On Olive Island

Mark and I were in Shodoshima for a few days just before Stephen went. The hotel we stayed in stands very close to a number of soy-sauce factories. We rented bicycles at the hotel and pedaled off to the harbor. The next day we set off again, visiting three soy-sauce factories, a Dutch pancake café, a sake brewery, and a small factory where thin somen noodles are made by hand. It was a lovely sunny day.

Here and there, you will find tiny, artisanal somen shops in Shodoshima. One such shop, called “Nakabu-an,” allowed us to try our hand at making somen as we toured the facility.

Airing somen

In the spring breeze –

Window-blind shadows

Having made a batch of somen, we bought a few of the house products, including “Olive somen” (pale green noodles flavored with Shodoshima olive paste).

Over toward the port at Sakade, we saw two large hotels, both of them totally abandoned, open to the weather. One was named “Shodoshima Royal Hotel” and obviously had once featured a fine Japanese garden, private beach, and a harbor-side swimming pool. To our amazement, doors and windows alike were wide open. Anyone might step inside.

The hotel was a tumbledown affair, partly looted, but a fancy painting remained on the lobby wall, looking down on sofas and armchairs — everything in place, just as the management had left it, maybe six months ago, maybe a year. (The policeman who pulled up to check us out couldn’t say how long.) At the entrance to the hotel, we found five packages of somen with a curious label: “Arigato.” Someone had left them on the stoop, with no indication why. Who or what was being thanked?

A curtain sways

In a forsaken hotel –

Pink azaleas

A soft breeze blew through the greenery, and we imagined the glory of times past. A favorite haiku of Basho’s came to my mind:

The summer grasses –

Of brave soldiers’ dreams

The aftermath

(夏草や 兵どもが 夢の跡)

A bus from the hotel took us up Kankakei Mountain the morning after we arrived on the island. The mountains there are carpeted in variegated green — ranks of trees, staggered in their distance, slope after slope. We reached the mountaintop quickly enough, and it was not yet crowded. Below lay the sea, at the end of a long swath of new-leafed trees veiled in morning mist.

Surveying the sea

From the mountaintop –

Green gradations


8 Responses to “On Olive Island”

  1. I love the image of the forsaken hotel and azaleas still doing their thing. The Japanese economic bubble burst long ago and in places like this it leads us to a feeling of ‘(mono-no-)aware’. I’m the ‘Stephen’ mentioned in the first sentence, by the way! Kaz and I visited one of those soy sauce factories you mention. There, I scribbled this senryu-like verse:
    Proud of his bacteria
    And how they coat
    The ancient roof joists –
    The soy sauce brewer.
    Typing this poem, I recall the heady smell! Shodoshima is only a ferry-ride away from Kansai, and is well worth the visit!

  2. I’m the Mark mentioned in the first sentence, Stephen, and from the sound of it we three visited the self-same soy-sauce brewery. Yeasts everywhere, such that the old timbers seemed to be flowering out in some sort of second life, some sort of wholesale leavening: the entire barn was an organism. Here’s Whitman:

    The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
    And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the
    end to arrest it,
    And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

    All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
    And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

  3. I enjoyed reading your haibun bcause it brought back to me my own memory of the island. It was for me an island, not of olives, not of soy sauce, not of somen, but of the final home of Ozaki Hoya and the location of the famous film, ‘Twenty-four Shining Pupils’. I was impressed when I looked at Hoya’s hut and grave. I was under the impression that it was right on the sea, but it was quite far away from the shoreline. I wondered how it really was in his time. Here is a poem by him.
    Even when I cough
    I find myself all alone,
    No one around me.
    But when I visited his grave, I found he was not really by himself, for there were some flowers at his grave. Perhaps some villagers had left them there.
    The school house used for film location was right by the sea, although the original medel wes in the village. I yearned to see twenty-four shining pupils there. When I was a young teacher I used to see them mysself, but I saw them less and less oten as I came toward the end of career.
    Waves recall the dream.
    Twenty-four shining pupils
    Flickering in the sea.
    I did see one soy-sauce factory. I loved its smell and the noise the yeast was making in the barrels.
    Soy-sauce factoru,
    The murmuring of the yeast
    In the cold warehouse.
    I just wanted to thank the author for sharing his expience and to share my own expereice with everybody.

    Nobuyuki YUasa (Sosui)

  4. It has been more than three years since I left Japan, and living in Venezuela it is only through works like this that I can live Japan again…its sights, smells and peculiarities. Superb account. Thanks.

  5. I made a slip about the name of the poet who died on the island. His name is Hosai. Perhaps I confused it with Kuya. Sorry about this.

    Nobuyuki Yuasa

  6. Of the haiku I like the somen sample best because of the evocative
    window-blind shadows that might or might not be connected… but the mix of senses in the spring air, smell of somen and visual patterns is most appealing….

  7. I especially loved the image of the five packages of somen left at the abandoned hotel door (how long ago?) with the ARIGATOU note. Thank you for taking us all on this journey!

  8. Lee, Hong-kyu Says:

    Even though I cannot appreciate Haiku well, I could appreciate vague feeling. Where is this desolate hotel, Royal? I wish to follow your steps sometime. Should it be in spring or autumn? Any suggestion for a trip from and to Kansai airport?

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