With the Ise-Shima G7 summit in May, I thought I would shine a little light on Toba. It is a beautiful port town on the edge of a peninsula that jets out into Ise Bay. If you are looking for a big city where the lights never go out, this is not your city, stick to Tokyo. Toba is for those who want to eat great seafood, see the ocean, and feel the Japanese hometown spirit.
I wanted to learn about the history and the culture of the area. I studied history in university so some of this might seem dry and boring to a few, but I loved hearing and reading about the spectacle of a man named Kuki Yoshitaka. Plus in my childish humor, I would giggle that his name is pronounced cookie. Now this man is not simply a good guy or a bad guy and that is what makes him so interesting. Kuki is a complex mix of a pirate, a leader, and a symbol all in one. He rose to power in a time when there was no singular person in control, many people were vying for power and it changed many times.
The real drama of his story is the ending. Because of the constant fighting in the area, many groups formed alliances to have back up; Kuki sided with Hideyoshi against Tokogawa. Kuki’s side lost in battle. As the leader it was his obligation to commit suicide. Kuki’s son Moritaka asked the opposition if his father could be spared. And he was granted the request but the information was received too late and Kuki already did the act. So much in history is either misinformation or they just weren’t fast enough, they didn’t have internet or text messaging. I found it interesting that his heirs were so deeply embarrassed that the family descendants relocated to Kobe.
The ferry to Toshijima Island is about 15 minutes and has two floors so if the weather was nice you can choose to sit outside or inside. They run frequently since it is the only transportation between the island and Toba.
There are roughly 2,300 people on the island and 80% of them work in the fishing industry. It is 7 Km long and is the biggest island in the area. It does have a post office, hospital, and a police station, so it is not removed from modern conveniences.
It is easy to walk around to the main attractions and there are walking tour maps at the ferry terminal. But don’t expect a taxi to drive you around, there aren’t any on the whole island. I think the best site to visit is a place called Rayfield. It is about a 30-minute walk from the ferry up a winding road. The walk is filled with gorgeous scenery, so it helps pass the time. Rayfield is a platform structure that is pleasing to the eye, has a viewing area, and an area for relaxing. It is built on one of the tallest peaks of the island, so the view is breath taking. I could envision yoga groups, family reunions, and barbeques with friends and all with this stunning backdrop.
As I came over one of the many ridges of the island, I saw a village of tightly built houses. I thought it was strange for such a rural island to have such a dense population, but then I think back to history. If you need to build an army, you don’t want them so spaced out that you can’t gather the men quickly.
One thing I observed was it seemed like all the houses had the number eight written in kanji inside a circle drawn on their doorway. I learned that eight is a holy number and is written for good luck and protection. It seems very special to them and uniquely Toshijima.
Lunch with Chizuru
The highlight of the trip was lunch. We went to a little hut of a building that is right next to the fish auction. The shop is 25 years old and has the character to prove it. Starting off with the amazing food and ending with an enlightening conversation with a woman named Chizuru. There was sea bream, swordfish, lobster, octopus, abalone, and fish I never got the name of. It was cooked right there in front of me. At one point they asked me what Americans cook seafood with and I said lots of butter and usually lemon. One of the ladies dashed out to get citrus right outside the building because she agreed seafood and citrus go hand in hand. Great customer service!!!
Of course the food was amazing but the true delight was talking to the woman who was doing the cooking. As mentioned before her name is Chizuru, she has lived on this island her whole life, has had about every job you can think of, and knows everyone on the island. She does admit as a child she was not fond of the island, that it was too rural but as she grew up she could see the magic of her little town. She now appreciates the simple life and it makes for a happy life. She still goes into Toba about once a week for business or personal reasons. She says sometimes when she arrives back home to the island there are people there to greet her, so sometimes she likes to return the favor and welcome home those off the ferry.
I love hearing about her town and the pride in which she talks about her town. She doesn’t have any house keys so that means she never locks her house. But she doesn’t need to, it is a safe community and if she knows everyone, the criminal wouldn’t have a chance to get away with it. She jokes that even though this is a fishing community, there are no fish shops. In reality it makes sense, either you do your own fishing or the neighbors just share the fish that they catch. And since the doors are not locked, the neighbors can just drop the fish off without her having to answer the door.
I legitimately could sit there all day just to hear her stories about the community, history, or her personal life. Great storytelling is a lost art but still found in Toshijima. It’s hard to see or capture it in a picture, but it is so easy to feel the bond these people have with each other and to this island.