“The wild horses in Yururi Island”
A desert island floating off the Nemuro Peninsula of Hokkaido. It was ever called “the paradise for horses”.
Yururi Island, uninhabited now, is located off the coast of Konbumori area, Nemuro City, Hokkaido, where some descendants of the horses are still living by themselves now, which were brought to this small island decades ago (in 1950s) as the workforce of konbu (kelp) fishing industry from the mainland Hokkaido. The island is 7.8 km in circumference, 168 hectares in size, 43 meters above sea level, and most of the coastal coastline of the plateau is bounded by the cliffs, which reaches a height of 30-40 meters, and surrounded by reefs. The power of horses was needed to carry the wet and heavy seaweeds up against the cliff.
The name of “Yururi” originally came from Ainu`s term “uriru” meaning “a place where cormorants inhabit.” The island is designated as a wildlife refuge by Japan and a natural monument by Hokkaido because it is a breeding colony formed by such birds as tufted puffins and red-faced cormorants, which are appointed as rare birds. That is why nobody is admitted to land on the island.
It is around 1950 that the horses were brought to the island. After the war, the fishermen who didn’t have enough space for the drying procession of the seaweed in Nemuro, the mainland, began to move to the island for the space, bringing some horses so that they could pull konbu to the space on the sheer cliff. The horses stood by on 30 – 40 meters high cliff, pulling a net of konbu put in a wooden crate by means of a pulley hanging from a scaffold from the sea up on the cliff. At the most, there were 9 simple lodging houses and 7 scaffolds standing tall. Still the remains of scaffolds and a lot of small stones left at the places for drying konbu are seen, which remind us of busy days in the island.
But since 1965, a lot of new and modern processing places have been built in the mainland, and motor engined boats started working between Yururi Island and the mainland. The fishermen working at the island did not need to stay there. They started leaving behind the island one by one. It was in 1971 that the last one left. There was no place for the horses to live in the mainland and the fishermen couldn’t bear to sell their horses for meat. What they could do was to leave the horses in Yururi Island, where they could survive by themselves by eating Ainu Sasa nipponica (bamboo-grass) growing there abundantly. Also in the mainland, many farmers began to sell their hoses with the spread of trucks.
Thereafter a stallion has been brought to the island every five years or so, in order to get rid of the disorder of incest. When mares were born, some were thinned out. There were as many as 30 horses at the peak. The horses have been left wild and free without any human involvement. The tools have been modernized and mobilized and the horses have become useless as the livestock. They have lived their lives generation to generation without being actively used by the men. Looking at those horses living peacefully in the island of Yururi Island, people call it “the paradise of Horses”. With tufted puffins singing and precious type of flowers such as Regal rhubarb plantein lily (Hosta rectifolia) and Adenophora triphylla var. Japonica in the full bloom in summer time in the island, the horses have been living their lives, adopting themselves to the harsh environment in the winter, and we can say they are the cultural product and outcome of the history and climate of Nemuro area.
Photographer / Artist
Okada is one of the most gifted and the most intriguing photographers in Japan. Okada was born in Hokkaido, Japan in 1979.
In 2002, while a student, Okada received FUJIFILM PHOTO SALON The New Face Prize. He completed a PhD in arts at Tokyo Polytechnic University in 2008. In the same year, he won the 33th KIMURA IHEI commemorative Photography Award with his work “I am”. “I am” was introduced in many ways by press in Japan and internationally, receiving high acclaim.
Okada is the most expected young and spirited photographer in Japan, drawing high attention also from abroad.
OKADA Atsushi Web Site