In 1993, one of the most powerful tsunami in modern history hit Okushiri Island. Just 5 minutes after a powerful magnitude 7.7 earthquake, the 30m high 500km/h wave destroyed much of the north, west, and south areas of the island. We weren’t fully aware of the magnitude of that event when we arrived on Okushiri Island by ferry. We certainly didn’t expect that our campground for the night would be just a few meters away from one of the more sombre reminders of Okushiri’s tragic past.
The day started early for us. Mainly because we wanted to catch the sunrise from the Setana campground, where we were staying. This campground is up on a high headland with a three-story viewing platform, so gives amazing views across the Japan Sea coast. It was definitely worth the early start.
Only half an hour or so after sunrise, the land had transformed into a colorful, bright, and warm day.
Our ferry to Okushiri Island didn’t leave until around 1pm, so we spent the morning hanging around town and buying up around three days worth of food. We knew that once on Okushiri Island, there would be fewer stores around. And we were planning to stay on Okushiri Island, despite it only being around 60km circumference in total. This would mean spending some time in one place; possibly a day or so in one location with little access to shops or restaurants.
On the ferry over to Okushiri Island, we would end up sharing the ferry with a large group of Japan Self Defence Force personnel. The Japan Air Self Defense Force has a base on Okushiri, and it looked like they were taking over supplies and vehicles.
Once on Okushiri, we made a beeline for the northern cape. We knew we only had a few hours of daylight left, and wanted to get there before dark. First impressions of this sleepy island were mainly of the civil engineering on the island. More so than the mainland, there seemed to be much more hillside strengthening works going on.
For such a small island, this seemed odd. But only until we were reminded at the northern cape about what had happened here in 1993. It almost seems like the island was being used as a case study of how to reinforce an entire island against natural disaster.
Once at the campground, we pitched the tent behind a large mound of grassy dirt, to keep out of the strong northerly wind that was blowing. It felt like a rather desolate spot.
This feeling of desolation was accentuated by the fact that the campsite was right next to the northern cape, home to a massive area scattered with rock piles. The place felt cathartic. Somewhere where your thoughts and pain and anger would be drowned out by the perpetual wind in your ears and the sounds of crashing waves. A place you could just focus on the simple task of piling up some rocks. By the looks of things there was no shortage of people who had done just that.