An Aging Island Embraces Japan’s Young Dropouts

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”

Berliner’s Gramaphone

This new Japanese product allows you to make your own cds records [embarassing typo fixed] out of scrap material such as old CDs. Link courtesy of Boing Boing. Translated text from the product site is below.

Record/Playback sound on thing like a CD-ROM or lid from a container of instant ramen using a needle and a cup.
Berliner-style turntable gramophone

In the 20th century this round record spread throughout the world as media that could both record and play back sound. The turntable gramophone that was invented by Emile Berliner, Edison’s greatest rival in the field of gramophones, is the ancestor of this product. Recording and playing with a paper cup and a cotton needle, anyone can easily make original records.

Recording and playing with a paper cup and a cotton needle, anyone can easily make original records. Recording, playback – a useless CD-ROM or an instant ramen lid are OK!

Setup takes about one hour. No special tools are needed; anyone can construct it with ease.

Experiment Highlights
Even if you construct it in perfect accordance with the instruction book, the sound quality will still vary for some people. This is because if during the course of making a record even a mere 0.5mm of shake occurs, then there will be an effect on the state of the recording. Whether or not the operations of making a hole in the exact center of the cup or setting the angle of the needle are perfectly performed will appear as differences in the sound.

Due to the setting of the mount when recording, differences in those setting may make gaps between the grooves will be large and repair will be difficult. It can be said that proceeding carefully with construction from the beginning is the most important point for picking up clear sound.

Experimenting With Different Materials for Discs
Smooth surfaced materials such as a CD-ROM pick up better sound. Also, things like Ramen lids or soft files (what is that?) have a different textured material on the back. Compare the recording sound quality of both sides and the fact that smooth surfaces make for better sound will probably be confirmed. Also magazine covers-you might worry about the papers texture, but the hard coating picks up sound clearly.

Materials such as thin aluminum foil bags can be used if you insert something like thick paper or a CD-ROM underneath as a mat. The material of the mat will also affect the sound so all sorts of good experiments are possible.

Also, glossy photographs or postcards can also be used. Two people who both own one of these gramophones could exchange audio messages though the mail by recording on postcards and sending them back and forth.

Series name: Adult Science Series
Product Name: Berliner-style turntable gramophone
Material: Plastic
Product Construction: Parts for assembly, Disc, CD-ROM
Target Age: Middle school students and up
Weight: 670 grams
Box Size (in mm): 212d×160w×123h
Assembled Size(in mm): 185d×150w×180h
Construction time: 1.5 hours
Battery: Type 2 (they use numbers instead of letters in Japan. I can’t recall what size this is in the American battery labeling system)
Items needed in construction: Cellophane tape, Phillips-head screwdriver, Scissors
Produced in: China
Instruction manual: Included


Hito Nomi Sugu Yase

February 30 2004.

I spotted this advertisement for 助助身茶(help-help-body-tea) in the Hong Kong subway system. What caught my eye was the Japanese text written alongside the larger Chinese slogan. Before reading the explanation of this picture you might want to refer to This earlier post.

The Chinese phrase of these characters 一飲就痩(at least as I understand the characters from the way they are used in Japanese) translates word by word to ‘one-drink-become-thin.’ Chinese literature has a long history of what are called in Japanese 四字熟語 (pronounced as yo-ji-juku-go), or four character idioms, and I presume that writing an advertising slogan in 4 characters is intended to convey a feeling of classicism reminiscent of these traditional phrases. The woman dressed in a Japanese Kimono in a Japanese style setting also adds to the old-fashioned feeling, but transposes it to Japan.

Alongside the Chinese slogan is a small line of text written in Japanese characters, which I have enlarged in the photo. Now, Japanese is written largely with Chinese characters (called kanji , but they also use natively developed phonetic characters (called kana), which is what these are. Japanese vocabulary is generally divided into the categories of ‘native’ Japanese words, Chinese words (whether actually imported from China or created in Japan by combining Chinese words), and ‘foreign words,’ mostly words imported from European languages (these days mostly English, but going back as far as the 17th century contact with Porteguese.)

I don’t want to get deep into explaining the Japanese language, but the point is that the words written in kana are native Japanese words and not the Chinese derived Japanese words which correspond to those characters. The Japanese words are read as ‘Hito Nomi Sugu Yase,‘ which translates to ‘One sip, soon lose weight.’ Now, kanji can be used to write either native Japanese words or words borrowed from Chinese. Like kanji, tea is something borrowed by Japan from China. The advertiser uses the image of Japan and the refinement of the Japanese tea ceremony to suggest that their tea, while superficially similar to the teas commonly drunk in Hong Kong has some quality of superiority, of a higher level of refinment. By showing the Japanese readings of the Chinese phrase, (the kana is incidentally is not readable for the vast majority of Hong Kong residents that have not studied Japanese), they are showing something else which was borrowed by Japan and changed, and reinforcing the suggestion that this tea with a completely Chinese name is somehow foreign.

Aji Ichiban

Aji Ichiban
Japan is one of the dominant exporters of pop culture in the world, possibly the only country that even comes close to rivaling the United States in this field. While the English speaking parts of the world are oddly resistant to foreign language films, popular music and so on, most other countries have no trouble with it. As seems natural, Japan’s close neighbors (particularly Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, where the standard of living and consumer culture are most similar to Japan) have the biggest culture exchange.

Young woman carrying Aji Ichiban shopping bags around is a common sight in Hong Kong. Notice that she is standing in front of an American style bar entirely sans-Chinese.

This store is an example of the popularity Japanese pop culture has in Hong Kong. This candy store, despite being a completely Hong Kong owned and operated business, has a Japanese name and bases a lot of their appeal on the Japanese image. While it does have Japanese candy, it’s hardly a specialist shop and puts the stuff in bins right next to mini Nestle bars or more local style sweets. The name is also peculiar. The name written in the Roman alphabet is ‘Aji Ichiban,’ which is Japanese for ‘Taste Number 1’ and is written as ‘味一番.’ In Chinese/Japanese characters, the name is written 優の良品、which in Japanese would be pronounced as ‘Yuu no Ryouhin’ and translates to ‘Quality Goods of Excellence.’ The first, third and fourth characters are Chinese characters, which are also used in Japan, and are normally read with the local pronounciation anywhere in China or Japan, and generally with the same meaning. The second character(の), however, is the phonetic Japanese character for the syllable ‘no‘ and as a merely phonetic character does not have any intrinsic meaning. However, in this case it is being used to represent the possessive particle in Japanese grammar (hence the ‘of’ when translated). The phonetic syllabary of Japanese (hiragana or katakana, depending on style. In this case the hiragana form of the character is being used) does not exist in Chinese and has no meaning whatsoever to a typical Chinese person, so the presence of this character in the name is what gives the name a particularly Japanese feeling.

Now, this may seem like mere trivia, but there is a point. While not coming directly from Chinese, the Japanese hiragana characters did evolve from them, specifically from the cursive style calligraphic forms of the Chinese characters. In the case of the character の(no), it was derived from the character 的(pronounced teki in Japanese). The really interesting thing is that the meaning of 的 (pronounced de in Mandarin Chinese) in Chinese is as a possessive marker – the same function that の(no), which was derived from it, serves in this store’s name. I imagine this is in fact why that character was chosen as the basis for this particular symbol- because the grammatical particle written with this particular syllablic character has the same meaning as the original Chinese character. To return from a mild tangent: the important thing is that while の is used for its value as a symbol of Japanness, it is also recognizable to most Hong Kong citizens for its meaning.

の has actually become popular in advertising in Hong Kong, and not just in cases that have any particular Japan feeling to them. For example, here is an ordinary flyer for some kind of social activity.

This flyer says ‘Haru no Yuu‘ or ‘Fun in the Spring.’ Interestingly, the の looks like it might have been a piece of clip art, which would be appropriate for the way in which it has been adopted as a symbol in Hong Kong.