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Japan! (2017)

March – June 2017
Written in Baja California, Mexico, October – December 2020

Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3

If you haven’t read Migrations 27
— the initial installment of our time in Japan —
you might want to read it first (or at least the introduction).

Why Did It Take So Long To Write About Japan?!

It’s been three years since we were in Japan, so that’s a very good question.

There are many reasons for this truly ridiculous delay (for example, sorting through 4,000 photos!), but the most significant one is this: Our experiences in Japan were so rich and varied that it seemed impossible to express them with any degree of accuracy or sincerity; how could we do justice to the overwhelming kindnesses of our Japanese hosts?

Yes, it is three years late, and not nearly as eloquent as our friends deserve… but here it is; dedicated to all of our friends — our tomodachi — who made our visit to Japan a life-changing experience.

A Note About Masks

You’ll notice that in many photos in this update, there are Japanese people wearing masks. We were in Japan in 2016 and 2017… long before the Covid-19 pandemic. So why the masks? Believe it or not, the Japanese people feel so strongly about protecting their community from disease that they wear masks even if they only have symptoms of a common cold. It is a sign that one cares about other people.

Americans pride themselves on having an independent spirit. But ask yourself, where have we gone wrong? Something is truly amiss when public health is politicized. And when independent spirit is transformed into selfishness.

It may be your right to choose to wear a mask or not. But is is also your responsibility to care for your fellow citizens.

Our Travels in Japan

Delayed Return

We’d planned to return to Japan in early February, but it wasn’t until the 1st of March that we stepped back aboard our beloved Migration. Why would we delay our return by nearly a month to this country we loved so much?

We are wimps.

It was cold in Japan! Migration had been snowed on during our absence — even though Osaka is at sea level and the same latitude as Los Angeles. At the beginning of March we still had to run our dockside electric heater every night to stay warm.

Despite the cold, we got Migration back in shape after her winter nap.

Welcome Back

The local yacht club and our friend Kakihara-san threw a little welcome home party for us….

When we returned to Tannowa Marina in March, Kakihara-san (the official foreign yacht greeter of Tannowa) and other Osaka Bay Tannowa Yacht Club members arranged a party for us. In attendance were Yoshida-san, the past Commodore, 84 years old, Ichikawa-san (he told us to call him Monkey!), Kondou-san, who gave us info about things to do in Tokyo, Yatou-san, Nakata-san & Hiromi-san, and Jean-Claude of Jade, a big green trawler that was also visiting the marina. We were given an Osaka Bay Tannowa Yacht Club burgee as well as an OBTYC hand towel that we still use.

Kakihara-san also went over our marine charts with us to mark the best places to visit when we sailed up the west coast. But, the coolest thing about Kakihara-san was that he went sailing all the time. Even when it was blowing 25 knots he would take his little boat out single-handed. When he returned he would be all smiles. Truly a man of the sea.

Past OBTYC commodore Yoshida-san
visited us aboard Migration and presented
us with a book about Traditional Japan.

We had to shop for provisions since we had removed all perishables from Migration when we left in November. We pulled out our well-used folding bikes and set off around the small town near the marina to do our errands.

But we didn’t leave the marina when Migration was ship-shape and provisioned. We were planning to sail northwards along the west coast of Japan. Tokyo is to the east of Osaka and we couldn’t leave Japan without visiting the capital. We jumped on a plane and dove head first back into the culture that enveloped us with wonderful experiences as well as new and old tomodachi.


In Tokyo we met up with our friend April Wayland who came from the USA to spend 10 (whirlwind!) days with us. April is also a children’s book author and she and Bruce have been friends for over thirty years.

In keeping with its reputation, Tokyo was busy.

Japanese city folk can be a bit ridiculous about their dogs…

It’s difficult to refrain from taking photos of adorable Japanese children.

Old Friends, New Friends

Our good friends Nobsan, Kei-chan, Kiyoshi-san, Mieko-san, and Chacha (whom we met in Kakaroma the previous year) live in Yokohama, which is right next to Tokyo. They invited us on a wonderful all-day outing and welcomed April with their open hospitality.

We took the train from Tokyo to Yokohama where Nobsan, Kei-chan, Kiyoshi-san, and Mieko-san picked us up at the station. From there we drove to the historical city of Kamakura.

Kamakura was once a political capital of Japan along with Nara and Kyoto. In the 17th century, it became well known as a city of temples.

It was great having Nobsan explain the history of everything to us including Kotokuin Temple with the Daibutsu, the Great Bronze Buddha — the second largest Buddha in Japan, and Hase Temple (Hasedera), famous for its 9 meter tall (30’) eleven-headed statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is Kamakura’s most important shrine, so our friends made sure we didn’t miss it. The shrine is reached via a long, wide approach that leads from Kamakura’s waterfront through the entire city center, with multiple large torii gates along the way. Again, we kept Nobsan busy using the translation program on his phone in an effort to answer our multitude of questions, but he was always very patient.

Our Japanese was slightly better than the year before, as was everyone else’s English. So it was a pleasure to spend time learning more about Kiyoshi-san and Mieko-san. They own a nursery and actually ship trees all over the world. Surprisingly, one of their biggest exports is the California Pepper tree.

Back in Yokohama, we walked out on Osanbashi Pier with its interesting design incorporating grass and walkways that mimic rolling waves. The pier provides a great unobstructed view of the Yokohama skyline, and seems to bring out the silliness in people, even a group of otherwise normal-seeming adults.

Our very full day of touring was topped off with another remarkable dinner. We said goodbye at the train station, not knowing when we would meet again.

Speaking to Students

April and Bruce had booked two author presentations at international schools. From Tokyo, we flew to Fukuoka for the first engagement.

Our Nagasaki friends, Tatsuo-san and Kyoko-san, met us when we arrived, and, of course, took us to a wonderful dinner. Their friend, Mitsugi-san joined us. We were to have a very interesting adventure with Mitsugi-san in just a few weeks.

That night we stayed at the home of our wonderful host, Aisling, a teacher at the Fukuoka International School and our liason. Our presentations were great fun and the students were terrific.

3 Weeks in Kobe

In keeping with our whirlwind schedule, as soon as our Fukuoka school presentations were finished, we zoomed to the airport, flew back to Osaka, and hopped the train home to Migration. The next morning we cast off the dock lines — for the first time in 4 months — and headed to Nishinomiya, 25 miles north.

With little wind, we motored around the Kansai International Airport which juts 3 miles into Osaka Bay (the airport was damaged and flooded by a strong typhoon just 18 months later). This is not a beautiful part of Japan; industry, cities, ports, and shipping facilities line the entire concrete coast.

Our second school visit was at the Marist Brothers International School in Kobe. Kobe is also the home of our good friend Yoshi. And the neighboring town of Nishinomiya is the home of the Ichimonji Yacht Club who had invited us to return after our wonderful but short stay in 2016.

Outside of Nishinomiya Port, we found IYC Commodore Koyama-san in his sailboat, Yanube, waiting to escort us to our dock. We felt very honored! This was a precursor to the fantastic hospitality we were to experience during our 3 1/2 week stay at Ichimonji Yacht Club.

Non-Stop Kobe (except for the relaxation of onsen)

The 3 1/2 weeks we spent at IYC overflowed with parties, projects, side trips, school visits, provisioning, boat maintenance, waiting for the cherry blossoms, viewing the cherry blossoms, spending time with old friends, making new ones, and several failed attempts to fix our Webasto heater. Here’s an abbreviated summary with the occasional detail.

The crazy-fun IYC Champagne Karaoke Welcome Party for us

On our first weekend night back at IYC, many members came down for a tour of Migration, then we were invited to a champagne party in our honor at the clubhouse where we found a spread of great food and drink. IYC members really love their weekend parties. There was a request for us to talk a bit about our travels, so after polishing off the champagne and food, we gathered in the upstairs meeting room/bar for a brief presentation.

All this drinking and fun naturally led to … what else… karaoke! Such a memorable night, standing arm in arm with our new friends, singing ‘We Are the World’ at the top of our lungs. Simply wonderful.

Nonubiki Waterfall
Hiking with April on a beautiful spring day.

A visit to Kyoto with April and Yoshi

We traveled by train to Kyoto to spend the day with Yoshi, meeting at Yoshi’s favorite temple, Nison-In, a beautiful and peaceful place with lovely gardens. Together we walked to Gio-Ji, the mossy temple in Ayashima. Yoshi did his best to explain the meaning of the various sections of the temples, and to answer our incessant questions about Japanese culture.

After a visit to the bamboo gardens (and a few cartwheels, Yoshi joining in!) we had soba at a local restaurant before the long train ride back to Kobe.

Marist Brothers International School Visit… and new friends

Elbert, the librarian at Marist International School, was awesome as we exchanged dozens of emails trying to arrange everything for our presentation. We had only one day available to visit the school, but he was wonderfully accommodating despite our inflexibility.

Elbert is Japanese-American and grew up in California. It was like hanging out with someone from my hometown. He’s really cool, free dives, and rides a skateboard to work. He made certain everything was in order before our presentations; putting up really nice displays about our books to get the kids excited about the author visit.

The students were really interesting and interested and we had a great time.

Lauralee, an American married to a Japanese man, was a parent volunteer at the library. Though she was unable to attend our presentations, she wanted to do something special to welcome us, so invited us to dinner at the restaurant owned by her husband’s family. She treated us to a delicious meal of many different kinds of beef, seafood, and vegetables, all cooked on the grill in the center of our table. Oishii desu!

A few days later, she visited Migration bringing a diverse array of Japanese snacks for us to try; she had clearly embraced the Japanese practice of omiyage (gift-giving). We became fast friends and were soon to have an adventure together.

We’d tried to arrange a field trip to Migration for some of the students but the logistics just didn’t work out. However, Elbert was able to visit and kindly offered to take us to Costco (one of just a few in Japan) so we could provision for our upcoming months in the Aleutians and Alaska. Costco was quite far from where the boat was and the traffic was terrible! But Elbert didn’t complain and even helped us unload and stow all the provisions we’d purchased. Like I said, he’s cool.

Musical Interlude…

Yoshi invited us to a party at Hayato-san’s stand up bar — where we celebrated our anniversary the year before. That afternoon Yoshi came to the boat to practice the JD Souther song “You’re Only Lonely”. It’s one of his favorites, and he wanted to perform it with us for his friends. He brought two sanshins as well as his guitar, so we would all have instruments.

Once again, Hayato-san had a special treat for us. Everyone gathered around to watch us open a Ramune soda which requires that you pop a marble into the bottle, then drink it immediately before the carbonation makes it overflow. This caused much hilarity among the Japanese, since we did it all wrong, and spilled quite a bit. Hayato-san had also arranged for us to make takoyaki again, and treated us to dinner.

Hayato-san’s daughter, Mika, was at the bar that evening and we were immediately drawn to her big smile and adventurous spirit. That spirit was evident when we got together in Vancouver, Canada six months later.

After dinner and a few drinks, we played our rendition of “You’re Only Lonely” with Yoshi on guitar, Alene and April on sanshin, and Bruce on his concertina. We provided reasonable backing for Yoshi and either people enjoyed it or they were just being very polite. Or maybe they’d had more than a few drinks…

Many visits to the tranquility of onsen
Onsen are public baths. There are busy onsen, quiet onsen, onsen in the mountains overlooking valleys, onsen in malls, onsen with restaurants attached, historical onsen and modern onsen. They are an integral part of Japanese life… and they are wonderful. Especially in the cold winter months. We went as often as possible.

Himeji Castle and Gardens with April

The three of us set out on an expedition to Himeji Castle — one of the most famous and beautiful castles in Japan. We took the Shinkansen (bullet train). Love that train!

While transferring between stations we happened upon a video arcade and watched, open-mouthed, as this guy played a game that looked like a washing machine. It had to do with tapping and slapping and sliding and dragging. It was thoroughly crazy and confusing.

The Shinkansen was great fun and the gardens around the castle are beautiful. Another awesome day in Japan.

It’s time for April to return to the USA, but we almost foil her plans.

April’s flight back to California left from Osaka via Tokyo. I’d researched an easy way to the airport and found a bus that stopped only a few miles from IYC. We went into town early to get one more meal of soba noodles which April had fallen in love with. Over lunch I told April I would buy any leftover yen she had — she probably wouldn’t be returning to Japan very soon. She thought she should take a little but I dissuaded her, saying that she could pay for anything she wanted at the airport with a credit card.

Her bus arrived, and after many hugs we stood on the curb and waved until it was out of sight, as is the Japanese custom.

It wasn’t until she arrived home and emailed us that I found out I had put her on a bus to Kansai International Airport instead of Osaka International Airport. A wonderful customer service agent at Kansai rushed her through the airport to get her on the last bus that would allow her to catch her plane to Tokyo from Osaka International, and from there catch her plane to the USA! The bus, of course, only took cash, but somehow, due to the wonderful helpfulness of the Japanese, it all worked out and she made both of her flights.

Another IYC Party… with pizza on the BBQ and karaoke.

The following weekend there was another party at IYC. Surprise! We decided we would contribute by making pizza on the barbecue. We brought our grill and propane tank up to the clubhouse but we didn’t tell anyone what we were making. It was great fun as we were surrounded by a crowd of curious onlookers taking photos and trying to figure out what we were going to barbecue as we rolled out the dough.

There was lots of other yum food, a fair bit of drinking, general good times, and… karaoke, of course.

IYC Work Day: The IYC members do everything themselves to keep their club in good shape and thus have work days where everyone pitches in. We helped clear brush and move an old container that was on the dock next to Migration.

The Riddle of the Heater
We spent a lot of time on boat maintenance and projects. Here’s a riddle: How long does it take to repair a German heater in Japan… when the manufacturer is keeping the actual problem a secret?

Our Webasto heater was not working and we spent many days trying to figure out why. We actually didn’t figure out the problem until weeks later in Hiroshima. If you have a Webasto DBW2010, you might want to read this.

Night on the town with Yoshi and Mika

In the Okinawan islands in 2016, we had fallen in love with Okinawan music, a love we shared with Yoshi. So we were happy when he suggested we to head to Osaka to visit a Okinawan restaurant that featured live music. Mika, whom we had just met at the stand up bar, also joined us.

We were meeting Yoshi and Mika in Osaka. Our train ride and transfers were fun as it was really interesting to walk through the huge beautiful train stations and galleries.

The restaurant’s food was good, and the awamori (an Okinawan liquor) was just as harsh and potent as when we’d had it in Okinawa. Yoshi and Mika got up for the audience participation while we took photos. We knew many of the most popular songs, so it was fun to try to sing along. Luckily the restaurant was full and the music was loud, so no one could hear us butchering the words!

Blooming cherry blossoms during our Shikoku road trip!

We’d been waiting for weeks for the famed cherry blossoms to bloom. It’s big news in Japan and there are daily reports. We decided to rent a car and head across the two huge bridges connecting Kobe to Shikoku (one of the four main islands of Japan) via Awajishima. Shikoku is known for its pilgrimage trail that circles the island visiting 88 temples.

We were about as lucky as one could be. Everywhere we went in Shikoku the blossoms were in full bloom and we happened upon several different cherry blossom festivals.

Of course, we sought out onsen and found an absolutely beautiful one high in the mountains. It was open-air and, surprisingly, the most beautiful pool was for both men and women. For the first time, we could enjoy an onsen together and in a phenomenal setting.

There was a cable car that led up to the onsen on the cliffside. The management kindly made sure foreigners didn’t embarrass themselves.

And what about the tolls? Well, we were not prepared for the numbers that appeared when we approached the toll booths on the motorways and bridges. We had been converting yen to dollars for months — it was easy: divide by 100 since 100 yen is about a dollar. But our brains would not register that a motorway and bridge could cost… $58? We really did spend $150 in tolls in 3 days… almost as much as the car rental.

Sugoi Chandlery
We made many visits to Yuukou Marine — probably the best chandlery in Japan — and shared meals with the wonderful owners Colin and Mika.

And the highlight of our time in the Kobe area… the many kindnesses from the the members of the Ichimonji Yacht Club.

It is hard to describe how welcome we were made to feel at IYC. From the arrival escort and welcome party, to impromptu lunch invites when we happened to be walking past the clubhouse, to the willingness to help us with every problem… the members of IYC were always there for us.

Our 5hp Tohatsu outboard was having issues despite being purchased less than two years before in Malaysia, so we asked Mas-san if he could find an outboard repair shop for us. IYC member Tanigawa-san drove Bruce to the repair shop. Unfortunately, the technician said the entire motor block needed to be replaced, and the quote for that repair was more than the outboard originally cost.

The IYC members had a solution. A Yamaha 4hp outboard had been left at the club and wasn’t being used. It wasn’t running, but two club members, Takahashi-san and Kamanishi-san, took on the repair and then gave us the outboard.

In addition, the handlebar hinge was breaking on one of our Dahon folding bicycles, which were getting a lot of use in Japan. We nearly had an accident when the hinge gave out entirely while April was riding it. When Alene saw Koyama-san doing some welding on a new building for the club, she asked whether he might be able to fix our Dahon. He did a great job, but had doubts how long the weld would last. He insisted on giving us a folding bike that had been sitting around the club. Another useful and generous gift from IYC.

Any problem we had, it seemed there was someone who wanted to help.

When we met Shitsukawa-san at the club, he told us that he had recently purchased a catamaran in New Caledonia, and he had a few questions for us about owning and sailing a multihull, so he and his wife Harumi-san invited us to dinner at a special barbecue restaurant.

A few days later, Shitsukawa-san and Harumi-san (and their dog Bobo) came to Migration to give us maps and information for our upcoming trip to Shikoku. Because we only had a few days for our travels, their advice was very helpful.

Our last weekend at IYC, we exchanged gifts with everyone.

Mas-san was our primary IYC contact, our main translator, and our “find a solution to every problem” guy. One day he treated us to lunch at the absolute best tempura restaurant we have ever been to. He’s a university professor who has travelled quite a lot, so we always had interesting conversations. We are so grateful to him.

We left IYC mid-week when no one was around. That was perfect as it gave us a chance to leave a little thank you surprise in the clubhouse for all the members we came to appreciate so much. (The fish are from Mexico.)

Domo arigato gozaimasu, IYC!

Spring was here and summer was approaching. We needed to be in the far north of Japan by the beginning of June to be ready to cross the North Pacific. Hakodate in Hokkaido was over a thousand miles away… and there was all of the west coast to visit on the way.

Continue Reading: West through the Seto Naikai >