Welcome to the town of Ojika, on the northernmost islands of the Goto Archipelago.
These are islands where you can encounter the scenery of old Japan – abundant nature and the traces of old fishing villages – and bask in nostalgia for a bygone age. That is not all the islands have to offer, however. Visitors are also charmed by the warm welcome offered by the islands’ residents, against a backdrop of the kind of rural scenery that is becoming rare in Japan.
This time, I’m participating in a minshuku experience, staying at the home of some islanders ♪
Meeting my host family inside the Ojika Ferry Terminal
All of us were a little nervous to be meeting for the first time, but the warm-hearted welcome given by the Ojika people means there is nothing to worry about (^-^)
I stayed with the Yamadas, a husband and wife who were both born in Ojika and have lived here for many years.
The Yamadas told me to make myself at home, but I didn’t want to get in the way, so I held back. Soon enough, though, I began to feel as though I was back in my family home, and I quickly relaxed. It was quite a marvelous feeling!
The Yamada family cultivate vegetables, as well as rice. As soon as I arrived at the house, they kindly gave me some watermelon to try, which had been harvested from their own garden.
It’s sweet and delicious!
The families who participate in the homestay program are mostly fishers and farmers.
You can become one of the family and try your hand at fishing and farming techniques, and making local cuisine.
At the Yamadas’ house, I tried making ‘dango’ rice dumplings.
We rolled the rice dough around red bean paste made by Mrs. Yamada, wrapped the dumplings in leaves collected from the mountains, and steamed them.
We chatted while making the dumplings… and then ate the dumplings while chatting some more ^^
Within no time, I was good friends with Mrs. Yamada (o^∇^o)
Now, the moment I had been waiting for: dinnertime! ♪
There were so many dishes on the table! There were fresh vegetables straight from the field, sushi handmade by Mrs. Yamada, pickles, squid sashimi (raw sliced squid), boiled fish and much, much more!
It was so much fun to eat with a large group of people, that I ate far more than usual!! (^^;)
Mrs. Yamada, who loves cooking, looked really happy to see her guests enjoying their food so much ^^
We even enjoyed a homemade dessert, and talked long into the evening ♪
As an aside, please note that the homestay houses do not provide alcohol, so those who want to drink it should bring their own.
There are no convenience stores on Ojika, but there are shops selling alcohol, so don’t worry!
At breakfast next morning there awaited yet more Ojika delicacies!
The vegetables grown in the mineral-rich red clay soil have a pronounced flavor and a gentle texture.
Mrs. Yamada had woken up early to cook the vegetables. The tenderness of the food echoed her tender kindness.
Kankoro mochi sweet potato cakes from Ojika
Ojika’s kankoro mochi are made with ginger and sesame, and have a different flavor to those from the Kamigoto Islands.
These were handmade too!
My stay of 2 days, 1 night seemed to fly by, compared to a stay in normal accommodation.
There are many reasons to take a trip – whether it be to visit tourist spots or to enjoy the food – and my minshuku experience on Ojika has made me think “I want to go back to Ojika even just to meet these people again”.
The homestay experience is not just for groups. Please apply at least 2 weeks in advance.
Ojika Homestay Experience
Enquiries: Ojika Island Tourism
Tel: 0959-56-2646（※Japanese language only）
Fee：8,400円（2 people or more, includes homestay and experience）
Naru is a tiny island off the coast of Japan which has a festival where the local men throw mochi from boats to the women and children of the village. Mochi is a special kind of food from Japan. Its festival happens every year in October, and this year I was lucky enough to be able to follow the men all day covering the event.
Flags decorate the boats for the festival
Naru is located amoungst a cluster of islands off the coast of Nagasaki called Goto. It has a low population, and I get the impression the town on the island is a fishing town. There are few shops, but Naru has a great karaoke bar, and a great Okunchi festival.
The festival starts at a shrine near one of the ports, and the men, dressed in white traditional clothing carry a miniature shrine from the main building of a shrine, to a boat waiting for them at the port, chanting as they go. They load the shrine and drums onto the boat, and then they, along with a bunch of other boats sail to a cave about 25 minutes away, to pray and throw mochi. Sometimes they make the mochi with coins inside, to increase the offering to the God. From what I understood, the belief is that the God resides in the cave, and the men go to pray and offer the mochi to it, but my Japanese can be a bit wobbly when talking to older men from an island in Japan. They then sail to the main port, where the women and children (and some men) are waiting for them, and they proceed to throw bags of mochi at the crowd. Once this is complete, they unload the boat, and carry the miniature shrine around the town, stopping at local shops where they are offered beer, sake, and snacks! The local shopkeepers also have a chance to pray to the shrine. The shrine is returned to the main shrine at the end of the festival.
Below are the photos from the festival, along with captions to explain what is happening. I had a great day, I hope you enjoy the photos and have found this informative! Please, leave a comment below!
The shrine where the festival started and finished
A quick cigarette before the hard work begins
Final preparations for the shrine
The men walk carrying the shrine. Everyone is in close quarters
The shrine is carried on the men’s shoulders
Everyone arrives at the boat, ready to load it
Ready to load the shrine onto the boat
The men load the boat
Pushing the shrine up onto the boat
Waiting for the boat to sail, preparations complete
Boats go in convoy to the cave
The boats line up in front of the cave before the men pray to the God.
Heading to the main port of Naru to throw Mochi at the women
A boy prepares the mochi
The mochi is ready. Waiting to arrive at the port.
Children try to get as much mochi as they can from the boat
Crowds of people receive mochi from the men on the boats
When all the mochi is gone, the men unload the boat.
Beer, sake, snacks are offered to all the men of the festival.
After a quick beer, the men prepare to take the shrine around the town
Setting off around town
Making their way to the first shop
Taking a quick rest at one of the shops in town.
And the men are about to go again
At each shop the shrine stops at, the men lift the heavy shrine many times over. It looked dangerous.
The leader waits in front of the shrine
The shrine being carried through the streets
Men of the festival.
Occasionally some of the men are forced to down some beers while the others cheer them on!
Pushing the shrine
A taiko drummer keeps all the chants in time
Enjoying more beer!
By PAUL COATES PHOTO ( www.PaulCoatesPhoto.com/blog )