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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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SAILOR'S ODYSSEY ON A SHORE OF CONTRAST

Mists shrouded the peaks and trapped night shadows in the valleys as Andrea Gail crept between the sheltering arms of the breakwater of Ito. In the strange light the sea was almost the color of eggplant, purple overtones against gray granite offshore rocks, with the subdued dark green of pines flowing down to the water's edge. Sampans, seen as though through gauze, tended nets buoyed by logs, while seabirds fluttered above. Sitting in the cockpit as the bow began to rise to a southerly swell, I felt suspended in time and place.

Beneath the overcast, the hands of the clock advanced but the morning did not. The Izu Peninsula remained elusive, withdrawn. Then, as we neared Tsumeki Saki, a rip appeared in the cloud cover. Suddenly a freshening breeze had torn away the mist, providing an unveiling of Japan, staged, it seemed, for my special benefit. Now the sea was jade green, paler near the crests. Near the shore it was no longer lazy, crashing down to spout white geysers against the forested slopes.

Wedging myself between mast and shrouds to see better, I stared at the land, which looked like an ancient wood-block print by Hiroshige come to life. Row on row of mountains marched to the sea from the central inland spine, as abruptly contoured as crumpled balls of paper, each separate, each somehow asserting individuality. Here a single pine stood alone, sharply etched on a point, inviting the eye to put a frame around it; there trees ran down a cleft in a sweeping avalanche of forest green. In all of it one could sense the textures and shapes in nature that have inspired generations of Japanese artists. Usually, to a voyager who has seen much of the world, a new land evokes memories of something already experienced. Now no comparisons suggested themselves.

As we raised the lighthouse on the top of Iro Saki the waves became taller and steeper. Compressed between the tip of the Izu Peninsula and the off-lying islet of Mikomoto Shima, the current rushes and boils, 2.5 knots under normal conditions according to the chart, more according to local navigators. Open to the whole sweep of the Pacific and with a rocky shoal bank stretching out to add to the turbulence, the sea takes on something of the form and substance of the conical dragon's-tooth boulders strewn along the shore.

In the time-honored fashion of sailing vessels confronted by head winds and steep head seas, Andrea Gail slowed to let her crew admire the scenery. A 45-foot cutter designed and built in Japan by lifelong resident John Laffin, Andrea Gail is part of a small but growing ocean racing fleet, for offshore sailing as a sport is just beginning in Japan. She had been chartered for my cruise from Michael Sodano, an ex- Marine Corps colonel, now president of General Electric Japan. Mike had been prevented by business from being aboard for the first day's run. With John Laffin, Mike Jr. and Tokyo attorney Jim Hoffman, plus Sato and Hoshi, the Gail's boat boys—"boy" in the Orient can cover a vast range of ages—we were making the 78-mile run from Ito on Sagami Bay, around the Izu Peninsula to Shimizu on Suruga Bay, where Mike was to join us.

For a while it looked as though we would stay right off Iro Saki. Spray drove aft in sheets, the wake lay as a serpentine trail across the seas astern, but Andrea Gail seemed to be making no progress. Farther offshore a parade of coasters drove through the slot inside Mikomoto Shima. Slowly, however, our bearings began to change. Now we were sighting around the corner of Izu, along a coast rugged and bleak, with off-lying islets and surf thundering even in the coves. We rounded the windward cape and gratefully eased the main and forestaysail to the fairing breeze. Now the coast began to unroll like a painted screen as the Gail swooped over the crests, with Sato and Hoshi tending a fishing line astern.

The wind we had been fighting all morning and now rode so swiftly was the tail end of a summer typhoon. Earlier in the week the full fury of the storm had been upon Japan, delaying our departure by several days. Rather than waste those days, Jim Hoffman, an old Japan hand, suggested we take a land cruise by hiring a car and driving part of the Tokaido Road, the ancient highway linking Tokyo with the former capital of Kyoto.

Through the centuries the Tokaido has been the principal artery of Japan, the scene not only of continuing pageantry but of history itself. Jim and I set forth with a bound folio of Hiroshige's famous Fifty-three Stages of Tokaido across our knees, wood-block prints depicting the road as the artist saw it in the 1830s. We dined only in Japanese restaurants and slept on the tatatmi mat floors of Japanese inns; I ate raw octopus, rice and seaweed for breakfast and began to speak a few recognizable phrases. I learned the ritual of the bath, managed to sustain life with chopsticks and easily fell in with the custom of chain-drinking pale-green tea from an endless succession of handleless cups. Hot sake became as natural as a chilled vin blanc. Sitting, now, in the cockpit of Andrea Gail, I felt I had come to know a little something of Japan, and I liked it enormously.

As we entered farther into Suruga Bay the seas diminished and so did the wind. The boys stopped fishing to help set a jib topsail, while the headlands and villages of Izu sped past with delightful variety in form and name. Gradually our course for Shimizu took us into open water, and the land was swallowed in the summer haze. Through the afternoon we glided along. Ship's routine was disturbed only by a succession of fish being taken on the feather lure trailing astern: small tuna, mackerel and dolphin, perfect for the frying pan or for sashimi, thin slices cut across the filleted strip, eaten raw after dipping in soya sauce and grated horseradish. Having watched fishing lines fruitlessly trolled behind sailing boats in many parts of the world, the surfeit the boys were bringing in was a pleasant contrast.

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