notes from the Yaeyama archipelago 1

Employment in Ishigaki varies from local services such as the kindergarten and tatami makers, to diving rentals and hotels. Little English is spoken on the island, and most of the tourists are Japanese. I cycle slowly through the town looking at the local businesses and deciphering their signs and shop fronts. Barbershop, key cutting shop, a samisen workshop, sugarcane and souvenir shops, post office, architects practice, bento (lunchbox) shop, and a tatami makers’. Pulling up outside the tatami makers’ open roller shutters, I ask a man in his seventies, who is working inside, if I can watch and photograph as he uses a machine to sew a decorative tape along the edge of the mats. Soon his wife pads towards us and shows me the huge needle and thread once used when they sewed tapes onto the tatami by hand. She tells me about their grown-up children living in Tokyo, and shows me the sacks of straw in the back. Then we look at the family’s certificates – similar framed certificates line most offices. She gives me some iced tea and the three of us sit in their back room with their little dog – which is dressed in clothes, as most Japanese dogs are.