Monday, March 9, 2015

Yonagunijima, Westernmost Island of Japan

In writing the blog entry “Suao Carbonated Water Saga”, I wondered if Nanfan-Ao, the fishing port flourishing today, had existed back then. I guessed not. In researching its history, I suspected the possibility was high that the port was named by Yonagunijima (Yona) fishermen around a century ago.

The Japanese bonito fishermen using Port Kubura and Yona as their base ports, wouldn’t have missed a warm ocean current that flowed upward from south of Taiwan into the Northern Pacific. Records have it that Yona fishermen sold part of their catches at Suao and bought food and daily articles. Furthermore, when they faced wild weather during their fishing voyages, they sought a port of shelter and found one God-send, south of Guishandao, with the wind-breaking squat hills. They called the area South of Suao, Nanfan-Ao.

I’m guessing some of them probably settled there in the early 1900s. The colonizing by the Japanese Government might have accelerated relocation of Yona fishermen to Nanfanao. Keelung was the gateway port to Taiwan from Japan. Smart Yona Fishermen and other Okinawans soon had access to Xialiao Island at the mouth of the Keelung River and opened up fish markets for the Japanese coming in, skipping Nanfanao.

Xialiaodao is famous for having an odd rock formation beach. Yona fishermen found Xialiaodao sharing some similarities with Yona. Quite conveniently, the island is connected with a bridge to Keelung. Islanders, not just fishermen, had to take the boat to seek more job opportunities since they were scarce in small Yona. Actually the Japanese official in Taipei was sent to Yona to study how Keelung, Yilan and Yona could help each other build a fishery industry together. Over 500 Okinawans resided in Xialiaodao.

Being interested in Yona, I researched online when and how it was inhabited. Here is what I found. Yonaguni Island was shaped like a sweet potato lain horizontally. The airport is located just about at the center of the north side. In 4 km east of the airport is the scenic spot called Fort Tindabana, a huge block of rock 100 meters tall. This is where the legendary rangatira named San-ai Iriba dwelled in the 16th century.

A boat carrying tributes to the Ryukyu Kingdom from Kumejima Island met with a storm and became shipwrecked. On board were half a dozen men, one woman, and a dog. They landed on uninhabited Yona. As days went by, men disappeared one by one and the only ones left were the woman and the Dog (with unusual power). One day, the woman met a young fisherman from Kohamajima, shipwrecked on the sea.

The woman warned him about the dog and asked him to leave right away. But the fisherman was so charmed with the woman that he didn’t leave the island. Eventually the fisherman was attacked by the dog in a deadly battle. His last weapon was a pole spear for marlin fishing. The woman asked the fisherman where he buried the dog but he would not tell her. The fisherman and the woman became husband and wife and they had seven children.

Eventually the fisherman thought it was about time to disclose where he buried the dog. Since the woman didn’t return to the fort, he went to the site where he buried the dog. The woman had dug up the remains of the dog and killed herself.

The legend says that Yona island people are supposedly descendants of the 7 children. All were skilled in fishing and full of progressive spirit. After the Meiji era, Kubula Port, was a port of call for Kagoshima and Miyazaki and sometimes for Kochi bonito fishing boats. The number of pelagic fishing boats increased as well.

Seemingly Okinawans (inclusive of Yona) did not hurry to leave Taiwan even after the end of the war. Probably they wanted to stay if possible, rather than abandoning their homes and belongings. Their advantage was they had boats to travel and could transport household staffs. Possibly they just waited to see how things ended up.

In 1947, however, the unease and havoc caused by the 228 Taipei massacre triggered Yona’s exodus. Over 30 Okinawans were victims during the turmoil. Some Okinawa fishermen sold boats and left Taiwan via Nanfanao with their families and many stories are retold about how some Taiwanese helped in their evacuation.

In 2012, those unfortunate Okinawan victims were memorialized and a stone monument was erected by the joint efforts of Taiwan and Japan, attended by the Keelung Mayor and Miyakojima Mayor, while the Head Monk of Miyakojima recited mantras. The name Xialiaodao was changed to Hepingdao (Peace Island) to commemorate them.

1 comment:

Paul Dion said...

Rio is always more fun than Wikipedia