Hachijo: Isle of Exile
Hachijo-jima (Hachijo Island) is a small volcanic island located in the Pacific Ocean approximately 300km (187 miles) south of Tokyo. During the Tokugawa Shogunate period (1603-1868), the island was designated as a place of exile for both criminal and political convicts. Records show that more than 1800 convicts were sent to this forty square-mile island, during the Tokugawa-Edo period alone. It was seen as an ideal place to send society's undesirables because the turbulent current between the island and the mainland, named the Kurosio (Black Stream), made escape highly unlikely.
On the other hand, the Kurosio current brought the island a semi-tropical climate, along with Chinese and Polynesian cultural influx. Taken together the comfortable weather, the political convicts' intellectual lifestyle, and rich multi-cultural environment, the convicts and the island residents created a unique "exiled" culture with a sense of pride, which is still palpable today.
Although the history and folklore of the island are filled with tales of unimaginable miseries and challenges which the islanders survived such as typhoons, tsunami, starvation, and a perpetual stream of homesickness and hopelessness, the island's tolerant culture nurtured its residents and enabled them to thrive in unity to survive hard times. The islanders learned to remain alive in their isolated environment by setting aside their differences and by learning to come together as a community.
Hachijo was also used as a military fortress for Kamikaze soldiers during WWII and in the 1960s, became a busy tourist destination known as Japan's "Hawaii". Today, Hachijo is facing serious problems, the island’s population is shrinking (about 8500 residents), aging and has experienced a sharp decline in revenues from tourism. According to a UNESCO report, the Hachijo dialect is in danger of disappearing, as its population ages.
March, July, 2004, and March, 2005.