|27| Tomodachi

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Shiraishi Jima

The year was passing so fast and there was so much still to see. We waved goodbye to our friends in Onomichi and, after a one-day sail, anchored at Shiraishi Jima where we were looking forward to meeting our next tomodachi, Amy!

We first corresponded with Amy via email when we were in Taiwan the previous May. Fellow cruisers Jana and Petr of s/v Janna (we visited Jana in Taiwan in Migrations 26) had met Amy when they were in Japan and suggested we contact her if we needed any information.

Amy, also a sailor and fluent in Japanese, was a great help in our initial stages of trying to find a place to haul Migration; she spent a lot of time on the phone calling boatyards. Of course, when we finally sailed to Shiraishi Jima, her home island of more than 20 years, she was very welcoming. It turned out that Amy and Alene had a lot in common: they both were born in Ohio and attended Miami University (of Ohio) at the same time. Strange world that they now meet on a tiny island in Japan!

Shiraishi only has about 500 full-time residents but is a popular summertime day-tripper destination. Amy’s beach bar — The Mooo! Bar — was directly in front of the anchorage. It was no longer tourist season so it was closed, but it was easy to recognize by the white walls and awning painted with black cow spots in the shape of Shiraishi. Her truck was also painted with the same design. Amy is rather fond of cows.

In 2012, Amy published a popular book called “Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage”, an account of her journey running Japan’s 900-mile Buddhist pilgrimage on the island of Shikoku. Amy helped create and popularize a mini-pilgrimage on the island. Together with Lisa and Alistair, a cool British couple backpacking around Japan, we walked a part of that pilgrimage trail, then all returned to Migration for drinks and dinner.

We spent the next day at Amy’s house doing laundry and making calls to marinas trying to find a place to leave Migration for the winter months. (We didn’t meet Amy’s husband Paul on this visit as he was in the Philippines working on their sailboat.)

During the evening, Amy mentioned that she had been wanting to visit Goat Island, a neighboring uninhabited island. She’d heard that some goats had been left on the island several years before and was curious whether the goats had survived. Always up for an adventure, we offered to go on Migration and planned the expedition for the next day.

We immediately found evidence of dead goats — in the form of skulls — but no live ones. After scrambling through the brush for several hours and nearly giving up, we finally found what we were looking for… and such beautiful, healthy wild goats they were. There was even a kid who was quite curious about us. Amy was really happy to know the goats were thriving. (Along with cows, she has a soft spot in her heart for goats.)

When we returned to Amy’s house that evening, we were privileged to meet her wonderful next-door neighbor, Kazu-chan, who magically appeared with a whole tray of okonomiyaki — one of our favorite foods after discovering it in Onomichi. Kazu-chan spoke little English, but her sparkling eyes, smiles, and laughter made it clear that a common language was unnecessary for us to communicate our happiness at meeting each other.

It was great to get to know Amy and spend time together. She is smart and fun, a fine writer, and she has clearly embraced the Japanese tradition of hospitality.

We’d been exchanging emails with Yoshi since we met back in June at Tarama Jima. Like most Japanese, Yoshi’s job gave him little time off. Nevertheless, he managed a short visit to Migration via shinkansen (bullet train) and ferry while we were at Shiraishi Jima. We had a fresh fish dinner aboard with Amy, whose neighbor had provided the fish. Yoshi had brought his sanshin, of course, so he treated us to a concert after dinner while we enjoyed sake from the cups that Yoshi had brought us as a gift.

The following day, the three of us hiked around the island, visiting the temple and the Buddhist shrine. We also hiked to the peak of the island where Yoshi bravely climbed to the top of Otama — the big sacred boulder. The weather was perfect, and we had excellent views of Migration at anchor.

After our hike, Amy treated us to Udderly Perfect Parfaits at the Mooo! Bar before Yoshi took the ferry and shinkansen back to Kobe. We only had 22 hours together, but every minute was packed with activity. We admire Yoshi’s spontaneity!

ART IN THE INLAND SEA: The Setouchi Triennale

Who knew that there’s a famous art festival spread over the islands of the eastern Seto Naikai that only takes place every three years and 2016 was one of those years? We didn’t! But we were excited when we found out. After leaving Shiraishi Jima, we spent the next 12 days visiting several of the islands and the art installations — some ridiculous, some fascinating, and some serenely beautiful and touching.

One of our favorites: Beautiful constructions of paper, wood and bamboo that moved and made lovely tones when fans were randomly turned on and off

It wasn’t all staring at art displays. There were festivals, interesting restaurants, and we got our exercise exploring by bicycle and lots of walking. We also did some excellent hikes to the top of various islands. And, of course, there was the art of the natural world.

We missed our Onomichi friends so we invited Yuki and Maya to join us for a couple of days aboard Migration. Of course Kuchan was invited, too. Yuki and Maya took the ferry across from Honshu to Shodo Shima. When they arrived, Yuki had on a gigantic backpack with a branch of fruit sticking out of the top (a gift for us – a specialty of Kumamoto where Yuki had been volunteering to help rebuild after the previous year’s earthquake), as well as a bundle of sticks. When we asked what the sticks were for, she replied, “to build a teepee for Kuchan”. She had thoughtfully considered that we might not want Kuchan pooping inside the boat and this was her solution. She had brought everything she would need: sticks, a sheet and a blanket, two plastic tubs, towels, and plenty of greens for Kuchan. Yuki thought that since we’re American, we would know how to build a teepee. In fact, we ended up figuring it out together and the result was a cozy nest for Kuchan in the corner of the cockpit.

We all (including Kuchan, who goes everywhere with Yuki) had a lot of fun together walking and doing cartwheels on Angel Road, a small isthmus that appears only at low tide, then drinking champagne and eating dinner aboard Migration.

Many Japanese people love American holidays, so, because it was between Halloween and Christmas, we decorated tangerines as tiny pumpkins, then sang Christmas carols in both Japanese and English with Kuchan in a Santa Claus outfit that Yuki had sewed for her. It is an odd moment when you find yourself at anchor on your boat in Japan in November with two cute Japanese women singing Jingle Bells in Japanese while holding a rabbit dressed as Santa.

The following day we sailed (motored, no wind) to Nishi Shima where we went swimming, played games, and had another wonderful meal together. The next day we headed for Himeji Kima. It was excellent sailing, except that poor Yuki was seasick. As much as she was enjoying her time on Migration, she felt awful. As soon as we dropped anchor, we took our friends to shore and waved goodbye.

We had no idea when we would see them again. We were already missing their smiles.

Nobuhiko-San: “We have come to party with you!”

We will say right off that meeting Nobuhiku-san was one of the most unusual experiences we had in Japan.

After dropping Yuki, Maya, and Kuchan off to catch the train back to Onomichi, we returned to Migration anchored just off of Himeji harbor. Bruce felt he might be catching a cold, so we thought we would make it an early evening. It was not to be.

Just as we were thinking of going to bed, we saw a light go past our starboard port; it was so close it startled us. We both hurried on deck to find a small sailboat approaching. Two men were busy putting fenders out; they clearly were planning to tie up to us. With very little time for discussion, we threw some fenders over the side to protect Migration. Within moments they were alongside. Few words had been exchanged thus far, but suddenly one of the men said, in English, “Welcome to Japan! We have come to party with you!” He then held up a magnum-sized bottle of sake and several bags of snacks. We were a bit stunned. Did we have a choice?

Only Nobuhiko-san spoke English; his friend just smiled and filled our sake glasses. Nobuhiko-san is a machinist and a sailor with a shop right in the marina. He asked about our travels to and within Japan. We asked about his life and why he and his friend were out sailing. “We like to go sailing and drink after work,” he said with a big smile. “When we saw you were a foreign boat, we had to come over to drink with you.” Nobuhiko-san invited us to come to his shop the next morning as he wanted to take us to Himeji Jo, one of the most famous castles in Japan. He also wanted to write our names in Kanji. He had a lot of plans for us.

The following morning Bruce had fallen ill — the drinking party had sent him over the edge –- and there was no way he was going ashore. So Alene went alone to find Nobuhiko-san and tell him that though we appreciated his offer of a tour, we couldn’t accept. He was on his boat and insisted on Alene spending some time so he could translate our names into Kanji, giving Alene the various choices and asking her which kanji best fit our personalities. He offered to move his two boats so we could be on his dock for free. And then he presented Alene with a folder that she was to open with Bruce once back aboard Migration. The folder contained copies of about 30 of his sketches and a pad of temple prayer papers. Such a thoughtful and interesting man… and certainly a sake party we will always remember.

Kobe, Nishinomiya, & Ichimonji Yacht Club

We were intent on visiting Yoshi in Kobe and were getting closer as we traveled eastward. This part of Japan was very populated and we sailed past huge fish and seaweed farms which required careful navigation.

Yoshi had done some research and determined that the Shin Nishinomiya Marina was the best option for a berth. He’d spoken to the staff to ensure we had all the necessary information beforehand. He even sent us photos. The only problem was that, though they gave us a ‘foreign boat discount’, the price was still pretty high. How lucky then that as we returned to the boat from checking in at the marina office, we found Juha, a Finnish man living in Japan, and Koyama-san, the commodore of the Ichimonji Yacht Club (IYC), standing at our boat. They immediately invited us to stay at IYC.

Koyama-san’s boat was in the boatyard and would be launched the following day. They decided they would escort us to IYC once the boat was in the water. It wasn’t far and as soon as we arrived we were introduced to Mas-san, the IYC Vice Commodore and accountant. Mas-san is a university professor and speaks very good English, and in the spirit of IYC, offered to help us in any way we needed.

Ichimonji means ‘one dock’, and the IYC is, in fact, one very long dock with many fingers. It’s kinda funky and reminded us of some of the interesting backwater locales in the Sacramento Delta. The docks were built by the members, as was the clubhouse. They are very proud of their club – rightly so — and everyone pitches in on maintenance, repairs and improvements to both the docks and the clubhouse.

We didn’t meet many of the members during this first visit to IYC because Bruce still had his cold from Himeji and didn’t want to pass it on. Also, we were there during the week — it is on the weekend when the club really comes alive. But Mas-san made it clear that we were welcome to return to IYC anytime, so in 2017 we certainly found out how lively IYC can be. But that’s in the next Migrations.

The reason we’d come to Nishinomiya (a city between Osaka and Kobe) was to visit Yoshi. During our stay, Yoshi helped us with provisioning and other chores, and also came down to the boat with his friend Hayato-san. We’d heard much about the standing bar where Yoshi often went after work, so we were pleased to meet the owner, Hayato-san.

We were invited to visit the standup bar with Yoshi a couple days later, and once again were surprised with a party — this time to celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. Hayato-san had purchased bubbly for us to drink, one of Yoshi’s friends had written a lovely message in Japanese, and we learned to make takoyaki (balls of dough with octopus). We shared the story of our meeting and our wedding at Minerva Reef, translated by Yoshi. Yoshi had brought his sanshin, so there was much singing, drinking, and laughter. There was even a beautiful fruit tart with candles — what a wonderful surprise!

Yoshi and Hayato-san were incredibly thoughtful and our first visit to the bar was another truly wonderful Japanese experience.


Just as we’d been in touch with Yoshi, we had also been corresponding with Nobsan, Kei-chan, Kiyoshi-san and Mieko-san hoping to arrange a visit. We’d come up with a plan, so we left IYC for our rendezvous on Awajishima.

Awajishima is the largest island of the Seto Naikai and marks its eastern border dividing the inland sea from Osaka Bay. We sailed to Suntopia Marina and awaited our friends who were driving all the way from Yokohama.

Need we say that our friends arrived bearing many thoughtful gifts?

Together we toured Awajishima, including Sumoto castle and the famous Naruto whirlpools. The Naruto no Uzushio are tidal whirlpools in the narrow strait connecting the Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The dynamic movement of this vast amount of water creates huge whirlpools that can be seen from the shore and the bridge above.

The following day we had a lovely sail to nearby Okinoshima — one of the four Tomogashima Islands. We took a long hike around the island and visited the interesting ruins of fortresses built by the Japanese Imperial Army in the 1890s. Since this is a National Park, Chacha was not allowed to join us on shore and had to stay on the boat.

As always in Japan, we ate very well and our friends treated us to several exquisite meals. We also enjoyed time on Migration making pizza on the BBQ, and hosting a waffle breakfast before our friends’ long drive back to Yokohama.

Our Japanese was slightly better than when we’d first met on Kakeroma Shima where we’d mostly interacted with Nobsan because he spoke such good English. What pleasure to spend more time and get to know warmhearted Mieko-san & Kei-chan, and have interesting discussions about plants and trees with amiable Kiyoshi-san (he and Mieko-san own a nursery). However, as at our first meeting, our time together was too short and we promised we would visit our friends in Yokohama the following year.

Tannowa Marina: Brrrrr… Winter! And another Tomodachi…

You may have noticed in some of the last photos that we are bundled up. It was getting cold! In October the weather turned from summer to winter in a matter of days. We’d decided to leave Migration in a marina and travel back to the USA for the holidays; we were having problems with Migration’s diesel heater, we wanted to see family, and… it was just too cold!

We’d heard of Kakihara-san from other cruisers who had been at Tannowa Marina. They said he was a friendly sailor living on his boat, and that he spoke English.

After we arrived and had Migration tied up to the dock, Alene went by bike to find Kakihara-san to meet him and ask where to do laundry. Kakihara-san got on his own bicycle, and together they climbed the hill into town, where he showed Alene the coin-op and the grocery.

That night, he invited us to dinner aboard his boat. He served us fresh fish he’d just caught. We had a lovely evening together exchanging stories. His tales of repairing huge ship propellors were fascinating, as were the stories of his sailing adventures around Japan. Kakihara-san also sat down with us and went over our marine charts to help us find the best places to visit when we sailed up the west coast the following year. However, the coolest thing about Kakihara-san was that he went sailing all the time. It would be blowing 25 knots and he would take his litttle boat out single-handing. When he returned he would be all smiles. Truly a man of the sea.

We spent four days getting Migration ready to be left alone in the cold. On the last day, we moved her to a new spot with her bow lines tied to the breakwater and her stern lines tied to moorings. We said goodbye and headed to the train station.

Fukuoka America’s Cup World Series

One of the AC World Series precursor races to the America’s Cup was to be held in Fukuoka. It was the first time an America’s Cup event had come to Japan. Because Japan had a team competing, everyone was excited. We just had to go, and we met a lot of our friends there.

Tetsuo-san had helped Kawai-san bring his powerboat up from Nagasaki so all our friends from Nagasaki were now in Fukuoka. Kyoko-san kindly picked us up at the airport, drove us to our Airbnb where we dropped our bags, and then we were whisked away to a sushi restaurant where Tetsuo-san, Kawai-san, and Taishi-san were waiting.

Kawai-san’s wife had not come to Fukuoka. However, even though we had never met her, she had sent gifts: two very fine fleece blankets that would come in extremely handy in the coming months of sailing in cold climates in 2017. Kawai-san also invited us to join the party aboard m/v Porto Fino to watch the races.

The sushi dinner was fantastic! There was a lot of beer and sake and sochu to drink. Our hosts enjoyed introducing us to many of the foods we had never eaten before. Afterwards, in typical Fukuoka fashion, we found a street noodle stand to have ramen and more drinks. It was a really fun evening.

Naoto-san, who has a house on the beach near Minato-machi (where we had hauled Migration), was often working on his boat in that harbor. He had been curious about Migration and came for a chat together with his girlfriend Hiroco-san. They’d invited us to their house several times, but because we were immersed in boat work, we were unable to join them for their parties. We’d seen each other on our previous visit to Fukuoka, but now Naoto-san invited us to view the races from his sailboat with a group of his friends.

We went out on Naoto-san’s sailboat Waya for two of the race days. There were many interesting people aboard, including the owner of a kimono shop in Kyoto. We got to know some of them a bit better during the event following the first day of races — a dinner at Zauo Fishing Restaurant with about 50 members of various Japanese yacht clubs. We were so honored to be included, and wished that our Japanese was better!

The Japanese were very pleased to have this international sailing event held in their country and boats came from considerable distances to watch the races. It was broadcast on TV and the reporters were ecstatic when the Japanese boat won one of the races.

We flew back to the US deeply grateful for our time in Japan and still slightly reeling from the intense experiences this land had offered us. Never had we been so affected by a country and her people. And so it would continue when we returned the following February. But that’s in the next Migrations. If you’ve read this far, thanks for taking the time to let us share our tomodachi with you. They are truly sugoi!

Be good. Be safe. Have fun.

Kindness will never be wasted in any way
-Japanese Proverb

1,732 nautical miles traveled this period.
44,990 nautical miles aboard Migration since leaving Long Beach in June 2005

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