|27| Tomodachi

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The four big islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, & Shikoku make up the “mainland” of Japan. We’d now sailed all the way up the chain of the southern islands and were closing in on Kyushu.

A few days traveling along the coast brought us to Nagasaki, our first big city in Japan.

We docked at Dejima Wharf Marina in the evening. The next morning we unfolded our bicycles and spent the entire day touring the fascinating history-rich city, including temple row with its eight majestic temples along the same street.

But the highlight of our time in Nagasaki was meeting…

When we returned from our bike trip, the owner of Kyon II, the powerboat next to us, was onboard. Within the first minute, before even learning our names (and obviously without consulting his wife, Kyoko-san), Tatsuo-san invited us to join his family for a trip on his boat the following day to a private beach. Once again, we were overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Japanese people.

Alene made brownies which were a huge hit. We knew this because Kyoko-san’s mother, Mineko-san — 72 years old and a tiny thing — ate three! It was a fun day of swimming, snorkeling, SUPing, building sand castles, drinking New Zealand wine and Taiwanese beer (our contributions), and eating wonderful home-made Japanese picnic fare which consisted of rice balls with fish, chicken nuggets (yes, really!), and lots of pickled vegetables. Everyone was highly complimentary of our pitiful Japanese, and very willing to help us continue to learn. Fortunately, Tatsuo-san speaks some English and Kyoko-san’s English is very good. She worked hard as our translator when our Japanese floundered.

After the long day at the beach, amazingly, they took us out for a sushi dinner, introducing us to many foods we don’t order for ourselves because we can’t read the menu, and teaching us the names. What a great experience.

The following day we rented a car because we wanted to drive to the north of Kyushu, near Fukuoka, to investigate a possible boatyard. When we returned from our all-day car trip, our new friends were waiting for us with a party already set up on the dock. They had tables, chairs, a hibachi, a swimming pool for their daughter Rana-chan and, as always, plenty of food. So we enjoyed another late night of laughter and brain strain while drinking too much and trying to learn lots of new Japanese words.

In an effort to repay their kindness, we made waffles aboard Migration the following morning. After touring Migration with many exclamations of “sugoi!” (amazing!), they presented us with a bag of cherries. It was such a pleasure inviting Japanese people to see Migration — they were always so grateful for a peek into our life aboard, and marveled when we would tell them that it had taken us 12 years to sail to Japan.

Later that night we all had dinner together at a Mexican restaurant — one of the few times in Japan that we ate anything but Japanese food.

We felt honored to be included in so many activities with Tatsuo-san and Kyoko-san, and also with Kawai-san and his son Taishi-san on another neighboring boat (see below). Everyone was infinitely patient as we continually peppered them with Japanese language questions.

It was July and the weather was beautiful. Our friends insisted we try to stay for the big hanabi (fireworks) festival right near the marina. The problem was that we had no reservation and the the marina had been booked for this event for months. Our friends suggested we moor Migration to a wall a little further in the harbor so we could join in the fun of the fireworks festival.

We brought everyone with us on Migration, including the grandmother Mineko-san, to find a place to tie up. Tatsuo-san took the helm, since he knew his way around the area. It was low tide, so getting off the boat after we were moored was a bit of a challenge. We deployed our bosun’s chair and gave everyone a ride up to the top of the wall. It was good fun!

Throughout the afternoon, parades of women and girls dressed in traditional yukata, the cotton summer version of the heavier silk kimono, with their hair styled beautifully, and men and boys dressed in jimbe, walked to the park near the marina where everyone was gathering to watch the 10,000 fireworks. This was the first time we had seen people dressed in traditional clothing, and it truly made us feel as though we were in Japan.

It was so fortunate that we were assigned the dock next to Tatsuo-san & Kyoko-san’s boat. Tatsuo’s impulsive, fun-loving friendliness and Kyoko’s openess and beautiful demeanor made our visit to Nagaskai an unforgettable experience.

We spent a day visiting the Peace Park, the Hypocenter, and the Atomic Bomb Museum. It was a very sobering experience. What struck us profoundly is the lack of blame directed at the United States. In fact, many people we met in Japan told us they understood why the US did what it did. The museum is especially powerful in laying bare the deaths caused by the US, French, British, and Russian nuclear bomb testing in the decades after the end of WWII, as well as a sincere plea for a nuclear-free world.

Nagasaki was the site of the second atomic bomb dropped in 1945. The question over whether the use of atomic bombs was necessary to end the war is still debated. In our opinion, after reading quite a bit on the subject, we feel a line was crossed. The United States should not be proud of being the only nation to use atomic weapons to kill humans. We do not need to apologize for defending ourselves when attacked; however, we need to acknowledge when we do wrong. We are not very good at that.

Kawai-san and his son Taishi-san live in Kumamoto — several hours’ drive to the east of Nagasaki, but they keep their motor yacht, m/v Porto Fino V, right across the dock from  Kyon II — also next to our berth.

Plans were made for another weekend trip to the same private beach we had visited on Kyon II, but this time we would be taking Kawai-san’s larger boat. The party consisted of Kawai-san, his son Taishi-san, Taishi’s nine-year old son Takuya-chan, Tetsuo-san, Kyoko-san, Rana-chan, and us. There were plenty of floating toys for everyone, and it was very hot, so we spent a lot of time in the water. When we returned to Nagasaki late in the afternoon, we were told to be ready for dinner in a couple of hours. Kawai-san treated everyone to a sumptuous meal at a very, very posh Chinese restaurant, with champagne and some of the most amazing Chinese food we’ve ever had. Such generosity!

The following night there was a dinner party aboard Kawai-san’s boat, and once more we were invited to join in. After dinner, everyone moved to the upper deck to watch the fireworks — a perfect place to see the show. It was wonderful being included in so many of these fun activities; we really appreciated being so well taken care of by our gregarious and generous dock neighbors.

Boatyard? Again?

Yes. Unfortunately the bottom paint we’d applied in Thailand only a year and a half earlier was failing terribly. We also needed to do a proper repair on the port wing deck crack that had developed in Borneo.

Ken-san, whom we’d met on Yakushima, had given us a lead on a small boatyard on the west coast of Kyushu not far from the town of Karatsu. It was a hundred year-old yard with a railway that had serviced fishing boats for decades but was now was trying to improve its decreasing business by hauling sailboats. The yard had never seen a foreign boat before, let alone a trimaran. Two day-sails after leaving Nagasaki we were on a small dock in Minatomachi, and a few days after that we hauled on their “trimaran-refitted” railway.

We will not bore you with the details of this haulout. We will say that the honesty of Akira (the boatyard marketing person) was as lacking as that of the quality of much of the boatyard work. Akira was the only person in all of Japan who did not treat us kindly or with respect. Perhaps this was because he had spent 20 years living and working in Europe?

However, our month in the boat yard brought us into contact with wonderful new tomodachi!

Serina was part of the crew hauling our boat. This surprised us since it’s rare to see women doing this kind of physical work, especially one so young and pretty. She was considerably more animated than her male counterparts, smiling and posing for the camera, but she was also working just as hard as they were. Wearing waterproof overalls, she was in the water and under the boat throughout the haulout.

When we began work on Migration, Serina was assigned to be one of our helpers. This was fortuitous since she spoke some English and was eager to learn more. She purchased a notebook which we kept under the boat and used to help teach each other our respective languages.

We were often greeted in the morning with a cardboard sign waiting at the bottom of our ladder – handmade by Serina and always uplifting. Even now, whenever we wake to sunshine we say to each other, “It’s sunny day!”. She also decorated the dust mask which we insisted she wear when we learned she’s the mother of a two-year old.

Overall, our experience in the boat yard was not an especially good one (we know no one needs to hear more about another of our boat yard woes, so we’ll just leave it at that); however, Serina’s cheerful presence as well as her enthusiasm and infectious smile created lasting good memories of our month-long haulout. She was also extremely generous with the loan of her car, making our lives much easier.


We invited Serina’s family to visit Migration. Even her oba-san (grandmother), came along and climbed the tall boatyard ladder to Migration’s deck. A week later, Serina’s mother, Isobe-san, invited us to lunch at the restaurant where Serina’s husband Yukihiro-san worked as a chef. We made plans to spend the entire day together.

Even though we insisted that we could share a lunch, that is not the Japanese way, so we each got our own lacquered tray with a dozen beautifully-presented delicacies in addition to two live ika (squid), the local specialty, presented to us as a gift by Yukihiro-san.

 After lunch, Serina and her friend Chiaki took us sightseeing.

We went to one of Japan’s top 100 most beautiful waterfalls.

It was fun playing with Itsuki-chan, who loves the water…

After our visit to the waterfall, Serina took us to her mother’s house where we were both dressed in traditional Japanese clothing for the evening’s event: a barbecue at a friend of Isobe-san’s. Serina’s oba-san was in charge of putting us together properly.

The barbecue party was a long drive out of town and was an interesting affair as we – the gaijin — were the only guests dressed in traditional clothes! After the BBQ, many of the other guests drove 40 minutes to visit Migration. They were curious not only to see the boat, but also to see Bruce’s books, which had been a topic of discussion at dinner. We were exhausted but Itsuki-chan was still going strong long after bedtime, even after such a busy day!

Just before leaving Minato-Machi, we had a party aboard Migration with Naoto-san, all of Serina’s family, plus Boon-san (the yard owner), who is their family friend. It was a fun evening with lots of time hanging out on the trampolines.

When we departed Minato-Machi the next morning, we took Serina’s sister Yurie-san to Fukuoka (where she lived) giving her a different view of a coastline she’d traveled by train so many times. Unsurprisingly, Serina and some of the other workers stood on the dock waving until we were around the breakwater and out of sight. We love the Japanese way of saying goodbye!

Arigato gozaimasu, Serina, for your work on Migration, your thoughtfulness, and all the fun times we spent together with you and your family.

Osada-san and Sawako-san had hit a reef and needed to repair the keel of their sailboat. They were hauled out right next to Migration (the yard was so small that pretty much everything was right next to Migration). They both spoke enough English that we could have conversations. They were also living aboard, so we saw them every day.

Osada-san discussing the minor damage to their keel with the Japanese Coast Guard who spent over an hour creating a report on the accident.

Osada-san loved to help. He was right there lending a hand as Migration was hauled out.

After we’d been on the hard about a week, Osada-san decided we needed an additional set of hands on some of our projects. He never once asked if we needed help; he just pitched in. He was everywhere and anywhere we needed him; generous with his time and always optimistic. What a wonderful boatyard neighbor!

Osada-san pitching in on our wing deck repair

We shared several meals together, including a waffle breakfast aboard Migration to show our appreciation for their help with our projects.

The yard owner, Boon-san, joined us for waffles.

There were to be no workers for the O-Ban holiday. Osada-san and Sawako-san rented a car to do some errands and tour the area and kindly invited us to spend the day with them. We visited Karatsu Castle, built in 1608, then took a drive through Nijinomatsubara Pine Grove, with more than one million black pine trees. Beautiful!

After lunch we visited the Hikiyama Float Exhibition Hall with the floats that are brought out only once a year and paraded in the streets to celebrate. Some are hundreds of years old.

Arigato Gozaimasu, Osada-san and Sawako-san. We so appreciate all the help you gave us!

We were a month in the yard — working heads down nearly all the time. Minato-Machi is a tiny town. There weren’t even any restaurants open at night. But we had to go out for groceries and to do laundry so we did have a few local adventures.

Here’s the whole town. You can see Migration’s masts just at the base of the tree-covered hill

There was often something going on in the harbor, such as boys gathering after school to dive off the breakwater. And, because the Japanese are crazy about fishing, there were always fishermen… even in inner tubes!

Alene went into the village to use the laundromat regularly. It was the cleanest one she had ever seen. And on the lost and found table… a credit card! It was there a week later when she visited again. Could that ever happen in the USA?

The town was filled with classic old-style Japanese homes made with traditional singed wood slats.

One late afternoon we rode our bikes into town as we heard there might be a sushi restaurant that was open. When we couldn’t find it, we asked this old lady — she was the only person on the streets.

She insisted on leading us to the restaurant… at a very slow pace. When we found it closed she then insisted we follow her to… we didn’t know where. She took us far out of her way to another restaurant. It was closed as well but there were people inside having a party. She went in, had a discussion, and before we could say anything, we were sitting at a long table with a local baseball team at their post-game celebration. They plied us with food and beer and when everyone was finished, insisted we join them at the local karaoke bar — which was just big enough to fit everyone. It turned into quite an experience!

Of course, we were not allowed to pay for anything. When we told the bartender we wanted to buy a round for everyone, he refused.

It was a lot of fun.

These people rode their bikes back to the boatyard in the pitch-black night and made it safely?


A typhoon was predicted to arrive and the work on Migration wasn’t finished. But that didn’t matter now. We did not want to be on land with hurricane-force winds — Migration could easily become airborne. We quickly did the bare minimum necessary to get her launched and then high-tailed it to Iki Shima which had a well-protected harbor.

The Coast Guard checks us out at Iki Shima

Luckily the typhoon petered out before it arrived. We returned to Minato-machi briefly and then sailed on to Fukuoka and moored in Odo Marina.

We needed new port permissions for the next prefecture so we took the subway downtown to the government office that issues the permits. After conducting our business we went exploring. Fukuoka is a big city and it was fun to walk through the pedestrian shopping district. In the early evening we stopped at a small local restaurant — chosen at random — for dinner. Two young women – the only other diners – overheard us speaking English asked us where we were from and thus, like so many times before, a conversation began.

Ayako and Miwako were on their way to a city-wide jazz festival and invited us to join them. We had lots of fun watching the concert (Emi Meyer performed), eating ice cream, and practicing English and Japanese.

One of the benefits of seeing a concert in Japan…
we can see over almost everyone’s heads!

We invited our new friends to visit us on Migration the next day. They were thrilled and went overboard with their thoughtful gifts: a box of beautiful pastries which we all consumed immediately, books for learning Japanese, and an Emi Meyer CD.

Another foreign boat was in the marina – s/v Chamade from Switzerland – and her owners Marc and Sylvia joined an impromptu party aboard Migration with Ayako, Miwako, and Chiyako, as well as some local sailors, including Naoto-San and Hiroco-San from Minato-machi.

Harumi, Ayako, Chiyako, Miwako, and Hiroco. Try to remember all those similar-sounding names upon first meeting!

Unbeknownst to us, the day following the spontaneous party was the Odo Cup, a local regatta. We’d met Moriyama-san while we were in the boat yard in Minato-machi. He was one of many curious sailors who saw our boat from the road and came to investigate. Moriama-san & Harumi-san said there was already a full crew on the boat they were on: Metaxa, owned by Yoshida-san. But knowing we were keen to race, they arranged for us to join the crew of a friend’s boat, Gukou.

Gukou’s crew

After the racing we were instructed to change clothes and then were whisked away to Yoshida-san’s tiny apartment in the city where about a dozen racers gathered for an after-race party. The table was loaded with sushi platters and other interesting foods to try, and despite the sake cups being the size of a child’s tea party cups, they were continuously filled to overflowing. Yoshida-san spoke little English, but he and everyone else made us feel very welcome.

We settled into marina life for several days while we waited for our port permission documents to be processed. It turned out that Choichi-san, whom we’d met on Yakushima in July (it was now September) lived on his boat, Sea Safari, right across the dock from us. When he came to greet us, he noticed that we had tied two mooring lines together to create a line long enough to help moor Migration in the surging conditions. He went back to his boat and returned with a new, beautiful, long braided line that he gave to us; a typical example of the generosity of the Japanese people. Years later we are still using that line and think of Choichi-san each time we do.

Choichi-san also spent an afternoon aboard Migration, going over charts, books, brochures, and tide tables to help us calculate the best time to enter the challenging Kanmon Kaikyo — the western entrance to the Seto Naikai – the Inland Sea. He also gave great tips on where we could find easy and free moorage. Like many men of the sea, Choichi-san wasn’t very talkative but he was a font of local knowledge and we so appreciated everything he did for us.

Choichi-san offering excellent navigation advice

We were only in Fukuoka for five days… but we were overwhelmed with the friendliness of everyone we met at Odo Marina.

We had various projects to do in Fukuoka and, since it was a big city, we also needed to provision. We loved the signs at the supermarket and home center. Read the fine print and don’t forget:

Food way that was able to take harmony for you is offered wonderfully and dynamically.

Seto Naikai – The Inland Sea

The main islands of Kyushu, Honshu, and Shikoku ring a huge body of water known as the Seto Naikai – The Inland Sea. It’s over 200 miles long, is protected from all directions, and contains over 3,000 islands. Most importantly, it offers the best protection from typhoons — and we were entering the most active typhoon season.

We left Fukuoka early in the morning and entered the sea through the western entrance — the Kanmon Kaikyo. We timed our passage perfectly thanks to Choichi-san’s assistance in Odo. The currents in the strait can flow at more than 9 knots; faster than Migration could sail or motor in most conditions.

Over the next days we sailed and motored 130 miles to the east — between islands, under bridges, and past hundreds of different types of boats and ships — to finally arrive at Onomichi: a very cool town with a great vibe. It became one of our favorite places, mostly because of the wonderful tomodachi we met there.

Onomichi is one of our favorite places in Japan, in great part because this is where we met the amazing Yuki. Shortly after we arrived at the tiny marina, Alene sought out a laundromat, only to be told that there were none. However, the tourist info office suggested trying Anagono Nedeko, a local guest house. While Alene was waiting in the common room of the guest house for the laundry to dry, a pretty young Japanese woman came and sat down to keep her company. After a bit, she went away for a few minutes and then reappeared with Kuchan, her pet bunny. Yuki set Kuchan (which means Mac computer in Japanese, because, as Yuki says, “Kuchan is so smart”) in Alene’s lap. Alene was smitten. Upon hearing that Alene lived on a boat, Yuki expressed an interest in seeing Migration, so Alene invited her to visit.

Yuki brought along some friends that afternoon after work, and those friends issued another invitation — this time for a party at a new cafe. Among the many interesting young Japanese was Nozomi, an enthusiastic and smiling young librarian at the Onomichi Public Library.

Onomichi is a vibrant place where young people are buying up old abandoned buildings to create new businesses such as cafes and guest houses. In a country where many of the young people are moving away from the small towns, it was refreshing to feel the energy in Onomichi.

Later in the week, we had a party aboard Migration. Yuki invited her sweet friend Maya, who was also working at the guest house, and they brought home-made okonomiyaki, a local specialty, customized especially for us. Everyone brought lots of new and interesting snacks for us to try.

Our friends told us that October 9th was the local lantern festival, Akari Matsuri, so we adjusted our plans to stay longer which was easy to do since we were having so much fun.

Akari Matsuri was a magical evening and we were so glad we stayed to see it. School children, businesses, and religious and civic groups all make paper lanterns (similar to luminaria) for the event, creating designs with ink and watercolors or paper-cutting. They were absolutely beautiful. The lanterns were lit at precisely 6pm and doused at 9pm. During those three hours, we traipsed all over town: to temples, around plazas, up and down stairways, through alleyways, and along many of the main streets to view the thousands of paper lanterns set out in interesting designs, some even forming words or symbols.

We stopped at the library because Nozomi had encouraged us to come see the lanterns she and her co-workers had made. It occurred to Bruce to ask Nozomi whether his book, Buoy – Home at Sea, which had been translated into Japanese, might be on the shelves. Nozomi immediately pulled up the catalog on her phone, and after a moment of searching, jumped up and exclaimed, “Hai, arimasu!” (“Yes, we have it!”).

Nozomi ran into the library with us following on her heels, and pulled the book from the shelf with a flourish, eyes sparkling with joy, exclaiming “Sugoi!” (“Amazing!”) repeatedly. It was so cool to know Buoy is still being read in the far reaches of the world.

As you might be able to tell, we fell in love with Yuki. She was thoughtful (in both definitions of the word), fun, and clever. Yet it was days after we’d met that we found out how amazing she really is. She had recently returned to Japan after riding a bicycle from western China all the way to Russia. Kuchan was given to her at only 10 days old while Yuki was staying in a guest house in Iran. Any woman who could do that trip is amazing but it is more impressive for a Japanese woman coming from a culture which does not promote an adventurous spirit — especially for women.

And Kuchan? Everyone loves Kuchan who is definitely the most mellow bunny on the planet.

It was hard to leave Onomichi behind but winter was approaching and there was so much more to see in the Seto Naikai.

Kuchan (sadly?) watches Migration sail away…

More Onomichi

In between having fun with our friends, we explored the town, had a great bicycle adventure, and a wonderful visit from Bruce’s brother and sister-in-law, Doug & Pseu.

Onomichi has about 140,000 residents, so it isn’t huge. Yet it has 20 temples and shrines. Its streets and temples climb the steep hill from the shore and provide awesome views across the Seto Naikai.

View south to the islands of the Seto Naikai. Onomichi is the the town along the shore on the near side of the water.

Shimanami Kaido

The Shimanami Kaido is a series of five long bridges that cross the Seto Naikai from Onomichi on Honshu to Imbari on Shikoku. The bridges and the roads across the islands they connect create an expressway 60 km (37 miles) long. And because it’s bike friendly, of course we had to ride it!

Visitors from America

Doug and Pseu (Bruce’s brother and sister-in-law) came to visit! How cool is that? We spent a couple of days on the boat in Onomichi and sailing around the surrounding islands. Then we took a trip by Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. All good fun!

More Tomodachi: Aibara-san & Kumiko-san

Aibara-san & Kumiko-san pulled into the dock next to Migration aboard their sailboat Polestar, and soon came over to investigate the big red trimaran visiting from the USA. It was rare to find Japanese sailors cruising away from their local waters; they had sailed up from Matsuyama on Shikoku. After drinks on the deck of Migration, we joined them for dinner in town. Though they are both gentle and soft spoken, discussion was lively and interesting… and easy since they both speak English. We exchanged emails and they invited us to visit them in their home town. And we did… but that’s in the next Migrations.

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