Living in Oki means becoming intimate with your weather forecast. Not just because Aaron and I have to plan our shopping trips around downpours (as I mentioned before, we walk everywhere), but because if you ever have plans to get off this island and socialize, you’d better make sure that the ferries are still running.
In the summer, any plans that you make are generally safe, provided Japan isn’t being hit by one of it’s many typhoons. Riding the ferry during this time is actually quite relaxing and it gives me a great excuse to take a nap. Not that I need an excuse. The water is calm and there’s ice cream, onigiri, and tea for sale constantly which makes for a wonderful time. Instead of having seats, the ferry is set up with large carpeted areas where I get to lay down with a blanket and sleep. (And no, it doesn’t feel like I’m on a rock; it’s slightly more squishy. Like a mossy rock.) Most people bring their own mats and will lay them out on any open floor space they can find. And I mean any space. By the stairs, in the walkways, by the toilets, half under an occupied couch, you name it. Some people will even bring hammocks, head up to the top deck, latch the hammock to a
corner in the guard rails, and take a long nap under the sun with the breeze from the sea to cool them off.
*Special note, the ferry can take anywhere between three to five hours to reach the mainland. There is, however, The Rainbow Jet which takes about an hour and a half (depends on if it’s whale watching season) but it’s cancelled a lot.
Winter, however, is a completely different story. Us Oki folks are pretty much recluses during winter; we are stranded on the island the majority of the time. The wind that we get here can get very intense and will whip the waves up past five meters (which is when they cancel the ferry) with frustrating frequency. Planning on travelling to the mainland during winter? Nope. Think again. It’s safe to say that for Oki people, plans aren’t solid until you’re on the ferry. Now, when the ferry is cancelled there is only one other option, and that is to try and hop on the one flight of the day. And that would cost about
$200 dollars one-way because of the late booking, and that’s only if there’s actually space left on the airplane. It’s generally safe to assume that the flight is full whenever the Rainbow Jet is cancelled, as everyone is tossed suddenly into a rat-race to get off the island.
I also want to mention that a large portion of the food on this island comes from the mainland via the ferry, as well as mail and packages that are being sent or received. So, on those days, it’s best to hope that I didn’t have any important, time-sensitive mail being sent and it’s best to be prepared to eat curry, cup noodles, or fish because the supermarkets become shockingly empty during these times. No soup for you! (Please don’t worry, Mom. We don’t actually have to worry about food shortages. We just have to get really crafty with our dinners).
And lastly, the best (or worst) thing that can happen is when the ferry isn’t cancelled but the waves are still close to five meters high. Because in this case, I no longer have an excuse to not go to the meetings on the mainland, (not that the meetings aren’t fun. I’m just a recluse) and I get to spend three to five hours on an incredibly shaky ride trying my best not to be ill in the bathroom alongside many other travelers.
I remember one particular ride (which was by far the worst ride) to the mainland when the ferry was forced completely off course and we ended up arriving 30-40 minutes later than expected. One coworker threw up over the guard rail, the other was green faced, and I managed to keep from sicking up only because I refused to eat or drink anything the entire ride and I spent the entire time outside in the cold. At first, the ride was exciting, because I’d never had anything like this happen before, and my coworkers and I hung out on the deck taking pictures in the intense wind. “Whoo, look at my jacket flapping un-majestically in the wind!” But the excitement died off pretty quickly when the ferry began crashing down into the oncoming waves and rattling the entire ship. And this is no small ship. It transports hundreds of people, as well as a large number of cars and heavy machinery. When I say it takes a lot to make this ship shake like it did, I mean it takes a lot. We all agreed that it was starting to get freaky. Near the end of the ride, the last hour or so, we realized that the waves seemed much bigger at this point. We also learned that we were way off course, and noticed we were being followed by a helicopter from the mainland to make sure that our ferry (and the next one behind us) was going to be able to make it to the mainland safely.
Luckily, I haven’t experienced a ferry ride that bad since.
Anyway, here’s a photo of the ferry.