HATOMA ISLAND, Japan – For the children new to this tiny subtropical island, population 58, it was the magical time of the day – after the school bell had set them free and before sunset would summon them to their foster parents’ homes
Strangely, this map from the New York Times article shows Hatoma Island as being in the Ryukyu Islands, which is the older and now less common name for Okinawa. The article itself also never mentions Okinawa.
As in many Japanese villages, its school was the center of community life here. Without a school, without children, the island risked becoming populated only with increasingly fragile elderly people incapable of fighting off the trees and bush that, as in other hot places, threatened to swallow up roads and houses.
“If there are no children,” said Isamu Kajiku, 50, one of a handful of older men sitting under the shade of a tree, “the island is not alive.”
So nowadays, several aging islanders act as foster parents to children who have experienced troubled homes or playground bullying or who simply did not fit inside Japan’s regimented schools. With 10 students and 9 teachers living with the 39 locals, the school and island sustain each other.
I know almost nothing about Okinawa and had never heard of this tiny Hatoma Island before so of course I tried a search on Google. Here is a picture of the school mentioned in the article.
Here is the travel log of a girl named Akiko, who’s family name curiously seems to be Hatoma, the same as that of this island. She says that you could walk all around it in perhaps an hour, and of course like the islands of Okinawa are famous for is full of fabulous beaches. She went to this school in question and tells us that there were 3 elementary and 8 middle school students. The schoolhouse has one floor, and she is impressed by how every room of it has an ocean view. She says it has a ‘warm atmosphere.’
Here we have another travel diary. The first entry is an account of how the tiny community of Hatoma Island is supported by daily (except sunday) trips by the mail boat (Fusakiya-Maru, which Maru being a traditional boat-name suffix) from the larger Iriomote Island to the south.
Here’s a translation towards the end.
“The bulk of the post is for Hatoma Elementary/Middle School. Now there are eight students in the middle school and three in the elementary school, but in 1974 the middle school had reached zero students and was threatened with closing. At that time Mr. Tsuuji [I’m not quite sure if I’m reading this name correctly.] became the center of the foster parent movement and devised a plan to receive children from the mainland. The result was that in 1984 there were three students and after 10 years the middle school was reopened. “This island doesn’t lack a post office, and it doesn’t lack a school. The children are this island’s treasure,” says Mr. Tsuuji as he narrowed his eyes”