Called “Kumi no Shima,” meaning the most beautiful island among the Ryukyu Islands, Kume Island is blessed with pure water, which is quite rare in the Ryukyus. Some parts of its streams and wetlands are registered with the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. In recent years, a new resource, deep sea water used in the beauty and healing industries has attracted global attention. You can relax and heal yourself sunbathing on the famous Hate-no-Hama or riding a horse by the sea, wandering in the woods or weaving traditional Kumejima Tsumugi or engage in many other activities. Following is what I experienced on my relaxing and healing journey to Kume Island.
Kume Island is one of the remote islands relatively easy to visit from Naha on Okinawa Main Island. It takes about 30 minutes by plane or 3.5 hours by ferry. One option is to relax on a ferry-ride and return by air. It’s all up to your itinerary and budget. We took the morning flight to Kume Island and rented a car at the airport and then headed for Kumejima Kaiyoshinsosui (Kumejima Deep sea Water) to pick up Umi-budo (sea grapes), also known as “sea jewels” or “green caviar” and making it the largest produce in Japan.
Deep sea water is water taken from 200 meters deep or deeper in the ocean, where the sun rays don’t penetrate and the temperature is constant throughout the year. Containing almost no organic matter, bacteria, or environmental hormones that degrade the water, deep sea water quality is steady, it’s rich in minerals, and regarded as a new sustainable resource with plenty of potentials. The facility uses this deep ocean water to grow umi-budo, which is a seaweed. Its texture is pleasant as it pops in your mouth tasting lightly salty. Its slimy part is a good source of nutrition.
After enjoying the taste of fresh umi-budo, we moved to Uegusuku-joshi (Uegusuku Castle Ruins) on a 310-meter high hill. We enjoyed the panoramic view from the top and took a deep breath thinking about the people in old times who carried all the rocks to build the castle up here.
We had “Kurumaebi (Japanese tiger prawn) Soba” at Washima Restaurant for lunch. This was the award-winning dish at the “Undiscovered Gems of Japan Grand Prix 2019” in Singapore and popular among both local people and visitors. We marveled at the soup’s rich prawn flavor and the whole plump prawns in the bowl. The owner-chef takes seriously the idea about zero waste. He buys heads and tails of the prawns to make soup when those parts usually are discarded. We appreciated his ideas of local production for local consumption as we savored the flavorful soba.
Hate-no-Hama is a must-visit place on Kume Island. Many boat tours to the sand bar are available throughout the day. Sunset is the perfect time for a relaxing trip. Just enjoy the beautiful sunset, watch both the colors of the sky and the sea change every moment while feeling the refreshing breeze from the sea. Hate-no-Hama is a white sand island, where tides and typhoons slowly change the shape of its shores. When you arrive and get off the boat barefoot, you immediately feel refreshed and love the smoothness of the sand and the comforting warmth of the sea. We watched the sunset while strolling along the beach and enjoyed the golden hour, only hearing the sounds of the wind, water, and our breathing.
The sunset tour took about 3 hours and afterward, we hit a local izakaya for dinner to eat some local specialty. We had already tried umi-budo and kurumaebi, so we wanted to try something different to expand our experience. Kumejima Red Chicken is very juicy and goes well with awamori. The island has two awamori distilleries, Kumesen and Yonejima Shuzo, to compare the tastes. We were getting tipsy and felt relaxed, so it was time to listen to the sounds of sanshin, start singing, and dancing with other customers in the restaurant before retiring to the bed.
While breathing the fresh air of the morning, you can take a walk on the Eef Beach, which has been selected as one of the “100 Best Beaches in Japan.” But what about a beach ride on horseback? Kumejima Uma Bokujyo (Kumejima Horse Farm) offers horseback riding by the sea, in the forests, and even in the ocean. Riding along the coast on a horse while feeling a pleasant sea breeze caressing your face was especially refreshing and interacting with animals and the staff of the Uma Boluyo was very pleasant.
Kumejima Tsumugi is an Okinawan Intangible Cultural Property, also designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property of Japan. It represents the oldest history of tribute cloth items from the Ryukyu Kingdom era. You can observe and experience weaving it at the Kumejima Tsumugi Yuimaru-kan. We took a moment to enjoy this traditional craft that spins tales of eternal history and made a coaster of Kumejima Tsumugi as professional weavers at the facility gave us detailed instructions.
We had another soba for lunch, this time “Island Miso Bean Sprouts Soba” at Yanguwa. TripAdvisor declared it the most popular among the top 10 Okinawa Sobas in 2015. Many people repeatedly come back for this healthy soba made with island-made sweet, mild miso, and locally grown Sokei Moyashi (bean sprouts) piled on top of your soba like a small mountain. But be aware, the place closes early as the store is open only 3 hours from noon to 3 p.m. Indeed, eating soba at an old traditional Okinawan house is a memorable food experience.
As we drove around the island, we encountered signs for landmarks such as Tachijami and Mefuga. Anywhere we visited, we were overwhelmed by the magnificent beauty of the surrounding nature. It was a perfect time for relaxation. We highly recommend visiting the Ramsar Convention registered Nibuchi Forest for those planning to immerse themselves in the forest to relax.
One of the most mysterious sights on Kume Island is the Tatami Rock Field, an Okinawa Prefecture designated natural monument. These strange rock formations that are visible only during low tide, also known as turquoise rocks having pentagonal or hexagonal shapes. These are columnar joints formed when lava erupted approximately 12 million years ago and cooled and solidified. Over a long time, the erosion of waves flattened the surface and their current shape formed.
Bade Haus Kumejima stands near the tatami rock. The facility combines deep sea water and traditional German bath treatments. Deep sea water is rich in minerals and said to be effective in thalassotherapy against allergic diseases such as atopic dermatitis and hay fever. It’s also said to help recover athletic abilities resulting in many elderly people and athletes visiting the bath. After soaking in the bathtub for a while, our skin seemed to be much smoother and we felt more relaxed. It was also very easy to float around in the water.
At the facility, one can experience WATSU (“water shiatsu” for short) by reservation. During the session, just leave yourself to the instructor and float in the water. The only thing you can hear are the sounds of water and your breathing. The treatment makes you 100% relaxed, almost like you meditated or floated in space in zero gravity. It makes you feel like being a jellyfish. It is said that WATSU is effective in managing chronic pain such as rheumatism. It adjusts the whole body core, relieves muscle tension, and helps you breathe deeper and easier. We found it perfect for relaxation. Taking a night session in the dark water is extraordinary as almost all of your senses become shut off.
Those who are interested in beauty products made with deep sea water should visit Point Pyuru, one of the leading companies in the industry and the only manufacturer that has developed several beauty products with deep sea water. Their shop has some testers to help customers find the best products for their skin.
After we felt physically and mentally healed by the deep sea water treatments we visited Uezu-ke (The Uezu Residence). The residence itself is surprising 245 years old and the resident lady tells the house has lasted that long because only materials from the island were used to construct it. All stones and trees are from Kume Island and it matches the local climate and environment perfectly. It was interesting to hear the Uezu family’s principles to live in peace and with a calm mindset, which tells us the wisdom of how to live long as well.
Kume Island offers a relaxing time, many activities and elements for healing both the body and soul gently. It is easily accessible from Naha and spending a little time in its rich natural environment and atmosphere doing things at your own pace makes a wonderful relaxation trip.
Posted on February 21st, 2020
Text by Kimberly Remund
Kimberly Remund is Swiss native postdoctoral scholar at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology.