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Ojika, Kitamatsuura District, Nagasaki Prefecture

Series: Japan Insight

Japan In-depth

Open minds and a unique culture blossoming on the “farthest island”Alex Arthur Kerr (USA)

A refuge from this world at the end of the country
Ojika is a small island at the southwestern edge of Japan, in Nagasaki prefecture, which throughout history has been regarded as the “farthest end of the country.” The island is surrounded by a beautiful sea and is rich with natural scenery, but it also has a harbor that goes back over 1300 years and you instantly feel that the place has a culture of its own. Far from the centers of government, a group of Christians established a village on the neighboring island of Nozakijima in the early 17th century, when that religion was still forbidden in Japan. To avoid the eyes of the authorities, they had to come to this remote area. Thanks to this history of “Hidden Christians,” there still is a small romantic gothic church on the island.
Life on a remote island in a refuge from secular society was not easy, but perhaps that is also why the magnificent nature has remained undestroyed. Currently, there are six old-style Japanese houses known as kominka that you can rent for a “Kominka Stay,” and another one that has been converted to a “Kominka Restaurant,” where you can taste the products of the island. The restaurant even has its own dock at the end of the garden for instant access to the sea. Thanks to the southern winds, the local people too are of a warm disposition, and welcomed me in an extremely open and friendly way when I visited.
A hybrid culture with a whiff of antiquity
Already in the 7th century, Ojika flourished as a relay point for ships sailing to China, and its name is recorded in Japan’s oldest annals. A millennium later, in the early 17th century, this area was among the first in Japan to receive the influx of Western culture. At the time, the island belonged to the Hirado domain, centered around the current Hirado city in Nagasaki prefecture. , and Hirado was the only domain allowed to trade with foreign countries, which was prohibited in the rest of the land. In Hirado, there were offices of Dutch trading companies, and there is now a project underway to restore those buildings. The Matsuura family, who ruled over the domain, were also heads of the Chinshinryu school of the tea ceremony.
Meanwhile, on Ojika’s neighboring Nozakijima island, there is a Stonehenge-like monument called Oeishi from who knows how many tens of thousands of years ago, where you can really feel the wind of time blowing.
Megalithic ruins, mediaeval relations with China, 17th century trade with the Netherlands, and a Christian church. Ojika is a mysterious and fascinating place where many different histories overlap, and the people who live there are very friendly. Indeed, this remotest of regions of Japan is more cheerful and open to foreigners than the people in more convenient locations.

Access to Ojika:
5 hours by ferry from Hakata harbor, or 2 hours by bus from JR Hakata station to JR Sasebo station and then 1.5 hours by speedboat from Sasebo harbor.

Related sites:
http://www.alex-kerr.com/www_index.html (English)
http://www.chiiori.org/jp/ (Japanese)

Alex Arthur Kerr
Born in Maryland, U.S.A. in 1952; Majored in Japanese Studies in Yale University; Studied in Keio University; Did Chinese Studies in the University of Oxford; Published Utsukushiki Nihon no Zanzo, pub: Shinchosha, Japan, 1993 (its English version Lost Japan, pub: Lonely Planet Co., Australia, 1996); The book became popular and was awarded with the Shincho Literature Prize. Besides writing books and articles such as “Inu to Oni” Shirarezaru Nihon no Shozo (“Dog and Demons” Portrait of an Unknown Japan), Kodansha; he is now actively involved in consulting business as a scholar in Eastern culture for public projects such as machiya (Japanese traditional wooden houses) restoration project in Kyoto.