Toward sunset, off a long sandy point called Miho, my daylong reverie was interrupted when Jim glanced off to starboard and said casually, "Look, there is Fuji." By a trick of haze and lighting, the mountain had been hidden earlier. Now a towering cloud behind was tinted delicate rose, gold at the edges, an odd effect almost like a halo. Against the cloud was silhouetted the symmetric perfection of Fujiyama, Fuji-san, to early Japanese a meeting place of heaven and earth, the home of the gods.
Strangely, as the sun dropped below the horizon and the sky darkened into night, the illumination of Fuji became more brilliant, until it completely dominated the land to the north. This moment seemed almost the climax of a long sailing career, to be looking at Fujiyama from a small boat's deck, a romantic feeling which did not entirely diminish even when we entered the harbor of Shimizu, redolent both of fish from the moored fleet and of petroleum from the huge refinery near by. Always in Japan one finds a contrast between the subtle and the crude, beauty and raw commercialism, ancient and modern, East and West.
After one look at the busy port, Jim and I decided to seek solace in a totally different facet of Oriental culture, the Japanese inn. Now, as a sailor unabashed in his appreciation of the finer things of the shore, let me go on record as classifying an ichiban—a No. 1, a first-quality—inn as among the more civilized works of man. In a typical Japanese inn a wave of solicitude sweeps out and engulfs the guest at the entrance. Kimonoed maids bow deeply, flutter and bow deeply again. Somehow you are divested of your baggage, down to the smallest item. You have changed from shoes to slippers to walk the halls, are guided through a labyrinth of passages offering a succession of lovely but minuscule views of shrubbery, running water and rock, you halt suddenly to remove the slippers and step onto the mat of your room. More bows, more flutter, and the shoji, the paper screen that serves as a door, slides shut.
Underfoot the tatami is softer than any carpet, for beneath the visible woven cover is a thick pad of rice husks. There is no clutter of furniture, only a low lacquer table flanked by cushions and perhaps backrests. In an alcove will be a painting, or a scroll, and a flower arrangement. Beyond is a smaller room, opening on a garden.
Soundlessly the shoji opens, and a maid appears with a damp towel tightly rolled and presented in a little wicker basket, plus tea—both likely to be hot in winter, chilled in summer. You get out your Japanese dictionary, muster your scant vocabulary and convey the idea that you will enjoy the o-furo, the honorable bath, immediately, and will dine afterward. Kneeling on the tatami and bowing head to floor, the maid withdraws.
After the bath you don a yukata, a cotton robe provided every guest on arrival, rendering negligible the usual traveler's problem of what to wear. You wear the yukata bearing the inn's device as long as you are a guest. Dinner will be served in your room, the food arranged on porcelain or lacquer dishes and bowls that are subtly complementary in color and texture. Table d'h�te is the rule, and this is ideal for the gastronomic adventurer, as it provides a sampling of the Japanese cuisine which could never be selected from a menu by a stranger.
After dinner there is another barrage of bowing and fluttering. Somehow the dining table has disappeared and in its place a futon has been spread, a thick quilted mattress laid directly on the tatami. Close at hand on the floor are placed a night-light, an ashtray with matches, a carafe of water and, if you insist on keeping the garden shoji open, slow-burning insect repellent. A tea service and thermos of hot water have been put on a table in the smaller room.
By this time I must confess to having attained a peace and beatitude rare in my experience as a nomad, woefully accustomed to a series of dismal rooms bearing an unmistakable hotel aura regardless of the language being spoken in the lobby. I feel cared for, pampered and spoiled—and without any thought of the outstretched palm, as tipping beyond the percentage added to the bill is a blight that has not reached these shores.
Breakfast is the hardest hurdle, a less elaborate version of the previous night's dinner, including seaweed, soup, raw fish, sour pickles and rice. Once I rebelled, and the night before managed to convey the idea that I would like a pair of fried eggs for breakfast. They arrived, cold, as a dessert to the usual asagohan (the Japanese phrase for breakfast means literally "morning rice," which indicates the difficulties in achieving a break with custom). It was an experiment not repeated. Have you ever tried to manage a soft fried egg with chopsticks?
Back at the dock after our night at the inn, we found Mike aboard and Andrea Gail ready to go. Extricating ourselves from a web of lines from surrounding fishing boats, we powered past the breakwater to hoist sails. It was a clear morning, with a light southerly breeze fanning the long southerly swells that still persisted. The course was east, a lazy beam reach. I sprawled on the deckhouse and scanned the shore through binoculars.