Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Shiraishi: Island of Heavenly Fields

By Amy Chavez

I live next to a heavenly field. So do lots of other people on my island.

It is said that certain last names are popular in certain parts of Japan. This is true on our island of 655 people, many of whom share the last name Amano, or "heavenly field." Although most of the Amanos on the island insist they are not related, they do acknowledge that they probably are related if you research their family history back far enough.

When you get off the ferry on our island, you will encounter your first Heavenly Field at the ferry port, because the Amanos own the ferry port and will take your ferry ticket when you arrive. If you head to the beach, you can stay for the day in the umi no ie (beach hut) run by Mrs. Amano. You can buy some groceries, drinks and sandwiches, at Amano Store, and pick up some alcohol at Amafuku (Heavenly Luck), run by some other Amanos. If you should decide to stay overnight, you have a handful of Amano options: Amano Camp Ground, Amagisou (Heavenly Castle Inn) run by the Amanos or the International Villa managed by Mrs. Amano. If you happen to hit the island during a live musical performance on the beach, and you can dance all night with 84-year-old Amano-san. All that, and you'll never be talking with a relative of the same Amano family.

If you live here, you can further get Amanoed at the yakuba (town hall), JA Bank and the fisherman's co-op. Heavenly fields are everywhere.

When I first moved to the island many years ago, I thought this was great because I only had to remember one name for everyone. Now the problem comes when someone says, "Which Amano?"

If you wanted to have nothing to do with heavenly fields, and prefer plain rice fields, you have several Harada options: kayak and windsurfer rentals from Harada-san, staying overnight at Harada Minshuku, or staying at Harada's Nakanishiya Ryokan. At least you'd be keeping it all in the same family. Not that there aren't plenty of other plain rice fields on the island, but I won't get into the Haradas this time.

On a tiny island like this, where people historically only moved within a 7 km area, it's understandable that many people share the same last name. It was a small community of people to choose a mate from. Eventually, after everyone has married into everyone else's family, everyone is related to everyone. Marrying your cousin, especially if he's cute, sure beats waiting for some guy to swim over from the mainland and land on the beach. Besides, a lot of Japanese people in those days couldn't swim. You could be years sitting on that beach waiting for someone, only to end up with a fish.

People have been living here for hundreds of years, which is evident in that many people still live in houses that are inaccessible by car. The foot paths that crisscross the island were created years before cars were invented and these paths were all that connected people and houses. Eventually, more houses were built until there were rows of houses built sandwiched together, on both sides of the foot paths.

To widen these footpaths to make room for cars would mean people would have cars running through their houses all day long. While this would be an imposition for the residents of those houses, business-wise, it would be a great place to set up a McDonald's drive-through. Actually, a beer and wine drive-through would be far more profitable on this island.

Think of the possibilities. In small towns on the mainland that people pass through in their cars, there are always little businesses springing up in the houses along the road. Often times these businesses are in the front room of someone's house, allowing them to sit in their living room all day watching baseball until someone happens to stop and buy something.

If we could get the islanders to each open up a shop in the front room of their houses, you could do all your shopping at one pass through the houses in your car, like a drive-through Wal-Mart. No parking or standing please.

And while we're on the subject of island infrastructure (how DID we get on this subject anyway?), I have a solution to the rampant bridge building going on in the Seto Inland Sea. These bridges, by connecting the islands to the mainland, promise to bring tourism once the islands are accessible by car. But everyone knows these bridges are insanely expensive and often citify the previously quiet island life.

My solution is to stop building bridges altogether. It would be cheaper to hire a hundred car ferries to line up at a certain point twice a day for a few hours to let people come back and forth between the mainland and islands by car.

A floating, movable bridge, if you will, and a passageway to the Heavenly Fields Wal-Mart drive-through.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

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