Last week, I bid farewell to the old Meon, as you probably already know. I did it last week-end, because I knew I couldn’t be at Sunport today at noon when it actually left Takamatsu for the last time. My son had a year-end school event this morning, I obviously couldn’t miss it. There aren’t many things more important than historical events related to the Setouchi islands, but making my son happy is one of them.
However, and luckily, we managed to get there about half an hour later, when the inauguration ceremony of the new Meon was held.
Basically, the old Meon left for its last trip at noon, on regular Meon schedule, but a few minutes later, the new Meon arrived was inaugurated and left for its first trip at 1pm.
And I finally could see it with my own eyes after weeks of speculation!
I’m not going to lie. I was a little shocked when I first saw its picture a couple of weeks ago. I’m certain that it will take a little while to get used to it, but rest assured that this new Meon is actually much better-looking in the
flesh steel than in picture.
Its design (both inside and outside – I’ll show you the inside on my first trip, maybe in a couple of weeks?) was made by Dot Architects of Setouchi Triennale’s fame (they made Umaki Camp and the Beat Shrine on Shodoshima, and were part of the artists who took over Kitahama Alley in 2019).
And of course, its (un)official nickname is already Shima-Shima Meon.
If you don’t know Japanese, “shima-shima” means “striped” and of course, “shima” alone also means “island” (I will assume you already knew that). And I think that played a part in the logic of having a striped ferry (there is more to it than just a pun).
I’m sure these stripes will start a lot of discussions in town and beyond when tourists become aware of its existence. In my household, the consensus so far is that maybe they should have been wider, or of several sizes or something like that, but we think we’ll get used to them eventually.
In the meantime, here are a few pictures of the ceremony that was very official and gathered about a hundred people (give or take a dozen). I didn’t technically attend it, as it was underway when I arrived, but I managed to take these pictures, as well as wave a few hellos in the distance to friends and acquaintances who were a part of it.
For most, this was a cute event with an unusual-looking ferry. And for most people in town, the reaction won’t go beyond “Oh, there’s a new Meon.”
However, for the populations of Megijima and Ogijima, this new Meon means a lot more. It’s really an extension of the islands, their literal connection to the rest of the world.
Next, I want to paraphrase something my friend (as well as Ogijima’s librarian and a major actor of the island’s revitalization) Junko Fukui-Nukaga posted earlier today:
The current number of Ogi islanders is just under 160. Of these, about 50 are immigrants (new or returning residents). When my family and I first started living on Ogijima seven years ago, the population was around 180. So, even though the island has gained these 50 new residents, the population of the island still has decreased by 20.
The life span of a ferry seems to be about 25 years. In other words, I think that building a new ferry is a way of saying, “this ferry will run for the next 25 years.”
This new ferry didn’t just “arrive” today. The Setouchi Triennale, the reopening of elementary and junior high schools, the current state of Ogi and Megi, all of the people involved who worked hard and took on many challenges were necessary for this new ferry to be put into operation.
It didn’t just fall into place nor arrived by surprise.
So, to everyone involved, thank you for giving the island a future.
What will happen to the island in the next 25 years?
There are so many things packed into the new Meon, including these next 25 years.
I had a little more to say, but I think that I will leave you with Junko’s words. I hope that when you come visit the Setouchi islands, you always keep in mind what these ferries mean for the locals. What it means when a new ferry comes, what it means when an old ferry goes.
Especially, because there aren’t only good and heartwarming stories, but in this day and age, let’s stick to the positivity. There are also some sad stories these days, but they’ll be for another time, just not today.
Today, let’s celebrate the new Shima-Shima Meon and the future that it represents for Megijima and Ogijima!
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