Home / Exhibition / Protecting = Creating the Sacred Island of Omishima 2019

Protecting = Creating the Sacred Island of Omishima 2019

Omishima is special among the numerous islands dotting the Seto Inland Sea. The island was once known as Mishima—the mi being an honorific prefix—a divine island home to Oyamazumi Shrine.

It is traditionally believed that Oyamazumi Shrine was established in 594 CE during the reign of Empress Suiko, and enjoyed prestige as an imperial court-sanctioned guardian shrine of the whole nation. It has more than 10,000 branch shrines across the country.

The shrine is canvased from behind by Mt. Washigato, and it is connected to the sea from Miyaura Port through a sando [approach] that leads to the shrine. The shrine is dedicated to a mountain deity named Oyamazumi. However, because of the location of the island, the shrine attracted the patronage of members from Murakami Kaizoku (a local seafaring warrior clan), who would go there to offer pre-battle and pre-voyage prayers. Hence, the shrine’s deity came to be known also as a patron of the sea and battles. Until recent times, the island could only be reached by boat.

Because of this, Omishima avoided any real estate development, allowing it to maintain its timeless bucolic beauty shaped by farming, which was once the only means of living for most islanders. The island was more or less self-contained, maintaining its own balance and order.

However, things started to change in 2006. Omishima became connected to the mainland via the Shimanami Expressway—a highway between Onomichi and Imabari. The majority of the visitors to Oyamazumi Shrine now arrive by car or coach and none arrive by boat through the sando anymore. Although the shrine has become much more accessible, traditional pilgrimage customs have lost their purposes.

The unique equilibrium long maintained on the island is about to lose shape with the arrival of the expressway, a modern mode of transport. It is as if a “spiritual barrier,” enclosing the sacred Omishima has been breached, compromising the island’s singularity.

In his book Earth Diver (Kodansha, 2005), anthropologist Shinichi Nakazawa defines a “sacred place” as follows:

1. A special area governed by a unique system, made independent from the rest of the world by a “spiritual barrier.”

2. A place with a direct link with nature..

3. A place where people carry out vibrant activities, rather than a mere tourist attraction.

According to these three conditions, Omishima can be defined as a “sacred place” too. However, the opening of the Shimanami Expressway is threatening this “sacred place” to disintegrate.

While accepting the reality that the island faces today, many of us want to preserve Omishima’s beauty as a sacred place. How can this be done?

Visitors from outside the island are very welcome, whether pilgrims to Oyamazumi Shrine or cyclists traveling along the Shimanami Expressway. However, we want more people to visit the island not only for sightseeing, but also for exploring future lifestyle options. For this to happen, Omishima needs to continuously be an island where “tradition is protected as much as forward-looking creativity” in the coming future. In other words, it has to become a place where “protecting” is synonymous with “creating.”

Fortunately, the island is blessed with the presence of inspired young people who are optimistically working toward tomorrow’s Omishima. This exhibition presents some of their activities. To help Omishima reinvent itself as a “new sacred place,” we are looking to maintain our actions towards “Protecting = Creating” the island in partnership with these people.

We have picked Omishima, this wonderful place as our target destination, and worked with the island’s local people from 2012 to create “tomorrow’s Omishima.” For example, we have transformed a vacant house on the sando [approach] to Oyamazumi Shrine into a place where people from the neighborhood can gather as “Home-For-All” on Omishima, and we finally started to make wine at Omishima Minna-no-Winery by transforming abandoned mikan [citrus] fields into vineyards. Omishima Ikoi-no-ie, an accommodation facility that was renovated from an old primary school had concerns of roof leaks and weak earthquake-resistance, which are problems that affect the ongoing management of the guesthouse. The opportunity to renovate the building came after the significance of reviving the architecture was acknowledged as a solution to revitalize the island.

Now, there are many people who carry their own intention and thinking about Omishima—they practice such activities and lead lifestyles that can only be carried out here. In 2019, we will continue to shine a spotlight on people who engage in activities of “Protection = Creation,” and we hope that this exhibition will connect you to new encounters with the people who “Protect = Create”. In collaboration with them, we hope to make Omishima into a “new sacred place,” and continue our activities to “Protect = Create.”

Toyo Ito

Creators = Protectors

©Eikoh Tanaka
Contemplating ways of sustainable farming for the family
Nobuhiro Hanazawa (Organic citrus farmer)

©Eikoh Tanaka
Contemplating a lifestyle that adapts a natural circulation through wine
Haruka Akutagawa (Staff at “Omishima Minna-no-Winery”)

©Eikoh Tanaka
Connecting “people and place,” traditional lifestyle and culture to the next generation
Koki Kan (young master married to the family of Sawaki Ryokan, representative of SUTEKINA LLC)

©Eikoh Tanaka
Conveying the attractiveness of Omishima through beer that can only be made by themselves
Kyohei Takahashi and Naoko Takahashi (Owners of “Omishima Brewery”)

©Eikoh Tanaka
Contemplating a rich lifestyle in response to Home-for-All
Yui Shinchika (Staff at “Home-for-All” on Omishima)

©Eikoh Tanaka
Creating a new lifestyle while working remotely
Shigeki Masuda, Rie Tokumi (Office worker, Owners of “OMISHIMA SPACE”)

School Projects with the Island Design Club, a school club belonging to Imabari High School Omishima Branch

The children who will be responsible for the future of Omishima solve problems on the island through design methods

The high school students made furniture by hand,which was then donated to the earthquake-stricken area of Kumamoto in 2016

©Manami Takahashi

At the Sando Market held every May, we endeavor to convey the attractiveness of the Oyamazumi Shrine to tourists

In 2018, the idea for a rest station for the island was discussed and contemplated as a place where cyclists and local residents can interact

Director: Toyo Ito
Production: Ito Juku, Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects, Studio Sogabe and Yoshioka (School of Architecture, Kanagawa University)
Photography: Yusuke Nishibe, Eikoh Tanaka, Katsuhiro Aoki, Manami Takahashi, Kai Nakamura, Shuhei Miyahata, Ayumi Yoshino
Movie: Eikoh Tanaka
Music: Taro Ishida
Graphic Design: Tomoya Maruyama
English Translation: Joyce Lam
Manager: Rika Shoji

Please refer to the attached file for further information.
Protecting = Creating the Sacred Island of Omishima 2019(4.5MB)