Parks and Recreation, Tanegashima Style


For as small a place as Tanegashima, there is an impressive array of parks and public spaces. We visited museums dedicated to the first Japanese guns (which were introduced to Japan through Tanegashima) as well as a red rice museum and a full-on bus tour for the space center.

tanegashima rocks

There are also a lot of temples and statues and tributes to old legends. This giant rope suspended between two rocks was done in remembrance of a famous love story, I don’t remember the details but dragons were involved. It’s like a local fairy tale.

tanegashima drive safe

And instead of billboards reminding drivers to “buckle up” they built this beautiful statue as a sort of public prayer for safe driving. The island speed limit is 35 mph, so a big billboard isn’t as necessary.

tanegashima playground

We found this gorgeous playground that reminded me of the kinds of playgrounds I used to play on as a kid, but which have since been deemed unsafe and mostly done away with in the U.S. Too many metal bits? Chipping paint? Whatever. They may as well have done away with the entire concept of childhood fun.

tanegashima playground

And in true Japanese style, everything is made as cute as possible. I was dreaming of grabbing a bento at the kombini, parking myself at one of the picnic tables, and watching my imaginary kids run amok here.

tanegashima panda

BEST OF ALL, this particular playground was adjacent to a free and utterly unsupervised petting zoo, which had a big box full of cabbage leaves and lettuce and carrot pieces for guests to feed the animals. Great for kids and also me.

tanegashima petting zoo

tanegashima petting zoo

If you’re on Tanegashima at the right time of year, you might catch some sea-turtle nesting at one of their beaches. I’ve mentioned that Tanegashima has fantastic beaches but I haven’t posted many pictures of them.

tanegashima beach

Parks, gorgeous beaches, amazing food, musicians, thriving local agriculture and arts and crafts – this is a place I could happily lose myself. Missing it today. A lot.

tanegashima beach

  1. Tanegashima is a little dream world.

    Carrie — May 15, 2014
    1. That it is!

      courtney — May 15, 2014
    2. reply
  2. I want to see the zoo! I want a print if that chicken and bunny in my kitchen.

    Caroline — May 16, 2014
    1. Cody has tons more photos from the petting zoo! I can send you some.

      courtney — May 16, 2014
    2. reply
cancel reply

Pots & Rock

It almost feels cliche telling you more about how raw and old-school Tanegashima is, but it’s hard to hold back when my memories are peppered with romance: a 90-year-old man riding a homemade scooter with a fishing pole strapped to his back or grandma in a dress and bonnet picking her way across a rocky beach at low tide for clams. I actually saw those things. I wonder if it’s like that any time you go way off the beaten path. And here’s one more for the collection: a real potter who digs his own clay out of the side of a Tanegashima mountain, fires his pottery in a hand-made kiln, and uses his store as a night time music venue.


The workshop is right on the beach – you could walk ten steps from the front door and fall into the ocean if you wanted. It’s at the end of a dirt road and it looks basically like most of the houses on Tanegashima. When we walked in, the owner (Sogi-san) was covered in clay and working at the wheel. But he welcomed us in and showed us around.

tanegashima pottery

That’s the giant kiln – it takes him a week to load it by hand, crawling in and out with pots.

tanegashima pottery

He told us he loses about 30% of his pottery to cracking and warping in the kiln.

tanegashima pottery

The main thing that told us this building was a pottery workshop – the stacks and stacks of wood for the kiln.

tanegashima pottery

Tanegashima pottery is really unique. Sogi-san doesn’t use glazes at all – the shine comes from the clay itself and the changes that happen in the kiln. I don’t really get it, but it’s pretty stuff with kind of a metallic sheen that ranges in color from grassy green to dusty pink. My favorite ones have chunks of ash permanently stuck in spots. It’s so gorgeously rough and rustic. Cody and I had to bring a few pieces home.

tanegashima pottery

Sogi-san is a really good guitarist and every other weekend his shop turns into a little venue. There are a number of musicians among the NASA crew, so we were invited to take part in sort of a jam-session/open mic night.

tanegashima singing

I sang some Beatles and a few others played guitar. There was some Clapton in there too. Lots of classics.

tanegashima singing

tanegashima singing

tanegashima singing

tanegashima singing

tanegashima singing

I got dragged up on stage by some of Tanegashima’s really good singers to help with singing “Stand By Me” at the end of the night. It was fun, but I’m theee most awkward stage-person, especially when I’m caught off-guard. BUT who could say no to singing classic rock with talented Japanese musicians in a pottery shop by the beach on a remote island in the East China sea? Not me.

  1. Love this post! It's so fun to go somewhere so different and fall in love with it.

    Carrie — May 8, 2014
    1. Thanks ma! It was such a cool experience. Couldn't have done it without you watching my baby!

      courtney — May 8, 2014
    2. reply
cancel reply

Jamaican Burgers and French Surfers (In Japan)

One of the NASA team’s favorite haunts on Tanegashima was the Steppin’ Lion. It was one of the only restaurants on the island that made burgers, so we’d all head over when we were missing American food. The burgers are great, but even better is the jerk chicken, which also comes in burger form.

steppin lion jerk chicken burger
I was googling around for info about Tanegashima and found a few videos from French surfing magazine, Oui Surf. I was sort of tickled to see they’d made a video of the Steppin’ Lion. They captured it well, in my opinion.

Japon / Nourriture / Steppin Lion from on Vimeo.

And one about a Tanegashima specialty: chicken sashimi. Yes, I tried it. And no, it ain’t for me.

Japon / Nourriture / Tori Sashimi from on Vimeo.

Bodacious burgers and scruffy surfers that speak French. You are welcome.

  1. chicken sashimi? how is that possible??

    miranda — April 12, 2014
    1. Tanegashima chickens are a lot healthier than American chickens I guess? I didn't get sick when I had it but it didn't exactly agree with me either :)

      courtney — April 12, 2014
    2. reply
cancel reply

Tanegashima Sugar

Staying in a country where you don’t speak or read the language sort of forces you to buck up in confusing situations. And when you don’t know the language, or even how to make the sounds of the characters in the alphabet, confusing situations abound. The first time we drove down the main drag in Minamitane, Cody pointed out of the car window to buildings that looked, to me, like houses or offices, saying “that’s a restaurant, and that’s a restaurant, and that’s a restaurant”. It’s like that a lot in Japan, but especially in Tanegashima. The general collective signage is minimal to begin with, and even when there are signs on storefronts, I can’t read them at all. We kind of had to get used to walking in unmarked, unfamiliar doors and seeing what would happen.

We’d heard that there was a sugar cane processing facility somewhere on the island that invited tourists. But when we arrived we couldn’t really tell if we’d come to the right place. But we gathered our tolerance for uncomfortable situations and pressed on.


sugar cane processing

Aha! Sugar cane. That’s a good sign.

sugar cane chopper

And we kept walking, into a sanctum of steam. At this point we sort of figured that if we weren’t supposed to be there, we’d have been yelled at.

sugar cane processing

This is where they boiled the cane juice down into syrup.

sugar cane dudes

These dudes were mostly unfazed by our presence. Which made for good candids.

liquid sugar

That’s the sugar cane juice after it’s been boiled for a while and reduced.

tanegashima sugar

This place pours out straight reduced sugar cane syrup to make this clear, foldable yet somehow breakable taffy/candy stuff for tourists to taste. Then they take crystallized sugar and add it to the big bowls to help the rest of the batch form crystals. The crystallized sugar is a lot more useful than the foldable stuff, for obvious reasons.

tanegashima sugar

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are given a shard of fresh sugar candy, take it and eat it, but do not chew it unless you want your teeth to be superglued together for 20 minutes.

sugar shards

These guys are stirring the sugar to encourage crystallization (I think).

stirring sugar

And here’s a bag of the finished product. Really nicely textured, richly flavored stuff. It felt pretty special to get to see these people make sugar without the help of a lot of big machinery, almost like going back in time.

crystallized tanegashima sugar

cancel reply

Tanegashima Kids

While we were in Tanegashima, the NASA team caused a bit of buzz, and a few people were invited to give presentations about space and the GPM satellite at some of the local schools. I was graciously invited to tag along. During our two visits I learned a few things.

shimama elementary

Firstly, the shoes rule applies to schools as well as homes. Indoor shoes indoors, outdoor shoes outdoors. Also the schools are neither air conditioned nor heated, and the kids wear shorts and skirts.

shimama shoes

Kids start learning english in elementary school.

enjoy english

They sit on the floor, and the little kids are very well behaved.

school presentation

Tanegashima is isolated enough that we were probably some of the first Americans most of them had ever seen in person.

shimama kids

I learned from one of the JET teachers at this school that these kids have to eat everything they’re given everyday at lunch, and they have to help clean up the dishes. I like that. I think the uniforms help with that “we’re in this together” mentality.

shimama kids

That garden is planted and tended by the kids at this school. Nice work huh?

shimama umbrella

The backpacks! So cute but so expensive. I saw a few of these up close in a store, and they can run $400 or more, and are often made of full leather with metal framing. Serious luggage.


Noodle intermission. This is a long post.

noodle intermission

A few days after we visited the elementary school, we got to go to the local Jr. High school which was beautiful and far too large for the number of students that attended.

Minamitane Jr. High

Tweenager uniforms look a liiiiitle different.

student stampede

Tweens in Japan are just like tweens in America, a little rowdy, but generally good.

Jr. High Presentation

And this character, kept winking at me and waving to me before and after the first of the two presentations we did that day. Harbinger of events to come.

Jr. High Boys

After the second presentation, I was quickly surrounded by tween girls. It was the cutest and weirdest experience of all my time in Tanegashima. Luckily I was holding the camera when it started. But handed it off to Cody just in time to capture the rest.


They wanted to shake my hand?


I am an object of curiosity?

what just happened

This cutie was the leader of the pack. She came up to me and asked, in English, “do you like chocolate?” and it turned out we had that most important thing in common.


I’m sure the language barrier gives them an advantage, but I was pretty charmed by these kids.

baseball kid

  1. Hahaha you are so cute! I love the pic of you looking at the camera and the girls in a crowd giggling. Too funny. So what do you think…would you want your kids attending Japanese schools? They sound pretty awesome!

    Miranda — April 2, 2014
    1. reply
  2. So cute! I love the uniforms! Wouldn't it be fun to teach English there?

    Carrie — April 2, 2014
    1. reply
  3. Mir, I think I'd like having my kids in Japanese schools, but I don't know if they'd like it. It'd be hard to be a foreign-looking student, especially in Tanegashima. And Ma, teaching English would be so fun! The American teachers I talked to LOVED it.

    courtney — April 2, 2014
    1. reply
  4. I love this! I wonder what children like that are thinking when they meet foreigners!

    Amy — April 2, 2014
    1. reply
cancel reply

Citrus Season

Japanese citrus

This winter was my first time living somewhere that is warm enough to grow citrus. Yet another reason I don’t want to leave Tanegashima. Mikan (satsuma oranges), Ponkan (Chinese honey tangerines), and Kinkan (kumquats) are the main players on this island, and they grow so abundantly that people have to give them away if they don’t want them going to waste. NASA people (some of whom would live on instant ramen and chips if they could) have been able to avoid scurvy thanks to the generosity of the restaurant, hotel, and store owners who can’t seem to give their oranges away fast enough.

Cody and I are trying to process the idea that we’re leaving this island, maybe forever, in three days. But it will not compute. Still, we’re loading up on souvenirs and eating at all of our favorite places one last time, proceeding as planned. Here’s hoping I can hold it together when I say goodbye to all the Sun Pearl people and my Tanegashima friends. Reality awaits.

cancel reply


So, this morning at 3am Tanegashima time, Cody and the NASA dudes completed their satellite mission. I was lucky enough to get to watch from the space center, so I had a decent view. Poor Cody had to be in a windowless room during the launch because he was part of the team that needed to monitor and control things if they went wrong. I’m not a photographer, but I lugged our giant camera to the viewing area, flipped the switch to “auto” and did my best to catch a few frames. If you ever get the opportunity to watch a rocket launch in person, I’d recommend taking advantage. It’s pretty dang beautiful, and the sound and feel of it is sort of hard to describe.

GPM rocket launch

GPM rocket launch

GPM rocket launch

GPM rocket launch

GPM rocket launch

GPM rocket launch

For video that pretty closely resembles what I saw, watch this.

For video that’s a good bit shinier than what I saw, watch this.

  1. Amazing photos of the launch. Also really love the new look of the blog. There is nothing you can't do!

    Lisa — February 28, 2014
    1. Thanks Lisa! The launch was awesome, and Cody did all site the updates for me. He's a talented guy!

      courtney — March 2, 2014
    2. reply
  2. what an awesome opportunity! you are a super photographer. nice work. xoxom

    miranda — March 2, 2014
    1. reply
  3. […] dressing you’ve never had. Or at least I had never had it, until Cody and I went to Japan for that NASA thing we did, and then I had it all the time. The little hotel that hosted us for our four-month Tanegashima […]

    Creamy Sesame Dressing | Sweet Salty Tart — December 15, 2015
    1. reply
cancel reply

Transit-Induced Phone Photo Dump

So I’ve been in Japan for two months and I am getting a little melancholy over the fact that my time here is more than half way over. How can this be??  Cody and I are in Narita overnight, with a flight to San Francisco tomorrow to see our new nephew. After our visit with family we are headed back to Tanegashima until the satellite launch. Because my brain functions are stunted during travel, I’m offering a smattering of random photos to hopefully hold you over until I can do words again.

spicy ramen

Spicy ramen at our favorite place near our hotel.

stepping lion

The mural at our favorite burger/jerk chicken restaurant: The Stepping Lion.

jerk chicken

Jerk chicken platter at the Stepping Lion.

large carrots

Japan is apparently the land of mammoth carrots. Potatoes on the left, onions on the right.

fried rice

Fried rice and katsukare (curry with fried pork) at my OTHER favorite lunch spot in Minamitane. Fourteen dollars for everything in the photo.

KFC chips

Remember how I said KFC is real popular here?

new years dance

New Year’s performance that is sort of a cross between Christmas caroling and trick-or-treating, but with drums and dancing and chanting and men dressed in kimonos. Very cute.

I really really like it here, you guys.

cancel reply

Sama Sama

sama sama restaurant tanegashima

I’m kind of embarrassed I haven’t written more about the food I’ve been eating. Because I have been EATING. I want to do these places justice though, so be patient with me plz. Ok, so lets begin: one of my favorite restaurants in the town of Minamitane is Sama Sama. I have no idea what Sama Sama means, but when I hear it, I think of yakitori.

yakitori at sama sama in tanegashima

This is a plate of mixed yakitori shio (chicken skewers seasoned with salt…somehow they taste like more than the sum of their parts). If you’ve watched “The Mind of a Chef” season one with David Chang on Netflix, you know what the first skewer on the left is: a painstakingly unraveled chicken wing. The next is chicken with green onion, then a dark meat skewer, a thin-sliced pork belly skewer, and the last is white meat with wasabi. The Japanese word for what these are is oishii (meaning delicious). Oishii is one of the first words I learned in Japanese and I use it all. the. time.

sama sama restaurant tanegashima

That’s Masa-san, the cook/owner grilling some yakitori on the left, and a close-up of his handiwork on the right. Are you guys seeing how atmospheric this place is? It’s cozy and feels like every piece of it has been sort of, I don’t know, collected? The fact that it’s run entirely by two people helps too.

fried camembert at sama sama tanegashima

Breaded and deep-fried Camembert cheese. Yup.

salad at sama sama tanegashima

All the salads in Japan are awesome. The national obsession with freshness is really highlighted in salads: no brown edges or soggy bits here. Sliced pork and sesame dressing on top.

yakitori tare at sama sama tanegashima

This is yakitori tare (pronounced ta-ray) – similar to the yakitori shio, but topped with a sweet, brown sauce called tare which is sort of similarish to teriyaki. I should probably look that up.

cheese pancake at sama sama tanegashima

That up there is a Korean style green onion and cheese pancake, cut into wedges. Nice and crispy on one side, cheesy on the other.

duck at sama sama tanegashima

They have these mini table grills you can order to grill your own meat over Japanese white binchotan coal. Masa-san fills them with hot coals and sets a lava stone on top to use as the grilling surface. This one’s being used on some duck.

mackerel at sama sama tanegashima

Masa-san torching some marinated mackerel, table-side.

chicken wing dumplings at sama sama tanegashima

These things are out of control. Chicken wings that have been carefully slit open and stuffed with gyoza filling.

chicken wing at sama sama tanegashima

Deep fried chicken. Wing. Gyoza.

masa san at sama sama tanegashima

Bottles of sake and Masa-san. This place has basically charmed my face off, and Masa san is a great cook. If you ever go to Tanegashima, head to Sama Sama and eat all the things. Actually, if you’re anywhere within a thousand-mile radius of Tanegashima it would be very much worth the trip to eat at Sama Sama. Just go, ok?

  1. Our neighbors are Japanese and I keep hoping to be invited to dinner because it always smells so gooooood.

    Caitlin — January 10, 2014
    1. reply
  2. It's a generalization, but the Japanese seem to be good reciprocators. So if you take them something you make, you might get something awesome in return. Small tangent though: isn't trying to meet new people outside of college the worst?

    courtney — January 10, 2014
    1. reply
  3. Oh how I miss Sama Sama. I made the chicken wing dumplings for my wife once and now she asks for them at least once a week.

    Pope — July 23, 2014
    1. Those things were so good. I need you to show me how to de-bone a wing though...that seems like a tricky thing. If we ever do, lets make a few hundred so we never run out!

      courtney — July 24, 2014
    2. reply
cancel reply

Knives, All Kinds of Knives

I think wedding registries are kind of hilarious, particularly for people who get married young, like I did, and have no idea what’s really necessary to keep a household running without contributions from five other roommates. When I got married I registered for a run of the mill, moderately priced knife block set at Target and I’ve been tolerating it humorlessly ever since. So, I’ve never had really “good” knives – knives that are worth having professionally sharpened or washing by hand. What’s worse is I’m an adult now, who has cooked professionally and who now frequently cooks at home. I know how important it is to have quality knives and how much safer you are when you cut with blades that are sharp and strong.

As luck would have it, knives are bit of a specialty here on Tanegashima. So these recent purchases will do double duty for me as a keepsake from our time here, and a solid knife set that will carry me through the next couple of decades at least.

tanegashima knife

Bonus: they’re affordable. These are the standard carbon steel home-cook grade knives, hand-made on this island, averaging about $35 each, (when you can buy them from the maker) and deliciously sharp. There’s a professional range of knives as well, that cost between $80 and $200 a piece.

tanegashima knives

The knife below is for hacking heads off fish, but I’m thinking it will perform similarly well on hard winter squashes or whole, large birds.

tanegashima knife

The knife makers here also make scissors that are supposed to be perfectly balanced and engineered in a way that causes them to become sharper with use. So, witchcraft?

tanegashima scissors

These are my new babies. Welcome to the knife drawer guys! Also, guess what my entire family is getting for Christmas?

  1. Um... I want some. They look so fun and cool! I am so jealous of your adventures. If I had the obey, I'd be on a plane right now for a visit. It looks like such a cute, fun place. I miss you!

    Tricia L — December 30, 2013
    1. reply
  2. they look so rustic! love it. they will make for a good conversation piece when you have dinner guests. but yeah, cutting with a good knife can make all the difference. i definitely have my favorites around here. and i agree about the registries. for our baby registry with afton, i was just the heck am i supposed to do this? i have no idea what we need.

    miranda — December 31, 2013
    1. reply
  3. Tricia! I wish you could come here! I want to feed you kampachi sashimi at my favorite sushi place, and freaking fried chicken allllll day. And to both Mir and Tricia, whenever I have a baby I'll be asking for lots of advice about the registry :)

    courtney — December 31, 2013
    1. reply
cancel reply