The Coming Twilight
On the north side of Sakatejima lies the skeleton of a resort and hotel, crumbling testament to the prosperity of a former time.
As our ferry eased along the island's shore, I could see windows broken, or missing entirely. Weeds covered the walkways, the concrete buildings were splitting, cracked with spider web lines.
1,700 people used to live on Sakatejima, but now, with only about 200 residents, the island occupies a strange space between village and ghost town.
On the dissolving streets, I passed faded shorts and shirts hung out to dry, the elastic waistbands loose, collars stretched from overwashing. The gray-blue hum of NHK drifted from open doors with worn shoes in the entrances.
But most homes were shut, windows covered, bikes toppled in the alleys.
An old truck sat, grass and ivy slowly reaching through the frame.
A woman stopped on her bike when she saw me outside the abandoned milk store. She was maybe in her 70s or 80s, wore a bucket hat and pink floral-print jacket.
What brings you out here? she said. There’s nothing here.
I enjoyed the views, I told her, and found the island beautiful and interesting. I asked if there were any stores or businesses still open.
The post office, which is also a general store, she said. You have to order food from the mainland and have it delivered. And the clinic.
And the school? I said.
Closed. We don’t have any children living here.
She asked about my life, and we chatted about my job, and local history. We bowed when we parted ways.
Like most of Japan, Sakatejima is slowly deteriorating. The people are aware of its inevitable decline, but lack the resources, or willingness, or social freedom to do anything.
After walking the island, I returned to the ferry landing, and bought a bottle of water and a can of coffee at the vending machine outside the shuttered café.
I sat on the ocean wall with the stray cats, sipped my drinks, and watched the coming twilight on the waters of the bay.