Firouz Gaini
University of the Faroe Islands. Dept. of History and Social Sciences. Associate Professor

From the Faroe Islands to the Oki Islands : Faroese anthropological perspectives on a remote Japanese island community

The interest in Japan (and Japanese studies) among Faroese scholars, and vice versa, has historically been very limited; still today scientific collaboration in the humanities and social sciences between Faroese and Japanese institutions is a rarity. This paper presents an ethnographic project based on a fieldwork conducted on the Oki Islands, Shimane Prefecture, in Autumn 2015. While the geographical distance between the Faroe Islands and the Oki Islands is immense (almost 9.000 km), this pair of archipelagos seems to share interesting common characteristics based on the fact that they are (small-scale) island communities with strong connection to the surrounding ocean and its natural resources.

This paper aims to examine the local identities of contemporary young Oki islanders through the anthropological lens, as well as to critically outline differences and similarities between Oki and Faroese youth with focus on their contemporary ‘insular’ realities and future perspectives. English language information on the Oki Islands, based on scientific research, is rather limited in scope, so my introduction to Oki youth relies primarily on empirical data collected among students from Oki-Dozen Senior High School in Ama-Town. Young people reflect on their future in relation to out-migration, to educational and professional ambitions, to social and cultural activities, etcetera. 

Oki Islands, a place that many Japanese people do not know, has been portrayed as exotic and mystical by many overseas visitors. It is contrasted to ultramodern megacities in ‘mainland’ Japan. From my perspective, as a visitor from the Faroe Islands with a delimited scientific plan, Oki Islands also represent a mirror to societal aspects that I am – as citizen and anthropologist – familiar with from ‘home’. Except of contributing to the development of Japanese studies in the Faroe Islands, my project explores centre/periphery dynamics in the age of globalization: what are the main challenges small island communities face today?