Chapter Eight. From Hoki to Oki

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I RESOLVED to go to Oki.

Not even a missionary had ever been to Oki, and its shores had never been seen by European eyes, except on those rare occasions when men-of-war steamed by them, cruising about the Japanese Sea. This alone would have been a sufficient reason for going there; but a stronger one was furnished for me by the ignorance of the Japanese themselves about Oki. Excepting the far-away Riu-Kiu, or Loo-Choo Islands, inhabited by a somewhat different race with a different language, the least-known portion of the Japanese Empire is perhaps Oki. Since it belongs to the same prefectural district as Izumo, each new governor of Shimane-Ken is supposed to pay one visit to Oki after his inauguration; and the chief of police of the province sometimes goes there upon a tour of inspection. There are also some mercantile houses in Matsue and in other cities which send a commercial traveller to Oki once a year. Furthermore, there is quite a large trade with Oki - almost all carried on by small sailing-vessels. But such official and commercial communications have not been of a nature to make Oki much better known to-day than in the medieval period of Japanese history. There are still current among the common people of the west coast extraordinary stories of Oki much like those about that fabulous Isle of Women, which figures so largely in the imaginative literature of various Oriental races. According to these old legends, the moral notions of the people of Oki were extremely fantastic: the most rigid ascetic could not dwell there and maintain his indifference to earthly pleasures; and, however wealthy at his arrival, the visiting stranger must soon return to his native land naked and poor, because of the seductions of women. I had quite sufficient experiences of travel in queer countries to feel certain that all these marvellous stories signified nothing beyond the bare fact that Oki was a terra incognita; and I even felt inclined to believe that the average morals of the people of Oki - judging by those of the common folk of the western provinces - must be very much better than the morals of our ignorant classes at home.

Which I subsequently ascertained to be the case.

For some time I could find no one among my Japanese acquaintances to give me any information about Oki, beyond the fact that in ancient times it had been a place of banishment for the Emperors Go-Daigo and Go-Toba, dethroned by military usurpers, and this I already knew. But at last, quite unexpectedly, I found a friend - a former fellow-teacher - who had not only been to Oki, but was going there again within a few days about some business matter. We agreed to go together. His accounts of Oki differed very materially from those of the people who had never been there. The Oki folks, he said, were almost as much civilised as the Izumo folks: they, had nice towns and good public schools. They were very simple and honest beyond belief, and extremely kind to strangers. Their only boast was that of having kept their race unchanged since the time that the Japanese had first come to Japan; or, in more romantic phrase, since the Age of the Gods. They were all Shintoists, members of the Izumo Taisha faith, but Buddhism was also maintained among them, chiefly through the generous subscription of private individuals. And there were very comfortable hotels, so that I would feel quite at home.

He also gave me a little book about Oki, printed for the use of the Oki schools, from which I obtained the following brief summary of facts:

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Oki-no-Kuni, or the Land of Oki, consists of two groups of small islands in the Sea of Japan, about one hundred miles from the coast of Izumo. Dozen, as the nearer group is termed, comprises, besides various islets, three islands lying close together: Chiburishima, or the Island of Chiburi (sometimes called Higashinoshima, or Eastern Island); Nishinoshima, or the Western Island, and Nakanoshima, or the Middle Island. Much larger than any of these is the principal island, Dogo, which together with various islets, mostly uninhabited, form the remaining group. It is sometimes called Oki - though the name Oki is more generally used for the whole archipelago. [1]

Officially, Oki is divided into four kori or counties. Chiburi and Nishinoshima together form Chiburigori; Nakanoshima, with an islet, makes Amagori, and Dogo is divided into Ochigori and Sukigori.

All these islands are very mountainous, and only a small portion of their area has ever been cultivated. Their chief sources of revenue are their fisheries, in which nearly the whole population has always been engaged from the most ancient times.

During the winter months the sea between Oki and the west coast is highly dangerous for small vessels, and in that season the islands hold little communication with the mainland. Only one passenger steamer runs to Oki from Sakai in Hoki In a direct line, the distance from Sakai in Hoki to Saigo, the chief port of Oki, is said to be thirty-nine ri; but the steamer touches at the other islands upon her way thither.

There are quite a number of little towns, or rather villages, in Oki, of which forty-five belong to Dogo. The villages are nearly all situated upon the coast. There are large schools in the principal towns. The population of the islands is stated to be 30,196, but the respective populations of towns and villages are not given.

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