It's hard not to drift into rhapsody when we think about the everyday pleasures of Japan. Going to the Supermarket, catching a bus, finding a place to do repairs; all resulted in a happy experience due to a stranger going out of their way to be helpful. Things may certainly be done differently in Japan and one could become frustrated with the bureaucracy, the banking system or just accomplishing a simple task but politeness and radiant smiles will win you over. In addition, living in a country where honesty is paramount and generosity the norm, the bonuses make your stay more than worthwhile.
We found the cost of living to be 30% more than in Australia, but then that applies to almost anywhere these days given the exchange rates. Cash is used almost universally and Japanese credit cards are of a different format. We used our Visa card to obtain cash from ATM's and some shops but only a few special ATM's in the larger towns can handle overseas cards. Keep your Visa account in the black via internet to avoid interest charges.
The food is part of the whole experience with lots of small and different dishes beautifully prepared. Eating out can be quite reasonable in a Yakatori bar, okonmiachi shop or a chain-style restaurant.
Japan is a nation of islands stretching from 240N just above the tropics and east of Taiwan to the tip of Hokkaido at 460N. Many of the islands are interconnected via tunnels or bridges, most of which have 21m or more clearance. The climate varies from a very warm and humid summertime in the south to a blanket of snow, fog and fierce winds during Hokkaido winters. Good sailing conditions are to be found in all parts of the country at certain times.
The island topography applies particularly to the Inland Sea or Seto Naikai, a famous waterway bounded by Honshu to the north, Shikoku and Kyushu islands to the south. Up to 6m tides are found here and the resulting currents make constant use of tide tables essential for passages between the 2000 enclosed islands. It is not uncommon to be sweeping under a bridge with seemingly little masthead clearance at 10 kts in company with ferries, container ships and fishing boats!
It is practical to sail from Australia or New Zealand to Japan and return with good winds each way and this is demonstrated regularly by racing yachts travelling the Melbourne - Osaka and Auckland - Fukuoka routes for example. Around-the-world cruisers travelling E-W will find comfortable routes which head north from the tropics to include Japan for a season, returning south via Taiwan to Hong Kong or the Philippines. For those who dream of cruising the US west coast there are 2 major routes from Japan, one quite challenging via the Aleutians, the other a 40 day direct crossing, usually at latitude 40N.
Do not try to obtain detailed charts before arriving in Japan. The locally available official books of harbour charts are frequently updated and although written in Japanese do now have Lat/Lon positions for entrance beacons to each port. All ports are included no matter how small. Since these seem to occur every few miles, these books provide full coverage when coupled with charts of large enough scale to help identify each port. We were given Japanese charts on many occasions and there were plenty of would-be translators to anglicise the place names.
Strangely, we discovered no cruising guides with the exception of a detailed fold-out map of the Inland Sea by Yamaha. This nominated all ports and marinas useful to yachts and detailed facilities and contacts at each. It may be hard to get by now unless it has been updated and reprinted.
In the Pacific Ocean, cyclone season in the southern hemisphere is generally regarded as being November to March whilst typhoon season in the northern hemisphere occurs between April and October. Between the latitudes of 10S and 10N spanning the equator one is generally safe from tropical revolving storms. So to make the "safest" crossing from south to north yachts are advised to arrive say in the North Solomons at 7S before November and wait until April before closing Guam at 14N. That is not to say you wont run into an out of season storm and of course the best defence at any time is to be weather alert.
We are fortunate in Australia to be able to receive excellent weather information by marine radio and particularly via HF fax in addition to coastal broadcasts via radio and TV. Weatherfax charts from Australian and New Zealand Met Services cover conditions south from the equator and Japanese JMA weatherfax charts cover the area to the north. These are in English and of a high quality. Around 25 typhoons a year are charted and Japan radio, TV and various Internet sites track them with such frequency and accuracy that when in Japanese waters, cruisers have plenty of time to seek optimum shelter, usually necessary for only a day or 2. Typhoons form in the lower latitudes of the North Pacific and follow a curved path to the NW early in the season to the Philippines and Hong Kong, swinging N around July to expire over Korea and China then later still they further curve to the NE crossing much of Japan. A summer cruise in Japan will involve dealing with several typhoons but you will be well tied up each time in a protected port with many friends concerned for the welfare of you and your boat.
The good news is that yachts are free of Customs duty and may remain indefinitely in the country when owned by a foreigner. Not so convenient is the news that skipper and crew will be issued with a 90 day tourist visa which must be renewed by leaving the country. In-country extensions of 90 days may be obtained, though once only and then under extenuating circumstances. On the west coast it is possible to sail or travel by ferry to Korea for a visa renewal on return, a round trip distance of about 250nm. After several renewals of this type you will be asked (politely) to leave for a longer period. Many foreign nationals work in Japan or attend a learning institution. This must be arranged before entry and allows the usual temporary-resident status ie, an Alien Registration Card is issued, taxes are due etc. illywhacker stayed 2 years whilst we came and went for various periods to renew our visas.
Quarantine laws apply in Japan on entry. Have a sensible approach to dealing with trash, carry no drugs, firearms or excessive stocks of liquor and you will avoid any troubles.
Japan has a policy of high security aimed at preventing illegal immigrants particularly on the west coast closest to Asia. The job is a difficult one as there are many fishing boats at sea, day and night. The area is patrolled by the Coastguard in fast, modern and well-manned/armed ships. Any foreign vessel is cause for alarm and foreign yachts are well advised for their own safety (and to stay legal), to initially provide them with the required details of yacht characteristics, crew on board, destination etc and to check in via channel 16 when arriving and departing each port. Phonetically spelling "Illywhacker" in fractured English became comical after a while and we soon became well known to the Coastguard radio operators. A foreign yacht has no chance of keeping a low profile so enjoy your new celebrity status (no matter how undeserved it may be)!
As a further means of monitoring foreign shipping, the Department of Transport issues permits to stop at what are known as "closed ports", usually small fishing ports not manned by Customs. As these are in the majority, one is obliged to complete the numerous forms at each "open port" in order to plan a leisurely voyage, especially along the west coast. This can be a time-consuming activity but should be viewed as a pleasant way of getting to know people at their workplace!
Amami Oshima an island of great beauty halfway between Okinawa and Kagoshima. Great cruising amongst the many bays and off-lying islands. Small, friendly yacht club.
Kagoshima A city at the southern tip of Kyushu opposite an active volcano. Cruising yachts tie up near Kagoshima Marine Services yard with 100 or so local yachts. Visit a Samurai village nearby.
Sendai A small town on the western side of Kyushu it marks the beginning of a series of attractive deep bays set in rural Japan with offlying islands. Drive through hill country, visit the nuclear power station, trout farms and gardens.
Huis Ten Bosch Near Nagasaki it is a perfect reconstruction of the best of Holland! HTB is by far the best theme park we have ever seen. Built to commemorate the 2 countries strong relationship formed during Japans 200 years of isolation between 1660 and 1860 it is a major tourist destination for the Japanese. Set on Omura Wan, a large inland sea and great sailing area, it has 6 large hotels modelled on Europes best, a replica of the royal palace, the famous Domtoren tower, miles of canals and bicycle tracks, windmills, a cheese factory, a million tulips and many theme exhibits, museums etc. Performers from all over the world wander the streets to entertain the visitors and at night the sky is filled with a laser-light, sound and fireworks show. The whole city is built around the harbour with its ancient ships and the best marina in the world. Here we stayed a number of times over 2 years at very reasonable rates.
Fukuoka A really great city with lots to see and do. We tied up at Odo marina, free for 2 weeks for foreign yachts. It is opposite the biggest supermarket youll ever see.
Hiroshima area Also a great city to visit but we found it cheaper and quieter to stay in marinas located on islands to the south. Ferries abound in the waters around Japan and trams and trains are easy to figure out. All transport runs on time! We commuted to Hiroshima from the islands of;
Miazima - $1 a night alongside the ferry wharf lets you visit the famous Shrine and Floating Tori, the gateway to the temple and to sample the huge local oysters.
Okinoshima A quiet marina close by the naval museum
Kurahasi Shima We visited this family marina and repair facility for yachts called KazeNoko
Inland Sea marinas which allow access to busy Japan and to the famous temple cities of Nara and Kyoto are
Shin-Nishi-Nomyia, a modern marina near Kobe. Visit the magnificent Himeji Castle to the west from here.
Hokko marina is where the Melbourne Osaka race finishes here. Have a few beers in the "Melbourne Club", visit Osaka, a short bus/train ride away, or get a few repairs done in the workshops nearby.
Tokushima for a truly amazing experience tie up courtesy of the Awa Cruising Club in the middle of town during the 14th, 15th and 16th of August. This is the time of the Awa Odori when the town swells by a million visitors who join in the traditional dance celebrating the festival of Obon. When the coloured lights switch on and the music starts even visiting yachties are obliged to take to the streets and join in.
Hakodate a major port on the south side of Hokkaido. Here you see snow-covered hills in summer, large tracts of rural Japan and glimpses of the early inhabitants, the Ainu people. Tie up downtown courtesy of the local yacht club near the well-preserved 18th century warehouse area. Magnificent scenery is found inland and is easily accessible by train or bus.
Kushiro Our last port in Japan was made a memorable one by by the local yacht club members. They arranged a convenient tie-up alongside a pontoon located in the town centre, helped us with supplies and repairs and made sure all our fond memories of Japan would stay forever.
| email: peter @illywhacker.com
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