Kerama Blue Sea

HOME Whale and Dolphin Travel
Vol. 003

Kerama Blue Sea

Date taken
February - March 2016
(Diagram of whaling at Kayoiura, Nagato City, Nagato City "Whale Museum")

At the Whale Museum in Nagato City, which I introduced in the last two issues, there is a visualization of the ancient whaling process, like the one in this photo, on display. Notice the red circles in the upper right and lower left. Can you see the flag fluttering in the air? This place is called "Yamami" and is the watchtower and command post of the old style whaling. As soon as a whale is spotted, the Yamadan-na (commander-in-chief) and Yamamiban (mountain watchman) fill this "Yamami" (watchtower) and inform the fleet of the type of whale and its path by banner, and instruct the net boats where to set their nets. A fleet of catcher boats drives the whales into the nets by banging on the sides of the boats and making noises that the whales do not like. The netting blocks the whale's movement, but it is no match for the whale, so the net is stretched again and again, and the whale is chased and harpooned to weaken it. When the whale becomes weak and it is time to kill it, the hazashi (person who kills the whale) jumps into the sea from the whaling boat and rides on the whale's back using the net as a clue. The whale's nostrils were cut open so that it could never dive again, and then a rope was threaded through the nostrils, and two boats (mossobune) clipped the whale and attached sticks to the rope to tow it to port.

This is what old-fashioned whaling is all about.
By the way, there is a place where whale watching is done by adopting these old whaling methods.

The Kerama Islands are located in Okinawa, far away from Honshu. The central island is Zamami Island, where humpback whales come to breed from December to March in the sea of Zamami.

(Top: Kerama sea and Zamami landing place / Bottom: Whale watcher at Inazaki observatory)

I In the photo above, the landing place on the far left is Zamami Port.This is the gateway to Zamami Island, where the fast boats and ferries from Naha come in. The Zamami Whale Watching Association is located in the waiting area of the port, and serves as the command center for whale watching.
There are three observatories on Zamami Island, Takagatsuyama Observatory, Chishi Observatory, and Inasaki Observatory, which become whale watchtowers during the whale watching season. The most important of these is the Inasaki Observatory in this photo. From this watchtower, the watchman informs the command center of the whale's movements by radio, and the command center informs the whale-watching ships.

We rented electric bicycles at a bike rental store near the harbor and came to visit the Inasaki Observatory.The watchtower was packed with two young watchmen.A short time after arriving at the Inasaki lookout, it began to rain as if the bottom of a bucket had fallen out, and showed no signs of stopping. The whale watching was called off and one of the watchers pulled out, leaving behind a young man in a yellow parka. I, too, was stuck in the rain and left alone with a young man in a yellow hoodie.
The young man had been on a tuna fishing boat. When he had to get off the boat due to a back injury, he was scouted by whale watchers. That was the end of our personal conversation, but the rain showed no signs of letting up, and we received a radio call to cancel all monitoring for the day.
The young man encouraged me to get in the car.However, I couldn't leave my rental bike behind, so I declined, saying that I would go down the mountain after the rain had stopped.
But this was the wrong decision. The rain was getting worse and showed no signs of stopping, and dusk was approaching. There were no lights on the mountain roads, and some of the cliffs were sheer.
I ended up riding my bike in the rain before it got dark.By the time we reached the harbor after descending the cape of Inasaki, we were soaking wet and managed to get back to the hotel with passing tourists staring at us.

By the way, there are no big hotels or resorts on Zamami Island.Most of the rest houses, guesthouses, and guest houses are privately owned.The only hotel with an elevator is the Kerama Beach Hotel.The only thing that supports the economy of the Zamami Islanders is the tourists who come for marine sports in summer and humpback whale watching in winter.
Even if there is a plan to build a resort hotel, it will not be realized due to the opposition of the islanders. That's why the islanders are so warm-hearted toward their guests, and many of them stay at the same place every year.
I like to experience different places, so I visited Zamami three times, each time staying at a different place.
The first time I visited was at Rest House Asagi. The owner and the chef in the kitchen not only cooked for us, but also sang Okinawan songs and played sanshin (Okinawan guitar) during dinner. It was a fun memory for me.
The second time was at the Kerama Beach Hotel, the only one on the island with an elevator. The third time was at the guesthouse Nakayamagua, where you can stay overnight at a reasonable price. All of them are fun memories.
Back to the whales, the first whale-watching boat we were taken on was the "Escort," operated by Captain Sano.Our guides were Captain Sano's wife, Yumi Sano, and a part-timer named "Mr.Migration" (a nickname I gave him). Neither of them is a native of Zamami Island.Captain Sano is from Kagoshima.His wife, Yumi Sano, is from Nagoya.And the part-timer, "Mr.Migration" is from Kanagawa.All of them are truly unique people.

We were especially indebted to Captain Sano, and finally got to experience the mating pod of humpback whales at Zamami for the third time.So, I'll talk about this next time, and I'll leave you alone for now.

View from Takatsukiyama Observatory