Myojin Voices, Vol. 1: Seen from the Minamata sea
This is a report written by a member, who participated in Minamata Bay fieldwork on 22 June 2013, about the view they had of Minamata and its surroundings from the sea.
29 July 2013
Even if you live in Minamata, there are few opportunities to look around at the ocean by boat. On 22 June, the day of our Shiranui Sea coast field work, it was cloudy but hot, and the calm ocean looked like a dull silver lake. At just past two o’clock in the afternoon, captained by Minoru-san, the fourth son of Sugimoto Suisan, 8 study group members left the harbor at Modo aboard the Kaieimaru 6.
As we left the port, to our right could be seen the uotsukirin, or fish-breeding forest. There was a boat, fishing for octopus along the shoreline. According to Sugimoto-san, at high tide, the trees were so close to the water that, during mountain peach season, he’d heard the octopus would climb into the branches to eat the fruit. Unfortunately, it was low tide and there were no tree-climbing octopi were seen.
Incidentally, the difference between high and low tide in Minamata Bay that day was 3 m 40 cm. On the same day, the difference in Tokyo Bay was 185 cm. A big difference in the ocean tides leads to great biodiversity. Being blessed with such natural abundance, Minamata must have long been an easy place to live. Several shell mounds dating from the Jōmon and Yayoi eras have been found within the city.
We rounded the cape and entered Fukuro Bay, and were taken to a place where there was fresh water gushing out from the middle of the ocean. It gushed with such power that it made a big ripple. There seem to be places like this in Modou and Yudo, as well. According to Sugimoto-san, the fresh water from the mountains, was laden with minerals, feeding the plankton and shellfish, fish, and seaweed flourished. The riches of the Minamata sea were not only due to the tidal range but also to the mountains.
After that, the boat left Fukuro Bay and headed for the nearby hydrophilic revetment of the Minamata Bay landfill. I am fond of Minamata Bay, but I’ve never pictured it as a bountiful ocean. When I asked those who had those memories,” What was Minamata Bay like?” they would share their stories with excited voices and sparkling eyes. Being told that at night, at spring tide, the low murmur of abalone moving from Myojinzaki to Koijishima could be heard, I couldn’t help but wonder what theymight have sounded like. And then I wondered, “Why didn’t we inherit a sea of such abundance?”
The boat left the revetment and circled Koijishima island and headed northward along the coast. We passed by Myojin and the Minamata Disease Municipal Museum there, and then past Umedo, too, until finally Marushima came into view. A cluster of Chisso factories could be seen, as well as Shurigamiyama, which appears in Ishimure Michiko’s picture book. It seems that a long time ago, the gentle shallow beach stretching into the sea around Marushima was crowded in the summer with people digging for shellfish and bathing in the ocean. However, after WW II, Chisso decided to build a carbide processing plant there. At present, part of the 330,000 square meters of reclaimed land is used as the Minamata municipal garbage incineration site, and the rest has become Chisso’s industrial waste disposal facility.
The Minamata sea, which had sustained so many forms of life since the Jōmon period, was polluted within 50 years of Chisso’s arrival; the scenic beauty of the coast was irrevocably destroyed. Minamata has lots of reclaimed land, but most of it consists of industrial waste disposal facilities for carbide and organic mercury. From the sea, this fact can be clearly seen.
The boat headed further north to Yunoko. When we were thinking it was time to go home, and the boat was making a leisurely U-turn, Sugimoto-san said, “There’s a school of sardines,” pointing with his finger. There were so many ripples across the surface of the sea, it was as if it were raining, even though it wasn’t. Peering over the side of the boat, we saw the school of sardines shimmering in the sea. Without thinking, I gave a cry of surprise. Seeing the reclaimed land had made me feel a little down, but I was comforted by the sight of all the sardines as we headed back.