A day of firsts in Rebunto…
Rebunto, or Rebun Island, is 30km off the Northern coast of Hokkaido. This is the first time we’ve been somewhere quite this remote and it’s just a little daunting to know we’re so far from civilisation. The island is only reachable (and inhabitable) for 5-6 months of year; from October to April each year the island is devoid of human inhabitants – only the seals are here over the freezing cold winters. The rest of the year Rebunto comes alive with kelp farmers, fishermen and tourists.
Rebunto and its sister island across the way, Rishiri, are popular with Japanese tourists during the summer months as they’re both relatively undeveloped, offer great hiking opportunities, and are famous for their bountiful fresh seafood. If you’re looking to get away from it all and enjoy lots of fresh seafood, this is the place to be! If you’re Japanese anyway – this is not a popular destination amongst non-Japanese tourists. No one here speaks much (any) English and one of the (Japanese) tourists we met on the island said we’re the first Caucasians she’s seen on the island in the week she’s been here! So why ARE we here?? We’ve come all this way to enjoy Rebun Island’s famous hiking and “flower trails”. The island’s rolling green hills come alive with wild flowers during the short spring (May-June) every year, and with over 50km of hiking trails criss-crossing the island from North to South and East to West, we thought this would be a great place to spend a few days.
The ferry trip from Wakkanai took just over 2 hours and luckily the seas were relatively calm, with a gentle 1-2m swell and little chop. It was an uneventful trip – just the way we like it. When we arrived at the Reunto ferry terminal the guy picking us up didn’t even have to ask our names – he just knew we were the guests he had to pick up. How did he know? ‘Coz we were the only white people on the ferry!
Our driver took us to our home-away-from-home here on Rebun Island: Rebunsu Ryokan. This small, family-run ryokan (translation = guesthouse) is very traditional. In fact, it’s the first time we’ve stayed in a ryokan so traditional that they have sobagara pillows (i.e. pillows filled with nice hard, unyielding, uncomfortable buckwheat husks, not the cotton our soft Western heads are used to). The tatami mats on the floor, futon beds, yukata robes, slippers, shared bathrooms, and gender-segregated but public bathing facilities, are all familiar to us, but the pillows are a new level of “authentic”!
After getting settled in we started our explorations of the island by catching one of the local buses up the coast and strolling through some of the local fishing villages. There are 6 small villages dotted along the East coast of Rebunto, where a narrow strip of flat land clings to the steep hills. Most of the island’s residents are seasonal fishermen, and the fishing shacks these hardy souls call home for 5-6 months of the year sure are basic. It was fairly overcast throughout the afternoon, but the island’s beauty still shone through – the contrast between the green rolling hills on one side and steely grey ocean on the other was striking.
After our explorations we haded back to our ryokan for dinner; as many traditional ryokans do, a night at Ryokan Rebunso includes breakfast and dinner – both very traditionally Japanese in style. On an island inhabited by kelp farmers and fishermen, and famous for its seafood, what do you think this means? It means tonight was the first time we’ve eaten pickled squid, raw prawns, picked kelp and sea urchin. Quite a challenging meal, to say the least. Most of it was really tasty, but some of the textures were just way too much for my palette – the gelatinous pickled kelp, for example, would not go down. And even though Shane happily tucked into the sea urchin, one sample was enough for me to decide that all echinoderms are safe around me from now on.
We’re a little worried what breakfast will bring, but for now the (relative) comfort of our futons calls. So oyasumi nasai blog fans and join us tomorrow when we head out into the hills of Rebunto for some exploring!