Thursday, January 07, 2010

The green, mellow island

Located at the southern end of the Izu archipelago, Aogashima ("Green Island") is one of Japan's most remote inhabited islands. The fewer than 150 residents are watched over by a lone policeman, whose duties include welcoming—with a salute—the daily helicopter that begins its trip from the island chain's northern end.

The island administratively belongs to Tokyo, but life there is about as far removed from Tokyo as can be—and the islanders wouldn't have it any other way. Many of them have cellphones, but one mother is proud that her young children don't have one. "It's safe here, so they don't need one," she explains.

In addition to cellphones, the locals also have Internet access, allowing them to sell their wares directly to consumers. The most famous of them is potato shochu.

What keeps these people from leaving their island? A big reason is a sense of obligation to their ancestors. In 1785, a volcanic eruption forced the islanders to evacuate to Hachijo Island. Thirty-nine years later, a noble named Jiro Sasaki rallied his fellow Aogashima islanders and organized a move back to their beloved island. Even today, Sasaki is revered as the "Moses of Aogashima," and residents consider themselves his descendants and stewards of his legacy.

The volcano today.

"We wouldn't be here if it weren't for our ancestors," said two teenaged brothers. "They worked hard to protect this island, and that's why we have to, as well."

When asked why she stayed, the 86-year-old mother of a shochu distiller answered: "In the old days, life here was so difficult, and my parents went through a lot of hardship. That's why I have to continue [this way of life]."

[Source: Sankei]

Such words embody a spirit that is widespread in Japan—a sense of obligation to their land. This feeling of responsibility is strong among the country's farmers, too.

If you have a Google account, you can check out these pictures of a traveler who was stranded on Aogashima when rough seas stopped the ferry traffic for consecutive days.

I only half-seriously put this in the "sights to see in Japan" category, but if anyone ever does get to Aogashima, or has been there, I would love to hear about it.

—Mellow Monk

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