What do you think they are doing when you see a photo below?
You maybe think that it’s a just attraction for visitors for sightseeing. However, in fact it’s for visitors to experience “Tarai-Bune”, an existing traditional way of fishing in Ogi coast located at the east side of Sado island. Let’s see the life of people living by the sea there.
Sado island is the second biggest island in Japan (except Japanese main islands) located west to Niigata city in northern Japan. Along the coast line of the island there are many villages which have different ways to deal with the sea in front of them.
In case of Ogi, it flourished as a fishing port as well as a port of Japanese freight vessel named “Kitamae-Bune” in Edo era of Japan (from the 17th to the middle of the 19th century). But the big earthquake seriously damaged the village at the beginning of the 19th century. It not only collapsed the buildings but greatly changed the landscape of the coast. The sea bed of the coast was lifted up by 2 meters and it became difficult for the fishermen to fish in such shallow sea with their normal boats.
But they never gave up. They cut their tubs by half, floated them on the sea and rode on them. The shape of half tub was ideal to look for fishes and shells in such shallow water. They named their special boat as “Han-Giri” which means “half cut” in Japanese.
Tarai-Bune is not an only example of people in Sado island living by the sea. West to Ogi port there is a smaller village called “Shukunegi”. In Edo era, it was the village of shipwrights for the freight vessels shipping between northern and western Japan. Since the land of Shukunegi was so small, the shipwrights lived in tiny buildings closely packed with each other.
But they didn’t live small. The local merchant and shipwrights built their own freight vessel and sailed to the sea. They indeed transported a lot of cargo from one port to another port along the coasts of Japanese islands. And another surprise. In the 21st century their descendants rebuilt such a vessel using the drawing at that time.
Sado island is the small island compared to Japanese main islands. But I cannot help admiring people living by the sea there who have been creating new ways based on the local environment.
Compared to old capitals in Japan such as Kyoto and Nara where there are many beautiful historical buildings, the ancient sites in Japan earlier than the 4th century are not well known by foreign visitors, even the Japanese themselves as well.
Yoshinogari site in Saga prefecture in Kyushu Island was one of such sites. It is a huge site of moated settlements in Yayoi era from the 3rd century B.C. to the 3rd century A.C. found in 1986. But when the local government in Saga decided to arrange the archaeological site as a historical park, it was nothing but a flat land in the middle of peaceful rice fields.
However they tried to bring back the life of the people who lived there in the 3rd century. Late Yayoi Era was the age in the ancient Japanese history when the people who had lived in small villages gathered together and made some “countries” especially in Western Japan. And Yoshinogari is considered as a main part of one of such countries.
Therefore the settlements have double moats surrounding them and watchtowers to protect them from the attacks by other countries. The park developers reproduced these big watchtowers.
It has not been completely investigated that which country in Chinese history books Yoshinogari belonged to. But it’s sure that there was the big community with the head and high class people who governed other ordinary people. They reproduced such a community in Japan in the 21st century.
But it’s another point which distinguishes Yoshinogari from other ancient sites. In order to show visitors not only the life at that time but also how to investigate the ancient time for archaeologists, they also preserved a dig site as it was being dug. The site was a tomb of a high class person and many earthenware and burial accessories were buried with him. They fixed all the items and kept the site well air conditioned.
When I stood in the preserved tomb, I felt like I were one member of the archaeologist group who is digging the site.
I believe that the value of the archaeological site should be evaluated by not only its historical value but how the people around there try to preserve it for visitors and future people.
Close to our home there is an area called Yanaka where old and small buildings built in the middle of 20th century still remain. Such scenery let us imagine the beautiful days when Japan was poor but everyone was enjoying their life. And now the area attracts a lot of visitors.
However those who have been living there long felt that even this area changed. And they experienced the situation that a shop or a public bath they had visited one day disappeared in the next day.
Hagiso could have been one of such buildings. It was built in 1955 as a wooden apartment building. And since 2004 it had been used as a shared house by students of Tokyo University of the Arts nearby. But when the big earthquake hit eastern Japan in 2011, the owner of the building decided to dismantle it due to deterioration.
But for the young artists who lived there it was a place filled with their memory. They asked the owner to let them have an art exhibition in the building as their last memory of the building. Then the exhibition received a lot of visitors and the owner decided to renovate it as a cultural space, “Hagiso”.
Now the first floor is open to everyone as a cafe “Hagi Cafe” connected to an art gallery “Hagi Art”. At the cafe we can have a good time seeing a well preserved wooden building and works created by young artists.
Such a space makes me feel that a building, a space engraves its history in itself. And the history is a kind of the arts.
When it comes to history in Japan, old cities like Kyoto and Nara attracts foreign visitors. But Tokyo is also a city where creating its own history. I hope the building attract more artists and visitors, and then have more history.