A group of our Fukuoka Japanese language students were lucky enough to be asked on an all-expenses paid trip to Iki Island in February. The purpose of the trip was to get feedback on how Iki could improve their marketing and tourism, and so our students were taken to all the most famous tourist spots around the island, then asked to give their impressions on what each place could do or change to attract more tourists.
One of our Iki explorers, Morgan-san, was kind enough to write about the experience! Read about it here...
Iki Island いきしま
by Morgan Rohrbaugh
Iki island was such an unexpected treasure. Not only was it a much-needed break from studies, but also a hidden pocket of rich culture that was a treat to discover. We were met by the kindest tour guides, and banners that had the words “welcome to Iki,” warmly written on them. Immediately the countryside left everyone intently watching out of the bus windows. Before we even left the port, we could see a beautiful, small waterfall across the street. To top it all off, we all arrived in good health despite the 4 meter high waves that day on the sea!
What occurred after our arrival at the port was a number of bus stops at various cultural center locations on Iki. The schedule was full, but not overwhelming. It was paced perfectly, and no one ever went hungry for too long. The tour guides spoke 90% in Japanese, and if anyone had questions, we asked each other to translate. It was such a unique experience to have people of all different language levels enjoying it all the same together. Also, the attention to detail that the people who organized the trip had was touching. We were each given a name tag with our own country’s flag printed on it. Everyone was so delighted, and I later found out that our tour guide friend had made them herself.
The first day we did lunch, candle making, a museum, a shrine, and then returned to the hotel. Lunch was incredible. I believe the place was called うめしま(umeshima). There was delicious cook-it-yourself meat and veggies, and a special sauce that we all lovingly called the “magic sauce” because it was so good. After our bellies were filled, we proceeded to see a shrine called つきよみ(tsukiyomi) which was the birthplace of Shintoism. I bought my Iki おみやげ(omiyage) there, which was a pretty charm that sounds like water when you shake it. We departed and headed toward the museum where there were staff waiting for us to make candles. We enjoyed having a creative outlet for a while by perfectly arranging various colorful sands and shells from Iki’s shores in thin candle glasses. The staff poured hot goo into the glasses, and while they dried we went downstairs to go through the museum. That, too, was an incredible experience. We first watched a movie telling the history of Iki, and when it was done the screen rolled up into the ceiling to reveal large glass windows overlooking expansive countryside. Outside of the museum were the very old houses we had just learned about in the movie. The museum tour was the most well organized, detailed museum I’d ever seen. It was organized by date, getting more recent as it went along. At the end, there were incredibly detailed sculptured islands and peoples that reenacted the past. As we left the museum, we were given our candles, beautifully wrapped by the staff in various colorful tissue papers. Everyone was surprised by the rich culture of such a small place, and really enjoyed the whole tour. Our last stop of the day before our inn was a building where we got to see Iki かぐら(kagura), which is Iki’s traditional dance. The dancers were incredibly disciplined, the instruments were mysterious, and the people were kind. We were given gifts of rice from Iki.
That night everyone enjoyed an exotic meal with food stuffed into various shells. The presentation was so unique. Everyone quickly discovered the yukatas in our rooms and the hot baths. Afterwards, us girls sat together and wrote our critiques and comments about each day. At night, we all got together as a group and played games and relaxed. We made plans to get up early the next morning (most of us followed through) and enjoyed a sunrise on the beach together. (Some watched the sunrise from the hot baths overlooking the beach).
The final day was less rushed, but probably even more impactful. After our early sunrise excursions, we loaded back onto the bus and headed for the temple. At the temple we were warmly welcomed. We met an incredible monk and his wife, who taught us a little of the art of ざぜん(zazen) meditation. We were all stunned by his kindness, warm smile, and wisdom. He spoke all in Japanese, but it was simple enough for me to understand. I enjoyed his thoughts about some of the things he was taught as he grew up: 「悪い事をしない、いい事をしましょう」（Simply: Don’t do bad things, let’s do good things)、and, “Let our bodies settle so we can become clean… like dirty water that remains unstirred becomes clean.” After meditating for what seemed like seconds, we proceeded to enjoy some maccha tea ceremonies and copying calligraphy. The tea we made was delicious. The teachers were kind old ladies with extremely strong mixing-tea muscles. I ate sakura mochi and a sakura leaf for the first time. It was so sweet and the perfect compliment to the tea. After that we tried our hand at some calligraphy before we explored the nature around the temple. We were called back in to enjoy a special vegan monk-style meal called しょうじんりょうり(shyojin ryori). That was the first time I’d ever seen brown tofu. The strawberries were made on Iki too. The rest of the day seemed extremely relaxed. We went to see the monkey rock, さるいわ, which was a giant cliff of a rock shaped like a monkey. Many of us “kissed” the monkey (fun picture perspectives!). We hit up the souvenir shop after that (where I enjoyed some ice cream that I had been searching for since I entered the island), and headed back into town.
What followed was our part of the deal on Iki island. This whole trip was an incredible, all-expenses-paid trip for us to come and experience Iki so that we could give our feedback on what could be improved. We were each given an orange and hot tea, and then sat at a huge oval table and met the mayor of Iki and other representatives. We exchanged ideas, saw new brochures being released about Iki, and gave feedback. At the end, a man who had been with us the whole time taking photographs gave us a CD of all of the pictures from the weekend. We loaded the bus one more time, and were pleasantly surprised after we boarded the boat to go home… every staff member from the weekend was at the dock waving goodbye until we couldn’t see them anymore. It was a touching sight, and we probably all felt that it was a beautiful close to an incredible stay on Iki island.
The people of Iki were so kind and sincere, especially our tour guide friend. We had many fun moments that we won’t forget… including riding “superman” bikes for the first time (bikes with special motors that enabled people to get up the hilly terrain), “planking” on monuments near the monkey rock, playing mad libs (an American word game) at midnight, and discovering that Iki has blue power lines from the top of an old war look-out post. Most of us have decided to return some day, and bring people with us! We all hope that more people will brave the short, cheap 1-2 hour ferry ride to experience Iki Island themselves.
Check out our Facebook for some photos of the trip!