Journey to the islands

Shiori Kishi

21st February, 2023

Japan is made up of islands of varying sizes. There are more than four hundred inhabited islands, such as Honshu and Hokkaido, the largest, and smaller ones where only a few families live. 
These small parcels of land each have a unique island culture with a nostalgic flavour. This world apart remains preserved, as if protected by the sea that surrounds it on all sides.

Some islands leave a lasting impression. Like Chichijima in the Ogasawara archipelago. It is a twenty-four hour boat ride from the port of Takeshiba in Tokyo. Yet this subtropical area is part of the capital's prefecture. While the Japanese consider Brazil, twenty-five hours away by plane, as the end of the world, these remote lands seem as far away as a foreign country.

The ship leaves the marine terminal at 11am. After spending the day on board, I step off the deck the next morning to be greeted by a cool tropical breeze. When I spot skipjack tuna diving in the cobalt blue waters, I realise I've moved on.

As I paddle out to sea in my kayak, I am greeted by all sorts of marine inhabitants. Flying fish arch over the water and sea turtles drift through the waves. On the horizon, a whale and her calf leap over the water. The mother flutters vigorously out of the water, her calf following in a small arc of water. She plunges her majestic body into the ocean surface while her calf silently surrenders to it. Perhaps they are practising acrobatics, or simply playing together.

When I reach the open sea, I see dolphins in the wild.
I am guided by George, an islander of European-American origin. He is one of the descendants of Westerners who immigrated to the Ogasawara Islands in the 19th century. They speak their own dialect, a mixture of Japanese and English, and constitute a multi-ethnic society that is still unknown.

At George's signal, we dive into the water. Immediately, three dolphins appear among the foam. A dolphin swims between its parents. As we keep our distance, the calf quietly approaches us. It seems to have no apprehension. Not knowing what to do, Georges and I freeze when one of the dolphin parents steps in. They all leave together, as a family, towards the blue sea. I hear their muffled cry in my ear. Is it a warning or are they teasing me? I still remember that strangely warm sound.

In the Oki Islands, it is the time for village festivals. The Kinyamonya festival is a summer tradition in Nakanojima, near the town of Ama. Everyone dances happily in a circle, holding a spoonful of rice in each hand. The complex and fast movements are confusing at first, but I learn them as the dance goes on. After the party, I am allowed to participate in a local lottery. I win the first prize, a packet of Japanese soup broth. As a tourist, I feel sorry for such luck, but the relaxed atmosphere of this neighbourhood association finally makes me feel like I belong.

One of the attractions of this trip is the pace of life. Amami Oshima and the Ogasawara Islands are on island time. Relaxation and relaxation are part of the island mentality. Leaving the hustle and bustle of the city behind and indulging in this longer time is one of the best aspects of island travel.

Yet island life cannot be described simply in terms of beauty. In a restaurant in Okinawa, the meal is served after an hour's wait. Bus times are random. The patience of city dwellers is tested, but not only. Sometimes, you can get sweaty in the back. Like this time when my flight is cancelled because of bad weather and I have to wait several days before the next one. On the other hand, a boat leaves earlier than planned and I am almost left on a deserted island. The unexpected is never far away when you live on an island.

However, these disadvantages are forgotten with time. So we remember the journey.

 An island trip begins when we let go of our rigid and formatted notion of time and let ourselves be carried along by the great vagaries of nature. This very nature is at the heart of island life.

 According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, there are currently 416 inhabited islands in Japan. My dream is to visit them all one day. Even if I could mobilise all my holidays, it would take me 138 years ........

It is a long way to go.

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Shiori Kishi

Academic researcher / Author

Après avoir terminé ses études à l'université, Shiori Kishi intègre à distance un Master de sciences de l'éducation à Londres, tout en démarrant son activité professionnelle. Elle arrive ensuite à Paris pour entreprendre des recherches sur la formation à l'outil numérique. Son sujet de recherche actuel est "La numérisation des universités étrangères" Elle est diplômée d'un master à l'université de Paris pour son parcours EdTech et d'un master à l'University College de Londres en sciences de l'éducation. Elle est actuellement membre du laboratoire de recherche "atarashii hatarakikata" ( "une nouvelle façon de travailler")