March – June 2017
Written in Baja California, Mexico, October – December 2020
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
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.
The local yacht club and our friend Kakihara-san threw a little welcome home party for us….
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.
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.
Speaking to Students
April and Bruce had booked two author presentations at international schools. From Tokyo, we flew to Fukuoka for the first engagement.
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
Hiking with April on a beautiful spring day.
A visit to Kyoto with April and Yoshi
Marist Brothers International School Visit… and new friends
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
It’s time for April to return to the USA, but we almost foil her plans.
Another IYC Party… with pizza on the BBQ and karaoke.
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
Blooming cherry blossoms during our Shikoku road trip!
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.