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Sailing Away From Civilization to Yoron Island

By: Peggy Anne McNulty

Date Posted: 2001-01-12

Tired of driving around the same island? Ready to risk a bit of an adventure among the really local inhabitants of these islands? If so, head on up to Motobu peninsula and take a ferry to Yoron Island. This small, picturesque island is located in the Kagoshima Prefecture and is about 15 Km at its widest point. When you fly from Haneda toward Okinawa, you will pass right above it. The experience of riding a ferry in Japan is almost worth the whole trip. You and your children will thoroughly enjoy the cultural difference in ferry-riding here. First, get up early enough to make the 1 to 1.5 hour trip to Motobu. If you take Highway 58, give yourself 2 hours. If you take the freeway, it might take around one hour depending on the traffic and time of day. If you prefer to fly, then head to Naha instead, but expect to shell out ¥10,520 for a one-way flight (children will be half). You must call the Motobu station to find out if the ferry will leave and return on the dates that you have planned to visit Yoron. The best advice I can give is to call the REACH Center at Kadena who will make the call for you, regarding days of departure and return to Motobu. Once that is established, enjoy the drive and leave your car parked in the lot adjacent to the ticket office at the ferry depot and head to the ferry building on the left.

The personnel handling the tickets do not speak English but they will direct you to the proper window for purchase once you say “Yoron”. Otherwise, you might enjoy a brief but pleasant ride to Ie Island instead. The fare runs about $40.00 for adults and $10.00 for children one way up to age 12. Then wait and soon a very large ferry will pull up from Naha on its final stop before Yoron. Wait until trucks and cargo (pigs, mules and horses) unload and then follow the many Japanese families who are awaiting the same adventure. Once you walk up to the top of the gangplank, you will be ushered into a room with shoes neatly lined at the entrance. You will see many sleeping locals and others reading or eating local foods dutifully lying on their assigned mat. The room is wall to wall “tatami” with tiny little sections for each ticket, which will allow you to sit or lay down, and enjoy the 2-hour excursion. If you choose to leave from Naha Port, the ride is twice as long and twice the price. A black square pillow and a blanket will be provided for your use. Once the ferry starts you are free to roam away from the tatami dojo to walk outside. The ferry will glide by several islands along the way. The ferry attendants will be happy to give you their proper names along the way. Pack snacks and sandwiches if you like or you may decide to purchase Bento-type foods on board. Usually a small coffee room is located on the top deck and a small store for ice cream, soda, candies and cookies (which is always a “must do” when travelling with children).

On the day that we traveled, we were the only Americans aboard. Nevertheless, we were comfortable and safe riding along to an island we had never seen. Since my spouse was in the States, I felt adventurous lurching out with three children, a pocketful of yen and a pre-paid reservation at the Pricia Resort (#0997-97-5111). If you anticipate staying at the Pricia, ask for the English-speaking employee who will be glad to assist you. There are many other hotel options on the island and if you visit the REACH Center at the Schilling Rec Center at Kadena, they will be glad to give you a flyer with names and phone numbers of each establishment. The waters became beautifully clear and turquoise as the ferry neared the stop at Yoron. Tiny boats with fisherman sitting patiently could be seen from the ferry as we neared the shore. Once we de-ferried, the staff, so be careful not to throw it out on the way collected the ticket stub. After a few minutes, a local bus with “Pricia Resort” came humming along and we all got in. After a short five minute drive, we approached the resort and were greeted by the English-speaking employee who booked our room. Visions of the Busena Resort came to my mind when I booked the room; however, the Pricia was a shade below the quality I expected, yet very clean and enjoyable. We stayed in a Japanese style duplex with tiny beds on the floor. The kids loved it ! The pool was small but had a medium sized slide that they enjoyed. The beach was white and the crystal clear waters beckoned you to jump in. The water was refreshing because it was a hot day at the end of summer and we spent hours floating and building sandcastles together.

At the latter part of the day, I rented a car and ventured out to see the island. My children were delighted since even though I got lost (which is never uncommon), the island is so small that in three hours rental time, you can drive around the island almost four times and always find yourself back at the resort. We visited a castle ruin, a few stores and several beach areas on the northern part of the island. The Crystal Beach, known for its “star sand” costs ¥2000 each to visit. I chose to view it from the shoreline for zero yen. Photos typify the uniqueness of this island as I filmed roadway guards decked with neatly arranged stacks of hay or wheat drying in the sun. At the end of the day we passed several local farmers hoisting these bales onto trucks, smiling and waving as we passed them by. I stopped to photograph the scenery that truly made Okinawa seen like a major hub in comparison. For a short forty-eight hours we felt like we had truly sailed away from civilization for a while. The locals were friendly and greeted us easily. They enjoyed watching American children decide what treats to buy and smiled wherever we went. A box of delicacies that the children “thought” they could die for became a gift to a local farmer who was ending his day at a crossroad. The sunset was a golden explosion as God displayed His austere artwork in the skies above. Even my children noticed the brilliance of the sky as the sun slipped away. They were especially concerned that it would be too dark for me to find my way back.

Although the Pricia had a wonderful menu and a huge bar-b-que planned for the guests, the price was a bit high for the likes of my picky children. We opted to buy food and sit around the table eating sandwiches and playing “500 Rummy” while watching the Japanese channel on the small color TV in our room. Let’s face it, in this age of Nintendo, Sony, Game Boy and TV, parents can’t compete for a new game brought forth from Mommy’s youth. Alas, in Yoron, 500 Rummy was a best seller and it took me back years to my childhood when cards with Mom and Dad were a frequent and enjoyable event.

After a day in the sun and a belly full of sandwiches, my children were snoring before 9 PM, which is a rarity on any day. The next day, we enjoyed the buffet breakfast and went shell collecting along the beach prior to our noon departure back to Motobu. We truly enjoyed this little venture and look forward to capturing a few more islands that dot this chain of islands known as the Ryukyus. Each commands a unique charm and sits with open shores to be discovered.

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