Miyazaki: Former Residents Strive to Revitalize Deserted Isle

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A chestnut tiger butterfly sits on the flower of a shimafujibakama plant on Oshima Island.

NICHINAN, Miyazaki — Activities by former residents of a now uninhabited island off the coast of Miyazaki Prefecture are drawing attention as they try to revitalize the island. The goal of their activities is to make the island inhabited once again.

Oshima Island is about 2.5 kilometers east of Nichinan in the Hyuga Sea. The island is about 2.1 square kilometers with a perimeter of about 9.4 kilometers. The only way to travel to and from the island is a city-run passenger ship from nearby Meitsu Port.

I traveled to the island to see how things were progressing.

Members of a citizens’ group called Oshima Project Kaigi were farming on a hill where a beautiful cobalt blue seascape stretched out as far as the eye could see. On the island, they now grow flowers called fujibakama, which bloom in early autumn, and shimafujibakama, which bloom in April. The flowers are favored by chestnut tiger butterflies, a species sometimes called “traveling butterflies.” They migrate northward across the Japanese archipelago in early summer and southward in autumn.

“This is how we draw in visitors to the island,” said Shunji Wakamatsu, 67, head of the group.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shunji Wakamatsu, head of Oshima Project Kaigi, shows the way through a field of shimafujibakama plants.

Oshima Project Kaigi was formed in 2015, just before the island became uninhabited. Since then, the group has started walking tours of the island, built recreational trails and cultivated fruit there.

The group also started using butterflies to revitalize the island in 2019, after receiving fujibakama seedlings from a tour participant who was knowledgeable about butterflies.

The plant’s effect is evident, with the number of chestnut tigers increasing along with the growth of more fujibakama being planted in various parts of the island. Other butterfly species, such as great orange-tips, were also confirmed to be seen on the island. A total of 55 butterfly species can now be seen.

Half of the roughly 50 members of the group are former residents of the island. Out of them, Chiyoko Kagawa, 65, said the island once had a flourishing fishing industry, and its peak population was over 300. There used to be an elementary school but no junior high school.

“In my junior high school years, I had to commute by ship every day. It was inconvenient, and I was scared whenever the ship started rolling,” she said.

She left the island when she enrolled in high school. Although not all of her memories of the island are happy ones, Kagawa joined the group due to a desire to revitalize her former home. She and other members now grow vegetables near her old house.

“Farming the field is an excuse for me to regularly visit the island,” Kagawa said. Each member of the group has had fun making efforts to revitalize the island.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Participants in a tour walk the north-to-south course on Oshima Island.

Walking tours of about five hours going from north to south on the island are also popular. According to an official of the city government, applications were opened for 20 group tours, placing a priority on nearby residents, and they were fully booked in a few days.

Through media reports on the group’s activities and the chestnut tigers, Oshima Island has been drawing attention from inside and outside of the city, the official said.

In a tour conducted on March 10, participants from elementary school students to the elderly walked the entire course, even the steep slopes, while enjoying the scenery.

Courtesy of Japan Coast Guard Miyazaki Office
Kurasaki Lighthouse

Kurasaki Lighthouse, which stands on the southern tip of the island, is Japan’s oldest unreinforced concrete lighthouse. It was built in 1884 and is registered by the central government as a tangible cultural asset. Climbing to the top gives visitors a beautiful view of the vast Pacific Ocean and the Kyushu coastline.

The participants visited Oshima Adventure Cabin & Cottage, a city government-run accommodation facility built on the site of the former elementary school. There is playground equipment in the garden of the facility for children staying there.

Mieko Taniguchi, 79, one of the participants in the tour from Nichinan, said it was her first visit to the island in half a century. Her grandchild, Harumi, 10, who accompanied her, said: “It was fun! There was a playground and art. I want to go again.”

A helicopter pad was built on the island, and privately run glamping facilities are under construction.

Wakamatsu said, “Our final goal is to make Oshima Island inhabited again. To reach that goal, we want to promote tourism.”

4 trips a day

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Oshima Island as seen from a boat on the Hyuga Sea

For those wanting to go to Oshima Island, the Akebono 3, a passenger ship run by the Nichinan city government, sails four times a day from Meitsu Port. The one-way fee for adults is ¥400.

Oshima Adventure Cabin & Cottage, an accommodation facility run by the city government, operates year-round. Visitors need to make reservations in advance and a custodian will also stay at the facility.

The Japan News