Restoring an Island's Abundance
Oct. 24, 2016
Teshima is a Japanese island blessed with abundant nature in the Seto Inland Sea.
This year, the island is welcoming many tourists because it's serving as one of the venues for the Setouchi Triennale, an international art festival held every 3 years.
Despite facing many problems, such as a decreasing population, the residents are hoping the festival will help give the island a boost.
The Seto Inland Sea is home to more than 700 islands. Teshima has a population of only 850 people. It and several other islands have been turned into stages for contemporary artists to showcase their works for the festival.
As many as one million people from around the world are visiting the islands.
A tourist from Denmark says, "I think it's very beautiful, nice art."
"Totally agree," says another. "It's very beautiful. Looking forward to exploring some more."
One of the works of art features multiple basketball hoops on a backboard in the shape of the island. The idea behind the work is to create a place for people to play basketball and get to know each other.
Another piece is titled "Distant Memory". It consists of a tunnel made out of more than 600 wooden fittings, such as doors, that used to be parts of houses on the island.
Paddy fields are visible from the front of the tunnel. The work represents the lives of islanders from the past and today.
One work of art has been made inside an old house. The large structure is created using nori seaweed.
Nori seaweed was once cultivated across the island. Pieces of dried seaweed were patched together to make the piece.
Located at the far end of the structure is a vending machine. It sells tengusa seaweed-- an ingredient used for a Japanese jelly-like noodle-- and dried cherry tomatoes, both of which were harvested on the island.
The products come with suggested recipes, handwritten by locals eager to tell visitors about Teshima's food culture.
The island's dwindling population, which is now one third its peak, can no longer consume all of the crops harvested there. Some of it ends up being thrown away.
Kenshin Fujisaki came up with a way of using this local food. Last year, he started a small dried-fruit business with three local women.
After retiring from work, Fujisaki returned to Teshima, where he was born and raised.
He was shocked to see farm products, which used to be treated as precious sources of food, being left to waste.
"Figs and loquats were valuable when I was a child," says Fujisaki. "Nowadays, it seems nobody cares for them and the fruit is everywhere, untouched. I thought something should be done. "
They also dry lemons and persimmons. The new products have become popular souvenirs from Teshima.
Katsuko Mitsui provides figs from her garden. Her three children all loved the fruit. However, she now lives alone with her husband. There are more figs than the couple can eat.
She was wondering what she could do about the excess figs. Then one day, Fujisaki said he wanted to buy them. Mitsui was more than happy to help.
"I was thinking of quitting farming," she says. "But having someone wanting to use my fruit makes me hang in there for another year. I'm even thinking of planting more trees... that's if I have the strength."
Fujisaki says, "The population of Teshima is shrinking. But I think the sight of elderly people actively enjoying their lives will draw other people to the island and serve as a strong magnet. I want the island to be a place full of life."
Another problem Teshima faces is industrial waste. Beginning in the second half of the 1970s, waste was illegally taken to the island for a period of more than 10 years.
Some 900,000 tons of discarded auto parts and other debris were dumped in one corner of the island, causing serious soil and sea water pollution.
The work of clearing the waste has taken 13 years, but now the end next March is finally in sight.
Hajime Tada, a strawberry farmer, moved to Teshima 20 years ago. He was drawn to memories of its beauty when he visited his grandparents there as a child.
"I love Teshima. It's a shame what happened to the island," he says.
Tada wanted to see the abundant nature restored. That's why he chose to grow strawberries.
"It was easy to pin our hopes and future on strawberries, because children just love them," he says. "Producing what children like is the fastest way to rebuild this island."
Tada also runs a store. The specialty is shaved ice with syrup made from his strawberries. He opened the store because he wanted many people to taste his delicious fruit.
Tada's eldest daughter, Akari, is 13 years old. Ever since she was small, she has loved the strawberries her father grows. Akari gladly helps him with his work at the store.
"In the future, I want to make cakes using the strawberries my father has grown," she says.
"I'm glad to hear that," Tada says. "I have to work until 70 then."
The people of Teshima want to protect their island and leave it to future generations. Despite many problems in the past and ahead, they have high hopes for the future.