Curated Audiovisual Essays
David family’s rural island migration experience in Japan
by Australian multimedia journalist and educator - David Douglas Stuart
The Island Notes series is a curated space for audiovisual essays that offer a more creative way to write about a single island combining visual/audio and text with additional resources.
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Island Notes Curators: Meng Qu and Evangelia Papoutsaki.
The David family's rural island migration experience in Japan
To understand why I chose to live on Ogijima first requires a bit of background.
The year was 2019 and my wife and I had just sold our possessions, quit our jobs and left Australia to embark on a multi-year big global family trip. The idea was to ease into it by starting off somewhere off the beaten path in Japan. My wife grew up in Osaka and I'd lived with her there and in Tokyo in my twenties. But now we had two kids and we wanted an authentic rural Japanese experience so we had no plans to return to a busy metropolis. We spent a month or so travelling to remote locations in different parts of Japan with the hope that we'd find somewhere that ticked all boxes.
What were those boxes? We wanted to be able to live comfortably without a car, to have access to a city and a small school. The first few minutes on Ogijima were all I needed to know that this was the place I wanted to be.
"Yep, this is the place," I recall telling my wife.
The main settlement was built on a hill with stone retaining walls and narrow paths that made me feel like I was teleported into a sleepy Hayao Miyazaki animation. Most homes had amazing views of the Seto Inland Sea and the 170 or so people were all very welcoming. The couple that welcomed us had poured a lot of heart and soul into revitalising the island and welcoming potential residents. It was an easy sell for me. Ogijima is truly an amazing island and I cherish my memories of living there. Oh, and back to those boxes that we wanted ticked. Ogijima was tiny and a car wasn't necessary. The city of Takamatsu was only a 40-minute ferry ride away and our daughter was one of five students at the local school.
New Format for Living
Ever dreamed of ditching the nine-to-five, selling your possessions, taking the kids out of school and quitting your dream job to take off overseas into an adventure of uncertainty? I did. My wife did too.
Fortunately I was able to stay attached to my dream job in a way and produce an eight-part series on our adventure for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Each installment was made up of a carefully crafted video and an open email. You can watch all the videos below or I’ve also put them all in a YouTube playlist.
David Douglas Stuart's Deep Guide to Ogijima (Seto Inland Sea, Japan)
Hello and welcome to Ogijima. I was fortunate to call this tiny island home for a few months and I’d love to show you around. So, where are we? Ogijima is in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, about 40 minutes by ferry from Takamatsu. And what does Ogijima, locally known as Ogi, actually mean? Let’s look at the three characters that make up the name. It’s literally Man Tree Island and interestingly enough it’s right next to Megijima, yep you guessed it — Woman Tree Island.
Ogi is tiny - you can walk around it in an hour or so, and it’s home to about 160 people. The great thing about the island is that it’s relatively unknown — so don’t let this video go viral. The majority of tourists head to the bigger islands nearby like Naoshima and Shodoshima. If you’re looking for big-ticket items, Ogi is probably not for you, but if want authentic Japanese island culture, then you’re in the right place.
Ogijima and its only hill side port village (Source: editor)
Ji no ana, the cave, isn’t really well promoted but it’s definitely worth checking out. And if you’re looking for a good vantage point on the north, head up to Tank Rock. The steps here at Toyotamahime Shrine are one of the most popular places on the island for instagrammers and there are extra points on offer if you manage to get one of the ferries in the background. Ogi is one of the so-called “art islands” of the Seto Inland Sea so there are some pieces permanently on display and every three years there’s an art festival with installations set up in some of the old homes and buildings.
Artworks from the Setouchi Treinnale on Ogijima (Source: editor)
So this is the soul of Ogijima and while it’s incredibly beautiful it can also be incredibly dangerous. Probably stating the obvious, but this is the lighthouse. And although the water here may look very inviting, it’s probably best not to swim here - the current is extremely strong. This beach has the best range of skimming rocks that I’ve ever seen. So the water all around the island is completely beautiful and sometimes you just want to go and jump into the water. My favourite beach is actually right near the main port. You can’t get to that beach from above. You have to swim there. It’s a beautiful private beach. The beaches near the fishing port are much more accessible.
Art facility - the soul of Ogijima (Source: editor)
Long-term resident Yamato Fukui says: "Where the fishing port is now, 35 years ago there used to be one long beautiful beach where us kids would swim — there wasn’t a (school) pool back then." There are lots of swimming options, but you have to get the times right so the tide isn’t too low. The passage on the north of Ogi is known as the Ginza of the Sea and it’s said to be busier than Tokyo Port. And sailors aren’t the only ones passing through the waters. Wild boar actually swim to Ogi and once they arrive they’re not welcomed by people with gardens and they face the danger of being trapped and killed.
Cats on Ogijima (Source: editor)
There were some locals who wanted to promote Ogi as “cat island” but others are fiercely opposed. Some tourists come specifically to see and feed the cats, but the feline population is now on the decline after a successful sterilisation program. The library functions as the island’s cultural hub where new residents are welcomed and events take place. One of the books on the shelves at the library is the bestselling novel Battle Royale. On the inside cover is a map of the “fictitious” island named Okishima. Blogger David Billa says: “But when you read the book it’s actually very clear, the author came here and inspired himself from here to write and describe his island.”
My favourite part of Ogi is the stone wall settlement. Narrow streets cling to sides of the steep hills and you can walk between the old houses and imagine you’ve been transported back to simpler times. Unfortunately some overly enthusiastic visitors wander into people’s homes to take a closer look. Don’t be one of those people. There are a lot of wells and although there is now town water, many homes still rely on well water. You won’t see many cars on Ogijima, you’re more likely to see Onba. Onba? Traditionally used to cart babies around, onba are now a symbol of the island and locals use them to cart goods up and down the steep streets. The last boat back to Takamatsu leaves at 5pm but who am I to stop you pitching a tent on the flat ground near the harbour if you want to stay for the night?
Boating to Teshima art island with the 'Crazy Seaman'
In June 2019, I received an invitation from Captain Tadahiko Inoue to the island of Teshima in Japan's Seto Inland Sea. I took him up on his generous offer and two years later I created this video.
David’s family on Ogijima (Source: author)
Hello there! I’m David, an Australian multimedia journalist and educator who’s just returned from a stint in rural Kagoshima, Japan. I’ve just returned to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation where I do all kinds of things with videos and online news. Before we get started, you may wish to also check me out on: LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram or Facebook.