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    Photo By Yoshie Makiyama | Marine volunteers help to harvest hijiki.... read more read more



    Story by Yoshie Makiyama 

    Marine Corps Installations Pacific

    Hijiki, a brown algae that thrives densely in the intertidal zone of reefs where waves are rough, grows along the rocky coastlines in Japan, Korea and China. It is rich in dietary fiber and minerals and believed by the Japanese to increase good health and promote beauty. Because the leaves become hard after spring, it is harvested at the low tide from spring to early summer by cutting it at the base, not by pulling it from the seabed to allow for future growth.

    The beach at Camp Courtney and its extended shoreline is one of only two natural habitats of hijiki in Okinawa, the other is Yonabaru. Camp Courtney opens its beach every year for local residents to enjoy the seaweed harvest and it has been one of the annual events neighboring communities in Uruma city look forward to for over 20 years. It takes place during the spring when the tide is at its lowest. This year it was held on March 18 and 19 with the predicted time for the lowest tide to be around 1 p.m.

    The first day started with a heavy rain which was enough to make people think the event would be cancelled. However, by 10 a.m., the clouds had cleared as if there was never any rain and the heavy rain warning was lifted. Just after 10 a.m., 20 vehicles were already parked at the hilltop behind the beach.

    People had baskets on their shoulders, sickles in hand, and were bending over to cut handfuls of hijiki. In some areas, hijiki was still under water and only the tip of it was visible. Participants in such areas were wearing long rubber pants that covered all the way above the waist. Where rocks were above the tide, mostly women were crouching and harvesting the seaweed. Hijiki covered the entire surface of the rocky sea bottom.

    "This is my first time actually experiencing the harvest," expressed a young wife who is a native of Shuri, Naha, and married into one of the four families that was working together for the harvest. "I was told that since I am a member of the family, I was encouraged to participate in this harvest event." She continued, "It is hard but I enjoy cutting the seaweed. I have used sickle before at our field for crops, so it wasn't difficult. It actually takes less effort. I am glad I came. It is fun"

    Yasuyuki Hanashiro came with his friend's son, Kaisei Tokuzato, who recently graduated from high school. Hanashiro said the sack full of hijiki is about 15 kilograms (33 pounds) and the hardest part was carrying them from the beach to the truck. He put two sacks on his shoulders and walked to his cart which he parked at the end of the beach, then pushed it up to the hilltop.

    "It doesn't bother me because I like Japanese rice mixed with hijiki," said Tokuzato.

    The second day of the Hijiki Harvest turned out to be a nice warm day. Thirteen Marines from the Single Marine Program of Camp Hansen stayed at the beach after a beach cleanup earlier in the day. They were a strength to the participants of that day. Residents from the communities were assisted by Marines by carrying their harvests from the shore to the hilltop.

    “We were not sure how to carry the hijiki even after we harvested, but we wanted to come, so we came,” said a female resident in her 70s of Uruma city with her female friend in her 60s. “We are really happy Marines are here to help today, or else we would be at a loss.” They were glad that they decided not to come on the first day because it was raining in the morning and came on the second day instead.

    According to Cpl. Jackson Glassel, a fabricator machinist with 3rd Maintenance Battalion, and representative for Camp Hansen volunteer center, the hardest part of the hijiki harvest was carrying the sacks up to the hilltop where all the vehicles were parked. However, it did not hold the Marines back because all of them, who felt distanced from Okinawan residents due to COVID-19, liked to have an opportunity to interact with them.

    “We never heard of this kind of seaweed being valuable and the importance of it,” said Glassel. “It’s like a communal thing, bringing out family and doing it all together. It is good that Marines can be part of it, otherwise, we would not know.”

    Along with the SMP Marines, there was a boy helping residents carrying hijiki. Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Heaton, on his second tour in Okinawa, joined the event with his 11-year-old son. “I had fun cutting up seaweed and putting it in the basket. It took me a few minutes to get used to using a sickle. I cut at both shore and out in the water,” said the boy. In reply to the question which was easier to harvest on the shore or in the water, he said “I like the feeling of the water touching my leg, but it is not necessarily easy because in the water you need to keep the balance when a wave hits you.” He confessed with a smile that he had fallen over a couple of times.

    After harvesting, hijiki must be boiled for several hours to make tender and to get rid of any toxins. It is then sun dried for a few days. The dried hijiki can be stored for a couple of years. Many families give it to neighbors and relatives as gifts. Hijiki can be served as tsukudani—food boiled in soy sauce and sugar—or a garnish or in porridge.

    The Hijiki Harvest, in previous years, was open to the residents of the four Camp Courtney neighboring districts, Konbu, Tengan, Akano and Uken and the members of Uruma Fisherman's Association. The first day of the 22nd annual Hijiki Harvest, according to a gate guard, 33 people out of 100 registered came through the gate and 45 on the second day. Ichiro Umehara, community relations specialist for Camp Courtney, had registered a list of names of those who wanted to harvest hijiki. Courtney opened the gate for another harvest again on April 2 and 3.










      グラッセル伍長は「この海藻が貴重であることや、その重要性を聞いたことがありませんでした。家族を連れてきて、みんなで力を合わせてやるという共同作業に海兵隊員が参加できたことは光栄です。今日の機会がなければ、私たちがをこのような地域の風習など知ることはありませんから」 と語った。






    Date Taken: 05.09.2022
    Date Posted: 05.26.2022 23:23
    Story ID: 421552
    Location: OKINAWA, JP

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