2018.06.22 Star-Spangled Earth

Exploring Setouchi #3

Have you ever seen olive trees in bloom?
They are covered in a veil of tiny, delicate white blossoms.

The olive tree and flower are both symbols of Kagawa. Over a century ago, Shodoshima became the first place in Japan to succeed in cultivating olives commercially. From the end of May to early June, the island’s olive trees bloom in profusion.

In this post, we’ll take a look at this special feature of Shodoshima, Japan’s “olive isle.”

Olive cultivation on Shodoshima began in 1908. Japan’s fishing grounds had expanded in the early 20th century, and the government was hoping to develop its fish export industry by packing sardines in oil.

To do this, it needed to produce oil domestically. Three prefectures, Mie, Kagoshima and Kagawa were chosen as test sites for olive cultivation.

Of these three areas, however, only the trees planted on Shodoshima grew successfully. Several years later, they bore fruit from which oil could be extracted.

The Mediterranean region is the world’s largest olive producer, and perhaps Shodoshima’s success was due to the fact that its climate is similar to that region.

The sculpture shown above is "Gift of The Sun" by Choi Jeong Hwa. Located at Tonosho Port, it represents an olive wreath, upon each leaf of which is etched a message from the island’s children to the sea. The wreath frames the sea like a crown through which we can watch the ships come into the harbor.

There are over 1,600 olive varieties in the world.

One of the first species planted on Shodoshima in 1908 was the Mission, with silver-backed leaves, but there are now many varieties of olives grown in the orchards, parks and gardens of Shodoshima, including the Manzanillo, distinguished by its apple-shaped fruit.
It’s fun to compare the shapes and colors of the leaves and fruit to see the differences.

When the trees start to blossom, they change, and their normally deep green foliage is covered in a soft white veil.

Olive blossoms are just 3 mm in diameter, making it hard to actually see them from far away.

So get up close! When you do, you’ll see that these dainty white flowers are shaped like stars.

In part due to the story of Noah’s Ark in the Old Testament, the olive tree and its flower are seen as symbols of peace. It was the branch of an olive tree borne by a dove that gave Noah and his family hope that the flood waters were finally receding.

Once you’re close to the tree, see if you can find a heart-shaped olive leaf among the many long narrow ones. According to the islanders, if you do, it will bring you happiness.

Then, look down at your feet. Star-like blossoms carpet the ground, making the earth look like a star-spangled sky.

If you visit during the spring session of the Setouchi Triennale 2019, you might be lucky enough to enjoy this special work of art produced by nature.

Setouchi Triennale 2019
Spring Encounters April 26 to May 26
Summer Gatherings July 19 to August 25
Fall Expansions September 28 to November 4