I don’t know if it’s the clear blue water, the white sand beaches, the incredible weather, the lush green islands, or the amazing diversity of the coral reefs that make up the Kerama Islands, but they definitely made an impression on me and showed me a side of Japan that I think is missed by most visitors.
Since I made the journey all the way to Japan this summer to do research and I don’t know when I’ll be back, I decided I should take some time to travel and experience the diverse culture, scenery, and wildlife Japan has to offer. To kick things off I started with a trip to Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan. I spent one night in Naha, but the highlight of the trip was 2 and a half days on the gorgeous island of Zamami aka paradise. I lived by this guide if you are interested in visiting too!
While I was there, I spent the first day soaking up the sun (my back says I did a little too much of this since I fell asleep!) and snorkeling on Furuzamami Beach. The second day was diving day! I did 3 dives with an awesome dive leader, Momo, through the dive shop Heartland (Japanese link, English info on the guide), I recommend her highly to anyone who wants to dive these gorgeous islands. I saw an incredible diversity of coral, fish, and invertebrates including some gorgeous nudibranches (sea slugs), a sea cucumber that was actually grazing! (not just sitting like a lump), beautiful giant clams, cleaner shrimp, and anemones. Actually one of my favorite things was seeing so many different kinds of anemones with many different species of anemone-fish (clownfish are a kind of anemone-fish, think Nemo) living in them! We saw fish guarding eggs and even some babies! Momo was great at pointing these out and telling us what everything was on her dive slate.
Now, on an island with a population of 700, with one bar in town, it was easy to decide where to go after dinner. Upon entering the bar we were greeted by everyone inside the small establishment and served up Orion beer (the brand most common to Okinawa and the only one they serve here). Almost immediately after enjoying the first few sips, the old man sitting nearest to us starts talking to us in a mix of English and Japanese and then he asks us whether we know about the dog named Shiro and he indicates several posters on the wall of a fluffy white dog. We say no, so then he tells us that we have to watch this movie, and we’re like “ok, where is this going, what did we get ourselves into by coming in here?” But as he tells us more and we see more of the movie, he tells us that the white dog was his dog and they made this movie about him and his dog (at least this is what I got out of the conversation, he’d been drinking awamori (basically a super strong Okinawan version of sake) and there was the language barrier too).
So, why is this dog so special? Apparently, this dog would swim from Zamami Island to Aka Island, about 3km, just to visit a different dog (a brown one that was also in the pictures on the walls) and they say it was because these dogs were in love. When the dogs died they made statues of them on their respective islands that you can see today, and a movie was made about it in 1988, called “Maririn ni aitai” (“I want to see Marilyn” Marilyn is the brown dog). In the movie the owners of the dogs fall in love too, but I’m not sure if that is part of the true story or not. After chatting and semi-watching the movie and understanding more of what he was telling us, he disappeared for a few minutes and then returned with a stack of CD’s which he handed out to all the foreigners in the bar. By this point we realized he owned the bar and the CD’s had a song about Zamami on them. I kind of wonder how often he tells that story and plays the movie on the bar TV, it seemed not to phase his wife or the locals, so I’m guessing it happens a lot, and why not if he really is the guy they based the only movie ever made about Zamami Island on, right?