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Saturday, May 5, 2007

JAPAN LITE

Elvis impersonators may be answer to island's problem


Like many other places in Japan's countryside, Shiraishi Island is suffering from depopulation. When I came here 10 years ago, the population was 900. Now it is almost 700. Which goes to show that anyone can have his or her own island if one waits long enough.

Elvis impersonators
Elvis impersonators can be found all over Japan. AMY CHAVEZ PHOTO

Soon, I'll be able to change the name to Amy Island. People will have to know the password to get onto the island and they may even have to log in before they come.

But of course, the island would be nothing without all the people on it who make it such a special place. Which is why everyone is searching for a way to increase the population here. Some ideas have been suggested.

A bridge was once planned to connect our island and the five other islands in the Kasaoka island chain to the mainland. Bridges, long the symbol of prosperity and economic success in Japan, would bring tourists, commerce and jobs.

Of all the five islands in our chain, Shiraishi Island was the only island that protested it. And without this approval, the bridge could not be built.

The Shiraishi people value their homeland and realize that a bridge will also bring crime, pollution, and other components of city life to this small, protected island community.

Furthermore, a bridge would threaten the aura of the island, a special atmosphere created through the time-honored formula of interaction among the local people. Here, we don't have amusement parks, game centers, and shopping malls — we are the entertainment!

So the question is more how to revitalize the area while preserving the island atmosphere and sustaining a population.

Most people blame Japan's declining population on the lack of children being born. But on our island of 700, where most people are way past child-bearing age, concentrating on increasing the population by having more children is silly.

Why don't we consider instead, trying to stop people from dying? After all, it's the people who are dying who are causing the decrease in population.

Besides, once grandma and gramps die, the ancestral home is abandoned and no one benefits. These days, there is practically no chance that these people's grown children will ever move back to the island. As long as grandma and gramps are alive and eating and drinking, family members will come to visit and the local tradesman, grocers, and restaurants will benefit.

And, if we want to stop the dying, we're going to have to stop the hospital boat from coming. The hospital boat comes every couple of months and offers checkups, screening, testing, etc. to the people who live on these isolated islands.

But, am I the only one who has noticed that every time the boat comes, we lose a few islanders soon after they've been screened? Save the population! Stop that boat from coming!

Some people suggest immigration as a possible answer to the population problems. You've heard of Ellis Island in the U.S., right? Over 12 million immigrants landed there between 1892 and 1954. Well, everyone also knows that immigration is not really the Japanese way. So, if we can't have an Ellis Island, how about an Elvis Island?

Japan loves Elvis Presley and there are many Elvis impersonators here, so perhaps we could get all them to come and live here on Shiraishi Island.

With all of them on one Elvis Island, they could live, not in Graceland but Grace-island. They could build their own mansions with jungle rooms and racquetball courts. Former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi would surely have a mansion here.

Elvis impersonators wouldn't need a bridge to drive a car here either as they could just fly here in their private jets. And Elvis impersonators love to interact with people.

We could all sing karaoke and gyrate our hips together every day. And there would be live concerts on the beach every weekend.

Perhaps the best thing about an Elvis Island is that we'd never have to worry about the population declining again. Because, as every knows, Elvis lives forever!



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