Approaching the house of 80-year-old Akiko Ishigaki, a three-legged dog rises to signal our arrival.

From inside the house, Ishigaki gently scolds the dog, emerges from the doorway and invites us in. She's dressed in layers of woven purple cloth and her face maintains the preternatural youth Okinawans are known for.

Ishigaki is a sort of matriarch on Iriomote-jima, one of Japan's most remote islands. Over the years she's cultivated a reputation is as an artisan, designer, local historian and environmental activist — an elder stateswoman.