Jepara is a small city 20 kilometres off the main highway on the north coast of Central Java and is famous for teak furniture production in traditional Javanese style and for being the home of Indonesia's foremost heroine, Raden Ajeng Kartini, who is considered a pioneer of women's rights for Indonesians.
The city lies roughly 50km (as the crow flies) to the north east of Semarang and is wedged between the imposing Gunung Muria and the Java Sea. The Regency was once an independent kingdom and a significant trading port, but that prominence has faded as larger ports in Java developed.
Despite its scenic setting, the main reason for visiting Jepara is to catch the boat to the Karimunjawa Islands which lie some 90 kilometres further to the north in the middle of the Java Sea. The port is a leisurely kilometre becak ride to the east of town and the bus station is located between the port and the main part of town.
The RA Kartini Museum on Jalan Alun Alun, Jepara (admission 3,000 rupiah) is well worth a look in if you have time. Raden Ajeng Kartini is an Indonesian heroine and was a forerunner in the battle for women's rights at the end of the 1800s in Indonesia. Jepara is the place of her birth and the place where much of the story of Kartini is based. Born in 1883 to an aristocratic family, Kartini led a privileged life as a the child of an important Indonesian who had significant contacts within the Dutch colonial administration. She was educated at a local Dutch school where she learnt Dutch language and associated with Dutch children. It was during this time that she began to ponder the ills of her countrymen who were not afforded the same rights to education as the Dutch children. Kartini decided to set up a makeshift school as a young teenager teaching all and sundry about the ways of the world. After her death at the age of 25, her legacy was continued with schools set up in nearby cities.
The museum houses a collection of photos and furniture from the Kartini household which provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives of privileged Indonesians some 120 years ago. There are also artefacts in the museum unrelated to the Kartini story and these are of some passing interest. This place is worth a visit if you have some spare time in town. It'll take less than 30 minutes to spin through.
While adequate accommodation is available in Jepara along with a museum dedicated to Kartini, most travellers tend to breeze straight through.
As is usual these days in small-town Java, there are ATMs, police stations and internet cafes in the centre of town as well as 3G access via your mobile phone if you are using Telkomsel.
By Adam Poskitt