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Seto Inland Sea No. 12:Oshima–Setouchi Art Festival

October 15, 2010

Oshima Island 大島 (おおしま), Kagawa prefecture

From now through Oct. 31 the Setouchi International Art Festival is taking place on seven islands in the Inland Sea: Inujima, Megijima, Naoshima, Ogijima, Oshima, Shodoshima, and Teshima.  Here, we cover Oshima. This island is part of Kagawa Prefecture, under the jurisdiction of Shikoku, one of Japan’s four main islands.

Oshima (several islands share this name in the Seto Inland Sea) is just 7.2km around and is located 8 km northeast of Takamatsu. It is best known for the sanitarium established here for leprosy patients in 1909. At that time, Japanese people with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) were quarantined on the island in what is now called the National Oshima Sanitarium Green Pine Garden. Even now, some 100 patients still live there.

In July 2010 I watched TV news of the excavation from the sea of a two meter long autopsy table that belonged to the sanatorium and was thrown into the sea some 25 years ago. Why they’d throw an autopsy table into the sea, I don’t know. Perhaps there isn’t much of a demand for used autopsy tables. At any rate, they are using this autopsy table as part of an art exhibit on the island (in a café, no less!) to “tell the story of the approximately 4,000 people who lived and died on Oshima.” So there you go: autopsy as art.

The café will also feature an Oshima specialty: mugwort pound cake.

A friend who lives in Takamatsu says that every now and then he sees the patients in Takamatsu walking in a group down the shopping street behind a leader with a bullhorn announcing that the patients are coming through. It doesn’t sound like the Japanese have gotten over their fear or bias of leprosy patients…

We attempted to visit the island but were not allowed to as we were on our own private boat.It’s a shame, as we really would have liked to visit the island. Since we have not been there, I leave you with the following info and links:

A boat leaves 3 times a day from Dai-ni Ukisanbashi at Takamatsu Port. Departure times are 9:10, 11:00 and 13:55. Return times are 10:30, 13:25 and 16:15.

It is unclear if you can visit the island outside of the art festival times. It is also unclear if it is possible, during the art festival or not, to get permission to visit the island in a private boat.


See Cathy Hirano’s page on The Gentle Art Project and Oshima

Luc Novovitch offers a short history of the patients on Oshima in Islands of Shame

The Pearl Diver is a novel about a woman who contracts leprosy and lives on Oshima.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. David permalink
    October 22, 2010 11:55 pm

    I just visited Oshima today…
    A very strange place indeed. Almost surreal. I don’t think I can describe it here in a few lines. But I’ll definitely blog about it soon (as soon as today or tomorrow in French, you’ll have to be a bit more patient for the English version).

    To answer your questions: No, one cannot access Oshima on a private boat, nor visit the place outside of the festival. Even with the fesitval, one must visit it on a guided tour, and many areas are off limits. It really is a forbidden island. (this is being done for the well being of the patients/residents)

    • humorusguidetojapan permalink*
      October 27, 2010 3:17 pm

      Thanks for this information David! Moooo!

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