CONTRIBUTED BY AMY MADDOCKS
Want to see a beautiful island with friendly faces, loads of history, and untouched by tourism? According to folklore, Kudaka Island is considered sacred. It is said that the deity who created the Ryukyus, Amamikiyo, descended here first and introduced multi-grains essential for life (rice, wheat, millet grains, and beans). It is also said that the goddess created Kudaka to reflect the beauty of heaven, and that the first Ryukyun people were created here.
The island’s perimeter is only 7.8 kilometers, but filled with natural wonders and an abundance of green. It is home to many utaki, a sacred place where gods were enshrined. They use the Utaki for religious ceremonies, festivals, and rituals. In the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom, the island’s men would become fishermen, and the women would become priestesses.
There are many sacred areas on the island, including areas where people are forbidden to enter. One beach in particular, Ishiki-hama, is said to be the place where the deities descend in their ship from a celestial place where all life originates. If you do choose to tour the island, please remember the entire island is considered holy. So loud voices, disrespect, littering, etc. would be frowned upon.
To get to the island, you must take a short ferry ride (15-20 minutes). To keep your valuables safe while getting on and off the boat you may want to use a passport neck wallet to securely store you passport, phone, credit cards, yen and maps etc.
Once you’re on the island you can then choose to walk around or rent bicycles.
At the port where the ferry takes you will be the bicycle rental store, along with a gift shop and a few places to eat. You may want to pack a lunch just in case the shops aren’t all open. Their hours change according to the day and season. There were the classic Okinawan vending machines available, but no snacks.
Kudaka Island is also known for serving Irabu Jiru, or sea snake soup. We weren’t that brave and just ordered traditional Soba, but we were lucky enough to see the sea snakes being harvested.
They have specialized in the process since the 16th century. They catch the sea snakes by hand when they come to the shore to lay their eggs, then they dry and smoke them over several weeks. We were walking by a Utaki when a local gestured to us toward a shack. He was very proud as he showed us the process by which they catch, store, and smoke the snake. At the café we noticed many people ordered the soup—it must be delicious, but I’m a wimp!
Another treat we came upon during our walk was passing by the local school. All of the students were outside doing yard work (I love that the students help take care of their schools!) and they took the opportunity to practice their English skills with us. Everywhere we went on the island we were greeted with friendly smiles and warm faces. It was truly a unique experience that I’m thankful I was able to enjoy.
Directions: Take Highway 329 heading south (you can take the Expressway if you choose—take Exit 3 to get to the 329). Turn left at the Highway 331 intersection. Stay on this road until you see the sign for Azama Port. Turn left at the port sign then follow the road to a dirt parking lot. Parking is free. Purchase your ferry ticket (around 1,400 Yen for roundtrip) and check the times. The last ferry of the day is usually between 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m., depending on the season, so don’t get stuck missing your ferry back! They do have lodging, but it’s by reservation only.