Thursday, July 14, 2005

On Teuri Island

The morning ferry from Haboro to Yagishiri and Teuri islands was busier than usual, packed with holiday makers heading for Teuri's annual sea urchin festival. The sea urchin festival marks the official start of summer season for the coastal region, six weeks of hot days and cool nights, when the water is warm enough for swimming and the fishing villages come alive, attracting windsurfers from Tokyo who pose on the beaches and families that fill the little restaurants selling salmon eggs on rice.

Claiming a bright spot on the rear deck, I leaned against my pack and watched the other passengers from behind my sunglasses. A group of middle aged men rapidly approaching old age stood in a loose circle, laughing at old jokes, slapping each other's backs and drinking from silver cans of Sapporo beer. This was their homecoming, a reunion trip to the fishing village of their youth. Next to them a self-concious huddle of college students made awkward small talk, three boys and three girls in carefully chosen outfits, the girls laughing with their hands over their lips when one of the boys jammed his entire fist into his mouth. A man leaned over the railing trying to coax a seagull to take a cracker from his hand while his wife snapped pictures each time the bird swooped down.

The boat stopped first at Yagishiri island, which is basically a big rolling meadow full of wildflowers with pebbly beaches and a small village hugging the green hills above the ferry terminal. Since Yagishiri's sea urchin festival wouldn't be held until the following weekend, only a few people got off, and the ferry soon continued on to Teuri, a few kilometers further West into the Japan Sea.

Teuri is about the same size as Yagishiri, small enough to walk around in a few hours, but it has a more remote feel. The main village, home to about 400 mostly retired fishermen, is tucked into a small bay at the Northern tip of the island. A few houses are scattered along the Eastern shore, but most of the island is wild, especially the Western half, where massive cliffs plunge down to a narrow, boulder-strewn beach. The cliffs serve as summer nesting grounds for millions and millions of seabirds, some endangered, and walking on the beach underneath the nests is like standing courtside at a basketball game, listening to countless raucous conversations, jeers and taunts filling the air above.

If Teuri were off Cape Cod rather than the coast of Northwestern Hokkaido, no doubt the fishing shacks and open meadows would have long since been torn down and dug up to make room for twelve room summer cottages and a 9 hole golf course, but summer has yet to become a verb in Japan. Although a small number of tourists visit in July and August, I didn't see a single house that didn't belong to a full time resident.

After getting off the ferry, we pitched our tent at the tiny official camp site at the edge of the harbor. No doubt the little spit of mowed grass offers more than enough space for campers most of the year, but the sea urchin festival had attracted a small crowd. We quickly claimed a patch of grass as far away from the porto-potty as possible and set out to explore the island.

Teuri village is a cluster of weather-stained wooden houses surrounding a small harbor full of fishing boats. Small vegetable patches were squeezed between the buildings, covered with fishing nets to keep the gulls away. Little wire enclosures like big bird cages surrounded racks of drying squid. An elongated building with a tin roof housed a sea-food processing plant, where sea urchins were kept in tanks of salt water before being cleaned and packaged for sale.

The open ground between the buildings and the harbor was covered with tents, with picnic benches and large charcoal grills set up under the canvas. Purple banners reading "Sea Urchin Festival" flapped cheerfully in the sea breeze. The festival was timed to begin with the arrival of the ferry, and volunteers decked out in aprons and headbands rushed about lighting the grills, tapping kegs of beer and organizing buckets of seafood, much of it still squirming.

Since it was still only 10 o'clock, we decided to walk around the Northern cape to the rocky beaches of the Western shore before lunch. On the way through the village, I stopped at a vending machine to buy some beer. I put in a 1000 yen note, worth about $9 and selected a tall can of Asahi for 150 yen. Instead of giving me change however, the machine continued to pump out beer, until six cans were jammed together at the bottom of the dispenser. An old man in the shop chuckled as I filled my backpack. "It always does that," he said. "Welcome to Teuri."

Part 3 coming tomorrow....


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home