Japan 2017 The sailing adventure in Japan began in Ishigaki and went north east through the island chain to the main islands, where we spent most time sailing in the “Inland Sea”. Before entering Japan we had high hopes to spend at least 4 -5 month here; however it turned out to be shorter, see later.
The passage of 258 Nm between Houbihu harbour, Taiwan and the big entry port at Ishigaki was done in 1½ days in approx 5 – 10 kt of wind from the north and later the south, but with a northerly current of 1 – 1.5 kt. The distance was made with 27 hours of motoring.
Ishigaki is an open port with a large coast guard fleet. The check in was efficient with many officials involved. We got a coastal certificate allowing us to sail between ports without having to involve customs officials. Also we got a 3 month visa, and was told that we could extend it. The reality was, that an extension turned out to be impossible when we asked for it, which meant that we in a hurry had to change plans and leave Japan much sooner than expected.
The weather in Japan can be very different. We had mostly calm, hot, and sunny days, but also days with winds of 30 – 40 kt. In addition we had to brace ourselves for two typhoon passages. This can be a difficult task, because the relatively few marinas in Japan, with floating docks, will not accept boats longer than 15 m regardless of the weather, and we were then forced to tie up to concrete docks, and with up to 3 m tide plus a possible storm surge it was quite a challenge even with many big fenders, fender boards, kedge anchors, and long lines set out to avoid too much damage during a typhoon passage. Even if both the typhoons were predicted to pass right over us, we were lucky that they chose slightly different tracks and spared us for the worst. The first one went 60 Nm to the east of us. We were docked in a small island which was unaffected, but the typhoon damaged large parts of the island of Kyushu where several million citizens were without power for a week, and many houses were destroyed leaving many people homeless for weeks.
At the second typhoon warning, we were lucky to be docked in a good marina in Osaka. We were tied to a solid floating dock and could stretch lines across the harbour basin to keep the boat away from the dock, so all went well also because the typhoon took a more northerly track and no damage was done to Osaka and the surrounding.
From Ishigaki we sailed north east and anchored, or docked at: Hirara Miyako, Okinawa, Tokuno Shima, Kami Koshiki Jima, Mie Shikimi Nagasaki, Sunset Marina, Nakadori Shima, Hirado Shima, and Fukuoka.
In Okinawa we visited the famous aquarium and a museum displaying remains from the culture of the first inhabitants on these islands, and for me who have seen similar museums in Polynesia, it was obvious that these cultures were very similar when comparing e.g. huts, boats, and tools. The tempered rain forest on Tokuno Shima and the huge trees growing there was also a highlight.
On the way to Nagasaki we passed the Taka Shima / Hashima Island which is an abandoned coal mine. The ruins are spectacular as looked at from the seaside.
It was interesting to visit Nagasaki and the museum at De Jima which was a Dutch settlement with a Japanese trade monopoly. The first Dutch settlement with this trade monopoly was in Hirado Shima, which also housed a museum in a new restored old building from that time.
Hiroshima and the peace museum was interesting considering the history and damage by the nuclear bomb at end of WW2. Also a visit to the temple, Itsukushima Shrine on the island of the same name was special. I was lucky to get directions by a fellow Japanese sailor in Hiroshima Marina so we were able to dock at the island with direct view to the shrine and the famous gate. In Fukuoka we were lucky to see the religious processions performed once a year, where men of all ages are involved in carrying the heavy wooden symbols.
In the “Inland Sea” we anchored in many places at small islands or docked where possible. Japan operates with: open ports and closed ports. Open ports can be used without prior permit, while closed ports require a permit which can be obtained by sending an email request to the relevant prefecture, asking for a visit during a certain time period. Normally you get a positive answer within a week. You can then visit, but only in the period asked for and acknowledged. I made requests to one prefecture which never answered though. Japan is not used to many visiting pleasure crafts, and we experienced in most ports to have on average 8 officials from different offices coming to the dock asking about all the papers and details of our prior journey in Japan. It took approx 1½ – 2 hours each time. On anchor we used to be boarded and questioned in the same way spending the same amount of time.
The officials were always polite and correct, the main problem was that we didn’t speak Japanese and they didn’t speak well English. In between there were some strange situations. E.g. I was asked to leave the open port of Mie Shikimi Nagasaki without any explanation.
Also another example, without going into details, when I was boarded by the coast guard at anchor while my crew was ashore, I was told that I could not use my dinghy because it was not inspected for use in Japan. I said that both the boat and the dinghy had been inspected when we entered Japan. They said no, and I asked them to inspect it on the spot, because I needed to pick up my onshore crew. They said they were not authorized to do that, and left.
I picked up my crew an hour later, and to my surprise she was escorted by two coast guard officers to the dock because it turned out that the small marina was considered a closed port. There were a number of other odd situations as well; however it was clear that Japan is very alert to foreign vessels and persons entering their territory. E.g. private fishing vessels passing by would report us when they saw us at anchor. This occasionally resulted in extra visits from coast guard or customs vessels.
It was therefore good to experience the very kind and helpful people who all wanted us to feel welcomed in the harbours or wherever we visited. E.g. it was always a problem to get rid of our garbage. There are no normal garbage containers as we are used to from most other countries, and once because of the language barrier we showed a nice couple on the dock our garbage bag and tried to explain our problem. They seemed not to understand and left the dock. 15 minutes later they returned with groceries which they thought we needed after seeing the empty cartons in the garbage bag. We all had a good laugh and invited them onboard for supper and drinks, and had a fun time together. When they left hours later they took our garbage with them!
We have many good memories from Japan, the hospitality of the people, the well-organized society, and the high quality of food. I particularly enjoyed the first class sea food, which reminded me of my childhood food.
After leaving Odo Marina, Fukuoka, which let us dock a couple of days in spite of our size only because the weather was good, we headed for checking out for South Korea at the island of Izuhara Ko. Its proximity closer to South Korea make it look like a mix of the two cultures.
Due to the eminent visa expiration we had to leave before we had planned, so we decided to return to Japan by ferry after being docked in Busan, South Korea and travel by land. Among many other places we visited Kyoto and Tokyo and enjoyed travelling in busy Japan with the high speed trains, the fascinating architecture and gardens, and sleeping in traditional hotels on the floor, the Japanese way.