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Inland Sea No. 9: Kitagi Island

July 2, 2010

There is a newer, updated entry on Kitagi Island. The island has come a long way since when we wrote this first article, so be sure to read the new entry here too.

Kitagi Island 北木島(きたぎしま) in Okayama prefecture, is part of the Kasaoka Island Chain (笠岡諸島) which includes the following islands (in order from closest to furthest out): Konoshima, Takashima, Shiraishi, Kitagi, Manabe, Obishima, and Hishima.

Taigo Yamamoto (left) of the Chidori manzai team, was born on Kitagi

Kitagi Island is a tough one for us cows at Humor-Us. We live right next door to this island and while we’d love to sing its praises, we just haven’t found many. Kitagi has a reputation for being dusty (because of a history of stone mining) and occupied by gangsters (not that there’s anything wrong with that…). With a population of about 1,000 people and the island being big enough that you need a car to get around, it’s just not that tourist-friendly. Kitagi is also one of the few islands in this area not included in the Seto Naikai National Park. Kitagi is often featured on tearful NHK programs that lament depopulation and the disappearing stone mining culture in Japan.

Being that Kitagi is nestled between Shiraishi Island and Manabe Island, both awesome rockin’ specimens of the perfect Inland Sea island, you may as well save yourself 20 minutes and 120 yen by getting off the ferry beforehand at Shiraishi, or go for the gold by investing an extra 15 mins and 220 yen by staying on the ferry, (passing up Kitagi completely), and getting off at Manabe.

That said, there are two very good reasons to visit Kitagi Island…

The government is installing a brand new beach on Kitagi which is accessible from the ferry port, although there aren’t any beach facilities such as beach houses, shade, restaurants, showers or toilets. They’ve been working on it for a couple of years though, so who knows, maybe by the time they are finished they will have added a few comforts. Call us crazy, but we feel that if you go to the beach, there ought to at least be a place to get a cold beer.

Rumor has it there is also a very nice natural beach, which is quite private, on the other side of the island. It’s a bit of a hike but is said to be rather picturesque, according to a man in a thong who was carrying a very long fishing pole (I’m not sure if there was any relationship between the two) when he came to the Moooo! Bar last summer. (update: we show you this beach in our updated blog entry).

There is also a French restaurant called Gurume on Kitagi, which although it used to have a good reputation when it first opened about 7 years ago, has declined in favor among the locals.

If we’re wrong and anything has changed on Kitagi since we were there last week, be sure to let us know in the comments section of this post. Maybe we just aren’t hip enough to be allowed into the cool places–a definite possibility.

That said, there are two very good reasons to visit Kitagi though. One is if you happen to be in the area on March 3 of the lunar calendar. Kitagi is one of few places in Japan where they celebrate nagashibina, or sending of dolls out to sea on Children’s Day. On this day each year, in a tradition going back more than 300 years, the Kitagi women put down their garden hoes for the day and take up paper doll-making along with the local children (who are very few these days). The dolls are put into small boats and pointed towards Awashima Shrine in Kata no Ura, Wakayama Prefecture (at the very top of the Inland Sea). The dolls take gifts to the gods at Wakayama in exchange for protection from women’s diseases (protection for the women, not the dolls).

Each woman makes a boat and 13 paper dolls: 12 women and one man, the “sendo-san,” to row the boat. The women wear kimonos made from origami paper while the sendo-san is also dressed in traditional attire cut from origami paper. While the boats used to always be made from straw, these days a variety of materials are used, including tissue boxes with the tops cut out. Inside the boat they put a gift of hishimochi (diamond-shaped rice cakes), and sake.

Standing on the beach, the islanders sing the “Happy Doll Festival” song, while sending the little boats off to Wakayama. And that could be why you have been spared any women’s diseases. Call it Eastern medicine if you want, but I’m all for disease prevention that doesn’t involve regular doctor’s checkups, urine samples and bounced checks.

Yuuko Marine

The other very good reason to go to Kitagi Island is if you own a yacht. Yuuko Marine is run by Canadian Colin Ferrel, a sail-maker who also sells ropes and hardware for yachts of all sizes. Yachties come from all over the Inland Sea just to go to Yuko Marine. Foreign yachties appreciate being able to communicate in English. (Update:  Yuuko Marine has moved to Osaka).

Yuuko Marine has a guest pontoon at Oura port and the Marine shop is just a short walk from there. A good portion of the yachties who visit Yuuko Marine stop by the Moooo! Bar on Shiraishi on their way out. It’s that close to Shiraishi.

Links:

Sarai Kitagi Island Diary–a blog in Japanese by Kitagi resident Kuni-san who operates “Sarai” a cafe offering pizza, fresh baked bread and goat cheese. He also has live concerts every other month (next one is Nov. 8, 2014). You can read more about Kuni-san in our updated blog entry here.

Downloadable English map here: English Map (includes bicycle route).

Ferries

The Sanyo Kisen passenger ferry is the same one that goes to Shiraishi Island and Manabe Island. After Shiraishi, it stops at Kitagi’s Oura port. See the ferry schedule on the Moooo! Bar homepage for departure times.

There is also a car ferry that goes directly to Kitagi. The Kitagi Ferry leaves from Fushigoe port in Kasaoka, the same place the Shiraishi Ferry leaves from. For directions to Fushigoe port, see the Moooo! Bar ferry schedule page.

Accommodation

Hmmm,  you got us here. There are two Japanese style minshuku on the island, but nothing we’d actually recommend. The best option is to make Kitagi a day trip from Shiraishi Island, where you can stay at the Shiraishi International Villa for just 3,500 yen per person per night. Kitagi is about a 20 minute ferry ride from Shiraishi.

Things to do

Our latest blog entry tells about things to do on Kitagi, including bicycling and visiting the Vagina Rock. Also includes the link to the downloadable English map.

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