Thursday, July 24, 2014

Journey to Oki

In 1332, the former Emperor Go-Daigo was exiled to the Oki Islands of Shimane, and managed to escape by laying in a cargo boat and covering himself with cuttlefish. He spent the entire long boat ride underneath the dried fish until finally reaching the shores of Izumo.
To this day, it is still a challenge getting on and off the Oki islands. You won’t have to cover yourself with cuttlefish, but you will need to ride at least 3 modes of public transportation, and the journey takes a full day if you are lucky.
I live in the same prefecture that contains the Oki Islands, a mere 200 km from my village, but this epic journey consisted of four modes of transportation and took over seven hours. Considering that fact, imagine the time and distance others have to travel from further places, like Tokyo or Sapporo.
My Itinerary:
Thursday, 4:35-5:20 Drive from house to the train station
Thursday 5:30-6:57 Oda  station to Matsue station by train
Friday 1:05-1:45  Matsue station to Sakaiminato by bus
Friday 2:25-5:05 Sakaiminato to Nishinoshima Island by ferry
Friday 5:20-5:27 Nishinoshima to Ama by chartered ferry

Step 1: the drive

The journey starts with a 40-minute drive from my village to a train station in a larger town. My village technically has a train station, but it was damaged in the heavy rain last August (just after I moved to Japan, lucky me). Even when the train was running, it only came five times a day, which is not often enough to be useful to anyone. So I drive 40 minutes to Oda city, where I board the train at Oda Station.

Step 2: the scenic train journey

At Oda Station, I take the San-in line to Matsue. There is also technically only one train and one line, so this isn’t very confusing at all. Driving to Matsue is also possible and takes just over two hours, but I prefer to take the train for added comfort.
The cheapest ticket is just over 1,100 yen one-way. The San-In lines operates a charming yet archaic train with booth seat that face each other. The railroad run alongside the ocean, through tunnels of green jungle.
After an hour and a help on the train, I arrive at Matsue Station. This bustling capital of 200,000 people couldn’t be more different than the mountain village of 3,000 people that I left behind. 

Step 3: the city bus

 From Matsue Station I board a bus to Sakaiminato pier.  If timed correctly, it is possible to board the bus soon after disembarking from the train, but in this case I decided to break the journey into two days. I spent the night at a hotel in Matsue and boarded the bus the next morning at 1:00 pm.
The ride to Sakaiminato takes 50 minutes. It is a pleasant journey through the suburbs of Matsue and into industrial areas with sprawling factories.

Saikaiminato is home to Kitaro Road, a street of bronze sculptures dedicated to the Japanese ghosts and monsters that appear in the classic comic GeGeGe No Kitaro. The creator of the comic, Shigeru Mizuki is from Sakaimiminato, a great source of pride for this obscure town. There are over one hundred sculptures on display along the sidewalk leading to Sakaiminato pier. I didn’t have time to see them all, but I took a few photographs.

After passing time around the port, boarding opens for the ship 10 minutes before departure. I was shocked by both the ship’s size and condition. It was an odd vessel of decaying glamour, a passage back to a time when televisions on ships were source of wonder. Since then few upgrades have been made. Instead of rows of seats there are large carpeted rooms where people crowd in groups and lay down to nap, their eyes covered with masks and blankets for their bodies. The windows of these rooms were all occupied by people taking up space in front of them. The air was still and dry. The old TVs were planning game shows, and it was horribly depressing. I escaped it by coming out to the deck, where I could rest in solitude, deaf to the obnoxious sound of chatting groups and the television. The sea was my companion out there. Perhaps because I could stare at its flat, unmoving horizon, I didn’t feel the movement of the ship, which is usually a source of sickness of me.

Step 4: the ship

As we departed music made by the ship’s deep engine humming accompanied the journey. The vessel tore into the ocean’s fleshy surface, sending white-rimmed waves sweeping to both sides of its knife-like edges. I was sitting on the floor of the ship’s green deck, shaded from the sun by one deck above me, kept cool by the sea’s steady winds, and the occasionally of ocean mist from below. I longed to sleep on the open deck, with the scent and taste of the ocean beside me, being gently sung to sleep by the grumbling belly sounds of the engine. The journey lasted two and a half hours.
I wrote in my diary,

“The Oki islands appear, as apparitions do, as dreams do, veiled in white mists, indistinguishable from afar. They are the phantoms of islands, the shadows of islands.

Primordial rocks spring out of the cerulean blue water, as through they had been born ancient. Moisture lingers in the air obscuring distance and colors. There is no border between the sky and sea. They meet somewhere in an infinite blurring of the horizon. Every point of land was sharp, every angle acute, steep slopes rolls towards the bottomless cliffs. The rocks are in a frozen state of motion.

A lighthouse appears, the only structure on a green mound with brown rocky cliffs diving from frightfully steep heights into the ocean.”

Step 5: the inter-island ferry

We finally arrived at Nishinoshima port, the largest port in Dozen, but my journey was not complete. I still needed to board another ferry to Ama-cho. Thankfully, this has been chartered especially for participants in the Walk. After exiting Nishinoshima Port, I was guided to a small speed boat along with 15 other people, which sped through the lagoon water and brought us to Ama-cho in exactly seven minutes, thereby finally concluding my two-day journey to the Oki Islands.

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