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THE HERITAGE OF HIROSHIGE
Carleton Mitchell
December 23, 1963
AMERICA'S FOREMOST YACHTSMAN-AUTHOR, CARLETON MITCHELL, MAKES THE FIRST MAJOR REPORT ON SAILING THE COASTAL WATERS OF JAPAN, WHOSE WOOD-BLOCK BEAUTY HE DESCRIBES AS THE STIMULATING CLIMAX TO ALMOST HALF A CENTURY OF OCEAN RACING AND CRUISING OVER THE WORLD
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December 23, 1963

The Heritage Of Hiroshige

AMERICA'S FOREMOST YACHTSMAN-AUTHOR, CARLETON MITCHELL, MAKES THE FIRST MAJOR REPORT ON SAILING THE COASTAL WATERS OF JAPAN, WHOSE WOOD-BLOCK BEAUTY HE DESCRIBES AS THE STIMULATING CLIMAX TO ALMOST HALF A CENTURY OF OCEAN RACING AND CRUISING OVER THE WORLD

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Soon I identified Satta Mountain, running down into the sea, a difficult barricade in the earliest days of the Tokaido Road. Here travelers had to leave the shore and enter the ocean, battling seas and undertow, until in 1655 the government drove a path over a high gorge to facilitate the journey of visiting Korean envoys. Then, for long years in the turbulent history of the road, the danger changed to brigands lurking in the dense forests, ready to pounce at lonely Satta Pass. Through glasses I could follow the modern road winding down from the mountains and along the coast to Okitsu. On my land cruise I had savored the hospitality of the Minaguchi-ya, where for 20 generations the same family has catered to those passing along the Tokaido, a saga described in the bestseller Japanese Inn by Oliver Statler—must reading before a visit. And on a nearby hillside I could make out the lonely, 1,400-year-old Buddhist temple of Seikenji, where apricot trees still stand that were put down by the hand of Tokugawa Ieyasu, 16th century founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

After we had crossed the northern end of Suruga Bay, over the bow appeared a cone-shaped island called Awa, which divides the largest bay of Eno Ura into two smaller segments. We passed behind Awa to fetch up in a wooded nook beyond Mito. Approaching, we were startled to be hailed in English, and soon came alongside Tankenka ("explorer"), a power cruiser owned by an American sport fisherman named Jim Phillips. After dropping anchor, Jim came aboard Andrea Gail, and we observed that most pleasant of cruising customs, the tall, cool glass. Under us the water lay flat, reflecting the changes in the sky above. And just at dusk there boomed across the silent harbor the measured strokes of a temple bell, so deep in tone and so resonant that the vibrations hung in the ears long after the strokes had ceased.

When we came out next morning Fuji was still standing guard to the north, almost clear of clouds. There was no wind. Under awnings we powered close along the shore. Behind a miniature Sandy Hook called Ose Saki, fishermen were handling nets from old-fashioned sampans, rowing while standing erect with oars that had a curious crossbar at the butt and a T grip allowing a feathering action rather like sculling. Offshore, power draggers were returning to Mito, almost awash with their cargoes of fish. In Japan one is always aware of fish and fishermen: nets, bait cages, oyster floats, traps; tiny boats anchored in the shallows, medium-size vessels disappearing over the horizon, huge electronic-studded ships docking after long voyages—to the polar seas, to the Caribbean, to the Indian Ocean, to the Mediterranean—with fish cascading out of refrigerated holds on conveyor belts to support a population too great for the land to feed.

After a few miles on the engine Andrea Gail poked into the sheltered harbor of Heda, then came out to find breeze enough to fill the sails. Ghosting along, we passed a series of tiny villages—perhaps a dozen houses rimming a beach flat enough to permit the pulling up of boats beyond the surf line, each settlement separated from its neighbors by bold headlands.

The west coast of the Izu Peninsula, with its crags, valleys, cones of rock and boiling ledges, compares in beauty with any I have ever cruised. Here great forests stand thick against the granite hills. It is impossible not to be impressed by their persisting richness in a land where wood—including paper products—has for centuries been the basic material of the whole civilization: houses, temples, boats, as well as perhaps the greatest variety of everyday articles fashioned by any nation. The Japanese use their forests, but despite the awesome press of population they have not destroyed them.

Off an especially bold cliff in our path bobbed four small sampans, barely clear of the surf and the backwash. In each were two men and a girl, the men tending ship, the girl awaiting her turn to dive deep into the turbulent water. At regular intervals a small basket was lifted through 10 fathoms of water to the deck. Not even John Laffin or Sato could guess its contents: not pearl oysters and surely not abalone. Then as Andrea Gail passed close, one of the men tossed across a shell like a small conch, which I immediately recognized from a memorable dinner: sazae, used in tsutboyaki, or "cooking in the shell." I remembered the low table of a Japanese inn, the maid carefully keeping her kimono sleeves away from a brown earthenware dish as she applied a lighted match. The sazae rested on its side on a bed of white salt. A flame rose from the alcohol-soaked cotton buried in the shell and soon the ingredients in the opening of the sazae began to bubble—a quail egg floating in a delicate broth that included slivers of bamboo roots and mushrooms as well as the diced meat.

Past another point, and we had come to Arari, a tiny harbor buried deep in the land. Inside, we squeezed between a small island and a stone breakwater. The island was no bigger than Andrea Gail. It looked as though it should have been enclosed in a glass case. At the water's edge was a scarlet torii, the sacred arch of the Shinto shrine. Beyond, a miniature bridge curved across a step-deep chasm while, above, a single pine tree, as artfully contrived as a flower arrangement, topped a wall of ancient asymmetric stonework.

As in Mediterranean ports, the system of mooring is to drop a bow anchor and maneuver the stern to the quay. But there the resemblance ceases, for while French and Italian Riviera ports are so crowded with yachts that late arrivals can find no place, Japanese ports like Arari are empty except for fishing vessels. A cruising yacht is a rarity and therefore a curiosity. As we approached, men sauntered over from nearby trawlers, women—many carrying babies in sashes slung over the hips—abandoned their shopping to have a look, while button-eyed moppets seriously watched every move. The dock strollers were polite and helpful, scurrying to make lines fast and anticipating any assistance that could be rendered.

Gradually the welcoming committee drifted away, and Andrea Gail's cockpit became a front-row seat on the life of a remote Oriental fishing village. We were moored opposite the most imposing house along the quay, probably the residence of the mayor or head of the fishing union. Directly in front was a cement trough with brass water faucets, gleaming from use. Other householders arrived with covered buckets to fill and carry away. A few did minor bits of laundry in the trough. We could see through open shoji screens into the nearby rooms, where three or four generations sprawled on the tatami mats, sipping tea, smoking, but principally—I must report—watching television. For TV is the national passion, the greatest apparent influence in contemporary life; American westerns with dubbed dialogue are favorites, and no one has experienced the height of drama until he has heard the sheriff say to the posse, "We'll cut 'em off at the pass, boys," in Japanese.

Couples strolled past in the gathering dusk. Crewmen from trawlers tossed a baseball as long as there was light to see, then began fishing just for fun. Mama-san and papa-san and a staircase of children came out of the facing house carrying short bamboo poles to try their luck along the quay, too. We had dinner and walked to the inn for an o-furo, groping through unlighted alleys and streets past houses unaltered in form or style for hundreds of years.

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