Population wilted to 24, Japan’s former ‘island of flowers’ hopes newcomers plant roots

Kyodo

Residents on a tiny island in the Seto Inland Sea are trying to woo new settlers to revive the community and save their hometown from being deserted.

The people of Shishi Island in Kagawa Prefecture have launched initiatives to promote tourism and encourage settlement, aiming for now to boost the population to 30.

Twenty-four people are officially registered as residents, but only 17 actually live on the island, which has no automobile roads.

Thriving on the production of calendula and chrysanthemums following the end of World War II, Shishi Island was once known as “the island of flowers” and the population at one point reached around 1,000 people.

However, as young people moved away to Tokyo and other major cities, some 80 stray cats have come to outnumber the human residents. It now carries the nickname “island of cats.”

Tsuneyasu Yamaji, a 65-year-old resident, left the island at the age of 4 but moved back from Kobe in 2008.

Seeing the abandoned community where he spent his early childhood, Yamaji felt he must attract young people to revitalize the island.

Yamaji, together with 77-year-old Shoichi Kitano, who returned to the community in 2015, set up a company to boost tourism and promote relocation to Shishi.

Although the island boasts such tourist attractions as a 1,200-year-old camphor tree, no suitable places were available for travelers to stay overnight.

Yamaji and his colleagues raised about ¥1.8 million through crowdfunding and renovated a roughly 150-year-old house into accommodations.

About 150 people took part when they held an event last year at the facility to offer a taste of island life.

As a result, two women in their 30s and 40s as well as a man in his 60s moved there. But without major job opportunities, the three have to commute to workplaces outside the island.

Yamaji has received more than 10 inquiries this year from people interested in relocating there, but he hopes they will move in only after fully understanding the reality of living conditions on the island.

“It’s necessary to warn them that the actual life would be tough,” he said.

Yamaji said his ultimate goal is to create a local industry and restore the island of flowers by growing them with young newcomers.