Japan, of course, is a volcanic archipelago made up of four main islands, which are Honshu, the largest, about the half the size of California; Hokkaido in the North, famous for dairy products and potatoes; Kyushu in the south, always first to be exposed to new ideas from the outside world, from Buddhism to Christianity to American movie theatre chains; and Shikoku, where Ehime pearls come from. Being an archipelago, there are thousands of smaller islands (6000+ actually), including Sado, where heretical Emperors were banished back in the day; Yakushima, the unspoiled tropical island that served as the basis for the jungles of Princess Mononoke; plus a few silly rocks that are causing much drama and rending of garments between Japan, China and South Korea. Another interesting Japanese island is Tanegashima, a 57 km long island south of Kyushu that’s unique for several reasons. First, it’s the site of the first contact between Japanese and Europeans, and it was here the first Portuguese trading ships landed from Macau to establish the nanban (“southern barbarian”) trading network. I like to imagine what it must have been like when the two worlds touched for the first time — something akin to a UFO landing, I’m sure. Since the Portuguese brought the first guns into Japan, the island’s name became synonymous with firearms, and for centuries the Japanese flintlock rifle was known by the name of Tanegashima. The island is also the home of Japan’s space program, which has caused it to enter popular culture as Japan got better at launching sattellites into space. At least two recent anime productions, the gorgeous 5 Centimeters Per Second and Robotics;Notes, have been made with Tanegashima as the exotic setting.
Tanegashima is an island with a fascinating history.