Into the Seto Naikai

Patrick Peh

Beginning of a Journey

A year ago, I was told that three of my five schools would be in the islands, and I would have to take the ferry or the kousoku, the express boat, to the islands and then find my way to school. That was how my journey to Nakajima and Nuwajima began.

Off the shore of Matsuyama’s Takahama port there are numerous islands, all dotted across the Seto Inland Sea between Hiroshima and Ehime. Amongst the smaller yet nonetheless inhabited islands, there is the Nogutsuna archipelago 野忽那諸島. These islands include Gogo-shima, Nogutsuna-shima, Mutsuki-shima, Nakajima, Nuwajima Tsuwaji-shima and Futagamijima. These seven islands have populations ranging from several hundred to about two and a half thousand people.

Below is a map of Ehime, and the islands in the circle are the Nogutsuna islands. Beneath it is a map of the Nogutsuna Islands, which you can see at the Takahama port, showing the location of Nakajima.

Location of the islands on the map of Ehime
A map of the Nogutsuna Islands

So where are they situated? I found that out the day after my meeting with the English teachers. The English teacher from Nakajima invited me to visit the island to take a look at the schools.

First Contact

While I was planning my trip to the island, I was told that I should take a ferry there instead of an express boat, because the journey by the express boat was often very rocky and could cause sea sickness. So it was decided that I would visit the island by ferry. As soon as I disembarked from the ship, Morinaka-sensei came and invited me into her car. She told me that as it was still the summer holiday period, most of the students would not be around. She commented that the islands have almost no foreign contact and therefore people would be interested to meet me and hear my native English-speaking accent. That would be my first time stepping into an island school.

The school looked beautiful, both from the inside and the outside. Even now, a year after visiting the schools several times a month, I am still captivated by the school. The seaside (himegahama) can be seen from the classrooms on the second floor, the entrance to the school buildings (two of them, one old and one new) are paved with flowers and are taken care of by the school’s gardener. It is usually rather windy because of the location of the school, on the east side of the island where there are more beaches than mountains. I spent close to an hour talking to the teachers and other non teaching staff in the school, then quickly returned to the port with Morinaka-sensei. She told me that another teacher would be picking me up from Moto-nuwa port.

The express boat docked in Nuwa Island a couple of minutes before noon and as I emerged from the boat, I was greeted by a very young fella, presumably a teacher in Nuwajima’s only school. We Introduced ourselves to each other and then I found out that he taught science in the elementary school. We then hopped into his car for a 4 minute ride to the school. Because the school term had not yet started, only two of the four remaining students had come to school. Like many other elementary schools, the corridors were decorated with drawings, poetry, and arts and crafts made by students who have graduated, as well as those who still studied in the school.

Setouchi and Nogutsuna islands

The Seto Inland Sea, or Seto Naikai, is a body of water encompassed by Northern Kyushuu, Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, Okayama, Ehime, Kagawa and Southern Kansai prefectures. The above mentioned territories are also known as Setouchi.

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Above is a picture of the Seto Inland Sea (Seto Naikai) taken from inside a bus which travelled around the island on Nakajima. I will try my best to produce another article on the bus tour as the tour has helped me deepen my understanding of the island.

The ferry ports – Oura and Kounoura

Nakajima has only two ports that have ships connecting to Matsuyama (along with Nishinaka port that has ships connecting to the nearby islands). There’s the Oura port with ships running the East line (Oura, Nogutsuna, Mutsuki, Takahama, Mitsuhama) and the Kounoura port with ships running the West line (Kounoura, Kaminuwa, Motonuwa, Tsuwaji, Futagami, and then back to Kounoura and Takahama). Each day, the two ports combined will have 29 visits from the ships sailing to Takahama and the nearby islands at about one and a half hour intervals (Ferry and Express boat)

To get to the school, I have to either walk from the port to the school grounds passing through the residential area, local businesses and orange fields, or I could cycle there.  Sometimes, I would hitch a ride given by the teachers and non-teaching staff of the school. On the way to school, I can see the sea and the shores of the eastern side of the island. Sometimes people ask me, “Isn’t it tiring travelling to school?” and to that I will always reply “I enjoy every bit of travel to Nakajima, so the distance or time doesn’t really matter as long as i get there”

The orange plantations

Often while navigating the island, i will see plantations with barbed wire fences around them, presumably to prevent theft of fruits. There would also be warning signs that say “Danger – electrical current”, so visitors to the plantations will have to be cautious about approaching them. Such plantations can be seen on both the eastern and the western side of the island, particularly Nagashi and the western side of Nakajima. 

Shimizu-san, One of the orange farmers of the island, shared with me  that different types of oranges are grown at different times of the year. “For example, the regular mikans are harvested from late September till the second half of January whereas rarer kinds of oranges like the Beni Madonna are sold almost exclusively in December,” he said as he handed me a couple of green, unripe looking mikans and told me to try one.

It looked sour. I then proceeded to peel the mikan and put a piece of it into my mouth. It tasted like a regular mikan but was slightly more sour than sweet; kind of like a weak lime. He explained that this type of mikan is called the gokuwaki (In kanji it’s 極早生) and the growth period and harvest time is in September, which is earlier than most types of mikans. The second generation plantation owner then proudly shared that due to the ideal conditions for cultivating orange crops on the island, he uses neither pesticides nor wax. He could grow lemons too, and not only lemons but also other similar types of citrus fruit could thrive in the local climate.

The schools

Nakajima has 3 schools – one elementary school, one junior high school and a senior high school. The elementary school and junior high school are next to each other, and the senior high school is near the Oura port. The elementary and junior high school combined student count over the last few years has been less than a hundred. The high school (also known as the Nakajima Branch School of Matsuyama Kita High School) has about the same number of students as the elementary and junior high school students combined. About half of that student count commutes daily from Matsuyama city to the school on the island

Like other schools in Matsuyama, the elementary school and junior high school of Nakajima have school events like sports day and culture festival in September and November respectively. Additionally, they have the occasional haiku summit, kendo lessons, suigun taiko 水軍太鼓 performances, calligraphy, tea ceremony, shore fish catching and mochi making sessions, amongst many other school activities to enrich the students’ school life. In the elementary school, the students gather in the classroom to do homework or play board games while the junior high school students go to their respective clubs and activities after their regular lessons in school. Currently the junior high school of Nakajima has only a concert band and a table tennis club, but both school clubs have high standards of achievements in recent years. For example, attending events like the AJBC (All Japanese Band Competition) held in July and the Shinjin-sen in September

The Nakajima branch school of Matsuyama Kita high school has a different sports day and culture festival day from the junior high school and elementary school of Nakajima due to its affiliation to the main school in Matsuyama. The school also offers a shingaku 進学 course (university preparation course) and a shuushoku course 就職 (career advancement course) for students who want to either pursue higher studies or start working as soon as they graduate from high school. The high school also participates in many proficiency exams such as the eiken 英検 (English proficiency test), kanken 漢検 (Kanji proficiency test), accountant proficiency tests and others to allow students to improve their skills as they advance through their high school years.

Life in the island

The residents of the island enjoy a slow-paced but fulfilling life that is rich in both nature and human culture as they welcome their guests. The people in Nakajima have an abundance of produce from the local agriculture, the harvests of the ocean, and the beauty of their sea and mountain views. It is also worth a mention that the island hosts a triathlon every August. it is no wonder that Nakajima is featured in tourism websites and that it receives many visitors from Japan and other countries in all seasons of the year.

Patrick Peh is a 2nd year ALT from Singapore currently in Matsuyama city. He has a view of the sea from all of his schools and is in disbelief that he has the opportunity to work in schools that have a view of the sea from school compounds. He is also the only Cyalume Dancer in the entire of Ehime since his arrival to the prefecture.

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