Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sailing Inawashiro with the Koriyama Yacht Club

Every autumn in Japan, all of the middle schools across the land put on a big production called a bunkasai, or school festival. Students entertain parents and the day is filled filled with singing, dance productions, skits, other assorted activities, speeches, and what passes for entertainment in this country.

Because I had committed to attending two of these bunkasais, I wasn't able to join my friend Teppei Takahashi for our monthly moutaineering excursion into the woods. So he kindly invited me to join him on the waters of Lake Inawashiro at his "Yacht Club" the week all the Bunkasais ended. Teppei and I head up to the hills every other month or so for some hiking and mountaineering, but this was my first time sailing with him.

This would be fantastic! Spending a sporty day with mist and spray in my face as our vessel screamed across the water at breakneck speed! Whitecaps smashing over the deck and threatening to capsize our vessel! Rubbing shoulders with all the beautiful people while as a five course meal is served to us on the deck, complete with champagne, caviar, and all sorts of Japanese delicacies I couldn't possibly afford! Then kicking the boat back into high gear and returning to shore, as I stand triumphantly on the bow of a majestic vessel arriving at an exotic port of call!

Teppei picked me up before dawn and we drove up to Lake Inawashiro, which lies over the mountains to the West of Koriyama City. When he told me our destination, my preconceptions were already in doubt. We met up with a number of Teppei's Koriyama Yacht club friends at the Club's lake shore campground. Upon seeing the property, all the images in the previous paragraph were instantly shattered. Several people's
tiny boats, some ancient sheds full of life jackets and thick brush surrounded a dying campfire and 2 tents. Most people had camped the previous evening, sailing their dingys on the nearby lake shore. We gave them a hand as they loaded their tiny sailboats back onto trailers. Teppei seemed particularly proud of the fact that the club made (by hand) most of the custom trailers and roof racks hauling their little boats. I was a bit surprised that these little dingys, most of which were not much bigger than a large canoe, passed as yachts (yotto), but that's what they called them! But they reassured me we'd be in a much bigger boat for the afternoon.

After cleaning the campsite and eating breakfast, we all drove off for a marina on the other side of Lake Inawashiro. Twenty minutes later, we reached the marina where the sailboats were still small, but a much more respectable size. The marina crew lowered the club's boat into the water, and we all piled into a ship dubbed the "World Wind." The boat was apparently owned by one member of the club, but they all contributed to marina fees and maintenance costs. So THIS was the magnificent vessel everyone was boasting about at breakfast! While only 20 or so feet from bow to stern, it would be perfect for an afternoon of fun on the lake.

After some basic maintenance, our team was ready to go! We quickly departed after loading the ship with giant cases full of onigiri and a week's supply of beer. How long were we going to be out here? The sun had finally pierced the foggy haze and blue skies surrounded us. I had been concerned about weather, as Lake Inawashiro often gets relentless rain showers. At times, I've seen some scary storms on the lake as well. While relieved at the beautiful weather, we lacked a good strong wind, which surprised everyone on board. The area usually gets a good strong wind from the West. Consequently, we never did get moving much faster than two or three knots. Good thing we brought lots of beer!

Lake Inawashiro, the third largest freshwater lake in Japan, is located just West of Koriyama City. It lies right near the center of Fukushima Prefecture in North Central Honshu. Steeply terraced rice fields and rugged green mountains of cedar forests surround the beautiful lake on almost all sides. Besides sailing, Inawashiro serves as the local playground for numerous other water-sports enthusiasts, as wind surfers, kayakers and jet-skiers flock to its shores on the weekend. Siberian swans find refuge on its shores in the winter, and attract their legions of weekend ornithologists armed with cameras and binoculars. Winter also bring skiers to the slopes, who come from all around in search of decent powder, majestic views, and steaming hot onsens. The imposing slopes of Mount Bandai preside over the whole area with ominous doom, waiting for the day when the peak spews forth a cloud of toxic ash and violent pyroclastic avalanches of superheated gas and rubble.

Trying to keep my mind off the image of an eruption, I met some pretty interesting folks aboard the ship. There were a couple of guys who lived in the USA at various times, although they had forgotten most of their English. There was also a guy and his son who had lived in China for several years. His son had also gone to one of my schools, but long before I ever got there. Despite living in Japan for over two years, I was still impressed by everyone's hospitality. Everyone was curious about my impressions of Japan and Koriyama City and I entertained them as best I could with crazy stories from the local middle school I teach at.

Then there was my friend Teppei Takahashi, who works for the City. While he's never lived abroad as his friends have, he's an extremely adventurous and outgoing guy, often boisterous and very talkative. He's extremely sporty, and responsible for various city sports programs and the school lunch menu. He's at the head of his section, which is comprised almost entirely of former PE teachers. While most of the people in the city hall work late into the evening, (or pretend to do so), his section always goes home at 5 PM sharp. I can usually find Teppei pumping iron at our local gym after hours as well. Its very refreshing to see folks here with such healthy attitudes about work and play.

Anyways, back to sailing. I learned a few things about sailing by watching the crew, but I mostly just tried to stay out of everyone's way. I learned some important Japanese sailing terminology, including sutaba! (starboard) It was a great day, and everyone was having a good time until....we spotted GODZILLA rising from the lakebed!

To be continued......

去年郡山市役所で働いている私の友達の高橋哲平さんと会いました。郡山のヨットクラブは20人位います。ときどき高橋哲平さんと一緒に山登りします。クラブのヨットの名前はWorld Windです。ヨットは8m位だと思います。 いい天気でした。でも風は少し弱いと思いました。ヨットはゆっくり動きました。日焼けしてしまいました。痛かったです。クラブの人々は親切でした。楽しかったよ! 


The Pittmeister said...

"We came up in the Sloop John B/ My grandfather and me/ found us a town we did roam/ drinkin' all night/ got into a fight/ I feel so broke up/ I wanna go home"

Crip said...

Hi Tyler,
was wondering if I can add this article to my pages at www.sail-japan.info

Please get in touch if that'd be ok.