Twenty people return to Shimoji Island 50 years after it was deserted

Twenty people return to Shimoji Island 50 years after it was deserted

On May 20, on Shimoji Island, people originally from the island enjoyed a traditional dance near the site of the old school.

May 26, 2012 Ryukyu Shimpo

On May 20, people born on Shimoji Island, which is administered as part of Taketomi and has been deserted since 1962, chartered a dive boat to visit the island with their families on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of their departure. In spite of bad weather, about 20 participants went on an emotional trip to see the ruins of houses, the site of the school that they used to attend, and an unchanged well. Some of the people were returning for the first time since the village had been abandoned. At the end of the homecoming, all the participants recalled aspects of their past when they sang and danced the traditional performing arts of the island.

The postwar relocation of the Yaeyama Gunto Government to Iriomote Island and Ishigaki Island caused the population of Shimoji Island to decline. The junior high school section of the Ohara Elementary and Junior High School on the island was closed in 1953, and the elementary school subsequently closed in 1954.

Even after the schools were closed some elderly people continued living on the island, but they left the island together after the last harvest festival in 1962.

Nobunaga Arakawa, who was among the last elementary school pupils on the island, said, “I moved to Iriomote Island. On fine days, I could see the island, and that did make me feel homesick. To be honest, I thought that I would never come here again, but I’m very glad to have been able to return.” He was at a loss for words when he saw the desolate land, but at the end of the visit he managed a smile as he performed a traditional dance.

Yukio Otake, who moved to Ishigaki Island when he was just five years old, visited his old home for the first time in 68 years, said, “The well in my house is still there, and that made me remember how all the villagers used to gather to make sake.” He said, “I have wanted to return to the island where my parents lived, but it was difficult to charter a boat, so I had been unable to get back. Finally, I could get back, but I couldn’t remember where our house was.”

Akira Maezato, the person who planned this home visiting, smiled saying, “Every year I come back to the island to help clean up, but it is very different, deep feeling to be returning when it comes to the fiftieth year. It is indeed a pleasure to come here with everyone together.” He added, “I have cancer, so I don’t know what will happen for me from now on. But, I do want to visit here again on a fine day next year.”

(English translation by T&CT, Lima Tokumori and Mark Ealey)

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