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Okayama Orphan Asylum

A piece of Okayama history worth knowing.

Okayama City has a lot of history but one of the hidden gems is the remains of the Okayama Orphanage. Founded by Ishii Juji during the Meiji era, the orphanage was designed to be a model of how people should work to build a better society. Ishii's idea was that the community should be involved in its own welfare and not rely on the government. Actually, Ishii was a Christian who drew attention from the West for his efforts to improve children’s welfare in Japan. In fact, he was offered financial contributions but turned them down in order to keep to his belief that the local community can create a healthy environment through hard work.

He created an environment where children could have a home, education and learn to provide for themselves in a communal setting. I had heard the name "Ishii Juji" (the Japanese order is family name first) was a great man but had not put the location of the Orphanage together with the person until I took part in a walking tour of the area. The guide explained that the original building was gone and had been replaced with what looked like a small temple of remembrance. I had a flashback to the conversation I had years before about Ishii Juji with a local. He tried to explain were the site was but I couldn’t picture it.

The neighborhood is called Kami Achi and it is on the border with Ushimado, Setouchi City. Next to the orphanage memorial is a small park with a tree that could have been a sapling when the orphanage was in operation. It is a tremendous tree with so many branches extending towards the sky. I gazed out over the area to try to imagine the smiling children in traditional Japanese clothes playing, studying and doing chores.

The orphanage memorial is near the end of a road that runs parallel to route 28 on the mountainside. Taking the bus bound for Ushimado and getting off at Kami Achi would be the best way to get to the memorial. A good landmark is Omiya Elementary School, which sits on the mountainside off of route 28. As you walk east you'll pass through neighborhoods with well-maintained Japanese style houses that have been around since the days of Ishii Juji.

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