Former JET participants had alerted me to anticipate sports day at my school, but the school culture festival caught me off guard. On Saturday the entire student body took over the town performing arts theater to showcase their musical talents, art projects, comedy routines, body-building, and other shenanigans.
Some elements struck me as quintessentially Japanese, both classically (the calligraphy and martial arts demos) and modernistically (the pop idol routine and horror movie spoof). Besides a chance to relish my students’ inventiveness, the all-day weekend event also granted me an unexpected holiday: Most teachers would take off the Monday of that same weekend, but I was due to ferry to Yoron that morning — so I extended my stay on the little island instead.
After almost six weeks away, Yoron’s high school and I greeted each other with the happiness of a delayed reunion. For the first time, I had shipped my bicycle in the cargo hold (for a whopping 1,000 yen – less than $10), which afforded me the freedom to explore more of the town solo.
Now that I could zip to the beach near my hotel in under a minute, I indulged nightly attendance on the sunset. With a full seven nights on the island, my venturing also ranged to new restaurants. Besides availing myself of my hotel’s second-to-none multi-course dining, I visited Tida’s for ocean fare presented in its natural habitat: seashells!
For my holiday weekend, my supervising teacher toured the island’s eastern attractions. We met my fellow American English teacher at the Seaside Garden, an idyllic space outfitted with croquet mallets and beach chairs. There I bought the best burger I’ve tasted yet in Japan, plus a glass of orange juice, while my friends regaled me with the news of a surprise helicopter landing the weekend before. The alarmed airport staff had pressed both of them into service as translators.
On our way back we searched vainly for a landmark named “pidgeon’s lake” — could it have been the puddle-sized depression among the cliffs, barely a foot across? Either way, the ocean view would cover a multitude of letdowns.
Sunday morning I peeled out of bed at 4am to catch the sunrise on my expedition with SUP: stand-up paddling, or the marriage of a surfboard and a canoe. A quick lesson with our benevolent host (the father of a student) heightened my confidence until I reclaimed my glasses from the boat pilot, the better to admire the horizon. We scooted over gentle waves embraced by the reef, scanning the seafloor for the telltale movement that would out an innocuous brown rock as a seaturtle.
We drifted back into town for breakfast at a backpackers, thankfully open for business before 7am. While we munched on the breakfast special, my teacher read the captions off vintage photos of the island: the opening of the first hospital, a fire in the city, traditional attire for New Year’s Day… We weren’t ashamed to treat ourselves to pistachio ice cream before returning to the beach.
We boarded a ship with four laughing ladies from out of town, skimming the crystalline water en route to a coral reef. It was like submerging in an aquarium: fish as brilliant as sherbert and even the unmistakably wispy angelfish drifted inches away from my wondering eyes.
When we had looked our fill, our guide popped open a giant clam shell just harvested and fed us the freshest sashimi imaginable. It’s no slur against Tida’s to say that their giant clam could not compare.
As if we hadn’t seen enough, our captain then escorted us to Yurigahama, the “disappearing beach”. Besides the novelty of a sandbar frequently lost to the tide, it enchanted me with a nirvana of white sand and inviting shallows. No trecking across scrub and rocks to reach this bit of beach — it was perfection, as if painted into existence.
Still the day’s delights had not ended: we stopped to pick seaweed from the seafloor. I couldn’t resist snacking on it between stuffing handfuls into the sailor’s net.
After an all-too-brief rest at the hotel, we hit the road again, this time for a cultural celebration. The island shrine had its tori gate repainted, and our school band performed in its honor.
A new friend concluded my exceptional holiday in style. Originally from Tokyo, this consummate hostess built a house near my hotel and now entertains the guests there. In her flawless English, she mediated between me and a band of travelers — a telephone wire repairman, a motorcycle driver, an adventurous woman recently moved to the island, and the hotel’s chef. She treated me to my first jaunt with hanabi: fireflowers, or (as we would say) sparklers.
On my last trip to the beach, I spotted this exotic tropical plant. I felt a surge of impatience to peel open its petals and peer inside – a laughable thought.
It hit me then that this flower-to-be offered a lesson for the future: there’s no point in trying to look too far ahead. We must wait and let it bloom.