Photo/IllutrationShinsaku Yamazaki holds his daughter, Kurumi, while standing next to his wife, Takako, in front of Takenoie. (Miho Kato)

  • Photo/Illustraion

MISHIMA, Kagoshima Prefecture--On a remote island in the East China Sea, Shinsaku Yamazaki is on a mission to save his hometown from oblivion.

His first order of business was to set up the first grocery store the island of Takeshima has seen in 20 years.

Takenoie, which opened in April, provides 400 kinds of food products, detergents and other daily necessities, as well as souvenirs, for the island’s 70 residents.

Although the weather can delay shipments of the products to the island, the store can always function as a type of community center that brings people together and helps to revitalize the neighborhood.

“Everyone wished there had been a shop on the island,” said Ruriko Takei, a 53-year-old homemaker. “He (Yamazaki) achieved a thing others have never done.”

With a circumference of 9.7 kilometers, Takeshima, which can be reached from Kagoshima city in three hours by ferry, is home to beautiful bamboo thickets and abundant nature.

Despite its beauty, Takeshima’s population has more than halved from 162 in 1965.

Mishima village introduced a subsidy program for those who want to transfer to the island, resulting in the migration of 10 people from five households in fiscal 2014 and a family of four in fiscal 2017.

But some of them have already left Takeshima, saying it “is different from the island I imagined.”

Yamazaki, 35, who played in the nature of the island during his childhood, left Takeshima to attend a high school. He later worked at computer-related businesses in Tokyo and Kagoshima.

After marrying Takako, 36, Yamazaki returned to his hometown in 2014, because he wanted to raise a family there. Their elder son, Ryoma, now 3, was born in 2015.

Alarmed about his hometown’s shrinking population, he remodeled his family home into a grocery store, complete with a blue “noren” curtain at the entrance, as the first step toward attracting more people to Takeshima.

Frozen meat, ice cream, instant noodles and bread are popular items at Takenoie.

According to the Mishima village government, the previous grocery store closed down 20 years ago.

Before Takenoie opened in April, the only buildings on Takeshima were private houses and tourist inns, along with a vending machine.

The islanders make purchases mainly via telephone shopping or on the Internet, and their goods are delivered to the shop by ferry four times a week. Bad weather, however, can delay deliveries to the island by more than a week.

Yamazaki also set up tables and benches outside Takenoie, allowing shoppers and children to relax there and even hold barbecue parties.

“I now live for spending time with children here,” said Takeko Hidaka, an 80-year-old farmer.

Yuri Ozono, 32, a child-care worker, described Takenoie as “a place where I can drop by to meet people.”

“There is always someone there to chat with,” said Ozono, who moved to Takeshima from Kagoshima three years ago with her fishing-enthusiast husband.

Yamazaki in 2015 established a nonprofit group called Mishima-desuyo to promote the island through his blog and publicize the Daimyodake bamboo shoot, a Takeshima specialty.

He also plans to open a tourist inn at Takenoie to enable visitors to experience the way of life on Takeshima. His plan has been well accepted by residents.

“The more people move here, the more the local community will be revitalized,” Yamazaki said. “I want to make the island more appealing so people will hope to transfer here.”