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Miyazaki: Former residents strive to revive abandoned island

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A chestnut tiger butterfly sits on the flower of a shimafujibakama plant on Oshima Island.

NICHINAN, Miyazaki – Activities of former residents of a now uninhabited island off the coast of Miyazaki Prefecture are drawing attention as they try to revive the island. The aim of their activities is to make the island inhabited again.

Oshima Island is located about 2.5 kilometers east of Nichinan in the Hyuga Sea. The island is approximately 2.1 square kilometers in size with a circumference of approximately 9.4 kilometers. The only way to travel to and from the island is by city-operated passenger ship from the nearby port of Meitsu.

I traveled to the island to see how things were progressing.

Members of a citizens group called Oshima Project Kaigi were farming on a hillside where a beautiful cobalt blue seascape stretched as far as the eye could see. On the island they now grow flowers called fujibakama, which bloom in early autumn, and shimafujibakama, which bloom in April. The flowers are a favorite of chestnut tiger butterflies, a species also called ‘travelling butterflies’. They migrate north across the Japanese archipelago in early summer and south in autumn.

“This is how we attract visitors to the island,” said Shunji Wakamatsu, 67, head of the group.

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The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shunji Wakamatsu, head of Oshima Project Kaigi, leads the way through a field of shimafujibakama plants.

Oshima Project Kaigi was founded in 2015, just before the island became uninhabited. Since then, the group has started hiking the island, building recreational trails and growing fruit.

The group also began using butterflies to revitalize the island in 2019, after receiving fujibakama seedlings from a trip participant who had knowledge of butterflies.

The effect of the plant is clear: the number of chestnut tigers is increasing and more and more fujibakamas are being planted in different parts of the island. Other butterfly species, such as the Greater Orange Tip, were also confirmed to have been sighted on the island. A total of 55 butterfly species can now be seen.

Half of the group’s approximately fifty members are former residents of the island. Of those, Chiyoko Kagawa, 65, said the island once had a thriving fishing industry, and its peak population was more than 300. There used to be a primary school, but no secondary school.

“When I was in high school, I had to commute by ship every day. It was difficult and I was scared as the ship started to roll,” she said.

She left the island when she enrolled in high school. Although not all of her memories of the island are happy ones, Kagawa joined the group due to a desire to revive her former home. She and other members now grow vegetables near her old home.

“Working the fields is an excuse for me to visit the island regularly,” Kagawa said. Every member of the group has enjoyed efforts to revitalize the island.

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The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tour participants walk the north-south route on Oshima Island.

Walking tours of about five hours from north to south on the island are also popular. According to a city government official, registrations were opened for twenty group tours, with priority given to local residents, and were fully booked within a few days.

Through media reports about the group’s activities and the Chestnut Tigers, Oshima Island has attracted attention from within and outside the city, the official said.

During a tour on March 10, participants, from primary school students to seniors, walked the entire course, even the steep slopes, while enjoying the scenery.

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Courtesy of Japan Coast Guard Miyazaki Office
Kurasaki Lighthouse

Located on the southern tip of the island, the Kurasaki Lighthouse is Japan’s oldest unreinforced concrete lighthouse. It was built in 1884 and is registered as a tangible cultural property by the central government. Climbing to the top provides stunning views of the vast Pacific Ocean and Kyushu coastline.

The participants visited Oshima Adventure Cabin & Cottage, a city government-run accommodation built on the site of the former primary school. For the children staying there, there is play equipment in the garden of the facility.

Mieko Taniguchi, 79, one of the tour participants from Nichinan, said it was her first visit to the island in half a century. Her grandchild, Harumi, 10, who accompanied her, said: “It was fun! There was a playground and art. I want to go again.”

A helipad has been built on the island and private glamping facilities are being built.

Wakamatsu said: “Our ultimate goal is to make Oshima Island inhabitable again. To achieve that goal, we want to promote tourism.”

4 trips per day

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The Yomiuri Shimbun
Oshima Island seen from a boat on the Hyuga Sea

For those who want to go to Oshima Island, the Akebono 3, a passenger ship of the Nichina city government, sails four times a day from Meitsu Port. The one-way fare for adults is ¥400.

Oshima Adventure Cabin & Cottage, an accommodation run by the city government, is open all year round. Visitors must make advance reservations and a manager will also reside at the facility.

miya
The Japan News
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