Jun 09 2008
Our northeasterly journey along the west coast of Honshu has been the unfolding of serial delights. We’ve moved away from the modern & industrial eastern coastline of Japan and discovered the charm of a more rural, and traditional Japan. There are still pockets of trade & industry here but we are now in a region where the dominant economic themes are agriculture & coastal fisheries, with modest impacts of (Japanese) tourism evidenced by modern ferries and high-speed passenger hydrofoils.
The cities & towns on this side are smaller, the architecture more traditional, ancient shrines, temples and crafts more frequent, onsens more abundant, streets & highways more narrow and winding; there are no bullet-trains on this side! Coastal traffic, and our passages, are no longer crowded and confused by the rapid transit of massive container-ships, bulk carriers & tankers; fog has taken their place as challenges to our navigation.
The countryside is steep, lush and verdant with spring growth & plantings. The fabled prosperity of Japanese farmers, despite the small size of meticulously manicured individual plots of farm-land, is everywhere evident. Equally evident is the cultural modernization of Japan—–seen in the aging demographics of these rural areas. Youth has apparently taken-flight to the attractions of the modern east, leaving aging fishermen & farmers and family produce-gardens tended by stooped & wizened elders.
Hagi, Saigo on Dogo Island, Maizuru and Ryotsu on Sado Island—–each a welcoming destination. Westward is quite a calling card in these harbors less-visited by cruising yachts. Cruising yachts all report similar welcomes throughout Japan; but few are as large as Westward, none as distinctly classic & antique. A larger yacht in these waters, and the extravagance that such imply, could be “off-putting”; Westward is perhaps received differently than her newer sisters. It is as if the commitment that bringing her across the Pacific to Japan is understood, and appreciated.
Gifts of fresh fruits & produce, fish are oft our daily fare; smiles & halting English greet us wherever we venture. Chefs at local restaurants know from whence we come; we were hosted to a private tour, and tea ceremony, at a 200 year-old sake brewery and through the owners’ home and splendid ancient garden. School children greet us with warmth and curiosity. The extensive & efficient Japan Coast Guard has taken Westward under their wing, welcoming us at each harbor oft arranging moorage at ports ahead.
But for it all, the price in paperwork is high. There is something amiss with a system that requires boarding party of twelve (12) officials, from up to five different agencies, for inward clearance at each new port on a coastal voyage! We are most certainly and thoroughly tracked along our course.
We’ll sail Ryotsu today for Akita, namesake of Marley’s ancestral pack; we expect every dog in town to be on the dock to greets us! Akita will be our last port-of-call, on Honshu, before ten-days at Hokkaido . . . and our June 23rd departure from Kushiro to the Aleutians. We can almost feel the bitter-sweet proximity of home, and the ending of this marvelous odyssey.
All continues well aboard
P.S. As I wrote these closing words we were visited, in reaffirmation of the preceding generosity described, by a familiar local fisherman who delivered the gift of a fish print (“yotaku”) of his own making—-a large, fresh-caught sea-bass whose image was inked and handsomely pressed onto a fine cotton cloth—-a treasure gift of skill, thoughtfulness & generosity.
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