Chapter 30 – Discover Japan 


Japan’s Undiscovered Treasures

1. Country weekends
2. Into the Mountains
3. Kakeroma

With China and other distractions out of the way, 

I gradually began to get my life into some sort of shape. 

I began to see a lot of Yasuko. She still had her job with the Ajiken.

1. Country Weekends

We spent many weekends doing what we had enjoyed so much together two years earlier— exploring the delightful countryside around Tokyo. 

For someone brought up in the monotony, solitude and harshness of the Australian countryside, the lushness, variety, seasonal changes and the wealth of human interaction in Japanese nature was exciting. 

 ’Discover Japan’ was a slogan developed by the national railways back in the 80’s to encourage people to get out and travel. 

It should not have been necessary. Japan is a goldmine of attractive places to discover.

Hiking In Hills Near Tokyo

2. Into the Mountains

We had begun during my Ajiken days with the mountain country an hour or so to the west of Tokyo  – the 1500-2000 meter ranges of Oku-Tama, Oku-Chichbu, Tanzawa. 

Now we were gradually moving further a-field, mainly into the deep, vast and largely unknown 3,000 meter ranges of the Southern Alps.  

The Japanese are a strange people.  

They will happily spend six-eight hours traveling to the well-known but distant and often over-crowded Northern Alps, mainly because they are well-known, distant and over-crowded. 

But they ignore the equally challenging but deserted and very attractive Southern Alps just the other side of Mt Fuji – almost within viewing distance from Tokyo.  

Thursday afternoons would see me poring over hiking maps, planning the route for that weekend.

Friday evenings we would set off on the overnight trains to the starting point for our climb. 

Saturday evenings would see us huddled around a fire before bedding down in one of the many mountain huts built along the tops of the main range.

Sunday afternoons we would be descending many miles away, tired and happy, hopefully to a hot spring hideaway before finding a railway station on one of Japan’s many small local lines snaking into the hills and taking the train back to Tokyo. 

One of my ‘Discover Japan’ techniques was to take a map, look for an area with few villages or roads, and head off to see what was there. 

Inevitably we would find a Shangri-la hidden away in the hills and forgotten by history. 

Some were quite close to Tokyo. Our getaway in the Boso peninsula was one.

Some others were up in north-central Japan, around the volcanic Bandai-san.  And some were  were in distant Hokkaido.

But one of our best finds was the island of Kakeroma down Okinawa way.  

3. Kakeroma Island

It is a strange name for an island, not quite Japanese.  That, alone, invited discovery. But discovering it and getting there was a long story.

I had been invited to Kyushu by the elderly Iwasaki Yohachiro. 

He was being bitterly criticised by Australia’s environmentalists for trying to build a honeymoon hotel in Queensland’s remote Yeppoon area.

(Why the greenies should protest an hotel bringing people and funds to an area crying out for people and development seemed surprising. 

(I could understand it if they wanted themselves to visit this area of pristine beauty.  But I had been there before but I had never sign any sign of a greenie presence.)

Iwasaki wanted me and some other 

Australian news people to visit his resort hotel in Ibusuki near Kagoshima, so we could get some idea of what he planned for Yeppoon. 

Ibuski hotel was interesting enough – a mammoth affair with dozens of hot baths, live shows and dantai (group) tours moving through every night. 

There I discovered he also had interests in the island of Amami Oshima to the south, where he had made his fortune prewar exporting hardwood sleepers for the Manchurian railways. 

At my request his staff arranged for me to visit Amami also. 

On a map of the large but little-known Amami island I noticed another large but even known island just to the south with the unusual name of Kakeroma. 

It had few roads or large settlements.

No one seemed able to tell me what went on there. 

So we (Yasuko and myself) decided to go and find out.


Crossing the Setouchi channel from Koniya at the very bottom of Amami, we discovered a paradise of unspoiled semi-tropical hills and beaches surrounded by coral reefs, inhabited by dear hearts and gentle people clinging to the customs of another era. 

In every village we could hear the clack-clack of the hand looms where the women of the island made the highly-prized tsumugi cloth for sale in the rest of Japan. 

The place was so untouched that hotels, taxis and even vending machines did not exist. 

Even now, at moment of writing, only a few diving fanatics know about Kakeroma, though it has over 200 kilometers of coral-lined coastline and a population of around 4,000 (7,000 then). 

We have been back several times since, mainly so son Dan could link up with a young girl he had met there and liked. 

We stayed at the one hotel-pension seemingly open for visitors. We have since become welcome guests.

The world has this image of Japan as a grossly over-crowded nation. 

But there are large areas of countryside where people rarely venture. 

Even ardent hikers rarely want to stray from the beaten track. 

In the Tanzawa hills just outside Tokyo it was thirty years before someone came across the remains of a downed wartime plane there. 

The trails nearby are often crammed with weekend hikers. But no one, it seemed,  had ventured onto the steep slopes alongside. 

In the remote headwaters of the Mibu river on the western and rarely visited side of the Southern Alps I once came across what I am sure was a small Red Army camp. 

About half a dozen of tough, good-looking youth were camped out there.   

If they really were Red Army fugitives, it was sad that their talents, energy and youth were being wasted in a fruitless confrontation with a society that would not take the trouble to discover their idealistic goals.

Few in that society seemed to want even to venture around the other side of the ranges to discover that remote valley. 

It was and remains our very private discovery.