Japan: Setouchi International Yacht Rally 2019

Japan’s Setouchi International Yacht Rally is held for two weeks in May in the Seto Inland Sea between the islands of Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku. In 2019, Brigitte and Andreas on SV Muktuk were the only foreign yacht to join the rally. They report a wonderful experience, meeting many Japanese sailors during the event.

Published 3 years ago

The rally was established by the Japan Ocean Cruising Club in 2013, and while the years before many boats from abroad joined the rally, in 2019 we were the only foreigners who had registered. All the other boats were from Japan with a Japanese crew.  The program spans three weekends in different places with free sailing in between.

Group of people photographed in front of a Japanese temple
Participants in Japan’s 2019 Setouchi International Yacht Rally.

The Seto Inland Sea or Seto Naikai, surrounded by three main islands (Kyushu, Shikoku and Honshu) has mostly calm waters. Sailors have to be aware of the tidal currents and they are well advised to sail only by daytime and go watches carefully because of the many fishing boats, fishing buoys and container ship traffic.

With our sailboat MUKTUK we arrived in Okinawa by end of February 2019 and stayed in Japan for three and a half month. We left the country mid-June heading for Alaska.

We had never participated in a rally, but the idea seemed very tempting for Japan. We imagined that it would make it easier for us to get in touch with Japanese sailors and learn more about the country and its people. 

Woman sitting down holding a plate of food.
Birgit enjoying some of the local hospitality.

Everyone spoke excellent English!

The first informal meeting with all participants started on Friday afternoon in the marina of Yuge.  KC Ohno, the chairman of the Japan Ocean Cruising Club and wonderful organizer of the rally, wrote in advance that he expected the crews to introduce themselves in Japanese and English. This gave me a few sleepless hours until I realized that this might only apply to the Japanese participants? Although being already two months in the country, our Japanese was unfortunately still limited to just a few phrases for everyday use, mainly to greet and to say thank you. But then all my concerns went away: almost all the participants spoke English, and some of them excellently.

In the evening we joined an official reception in the community hall. Young students from the Technical College in Yuge, their teachers and the mayor of the town were waiting for us, all the tables full with sushi platters and cool drinks. But first we had to gather for a group picture, then the Mayor of Yuge and the dean of the college greeted us and then the crews of the boats were expected to introduce themselves receiving some gifts after their short speeches.

Sailors and Students

The students stood with us around the tables and as soon as everyone had a drink everybody shouted loudly “Kampai!” and the less formal part of the evening started. The young students were not at all shy and had already prepared a few questions for us about our previous travels, our boat – all in English. We also got to know the three young girls who would sail with us the next day.

The next morning several students and some of their teachers already waited at the pier. We took our students on board: Nanaho, Mai and Ayidi, all in the 2nd year of their IT studies. We sailed with them out into the bay for two hours, explained the boat, had a picnic on deck and took lots of pictures, being also the object of an official photo shooting for the town’s newspaper and news channel.  Our three students enjoyed it very much, and so did we.

Our students onboard Murtuk.

Back on shore, we walked across the island to a beautiful bay with white sand and a promenade with pine groves beyond. College students had set up tents and prepared a barbecue. We gathered around the tables, again each boat with “its” students, who brought us bowls of grilled sausages, meat and vegetables to the table. Since there was no other cutlery, I tried to eat my sausages with chopsticks for the first time – worked quite well. With plenty of beer and sake to accompany the food the party went on with a lot of storytelling and fun.

Exploring by Bicycle

Sunday morning, we were assigned two other students and a young physics teacher for a tour with bikes. We took a ride over the big bridge to the next island and back again. On our way we stopped to have a look at temples, drove through narrow streets and met a friend of the teacher who showed us his recently renovated house in traditional style. For lunch we got boxes that the students put together for us for at the marina.

In the afternoon we drove along the quayside to a pool with sea water. A surprise awaited us there – in one of the pools roses floated on the water surface and smelled wonderful! We wondered: Is it like that every Sunday or because it happens to be Mother’s Day?

Later some of the students came back to the marina to visit the boats. Especially the boys from the nautical branch took a broad interest, they wanted to see the motor and our movable keel and asked if they could go for a ride with our dinghy. It was a weekend full of new impressions – what a wonderful idea to bring the sailors and students together!

For the next few days all the boats departed in different directions and spent their time visiting the islands of the Setouchi Inland Sea with their nice little villages, temples and museums.

Interesting Events and Excursions

The following two weekends were full of interesting events as well: an excursion to the sacred Mount Shiude in Shikoku with a breathtaking view over the islands of the Inland Sea, a visit to the Shinshoji Zen Temple with its peaceful garden and a temple walk to some of the 33 temples of Onomichi guided by a member of the local yacht club.

People seated around a table, under a tent.
The hospitality was amazing!

Several welcome parties were organized for us in Nio Marina, in Bellavista Marina and in the town of Onomichi. We met not only the participants of the rally again but also guest they invited for the weekends on their boats and local sailors from the marinas, too, who welcomed us with the special Japanese hospitality. Several times after the official party we moved on to one of the bigger boats and could sit together, talking, singing, drinking and having a good time. What we now know for sure: the formality for which Japan is so famous applies mostly just to professional work, restaurants, shops and the first time when people meet. We have met so many warm, heartful and kind people, who were open, relaxed, happy and funny in the same way people can be all over the world.

Farewell Party in Onomichi

The farewell party took place in a elegant restaurant located on the long waterfront of Onomichi. The last speeches were made, everyone talked about how great it was and where the trip will go in the next few weeks. A little sadness already spread and regret that the language barrier between us and some of the other sailors was sometimes too high, because we would have loved to tell each other a lot more and learn from each other. We made many new friendships this weekends – and the time was too short in the end.

People sitting around a long white table for a meal.
Farewell party.

Finally, the crews from “March”, “Simoon” and “Yuimaru” come to us on the boat, a total of 11 people. Shin-San took our  guitar and started to play songs that everyone knew and most of them could sing by heart. They were songs from their youth, songs by songwriters, pop songs. We were amazed, impressed and touched! Even if we didn’t understand the lyrics, the music got under our skin and the mood in the boat anyway. Thank you all – you could not have given us a greater farewell gift than this singing together on board!

Birgit and Andreas

SV Muktuk


Related Links:

Japan: Setouchi International Yacht Rally

Website: http://cruisingjapan.org/wp1/intro2setouchirally

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SetouchiYachtRally/

More pictures: https://www.muktuk.de/2019/06/09/setouchi-international-yacht-rally-2019/

More impressions on Youtube, created by Tanaka-San:



The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Noonsite.com or World Cruising Club.

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