Ajishima Projects Update

During my last visit I put a call out for sponsorship for some projects on Ajishima Island, just off the Oshika peninsula. This tiny island had received very little support and a group of islanders had got together to explore ideas of how they could revitalise the economy that had been so badly affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

My call for support for those projects resulted in a total of ¥3,470,500 being donated, about which the islanders were totally surprised, and extremely grateful. Here’s an update on the progress of the nine projects that received sponsorship …

The Community Kitchen is in the final stages of construction, and should be ready for inspection by the Health Department on March 1st. It is a stunning space, beautifully designed both inside and out, using not just ordinary construction wood but also huge pieces of driftwood that have been incorporated into the design. Money has been saved by the donation of a number of large kitchen items such as a professional sink and worktops, and the word is spreading among islanders who would like to use the space to start up their own food production businesses. This Community Kitchen has been made possible by a generous donation from HOPE International.

Within the Community Kitchen is a pizza oven and breadmaking space. The foundations have been built with beautiful stonework, and it is hoped that there will even be enough money left to host a pizza- and bread-making workshop to launch the new catering space. Four entities are already preparing to use the space to make bread, snacks, and pies to sell on and off the island, and once the Community Kitchen as a whole is approved by the Health Department, it is exciting to know that it will be allowing these four entities to embark upon their own businesses, and hopefully inspire even more people to do the same. This pizza oven and breadmaking space has been made possible thanks to Mariko Yasuda, herself an avid bread- and cake-maker.

The Community Kitchen will also be used by jam and pickle makers — something very close to my heart. And in addition to the trees already growing on the island from which these picklers can gather supplies, an orchard will be planted by the end of this Spring. This orchard is kindly being sponsored by Robin Maynard. The orchard will contain a number of fruits that can be used in preserves, as well as providing food for the bees that will soon inhabit the island (see below). Five enthusiastic jam-makers are ready to start production in the Community Kitchen, and start their own small businesses. A third of the donation will be allocated for the purchase of jars to get things going.

Two beehives have been purchased, thanks to donations from Katie Dingley, Aya Bird, Rick Weisburd, and JAMBO. Currently there are no bees on Ajishima, and it is a tricky business trying to attract bees to a new location, so one hive has been placed on the peninsula (coincidentally I met the host of the bee hive while at the Sasakis one night — Oshika is a small place!) and should be returned to Ajishima in the Spring or Summer of this year, when a colony of bees has settled in.

Not far from the bee hive and orchard is a large outdoor community space. The playground that was kindly sponsored by Ohana International School has been completed, with volunteers and local residents alike coming together to build the playsets. The local government, motivated by the donations that Ajishima have received from outside parties, have also contributed money to this community space, which has been used to build a large sandpit. This playground is used by about 80 children within a year, some of whom play here every week. The parents and children love it — it has provided the community with a space that can be freely used by anybody at any time, and gives the children a central, safe space at which to meet their friends. The playground is used by locals, volunteers, and tourists alike.

Next to the playground is the location of an outdoor entertainment space planned for completion by September this year, and kindly sponsored by Mariko Yasuda and an Oxford-based community of Japanese people. At the opposite end of the community space will be the location of the dog run, kindly sponsored by an anonymous donor, and due for completion by the end of the year. And to complete the whole area, a highly necessary item — a compost toilet! Sponsored by Lorna Nagamine, this toilet sounds like it is going to be a lot of fun to work on, and won’t be your ordinary public toilet!

And finally, there is the Farmers’ Market, also kindly sponsored by HOPE International. During this very trip, I’ve seen this project go from a dusty old space filled with construction supplies, to a beautifully painted and spacious shop, filled with locally grown fruit and vegetables, as well as essential household items, not to mention lots of happy and enthusiastic shoppers.

Working on the Ajishima projects has been quite different from the Oshika peninsula projects I’ve worked on before. It takes a LOT longer to get things done on Ajishima — mainly due to the reliance on supplies from the peninsula or the nearest city of Ishinomaki. Not to mention the infrequency of the boats required to actually get said supplies to the island. And there are relatively few people physically able to actually work on the construction of the projects, so it has been down to a small team of islanders to make things happen. Who obviously have their own lives to lead, farms to tend to, and families to take care of. I find their dreams of a better future for their island are inspiring, especially when they have had such little support from the local government.

And despite any frustrations about the lengthy period these projects are taking, it is actually a reminder of why I chose Oshika in the first place. I came to this remote peninsula in May 2011 because I wanted to help people who were in isolated areas, and not getting the help that they needed. I wanted to try to fill a gap in the recovery and rebuilding process. Thanks to all of the sponsors mentioned above, I think together we might be filling a gap on Ajishima.

Leave a Reply