Talking about Okinawa – the ocean is the first thing that may come to our mind. However, the beach is not the only reason to visit this attractive island. There are more than 160 inhabited and uninhabited islands in Okinawa prefecture, which a total area is over 2 000 square kilometers.
One of them is the Yaeyama islands are both the southernmost and westernmost inhabited part of Japan. Together with the Miyako Islands and the Okinawa Islands, they make up the three main island chains of Okinawa Prefecture. Yaeyama islands are the best place to dive into a tropical atmosphere with a beautiful view of the ocean, nature, local food, and desserts. Tourists come to snorkeling and diving there.
Ishigaki is the main island of the Yaeyama Islands and the region’s transportation hub. It can be noticed that Ishigaki city is downtown in the region, which has a main airport, and ferry terminal along with plenty of hotels, shops, and bars. Our field trip in Ishigaki City gave us an incredible, eventful journey, which included from one side were beaches, shops, and food, and on another side historical background and cultural heritage through incredible lectures.
Eric van Rijn conducted one of the lectures in which we participated. He is originally from the Netherlands but has lived in Japan for over 20 years. He was one of the minority, who learned the Japanese language at the university, which was the only exotic language at that time. Then, he received an opportunity to visit Japan as an exchange student. He fell in love with the country and decided to get a master’s degree here. He graduated as a specialist in International relations and worked for 15 years in Japan. Living in Japan gave him the opportunity to travel a lot. He came to many times in Okinawa and the more he came the more he wanted again. He was so fascinated by the beautiful and interesting places there that encouraged him to move to Ishigaki in 2016. The second reason of his moving was tourist potential among foreigners and low offer to meet this demand because of language barrier. He thought that through his business there he would contribute to tourism sphere. He established Nohoho and has been running ViLLA Nohoho since 2020. Villa Hohoho is located in the northern part of Ishigaki Island, which is teeming with nature. This is a small living space designed for only one group per day. At Villa Nohoho, guests can enjoy Okinawa to the fullest in a way that not easily experience anywhere else.
In addition to his business and other marketing activities that promote tourism in Ishigaki, Eric was asked to be a student in the local dialect. The local language has a long history. One way to bring some identity back and develop tourism also is through the language, said Eric. Ishigaki language is one of the six languages on Okinawa Island. The distance between the Islands influenced the difference in the languages, which are separated by the ocean. In general, UNESCO recognized the Ryūkyūan languages of Amami, Hachijo, Kunigami, Miyako, Okinawan, Yaeyama, and Yonaguni as endangered languages in their Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. Eric used the local language in his accommodation he did a session Shimakotuba, where he had a teacher who translated the local menu and made some explanations to the participants about the menu and made food together using local ingredients. It was part of the SDGs tour and organized twice to create an interesting activity for tourists. The lector shared with us the slide of the presentation about the local languages, which he shows mostly during the kitchen sessions to show diversity in the languages.
He tries to link what the SDGs are doing related to the local languages. For example, Target 9 of Goal № 8 is “By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products”. Part of his activity is a language as a way to promote local products on the Island. In addition, another Goal № 11 is related to “sustainable cities and communities and its Target 4 – “Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage”. Eric noted that language is part of the heritage.
To sum up, the lecture conducted by Eric van Rijn provided an opportunity to know interesting facts about local languages and the importance of preserving them. The presented information gave to me an example of developing tourism through culture and language.