Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Old Men and the Sea

Some of the fishermen who assisted our group
Fortunately, no one died from the tsunami on Ajishima but the lives of those who lived on the island, were irretrievably changed by the disaster.  However, the tsunami only aggravated a problem that all of Japan has been suffering from, a graying population and youth that tend to leave the countryside in favor of the cities.  As cities continue to grow, many villages have been marked as terminal villages (where at least 50% of the population is over 65 and the village is in danger of dying).  Ten years ago a few thousand people lived on Ajishima; however, now, only 400 people live on the island.  Of those 400 people 70% are over the age of 70 and there are only three children on the island who are of school age. In another 20 years, the two villages on Ajishima will likely no longer exist.

Before the tsunami, Ajishima faced similar problems but after the tsunami many people left the island due to difficult circumstances.  For three months after the tsunami, Ajishima was cut off from the mainland and supplies had to be airlifted in.  The power and water lines that ran from the mainland to the island had been destroyed and the dock from which the islanders had fished from in their boats (fishing is the main occupation) had also disappeared under the waves.  Furthermore, there was concern that the fish that comprised most of their diet and their trade were no longer edible due to radiation from the Fukishima nuclear disaster.

The villagers in Ajishima don't want to give up though and they have been working over the past two years to rebuild their homes, trade, and harbor.  To assist with their efforts, JEN organized a group of volunteers to clean up several of the beaches.  Ajihsima used to be known as having the best beaches in northern Japan but after the disaster, most of them have been unusable.  We cleaned up the beaches, weeded the grounds, and planted new flowers to encourage more people to visit this beautiful island.  The fishermen and ladies from the villages worked alongside us to restore their island and on Saturday night together we cooked a feast for everyone.  The meal was almost entirely fish, the fruits of the fishermen's labor.  I can honestly say, I never realized there were so many sea animals you could eat.  I watched the fishermen cut up live octopus, grill sea urchins while their legs were still moving, and scoop meat out of abalone shells; it was some of the most delicious food I have ever eaten.  I am so grateful for the residents of Ajishima for letting us into their lives for a weekend and experiencing a lifestyle that their families have practiced for decades.

Our team :)

Harvesting sea urchins

Receiving directions for the beach clean-up

Beautiful Ajishima!

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