a couple of banished emperors in the Heian era (794-1185 a.d.). I’ve heard that because of this, the local dialect somewhat resembles the Kyoto dialect. I wonder how many people would agree with that? I frequently hear about the culture in Matsue being compared to Kyoto, but the Izumo dialect is more often compared to the zuzu-ben way of speaking in the Tohoku region!

Despite the distance in the past, they were frequently ruled by the same clans that ruled the Izumo region, but when the prefectural system replaced the provincial system, Oki Prefrecture existed for about five months in 1869. After that, it was a part of Tottori Prefecture for about seven years before becoming a part of Shimane Prefecture, as it still is today.

I haven’t been there yet, but they’re on my list of priorities for next summer. I want to be able to enjoy both the land and the ocean! Thankfully, JAPANiCAN has recently opened a very helpful, informative English guide to the islands, including pretty photos.

To learn a bit more about what a Geopark is, please visit this National Geographic article: UNESCO’s Geoparks “Clarify” Geotourism

This is a story from the Oki Islands, a unique ecosystem where they are still discovering new species of weevils and other critters like mentioned in this story. Perhaps there are Tengu, too.

Oki Islands Geopark, Shimane

This is a story that happened a long, long time ago. There once was a filial but poor young man, and his greedy relative, Uncle Gonzou.

One day, the young man’s aged mother fell ill. He wanted to have a doctor see her, but had no money and was worried about what to do. With no alternatives, he went to his uncle for help. “I want to take my mother to see a doctor, so could you lend me some money? I’ll work to earn the money to pay you back,” he pleaded.

“A poor chump like you wouldn’t be able to pay back anything you borrow. I’m not lending you anything!” Gonzou refused.

The youth was at a loss and trudged home. On the way, he took a break to sit among the roots of a giant pine and think about what else he might be able to do. At some point, he nodded off to sleep.

Then an old man with a long, pure white beard approached him and gave him a pair of single-post geta sandals.

Ipponha Geta

The bearded old man said, “When you put on these geta and fall down in them, a small gold coin will come out of them. Only do it once a day, you hear? If you fall around too much, you’ll hurt your back and start to shrink.”

When the young man awoke, he found the pair of geta set right beside him. He happily hurried home to try them out. Putting them on and then sending himself tumbling, he found that the geta did indeed dispense a small gold coin. He then rushed to take his mother to see a doctor, and she soon recovered.

Uncle Gonzou noticed and found it strange. Something is fishy here. They couldn’t have had any money, so what happened? he thought, and then spied on the youth from the window. At that moment, he was putting on the geta, and then he threw himself down, and a gold coin came out of the sandles. So seeing, the selfish man began to covet the pair of geta.

The next day, he went to the young man’s home and asked, “I heard you’ve got a pretty special pair of geta in this house. Would you mind lending them to me for just a little while?”

“Sure, why not? But make sure you only use them once a day. If you fall down too much, you’ll hurt your back and start to shrink.”

Uncle Gonzou was beside himself with glee to take them home with him. As soon as he arrived, he closed the door behind him, spread out a large cloth on the floor, and then stood on top of it wearing the geta. He then proceeded to throw himself down over and over, tumbling and tumbling. He took a break to admire the mountain of gold coins he had amassed, but he then noticed the mountain was growing bigger and bigger because he was shrinking smaller and smaller. Soon, he body has shrunk so small that he was the size and shape of a beetle.

The young man soon began to wonder what his uncle was up to, and went to his house to check on him. Having received no answer when he knocked, he entered, and only saw a large pile of coins and the geta, but no sign of his uncle. He looked everywhere, but could only conclude that his uncle was gone. He gathered the gold coins and the geta to take them home, but only after flicking a bug off of them.

That’s why weevils (zoumushi) are called Gonzou Bugs, after the selfish old uncle, so they say.

Continued in Part 2