Sponsored by Ojika Town
It is especially the case in Japanese cities that insight into its culture and history is best discovered by leaving the modern main streets and ducking into sometimes dodgy looking backstreets filled with details of decades, even centuries past and paying close attention to the details you find there. On my visit to the island town of Ojika, I took my time exploring the backstreets to find clues about the history of the town and the personalities of its current residents.
In order to get the full picture of Ojika’s history, a visit to the local history and folk museum proved to be a valuable starting point. The museum is conveniently situated in the center of town surrounded by backstreets, and perfectly represents a gate to the past as the building itself has an interesting history of its own. In the distant past, Ojika Island’s economy flourished due to its convenient location between Japan’s main islands and China. Ojika became a trade center for merchants and sailors passing through and thus, many opportunities for commerce arose. The Oda family profited the most from this situation, building an estate that reflected the power and influence they had over the town of Ojika. Their residence now serves as the town’s museum of history. Pretty much everything there is to know about Ojika’s history can be researched at this museum. Be it distant past or just the past century, the museum offers valuable information and displays of historic relics.
A heavy rain fell during my exploration of the backstreets of the town, the red and black streets shimmering softly from the water spreading over them. The red cobblestones reminded me of the color of the volcanic soil that was common in this area, and I imagined they were made from this soil. The stones were arranged in patterns of red, orange and black and every so often, you might find the decorative image of animals embedded in the stones.
During the months of June and July, the hydrangea, or Ajisai, presented themselves in full bloom. And due to the fact that rainy season was still on its way, this wonderful bloom wasn’t bound to end any time soon.
I noticed the residents of Ojika love to make their backstreets even more charming by presenting wonderful flower arrangements. These serve as pleasant surprises to those out on a stroll and also to the Jizō statues that can be found, some in the open and some only for those with sharp eyes. Jizō images generally exist to protect travelers, women and the weak and vulnerable.
In addition to the Jizō and flower arrangements, you may also notice cute little creations by the residents, often made of seashells commonly found around the island.
There really is no better way to experience the spirit and history of a town than to take a stroll through its back streets. Just be careful not to get lost, as Ojika’s backstreets can become quite the maze. But hey, that’s also part of the fun.
After all the exploring and discovering, I decided to take a break at Tan Tan, a local bakery and café, located, of course, on an Ojika back street.
Tan Tan offers a sweet variety of local treats, ranging from fluffy cakes to many kinds of charming cookies and biscuits. But most importantly, it’s all local. Tan Tan is a well-established family business which is not only part of the local community, but also supports the people producing these treats on Ojika by distributing their creations. And a yummy form of support it is! Many distinct sweets and pastries making use of Ojika’s unique products can be found here, like peanut cookies and buns made from sweet potato dough.
The history of Ojika island are not only found in the memories from the past found in both the museum and the backstreets, but it is alive in the people making Ojika such a special place today. Ojika continues to write its own history through its active local community, the members of which welcome any traveler with open arms and open minds (and of course the tastiest treats to make your journey all the more enjoyable).
More information about Ojika History and Folk Museum (in Japanese): http://ojikajima.jp/travel/miru/896.html
More information about Café Tan Tan (in Japanese): http://ojikajima.jp/travel/taberu/9211.html
Reaching Ojika Island
Many travelers might worry about the accessibility of an island like Ojika, quite a distance from Kyushu’s shores. Despite the four-hour journey by ferry, Ojika is actually simpler to reach than many land-based destinations. The route I took, which proved to be very easy, started from Fukuoka’s Hakata Port.
Find your way to Hakata Port’s ferry terminal by bus or other transport and make your way to the ticket counter shown in the second picture. After purchasing your ticket to Ojika, the ferry isn’t far away either. The terminal only has two exits, the left of which is the entrance gate to the Taiko ferry for Ojika. Just be there on time and nothing can go wrong!
Inside the ferry, you’ll realize what a fancy cruiser you’re actually on. For the four-hour journey ahead, Taiko offers pretty much any kind of facility you’ll find useful to pass the time. From an observatory deck to two large communal sleeping rooms and even private cabins (for an extra fee), those 4 hours passed quickly.
Website of Taiko Ferry Services: www.nomo.co.jp/en/guide.html