On March 14, 15-year-old Akina Imanaka graduated from junior high school as the only student on the island of Oteshima, located off the coast of Kagawa prefecture in western Japan.
Since starting elementary school nine years ago, Imanaka has been Oteshima’s sole student on an island with only 34 residents.
Imanaka has spent the past few years learning from the five teachers at Oteshima Junior High School. Sometimes the teachers would partake in class discussions as fellow students, and once a week, Imanaka would leave the island to visit a junior high school as an exchange student.
“It all happened so fast. I’m just so grateful as I was able to enjoy my school life thanks to the support of my teachers, my family and the people of the island,” Imanake said, according to The Mainichi. “It’s usually just me, so there are times when I feel lonely. But I got to serve as the student body president and visited a lot of places as the school representative, so it was a good experience.”
Imanaka’s father and mother fish for octopi to make a living.
When it was time for their youngest daughter to enroll in elementary school, Imanaka’s father was caring for his mother and the family was unable to leave the island.
Imanaka’s mother told The Mainichi that the island has been “one big family,” with fellow residents helping take care of her daughter and bringing food when she fell ill.
Imanaka’s Japanese language and social studies teacher Kazumasa Ii also spoke of the close-knit community in Oteshima, adding that the residents would show up for graduations, sports days and other school events, according to CBS News.
Last June, the school even held a sports day for Imanaka to compete in various sports competitions like gymnastics, a relay, a dance and tug-of-war.
Over 60 people, including outsiders, participated in the event, which is one of the most beloved traditions in Japanese schools.
Fifty people attended Imanaka’s junior high school graduation ceremony.
Imanaka was tearful when giving her graduation speech, saying, “I am very happy to have been born on Oteshima. With the memories of this place in my heart, I look forward to starting on a new journey with a strong will and pride.”
Oteshima Junior High School first opened in 1914. During peak enrollment in 1964, 91 students attended the elementary and middle schools. In 2013, the middle school closed when Imanaka’s older sister graduated, but reopened in 2020 with Imanaka’s enrollment.
With Imanaka’s graduation, the school is now preparing to close again — likely indefinitely.
Imanaka will leave Oteshima in April to attend a high school on the mainland, where she will be one of 190 students.