A satellite image by Himawari shows that a typhoon was swiping Okinoerabu.

Our Little Adventure in Okinoerabu

A bit of a flashback of a story that happened in 2018.

Okinoerabujima (沖永良部島) is a tiny island among the Satsunan Islands between Kyushu and Okinawa in Japan. If the description is too alien, just think of it as a small island on the edge of the Pacific Ocean (literally the middle of nowhere).

In 2018, my wife and I planned to spend 3 days there in the middle of our trip to Okinawa to visit our friend and explore a not-so-touristy place in the Kagoshima Prefecture.

Before taking off from Okinawa, I learned that a typhoon was heading towards the tiny island. However, since everything had been planned and confirmed, and I really wanted to meet my friend and her family, I insisted on visiting there.

Not long after we landed and were greeted by our friend, we quickly discussed the possibility of the return flight being cancelled. I shortened the 3-day trip to a 2-day one to minimize the risk of affecting the entire trip. After quickly spending time with my friend and her family, sadly, the next morning, when we went to the airport, we were notified that our flight was cancelled because the typhoon was affecting all the flights to/from Okinawa already (despite it being still 1 day away from Okinoerabu).

Knowing that we would have to extend our stay, we went to the supermarket with our friend to prepare food and water. As an island in the middle of nowhere, the power and fresh water supply might be suspended in the case of a typhoon. Residents on the island had already purchased every large bottled water in the supermarket. Restock would not be available as both the cargo by air or by sea was stopped because of the typhoon.

Racking in a supermarket that was supposed to have bottled water in Okinoerabu. It was emptied prior to the typhoon.
Supermarket shelves where bottled water was supposed to be in Okinoerabu. It was emptied prior to the typhoon. (2018)

While I had given up on finding large bottled water and went to check other essentials like bread, candies and snacks, my wife came forward and cried cheerfully,

Look! I found some bottled water!

I asked her to show me where she found them, we quickly walked past the section which was marked as “Drinks”. “Look! Over there!”

Bottled Shōchū in supermarket in Okinoerabu (2018)

I could see a lot of transparent liquid in plastic bottles, big and small, tidily lined up on the shelves. The price was quite affordable, especially when the supply was limited. The only problem was they were not water, but Shōchū, distilled by rice, wheat, or Imo (sweet potato), something Kyushu is famous for.

“Well, if we bought them and drank them like water, we could spend our time in our dreams when a typhoon swept over our heads and wake up after it’s gone. They’re not water, they’re alcohol.”

Of course, I won’t blame my wife as it was the first time she saw alcohol sold in plastic bottles, like bottled water, and that made her confused.

After we had dinner with our friends, the typhoon swept the island, causing a power and water outage that lasted for several hours. The flights were either cancelled or fully booked for the following two days, so we had to stay on the island for an additional three days before being able to return to Okinawa and continue our journey back home from there.

During our extended stay, we visited one of the natural limestone caves in Okinoerabu following a local guide. Unlike many limestone caves that are often decorated with flashy colourful LED lights and clear footpaths on the floor, this cave offered a unique caving tour where we had to rent our own gear to explore. Surrounded by darkness and the sound of dripping water, we followed our guide deep into the cave, squeezing through narrow slits while marvelling at the breathtaking scenery along the way.

Interior of Ginsuido (Silver Water Cave), a natural underground limestone cave in Okinoerabu.
Ginsuido (Silver Water Cave) in Okinoerabu. The lighting was placed by the local guide with some torches, which were collected before we left.

The typhoon messed up part of our travel plans, but we were able to spend a few more days on that remote island, explore the stunning scenery there, and leave a funny story to tell from that day onwards. Now, every time I see a bottled Shōchū, it reminds me of this wonderful journey in Japan.


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