In 1999, illywhacker sailed from Nagasaki,
Kyushu to Korea then around the Inland Sea of Japan and back
to Nagasaki. This story tells of one fabulous port in that
I have on my computer a series of started-but-not-finished
cruising stories about our adventures in Japan. Having an
Engineers mind means they are nearly ready and all in
time sequence. But I also have a sailors attention span
so I am easily diverted by people arriving at the boat with
plastic bags full of cold containers and since it is a stinking
hot and humid summer here these have to be dealt with asap.
Whilst I can assure readers that I have every intention of
completing these stories and posting them off to the Coastal
Cruising Club "Mainsheet", I find on this occasion
I am compelled to write immediately such is the impact of
events only recently unfolded in this amazing town of Tokushima.
It is typhoon time in Japan at present so our plan of cruising
the Inland Sea is to watch and wait in a safe anchorage then
sail with all speed to the next. These hidey holes are marinas
at the eastern end (Osaka Wan) and in the smaller fishing
ports further west, ferry pontoons or seawalls. There are
precious few places to drop a hook and if we do find a promising
quiet bay it will have fish farms or traps covering it entirely;
fishermen have first charge over the waterways here. Our stops
in Osaka Wan are as youd expect from an illywhacker
- we have managed to find a series of marinas with a generous
policy of 1 or 2 weeks free for foreign yachts.
It is when a typhoon is brewing (#s 11 and 12 are to
the east of Japan now) and our free time is running out that
I get nervous since the cost for one overnight can be over
AUD$200. So it was with great interest that we accepted the
invitation of the Awa Cruising Club at Tokushima to spend
some time with them during the famous festival known as Awa
The mooring is well-protected, a mile upriver, it is free
for as long as we like, shared by 50 or so local yachts and
alongside a homebuilt pontoon with water and electricity laid
on. It is right in downtown Tokushima on the NE tip of Shikoku
Island (to the south of the big island, Honshu). Tokushima
is a city of 280,000 which has swelled to over 1 million with
festival goers from all over Japan
.and us. It is here
that we have experienced Japanese hospitality at a staggering
high. For a couple of quiet cruising grannies this is a rather
On our arrival, I telephoned our host who immediately left
work and came to the quay to assist in tying up by recruiting
a work boat to lay out our stern anchor, a job I usually detest.
He then broadcast our arrival to the 40 club members by e-mail,
some of whom received the message on their "handiphones" and were down that afternoon offering help of all sorts. It
was a week prior the festival and in that time we were;
- Given maps and a guided tour of the city and shown the
important shops (supermarkets and hardware stores), bars,
bus and train stations, bars, Post Office
- Helped to catch a bus (2 1/2hrs ea way) for a day trip
to Osaka to fulfil our Immigration requirements.
- Taken to various restaurants - okonomiaki style, soba
noodle style, ramen noodles ..yum.
- Given a welcome party at the clubhouse, an old waterfront
warehouse recently acquired and renovated by the the members.
- Interviewed by a delightful young lady from the Tokushima
Shimbun, the local newspaper which resulted in a large article
and a coloured photo of "the Australians who sailed
all the way to come to our festival". It also resulted
in crowds of people leaning over the seawall and many anxious
to come aboard, curious to see how we lived.
- Invited to appear on a night-time radio chat show where
we answered the usual question sequence; "how old are
you", "what hotel are you staying at", "how
can you be living this lifestyle without working" and
- Taken on a Jazz Street crawl, there are several venues
with many groups vying for time slots. The standard was
high but it did seem strange seeing and hearing Blues and
Dixie with a Japanese accent.
- Taken to a Sushi Bar where the chef prepares the sushi
in front of you. This included the famous matsusuke mushroom,
raw fish, squid, octopus and shellfish washed down with
excellent beer and sake.
- Taken to a (eat your heart out guys) Geisha House where
I was surrounded and pampered to excess according to Lyndall
by beautiful, pale creatures from an era 100 years before.
(No more details available)
- Taken on a days outing to the local indigo dyeing factory,
to a traditional pottery with wood-fired climbing kiln and
to Bando village, a place built by German POWs who
were given free reign in WWII by the Japanese camp Commander.
All interspersed with visits to eating houses and a coffee
shop cum art gallery.
- Taken to visit Naruto Narrows, a dramatic pass between
Awaji Shima and Shikkoku Islands through which a substantial
part of the Inland Sea flows to and from the Pacific Ocean.
Standing on the viewing platform of the 1.6 km suspension
bridge we had arrived at full ebb and if the view was wondrous
for the tourists it was terrifying for us as we knew we
had to negotiate it on the next leg of our trip. The tide
was running at 10.6 knots that day and we could see the
famous whirlpools which have been known to suck small craft
to their doom. Big ships were scooting under the bridge,
their bows pitching and spray flying as they rode the overfalls.
New cruising plan?
|Eastern entrance to
the Inland Sea, Naruto Narrows
Whirlpools with the ebb tide
The festival is held in the midsummer period of Obon during
which time the more recently departed are honoured at family
shrines with offerings and prayer. After a first rate send-off
(by Awa Odori dancers in Tokushima) lanterns are set afloat
one evening at sunset and the ancestors take their leave,
disappearing off to the horizon where the 2 worlds meet. In
our travels we have been privileged to visit many Buddhist
temples and Shinto shrines, co-existing Japanese philosophies
from where much of their world view derives. This area was
claimed by the Awa clan after a battle for territory in the
16th century and the peasants danced in the streets for 4
nights hoping for continued peace, a tradition which continues
to this day.
|Elegant dining, geisha style
|Crass Australian attempts at Awa odori
On the first night of the festival we were given seats in an important
stand where we were to study the dance steps. It is truly a magnificent
sight so typically Japanese. In traditional costumes the orderly lines
of dancers, from toddlers to stiff-jointed octogenarians
swing to the rhythm of the heavy taiko drums, flutes and
tinkling percussion. I couldnt
keep my eyes off the girls in traditional dress including
geta, the wooden flat top shoes, Im sure they were hell
to walk in. Each group is announced, work, school, clubs are
all given polite applause, "the team" and participation
are everything. By the end of the night the roadside vendors
of beer have made a fortune and along with many of the spectators
have joined in the dancing which becomes ..er "unrestrained" (but
On night # 2 we were presented with a costume each and told
we were part of the 50 or so Chukyo University (some 100km
away near Nagoya) team. With some trepidation we were dressed
by willing yachties in yukata, a loose sort of dressing gown
with an obi, a belt tied in a special way and a headband.
We were given special dispensation and allowed to wear sneakers
instead of the usual tabe, white socks with a thin sole as
we would be expected to be still dancing after 4 hours or
At around 7pm and after some liquid reinforcement we marched
through crowded streets, cleared of traffic behind our lantern
banners towards the sound of the drums and the ever so bright
lights. Much to our horror Lyndall and I were lined up in
row # 2 as we were "special guests". There was no
way we were going to remain hidden in the crowd, what a couple
of dorks were going to look like! Then our turn came,
those lights were so BRIGHT cameras didnt need a flashlight
but the order was to DANCE and SMILE
so we did and we
only vaguely heard the lady on the PA system scream out that
we were visitors from Australia which removed the last trace
of our imagined anonymity
all we could do was to SMILE
again and bow as deeply as we could to the excessively generous
Another round of reinforcements and off we marched to another
of our 5 venues through streets rocking with revellers. This
wasnt so bad after all. But as can be imagined, by midnight
we couldnt feel our feet and our heads were reeling
with the drumbeat, the coloured lights, the pretty girls (I
was anyway) and well, it was very thirsty work so we were
What a night.
Up early next morning for the Awa Yacht race. Over 100 yachts
from all over Japan competed in a rare day of 20 knots, sunshine
and smooth seas. Why cant we get that when cruising?
The raft up and party afterwards was an opportunity for us
to be shown on national TV and presented with a gift of a
box of nachi pears, the crisp variety, a specialty of this
area. More dancing, more beer, well never last the pace
and one more night to go!
Somehow we made it and this week has been quieter. We have
taken the opportunity to lift our mast and replace the mastep,
something Ive been waiting to do since it was temporarily
repaired after a fracture in the Solomons. We could be here
another week, or a month
or maybe well wait until
the next festival?