From the World Capital of Gastronomy to the Village of Chibu—The Multilingual Tour Guide Connecting France and Japan

    • Nishinoshima Town
    • Ama Town
    • Chibu Village
From the World Capital of Gastronomy to the Village of Chibu—The Multilingual Tour Guide Connecting France and Japan


  1. Meet the Tour Guide: David
  2. David’s Favourite Location: Mt. Akahage

Meet the Tour Guide: David

“Is it true that there are more Japanese racoon dogs (tanuki) than humans here?”

“The name of the island sounds similar to the world-famous Japanese animation studio; it feels somewhat nostalgic and fantasy-like.”

There is much more about Chiburijima Island that would make you want to talk about it.

With a population of less than 600, Chibu Village, located on Chiburijima Island, is the only village (municipality) in Shimane Prefecture. The tanuki, with their numbers far exceeding the human population, call the island their home. Other than the dreamy pastoral scenery, the island is also known for its fiery red cliff and stunning landscape created by volcanic activity in the distant past.

Jampacked with fun and excitement, Chiburijima Island is the smallest inhabited island in the Oki Islands. Calling this island his home is a tour guide who came all the way from France. Meet David Gomes, a quadrilingual (French, Portuguese, English and Japanese) from Lyon in southeastern France.

“There are only two places where you can clearly see the shape of a populated caldera this size, floating in the sea. By the way, ‘caldera’ is a borrowed word which originally means ‘cooking pot’.”

Fluent in Japanese, David delivers with humour and wit, spreading happiness as he guides us. His bright smile fits in well with the relaxing and easy-going atmosphere of Chiburijima Island.

Seven years ago, David and his wife moved to Chiburijima Island and David first started as a chef at a hotel. Three years ago, he joined Chiburijima Tourism Association as a supporting staff, taking up roles such as tour guide.

On the day of the interview, David brought us to Mt. Akahage, which is about 20 minutes by car from Kurii Port. Standing atop the tallest mountain on Chiburijima Island, you will be rewarded with a sweeping view of the Dōzen Caldera.

The inner sea of the Dōzen Islands stands out among the green. If you stand facing the north, the island on the left-hand side is Nishinoshima Island (Nishinoshima Town). On the right-hand side is Nakanoshima Island (Ama Town). Behind them on the horizon lies Dōgo Island (Okinoshima Town).

“This is Dōzen Caldera. Calderas are not rare, but this one is special. The land created by an undersea volcanic eruption collapsed, and sea water flowed into the basin due to erosion. The top part of the caldera rim remained above sea level, just like the rim of a ‘cooking pot’ (‘caldera’ in Portuguese). Not like a basin or a lake, but a caldera in the sea. The calderas in the world that meet these conditions are the Dōzen Islands in Japan and Santorini in Greece.”

After enjoying our share of the scenery of the Dōzen Caldera, we slowly made our way down the gentle hill. It is said that Mt. Akahage (literally “crimson bald” in Japanese) got her name from the red soil and the lack of trees. Up until the mid-1960s, makihata rotation farming was practised here. Remains of the myogaki stone walls, which served as borders dividing the fields used for makihata, can still be seen here near the mountain peak.

As I was looking across the pasture where cattle are kept, a tanuki ran across the field. Just a few metres away from grazing cows are tanuki enjoying their grass; a common sight in Chibu.

“A lot of cattle are put out to pasture, but no one brings them water, because there are natural water springs. I think these natural water springs are the island’s greatest treasure. Without the natural flow of fresh water, humans cannot reside here and animals cannot be kept. The second treasure is cattle. Without them, makihata rotation farming would not be possible as well. I think the rich, natural flow of water and cows created the history of this island.”

Just a few steps down the slope from the lookout, there is a small shrine. It is known as “Daisen-san” to the locals.

“The small shrine faces Mt. Daisen of Tottori Prefecture. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Daisen in front of you when you stand here. In the past, the largest livestock market in Japan was hosted on Mt. Daisen. Horses and cows from Chibu were also sold there, and it is said that this shrine was built by the locals for the guardian deity of their animals. After all, cows are special to the islanders.”

Regarding the huge number of tanuki on the island, “it is said that the pair given to the village chief in 1941 escaped and created numerous offspring. One of the estimates is that there are more than 2000 of them now.” Moreover, the typically nocturnal tanuki are active during the day here on Chiburijima Island, “because their natural predators are not here, so they can be out and about under the sun.”

 To gain a better insight into the history of Chibu’s tanuki, David studied the official local historical record. As an animal lover and a person who dives deep, he is familiar with the habits and behaviour of Japanese raccoon dogs. David is an avid learner. Through observations and conducting interviews with other islanders, he has expanded his knowledge and collected stocks of topics for guiding; not limited to studying the habits of tanuki.  

“Animals and human beings coexist in harmony here. It would be great if we could protect this environment. The first and foremost merit of Chibu that I’d like to promote is its nature. And then the simplicity and cosiness of the community, and thirdly the culture that has been passed down through generations. It feels like time has stopped, but we are seeing an increase in new businesses, like restaurants. It’s interesting.”

David is a Lyonnais, and Lyon is the world capital of gastronomy. Japanese culture is popular in France, and it seems that many youngsters have become interested in Japan after watching anime and reading manga. But it was something else for David.

“I admired Bushido and fell in love with Japan. There was a kendo school near where I lived. I started learning kendo there and that was how it all started. The instructor was not only a skilled kendo artist but also knowledgeable about Japanese culture in general. The more I listened to his talk, the more fascinated I became… I also watched a lot of films directed by Akira Kurosawa, and Rashomon is my favourite. Japan is fascinating in many ways, but I am still very interested in spiritual culture such as Bushido and history.”

David studied both Japanese language and culture at university. He visited Japan for the first time when he was a student. His one-month travel around the country got him more and more fascinated by Japan, subsequently, he became a one-year exchange student at Shimane University. After returning to France and graduating, David pursued culinary arts at a culinary institute in Lyon. After gaining experience at Têtedoie, a Micheline one-star restaurant, he made a long-awaited visit to Japan again in 2015.

He then married Mrs. Gomez, whom he met at his part-time job in Matsue City while studying abroad at Shimane University. Shimane does live up to the name of “the land of go-en (relationships)”.

After working at a hotel in Hiroshima City for two and a half years, the couple decided to move to Chiburijima Island—the hometown of Mrs. Gomez’s grandmother. 

“A hotel on the islands was looking for French-speaking staff, so I resigned from my job in Hiroshima City and moved to the Oki Islands in 2016. Thanks to the go-en (relationship) brought by my wife’s grandmother, we managed to rent a place and everyone helped us a lot. We are very grateful.”

David first worked at the hotel, but after their children were born he switched to a different career path. David is now mainly working as a tour guide and supporting staff at the tourism association. The Oki Islands receive a lot of visitors from Europe and North America. As a French speaker, David plays an exceptionally important role. 

Having now lived in Japan for eight years, although the Oki dialects are not easy to understand, he is hardly experiencing difficulties conversing in Japanese. David said so, casually, but it is unmistaken that he has put a lot of effort into mastering the skill. He is, indeed, an avid learner.

“When I was a chef, I dedicated everything to the art of culinary. So, after becoming a tour guide, I read up on Oki Islands and Chibu. Take care of the basics, do it thoroughly and face the things and people in front of you politely. This is what I have learnt from Bushido’s way of thinking, the path that I have always admired since my childhood.”

David has an idea in mind – starting a culture school where people can learn about the cultures of France and the Oki Islands. Domestic participants can learn French and the culture of France, whereas participants from overseas can learn more about Chibu, Oki Islands and Japan. He is looking forward to running such an academy.

“It is not in full swing yet, but actually we have already launched in April. We have cooking, dessert making, bread baking, language and etiquette lessons. And occasionally kendo. My schedule is filled with guiding tours at the moment, but I would like to balance it out so I can dedicate more time to this project. I am so thankful that I have studied Japanese and Japanese culture before coming to this island. As a chef, my main focus was cooking. But as a tour guide and with the culture school, I can fully utilise my experiences and what I have learnt. I have always loved nature and animals, so right now my job is great. I am so glad that everything I have learnt and done is showing its meaning.”

In the past few years, eye-catching eateries have been popping up on the island: a stylish café run by a cattle farmer, a ramen shop specialising in shrimp broth run by a new islander, a baked goods shop etc. Out of all the new locations, David especially recommends Chez SAWA, a French restaurant established in 2022 that uses Chibu-grown ingredients. The Japanese chef of Chez SAWA is one of Chibu’s new islanders, but “it turns out he did his culinary training at Têtedoie, the restaurant I worked at. What a coincidence!”, says David. Once again, go-en worked its magic.

We asked David for a special sightseeing plan, where visitors can enjoy the present Chiburijima Island to the max.

“Let’s make a short 2-day trip example. You will arrive at Kurii Port just before noon, so I suggest going to Don Don, a small eatery specialised in seafood, for lunch. Their asazuke-don (soy-marinated seafood rice bowl) is filling and delicious! After lunch, you can get on an e-bike and ride to Sekiheki (Red Cliff) and Mt. Akahage. Then head to Chez SAWA for dinner and stay at Hotel Chibu-no-sato. On the next day, you can continue your e-bike journey or enjoy marine activities for some summer fun. The 50-minute sightseeing cruise operated by the sightseeing boat, Benten-maru, is also very enjoyable. On the sightseeing boat, you get to see Sekiheki from the bottom of the cliff. The scenery is so different compared to when you look down from the lookout on the cliff; you will be surprised! You can see the vermilion and black layers very clearly, which helps to understand the formation of the island. I recommend joining the guided sightseeing cruise. The cruise operates throughout the year as long as weather permits!”

David explaining the formation of Sekiheki (Red Cliff) using the landscape model.

A bird’s-eye view of Sekiheki (captured using a drone)

You can feast your eyes on the entirety of Sekiheki from the sea.

In spring 2023, Chiburijima Tourism Association introduced sea kayaking to their menu. There are also plans to increase the number of e-bike tours.

Until now, it has been said that sightseeing in Chibu is visiting Sekiheki and Mt. Akahage. Picturesque and impressive, it is true that these two are crucial to Chibu’s tourism. However, the island has more to offer. David emphasises that he wants to change this traditional pattern of tourism.

“I want our visitors to spend some quality time here in Chibu, too, since they have already come all the way to the Oki Islands. But in order to do this, we have to come up with products that are attractive to them. I think my culture school can play a significant role there. No matter if you’re a domestic tourist or an international visitor, you will want to spend a few days here, just for this purpose. It would be great if participants could get to know more about Japanese and French cultures, surrounded by this beautiful environment.

David’s desire to improve as a tour guide is endless. With each introduction of a new experience-based programme, such as sea kayaking, there will be a need to acquire the technique as an instructor and knowledge for safety management. David takes it very seriously.

“I want to know more about the plants on the islands, and add more marine activities to my portfolio. There are many things I want to do to boost customer satisfaction. We don’t receive as many tourists compared to other major tourist destinations such as Tokyo and Kyoto. But this is also the reason why I want to treat each of our customers wholeheartedly and with care.”

David’s admiration for Japanese culture, starting with Bushido, and his love for the island gave birth to his unique hospitality style. Be sure to visit Chiburijima Island and meet David!

(Interview by Marie Kosaka, translation from Japanese by Cleo Wong)

David’s Favourite Location: Mt. Akahage

There is a Texas gate (cattle grid) near the lookout on Mt. Akahage, marking the entrance of the pasture. It is just a few steps from the grid; the view of Dōzen Caldera from there is my favourite.

Dōzen is a caldera partly submerged in the sea. The outer rim of the caldera was carved by erosion and sea water entered. The formation of the inland sea made this landscape very unusual. If you look from here, you can easily imagine how the caldera looked after the eruption and before the seawater entered. It is also easier to explain to visitors the formation of the Dōzen Islands here.

That is my favourite spot on the land, and my number one spot at the sea is the sea cave on the southern side of Shimazushima Island. You can’t get there on foot; it is only reachable by kayak or SUP. The ceiling of the cave is so low that I can feel my head touching it. This unique landscape can only be found here. I can bring you there if you are an experienced sea kayaker.


The tour guides on the Oki Islands, each with their unique expertise, are all professionals.
A tour with them will take you on a journey through time of the Oki Islands.
See this page to get to know them!