Words and photos by Patrick Murphy
How to get there: Take the Kaguyahime (かぐや姫) Bus from Hiroshima Station to the Takehara ferry port, which takes a little over an hour. From there the ferry to Osakikamijima takes about 30 minutes. There is also a ferry that connects to Akitsu, which takes about 35 minutes. You can travel to Akitsu by train, or there is also a bus from Saijo that takes about 30 minutes.
Upon starting my research for this article I realized that there is basically nothing out there in English written about my island. Therefore, there will probably be stories, history, and statistics in this article that have never been read before in the English language. Thank you for reading!
As the story goes, long ago there was a goddess named Ichikishimahime who was looking for a good place to build a shrine in the Seto Inland Sea. She found Osakikamijima, and she liked the size of the island as well as the size of its tallest mountain, Mt. Kannomine. The goddess climbed Mt. Kannomine and was very pleased with the view. However, while standing at the summit a bird flew over her head and pooped on her. This put her in a foul mood and she decided to leave the island to continue her search farther west. She then found Miyajima, which was also of a reasonable size and had a nice mountain, so she decided to build her shrine there. That is why the famous Itsukushima Shrine with its magnificent torii in the water is on Miyajima and not on Osakikamijima.
About the Island
Compared with other islands in the area, Osakikamijima is fairly large, with an area of 43 km². The climate is warm, and the primary lines of work here are agriculture and shipbuilding.
In addition to many farms and several shipyards, other notable places include a large coal power plant, a national maritime college, and an onsen hotel that overlooks the beautiful scenery of the Seto Inland Sea. Despite being a small community, there are many activities including taiko drumming, various sports, ballet, and even Noh (traditional Japanese theater). Kaidenma racing, which uses a long row boat, has also been very popular ever since it began here over 200 years ago.
I feel that I may have one of the most inaka locations in the prefecture, and possibly even the country. This has its ups and downs. The peace and quiet is great. The monstrous spiders and centipedes are not.
The Island’s History and a Declining Population
The oldest known document referring to Osakikamijima dates back to the year 1070, and the island began to appear in official imperial records in the 13th century. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the villages on the island began to combine into the three newly established towns of Osaki, Higashino, and Kinoe. The island’s population steadily increased until shortly after World War II when it started to decline from a peak of a little over 24,000.
Due to a decrease in the demand for farmers and shipbuilders, many islanders began to move to the mainland in search of jobs, which began the steady decrease in the population. According to the census, in 1960 there were over 21,000 residents, 9% of which were 65 and over. However, in 2005 there were only a little over 9,000 residents with 40% aged 65 and over. Speaking of the older population here, I feel like I should also mention that right now there are 15 people that are over 100 years old! Currently there are a little over 8,000 residents on the island, and the number continues to decrease. I did some research to find out just how quickly the numbers are shrinking, and I found that over the past 5 years there is a 5 to 1 ratio of people dying vs. being born.
Merging of Towns and Schools
The declining population has also led to the merger of towns and the closing of schools. In 2003, the three towns of Kinoe, Higashino, and Osaki merged to become Osakikamijima Town. In 1989 there were four elementary and 3 junior high schools, but those numbers have since shrunk to 3 elementary schools and one junior high. This has also of course affected the number of ALTs on the island. The JET Program began on the island in 1989, and by 1994 there were three ALTS, one for each town. As the towns merged together in 2003, the number of ALTs decreased to two, and since 2010 there has been only one ALT on the island.
Something else interesting is that along with Miyajima, Osakikamijima is one of the only large islands in the Seto Inland Sea that does not have a bridge connecting it to the mainland. It is also the one remaining town to call itself a part of the Toyota District (Toyota-gun), whose former members also included Akitsu, Setoda, Hongo-cho, and Osakishimojima, among others. While these other towns gradually merged with larger cities such as Higashihiroshima, Onomichi, Mihara, and Kure, Osakikamijima chose to stand alone. Thanks to merging with Kure, Osakishimojima and its neighbors were given bridges to connect them to the mainland. That left my island as the only large one in the area without a bridge.
Island Life – Pros and Cons
There are many great things about living on an island. The scenery here is gorgeous. I never grow tired of the view from the summit of Mt. Kannomine where it is said that on a clear day you can see a total of 115 different islands. The island is very peaceful and quiet. I also never grow tired of the sunsets and sunrises with the foreground of the sparkling sea.
At night there is little to no light pollution so the view of the stars is spectacular. Also, the community is very friendly to me, and thanks to almost everyone having a farm or a garden I am constantly receiving free and fresh produce.
There are downsides to living here though, such as no 24-hour convenience store, the grocery stores closing by 9pm, and no karaoke rooms. While the islanders enjoy the isolation, I think it can get a little irritating. The community is very close because of it, but at times it is a little too close. Whenever I leave my house I always see someone I know, so every time I go to the supermarket I expect to have a conversation with someone, whether I want to or not.
All in all I really like living here. It is a great place to practice Japanese, and I feel that it is a very unique life experience. After all, how many people can say “I lived on a little island for a few years,” and how many people have the option of watching the sun rise and set over water every day. If you have the opportunity, definitely come and visit and experience it for yourself! I’ll show you around!