The Japanese Port Town

Words & Images: Haruka Sakaguchi

May 08 2016

Japan – my homeland – is a tiny blemish in the Pacific Ocean. Surrounded in all cardinal directions by the ocean, our culinary traditions and ways of life are founded on the vast offerings of the sea. Hence the Japanese port town is much more than a geographical landmark: it is the provider of our nation’s food, it is the gateway of Western influences, and it is where Japanese identity was redefined over and over for the past millennia.

Until recently, at least. Japan has struggled with chronic koreika – an aging population – and it is starkly apparent in these remote port towns. In Emi, a small fishing village off the Boso Peninsula, many of the fishermen are well past their primes yet wake up painstakingly early every morning to load their fishing boats. “All the young people are gone,” a 72-year-old fisherman tells us. “My son moved to Tokyo late last year to work in the big city. It’s been me and my wife ever since.”

Indeed, there is a quiet vacancy around these parts. The painfully nostalgic signage paired with sun-bleached noren flaps remind us of a time when mom-and-pop fish vendors and makeshift taverns bustled with local fishermen and their families. Nowadays, many of these establishments have their shutters drawn during the week, or in some cases, permanently.

Still, the Japanese port town – in all its rugged obscurity – is an emblem of this country’s topographical origins and cunning resourcefulness. Indeed, Japan has always been a small island with big dreams.

Haruka is a graphic designer / photographer currently residing in Brooklyn, NY. Follow her adventures on Instagram.