How to Spend Your “Uchinah-OKINAWAN Time”

How to Spend Your “Uchinah-OKINAWAN Time”

Hello, everyone! How are you doing? I’m Yuka. Nice to meet you!

けーらんねーら くよーまなーら!みしゃーりーるんねーら?ばーなーや Yukaゆー。はじみてぃゆんらー。みーっし とーんなーら。

Okinawa is the 4th smallest prefecture in Japan. It is made up of about 160 large and small islands, and each region and each island has its own unique language and culture. Okinawa was an independent kingdom for about 450 years. As you can imagine, this region has many geographical and historical backgrounds. However, even some Japanese people aren’t as familiar with this history and these cultures.

沖縄は日本で4番目に小さな県です。大小160ほどのさまざまな島から成り立っていて、地域や島ごとに独特の言葉や文化が存在します。沖縄は昔450年ほどの間、独立した一つの王国でした。ご想像通り、地理的歴史的な背景がたくさんあるからです。しかしこのことは日本人でもあまり知りません。

The satellite view of Yaeyama archipelago  from the ISS

Okinawa Prefecture can be roughly divided into 3 areas: the Main islands and surrounding islands, Miyako archipelago, and Yaeyama archipelago. One way we can see these divisions is in the language used on each island. Let’s look at the world “welcome.” In Tokyo or Osaka, the English word “welcome” is translated into “Irasshaimase.” However, each of the three Okinawan regions uses a different word. For example, on the main island, the word “welcome”  is “Men so-re”. Meanwhile, on the neighboring island, Miyako, people say, “N mya-chi.” Here, where I live in Yaeyama, we say, “Oh-ri tabo-ri” or “O-ri to-ri”. It’s interesting, isn’t it??

沖縄県は①沖縄本島と周辺の島々、②宮古諸島 ③八重山諸島 と大きく3つに分けられます。この違いはそれぞれの島ことばでみることができますよ。東京や大阪でいう「いらっしゃいませ」はこの3つの地域ではそれぞれ違う言葉になります。沖縄本島では「めんそーれ」といい、お隣の宮古島では「んみゃーち」、ここ八重山では「おーりたぼーり」とか「おーりとーり」と言います。ね?おもしろいでしょ?

At the center of the Yaeyama Islands is Ishigaki Island, which is where I live. Hateruma Island, the southernmost island of Japan, and Yonaguni Island, the westernmost, are both also located in this region. There are direct flights to and from mainland Japan, but Ishigaki is actually much closer to Taiwan than it is to any other city in Japan. Another interesting fact about my region is that the climate is classified as a subtropical rainforest.

私が住む石垣島は沖縄の中でも日本最南端の波照間島、そして最西端の与那国島を有する八重山諸島の中心となる島です。日本本土からも直行便が飛んでいますが、実は日本のどの都市よりも台湾に近い場所にあります。日本にしては珍しく亜熱帯雨林気候に属するエリアです。

With regard to their historical and geographical backgrounds, the Yaeyama Islands have actually been developed at a slightly slower “rate” than the main island of Okinawa.  Thanks to this situation, we have beautiful, rich, and pure nature remaining on these islands.

そんな地理的歴史的背景を理由に、ここ八重山諸島は沖縄本島とは少しちがった時間を重ね、ゆっくりと発展をしてきました。そのおかげで島々には大自然が残っています。

Live as if it were a trip … That’s how time is flowing here. 

自然を旅するように暮らす・・・そんな時間がここには流れています。

I highly recommend just being blown by the wind, basking in the sun, sometimes soaking in the sea, and just relaxing at the beach.

私が一番オススメするのは、ただ風に吹かれて太陽を浴びて、時々海に浸かってただただのんびりと海辺で過ごす時間です。

There are many fine resort hotels on the main island of Okinawa, but please note that on the Yaeyama Islands, there are some public beaches with only minimal facilities. Most of them are located at the hotel, so you can sunbathe, grab a drink, take a nap, and read a book under the beach umbrellas.

沖縄本島のような立派なリゾートホテルは少なく、公営で最低限の施設が整ったビーチがいくつかあります。それらの殆どがホテルに併設されていますので、ビーチパラソルの下で日光浴しながらお酒を飲んで昼寝したり、読書をしたりすることもできます。

Of course, there are many natural beaches. However, we need to drive to get there, so it is more common to stop and rest during a drive.

もちろん自然のビーチもたくさんあります。しかしそのほとんどが車でしか行けないところにあるのでドライブがてら立ち寄ることのほうが多いです。

In fact, unless we’re hosting a BBQ (which we call “a beach party”), the local islanders actually hate spending time in hot places, basking in the sun, and swimming in the ocean. For this reason, the beaches on the Yaeyama islands are always empty!

実際には島の人ほど、暑い場所で過ごすのも、日差しを浴びるのも、海で泳ぐのも、大嫌いです。だからビーチパーティーでもしない限り、海辺で過ごすことはほとんどありません。ですので、八重山の海はいつでも空いています。

For those who want to relax in the great outdoors, I recommend mangrove canoeing and Stand Up Paddling (SUP). 

大自然の中でのんびりしたい人には、マングローブカヌーやSUPをオススメです。

Crossing the sea by canoe or SUP is exciting and fun but it’s still a bit difficult for beginners. If you want something a little more relaxing and fun, try rowing, canoeing, and SUP in the river!  “Mangrove” is the name of the plants that live between the sea and river. During this canoe trip, you’ll also encounter interesting creatures and plants that you might not normally see.

海をカヌーで渡るのもエキサイティングで楽しいのですが、やはり初心者にはちょっとつらいです。しかし川でカヌーやSUPを漕ぐのは、のんびりできて楽しいですよ。マングローブは海と川の境目に生息する植物のことを言います。このカヌーでの旅の途中には、普段目にすることのない,もしかしたら見たこともないおもしろい生き物や植物にも出会えるはずです。

Did you know that I am a tour guide? When I am giving a canoe tour, I recommend that my visitors lie down in the canoe. We always make time to do nothing but just letting the sun shine down on us through the trees. I think it’s so luxurious, no matter how many times I experience it. At Iriomote island, some trekking tours with canoeing are also held as day-long adventure tours. Either way, be sure to have your guide accompany you when you enter nature.

実は私、ツアーガイドだって話しました?私が案内するときには、カヌーに寝転んで木々の間から差し込む光をあびる何にもしない時間を作ります。何度経験しても贅沢な時間だなーって思います。西表ではトレッキングも加えて1日かけて冒険するツアーもあります。どちらにしても自然に入るときには必ずガイドを同行させてくださいね。

Don’t forget to spend time in one of Japan’s best coral seas.

忘れてはいけないのが、日本屈指の珊瑚礁の海で過ごす時間です。

Here in the Yaeyama archipelago, there is a part of the sea called the “Sekisei Lagoon.” It is one of the largest coral reefs in the Northern Hemisphere. You can meet many tropical fishes from the beach, but I highly recommend taking part in an off-shore tour, which is held by boat. Are you worried that you might not be good at swimming? If so, you should join a snorkel tour. 

ここ八重山には石西礁湖という北半球最大級の珊瑚礁の海が広がっています。ビーチからでも熱帯魚に出会えるのですが、だんぜん船で行くツアーがおすすめです。でも泳ぎが得意じゃないと不安ですよね。そんなあなたこそ、シュノーケルツアーに参加しましょう。

Most of the tour includes all gears with life jackets and snorkel sets. The guides will instruct you on how to use them and will give you precautions to stay safe. Most of the instructions are offered in Japanese, but there are some shops that can guide you in English or Chinese. You can also select a diving shop that can give tours in English, which will allow you to try diving without any anxiety!

ライフジャケットやシュノーケルセット、そして道具の使い方や、溺れないための注意点などのレクチャーが含まれます。ほとんどは日本語で開催されますが中には英語や中国語の案内ができるお店もありますし、英語対応可能なダイビングショップだと、不安なく体験ダイビングに挑戦することもできます。

If you have more time … try to visit the smaller islands further south.

さらに時間がある方には・・・ここよりもさらに南の小さな島々へ足を伸ばしてみてください。

There are 23 islands in the Yaeyama region, twelve of which are inhabited, and only five of which can be reached directly from Ishigaki Island by regular boat. “Taketomi” Island, which is a 15-minute ride away by regular boat, is especially recommended for its traditional, red-tiled dwellings buildings, which have been designated as an Important Preservation District for Traditional Buildings. 

八重山諸島には23の島々がありますが、そのうち人が住んでいるのは12島、石垣島から定期船で直接往来ができるのは5島ほどです。中でも定期船で15分ほどで行ける竹富島は特におすすめです。伝統的な赤瓦の屋根の住居が残っていて、そこは国の重要伝統的建造物群保存地区に指定されています。

If you’re looking for a longer tour, the several-hour tour from Ishigaki Port is the most popular. It includes a water buffalo cart ride, which takes you around the village for about 20~30min while you listen to local songs played by a driver.

石垣港から数時間のツアーが人気です。だいたいは水牛車ツアーを含んでいます。水牛がひく牛車に乗って島唄を聞きながら20〜30分村の中を回るコースです。

There is also a shallow beach in Taketomi Island that families can enjoy.To optimize your time, I recommend using a rental cycle. “Taketomi” Island is small and the altitude is about 10 meters high, but there are few paved roads, so please be careful when cycling.

また遠浅のビーチもあり家族でも楽しめます。自由に時間をすごすためには、レンタサイクルを利用してみましょう。小さな島ですし、標高も10mほどですが、舗装道路はほとんどありませんので運転には気をつけてくださいね。

Additionally, I recommend staying overnight on this small island if possible. The island is crowded with tourists during the daytime, but after the last ship departs, it turns quiet and calm. At dusk, let’s go for a walk to the Old West Pier. A sunset watched here in silence is so beautiful. Also, when the weather is nice, please look forward to the magic hour and the starry sky after that. If you stay at the guest house called “Minshuku,” which is a simple Japanese-style accommodation, it will be such a special memory.

できれば1泊することをオススメします。日中は観光客で賑わう島ですが、最後の船が出発すると一転して静かで穏やかになります。夕暮れ時には古い西桟橋に散歩に出かけてみてください。静寂の中で眺める夕焼けはとても美しいです。また天気が良い日はその後のマジックアワーや星空も楽しみにしてください。また民宿に泊まれば、そこで過ごす時間も特別な思い出になるはずですよ。

And one more important piece of information I have to tell you is this: There are many sacred off-limits areas on the Yaeyama Islands called “Utaki” or “Onn.” These areas look like shrines with a “torii” gate, but they are not like the shrines you’ll find on the Japanese mainland. Actually, you will not find anything but a small hut or some woods. However, please note that it is a very important and sacred place for the people who live on the island. We should not enter these places. Please be respectful about that.

もうひとつ大事なお知らせがあります。八重山の島々には『御嶽』(うたき)、(おん)と呼ばれる神聖な立入禁止の場所もたくさんあります。見かけは鳥居があり神社のようですが日本のような神社ではありませんし、小さな小屋や木々があるだけで見学できる物はありません。しかし島の人にとってはとても神聖で大切な場所なので、立ち入るべきではありません。ぜひ敬意を払ってください。

I still have a lot of stories to introduce but for now, I’m going to end with this:Finally, a little bit about the title of this story.

まだまだご紹介したいことはたくさんありますが、今日はこのへんで・・・。最後にタイトルのお話を少し。

Here’s a fun fact for you: we don’t actually call our islands by the name of “Okinawa.” Instead, we call our home “Uchi nah,” in the Okinawan dialect. (We call the Yaeyama Islands, “Yaima.”)
In the title, you read the phrase: ”Uchinah-time.” What do I mean by that?
Well, the direct translation literally means, “time that is relaxing and also a little bit sloppy.” While most people in Japan will arrive at appointments and parties or get-togethers at least 10 minutes early, that is not the case on our islands. Apart from work, most people don’t always show up right at an appointed time. Imagine  a party that starts at 7pm. “Uchinah-time” means that it is natural for me not to leave my place until 7pm! And if you’re an hour late, no one will get angry about it. Well, that is why there is no train, and there is no last train, so there is no end to the party, haha.

沖縄のことを沖縄方言で「うちなー」と言います。「うちなータイム」って何でしょうね?
本来は沖縄県民独特のちょっぴりいい加減でのんびりした時間のことをいいます。例えば、約束や飲み会や会合に、日本人なら10分前には集まりますが、ここでは違いますよ。
仕事以外だと約束の時間ちょうどにはほとんどの人が集まりません。例えば19時開始の飲み会を想像してみて下さい。うちなータイムだと19時にうちを出るのも珍しくありません。そして1時間遅れてきても、それについて誰も怒りません。まぁ電車がないので、終電もなく飲み会に終わりがないからなのでしょうけど。

So, above all else, remember that the people of Okinawa (Uchinah) are generous, relaxed, and sometimes sloppy… and that leisurely time flows through the island.

そんなわけで、人々はおおらかで、のんびりしていて、ときどきいい加減で、ですから島中にのんびりとした時間が流れているのかもしれません。

Yuka.M

By Yuka.M

Diving instructor, tour conductor, and officially licensed Okinawan interpreter and tour guide. Yuka was born in Hiroshima but graduated from the Institute of Technology in Tokyo. After a few years of working as an engineer in Ibaraki, she settled down on a southern island called Ishigaki, which is located between Okinawa and Taiwan. For over 15 years, Yuka has been a guide and interpreter between nature and people. She is interested in cats, dolphins, traveling, spacecrafts, MARVEL, and Disney.

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