Shodoshima on my mind

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小豆島にみる日本の未来のつくり方: 瀬戸内国際芸術祭2013 小豆島 醤の郷+坂手港プロジェクト「観光から関係へ」ドキュメント

I’m reading about “relational tourism” on the island of Shodoshima, a big island in the Seto Inland Sea.

Written by contemporary artist Noboru Tsubaki and his collaborators, its very long title can be translated by Building the future of Japan, as seen through Shodoshima — a documentation of “Sakate Port + Hishio-no-sato project” in Setouchi International Art Festival 2013, “From Tourism to Relationships”

Tsubaki’s multi-year art initiative is a mixed bag of site-specific artworks and art-centric community projects.

Indeed, some of them would be considered classic community projects if taken out of this context, but in any case, it’s a key driver in Shodoshima being a leading example of a non-city luring a younger, non-local generation to settle. (Hence, the title “Building the future of Japan”.)

My last visit was before the project really took root, and I’m keen to visit again.

There are three thousand islands in the Seto Inland Sea, and it blows the mind that each one is really different. Shodoshima is the second biggest, and its richness captivated me on my first visit in November 2009… as can be seen in this photo of me getting way too close to the olive trees.


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Shodoshima’s olive oil is famous but soy sauce has an even longer history, and it’s actually how the island built its wealth over the years. The great houses had a practice of equipping their loyal apprentices with a barrel to start their own productions, which allowed the local scene and the Shodoshima brand to grow to its #1 position in the country.

If you arrive on the island via Sakate Port, the smell is the first thing to welcome you. You can visit independent soy sauce manufacturers, who have revived the old ways of using wooden barrels.

Barrel of Soy Sauce

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While soy sauce is a staple ingredient in many Asian cuisines and we’ve gotten accustomed to the ubiquitous plastic bottles – which aren’t bad, really – I think it’s a surprisingly well-kept secret in washoku that really good soy sauce can turn a decent dish into a sublime experience.


Explore Tomomi Sasaki’s photos on Flickr. Tomomi Sasaki has uploaded 6096 photos to Flickr.

The island also has a vivid tradition of Noson Kabuki (village kabuki), which started three hundred years ago when villagers who pilgrimaged to Ise Shrine fell in love with kabuki after encountering the scene in Osaka. The art form was brought back to the island, and thirty or so villages built their own outside kabuki theaters, becoming the (literal) stage for the various festivities of village life. Back in the day, the villages were fiercely competitive as to who could put on the best performance. Two of these theaters remain, and are active venues for shows and festivals.

Outside Kabuki Theater

Photo by Dream Island

The villages grow crops, and there’s quite a bit of farmland and rice paddies. It’s a glorious sight in early summer.


Explore Tomomi Sasaki’s photos on Flickr. Tomomi Sasaki has uploaded 6096 photos to Flickr.

Shodoshima is also the birthplace of novelist Sakae Tsuboi, whose 1952 novel “Twenty Four Eyes” was adapted to film by Keisuke Kinoshita. Starring Hideko Takamine, it was filmed on the island and is my favorite Japanese film.

The set of the 1987 remake has been turned into a neat, little museum.




I’ll leave you with some shots of Wang Wen Chih’s Dream of Olive, and of a small concert that took place inside on a balmy summer afternoon in 2010: