I left the island where I spent the first half of my life to live elsewhere. And then--I think it was just after I turned thirty--I decided one day that I wanted to know more about that ocean from my childhood.

The island where I grew up, Matsushima, is just off the coast of the Nishisonogi Peninsula in Nagasaki Prefecture. The region has gnarled ria coastlines, and more islands than anywhere else in Japan. Just over 70 of the islands are inhabited, but if you include the uninhabited ones there are some 600 islands dotting that sea. Sitting on a park bench on the west coast of Matsushima, you can look across at the Goto Islands in the distance. I've been staring at that sea since I was little.

Those islands are relatively close to the Chinese mainland, and since ancient times various peoples, cultures, and religions have arrived from across the sea. Buddhism came from China, but there are also Shinto shrines dotted here and there. During the Age of Discovery, the Portuguese and Spanish brought Christianity. And then came the Hidden Christians, who weathered oppression generation after generation. Even now those same faiths are still blended here, still co-exist around this ocean. The people, regardless of their beliefs, all practiced fishing or whaling in this same sea and cultivated those same steep terrain. Our lives here now rest on the backs of their toils. One day, after I became an adult, I decided for the first time to venture across that ocean spread out in front of me.

One windy winter morning, I set out on the ferry, and after changing boats several times, eventually reached an uninhabited island, one of the Goto islands. From the harbor, I walked around the coast and up a hill, and gazed out to the east. Sure enough, there beyond a sea slightly darkened by winter clouds was the island where I grew up. I was looking back from the other side of the sea I had always seen. It was a very odd sensation, like a parallel universe.

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