Ajishima Island Rebuilding Projects

I first visited the tiny island of Ajishima, just a ten-minute boat trip from Oshika, four years ago with Mr Sasaki. He has two sisters living there: one lost everything; the other has a small guest house on a hill so the building survived, but business was severely affected. Once famous for its beautiful white sandy beach, and usually full of tourists during the summer months, when I later visited Ajishima with my niece in the summer of 2014, the beach was so empty we took a dip in the clear waters wearing just our underwear, and not one person could see us.

Like many communities on Oshika, population was in gradual decline even before the tsunami. Since March 11th, 2011 Ajishima has lost a quarter of its population, and currently is home to around 300 people. Life is peaceful and relaxed and reminds its one American resident of life in Hawaii, Okinawa, or Jamaica. Despite the easygoing nature of the residents, they are hardworking and resourceful, but perhaps I should allow Rick’s own words to explain island life …

I am one of the youngest people here now, and most that remain are 70–90 years old, but that does not stop them from hanging their laundry before the sun is up and tending their gardens before I am up! Most of the old men were deep sea commercial fishermen for international companies, and are fiercely independent. The grandmas love to socialize and drink tea, and I have more interactions with them than anyone else. They make awesome food from the things they grow themselves. There are no grocery stores or convenience stores, only a couple of small shops. No pachinko or movie theater, no amusement parlors, no traffic lights, no stop signs, no regular police, and people don’t lock their doors even when they leave the island! We leave our car keys in the ignition when we leave the island. There is trust. There is community. Nature abounds, the sea is beautiful, the blue skies are vast, and the mountain forests are lush and green. This is the island paradise I was looking for!

In the months immediately after the tsunami, local islanders were hired by an outside construction company responsible for clearing the roads and docks, and removing debris. This really empowered the local people to be involved in the initial recovery progress and to feel in control of their future (the importance of which I have frequently mentioned in other blog posts). However, since then, the islanders have not been involved in any reconstruction, which is now controlled by two major companies, and they have not hired local workers. They focus on rebuilding the ports and docks — clearly necessary if tourists are to return but island life involves more than just the ports.

From Rick’s perspective, and that of other islanders, Ajishima is mainly overlooked and often forgotten by the Ishinomaki government. This actually can have a positive effect — the resourcefulness of the islanders has meant that they really want to determine their own futures, which in itself is healing from the trauma that natural disasters such as the 2011 tsunami bring. Everyday life, more than five years after the disaster, has achieved some level of normalcy, but it is the future that these hardworking people are now concerned about. And they have some wonderfully creative ideas to attract young and old people, families, and especially those with young children. They want to create jobs for people, support entrepreneurial visionaries, and create educational experiences for children and adults alike. While initially disappointing, the lack of intervention from outside government bodies, means that the islanders can be free in their dreams and plans for the future.

They have those dreams, they have the physical capabilities, and they have the motivation. All they need now, is some financial support to get any of the following projects off the ground. I have listed the projects in order of their financial requirements (starting from ¥40,000 and going up to ¥2 million). Some of the projects will be located near each other and will form “Ajishima Eco-Park,” the space for which has been donated by the Ishinomaki government, which has given the islanders permission to develop as they see fit. Many of the projects will be created using materials that will be recycled and repurposed, thus decreasing the amount of existing “waste” to be sent off to disposal sites on the mainland or elsewhere in Japan. These projects not only support tourism, community spirit, and new business opportunities, but are also considerate of environmental impact in a number of ways.

Please let me know if you are interested in supporting any of these projects:

  1. Pizza Oven (sponsorship secured!)
    Community spaces are few and far between anywhere on Oshika, and even more so on Ajishima. The islanders would like to build an oven unit, with a covered seating area. The unit would be within Ajishima Eco-Park, and will primarily for making pizza, but will also be used for cooking soup and rice. It will be built out of locally available materials such as clay, sand, and stone, and built by local carpenters using traditional methods. The oven could also be used to create microbusiness opportunities for breadmakers. This project has just today secured sponsorship, from Mariko Yasuda, who I first met when she was visiting Cirencester last year, and after talking with me about Oshika, she raised ¥150,000 to go toward school uniforms for the 2016 intake at Oshika Junior High School. She holds an annual fundraising event in Japan among her baking class students, and she has pledged to raise the money for the pizza oven in order to support other people that love cooking. Thank you Mariko!
  1. Children’s Playground (sponsorship secured!)
    This project has already secured funding from Ohana International School in Tokyo. Ohana have been a long-time supporter of Oshika, especially the Koamikura community by funding a number of projects to help restore the village’s shrine, include the erection of the stone tori, which the tsunami had left broken in pieces on the ground. I am extremely grateful to Ohana for offering to sponsor the children’s playground, which will form part of Ajishima Eco-Park. The playground will provide a safe and enjoyable place for children and families to gather. It is also hoped that the playground will make the island more attractive for families with children to come and live.
  1. Bee Hive (sponsorship secured!)
    The islanders are in the process of developing a yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit) grove as part of their larger effort to grow and produce items that can highlight Ajishima and be utilized in souvenirs and other island specialities. They already have the trees organised and will be planting them this coming autumn. As yuzu is pollinated by bees, which are in decline everywhere, they want to add a bee hive to the yuzu grove to ensure a healthy ecosystem. They are committed to not using harmful chemicals or pesticides that contribute to the bee colonies’ demise, and have already planted many herbs and flowers in the grove that are known to benefit bees. If they can establish the bee colony before we plant the yuzu trees, then we can ensure the longevity of both. I have now secured more than was needed for the initial funding of the bee hive so this means that the island can develop the project even more than they had originally planned. Thanks goes to JAMBO and Rick Weisburd (who have also already supported other projects on Oshika),  Katie Dingley, and Aya Bird for each contributing ¥40,000 to this project. Aya and her family have supported the Ayukawa Playground and the Ohara Bus Stop, and the family frequently took vacations on Oshika so the area is close to their hearts. Katie used to live and work in, and is currently doing a PhD on Japan, so it is quite an important country to her. She says, “When I recently received some money I wanted to put it to a good cause and felt that I wanted to support something in Japan, where I have experienced a lot of kindness. I chose this project in particular as I was moved by how determined the community is and innovative their ideas are, the appreciation for a healthy ecosystem including bees, and, more personally, a love of both fruit groves and yuzu!” Thank you to you all!
  1. Compost Toilet (sponsorship secured!)
    A compost toilet located within the Eco-Park would provide facilities for park guests, farmers working in nearby fields, and general passersby. By composting human waste the island is more eco-friendly and saves money by no longer needing an outhouse tank pumped and emptied by a special truck that then is taken by ferry to the mainland for disposal. Safe, hygienic compost could then be used in low-traffic areas around fruit/nut picking trees and non-edible flowers. Lorna Nagamine has come forward to sponsor this project, which I am so relieved about (no pun intended) as I thought this might be a tricky one! Lorna has already contributed almost ¥200,000 to various Oshika projects over the past five years, including Oshika Community Library, Keiko’s garden, the Disneyland trip, the Pink Ladies, and school uniforms for the 2016 intake at Oshika Junior High School. Lorna puts aside what she used to spend on Starbucks before I started coming to Oshika, so every time I come she looks out for something she’d like to sponsor. This time she’s going to spend the next year raising funds for a compost toilet to be built on Ajishima. Thanks Lorna!
  1. Ajishima Dog Run (sponsorship secured!)
    One dog owner on Ajishima has offered a secluded piece of their own land, away from housing and traffic, so that the islanders can create a space for the existing dogs, and to encourage people with pets to see Ajishima as a dog-friendly place to live or visit. The dog run would be enclosed by a fence and include a small seating area for the humans that love them, as well as a roof to collect rainwater for the dogs to drink, homemade compost bins for the inevitable, and even an obstacle course for the dogs and owners to have fun together. The nearest other island to Ajishima is Tashirojima, nicknamed Neko no shima (Cat Island) because of the hundreds of resident cats and shrines dedicated to them. Ajishima would like to attract tourists to a Dog Island! This project has been sponsored by a Tokyo-based dog- and cat-lover. Thank you!

  1. Outdoor Stage (seeking ¥200,000 sponsorship)
    Everyone knows the healing power of music! The islanders would like to build a place for live music within the Eco-Park, which could also be used as a free market at other times, providing a gathering place for artists, farmers, fishermen, etc. to barter or sell items between themselves or sell to visiting guests. This would provide a great place for islanders and visitors to come together, and also a location at which to hold events that could encourage tourists to visit. Some young musicians have recently moved to the island, and this would be a great place for them to perform, and to encourage other young people to move there. This would be a wonderful project for any entertainers to support.
  1. Ajishima Orchard (seeking ¥200,000 sponsorship)
    Within the Eco-Park, the islanders would like to create their own orchard full of fruit and nut trees and assorted flowers, in order to provide free fruit and nuts to islanders and visitors, to create a relaxing forest-like atmosphere with shade from a canopy of trees, bee forage to help pollinate local fields, and a microbusiness opportunities for jam- and pickle-makers.
  1. Ajishima Clean Up Project (seeking ¥200,000 sponsorship)
    The islanders would like to embark upon an eco-friendly recycling and waste disposal project that would include developing proper disposal methods and educational programs, to restore the island to its natural beauty. And keep it that way. Funding would be used to remove waste products and provide simple supplies as well as proper garbage and recycling bins in public spaces.
  1. Flail mower (seeking ¥550,000 sponsorship)
    These mowers are incredibly efficient at chopping and organizing weeds and long grasses in order to maintain public spaces, and the islanders would like one particularly for managing the area in and around the Eco-Park, yuzu orchard, and to be able to allow the island to clear other areas in order to develop future projects.
  1. Wood Chipper (seeking ¥1.5 million sponsorship)
    A wood chipper is an extremely useful tool on Ajishima in general, as well as for the Eco-Park. There is a never-ending supply of tree trimmings and bush-clearing scraps from the island, that can be used to create woodchips for pathways around the eco-park, a surface for the children’s playground, and natural compost, which would be given to islanders to use instead of the harmful chemicals currently imported to the island. Woodchips can also be used to create a mushroom microbusiness, and cover material for a compost toilet. They have so far rented a wood chipper, which has cost ¥100,000 for just one day’s use, and would ideally like to purchase one that they can have access to long-term in order to support existing as well as future plans for developing the island.
  1. Ajishima Farmers’ Market & Kitchen (sponsorship secured!)
    The purpose of this project is to provide a centrally-located community-supplied and volunteer-run market space to allow sales opportunities for islanders who grow more than they need, and purchasing opportunities at reasonable prices for those who cannot grown their own food due to age or disability. Part of the market will include a community kitchen where excess island produce can be made into other products for sale on or off the island, or online. A volunteer delivery service would be easy to setup and run from this central location. This contributes to an island economy, where instead of relying on boats from the mainland to deliver groceries, goods are produced locally and the money used in the sale of these goods flows through and around the same community. There are currently two possible ways of actually constructing the market — one includes the reform of two shipping containers that are no longer in use, the other includes creating the buildings from scratch. Both methods cost the same amount of money. This is a great opportunity for any sponsor interested in supporting a food-based endeavour that contributes to the island economy.

It has been quite inspiring for me to come across this little community of people, even more isolated and even more forgotten than the other areas on Oshika that I have worked with, because of their determination to rebuild their island on their own and the amazing ideas they have come up with. They just need a bit of help and encouragement to get them underway. There is no urgent timeline, so if you have seen something you would like to support, you can set a fundraising timeline that suits you. And the islanders would welcome visitors to see the projects for themselves, and even lend a hand if you’d like to! If you are interested in supporting any of the above projects, please let me know.


Leave a Reply