Welcome To Japan

Miles Total: 1,670
Cabin Temp: 73 Water Temp: 60

We’re in a marina today for the first time in 28 months, after a very interesting arrival and check in to Japan. The last day of sailing was absolutely beautiful, as the winds eased and we closed the Japanese coastline on a close reach in warm sunshine. When we were close enough to hail the Coast Guard on the VHF, Rob had the first of many conversations with them about our arrival. Unfortunately the Coast Guard officer spoke very little English, and our Japanese vocabulary contained only one word – sushi. It was very challenging sorting out what we were supposed to do and where we were supposed to go.

A cruiser in Palau had a Japanese magazine of marinas, and I managed to figure out which of them were near Osaka. While on passage I emailed about 6 of them to inquire about rates and availability, and only one replied. We had the location of the commercial port closest to that marina with some help from home. The Animal Quarantine folks wanted to know our ETA, so I emailed them and the marina with our closest guess about 3 days out. The Coast Guard officer wanted to know where we were staying, so Rob told him our marina name and gave him a midnight ETA. He called us back he said the marina thought we would be there at noon the next day. We still didn’t know if we were supposed to go to the port to check in or the marina, but finally got that sorted out. We updated our ETA to 2:00 am, then realized that arriving in a small foreign marina at 2:00 probably wasn’t a good idea, so we told the Coast Guard we would drift until morning and arrive at 8:00.

Only ten ships coming into Osaka
The entrance into the inland sea near Osaka is about 14 miles wide, and we realized we were not going to make it through before nighttime. The freighter traffic was unbelievably heavy, and as darkness approached I became increasingly concerned that we were going to sail 25,000 miles, only to be splattered by a ship entering the harbor. Rob was certain we’d be fine and we were continuing on, when suddenly it was like the whistle blew and there were 22 ships headed straight out the entrance right at us. I was in the companionway watching the AIS targets on our chartplotter, while Rob navigated a path between them. Finally we were through the first pinch point and into the sea, where we had 24 miles to another even tinier passage. We chose to motor up that 24 miles and wait outside the narrow passage until daylight, so we drifted and took turns getting a little sleep, while the freighters went past us in and out of Osaka Bay.

At 5:00 Rob woke me up and we were ready to negotiate the passage, which is less than 2 miles wide. When we’re in the ocean we prefer to not to get within 2 miles of a single ship, and now we were sharing a passage only that wide with several of them. But first we had to get across the traffic lanes to the other side, which meant physically weaving a path between 800′ ships traveling 15 mph both directions. Once inside Osaka Bay we motored another 10 miles to our marina, which is in a small town about an hour away by train from Osaka. It’s absolutely lovely here.

Official greeting by Tannowa Yacht Club membersWe were met at the dock by the harbormaster and two gentlemen who were HAM operators who had heard me talking on the Okira net. The officials were scheduled to arrive at 9:30 so we began cleaning up the boat. Quarantine showed up at 10:30, then Immigration came carrying two huge cases of gear. When they saw how small the boat was they decided we should come up to the office, where they unpacked computers, a fingerprint machine and camera, a scanner, and a printer. They gave me a form to fill out detailing the ship’s stores, and it asked about drugs, specifically codeine and morphine. Unfortunately I answered truthfully and suddenly things got complicated – very complicated. Turns out those are both illegal drugs in Japan, even with a prescription. Now we had to wait for a senior immigration officer and Customs officials. In the end they came down to the boat and sealed up our drug container, taking lots of pictures in the process. After one quick visit with the Coast Guard we were done with the officials, and it was only 3:30 in the afternoon.

In the meantime, though, I was using the internet connection in the office and thanks to my sister’s help we managed to find a ticket home for Rob that we could afford, so he flies out early tomorrow morning for 10 days to be with his folks. I’ll stay here and work at keeping Maya on the boat and putter around until he gets back. So far from what we’ve seen this is an absolute jewel of a place, and we’re both looking forward to doing a little bit of exploration before we head back out for our final passage home.


Tannawa is here.

Japanese Hospitality

We’ve sailed over 25,000 miles in the last 4 years, with stops at 15 different countries and 199 different anchorages (yes, I do keep track of them all), and there has not been a warmer reception than what we have received in Japan. The graciousness and friendliness of the people here at Tannowa Yacht Harbor continues to amaze me. Today our friend Yoshida-San came to the boat again with more lettuce and fresh flowers from his garden, travel brochures so we know what places we want to visit when he gives us a tour of Osaka, and two lovely Japanese teacups with drawings of cats on them (they all love that we have a Salvadoran cat onboard).

At times I feel a little overwhelmed with all the attention, particularly last Sunday when I was instructed to be at the Yacht Club at 5:30 for a reception in our honor. It was a marvelous gathering (although significantly short on women), with lots of drinks, fresh sushi, and yummy homemade food. Later I found out that the Japanese, much like the rest of us, just like to have an excuse to party. It’s customary whenever they go to another harbor with their club that the hosting club throws a shindig like the one last Sunday night. And they do this for every visiting yacht that arrives here.

Tomorrow morning I’ll meet the yacht club commodore (Ichikawa-San) at his boat and join with his wife and daughter on their weekend cruise with the other Tannowa Yacht Club members. Luckily Aika, his daughter, spent 2 years at the university in Vancouver so her English is good. I’m surprised at the limited English here in this part of Japan, but we are in a remote suburban area and the average age of the Yacht Club members is 50, so likely we’ll find different when we go into the city. Tomorrow we’re going to Wakayama, where reportedly there are some wonderful onsen (hot springs) in the area. We’ll spend the night in a hotel and sail back to Tannowa on Sunday. Rob will be home on Tuesday, and next weekend we are invited to the home of Ichikawa-San, who will give us a tour of Nara before we set out to visit Kyoto.

We’re both busy this week sorting out issues surrounding our return to the Pacific Northwest (like jobs, moorage, social plans, etc.), while still trying to enjoy the last of the cruising life and travel to wonderful foreign ports. Undoubtedly, the amazing hospitality of the Japanese people will leave us with an eagerness to return to cruising, even before we begin our passage back home.


American Tourists

Visiting the Kimiidera Buddhist templeThis has been an intensely busy 10 days. Kondo-San and Kakihara-San wanted to show me around the Buddhist temple (Kimiiedera) and castle in Wakayama on Monday, then Rob got back on Tuesday so I took the train out to the Kansia airport near Osaka to meet him. Wednesday we took the train into Ozaki (a small town 4 stops from here), and walked around looking unsuccessfully for a grocery store with foods we recognize. Thursday we took the train in all the way to Osaka, visiting the Maritime Museum, where we found the only thing written in English was the sign outside that said Maritime Museum. Thursday night we were driven to Kondo-San’s home near here for dinner, which was lovely. It was a very typical Japanese meal, sitting on the floor in the dining room, enjoying sashimi with salad and breaded shrimp and veggies cooked at the table in a manner we would call fondue-style. His wife spoke no English, but was a very gracious hostess.

I had found the Costco website for Japan and downloaded instructions, including a Google map, to a store on the other side of Osaka, so Friday we took a train into Osaka again. It was pouring rain the entire time, and after about an hour or so of walking in circles we concluded the map was wrong and Costco was not there. Neither was there anyone who spoke enough English to help us find where Costco was, nor was there an internet cafe anywhere to be found, so back on the train empty handed and soaking wet late Friday afternoon. We brought our computers up to the office for internet and Rob found the right location for Costco. Apparently if you translate the address into English first it messes up Google, but if you plug in the Japanese characters you get the right location (which was nowhere near where we were slogging around in the rain all day).

Todai ji again in the rainSaturday Ichikawa-San picked us up and drove us to his house on the north side of Osaka, about 2 hours away. It was a beautiful home in a very upscale in-city neighborhood that felt much like Madison Park in Seattle. We spent the night there, enjoying their company and learning about freestyle sushi dinners, which we’ll be repeating with friends once we get home. Sunday we took a tour of Nara, and learned much about Japanese history and culture from Junko Ichikawa, which her daughter Aika patiently translated for us. Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan, from 710 until 785 when it moved to Kyoto. There is a beautiful park where the Todai-ji temple houses the Daibutsu-den hall, which is the largest wooden structure in the world. Inside is a very impressive Buddha statue 16 meters tall, cast from 437 tons of bronze.

Sunday night we caught the train back to Tannowa to check on the neko (Maya), who had not been home alone on the boat since Ecuador. Then Monday morning we caught the train back in, heading for Kyoto this time. I had found an ad in a travel brochure for a “capsule ryokan”, where we had a reservation. The ryokan is a traditional Japanese hotel, and the ones I found in Kyoto were in the $200/night price range. The capsule hotel is a modern Japanese concept, used by business people near Tokyo, where they have capsule sleeping areas in a large room. This hotel had those, but also small (very small) rooms for two. It was near the central station in Kyoto, new and clean, with private facilities in Japanese style rooms, and only cost $89/night, which was perfect for us.

Street scene in Kyoto

In three quick days we saw lots and lots of sights in Kyoto. There are 1,600 temples in the city, and we left 1,595 for another day, but we enjoyed our time there immensely. The temples and gardens were beautiful, as you’ll see when we get pictures posted. The central market was great fun, where we found lots of souvenirs and interesting foods to sample. Another afternoon on the train and we’re back at Tannowa this morning.

Today we’ll take one last try at finding Costco, using what we hope is a map to the right place this time. I still have most of the food I bought in Palau, but would feel better with a few more things in the lockers when we set sail on Tuesday. We’ve got a few chores to do to get us and the boat ready to go, but not many. Saturday night the yacht club is again hosting a party for us, but this time it’ll be a farewell celebration. Sunday we’ll have an open house on Yohelah and say one last goodbye to the many friendly folks we’ve met here in Tannowa.


Ready to Go

This time the directions were right, and we finally did find Costco. The lockers are packed, the freezer is full of lots of pre-cooked meals for the stinky days, and the boat is nearly ready for our departure. Today we go with Yoshida-san to a grocery in Ozaki for fresh fruits and veggies and last minute items I’ve forgotten; it just seems you can never quite remember everything you need for a passage that may be over 40 days long. This afternoon we’ll load about 400 liters of diesel and top up the tanks. The officials are scheduled to be here at 4:00 to check us out. We’ll either leave at first light tomorrow or Wednesday, depending on how much we get done today and how ready we feel in the morning. Needless to say, it’s been a busy weekend and we’re not quite feeling very organized and rested right now.

One last weather system passed through this weekend, with enough wind to remind us we are in the North Pacific. It was pouring rain on Friday (while we were trying to get laundry dried outside) and blowing with wind gusts over 30 all day yesterday. Today it’s calm and sunny, so we’ll get the sail covers down and inside while they’re dry. We’ve said most of our farewells to the people we’ve enjoyed spending time with here in Japan, some of whom we may get to play host to when they come to visit in the Pacific Northwest. As always, it will be hard to leave and say “until next time”, but this time it’s the last time we’ll have say it for a long time.