Japan: The Inland Sea
Published 12 years ago, updated 2 years ago
Our thanks to Nick and Jenny Coghlan of SY Bosun Bird (www.bosunbird.com) for this detailed and informative report.
These notes reflect a cruise from west to east in the Inland Sea undertaken aboard Bosun Bird, a Vancouver 27, in the summer of 2011.
Japan’s Inland Sea (Seto Naikai) is approximately 230 nautical miles from east to west, with islands creating narrows in a number of locations, and permitting three sets of bridges to span the Sea north to south. For well over a thousand years it has served as a safe all-weather route from China, Korea and the island of Kyushu to the heartland of Japan; today, an average of 1400 vessels a day pass through the Akashi Kaikyo, one of the two straits that give access to the Sea from Osaka Bay.
The shorelines of Honshu to the north and Shikoku to the south are in many places heavily developed and sometimes disfigured by miles of refineries, petrochemical works, and chimneys. But among the hundreds of islands that all but choke the central part of the Sea, you can still find Old Japan; in fact, as young people move steadily to the cities and the birth rate continues to decline, these beautiful islands are perhaps quieter than they have been in centuries. As elsewhere in Japan, it is difficult to find a secluded bay in which to anchor – there will likely be a tiny port at its head, or a fish farm blocking access – but the welcome in the small towns is invariably warm, and after dark little will disturb you.
CHARTS & PUBLICATIONS
GPS positions in these notes should be used with caution and at your own risk.
For general notes on cruising in Japan and for detailed notes on Kyushu, see Japan for Cruisers, Kyushu; for photos and a narrative for non-sailors about the Inland Sea, see Japan Inland Sea.
As for Kyushu, the books of chartlets issued by the Japan Hydrographic Service (two to cover the Inland Sea) are expensive – about USD $45 each – but useful; the text, including place names, is all in Kanji (hence the page references in these notes) but navigational aids are featured in conventional English, and lat/long are in western numerals.
C-Map is blank for Kanmon Kaikyo; a paper chart is here indispensable (the books of chartlets cover it, though).
There is a useful publication of marinas and pontoons (some free) which you can pick up at various marinas or view online. (www.umieki.net). It includes photos, GPS positions (sometimes approximate), websites, phone nos. etc. Although this publication is in Japanese, we were able to understand most of the online version using the translate feature of Google toolbar. We found this feature most helpful for all Japanese websites. For background reading and history, Donald Richie’s The Inland Sea is highly recommended.
WEATHER & CURRENTS
For weather, please refer to Japan for Cruisers, Kyushu for information on sources of weather forecasting. Japanese forecasts cover the entire Inland Sea as a single zone, which may be of limited use in that so many local effects apply; the only lighthouse reports are from Kobe (at the E end) and on the outer (Pacific) coast of Shikoku Island, where things are usually a lot windier than inside.
From our experience in the Inland Sea (July-October 2011) and also in Kyushu (April-July 2011) we offer the following weather observations:
· the rainy season ran from May until July 10; the finish of the rainy season was quite abrupt;
· the prevailing summer winds in the Inland Sea are easterly, generally less than 10 knots, but higher near Kanmon Kaikyo; calms are common;
· we experienced two mornings of fog, in late July; moving about close to the shipping lanes in fog is not advisable;
· by the end of October there had been 23 tropical depressions/storms/typhoons. This was a slightly less than average year. Only 9 approached or hit Japanese territory – the most affected areas being Okinawa, Amami-o- Shima, the south coasts of Kyushu and Shikoku, and Honshu from Wakayama to Nagoya. In Honshu over 100 people were killed in one typhoon, but this was almost entirely due to avalanches, mudslides, and flooding;
· the first typhoon was in late May; by late October the season seemed to be virtually over;
· the island of Shikoku shelters the Inland Sea from the worst effects;
· most marinas would serve for sitting out a typhoon. We sat out one typhoon in Onimichi and felt no wind, even though in open waters in the Inland Sea readings were 50 knots. The only drawback here could be the wake of passing ships, but during a storm warning there are no ships moving in any case;
· it was hot and humid during the summer (over 33 centigrade); temperatures began to drop in early October.
An important factor in route planning is current; the circulation of currents here is complex and can be quite strong; the Japanese Coast Guard provides a useful simulation of the currents. (http://www1.kaiho.mlit.go.jp/KANKYO/TIDE/curr_pred/index_e.htm). The flood tides from the Pacific, entering at either extreme of the Inland Sea, meet at the approximate longitude of Tomo-no-Oura.
Given the intensity of shipping and diverse fishing-related activities – including extensive seaweed farming from October through March – night-time navigation is not advisable. Fishermen should not be expected to accommodate your manoeuvers at sea; they literally consider the Inland Sea to be theirs and are sometimes cool (but not hostile…) towards sailboats.
From Odo Marina in Fukuoka, Kyushu’s largest city, it is approximately 50 nautical miles to Kanmon Kaikyo, the tidal narrows between Honshu and Kyushu that are the western entrance to the Inland Sea. Kanmon Kaikyo means “Barrier Strait” and the narrows need to be approached with caution and close attention to the state of the tidal current.
Some 23 miles NNE of Odo, the island of O-Shima is a good staging place for the approach to Kanmon Kaikyo from the Sea of Japan. There is a chartlet of Oshima’s main port on P36 of Chartbook H-808W, but in April 2011 a new harbour was constructed immediately to the South of the existing harbours; this does not show in the chartbook but is seen as partially complete on Google Earth. Parallel to the new harbour’s northern wall is a floating pontoon which is set aside for visiting pleasure craft; although the idea is that you Med-moor to it, as long as there is no-one else there side-tying is possible. There is a fee of 3000 Y (about USD $37), payable at the fishing store at the inshore end of the wall; showers and toilets in the same building. Our position: 33 53.633 N; 130 26.015E. Much of the rest of this harbour is taken up with a semi-permanent fish-farm where tourists are invited to try their luck. The adjoining harbour to the North has two ferry docks, the easternmost of which is a pontoon and which may also be available for yachts. North again of the ferry harbour is the fishing harbour – quite tightly packed when we visited. And a mile north of this set of three harbours is a fourth harbour, which looked a lot quieter and where there is a sizable pontoon. The island is a holiday destination, with sandy beaches and a number of small shops. Note that O-Shima means Big Island and is a very common name hereabouts.
Approaching Kanmon Kaikyo
As you approach Kanmon Kaikyo from the west, the Kyushu shoreline becomes steadily more industrialized; the last mile or two are marked by some ten large wind-generating towers. Inshore on the Kyushu shore is the large (pop 1m) industrial city of Kitakyushu, which was originally the Number One target for the second atomic bomb (it was saved by heavy cloud cover on August 9th, 1945); on the Honshu side is the smaller city of Shimonoseki. A suspension bridge joins the two cities at the eastern end of the Strait, and there are also road and railway tunnels. The Strait is in the form of a lazy “U” and is about half a mile wide at its narrowest point. At either end, illuminated boards indicate the present direction of current flow (E or W), with the speed, and an arrow shows whether the speed is increasing or decreasing. Current tables are available for Kanmon Kaikyo and it is a good idea to have these on hand. The area of strongest current is close to the bridge, where a strong E-going current that meets the chop raised by the prevailing easterly winds can create some unpleasant, even dangerous turbulence. Generally speaking, the current is stronger on the Honshu side. The Japan Hydrographic Association provides a useful simulation of the current at various stages of the tide. (http://www.mirc.jha.or.jp/cgi-bin/online/w/w-tcp?AREA=kanmon [BROKEN LINK])
Vessels are required to maintain a watch on VHF Channel 16; the traffic control centre is called Kanmon Martis and operators speak English; on SSB 2019 at 0015 and 0045 every hour there are local weather reports in English and warnings of movements of large ships. Kanmon Martis provides a user manual in English [BROKEN LINK]; there is also a useful summary of navigation rules etc. Small vessels are not required to check in.
There is plenty of room for yachts to stay outside the marked shipping channel. Ideally, you should time your passage to begin at the last of the contrary current, and then have favourable current wash you through; the current turns quickly and attains maximum speed in about an hour. Note however that very large vessels also make the most of slack to maneuver in and out of the many commercial and industrial berths that line both sides of the Strait, and you may find your path temporarily blocked by a 200,000 tonne tanker and its tugs; small fishing boats weave in and among the heavy shipping as well; in this area our AIS maxed out at 50-plus targets. A detailed paper chart is advisable; C-Map is poor; Chartbook H-804W covers the Strait adequately.
This is not a scenic location in which to anchor or moor. If caught by the tide or poor light, it is possible to anchor at the entrance of Tobata Inlet, to your starboard as you enter the Strait from the Sea of Japan – approx 130 51E, 33 56.250N – but this is quite exposed. Several miles down the Inlet, under a high bridge and then into a cut to port is an abandoned pontoon favoured by Japanese yachts: 33 52.736N; 130 48.514E (p120/121 in H-804W). Close by is an amusement park, complete with a replica of the Space Shuttle, and across the way is a 24-hr container-loading facility, but the pontoon itself is peaceful; it is a dead end so there is no passing traffic. No fee. The channel is lit almost all the way to the pontoon.
At the eastern end of Kanmon Kaikyo, notwithstanding a weather forecast for the Inland Sea that called for westerlies, we found that the wind was just south of east, making it impossible to lay a course to Ube, where there is another free pontoon. Local sailors later confirmed that in the western end of the Inland Sea, moderate to strong easterlies are prevalent.
Shin Moji Marina
Accordingly, we peeled off south for about five miles, to the marina at Shin Moji. Approaching the marina you need to take care to avoid large floating oyster farms and associated moorings; at low tide, we were disconcerted to see a rusty steel pole sticking up from a patch of otherwise open water. The well-protected marina has two well-maintained fingers, with about 30 slips in all, mostly vacant; there are a haulout facility and a large modern yacht club with adjoining restaurant and wedding chapel; our position 33 53.441N; 131.00.158E. Pp 122 & 135B in H-804W. Electricity and water on the pontoons; showers (free) in the YC. Expensive: USD $55 for our 27-footer. The marina is on reclaimed dockland; it is a thirty-minute walk to the nearest shops (two convenience stores); ferries from Osaka dock at the nearby commercial port and two or three miles South, also on reclaimed land, is Kitakyushu airport (not shown on our chart).
35nm to the east a favoured stop for yachties: the island of Himeshima. We tied to the E side of an SSE-pointing wall at 33 43.286N; 131 38.820E. P130A in H-804W. No fees/officials. One or two small shops in the quiet, attractive town. At the east end of the island, about 45 mins’ walk, is an Onsen (natural hot bath), with fine views over the Inland Sea. Although there is still some fishing here (indeed the fishing boats come and go in the night, to/from an unloading point close to the place we tied) the island’s main industry now is the raising of shrimp, in large saltwater pools through which seawater is circulated artificially.
Heigun To/Heigun Shima Island
A further 35 miles to the ENE is Heigun To (or Heigun Shima), a very beautiful, high, quiet island well-worth a stop. Not in the chartlet book; our position 33 46.731N; 132 15.849E. As you enter the harbour steering approximately west you pass on your starboard the location where the ferry docks and, just past it (a tempting location, otherwise), the black/yellow painted wall to which it ties at night. Tie to the jutting-out piece of sheer concrete wall directly on your bow, which is about one boat’s length. Depth here is adequate but in most other locations of this small harbour it is not. There is a useful photo on Google Earth; it is dated ten years ago, but the hulk that is shown as partially blocking the approach to the yacht berth is still there; you could tie up to it, but it is out of reach of the shore. No fees/officials. As is the case with so many islands, depopulation has been severe here and the village is very quiet; we learned that on the island there are only three persons aged under thirty, and none are yet of school age; when the oldest reaches five, the elementary school will apparently reopen. There is one shop, but it is often not open. Up the hill and over the top on the other (S) side of the island is a beautiful and clean sandy beach. A retired local schoolteacher, Jun, made us very welcome here. The local specialty is octopus (”taco”).
Yasiro Sima Island
Most desirable anchoring locations in Japan turn out to be occupied by fish farms or artificial harbours, but in settled conditions there is a very pleasant and quiet anchorage at Kodomari Wan, towards the eastern end of Yasiro Sima island, a few miles East of Heigun To; protection is good from W through N to E, but you would not want to be here in a strong southerly. Our position: 33 54 815N; 132 24.169E; 17 meters. There is a sandy beach at the head of the bay.
After Kodomari, the busy main shipping lane continues to the NE towards Osaka, but a subsidiary route heads N and into the wide, island-studded Hiroshima Bay. There exists a variety of routes for smaller craft, but all are subject to tidal currents, between 3 and 6 knots.
Yachts receive a very warm welcome at the Kaze No Ko boatyard on an N-facing shore of the large Kurahashi Shima, in Hiroshima Bay. The boatyard is in a snug and well-protected cove that is partly encumbered by oyster farms and a number of moored yachts. Tie up to an irregular set of (rather rickety) floating docks; our position 34 07.238N; 132 28.273E. Not in the chartlet book; no officials/fees. The staff are very friendly; they are used to working on yachts and are currently specializing in fitting hybrid engines to sailboats. The only downside of this location is that, although the yard is on a small peninsula joined to the main island, there is no path or track; you must row some 200m across the bay if you want to go anywhere. Shops are then some 20 mins by bike. Kurahashi is linked by a bridge to “mainland” Honshu.
As you head N into Hiroshima Bay, you pass a number of high islands that have been defaced by massive limestone quarrying: a price Japan pays for its love affair with concrete; strange-looking limestone-carrying barges can be found tied up in various quiet locations when not in use. Take care to avoid the increasing numbers of oyster farms that clutter protected bays: although the areas in which these are moored are often marked in the chartlet book (as red-hatched rectangles), their corners are only sometimes marked and lit with the regulation yellow beacons/lights on small rafts.
Okinoshima Island Marina
Approaching the marina on Okinoshima Island from the S, oyster farms dictate a particularly wide sweep to the N then E. The marina (chartlet P67B in H-804W) consists of four main fingers, totaling about 50 berths, of which about half were occupied when we visited. Our position: 34 09.460N; 132 26.396E. This is a well-protected, picturesque location, with high mountains and greenery all around and, if you do not wish to proceed all the way to Hiroshima, can be a good base for exploring the area. The young marina manager is very helpful, and they have an excellent mechanic on staff. Haulout by crane is possible. Water on the pontoons; a free open-air shower at the small beach, or coin-op hot showers. Free laundry; free ice and free use of large freezer compartments. No officials. Rates nominally 50 Yen per foot per day, but negotiable. Marina tabby cat named Hime (Princess).
It is a 40-minute walk (initially up a steep hill, then across a bridge to the main island of Etajima) to the nearest village at Fukae, where there are two small shops; a further fifteen minutes take you to two larger supermarkets. The nearest bus stop is also at Fukae; from here there are regular buses to Koyo (30 mins), whence you can catch ferries to Hiroshima or Kure (20 mins/10 mins). From the Hiroshima ferry terminal, trams (150Y) take you downtown; it costs the same to take the ferry from Koyo to Kure, then a suburban train to Hiroshima. With planning, you can be in Hiroshima in about two and a half hours after leaving the marina.
Etajima Island (adjoining Okinoshima)
Here you can make an interesting visit to the Etajima Naval Academy. There are several (free) guided tours a day which, although in Japanese, do leave you for some 40 minutes to look around the quite large and interesting naval museum.
In Hiroshima, there are several marina options. The main “sights” are of course the various memorials to the victims of the first atomic bomb, and a large modern Peace Memorial Museum (with explanations in English) but the city is now a vibrant, modern place in its own right.
Five minutes by direct ferry from Hiroshima, also reachable by a cheaper tram/ferry combination, is Miyajima Island, which has hosted Buddhist and Shinto temples for over 1000 years and which is famous worldwide for the spectacular and much-photographed red wooden “Tori” (ceremonial gateway) that, at high tide, seems to float on the waters of Hiroshima Bay. The island receives thousands of visitors and the village is something of a tourist trap, but the shrines/monasteries are interesting and you can quickly get away from the crowds by taking the steep mountain trail up Mt Misen (500m; 90 minutes); on the summit is a small temple where a flame has been kept alight for 1100 years.
You can also take your yacht to Miyajima; there is a pontoon at the S end of the bay that contains the Tori.
Closer to Etajima, the large city of Kure (ten minutes by ferry from Koyo) has two museums of some interest: one hosts a massive model of the WW2-vintage Yamato, the largest battleship ever built; the other (adjoining the ferry terminal; free admission) is run by the Japanese Self Defence Forces, who maintain a large naval base here; it has exhibits on mine-sweeping but the main attraction is a real decommissioned submarine of 1980’s vintage, part of which can be toured.
Leaving Hiroshima Bay to head south and east once more, we revisited Kurahashi Shima. At Katsuragahama, on the south shore of Kurahashi, is a red pontoon reserved especially for yachts: 34 06 169N; 132 30.549E. No officials; you are supposed to check in at the large spa/hotel to the right of the pontoon, but this was closed when we visited so we do not know if a fee is payable. The village is attractive, with small shops and a good sushi restaurant. On the shore close to the harbour is a large covered shed where you can view the full-sized replica of the kind of sailing ship that plied from here to Korea about 1000 years ago. Ryusei Idehata is a local volunteer guide with very good English; he is also a yacht owner and Buddhist monk, with his own small 1000-yr-old temple on the hillside behind the village. Not in the chartlet book.
About 15 miles East on Kamagari Shima is a hotel complex with a fine sand beach and a large pontoon that is made available free for yachts; we visited overland; in calm conditions, this would be fine but it is quite open to the SW. There are a nearby onsen and a restaurant at the hotel, but no shops. Position (not verified personally): 34 09 97 N; 132 44.60E. Not in the chartlet book.
In the waters near Katsuragahama, we saw the rare Japanese murrelet, known locally as the Japanese penguin. Also in these waters, you can sometimes see the finless porpoise, a beluga like dolphin.
Osaki Shimojima – Mitarai
Mitarai, on Osaki Shimojima, was one of our favourite stops. Chartbook H-804W p48. The historic village straggles along the western shore of a strait that separates Osaki Shima from Okamura Shima, and which forms a good natural harbour, where anchoring is possible (current about 1.5kn). At 34 11.313N; 132 51.160E is a tiny marina, just to the NW of a large and under-used ferry pontoon. Enter the marina leaving to starboard a yellow, lit post. Inside, manoeuvering room is tight: head straight into one of the four pontoon berths, without making a large approach loop. Yachts over about 35ft in length might be better off tying to the large ferry pontoon outside. No charge, but check in at the shop/restaurant adjoining the marina; the ferry terminal also adjoins the marina. Water from a hose at the shop (ask). This would be very snug in heavy weather.
The main village is about fifteen minutes’ walk away. This was an ancient stopping place on the route through the Inland Sea between Edo/Tokyo and Kyushu/Korea and in the quiet back streets are many houses that are several hundred years old. Particularly interesting is the only surviving (of four) Pleasure House, wherein the 18th-century “oiran” (a form of geisha) plied their trade for visiting dignitaries. In a gruesome local legend, one of the oiran was blackening her teeth in preparation for a client (black teeth were a sign of beauty) when she lost her temper with her clumsy servant girl and forced the girl to swallow boiling pitch; in her death throes the girl flailed and a tiny black handprint can still be seen on one of the walls. Elsewhere in town are the grave markers of dozens of oiran who died far from their families; the old record books where their entry into service and their deaths are recorded, still survive. Today the main industry on the island is the growing of mandarin oranges; tiny funicular railways scale the steep hillsides and are busy in season (Nov/Dec) and in the harbour you can see a few of old, specially designed, orange-carrying boats. There is a small tourist office through which you can request the services of a volunteer guide (free) in English; well worth it. Bicycles can be rented.
Osaki Kami Shima
If you head under the bridges at the head of the Mitarai Inlet (3 bridges – only the easternmost two are high enough for a yacht to pass), the large island in front of you is Osaki Kami Shima. Here, on the south-facing shore at Okira, is a marina: position 34 12.643N; 132 53.393E. We visited by ferry from Mitarai, so cannot verify the position personally; reputedly expensive (USD $40 plus); suitable for small to medium yachts only. The old town of Kenoe, on the E shore of the island, is a more run-down version of Mitarai; it took over much of Mitarai’s business in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but the coming of steamships and the banning of prostitution put an end to this by the 1950s. Now shipbuilding is the main industry; yards are dotted around the shoreline, fabricating surprisingly large steel ships. There is a distinctive shipping museum, concrete but in the form of a ship, on a hillside south of Kenoe.
Omishima Island – Miyaura
Miyaura, on Omishima Island, is another interesting stop. There are two pontoons in Miyaura Bay the approach to which is marked by two large green buoys; the largest pontoon, in the SE corner of the bay, is nearly 100m long and covered; although this is only used for one small and occasional ferry, yachts are asked to go to the other, to its right as you enter the bay: 34 14.838N; 132 59.661E. Chartlet book H-804W, p95. A man in a white shirt beckoned us in here, gave us an envelope of tourist info, and administered the fee: 1 Yen per ton per night (which meant we paid about US 0.20c for three nights….).
There is a large village, at the inland end of which is a good-sized supermarket. Omishima is home to the third-most important Shinto shrine in Japan Oyamazumi), which is well worth a visit (free); adjoining it is a museum where 70% of Japan’s ancient samurai armour is housed, along with many frightening samurai swords and daggers. Rather less interesting is an adjoining “marine” museum of dusty coral, dried seaweed and moth-eaten seabirds, along with the launch in which the young Emperor Hirohito conducted marine biology studies. On the seafront close to the pontoon is a very small shrine that is not for the prudish; it has with an enclosure crammed with stone penises (!) of varying dimensions: young couples come here to pray for fertility.
Working through the channels between the many islands hereabouts, it is important to calculate the tides/currents; in many places, they run at up to 4kts but their direction is not always what you might expect. Using the excellent current animation available on the internet we worked our way South and East to Yuge Shima.
Here there is a good natural harbour where it would be possible to anchor but where yachts are also welcome on a new, free pontoon at 34 15.482N; 133 12.201E; Chartlet book H-804W p100; space for three yachts each side but might be a bit flimsy in a big blow. On a hill behind the village is a modern spa/hotel with a luxurious onsen; inquire at the little log cabin/tourist shop on the waterfront and they will have the hotel pick you up/drop you off for free. On the East side of the island, only five minutes’ away, is a beautiful sandy beach, popular for swimming in summer.
With a typhoon threatening, we sought refuge at the gritty port town of Onomichi, which lies on the north side of a narrow river-like channel between the big island of Honshu and a large offshore island, with houses tumbling down the hillside and a railway line running along the shore. See pp34-35 of Chartlet book H-804W for an excellent chart of the entire channel and environs. Current in the channel runs at up to 2kts and the waterway is busy with craft of all sorts; there are a number of shipyards in the area.
On the North Shore, at 34 24.484N; 133 12.185E, is a new ten-berth marina. Inside, at its far end is a yellow pole light, which marks a mooring block that has 2m over it at low tide. While the marina is very secure from the weather (we hardly felt the passing typhoon) it is rocked by passing boats in the channel and, if occupancy allows, it is a good idea to tie up so as to hold yourself off the pontoon. Fee 1600 Yen (USD $20) per night, payable at the large Business Development office adjoining the marina.
A mile-long covered shopping arcade runs parallel to the shore and, further up the hill, you can take a marked walk that includes some twenty or so Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines; a ropeway leads to an attractive park at the top of the hill where there are fine views over the whole area. Japanese movie buffs flock to Onomichi, which has been the setting for many films and TV series, and there are assorted statues and memorabilia scattered around the town. It is also famous for cheap but excellent restaurants, which can be spotted by the line-ups that start to form outside their otherwise unremarkable doors around 11:30 each morning.
Threading our way east through narrow channels bizarrely lined with shipyards in rustic settings, we stopped next at Utsumi Marina; Chartlet Book H-803W, pp106-7; 34 22.243N; 133 20.047E. This is a modern, well-appointed marina in a beautiful quiet setting adjoining a fine swimming beach. There is a modern clubhouse with coin-op showers and a small restaurant; haul-out facilities and mechanic on hand; water and electricity; no village. 1575 Yen (USD $20) per night. Visitor berths are at the inshore end of either of the two fingers of slips; the marina is securely locked at night (1800) with no easy means of ingress/egress after hours. It would be possible to anchor in this bay or the next bay to the West.
Four miles east is the quaint but rather touristified fishing port of Tomo-no-Oura, whose houses cluster on hillsides around an excellent natural harbour. It is possible to anchor here with adequate protection and swinging room: 34 22.830N; 133 22.755E, 5m Chartlet book H-803W, p108. Although there are two pontoons in the harbour, one is constantly busy with ferry traffic and we were told that yachts were not welcome at the other. Japanese yachties (who never anchor) often go to neighbouring Sensui Shima, where there is a pontoon and from where you can cheaply ferry back to Tomo. There is a disappointing maritime museum (with a very few fragments from a recently retrieved wreck and not much else) but it is interesting to wander around the old, narrow streets and the colourful waterfront. From high on a hill behind a Shrine West of the town, there is a superb (free) view over Tomo and neighbouring islands, far superior to another much advertised “best view in Japan” from a downtown Shrine (fee payable). For Tomo and neighbouring islands it is useful to have Donald Richie’s “The Inland Sea” on hand.
Ten miles further to the East is Kitagi Shima, an island long famous for its granite quarries and “factories” where tombstones and carvings are produced.. Canadian Colin Ferrel and his wife Mika run Yuukou Marine, a sail-loft and well-stocked chandlery, and make passing cruisers of all nationalities very welcome; sail and other canvas repairs can be done quickly, and Colin is the agent for Hyde Sails. Colin has laid down moorings in such a way that four yachts can tie up perpendicularly to his moored fishing boat, without mooring lines or fenders being necessary; no charge.. If practical e-mail him in advance at [email protected] Position 34 22.690N, 133 32.797E, 7m.. Kitagi is not featured in the book of chartlets. The protection here is good but there is a significant wash from the small local ferries as they buzz in and out of a pontoon on the other side of the harbour.
There are two small shops in the adjoining village and a slightly larger one in a village on the N side of the island; there is a small Ramen restaurant here and two others on the island, one of which has a small adjoining “sento” (bath), useable if you take a meal there. Colin has two bikes for loan, which allow you to get easily around most of the island; there is a particularly fine high-level biking/hiking track and there is a good path to the summit of the island, from where there are excellent views over the central Inland Sea. There are good swimming beaches on the West side of the island. If you stay here any amount of time (as we did….) Colin’s friends may well adopt you and show you around themselves. Local ferries run to Shiraishi Jima, Kasaoka on the “mainland” (where there are much larger shops) and Manabe Jima, where the old wooden school is particularly interesting to visit.
Adjoining Kitagi to the north is Shiraishi Jima, also not in the chartlet book. Here you can tie up (free) in the rectangular “New Harbour”, recognizable at a distance by its reddish exterior wall. There are some unmarked drying rocks about 100m due South of the harbour entrance, exactly on the approach path you might be tempted to take; beware. There is a conventional pontoon, and another runs part way along the inner wall of the harbour; for longer stays, we were advised that the pontoon parallel to the wall is preferred; no charge. Good protection. Position: 34 24.507N; 133 31.504E. It’s a fifteen-minute walk over the hill to the main town, which depends largely on seasonal tourism and which has one shop. On the town’s main sandy beach, in season, expats Amy and Paul run the Moo Bar, which is a favourite hangout for expat teachers who come over here for some R and R on the weekend; there are also some cheapish places to stay, that attract the younger Japanese crowd. There is a large temple complex on the island and some excellent hiking.
Heading ever east, the gaps between the islands start to narrow down and it is advisable to pay some heed to the current and tide. We made a stop at Yo Shima, which is a small island whose main function now is to serve as a base for one pier of the enormous multi-span bridge that here reaches from Honshu to Shikoku. The harbour is a smallish, square basin on the North side of the island, at 34 23.645N; 133 49.083E. There are two large pontoons, neither of which seems to be frequented by fishing boats, but tugs and fire-boats occasionally call in, the harbour being very close to the most congested shipping area for the entire Inland Sea. The location is rather bizarre; there is an on/off ramp from the soaring suspension bridge, but on Yo Shima all that exists is a large car-park, restaurant and gift shop, and an apparently abandoned games/tourism complex called Fisherman’s Wharf. We were told there would be a fee of 500Y but nobody came down to collect any money. Cars and trains rattle overhead, but the trains seem to stop at night.
Next stop to the east was one of the more interesting destinations of our cruise: the island of Nao Shima, p87 in Chartlet Book H-803W. Starting October 1 (through March 31) beware the large adjoining areas designated for seaweed farming; although they are usually well marked with lit yellow buoys at the corners, these often obstruct the obvious path to desirable havens. Tie to the SE side of the roofed ferry pontoon at 34 27.462N, 133 58.412E; the other side of the pontoon is in regular use by a local passenger ferry; also adjoining is a terminal for larger car ferries; their arrival – so close – can be disconcerting – but wash is not a problem. Fee USD $20, collected by staff at the ferry terminal.
Until ten or fifteen years ago this island was suffering, like most in the Inland Sea, from depopulation and slow decay of the fishing industry. Then the Benesse Foundation (an arm of a large health-care/education outfit) selected it as the site for locating a wide variety of contemporary art exhibits and happenings, as well as a luxury hotel that is decorated with Hockneys, Pollocks et al. In the village by the pontoon there is a re-vamped “sento” (public bath) that features a near life-size elephant inside, along with interesting art on the floor and walls of the Sento. On the other side of the island – about an hour’s walk, or there is a free shuttle bus – six old houses in the village have been selected for “installations”: one of these has a Statue of Liberty bursting through two floors of the house, another has a darkened pool of LED diodes with numbers that are constantly changing, another has you sit in utter darkness for a full ten minutes before the “art” finally appears. There are many colourful outdoor sculptures, the most well-known of which is a giant yellow and black pumpkin sitting on an old stone jetty. You probably did not come to Japan to pay to see Monets and Andy Warhol, but much of the art is free, and you can buy a single economical ticket to view all six “art houses”.
Not counting Awaji Shima, which forms the Eastern “barrier” to the Inland Sea, the largest island is the next to the East from Nao Shima: Shodo Shima. This is quite well-developed, but principally for tourism; there is little industry. You can hike to the summit of the island at 800m, or take a cable car there; the bus to the cable car terminus, however, does not operate in the week out of season; many Japanese like to visit in November, when the maples are changing to orange and red.. If you have the time and the inclination, there is also a hiking route that takes in a large number of Buddhist temples, and is a substitute for the much longer (several months….) pilgrimage on nearby Shikoku island.
Olives were introduced one hundred years ago from California and are now an important source of income; all of the island’s gift shops are inescapably olive-themed, there are a fake Greek windmill and “ruins”, and in many places Italian and Greek flags fly; at one of the ferry terminals, the welcome sign is in Greek Characters. Another local theme is the heroine and child characters from a Japanese hit-movie of the fifties: “Twenty Four Eyes”. This three-hanky tearjerker is based on a true story and is set largely in a tiny rural school on the SE tip of the island; you can visit both the movie set and the actual 100-yr-old two-room school that inspired the story (the original book, by Sakae Tsuboi, is available in English from Tuttle publishing). Finally, if you are “into” Soy Sauce, there are several long-established production plants you can visit.
We stayed in three locations on Shodo Shima.
In the West is Tonnosho Higari, p91 in Chartlet Book H-803W; position 34 28.588N; 134 10.941E. This a free pontoon, well-protected except for winds from due S (which seem to be rare); do not attempt to go on the inside (shore side) of the pontoon – it is rocky. It is a short walk through a tunnel to Tonnosho, the island’s main town, which itself is a good natural harbour. Protecting the pontoon to the E is a chain of three small islands, linked by drying strands; the walk between the islands is a tourist attraction called “Angel Walk”, with tourist literature waxing enthusiastic over the “unexplained miracle” by which the path uncovers twice a day (!). There is a massive supermarket barely 100m from the pontoon; this shopping complex includes a luxury ”Onsen” (spa) but there is a cheaper and equally nice one on a hotel on the front, fifteen minutes walk to the east. Small inter-island freighters often tie up for the night at the adjoining wharf, but the bay is quiet enough also to permit of anchoring, if you are so inclined.
Ten miles further to the east a large hook forms a wide and extensive natural harbour called Kusakabe Ko; again you could easily anchor if so desired, with 360-degree protection; p93A in the Chartlet Book. In the extreme N of the bay a small, two-finger marina is being developed, but it was not ready when we visited, so we tied up to the S side of a nearby two-part pontoon; the N side is used by a local fast ferry; position 34 28.744N; 134 17.896E. A fee of USD $25 is payable at a small cafe at the head of the pontoon. As at Nao Shima, there is a terminal for much larger car ferries close by.
On the NE tip of the island is a pretty bay with the village of Yoshida. Here you can tie to a rather flimsy pontoon off a small restaurant on a sandy beach: 34 33.403N; 134 20.855E; 2.5m but it looked shallower at the head of the pontoon; beware an orange buoy 40m out from the end of the pontoon; it marks the anchor chain for the pontoon. Fee of USD $13 payable at the restaurant. The bay is open to the NE and at certain tidal conditions – regardless of the wind – an uneasy chop comes in, which gave a few uncomfortable hours as the pontoon undulated up and down. There is a picturesque fishing village here, but no shops. If you walk fifteen minutes up the valley, in the shadow of an enormous hydro dam, there is a pleasant and cheap public “sento” (bath).
Shoda Shima to Honshu
Crossing from Shodo Shima to the “mainland” of Honshu, in the first week of October, the waters were frenetic as small launches worked at laying out large seaweed-farming complexes. We had thought of stopping off at an interesting-looking group of islands at approx 34 40N; 134 32E, but every nook seemed to be occupied by a seaweed or fish farm and some of the islands were being so heavily quarried that it looked as though they would soon disappear from sight. So we continued NE, towards a skyline filled with chimneys, petrochemical tanks and other paraphernalia of heavy industry.
Himeji – Kiba Marina
We were given a warm welcome at the marina at Kiba, in a well-protected inlet accessed through a relatively narrow channel: p71 and 70C in the Chartlet Book; position 34 46.391N; 134 43.402E. USD $20, water & electricity; showers. There is a supermarket about 15 minutes’ walk inland, and here you can also catch a suburban train to Himeji, the larger city of which Kiba is a suburb. Himeji is justly famous for its fabulous medieval castle, reputedly the best-preserved in Japan and featured in Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai; much of the castle is currently under restoration (and not visible) but it is still well worth a visit. In Himeji we happened to coincide with some very colourful local quasi-religious festivities; it is worthwhile checking in advance the calendar of such events, which truly enliven any visit to Japan, and which are particularly frequent from Spring through Fall.
Almost-blocking the east end of the Inland Sea, separating it from Osaka Bay to the east, is the large island of Awaji Shima. At the south tip, at Naruto, a set of narrows is characterized by whirlpools that tourists pay to see (and which are thus perhaps best avoided…); in the north, the gap between Awaji and Honshu is wider and the current “only” reaches 7 knots. But this pass still demands respect and careful timing: the Akashi Kaikyo, as it is known, has been the scene of several maritime disasters; there have been fewer since a massive suspension bridge – with the longest single span in the world: 1991m – obviated the need for local ferry services. We sped through with a favourable tide and stayed out of the busy shipping lanes by passing between the North Pier and Honshu, with an overhead clearance above the Windex of “only” 91 meters.
Osaka Bay – Suma Yacht Harbour
Once through Akashi, you are into the wide expanse of Osaka Bay, with many mooring options; the Inland Sea is effectively behind you. We began our stay with a free week at the well-protected and very modern Suma Yacht Harbour, (www.suma-yh.jp) in a suburb of Kobe, at 34 38 497N; 135 07.857E. Chartlet Book p51C; but note that the final entrance to the marina now has a couple more protective walls, necessitating a fairly sharp zig-zag; these appear neither on the chart nor on the Google Earth picture. For the first time since we had left Kyushu, officials (Customs) visited us. Water and electricity on the (new) pontoons; coin-op showers, free laundry. Gas, diesel and haul-out. It is ten minutes’ walk to the train station, the same to a Max Valu supermarket, and a further fifteen minutes by train to downtown Kobe; Kyoto and Osaka are also easily reached by train.