In the land of a red lion

In the land of a red lion

The red lion followed me with the stare from its look-out on the red tiled roof of the low house. Its fanged mouth twisted in a contemptuous sneer as my bike slip sideways on the fine sand of the street, narrowly avoiding a slow-motion collision with a water buffalo.  An ancient villager peered briefly from her doorway, before returning back into the coolness of the house – she has seen it all to many times before on her tourist-ridden island of Taketomi.

Shisa
Taketomi is a tiny (only 9km in circumference) coral island.  It is inhabited by some 300 people, countless stray cats, and quite a lot of water buffalos. Each year this small paradise of tranquility is visited by some 300 000 tourists, taking the 10 min long ferry ride from the neighboring Ishigaki Island to see the traditional Ryuukyuu village, and stroll along the beaches covered in star-shaped sand. There is not much to do on Taketomi, and that is exactly what makes it so popular. In the over-crowded and much too noisy Japan such an oasis of nature is a real rarity. Here, no cars pollute the narrow, sandy lanes. Nobody screams out the latest deals into a megaphone.  The traffic on the only paved road is scarce, with most tourists and locals using bicycles to get from A to B.  For most part, only the sound of wind, bird song and the music of sanshin fill the air.
The only mean to get to the island is by ferry. Two companies operate the ferries, which run every 30 min. Upon arrival, one can choose between several minibuses, run by bicycle rental companies, water buffalo cart companies, and some B&B’s.  The drive from the pier to the village takes about 7 minutes. The distance could easily be covered on foot, but it would be a sweaty and boring affair. Most tourists choose to use one of the bike rentals, the bike being the cheapest and most convenient choice, despite the difficulty to cycle on fine sand. However, the more touristy-minded visitors board one of the carts pulled by water buffalos, and tour the village while listening to the driver singing traditional Okinawan songs to the accompaniment of the sanshin.
Whichever mode of transport one chooses, there are a few “must-sees” on the island – the lookout tower is one of them, allowing the bird-eye look over Taketomi. The beaches with star-shaped sand, or actually skeletons of tiny star fish, are also worth a visit, even though the “stars” are getting fewer and fewer in between. The village itself is interesting as well, with its uniform, low houses covered by red tiled roofs, hidden behind tall stone walls, and protected by shisa lions.
After a morning of sightseeing, one should visit one of the family-run eateries for a lunch of noodles or Okinawan cuisine. It is possible to stay overnight on Taketomi, but the size of the island make it possible to cover it in just a few hours.
The village from the look-out tower
red lion
ancient bullock cart

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In the land of a red lion

In the land of a red lion In the land of a red lion Reviewed by Zahir Style on August 08, 2019 Rating: 5

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