From Osaka to remote island life

by Satoshi Fujiwara

Kyodo

Seeking to reverse the exodus of young people to big cities, fishing industry operators on remote Nishinoshima in the Sea of Japan have waged a long-running campaign with the local town office to attract new talent to the area.

The island’s fisheries union branch, together with the town office and three local fishing companies, drew nationwide attention in 1995 by running a national newspaper ad, the first of its kind in Japan, to solicit young people to become fishermen.

More recently, online advertising has targeted a new generation of fishing industry workers for the island in the Oki chain, located some 50 km north of Shimane Peninsula.

Former Osaka resident Masaru Watanabe, 26, is one of the campaign’s success stories.

Born in Neyagawa, a bedroom city for Osaka, Watanabe wanted to become a fisherman after graduating from high school.

The school did not assist him in finding work in the industry as he was the first student there ever to pursue a fishing career. Surfing the Internet, he came across an ad on a website operated by the Urago branch of the Nishinoshima fishermen’s union.

Incentives offered by the Shimane Prefectural Government to potential migrants from big cities, such as town-operated apartments, helped Watanabe’s resolve to become a fisherman.

When he was in his third year in high school, he boarded a fishing boat, the Ichimaru, on a trial basis in November 2005. He was impressed watching the men haul in a huge catch.

In fiscal 2012, the union branch caught 29,000 tons of horse mackerel, sardines and other fish, chalking up ¥2 billion in sales. The three fishing companies belonging to the branch have four fleets of fishing boats and 110 fishermen, 53 of whom are from 25 prefectures other than Shimane, including Hokkaido and Kagoshima.

Most of the 53 had not worked aboard fishing boats before coming to the town. They were trained by senior fishermen for two to three years.

The crews around the island group engage in purse seine fishing, in which several vessels work together to drag a net into a circular shape.

Working from midnight until dawn, each fleet pulls the net up two to three times a night, catching up to 100 tons each time.

Watanabe joined the branch to become an Ichimaru crew member upon graduation from high school. Understanding the local dialect was the first difficulty he experienced.

Fortunately for him, seasickness never posed a problem. However, “about half of all trainees quit within a year after experiencing seasickness,” says a branch official.

Work aboard a fishing vessel is tough, especially in winter, when boats sail out at around 3 p.m. and don’t return until 10 a.m. the following morning.

“To be honest, I wanted to quit many times,” Watanabe said.

He feels relieved from his hard work when he is with his family. Soon after coming to the town, he met Mai, a local woman, at a town event. After years of dating, they tied the knot, and Mai, 23, gave birth to a baby girl in January.

Watanabe is attracted by the beautiful nature of Nishinoshima, such as the 257-meter cliff on its north side and the star-filled night skies.

“Though there is no family restaurant or convenience store here, we have a natural environment you can’t see in cities,” he says.

“I would like to continue living on the island.”

Watanabe’s new dream is to acquire a fishing boat he can call his own.