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Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

Yaebishi, or Yabiji. Shallows where a vast coral reef that extends to the northern side of Ikema Island situated north of Miyako Island. Broad in size, it has a width of 6.5 km to the east and west and 10 km to the north and south. As the tide flows out, it emerges above the sea surface like an archipelago. At the time of the spring tide on March 3rd of the lunar calendar, a notably huge land appears and becomes a perfect spot to carry out the hamaori for the women of Ikema Island or Miyako Island.

This place is also an important fishing ground throughout the year for the island’s people. They live with an extremely intimate relationship with Yaebishi; we can see this from the fact that over a hundred names are given to each key point in this reef usually undersea. To each island, which appears only when the tides are on the ebb, names such as Dou, Uggusu, Utsu, Kanamara, Aifu, are given and, every spot on the islands is also minutely named. For instance, Joukibiji (Steam-biji) is where a steamship was wrecked in the past. 

Ships heading to Yaebishi to catch fish and shellfish first offer rice, salt, and awamori, and conduct an ugwan (prayer) before stepping in. Here, the reef itself is the Yabijinūkan (god of Yaebishi). Fishery in the coral reef is just a simple gathering, hence women and children can easily have a decent harvest. Coral reefs are also known to be so fertile that it is called the sea where fish well up. It must have considerably helped the life on Ikema Island given that it just sits right beside them.

Yet, here too, it seems to have experienced extensive damage as the corals have died out due to the crown-of-thorns starfish. I heard that the catch has also lessened with divers overfishing. Ikema Island itself has lost its young generation and most residents are aged. Who, and how Yaebishi can be made use of from now on is a complex dilemma. It would be regrettable if it were to become lively only on hamaori with tourists.