Saturday, March 30, 2024

Places I'm Visiting: Japan 2024 – Ehime and Oshima

Still in Japan. Thanks again to Jason and Annabelle who have been living in our house and taking care of Eric the cat while I've been away. 

I'm now on Oshima Island, Ehime Prefecture, the little island my wife is from. 'Oshima' means 'big island', but Oshima is quite small. You could drive the perimeter in a little over an hour. This part of Japan is today known mainly for five things I can think of: First, Oshima is the last island in the chain of islands across which bridges have been built to connect Shikoku (the smallest of Japan's four main islands) with Honshu (the largest of the four). Between Oshima and the city of Imabari (on Shikoku) stretches the 4km-long Kurashima Kaikyo Ohashi, the only three-span suspension bridge in the world. The Inland Sea area, dotted with islands, some now connected by the chain of bridges, has become a popular destination for cyclists from around the globe.

Second, Imabari, across from Oshima is a major shipbuilding hub. Imabari Zosen, in Imabari, is Japan's largest shipbuilder and among the half dozen biggest in the world. 

Third, this part of Japan's Inland Sea was the base of the Murakami Kaizoku, an association of seafaring bands that were both pirates and guides active among the islands of the inland Sea between the 12th and 18th centuries. 

Navigation routes through the Inland Sea are among the most dangerous anywhere. The straits between the islands are known for their rapid currents and the whirlpools that form as the tides shift, alternately pushing water from the Inland Sea into the Pacific and pulling water from the Pacific into the Inland Sea as the direction of the tides changes four times a day, with short periods of equilibrium in between. The sailors of the Murakami Kaizoku acted as guides, demanding in return a percentage of the value of the goods that passed through the channels in return for their knowledge. With completion of the bridge connection, travelers no longer have to stop on Oshima and many of the small shops that once served visitors and the (now dwindling) population of the island have vanished. There are many empty houses and shops. The population was well over 10,000 in the 1970s. Today it is half that. The town I lived in as a high school exchange student is about 45 minutes to the south of Imabari – likewise left behind by development when road traffic that used to pass through its center was diverted by a modern bypass. 

Finally, aside from shipbuilding, Imabari, across from the island, is known for its towel-making industry, and the island itself is the source of Oshima Ishi, a grey granite prized for building and for headstones, but even the island stone works are not what they once were, hurt by competition from similar, less expensive stone imported from Korea and China (although the locals will tell you that Oshima Ishi is superior). 

On the birdwatching front, since last reporting I've seen at least two new birds, Bull-headed Shrike (Lanius bucephalus) and Small Collared Plover. I was able to get a nice shot of the latter. 

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