And so for a year, I was contented to glean what I could about life in this country from an isolated corner.
For many, Japan conjures up images of the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo, classy cultural heart of Kyoto, snowy Hokkaido or perhaps sunny Okinawa?
An archipelago of approximately 140 islands in the East China Sea, off the western coast of Kyushu and administratively part of Nagasaki prefecture, Goto Rettou (五島列島) derived its name from the five large islands of Fukuejima, Hisakajima, Narushima, Wakamatsujima, and Nakadorijima (where I was based).
Geographically, with the exception of Okinawa in the south, the Goto island chain is the westernmost point in Japan. Nearer the Korean Peninsula and China than Japan proper, language, food, and culture in this part are substantially influenced by these neighbouring states.
頭ヶ島教会 Church of Kashiragashima
Because of its remote location, Christians hiding in various parts of Nagasaki fled to Goto islands to avoid persecution during a time when Christianity was prohibited by the Tokugawa government. The continuous practice of the religion in secret over time gave rise to kakure kirishitan (隠れキリシタン) meaning “hidden Christian“. Today, the relatively large Christian population and hundreds of big and small chapels dotting the islands stand as a testament to this violent episode in history.
Part of the Saikai National Park, the islands boast dramatic scenery of pristine beaches and rugged coastline against looming mountains. No matter how many times we’ve driven passed, I can never get tired of these sights. Pictures and words do not do justice to the sheer magnificence of it all. This, you really got to see with your own eyes.
西海国立公園 Saikai National Park
Measuring approximately 40km north to south by 20km east to west at its widest point, Nakadorijima, the second largest island is only slightly smaller than Singapore. With a population just hovering above the 20,000 figure, as compared to the close to five millions in SG, chancing upon gorgeous, secluded beaches on the island is as easy as walking into a busy department store on a weekend back home.
feast from the sea at えび屋
Previously, sashimi means sake, maguro and hamachi only. Now, raw fish also comes in the form of iwashi, isaki, katsuo and aji. I’ve never been a great fan but the ones you get around here are pretty darn awesome. As are fresh uni or sea urchin, which tasted rich, creamy and almost cheese like. Ise ebi or Japanese spiny lobster miso soup? Simply out of this world.
Japanese people in every nook and cranny pride themselves on their local produce and delicacies and Goto is no exception. Well-loved by the locals are these thin and exceptionally smooth Goto udon that are good in hot broth as well as chilled dipping sauce.
Initial apprehension about its physical isolation and logistical inconvenience soon gave way to gradual appreciation of its remote peacefulness. For on this island exist some of the warmest people I’ve ever met and it was here that some strongest friendships ever bred.
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