CULTURE
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KATORI: LIFE ON THE FRONTIER

One village’s tale of survival and hope

By Hrothgar Jones 04/16/2016

Perched over 700 meters above the Sea of Japan, the frontier village of Katori in Daisen, Tottori Prefecture is known across the region for its rugged natural beauty, dairy farms, and unique, locally-produced yogurt beverages—a favorite treat enjoyed by visitors from far and wide. Yet this mountain hamlet’s tranquil present belies a turbulent past. Founded in 1946 by emigrants from Kagawa Prefecture in northern Shikoku, Katori is a community borne of hardship, struggle, and achievement against all odds.

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Katori villagers learn their trade from an early age   (Photography by Shiho Oshita)

During the Second World War, the future founders of Katori left their own villages in Kagawa to embark on an adventure abroad as colonists in occupied China. Together, they built a new village in Manchuria, risking an uncertain future in hopes of finding a better life—often to the great worry of their families back home. Their hopes were soon cut short, however; upon Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces in 1945, the colonists found themselves fleeing their new lives in a desperate retreat. During the evacuation, 338 community members died of typhoid fever before ever reaching their birth country.

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Katori villagers learn their trade from an early age(Photography by Shiho Oshita)

At home, returning survivors faced the harsh realities of postwar reconstruction; food, clean water, medical care, and other necessities were scarce. Since many group members were second or third sons and had no claim to familial property inheritance, they determined to settle outside their native Kagawa, as few prospects remained. With their numbers decimated by disease and dispossession, appointed leader Miyoshi Takeo galvanized the group’s resolve to stay intact and push onward toward their shared goal. They searched far and wide, staying in a series of camps, shantytowns, and military installations before finally settling high on the slopes of Mt. Daisen in western Tottori—the only place in Japan willing to grant them land.

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The Sea of Japan, as seen from Katori in winter   (Photography by Shiho Oshita)

Frontier life presented many challenges for the settlers. They contended with harsh winters, steep terrain, and dense pine forests in order to create fields suitable for agriculture. The task seemed impossible; a single tree could take ten men a full week to uproot. The trees proved too difficult even for teams of horses to remove. Only after devising an ingenious plan to use military tanks for the job were they able to clear the fields that still support residents’ livelihood today. They called their new village ‘Katori,’ a portmanteau name combining ‘Kagawa’ and ‘Tottori’ in honor of homelands old and new.

KATORI_0005_newKatori’s settlers faced certain hardship along with an uncertain future  (Photography: Katori milk plant)

The legacy of those brave pioneers lives on in the village—now 70 households strong—through nearly a dozen descendants who make their specialty yogurt from milk produced by the same dairy farms their ancestors began. Leader Miyoshi Takeo’s legacy lives on as well; his grandson, Miyoshi Mitsuru, is a leader himself as manager of the Katori Frontier Milk Plant. Thanks to the perseverance and spirit of its founders, Katori arose from tragic beginnings to become a true local success story, and a testament to the resiliency of Japanese countryfolk nationwide.

map link: https://goo.gl/maps/nb9xyVqfx9L2