The Setouchi Inland Sea is Japan’s largest inland sea, situated between the biggest of the country’s four main islands, Honshu, and the smallest – Shikoku. It boasts some of the country’s most spectacular scenery, has an incredibly laid-back vibe, a long history in the fishing industry, is famous for its olives and olive oil, and also hosts the internationally renowned Setouchi Triennale Art Festival every three years. The Setouchi Inland Sea is made up of over 300 islands, of varying sizes, many of which are uninhabited.
As amazing as all this sounds though, the area also has its share of problems, and the root of many of these problems is depopulation, which seems to be happening at an alarming rate across the area. This coupled with an ageing population means some of the islands and their communities are potentially on the brink of disappearing.
Small groups of people from around Japan, and indeed the world, however, are upping sticks, banding together and making their way to the islands to help breathe new life into these communities. Couples and individuals are setting up homes and businesses in an attempt to attract others to the area for both vacationing and to live. Here we will meet some of these people and learn a little about what they’re doing in the Setouchi islands.
Meet the Mimura’s, also known as Home Makers! Taku and his wife Hikari moved to the island of Shodoshima in 2012 with their five-year-old daughter, where they now run a small organic farming business with the help of several keen locals. They grow over eighty kinds of vegetable in their fields including a variety of onions, potatoes and radishes, as well as a wide selection of herbs. These are then sold through their shop to the local community or passing travelers, or prepared and served as delicious meals in their café.
They also make a variety of salad dressings, syrups for drinking and other condiments to take home and spruce your cooking up with.
When they arrived on Shodoahima Taku and Hikari converted a traditional Japanese style farmhouse into their café and shop with the help of friends, giving the place a unique and very homely feel – hence the name, Home Makers! There is also talk of soon converting another part of the building into a guest house, for the many visitors to the area.
You can check them out yourself, or support them by visiting their website and online store at www.homemakers.jp
Meet Haruo Shiroishi! Born and raised in Shikoku himself, he now caters to the many people who visit the island of Teshima by preparing delicious Italian style stone-baked pizzas in the back of his mobile kitchen – which is also known as Pizza Haruya.
Haruo started his business in 2016, offering freshly baked pizzas that use locally sourced ingredients at very reasonable prices (600 yen and up). Items on the menu include all the usual suspects – Margarita pizza, Four Cheese pizza, Mixed Herb pizza... and also some more regional specialties including Teriyaki Chashu Pork pizza, and even Shodoshima Plum and Custard pizza!
Haruo and his four-wheeled kitchen can usually be found somewhere near the Teshima Art Museum, either tucked away among the terraced rice fields, or along the sea front. He kindly lays out an assortment of comfortable chairs and benches to sit on while you take in the views and tuck into your pizza.
You can keep up to date on which part of the island he will be at, including a variety of events, and what’s on the menu by visiting his Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/pizzaharuya(this page is in Japanese only, but fear not he is more than capable of communicating with you in English face to face!)
Dorima no Ue
Meet Miyoko Kobayashi! Miyoko who is originally from Tokyo, moved to Shikoku back in 1980s, where she worked happily as a school teacher for many years. During this time she also became interested in farming and started to tend to crops on Ogijima island. Over time this became much more than just a hobby for her and in 2015 she made it a full-time lifestyle choice when she moved permanently to Ogijima to raise crops and teach others about organic and sustainable farming practices.
Miyoko now runs a small café and lodge on the island, where she offers guests a wealth of information on sustainability and wellbeing through natural foods. Visitors to her guest house are encouraged to visit her fields with her in the early morning and see where their breakfast comes from, her passion for education and knowledge is more than clear from these early morning excursions! Once breakfast is picked from the fields, it is served inside a wood cabin! Her teachings for guests don’t end there either, she is deeply passionate about history and tradition, and is keen to teach visitors all about the evolution of mankind not only on the island but also about throughout Japan.
Miyoko also has a deep passion for the history of Ogijima island, and is heavily involved in workshops that teach people about the building techniques that were employed in the making and upkeep of the old village.
You can keep up on what’s happening at Dorima no Ue over at their website at www.jyouko.jimdo.com or on Instagram at www.instagram.com/dorimano_ue
Meet the Fukui’s! Yamato was born and raised on the tiny and very picturesque island of Ogijima, but left to study at university on the mainland as a young adult. He met his wife Junko, who is originally from the Tohoku region in Osaka, where they both studied and worked for several years.
During one of their many trips back to the island to see Yamato’s family they pondered the idea of relocating to the island themselves to be both close to his family and also to help rebuild a community that was slowly thinning out. They made enquiries about local schools, for their daughter only to be told that the islands only elementary school had closed down due to a lack of children on the island – at this point there were exactly zero children living there. After lots of hard work and lobbying, the authorities finally agreed to open the school once again to allow the Fukui’s and other families with young children to make the move to Ogijima. Yamato and Junko now live happily on the island with their daughter and have built a library for the local community to use. The shelves are stacked with a wide range of books, mainly in Japanese but also in English. School kids drop in after lessons to learn, read comic books and just hang out. Locals enjoy it as a place to meet and keep up to date with a variety of books. Visitors to the island can also pop in and read a bit about the history of the area too.
Borrowing books from the library requires no cost, but a small fee of just 100 yen is required to join. The whole operation runs on donations kindly made by the public. As well as a place for bookworms, they also operate a small café from the premises offering visitors both hot and cold drinks as well as snacks.
The library is open for you to drop in Saturdays through Tuesdays (four days a week), you can also keep up to date with them over at ogijima-library.or.jp or on Instagram at www.instagram.com/ogijimalibrary
Meet Midori Ikeda! Midori arrived on the island of Shodoshima with her daughter Aki in 2005, to take over an old sake brewery – the only sake brewery on the whole island! The Ikeda’s, along with the help of some dedicated locals make sake using traditional brewing methods - they are wholly committed to revitalizing the old brewing culture of the island, something that had been lost for some years. Despite being over eighty years of age Midori is truly dedicated to the family vision of supplying Shodoshima made rice-wine using only the finest local ingredients, several of their drinks have even won awards making them a serious contender in the world of Japanese sake.
Visitors can sample these award-winning sakes, and many more at their upmarket yet very laid-back bar, situated in the south-east corner of the island, close to the ferry terminal. The bar also serves a great selection of local foods including fresh fish, pizzas and a variety of soups.
Next to the brewery and bar, they also have a small bakery that serves an assortment of pastries, cakes, teas coffees and soft drinks. Both the bar and bakery are open six days a week (closed Thursdays) until 5pm.
Check out their website, which has information in both Japanese and English at www.morikuni.jp