2018.08.24 The Five Islands of the Yoshima Region～Two Islands Joined by Land, Three Islands Connected by the Seto Ohashi Bridge～
Exploring Setouchi #12
The word shima (or jima) means “island” and Shamijima is one of the 12 island venues of the Setouchi Triennale. But if you look at a map, you might be puzzled by this designation because Shamijima is actually joined to the land. So why is it called an island?
Because until about half a century ago, Shamijima really was an island.
But if it’s no longer an island, then why was Shamijima chosen as one of the venues for the Setouchi Triennale? What kind of place was it before? We turned to Yuji Tanimoto, who works in the Industrial Activities Office of Sakaide City, to find out.
“There are five islands that belong to the Yoshima district,” he began. “Tree of them are connected by the Seto Ohashi Bridge—Hitsuishijima, Iwakurojima, and Yoshima. And then there are Seijima and Shamijima. Before they were consolidated into Sakaide City in 1953, the five islands formed Yoshima Village.
“When Sakaide City was chosen as an additional venue for the Setouchi Triennale in 2013, the five islands of Yoshima, which are all still inhabited, were initially considered as candidates. The theme of the Triennale is Restoration of the Sea, and we wanted people to see the scenery of the Seto Inland Sea where it’s spanned by the Seto Ohashi Bridge. Shamijima was selected out of the five because it already has the Seto Ohashi Bridge Commemorative Museum and the Higashiyama Kaii Setouchi Art Museum. The island also features in the waka poems of the 7th century poet Kakinomoto no Hitomaro.”
Shamijima became connected to the mainland through the Bannosu reclamation project, which filled in the shoal around Shamijima and Seijima to make a coastal industrial district.
“The reclamation process took place from 1965 to 1972,” Tanimoto continued. “Shamijima was connected to the mainland in December of 1967, and Seijima followed suit in September of 1968. People often confuse the reclamation project with the Seto Ohashi Bridge Project, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, but the reclamation of Bannosu Shoal was a different public works project that took place 50 years ago.”
Sakaide City was once the top salt producer in Japan. There were salt ponds not only on the main island of Shikoku, but also on the little islands of Shamijima and Yoshima.
Tanimoto told me that islanders in their seventies recall going to elementary school in the morning and helping in the salt ponds in the afternoon. Anytime they helped in the salt ponds, they were exempt from homework.
Villagers who lived on Seijima, which is about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away from Shamijima, were involved in farming and fishing. After the reclamation work was finished, many fishermen started coming overland from Seijima to work in the new industrial district or in Sakaide City.
In Sakaide City Hall, a small model boat is on display—the Sentomaru, the ferry that used to service islands in the Yoshima district.
“The Sentomaru was in service from 1924 to 1988,” Tanimoto explained, “and it did four round trips a day between Sakaide City and the port of Shimotsui in Okayama. On the way, it would stop at Hitsuishijima, Iwakurojima, Yoshima, and Seijima. For the islanders, it was there only mode of public transportation, but with the opening of the Seto Ohashi Bridge, the ferry ceased operation. During the summer, a lot of people used to come to the beaches on Shamijima and Seijima by private boat, too.”
Sora-Ami: Knitting the Sky by Yasuaki Igarashi is among the works that debuted when Shamijima first participated in the Setouchi Triennale in 2013. Tanimoto described why this work is so special to the people of the five Yoshima islands.
“For Sora-Ami, the islanders and volunteers wove strips of fishing net in red, white, black, yellow, and light blue, and then joined them all together as one. I think it also tied together the history and culture of all the islands. Making it helped bring people together not only within each island, but from all five islands.
“When the islanders got together on each island to make nets for Sora-Ami, they would not only weave, but chat and talk about things like the history of the islands, or stories from their childhoods as they worked. We felt that people grew closer by spending that time together.
“A lot of fishers participated on Hitsuishijima, Iwakurojima, and Seijima. On Yoshima, it was mainly women who came and helped. Everyone had a great time eating snacks and drinking tea while they wove.
“On Hitsuishijima, it was mainly the younger fishers that came, and they wove away without stopping.
“It was mostly the men on Iwakurojima who wove the nets, while the women were in charge of tying off the ends.
“Everyone on Shamijima was incredibly serious, and so focused on the weaving that when it came time to finish up, they still wanted to keep going.”
The different character of each island is apparent in the knitting style too.
“There are subtle differences, depending on whether you weave by hand or use a machine. The size of the nets also varies, but I think that’s part of each island’s character too.
“Before making Sora-Ami, I don’t think the people of the five islands had many chances to make something together. For the final step, everyone from the five islands came together and attached the pieces to make one big net.
“For each week of the 2016 Triennale, a different island would prepare and serve their traditional cuisine. Of course visitors enjoyed the food, but the islanders also enjoyed the chance to try each other’s dishes.”
“After the 2016Triennale ended, the ladies of the islands worked with us to make an Island Recipe Book. By participating in the Setouchi Triennale, I think the islanders themselves were able to appreciate once again the bounty of the Seto Inland Sea.”
On the five islands of the Yoshima district, not only recipes, but dances and other performing arts have been passed down for generations. These were featured at the opening ceremony of Setouchi Triennale 2016.
“It has been getting increasingly difficult to keep the festivals on Yoshima and Iwakurojima alive. With the population decreasing, there are fewer and fewer people to carry the portable shrine.
“On Iwakurojima they wanted to breathe new life into the annual autumn festival, and the lion dance that accompanies it. So, they started having the children make the lion’s head out of cardboard, which is a new approach. The traditional tairyoki (fishing flags) are still draped over the dancers to make the body, as has been done for generations. This children’s lion dance was presented at the opening ceremony of the Triennale with the help of the islanders, and everyone who saw it loved it.
“There’re other traditional performing arts too—Hitsuishijimad’s Momote Festival and Seijima’s Shiwaku sailors’ song, the ishikiri or “stone-cutting“ song on Yoshima and Koyoshima, and the Lion Dance on Shamijima. I think the Triennale is an amazing opportunity to keep the traditions of the five Yoshima islands going.”
If you come to Shamijima, try to imagine how it was once an island surrounded by sea. Remember the four other islands of the Yoshima district, too—Hitsuishijima, Iwakurojima, Yoshima, and Seijima.
Two islands joined by land, three connected by the Seto Ohashi Bridge—each one with its own unique way of life.