|28| More Tomodachi – 2

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< Chapter 1 – Our Return to Japan | Chapter 3 – The West Coast >

Westward through the Seto Naikai

Since our chosen route would take us along the west coast of Japan, we needed to backtrack 250 miles to exit the Seto Naikai (Inland Sea) at the Kanmon Kaikyo, where we had first entered in September of 2016.

We sailed 55 miles to Shodo Shima the first day and anchored off the east end. There were no cruising guides for Japan at the time and few people anchored; most choosing to go into marinas or fishing ports. We often were able to discover places to anchor by looking at satellite images and that’s what we did here. The next day we continued another 43 miles to Shiraishi Jima, the island where we’d met Amy Chavez and had such a great time in 2016.

It was great to see Amy again, and this time we got to meet her husband Paul. There was also another sailboat at Shiraishi: s/y Dot with Australians Cathy and Larry aboard. This was the first foreign boat we’d seen this year and only the sixth since we’d arrived in Japan. Not a lot of cruising boats visit Japan.

The sakura were still in bloom on Shiraishi and we were able to spend time reveling in the quintessential Japanese experience of relaxing under the cherry trees.

We’d rushed to Shiraishi from Kobe because Amy had told us the Spring Kobo Daishi Festival was to be held on April 17th. Her email described it as a very special event and we didn’t want to miss it.

The night after our arrival, Amy and Paul invited the crews of Dot and Migration for a pizza party. It was great to spend time with our friends, and especially nice to see Amy’s neighbor Kazu-chan again.

Part of the Kobo Daishi festival involves small wooden sticks upon which one writes a prayer or wish. Amy had purchased sticks for us and Kazu-chan patiently wrote our prayers on them in Japanese.

We’d invited our new friend Lauralee (from Kobe) to visit us. We were excited that she accepted right away and arrived by ferry just a couple of days later. Of course she boarded Migration with a ridiculous number of gifts, including super yum cookies. She arrived at lunchtime and even brought bento boxes for lunch, which we ate under the sakura trees before going hiking.

Though it was a spring festival, the day of the Kobo Daishi festival was grey and rainy. But never mind… this was a fascinating opportunity. We, and the few other gaijin (foreigners) on the island, were treated as honored guests, with Amy and Kazu-chan as our guides and translators.

Kobo Daishi was a monk who founded Shingon Buddhism — one of the major schools of Buddhism practiced in Japan.

The event started with a taishōgoto orchestra (kind of a Japanese autoharp) comprised of about 20 local women. During the concert, we were served a thick rice soup — a welcome, warming snack on this cool, rainy day.

After the concert we were ushered into the temple. Despite our protestations, several of the islanders gave up their seats for us. Three monks sat in front of the altar which had a picture of Kobo Daishi, and chanted; many of the attendees chanting along with them. There was an ensemble of monks ringing little bells and occasionally the head monk would strike a beautiful brass bowl gong that signaled the end of one sutra and the beginning of another.

We then lined up in front of the monks to be blessed. They chanted over each of us while we stood with our hands in prayer. Lauralee told us that this sort of personal blessing often costs thousands of yen in a big city.

Following the blessing, we gathered outside around the pyre that had been built earlier that morning and covered with pine boughs. Everyone took hold of a giant juzu (string of prayer beads) that encircled the pyre. As the fire was lit, we began passing the juzu around the circle.

The fire burned higher and the green boughs produced huge clouds of smoke. We continued handing the juzu around in a circle as the head priest recited prayers. When most of the boughs had burned, the monks began to toss the prayer sticks into the fire. This burning of our desires would send them to the gods who would then grant our wishes. Our wish was for safe voyages, especially our upcoming passage across the North Pacific to Alaska.

When all the wishes had been tossed into the fire, we stopped passing the juzu and everyone was served a little saucer of sake (yes, in a saucer, oddly enough). Then we had a lunch of rice balls, soup, and tea. Each of the gaijin who were there were given one of the shide that had decorated the area during the event. A shide is large piece of paper cut into a zigzag pattern and used to indicate that spirits are present in the area. They are evident at all Buddhist temples, but these were especially elaborate and colorful ones mounted on a stick. We felt honored to receive them.

What an incredible experience! How fortunate we were that Amy had invited us and that she and Lauralee were so willing to answer our millions of questions.

We spent the remainder of our time on Shiraishi taking care of Migration and socializing with our friends. We hosted a Thai dinner aboard Migration one night. Another evening everyone was invited over to Dot for a dinner party that included a fair bit of drinking as well as a heated discussion over the relative merits of Marmite and Vegemite — as often happens when Australians are around.

During our stay we were asked to move Migration as we were anchored in the area where the local seaweed farm was going to be installed. Once we moved, the spindly structures were towed into place and anchored for the season.

We finally tore ourselves away from the lovely island and lively friends, and set sail with Lauralee aboard. We were bound for the island of yummy yummy oranges where Kuchan was waiting for us.

Osakikamijima: The Island of Yummy Yummy Oranges

We’d received an email from our friend Yuki saying that she’d met a Frenchman, Van, and was planning on getting married. They’d moved to Osakikamijima — the island of “yummy yummy oranges” as Yuki put it. We needed to make sure Van was the right man for our adored Yuki. We had a fine 37-mile sail weaving through the islands near Onomichi, the town where we’d originally met Yuki and her rabbit Kuchan.

When we saw them together, it was clear that Yuki and Van were very much in love — a good thing as they were choosing an unusual lifestyle; building a “natural house” made of earth, and living like homesteaders in a ramshackle old house until the new one was complete. Van seemed extremely handy, and Yuki is remarkably industrious, inventive, and brave. They invited us for a pizza party, which was so generous — they don’t have running water or electricity, but they had built a pizza oven!

Van gave us a tour of the island, including taking us up to a wonderful viewpoint.

Afterwards we met Yuki in town where she’d arranged for a tour of a very old family-run shoyu (soy sauce) factory. We balanced on plank walkways above ancient wooden vats of fermenting soy mash and were even allowed to give the brew a stir with a long wooden paddle. We left with several bottles of 2- and 3-year aged soy sauce that is the best we’ve ever tasted.

Lauralee had to return to Kobe, so we said farewell as she boarded the ferry– complete with cute anime characters painted on its side — to the mainland. Of course, after she was gone we found more treats she’d left for us.

As long as we were on a dock, it gave Alene an opportunity to go fix something at the top of the mast.

We had one final breakfast aboard Migration (waffles!) with Yuki, Van, and Kuchan before we, too, had to leave.

We knew it would be a long, long time before we saw Yuki again and we were sad to say goodbye.

And what about the yummy yummy oranges?

Matsuyama: Castles, Ancient Onsen, Tomodachi, and Bratwurst

When we met Aibara-san & Kumiko-san on the dock in Onomichi in October 2016, they said we should be sure to visit them in Matsuyama on the island of Shikoku. Though we’d taken a road trip to Shikoku from Kobe, we had not driven as far west as Matsuyama. Now, we were only 24 miles away by water, so we headed south.

When we arrived, Aibara-san & Kumiko-san met us at the marina in Horie which is one of the closest marinas to Matsuyama. We had drinks on Migration before they treated us to a delicious sushi dinner while enjoying the sunset over the Seto Naikai.

The following morning, Aibara-san picked us up to go touring. We started with a drive on Matsuyama’s famous street of sakura trees — although the season was nearing its end, there were still some cherry blossoms.

We then visited Matsuyama Castle, taking a fun (and rather silly) little single-person chairlift up the hill. The castle was beautiful and its museum was fascinating — especially the displays about construction methods; the ancient Japanese were masterful woodworkers.

Dogo Onsen is the oldest onsen (bath house) in Japan, so naturally we wanted to have a bath there. Located right in the city center, it’s a truly beautiful building with a long history. Above the baths is an elegant tatami room where, over many centuries, important Japanese dignitaries have relaxed in a yukata (cotton robe) with tea and cookies. We did likewise.

Next we were off to Ishite-ji Temple — temple 51 on the Shikoku 88-temple pilgrimage. It has one of the most pleasing pagodas we’d seen and, like many temples, there was a walk-thru cave with statues in dark crevices and poorly-illuminated dioramas of religious stories.

There is a well-known story associated with Ishite-ji temple of a baby being born with a stone in its hand. Thus, there were hundreds of rocks left at the altars, giving it a unique feel compared with many of the other temples we’d visited.

Aibara-san dropped us off in the town center so we could take the train back to Horie Port. What a great day with our wonderful friend and guide. Arigato gozaimasu, Aibara-san!

Just a month earlier, when we’d flown to Fukuoka for Bruce and April’s speaking engagement at the International School, we’d met Mitsugi-san when our friends Tatsuo and Kyoko invited us to dinner. Their friend Mitsugi-san is a doctor and a sailor and spoke excellent English; we enjoyed getting to know him over dinner. He invited us to visit him when we arrived in Matsuyama, so we took him up on his offer.

Our time with Mitsugi-san and his girlfriend, Junko-san, began with… surprise!… being treated to a delicious meal.

We started the day with Mitsugi-san and Junko-san joining us for a waffle breakfast aboard Migration. Then off we drove to the historical town of Uchiko. We had lunch in a German (!) restaurant, Zum Schwarzen Keiler, owned by their friends. It was a beautiful day for just walking around enjoying the old wooden buildings and the atmosphere. While admiring a handmade paper and bamboo pinwheel deciding whether we had space for it on the boat, the shop owners quickly picked it up and presented it to us as a gift!

It was the beginning of the Golden Week holiday which would end on May 5th with Kodomo no Hi –Children’s Day. It’s traditional to fly koinoburi — carp flags — during this period.

We had a great day together that included more insights into Japanese culture.

Hiroshima: A Wild Welcome

We planned to sail to Hiroshima the day after our Uchiko outing so we asked Mitsugi-san if he wanted to join us. He was excited about the opportunity so we set off together the next morning for the 33-mile sail to the northwest. It was a fast sail, and we enjoyed Mitusgi-san’s company. He hadn’t sailed for many years and was thrilled to be back on the water.

We arrived at Kanon Marina around 1600. Within an hour, we were immersed in a adventure that had our heads spinning when we finally crawled into bed long after midnight.

Mitsugi-san needed to catch the ferry back across the Seto Naikai to Matsuyama. After we checked into the marina, he suggested we join him on a bus into town. We didn’t have anything else to do so we hopped aboard. But instead of the ferry terminal, we found ourselves walking through the business district and then sitting in the waiting room of a dentist’s office! It turned out the dentist was Mitsugi-san’s ex-wife, Misato-san. There was very little communication as to what we were doing there, but it seemed to have something to do with Mitsugi-san needing to charge his phone.

After an exchange in Japanese that we didn’t understand, Misato-san suddenly locked up her office and we were hustled into her car. We were then told we were all having dinner together!

Hiroshima is famous for okonomiyaki — a cabbage pancake that is a specialty of the prefecture — and Misato-san knew exactly where she wanted to take us to try it. However, before we could eat, she had to drop off dinner for her partner, Sato-san. We stopped at a supermarket, she ran in for a bento box, and then we drove to her apartment.

We were in a bit of daze during all of this as Misato-san was playing loud music and talking a mile a minute in Japanese peppered with some English while negotiating city traffic. It was chaotic in a very amusing way.

We then drove to the Shintenchi district to a multi-level building filled with dozens of small restaurants, all serving okonomiyaki. It took a while before we found a restaurant that was open and met with Misato-san’s approval. It was worth the effort as the okonomiyaki was delicious. It was also a memorable night as we watched the French election results that declared Macron had won the presidency.

At some point during dinner, Misato-san decided that we would accompany her to her favorite onsen. We didn’t seem to have much choice in the matter, so we just went with the flow, which involved dropping Mitsugi-san off at the ferry terminal, driving back to Misato-san’s apartment to pick up Sato-san who jumped into the car with an armful of towels (since we didn’t have any), and then heading out of town into the surrounding hills… all at a break-neck pace.

Here’s ADR’s report on her onsen experience: “Misato-san had a definite routine, with each portion of the bathing process carefully choreographed and timed. Had I been doing it all wrong? Of course I knew about the required scrub-down and hair wash beforehand while sitting on a small stool at the row of waist-high shower heads, but I did not know that there is also a ritual of scrubbing between various baths, and that the baths are best enjoyed in a particular order. Misato-san took me under her wing, letting me know when it was time to move from the sauna to the salt rubdown area, from the jacuzzi jets to the warm water pool, to the cold water rinse, and back to the scrubbing area. Fascinating!”

After the onsen, Misato-san and Sato-san drove us back to Migration. As the onsen was far outside the city, it was a long drive. We invited our new friends aboard Migration and enjoyed tea and cookies together.

We’d started the morning on the island of Shikoku expecting an easy day sail with a Japanese friend. As we fell into bed, we were still bemusedly asking ourselves “What just happened?”.

Miyajima: Nozomi, Torii Cartwheels and Deer that go “bheee”

The weather was rainy so we put off touring Hiroshima and did boat projects for two days… including finally fixing our Webasto heater, which we were to rely upon heavily in the North Pacific.

Our bouncy and fun friend Nozomi, the librarian from Onomichi we met in 2016, was now living near Hiroshima. We invited her to join us on the short sail to Miyajima, an island 6 miles away that has one of the most famous sites in all of Japan.

If you’ve seen any photos of Japan, you’ve seen Miyajima. This is the location of the famous torii that is in the ocean at high tide, but dries out at the base at low, allowing people to walk through the massive orange gate.

Nozomi had been to Miyajima many times, but never aboard a sailboat. We’d never heard someone say “sugoi” (amazing) so many times in a row. Nozomi was absolutely enthralled to be aboard, eagerly involved in hoisting the sails, steering the boat, and sailing fast. She must’ve said “sugoi” more than a hundred times! It was really fun to have a guest with such enthusiasm.

After arrival at a dock with a view of the famous torii gate, we walked with Nozomi to the ferry terminal, passing the many seemingly-tame deer hanging out everywhere on the island, mingling with the tourists. We did not know that Japanese deer make a noise — Nozomi imitated the sound as a breathy high-pitched bheee-bheee. We didn’t believe it until we heard the deer make the noise. What a surprise!

Our day with Nozomi was great fun. Too soon she hopped on the ferry and was gone. Another wonderful friend who we would miss.

We spent the next two days exploring the island and saying bheee whenever we saw a deer.

The architecture was stunning.

Miyajima is a popular spot for weddings.

Winter had ended but the statues still wore the hand-knitted caps and scarves that people make to honor them and keep them warm during the coldest months.

We hiked to the top of the island through the beautiful forests, visiting shrines along the way.

At the top is a “lover’s shrine” with the “Fire of Oarth (sic)”. Check out the instructions in the photos above. Don’t dillydally!

We left to return to Hiroshima on May Day (May 1st) and paused long enough so BB could dance a Morris jig with the famous torii in the background.

A meditative interlude: Beautiful reflection on Migration’s bulkhead.

More Hiroshima and More Friends

Back on the dock in Hiroshima — flying our koinoburi — we finished some projects, and had a chance to do some sightseeing.

We had a great sail back and quickly got Migration settled as we had a dinner date that night with a very interesting man we’d met the day we left for Miyajima.

At the dock in Kanon Marina, a man came over and, noticing our American flag and home port of Long Beach, simply said, “Welcome to Japan!” Then he invited us to dinner. We were actually preparing to leave for Miyajima so we arranged to meet after we returned to Hiroshima.

After sailing back from Miyjima, we met at a very fancy restaurant for a delicious meal. The food was outstanding and the presentation elegant and unique.

But it was the company that was a true delight! Toshi-san’s wife, Yoko-san, and his son Hiro-san were wonderful to get to know. Toshi-san, 74 years young, has traveled all over the world, by cargo ship, by prop plane (to Luxembourg, of all places!), by train, hitchhiking, etc. His stories were so amusing. He brought a map of the US to aid discussion, and a printed color map of the world on which he requested we draw our sailing track. He brought brochures about his sailboat, and photos from his travels — a briefcase full of things he wanted to share and discuss!

Since there had been a lot of wind the past few days, Toshi-san asked how our sailing had been. When we told him it was so windy our Japanese courtesy flag had blown away, he said, “Call me tomorrow; I will have a new one for you.” Just like that.

While touring Hiroshima the following day, we stopped at Toshi-san and Yoko-san’s beautiful home where he presented us with a brand new Japanese flag and ensign. Toshi-san is an HF amateur radio operator (JA4JWJ) and has a very tall antenna at his house right in the middle of the city. As it was still the season, his antenna was decorated with carp flags!

Touring Hiroshima by bike was really fun. It’s a big city but we rode our bides everywhere, including to thebeautiful Shukkei-en gardens.

Two nights in a row, coming home very late from our explorations, we ate at “Circus Sushi”. This was a carousel sushi restaurant that included a second level over the normal carousel. On this track a miniature bullet train delivered special orders to your table. We cracked up every time it went zooming past.

Of course, we were not going to leave Hiroshima without visiting the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Hiroshima Peace Museum and Memorial Park.

Our time here was just as moving and powerful as our visit to the Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum in Nagasaki. Many in the United States refuse to acknowledge the inhumanity of intentionally bombing civilians — especially with such a horrific weapon of mass destruction. I was proud to see the plaque commemorating President Obama’s visit to the Peace Memorial in 2016… the only sitting president with enough courage to do so.

It is a sobering experience to visit this city and its memorials; something every US citizen should do if they have the means.

We were to depart immediately for the West coast but Toshi-san had told us about the big Flower Festival parade in only two days. We couldn’t miss that!

The parade was good fun and there were also dozens of stages with lots going on.

Check out these photos. A festival and parade that draws thousands of people and look how little trash is on the street! The boy in red shorts is picking up trash. Volunteers and festival attendees are sorting recycling. People take a great deal of care about their trash in the cities (although not in the ocean, unfortunately).

It was already early May and we only had one month until our planned departure across the Pacific for the Aleutians. It was hard to move on, but we finished our projects and cast off the dock lines.

We wanted to avoid sailing at night whenever possible due to high ship traffic and the many fish nets and aquaculture farms. We left early for our first 64-mile run to Otsushima where we tied up to a floating dock for the night. The next morning we headed toward the Kanmon Kaikyo–the western exit of the Seto Naikai.

If you’ve ever seen Hayao Miyazaki’a anime film Howl’s Moving Castle, you might think some of the inspiration came from the strange equipment lining the Kanmon Kaikyo.

We motored under the Kanmon Bridge — which we had passed going in the opposite direction 8 months before. After transiting the strait we entered the Sea of Japan and turned northward.

Continue Reading: The West Coast >