Need an escape from your hectic life in the big cities? Shiraishi Island is the answer for complete relaxation and fresh sea air. Located a short ferry ride from Kazaoka in Okayama Prefecture, Shiraishi Island is Japan’s hidden paradise. Every year when I travel to Japan for a few weeks, I usually spend a week at Shiraishi. As I board the ferry at Kazaoka, I exchange greetings with the ferry captain, who knows me by now – last April was my fifth visit.
Traveling on the ferry, you can slowly feel the accumulated city and work stress leave your body. Within 35 minutes we arrive at the island and I collect the key from the ferry office, for a pre booked room at the Island’s international villas. The ferry office manager’s son calls out ‘konnichi wa and gives me some fresh fish to cook at the villa. I wander up the 15 minute walk to the villa, well signposted along the way, A couple riding bicycles along the island’s narrow paths, stop to say bon jour or good day. Fred and Sophie are from France and are staying at the Villa for a couple of nights.
The villa is a great place to stay with western and Japanese style rooms overlooking the sea and the neighbour’ vegetable gardens. Also the villa has a full kitchen and after weeks of eating at restaurants while traveling, cooking a meal adds to the island’s stay delight . There is a supermarket about five minutes walk from the villa to buy all of your supplies. Mrs Amano, the caretaker, a local who lives on the island, comes to collect money for the villa stay, in the late afternoon. The price per room, all with a view of the sea, is around $50 for the first night and around $45 for subsequent nights for a single supplement. For couples staying there, the price is Yen 500 less per person. Mrs Amano later brings me brocholli and onions fresh from her garden.
After a cup of tea and a chat with Sophie and Fred who travelled in Nepal and India, I go for a cycle down to the ferry and along the waterfront. Bicycles are available free of charge while staying at the villa.
There are many walks or bicycle rides to take around the island, a stroll down to the beach will take about 5 minutes by foot. A cold beer, freshly made miso soup and yakitori while chatting with Chieko and her family at San-chan, the restaurant and accommodation on the beach, is a good way to pass the afternoon. In May, the beach is a swimmer’s delight. As I plunge in the water and do my 30 laps of the ocean, the locals keep asking me “samui desu ka” – is it cold? They don’t tend to swim until June when summer if official, but this Australian swims whenever she sees water.
Larko the dog with a million yen view
I say konnichi wa to Larko, the light tan dog who lives in style, with his friend the cat, in a waterfront house near to San-chan. On a fine day you can find Larko sunning himself on his veranda and Junko San, his owner who lives in the house next door, comes to have a chat with us.
Great walks on the island
Close to the villa, there is a walk up to the lookout, a steep climb to a 360 degrees view of this magnificent island. This is fantastic to do as the sun sets on the horizon. There is also a walk along the waterfront that leads to a picturesque walking path with cherry blossoms in full spendour in April. Another great walk is up to the temples, passing houses with multi coloured flower boxes on display and many vegetable gardens, green and luxuriant in the very rich island soil. The temple area is alive with cherry blossoms and azaleas in April and rhododendrons in May. On this last visit, I walked around the temple area with a friend Hiro, who had come to the island for a visit for the day.
You can also visit the neighbouring islands by ferry. Mannabe is well worth a visit, with a very well preserved temple, that serves as a community centre for activities and art displays. There is also a picturesque walk along the waters edge, to the left of the ferry port. Climb the hill to the temple, turn left and climb some more steps to find exercise stations, then the pretty flower garden that overlooks the sea and the island.
The very talented Shiraishi Island’s Mrs Shinohara
In the morning as Sophie, Fred and I are enjoying our breakfast on the outside deck , we see the bonneted head of an elderly Japanese lady, just below the veranda. She introduces herself as Mrs Shinohara and gives us some beautiful paper umbrellas that she has made and we accept gratefully. As she wanders back down to the road that leads down to the beach, she points to her house and indicates that she would like us to visit.
After breakfast, I go to visit Mrs Shinohara, and she tells me she is 75 years of age. She invites me for tea and cake as I sit at her entrance and she shows me how she makes the umbrellas out of newspapers and magazines. Then she points to the characters in traditional dress that she has made for a play. The very talented, Mrs Shinohara also proudly displays the ceramic bowls and vases she has produced and the birds that she made out of paper.
Sailing around the island in style
If you feel adventurous and want to sail around the islands, Amy Chavez, an American and long time resident of Shiraishi, and her Australian partner Paul will take you on a sail. This takes place throughout the year except for July and August when they are busy with the Moo bar on the beach. Amy also takes bookings for accommodation on the Island. For details of the accommodation reservations and the sailing schedule and fee, see below.
Getting to Shiraishi Island –
The cheapest way to get there is to catch the Bus from Osaka directly to Kazaoka, from OCAT, Osaka Central Bus Terminal, Namba, The fare is around $40 one way, the bus departs from Osaka daily at 9.45 and arrives in Kazaoka at 12.15 PM. When you get off the bus, walk straight ahead for three minutes and you will see Kazaoka station. For Japan Rail Pass travellers, catch the Shinkansen to Fukuyama station and then the local train to Kazaoka.
To find the ferry terminal, turn left at the station and on your right walk though the underpass, then turn left and right across the pedestrian crossing and walk straight ahead for 30 seconds. Then turn left and you will see the ferry terminal ahead. There is a ferry to Shiraishi at around 1,20 PM if you catch the bus from Osaka and that ferry cost $8 The daily schedule for the Island’s ferries is provided when you book your accommodation.
Reservations for the International Villa can be made by TEL +81-86-256-2535 FAX +81-86-256-2576 (inside Japan)TEL 086-256-2535 FAX 086-256-2576
Or for email reservations at the Villas, San-chan and the other accommodation places on the island plus all about the sailing trips around the island, just contact Amy Chavez on; http://dollarbooks.tripod.com/moooobar/reservations.html