A future sprouting on a distant island
Entô's architecture is like a special device giving one the ability to perceive the surrounding nature in a most inspiring way. A wooden frame affixed to the window effectively trims the scene outside to leave a particularly strong impression on one’s mind. The annex, NEST, completed in 2021, was designed by Mount Fuji Architects Studio. Its walls are composed of diagonal openwork lattices of laminated wood, and apertures in the stairwells and corridors create a poetic atmosphere, naturally drawing the visitors' attention to the external (ocean) environment.
This hotel is managed by Ama Corporation, funded by the town of Ama, and so effectively is run by the entire town. Ama is located on the island of Nakanoshima, in Oki District, Shimane Prefecture. Atsushi Aoyama, the hotel’s representative, was born in Hokkaido, in Japan’s north. As a student at Tokyo Gakugei University, he was interested in development studies, which involved helping developing countries. After graduation, on the recommendation of a mentor, he started working for the tourism association of Ama Town in Oki Islands, an archipelago in the Sea of Japan. Recognizing similarities between remote islands and developing countries, Aoyama has discovered in this region his own vision for his work. In 2017, at the age of 33, he became the representative of Ama Corporation and became involved in the renovation of the hotel.
Originally established in 1971 as Ryokusuien, a kokuminshukusha, or an inexpensive hotel operated by the local government, in 1994 the hotel became the Maritime Port Hotel Ama. Since then, the property has been perturbed by heated debate regarding its continued existence. Once it was decided to update the hotel, the management baton was handed to Atsushi Aoyama. The main building was partially renovated, the annex newly rebuilt, and the new hotel was named Entô. Although Entô means a distant island, even a place of exile, apparently the locals welcomed the new moniker. The staff of the hotel all hail from elsewhere, but each has a close relationship with people here.
The Oki Islands are roughly divided into Dozen and Dogo. Nakanoshima, where Entô is located, and Nishinoshima and Chiburijima belong to Dozen and are part of the outer rim of a caldera that was formed about six million years ago. The Oki Islands, important in terms of plate tectonics, have been recognized as a *UNESCO Global Geopark and Entô has been attracting attention as a base for accessing it. The hotel's exhibition area, created by designer Yuto Kanke under the direction of Haruka Misawa, is an interesting and ingenious space where visitors can gain a sense of the ancient life of the island.
The entire Japanese archipelago is like a geopark, and every corner of it is filled with its own unique charm; however, the Oki islands, located far from Japan’s main island, are less crowded with people, giving nature a stronger presence there. In August 2021, I visited the newly-opened facility alone to concentrate on writing a manuscript while taking a vacation. Just then, a typhoon hit the Oki islands, and, deprived of transportation, I took a longer sojourn than I’d expected, but was comforted by the impression of being embraced by the spectacular nature, including the stormy weather.
Kochi-based graphic designer Makoto Umebara has been offering his expertise and advice to Ama Town for many years. He was responsible for the development and design of a curry dish called "Island Favorite Sazae Curry," inspiring the islanders to recognize that turban shells (mollusks from the family Turbinidae, especially the horned turban, Turbo cornutus), which they had thought of as a humble ingredient for curry, were in fact a luxury. Since then, what they had considered an insignificant and common ingredient has become a source of pride for the islanders. Mr. Umebara also created the slogan, "We lack nothing here," which expresses the islanders' frugal and fastidious spirit. On Nakanoshima, it seems that they understand that there is abundance in living within one's means, because, as they say, “Everything we need, we have.”
When the high school was about to be closed due to depopulation, Ama Town decided to fully devote itself to education and began teaching lessons not in the classroom, but within the life and activities of the island itself. This unique education was a success, and a succession of educators began to appear in town to observe the situation. Now, there are two classes per grade. Both the hotel business and the island's fishing industry serve as part of the students’ social studies classes, and they learn about the world and its economy through interviewing the local people and through hands-on experience. The island itself is the school, and the future will sprout here.