by Ms. Bliss Ariana

Kikaijima is a tiny island located about 50 kilometers east of Amami-Oshima. About 40,000 years ago an ancient coral reef began emerging from the ocean due to complicated geological activity caused by the submerging of the Philipine tectonic plate. About 3000 years ago, the first people began settling on Kikai, which by then had become a beautiful island covered with lush subtropical jungle. Today, Kikai is still one of the fastest rising coral islands in the world, but the 9000 or so inhabitants are settled here quite peacefully, farming their famous sugarcane, melons and mangoes.

Kikai is about 4 by 12 kilometers in size, and takes about an hour and a half to bicycle around if you're looking for exercise. It's relatively flat, with one long ridge running like a spine along the length of the island. This jungle-covered ridge is Nakanishi National Park. From the viewing platform at Hyakunodai -- at 203 meters the highest point on the island -- you can enjoy a superb view of neighboring Amami, the West China Sea, and the Pacific.

But perhaps the finest natural attractions on Kikai are the beautiful turquoise lagoons. Nakazato is the most popular, with its clean curve of white sand. The two tiny coral islands in the middle are perfect for some low cliff diving. Hawaii Lagoon, about 10 minutes north of Onotsu by bike, is much smaller, but quiet and secluded. Swimming is best from late April through November, since December through March is quite cool and rainy. If you enjoy snorkelling, these tranquil waters are perfect natural aquariums full of colorful fish and coral. SCUBA divers can enjoy spectacular underwater topography outside the narrow entrances to the lagoons. Crevasses, archways, and narrow caves are found in the strong currents off the east side of the island from Keraji and Shitooke lagoons. More subdued fingers of reef, alternating with bands of white sand, slope gently off into the calmer sea to the west from Nakazato and Ikeji. Fishing is also very popular, and deep-sea fishing trips can be arranged through Yonemori's shop in Soumachi. Windsurfing can also be arranged, though neighboring Amami Island is much safer because of its barrier reefs.

Kikai's culture is an interesting mix of Ryukyu and mainland. For example, older burial caves holding tsubo filled with skulls and bones riddle the low limestone cliffs above more recently placed crowds of haka. The local language, Yumita, sounds quite different from Japanese. These days it is rarely spoken fluently by younger people, and sadly seems to be disappearing. Local specialty foods include a kind of healthy treat made by pounding rice, fresh green mugwort and local sugar cane together into a sticky mass, and folding amounts of this into big leaves. After the mixture firms up, the leaf can be peeled back to reveal a delicious sticky chewy green lump. This is called Hutumuchi and it is eaten in spring and early summer. Other local taste treats include giant prawns reaching half a meter in body length, sea snail sashimi, and Keihan.

The smaller mazelike villages are picturesque, with family compounds enclosed by high coral walls. Banana and papaya trees peek over the tops. The people are very friendly, but only a handful speak English. Economically speaking, this is one of the poorest areas of Japan. The price of sugarcane has hardly risen in 20 years. Good jobs are scarce, so many of the young people move away to urban areas and don't return. The population is declining at a startling rate of 9% per year, while the average age of inhabitants is increasing. Despite these depressing statistics, there are strong advocates of preserving the island culture who are trying, among other things, to revive the local language and persuade young people to return and raise families here.

Practical Information

Transportation To/From Kikai

Amami-Kikai, JAS, 15 minutes, three flights daily, RT about 13,000 yen
Kikai-Kagoshima, JAS, One hour, one flight daily, RT about 35,000 yen
For each month you buy in advance, you receive a 10% discount on fares, up to 40%!!!
A-Line ferries stop five times a week at Wan Port, Kikai on their route between Naze Port, Amami and Kagoshima. Not all ferries going between Amami and Kagoshima stop at Kikai. Basically there are many ferries travelling between Kagoshima and Okinawa, but only one stops at out-of-the-way Kikai. Be careful not to get on the wrong ferry, since the docks are next to eachother in Kagoshima, and departure times are similar. The journey from Kagoshima to Kikai takes about 12 hours, though in stormy weather it may take as long as 20. From Amami to Kikai takes 2 hours in good weather. There are no ferries arriving at or departing from Kikai on Sunday or Monday. Kagoshima-Kikai round trip costs about 14,000 yen. Amami-Kikai RT costs about 7,000 yen. In stormy weather, ferries may arrive or depart from Soumachi Port in northern Kikai. In very stormy weather, ferries are sometimes delayed considerably or cancelled.

Transportation On Kikai
Three old buses rattle around the island from about 7am to 7pm. You can wave them down anywhere on the main road. For 250 yen you can not only get to any place along the main road around the island, but also try chatting with ba-chans in Yumita or getting a friendly driver to reveal his secret fishing spots.
It's possible to bring your own car on the ferry but the cost is prohibitive. For rental car companies, please refer to the attached telephone listings.
Mopeds, Bicyles
Perhaps the best way to get around. You may be able to rent or borrow one, and if you come by ferry you can bring your own for a very reasonable fee.

With Rooves There are several small minshuku and a couple of ryokan in the main tangle of Wan-Agaren-Nakazato, and at least one ryokan in Soumachi. The average price with two meals is about 4,500 yen. There is one business hotel and one decrepit tourist hotel boasting a popular seaside golf course. If you want to arrange accomodation, tatami-timeshare, or even a local homestay with a Kara Imo Kuryo member, try contacting the ALT at the town hall. See telephone listing.
Camping Perhaps the best option is to camp for free at various beach-side sites around the island. Unlike neighboring islands, Kikai is free of poisonous heat-seeking habu snakes! However, a tent and mosquito coils are good bring-alongs. Nakazato Lagoon is the most developed area, but showers and vending machines are also available at Ikeji Beach. Shitooke is the best if you want to hide away in the woods but still take a shower, while sites west of Araki are quite free of any modern conveniences. There are other potential campsites around the island as well. All places are less than a twenty minute walk from some kind of food shop, though if dried bonito flakes and squid pemmican don't appeal, you might consider stocking up in Wan.

Restaurants are scarce. Try Kubo in Wan for a nicer meal, or one of the small noodle shops along the road from central Wan to the ferry dock. There are also a few restaurants along the road to the airport, including a decent Chinese place. There is a sushi shop next to the omiyage store just south of Wan Harbor.
Grocery Stores: A-Coop and Super Sono in Wan are the biggest and most popular. There are a few mom-and-pop convenience stores in the villages as well.
Coffee Shops: Check out Tea Room just south of the airport for good coffee and friendly owners, or the one attached to the bakery across from the bus station in Wan.

If you're coming here to party, don't expect much more than a night on the beach with a bottle of the local kurochu. However, if you must go out, Hipparidako, on the second floor of the omiyage store, is your best bet. They have a good selection of snack food - don't leave without trying the agedashimochi. The Marine Bar in Nakazato is also worth checking out, though the owner may be out night-diving for giant prawns. There are a few smaller hostess bars scattered about as well.

Kikai's most famous product is top quality all-natural kuro sato. This delicious brown sugar can be purchased in bite-sized chunks, in a kind of brittle sesame candy form, or in a peanut mixture. Kikai is also famous for melons, mangoes and raw sugar cane in season. Kurochu, a liquor made from sugar cane, is a nice gift as well. Mix it with ice and 2 parts water, and add a slice of locally grown Keraji orange for a fine summer coctail. A more expensive option is tsumugi silk, which all of Oshima-gun is famous for. The threads of this darkly patterned fabric are hand dyed in a special mudbath, beaten, re-dyed, and so on. The threads are then hand woven in traditional floral or diamond designs. No local wedding is complete without the bride and groom appearing in billion yen kimonos made from this fabric.

Telephone Numbers
JAS Office: 0997-65-0073
Bus Station: 0997-65-0061
Kikai Renta Car: 0997-65-1551
Nishi Renta Car: 0997-65-3041
Taxi Kikai: 0997-65-1811
A-Line Ferry Kikai: 0997-65-0057
Town Hall, BOE, ALT: 0997-65-1111
Osamu Shimizu, PADI guide: 0997-65-2525
Kikai Diving Service: 0997-65-1272
Blue Reef Diving: 0997-65-0415