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  • Hiroshi OokiPHOTOGRAPHY:  YURI SHIBUYA

Hiroshi Ooki: Memories of Island Life

, 2010/01/25

The first of our three-part series taking a personal look back at the Ogasawara Islands (Parts 2 & 3).

The Ogasawara Islands of Tokyo Prefecture could be mistaken for a Japanese Garden of Eden, located far out amidst the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. The Islands were uninhabited until 1830, when they were first settled by Americans and Europeans who arrived from Hawaii, the US mainland and elsewhere. In 1861, they came under Japanese control and Japanese citizens began to immigrate. To this day, many people of mixed heritage reside here. Following World War II, the islands passed from Japanese to US control and back again. Many of the islanders who lived on the mainland during the war have returned to Ogasawara, no doubt drawn home by the stunning natural beauty of the place. The history of the islands has been one of constant flux, and among the residents of these little green satellites in the Pacific, personal history is told with a kind of spectacular abruptness and profound sincerity that mirrors the geography of the islands themselves. The “Past & Present in Ogasawara” series originally appeared in Paper Sky No. 8. Tokyo Paradise, January, 2004. This is Hiroshi Ooki’s story.

A year and several months have passed since Hiroshi’s father Makato was killed in a car accident. Six years ago, Makato opened a salt factory and began making Ogasawara Salt by hand. In the factory that Makato built for himself, water is boiled down in two large, flat pans. The resulting “salt for chefs” has a slightly sweet taste and great texture. It’s a flavor that was perfected after much trial and error. Following in his late father’s footsteps, Hiroshi has spent the last year tackling the business of salt production at the factory.

The Ooki family moved to Chichijima from the mainland eighteen years ago. Hiroshi had just entered middle school when his father decided to try lving on the island. Makato, a salaryman at the time, was an amateur musician who was described by others as a truly free person. He built his own yacht and had already visited the archipelago numerous times when he decided to relocate. “We were a ‘sea family’ and lived in Chigasaki, a beach town in Kanagawa prefecture South of Tokyo, so we were happy about moving.” Hiroshi initially had trouble adjusting to life on the small island, but he soon discovered wind surfing and gradually got used to the place’s distinctive lifestyle. As an adult, however, Hiroshi wanted to see the world and set out from Chichijima. He traveled abroad and surfed while living out of a suitcase. “After I turned 25, I finally came to realize how great Chichijima really is.”

Hiroshi, his wife Midori, Bali, his mother, and his late father’s good friend Mee have just completed their first year of salt production. Hiroshi laughs and says, “It’s like an old codger’s job!” I’m the youngest of the salt sellers in Japan. Some of the best restaurants in Tokyo, however, are using my salt. I can’t even believe it myself. I feel like i’ve finally found something I can devote my life to.” He spends almost every morning working at the factory, but if the waves are good he surfs in the afternoons. “It’s the rhythm of the island. It’s just become part of our daily lives. I don’t know what the future holds, but if we all could continue living here at this pace, it would be just great.”

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