Last Sunday found me back at Ogijima, my favorite island in Takamatsu. Like much of rural Japan, Ogijima suffers from drastic depopulation. There are more cats than people, and more than half of the islanders are over 60. As I reported last year, however, the Setouchi Triennale, an international art festival, has precipitated positive change. The number of visitors to Ogijima is increasing and many are becoming repeaters. Some are drawn by the picturesque setting, some by the art, and some even by the cats!
But I am sure that all who come back are drawn by the people, who, according to Ogijima-lover David, are the island's true soul. The population, which had dwindled to less than 200, is actually starting to increase. Many of the artists continue to visit and some have now moved to the island. One of these is even training to become a local fisherman, a fact that inspired another fisherman's grandson to move to the island and do the same.
Artist Yoshifumi Oshima at his 'new' house
Boat art by Team Ogi with fisher couple
In fact, 21 people, including 6 children from grades 1 through 7 moved to Ogijima last year, resulting in the construction of a new school. This has really lifted the spirits and brightened the lives of the islanders.
Temporary new school with art fence by students, artists and volunteers
Several more people will be moving in this year. Abandoned buildings are being refurbished to house these new residents as well as new businesses, such as the office of a website designer and his wife, who plans to open a local library.
Renovation underway for website designer's office
In addition, small museums for two artists that have done previous work on the island are being developed in collaboration with the Triennale. The plan is to give the islanders independent control over the hours and dates that they are open. The building below will house one of the artist's works.
David and I dropped in on a straw sandal making event in a newly renovated meeting hall right beside the prospective museum. As Ogijima has no flat land for rice growing, the islanders used to rent out plow animals to farmers in other areas in return for rice and straw. I'll leave you with a few images of this quite intricate art that was once a part of daily island life.
Pounding straw to make it pliable (very heavy mallet!!)
Twisting and braiding straw to make rope (you need spit on your hands!)
Learning how to weave
The sandal taking shape
Ta-da! The end product
Ogijima is a delightful island to visit and the slow and easy 40-minute ferry ride from Takamatsu Port is very scenic. For more on Ogijima, see: