The Widow, the Priest and the Octopus Hunter: Discovering a Lost Way of Life on a Secluded Japanese Island (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

"Amy Chavez moved to Japan in the 1990s, then she moved to Shiraishi Island in the Seto Inland Sea.  After living there for a while and getting to know her neighbors, she decided to take oral histories before the island's past is lost.  These stories are of ordinary people living quiet lives, surviving trying times, especially during WWII, and describing what it's like to be a part of a community. If you are a fan of Japan and islands, this book will take you to a place you've probably never heard of, but will want to travel to once you've read it."--Reviewed by Percy


Get to know the inhabitants of a tiny Japanese island--and their unusual stories and secrets--through this fascinating, intimate collection of portraits.

"This book beautifully describes the residents of tiny Shiraishi Island as well as telling how Amy herself came to be in such a fascinating little corner of Japan...Amy herself, with this book, has shown herself an integral part of this preservation. --Rebecca Otowa, author of At Home in Japan

When American journalist Amy Chavez moved to the tiny island of Shiraishi (population 430), she rented a house from an elderly woman named Eiko, who left many of her most cherished possessions in the house--including a portrait of Emperor Hirohito and a family altar bearing the spirit tablet of her late husband.

Why did she abandon these things? And why did her tombstone later bear the name of a daughter no one knew? These are just some of the mysteries Amy pursues as she explores the lives of Shiraishi's elusive residents.

The 31 revealing accounts in this book include:
  • The story of 40-year-old fisherman Hiro, one of two octopus hunters left on the island, who moved back to his home island to fill a void left by his brother who died in a boating accident.
  • A Buddhist priest, eighty-eight, who reflects on his childhood during the war years, witnessing fighter pilots hiding in bunkers on the back side of the island.
  • A "pufferfish widow," so named because her husband died after accidentally eating a poisonous pufferfish.
  • The ex-postmaster who talks about hiking over the mountains at night to deliver telegrams at a time when there were only 17 telephone numbers on the island.

Interspersed with the author's reflections on her own life on the island, these stories paint an evocative picture of the dramatic changes which have taken place in Japanese society across nearly a century. Fascinating insights into local superstitions and folklore, memories of the war and the bombing of nearby Hiroshima, and of Shiraishi's heyday as a resort in the 1960s and 70s are interspersed with accounts of common modern-day problems like the collapse of the local economy and a rapidly-aging community which has fewer residents each year.

About the Author

Amy Chavez arrived in Japan from America in 1993, fresh out of graduate school. After a few years enjoying the city life, she began a search for the "real Japan" and found it on Shiraishi (population 430), a tiny island in the Seto Inland Sea. For ten years she lectured at a Japanese university before becoming a full-time writer. For over 20 years she has penned a column for The Japan Times covering issues central to island life such as tourism, the environment, aging and depopulation. She and her Australian husband have been renovating their Japanese home on Shiraishi for the past 17 years, the amount of time it takes some species of cicada to reach maturity. Chavez is the author of several books, including Amy's Guide to Best Behavior in Japan: Do it Right and Be Polite. She has a B.A. in creative writing from Miami University, Oxford, and an M.A. in technical writing.

Product Details
ISBN: 9784805316917
ISBN-10: 4805316918
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing
Publication Date: May 24th, 2022
Pages: 240
Language: English