Jan 1 – Haha-jima (小笠原諸島 母島)

A very Happy New Year to you all. I hope that you were able to celebrate it in style, with family or friends. I myself had a pretty good time on the island of Haha-jima with the locals and other travellers. My 4 nights were spent at the Anna Beach Youth Hostel, a very picturesque and homey hostel. More like a B&B in fact. New Years Eve was pretty much quiet and mundane. Everybody at the hostel went to bed by 9pmish since at 4:30am the next morning, people were meant to gather under the big tree with the fairy lights for a group walk to the most eastern point of Japan to view the first sunrise of Japan. Hence I was pretty much left alone in the hostel lounge on my own, until a couple of other hostellers came by a few minutes before midnight. After congratulating each other a Happy New Year I was left alone once again. Hmmm, what is it with me and my lack of sleep?

Anyways, after barely a couple of hours of Zzzs’ I was awaken with the sound of people bustling about getting ready for the 4:30am gathering. For frick sake, I set my alarm for 4am, but people were already stomping around by 3:15am… Hmph… anyways, I was up so I joined the masses out in downtown Okimura and grabbed a shuttle ride down to the south part of the island, where after an hour long walk in the dark, we ended up on the most eastern shore of Japan. And low and behold, by around 6:17am, the first sunrise of Japan. A time to make a prayer and wish. Just when people were finished making their wishes and prayers and ready to start taking photos of the glowing redish-orange sun, as quickly the sun came out, the sun hid itself behind the clouds and was no to be seen until later on the day.

On the way back from the most eastern point of Japan, a few hostellers and I took a wee detour to a location which isn’t marked on any tourist maps, or widely announced to travellers. A bit of local inside information we received earlier, a look into one of the underground tunnels and bunkers which were outfitted with artillery canons. Plenty of derelict canons and bunkers on the island, but this location had the longest tunnel, and once you’re in it your mind starts to drift off into the past and your imagination starts to run amuck with regards to how things were in the past. I’ve yet to watch the film, Flags of our fathers or Letters from Iwo-jima, both films directed by Clint Eastwood about the battle between the Americans whom were undertaking an amphibious assault whereas the Japanese were hunkered down in their bunkers. I can only guess that battles on Haha-jima and the various islands in the Ogawasaras were as fearsome.

Back at the hostel by 8am, and a traditional Japanese New Years breakfast awaited for consumption. 御節料理 Osechi Cooking. Little bits of various things which are meant to bring good fortune. As always, the Japanese have many things which bring good luck and fortune which are all derived from play on words. Beans, because in Japanese they’re called “mame” and it’s so that you become “mame” (conscientious), Konbu, Yorokobu, Kurikinton (Kagayaku – from the colour). Also, a wee goodie bag as a New Years gift. Eventhough it was a tad kitsch, possibly a freebie from the local tourist bureau, but in anycase it’s the thought that counts. So far, I can say that my stay at this hostel has gone really well. A great location, very homey, very clean and a great variation and style of meals for breakfast and dinner. Very impressive. A great representative of the kinda style of hostel I’d possibly like to open, if I ever go that route.

After breakfast, it was a visit to the local beach where New Years celebrations were taking place. Local students performing a version of a Hula dance, shishimai Odori (dragon dance), childrens games, and plenty of free food and booze. Free booze in the forms of local rum, passionfruit liqueur, sake. And also free food, if not very VERY cheap. Turtle stew, pork stew, buntan, isobemochi, and frankfurts wrapped in banana leaves. And finally the beach activities ended with a canoe race. And yours truly got 2nd place as a visitor racer. A team of 3 members, people whom I met at the hostel. One older gentleman whom never been in a canoe, and another fella who is a deaf lifeguard. Amazingly, eventhough I don’t understand Japnaese sign language, we were able to converse quite a bit.

All in all, a very busy day. It’s been a long time in the making, but I actually crashed right after diner by about 8pm a rare one for me indeed. Then again, I’ve also been trying to rid of a nagging cough and wee temperature.

On top of Mt. ChibusayamaArtillery Storage Bunker
Local version of the hula dance during the festival for “Opening of the ocean for the New Year”
Releasing baby green turtles out to sea
When the grow big enough, you catch’em and eat’em. Turtle stew style.
Vines, vines, vines!
A panoramic view from the summit of Mt. Chibusayama