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Miyakejima birds herald a return to island life

Jack Moyer was an American who gave up the modern conveniences of the city and moved instead to reside amid the teeming nature of Miyakejima island in the Izu islands south of Tokyo.

A longtime resident of Miyakejima, Moyer carried out research on marine life and worked for nature conservation. He died at age 74 in January last year.

The Kansas native became enthralled by Miyakejima soon after first visiting Japan in the 1950s. In time, he settled there and became well respected by the islanders. He often helped schoolchildren with their outdoor studies.

In 1996, Moyer was awarded the Asahi Shimbun prize for contributing to ocean conservation and assisting children's studies.

In 2000, volcanic eruptions forced all islanders to leave Miyakejima, which is administrated by the Tokyo metropolitan government. Moyer moved into a housing complex owned by Tokyo in the capital's Kita Ward. But he was found dead in his apartment last winter. Apparently, he had committed suicide.

Including Moyer, about 200 islanders have died while waiting for their chance to return to Miyakejima.

The 2000 evacuation order was lifted Tuesday by the authorities. Yet, ahead of the returning islanders, Miyakejima's many various avian residents had already got back, including the akakokko, or Izu island thrush. Designated a state natural treasure, the bird is a symbol of the island.

The bird population was thought to have suffered a sharp reduction just after the first major volcanic eruption. But their numbers had greatly increased by the time a survey was conducted two years later. It seems the birds had taken temporary refuge on the nearby Kozushima island.

When some islanders returned to Miyakejima on a temporary basis last year, they found flocks of little birds in the front yards of their homes. Everyone took it as a sign that the island was now safe to inhabit.

Miyakejima is also famous for traditional drum performances, known as kamitsuki kiyari taiko. (The name seems to suggest a tradition that began as workers' way to greet gods on their arrival.)

The performance was made famous by the Sado-based Kodo group of Japanese drum performers, which added it to its repertoire of worldwide stage appearances after learning the skills from Miyakejima drummers.

The familiar drum performances have often been given at ``solidarity meetings'' for evacuated islanders held in Tokyo and elsewhere. Many islanders shed tears as they listened. When would the returnees once again hear the beat of the drums on their home island?

Much arduous toil awaits these brave people after 4 years away from their homes and livelihoods. I trust and hope that they will move ahead strongly and with resolve, without undue haste.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 2(IHT/Asahi: February 3,2005)

 Vox Populi, Vox Dei

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