When driving along the 251 from Isahaya to Shimabara, you can’t miss Kunimi. While the other small farming/fishing communities seem to blend into one another, Kunimi stands out and imprints itself on your memory. The town is known for two things, soccer and crabs, and these two local specialties are displayed on each and every lamppost as you drive along the town’s 7 km stretch of seaside road. Rather than the boring two toned street lamps that you see in the other towns on the Shimabara Hanto, the town planners of Kunimi town present you with a whole new concept in street lighting. Atop every lamppost is a bright red crab, holding a glowing soccer ball over its head.
The sight, repeated every 10-12 meters is so bizarre yet so cute and functional, you will find it hard to erase the memory for years.
Kunimi lies on the northern coast of the Shimabara Hanto in the Japanese prefecture of Nagasaki. It is bordered by Ariake on the east and Mizuho on the west. Other than Shimabara City, it has the largest population of any town on the peninsula. Like the rest of these towns, Kunimi’s economy runs on farming and fishing. It does however, dominate the rest of the peninsula for crab fishing, hence the happy crabs that adorn not only lampposts, but street signs, store fronts and park buildings.
The people of Kunimi are quite proud of their crabs, but they are fanatic about soccer. And they have reason to be. For the last 15 years, the Kunimi High School soccer team has won the prefecture wide championships. For the last five years they have been in the top three in Japan and brought home the national title twice. In Japan, this is huge. Many of the students go onto play in the national league or onto university teams with full scholarships. Students come from all over the prefecture for the chance to play on the team.
A friend of mine is the assistant soccer coach at Kunimi High School and he has told me some terribly interesting if not slightly disturbing things about the team. The boys are not allowed to drink pop. Ever. If they are caught drinking a pop, or if they admit to having had one, they are punished by having to do laps around the track or pushups. In September, one of the lower teams (the school has 3 teams) lost a match and all the players were forced to shave their heads. They have practice everyday before school from 6 to 8:30 and everyday after school from 4:00 to 6:30. They usually have practice on Saturdays and Sundays as well. Holidays of any kind are not observed. Weather conditions are neither. Even in foot deep mud, the boys of Kunimi High School fight on.
You’d think they were trying to impress the girls, but here lies the biggest catch of all: no girlfriends allowed. These boys, in their prime hormonal peak, are deprived the opportunity of teenage dating. If a player is found out to have a girlfriend, he is immediately kicked off the team. No questions asked, no excuses taken. The end.
Kunimi has a few other notable attractions: Hyakkadai Park is one the nicest green areas in the prefecture and the coolest hair salon, Hair Labo, is located in Kunimi’s small yet bustling downtown. You can also catch a ferry from Taira Port across to Kumamoto Prefecture or take the 389 to Unzen for a heavenly onsen. But more than anything, you should stop into Kunimi just to have a close look at its streetlamps.