It was in 1999 that I first learned of this Japanese island while I was living in Tokyo and I happened to buy by sheer luck a discounted DVD of which I liked the cover photo. I was so attracted by that picture that I stood a very long time in front of the shelf inside the shop. I remember it was in Shibuya near the major intersection that we see in all the movies in a Tsutaya store. The contrast between the jungle on small mountains, the mangrove covering a large part of the island, especially in the river mouth area and white sandy beaches with clear water had greatly impressed me. 16 years later, I boarded a ferry from the island of Ishigaki that links in about one hour Iriomote island. The connection is fast, but if the weather is not too good, you better have a strong stomach: my neighbour was sick the entire trip. Ah seasickness when it has a hold on you! I arrived at Uehara the northern pier of the island. Beyond that, the infrastructure is very limited, the main pier is located in the South at Ohara and a main road that does not make the complete tour of the island, only about half of the circumference. Also some villages are only accessible by water channels. The vast majority of the surface of the island is wild. On this island, there are 3 main attractions. A particular species of cat called Iriomote yamaneko (wild cat). This species is endemic and considered a treasure of the Japanese national heritage. Now there is only less than one hundred individuals and are actively protected. Under the main road, 150 tunnels have been built to allow them to cross safely. It is more tunnels than cats! This cat living mainly at night, it is very rare to observe: I have been no exception… The second curiosity is the mangrove: impressive to watch closely. And finally, for fans of snorkelling and diving a coral reef that shelters a fauna and flora of great beauty.
This island being very far from major urban areas, with only one road, people were concerned that their children do not have the reflex of red lights. In order to teach them, they installed two red lights on the road, one just outside of the main pier, the other near the school. It’s true that we are far from Tokyo intense road traffic!