National Geographic : 1953 Nov
Cruising Japan's Inland Sea 619 Voyaging Americans Brave Whirlpools and Tide Rips to Explore the Secluded Beauty of an Island World BY WILLARD PRICE With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author «" THINK-small boat-Inland Sea-very Dangerr" Captain Hikeda's English was not perfect, but his meaning was clear. He did not approve of our plan to sail a small boat from end to end of Japan's land-girt waters. Master of a vessel of 3,000 tons sailing the Inland Sea, he knew its labyrinth of islands, reefs, shoals, hidden rocks, savage tide rips, and whirlpools. What had we let ourselves in for? When we first conceived the idea of a small-boat expedition the length of the Inland Sea, we knew its reputation as one of the most beauti ful waterways in the world, but not that it was also considered by sailors to be dangerous in places for smaller craft. On previous visits to Japan my wife Mary and I had seen the Inland Sea from the decks of large steamers. These brief glimpses were tantalizing. We wanted to loiter around its ravishingly beautiful islands, probe its bays, land on its warm beaches, walk through its villages tucked in snug coves between blue sea and pine-clad mountains, and learn what sort of folk live in this secluded island world. Voyagers Run a Gantlet of Noes The way to do it was in a small boat, much as we had sailed the Nile, the Amazon, and China's Grand Canal.* But difficulties now arose that we had not encountered in previ ous ventures. One was the hazard of raging tides that twice a day rush in and out of the Inland Sea, funneling furiously through narrow pas sages between islands, rocks, and reefs. The tides are no higher than elsewhere, but the many obstacles in their path make this a cha otic sea. Another was the fact that the sort of thing we proposed was "not done." We were told upon arriving in Osaka, jumping-off place for the Inland Sea trip, that we would have trouble finding a small-boat owner who would rent his craft for such a fool's journey. Inland Sea fishing boats rarely venture more than five miles from home port. Why should they? Fishing is as good near home as far away. The Inland Sea is 250 miles long from Osaka at the eastern end to Moji at the west ern. It is sprinkled with islands estimated from 700 to 3,000, depending upon whether the term "islands" is extended to cover islets and the fantastic rocks that jut up sometimes a hundred feet from the blue surface. No other sea on earth, not even the Aegean, is so rich in islands. The circuitous route we had planned in and out among the islands would cover not merely 250 miles but some thing over 1,000. To boatmen used to fishing within sight of home port, such a proposition was absurd (map, page 622). Japanese Craft Ignore Mines The third difficulty, quite unanticipated, nearly wrecked our project. The Occupation was then in effect, and all Americans and other foreigners under its control were forbidden to travel the Inland Sea. Mines sowed in the sea by Allied airmen during the war had not all been swept up. Occasionally one exploded and a boat went sky high; hence the ban. It did not apply to the Japanese. Their craft could, and did, swarm at will over the sea. Most of them were wooden-hulled and of such shallow draft that they slid over any mines there. Officials puzzled over our case, anxious not to obstruct our project. Finally they came up with a solution. Although we were in Japan on military permit, we did not belong to Occupation personnel. Therefore the Oc cupation authorities could not properly limit our movements. We were free to sail the sea and get blown up if we wished, provided we did it on our own responsibility. So now we turned back to the problem of finding a boat. A new-found friend, Kunit suna Sasaki, passenger traffic manager of the Kansai Steamship Company, came to our aid. He journeyed with us by Kansai steamer from Osaka to the fishing village of Sumoto on the island of Awaji, and there we found a craft suited to our purpose. to rent it and entered into a the spot. We returned to written contract, and sent the boatman's signature. But he had had time to The Cassandras of Sumoto The owner agreed verbal contract on Osaka, drew up a it to Sumoto for think things over. had filled his ears with stories of wrecks in the far parts of the * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "By Felucca Down the Nile," April, 1940; and "Grand Canal Panorama," April, 1937, both by Willard Price.