Wish You Were Here: Shika-no-shima (志賀島, Shika Island), Southern Japan

by Carolyn Sotka


A tranquil view to gaze upon while taking a break from collecting sea snails, a local favorite and other shellfish. 

The fisher-maids at Shika,

So scanty is their leisure-time,

Gathering sea-weed, burning salt,

They seldom take the little combs

Out of their-toilet-cases.

– Ishikawa Kimiko

This poem was written in the 8th century about the fisher-people of Shikanoshima, an island off Hakata Bay in southwestern tip of Japan. The poem is part of ‘Man’yōshū’, one of the oldest existing collections of Japanese poetry; compiled sometime after 759 AD during the Nara period. Official trade with the island goes even further back to 57 AD with the discovery of a goal seal signifying relations with the Chinese Han Dynasty.

More than 1200 years later, this island is still home to a modest fishing village. Cloaked in mist, surrounded by camphor evergreen trees, layers of moss and seaweed – the island faces the Sea of Genkai and has witnessed a thousand years of war.

Hakata Bay and nearby waters cover the relics of Kublai Khan’s ships which were sunk by ‘kamikazes’ (meaning typhoon) during the attempted Mongolian invasion. The word kamikaze originates with these failed attacks and translates to ‘divine wind’.


In addition to ground warfare, the kamikazes were thought to halt the expansion of Mongolian empire into the Far East and later adopted as a term by Japanese pilot suicide missions during World War II.


Today, the island remains peaceful. Its’ vibe and seascape is quiet and semi-deserted, until a storm brings the momentary chaos. Reminiscent of the Northwest Pacific coast, the real estate is more than affordable, with very little is going on other than the daily life of the fishermen – as it has for generations; with seafood sold fresh daily at the local fish monger.


Our caravan of seaweed scientists brought to Shikanoshima to collect a seaweed native to Japan but invasive in the U.S..

If you are interested in other recent Scuttlefish articles about Japan see:

Wish You Were Here: The ‘Devil’s Washboard’, Southern JapanThis Weird Little Fish Was Discovered in a Japanese Fish Market. What Is It?; and Japan’s Aphrodisiac, Freediving Women of the Sea. -CS



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