Along the south-eastern stretch of Shikoku's coastline, in Ehime prefecture, the discrepancies between modern and traditional Japanese society are not as visible as in the big cities on Honshu and Kyushu. The area is quite rural, and many people who live on the coast still work as fishermen. Even the architecture of Ehime's urban settlements is largely dominated by functional industrial-era buildings, very much in contrast to megacities like Tokyo or Osaka.
When I arrived at Uwajima, one of the larger cities in the prefecture, I didn't spend much time in the center of town, but headed straight to the port, of which I knew it was a substantial base for the fishing industry. Strolling through the port, I couldn't believe how many old houses are seemingly still intact and inhabited. A few miles away from the coast, where the island's landscape gets rougher, at least every second village suffers from the exodus of the young people, and thus a good portion of older buildings are destined to rot (see my upcoming post about Iya Valley).
Where the traditional structures of society still work, depopulation is not an issue. In several fishing villages along the Uwajima sound, I witnessed flourishing communities - although the infrastructure is far from optimum.
Hiromi, a woman in her thirties, whom I met on the ferry that connects a number of villages with Uwajima, is working as an instructor for the local administration. When asked about the quality of living in the area, she smiles and says: "Most people in this part of the country lead a modest life. You can't get rich from being a fisherman or tea-planter."
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, as a quick glimpse around the boats that are moored at Uwajima's pier reveals. "No, no", says Hiromi. "The owners of most of those yachts don't live around here. But Uwajima offers cheap mooring, so many people chose it as a home port for their ships." That explains, why Uwajima is also port of registry for a number of vessels of the Japanese fishing fleet, as I learn while strolling around the pier, where the stench of scruffy fish gets in my nose. Hungry birds, some as big as hawks, are fighting over some snapper or tuna, as they accidentally crash into a pile of empty crates outside the auction hall.
The hall is right next to the pier, and I can wander freely around. Nobody seems to be there at this time of day. It's early evening, almost sunset, and the people who work in this place are normally gone by 2 pm each day. Only a few truck-drivers are around, playing some obscure dice-game and discussing life in general. It's about time to sit down on the pier and wait for the sun to dive into the sea beyond the cone-shaped islands off the coast.
Reiko had told me about the spectacular scenery, when I stayed at her youth hostel in Ozu, some 30 miles north. "If you make it to Uwajima, make sure to take pictures of the sunset", she suggested, when I left the place. I followed her advice - and was not at all disappointed.
The picture to the left is "out of cam", but I must admit that I used a Neutral Density filter (0.9) on the lens - and needed more than ten attempts to finally get the perfect shot. However, this one is only second best. Here's my favorite. For additional views of Uwajima's islands, here's a small slideshow.