Featured Story: Suo-Oshima Island – An Island Suffering Depopulation Gets an Influx of Young Farmers Who Start the “Shima no Mura Marché”

It’s 7pm on November 17, 2015. Though it’s pitch black, the lights are on at a certain isolated workshop. 

And in the workshop are a beekeeper and three young farmers. They are having the final preparation meeting for “Shima no Mura Marché”, which is to be held in 6 days time. 

Despite there being so many things left to take care of that most people would be at their wit’s end, this meeting is awfully off track!

Ignoring the imminent D-day, the discussion turns to how to make a living as a farmer. Without any clear answer, discussions resume on the main subject. And this is repeated. Even as the clock goes past midnight, the meeting just keeps on going like there’s no end. 

“It’s always like this. I almost never get home on the same day!” With weary eyes, all the members agree!

It’s the day of the marché! The weather is clear and sunny! 

“The forecast said it would rain. It’s a relief, isn’t it?” The one saying this with a smile on his face is Mr. Kentaro Uchida (31), the originator of the marché, who is also running a bee farm on the island. 

Starting with Mr. Uchida, the members are all outsiders who came to the island out of love for Suo-Oshima. “We want to support agriculture on the island by connecting producers with consumers while protecting the natural environment. Although it’s a lofty ideal, that was the idea behind starting this marché. In reality we experienced many setbacks, and it took over a year from having the initial idea to getting to this point.” 

And it’s no wonder; Suo-Oshima Island’s is among Japan’s top areas in terms of its ageing population. Those engaged in the island’s main livelihood, farming, grow less in number every year, while abandoned rice paddies and fields increase. (Doesn’t include organic farms, as there are only few.)

“Results won’t show immediately, so we’re just having fun as we continue holding the marché,” says Mr. Uchida. This is the fourth time it’s been held and the number of stores keeps on increasing every time. There’s truly an abundance in variety!

Not only do they sell organic, chemical free vegetables and fruit, there are also natural foods…

Offering books and variety goods, sweets, a café, and even a restaurant that uses only organic ingredients, there are around 30 shops lined up one after another. 

In the afternoon, the shop selling natural yeast bread starts preparing to open.

Every time, the bread sells out in under one hour! Many customers look forward to buying the bread, so this time the stall owner answered customer requests not to open until the afternoon.

Just like with growing crops, there is a lot of trial and error. The organizers keep building it up while making minute adjustments.

Among the visitors there are some who heard good things about the marché and came all the way from Tokyo and Osaka. From the perspective of an outsider it seems like the marché is successful, however, the organizers are planning something different for 2016. 

“If it’s an event organized only a few times a year, it will all just finish with some festival merrymaking. I’ve been searching for a way to turn the marché into something more connected to the everyday life of the island. Finally I made up my mind, and in spring 2016 we plan to start anew with “Shima no Asa Marché” (‘Island Morning Market’)! We plan to start by first holding it every other week, and slowly root it in. I’m sure our meetings will grow even longer, but every one of us has already given in to that.”

Mitsuketa, I found Suo-Oshima Island

Shima no Mura Marché (Island Village market)

With the theme of “starting organic life from here”, the marché offers a great lineup of vegetables, fruit, processed goods, variety goods, and a café all created in consideration of the natural environment. From 2016, the main event will be held once a year, and the “Asa Marché” every other week.

Date: Autumn 2016 (Exact date & time to be decided)
Venue: Yahataseika Gakushu no Mura (1102-1 Kuka, Suooshima-cho, Oshima district, Yamaguchi prefecture)

Shima no Asa Marché

Started: April 2 (Sat), 2016
To be held: On the 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month, 8:00-13:00 (shops open at 9:00)
Venue: Same as above

Details & Inquiries:
Email: mura-marche@hotmail.co.jp

Shima no Mura Marché Organization Committee
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/muramarche/?fref=ts (Japanese)

URL: http://ameblo.jp/mura-marche (Japanese)
Website http://muramarche.com/  (Japanese)

Setouchi Finder Photo-writer: Masafumi Fujimoto

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Written by

Masafumi Fujimoto

Masafumi Fujimoto

Masafumi Fujimoto Hi there! My name is Masafumi Fujimoto. Until the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, I was engaged in editing production at an advertising company in Tokyo. However, the earthquake was a turning point in my life and I headed home to Yamaguchi. When I arrived, I was extremely energized and motivated to help revitalize the region, but I had a hard time adjusting to the motivation level of the local people. Around that time I met an elderly lady who said: "It doesn't matter if all the people move away from the island; that's just the nature of things. Someday people will come back again." Lessening the tension I’d been feeling, those few words relieved me hugely, and I was able to finally adjust. Since then, I've been involved in writing and editing magazines, and working in advertisement production, as well as doing a little bit of farming. I also spend time walking around Setouchi searching for the many, many voices out there.


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