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Travel -

Women of the Sea pt. III

Iriomote Island

 

 

We are women of the sea. 

 

 

Inspired by countless generations of strong women venturing to the depths, providing for their family in unison with the sea. This connection touches all of us, reminding us of where we all began, floating in her salty womb. Our true mother, the ocean. 

 

 

Iriomote island was like nothing I’d ever experienced over many visits to Japan - it's 90% covered in jungle, with a population of just over 2000 and has only two traffic lights! (I'm not even sure if I saw a vending machine!). It's dark at night and you can see the stars. There’s no airport, so you arrive here by sea. Everything in these southern islands of Okinawa is a little more raw and wild and free - including the people! 

 

 

Guided by my friends from the Sloth Club Japan, I’ve come here  to meet Akiko Ishigaki - an 80 year old master weaver and dyer, priestess and environmental activist. Akiko is a woman of the sea. And she's like a magical alchemist, fixing her natural dyed handwoven textiles in the brackish combination of the river and ocean - the life-giving mangroves . A bright smile and kind heart, her woven creations and innovations are highly prized all around the world - made famous by her work with designer Issey Miyake. 

 

 

A visit to her home base and studio reveals a kaleidoscope of creativity -  deep blue indigo cloths hung around weaving stations to dry, pots simmering with a variety of natural dyes, smoke and steam - so much beauty, inspiration and potential made by human hands dancing with the elements - earth, water, fire, air. 

 

 

Aikido's mission is to preserve Okinawa’s traditional dyeing art through teaching a profound awareness of connection with nature, along with protecting her wild island home. I was very touched when she explained her deep, enduring love for the ocean. She told me that the ocean is a mother to all, nurturing but strong and powerful - just like all women. We are all connected, humans and nature... there is no separation.  

 

 

Akiko brought me with her to learn about the process of setting the natural vegetable dyes into the banana fibre hand woven cloth using the mixture of fresh and salty ocean water found at the mangrove river mouth. There was something so familiar about her combination of wisdom, humility, strength and   mischievous humour - splashing me as we walked through the mangrove forest, looking for any opportunity to dunk me in! She reminded me of my own grandmother and the grandmother free divers I'd met in Onjuku and Jeju island in Korea - so matter of fact, playful and self assured...

 

 

Everything is ‘real’ about this place. People are down to earth and open, food is local and authentic and nature surrounds you every turn you take. After spending some time with Akiko, we explored the island, visiting sacred ceremonial sites - places that held ceremonies of the unique Southern Japanese culture with steep, jagged cliff faces. The lush green forests spilled out into the sea, with the mangroves hugging the shoreline. We found shelter from the spring showers under the rice straw roof a traditional house. We met friendly goats and served them dandelion flowers to nibble. We foraged for traditional Okinawan herbs growing on the cliff face on our way to the ocean  -  tasting like parsley.  It felt like home. 

 

 

I’ve learned many things on this visit to Iriomote Island but the core message from Akiko has been set in my soul: that the ocean is our mother, we need to love and take care of her as she has done for us. 

 

 

Akiko is a women of the sea. As are we all, children of the tides. 

 

 

Thank you Akiko for sharing this joy with me, to inspire this deeper love and connection with the ocean.

 

 

Thank you to Billabong for helping me continue this learning journey and giving me the opportunity to share it with all sea sisters around the world! 

 

Pacha x