Here is a quick FAQ-style backgrounder about why me and my family moved to the remote island of Ikijima (aka “Iki Island” aka “Iki”) on a study abroad program.
Q: Who are you?
A family of four, including me, my wife (a wonderful Japanese lady originally from Kyoto), and our two daughters, aged
10 and 8 11 and 9.
Q: Where are you?
We currently live on Ikijima, a remote island off the coast of Kyushu. We moved here from Kelowna, BC, Canada by way of Kyoto, which is where our extended family is in Japan. I went to university in Kyoto in 1999, where I met my wife, and later lived there for a few years. We visit family there often, and have a temporary apartment there as a local home base.
Q: What are you doing?
We are on the Ikijima Remote Island Study Program 離島留学. This is one of many rural and remote island programs designed to bring kids from cities out into nature and simultaneously revitalize depopulated areas of Japan. Effectively, they want to give people a taste of rural life with the hopes that some will end up staying for good.
These programs are not centrally organized and each island has their own program. You can find a decent listing of participating islands/schools for 2021 on the Ritokei here. If you are interested in joining such a program, my advice for either mainland or island study programs is find a place you want to go and ask them if there are any such programs in that area.
Q: When did you come here?
We came to Japan during the pandemic in March 2020. For reasons (coronavirus, my mother-in-law unexpectedly passing) we stayed in Kyoto until Golden Week, when took the chance to hop a nearly empty bullet train and made it safely to the island.
Q: Why are you here?
Okay, this is the big one. Basically, we can break it down into categories based on stakeholders:
For me: I was really burnt out at my job and was doing some serious mid-life-crisis-ing during the summer of 2019. My wife asked me what I would do if I had no constraints and I told her “write a book.” She asked about what and I told her my idea for Kyushu travelogue. Broadly, there are three reasons behind this idea: 1) in terms of Japanese history there are a lot of firsts in Kyushu, which I find fascinating and not particularly well known in English; 2) Kyushu has a special historical connection to continental Asia that continues to this day which I think could be expounded on; and 3) I have spent 20 years in and around Kyoto, which has since been ravaged by overtourism, so I thought I should spend more time in a different region of the country, and do my best to raise its profile in the English language. Of course, writing a travelogue during a pandemic has been… challenging.
For my wife: She wanted to be close to her mother who was nearing the end of a long battle with cancer. She also wanted to experience some of the diversity of Japan — ironically something that we encountered living in Canada amongst the Japanese diaspora community (I should probably write about this topic in the future as well). Two other reasons to move to a remote island in southwestern Japan: a respite from 10 years of Canadian winters, and a chance to farm!
For our kids: We wanted to give them a chance to be a bit closer to their grandmother (unfortunately she passed just days after we arrived, and due to coronavirus restrictions, they were never able to meet her in the hospital). We wanted them to see a different part of Japan and get a sense of the diversity here. We also wanted them to increase their Japanese language skills in a native environment (see our thinking on raising kids in multiple languages). Lastly, we wanted them learn some of the fundamental study skills that you can no longer learn in a Canadian education environment (possibly controversial topic, let me know if you would like to hear my TED talk on this [NOTE: This is failed sarcasm. I don’t actually have a TED talk. But I certainly do have enough material on this topic for an 18 minute monologue!].
Q: Okay, so why Iki?
We were looking for some way to get to Kyushu and found out about the remote island exchange programs. At first we were looking at Tanegashima, which is cool from both a history and education perspective (I mean, this is where the first Westerners landed and introduced guns to Japan, and also there is a space school and rocket launching facility!), but it is really far from the mainland. I wanted to be closer to Fukuoka for research purposes. Looking at the map of about thirty islands running study abroad programs “Ikijima” just popped out at me since I had recently listened to an episode of Deep Dive with Oscar Boyd where he mentioned that Iki was the first municipality in Japan to declare a climate crisis. The leadership shown on climate issues intrigued me, and digging into the island more I found out it was one of the communities selected for Japanese Future Cities initiative. Furthermore Ikijima has a long history as a bridge between mainland Asia and Japan, with an amazing museum. Lastly, it was only an hour away from Fukuoka, so was a very convenient location. All these factors made us pursue this island as a place to live.