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Japan for Cruisers - Kyushu

Cruising Kyushu

The following notes summarise a cruise made through Kyushu, Japan from S to N over the period April to June 2011. For photos and a fuller narrative see Japan - Kyushu on this website.

Entry formalities for Japan. Entry can only be made at designated Ports of Entry. In southwestern Japan these are Okinawa, Kagoshima, Nagasaki and Fukuoka (the last three all on the island of Kyushu). While the island of Amami-o-Shima might be a tempting landfall for yachts approaching from the South, there are no immigration officials based here. Advance notification is required; the necessary form can be downloaded at http://www.kaiho.mlit.go.jp/apply/hoan00_e.htm. Check-in procedures are lengthy: you can expect at least ten officials (from Immigration, Customs, Coastguard, Agriculture, and possibly Police), most of whom will wish to come aboard and have you fill in multiple forms. In the case of Kagoshima, staff at Kagoshima Marine Services (at the marina at Taniyama; see below) summoned all the officials on our behalf; Immigration had us come with them to their downtown office, half an hour away (they drove us back!). You can expect a polite official scolding if your date/time of arrival differ greatly from your forecast.

Onward formalities. All ports in Japan are deemed to be either “open” or “closed”, presumably a hangover from as far back as the 16th Century when only Nagasaki, as the country's only open port, was allowed to have contact with the outside world. 95% of Japan's thousands (no exaggeration..) of harbours are “closed” and foreign yachts must have specific permission for each one they intend to visit. Bewilderingly, this is obtained not from any of the agencies who check you in to the country, but from the Department of Transport (whose offices can often be found adjoining Customs and/or Immigration). The DOT requires a list of the ports you hope to visit between the present port and the next large and “open” one – at which point you must repeat the process for the next leg. For each port you must indicate intended dates (best to be generous – there will be no problem if you arrive early at any, but there could be if you arrive late). In our experience it takes about two working days for permission (in the form of a letter in Japanese script) to be granted; the permission, once granted, indicates only the starting and finishing dates of the whole segment, but does list each intermediate port. Once the DOT paperwork is completed, Customs also like to know your plans (ask for a stamped copy of the same itinerary to prove they have seen it) and Coastguard may as well. In the smaller ports you may or may not be visited by sundry officials to check up on your paperwork; you are not required actively to seek officials out. Unless you are in a real hurry it may be best to leave some breathing space between completing your initial arrival formalities and starting the onward formalities – the scope for confusion is considerable, as few of the officials concerned usually have more than a word or two of English.

Approach to Kyushu from the South. It would be very useful to have, in advance, a chart of the usual track of the Kurushio Current and its various offshoots and counter-currents. We did not; the Pilot Charts are inadequate for this purpose. We had hoped and expected that, by entering the chain of islands that straggles to the SW of Kyushu all the way to Okinawa and beyond, we would be able to ride the current to the NE. This strategy did not work. When it is still more than 100 miles from Kyushu, the current begins to turn to the East and Southeast; it runs at speeds of 2 to 3 knots and it greatly slowed our attempts to make northing, let alone westing. Only by sailing up the western edge of the island chain might some benefit be gained; otherwise it may be best to steer a direct course for Kagoshima Bay and cross the current at the last moment.

General notes on cruising. Japan's coastline is exceptionally indented and long, but virtually every tempting-looking nook, however unlikely, has a harbour installation of some sort, and/or floating fish farms. The amount of harbour infrastructure is actually quite staggering, with even small ports having hundreds of meters of built-up inner seawalls and off-lying breakwaters. Small local boats usually moor Med-style, bows to the wall, the stern held off by an anchor or mooring. However, these moorings are private. Yachts have three choices: follow (a) The Med-mooring pattern, in which case it will be necessary to launch a dinghy to run lines ashore; there is some risk of fouling the anchor as harbour floors are crisscrossed with mooring lines; (b) Side-tie to the wall; you need to find a relatively smooth wall with no overhang, and use either a fender board and/or the large foam fenders favoured by the fishermen. Getting on and off at low tide may be a challenge, and line adjustment will be necessary as the tide moves up and down; in theory, wall areas for visitors are marked in black and yellow paint; (c) Find a floating pontoon to tie to (or barge/boat to raft). Most harbours do seem to have pontoons but you may be required to move at short notice should a local ferry arrive and/or fishboats wish to use the pontoon for loading/unloading. Few of the local yachts ever anchor at all – indeed one yachtsman said he considered his anchor as “for emergencies only”. The local fishing boats do sometimes anchor, and at great depth, but on light ground-tackle and only for a few hours at a time.

The weather. Common wisdom has it that the best time to approach Japan from the South Pacific is mid-March to late April, when the winter trades have begun to ease but before the risk of typhoons has begun to crank up. We arrived in Kagoshima in mid-April to find that it was still quite cool (but sunny); by mid-May the rainy season was beginning and the daily temperatures rising, with many days of overcast, light rain, some fog and light winds from around the clock. On May 25th the first typhoon of the season appeared on the radar: a “Supertyphoon” that hit Okinawa hard but that only brushed Kyushu. The second typhoon came a month later.

Weather forecasting. We use saildocs to receive weather forecasts, taking advantage of its service that will send you a webpage. Before setting off we saved :


on our laptop. This page shows you the marine weather forecast areas used by the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) and the corresponding text webpage. We would then subscribe to that webpage, via saildocs; it was updated by 0630 and 1830 each day, local time.

For typhoon tracking we subscribe to:


This appears daily and lists any cyclones/typhoons developing and actually developed in the Western North Pacific (180 to Malay Peninsula) and also in the Southern Pacific from the coast of South America to 135E. This is part of the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre's website, primarily intended for US naval/military bases in this part of the world. If a typhoon/cyclone actually develops it then gives you the reference to more detailed info. Usually you have three to seven days' notice of a typhoon. After much investigating we found out how to obtain this information via saildocs: subscribe (or do a “send” if you only want the info once) to:


where xxxxxx is the reference you got from abpwweb.txt (yes saildocs will send ftp files...).

We used the interval parameter when we subscribed, setting “interval=1”. This meant that every hour saildocs would check for an update to the information on the website; if there was no update, no E-mail was sent but if there was an update saildocs would send you the information.

If you have a good Internet connection then the websites of both

JMA http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/indexe.html
JTWC http://www.usno.navy.mil/JTWC/

have a host of useful information, including graphical representations of projected typhoon tracks.

Charts. Virtually every cove in Japan seems to have an artificial harbour at its head. Many of these are shown in only very sketchy detail on C-Map; the situation is complicated by the fact that new construction is constantly going on. Ideally one should buy all the relevant paper charts. That could be prohibitively expensive. A compromise option is the 12-volume “S-Guide” of chartlets, numbered H800-W to H812-W. These are still expensive at 4000 Yen per volume (about USD $50) but each contains 50 or more harbour chartlets. The chartlets are in colour and have excellent detail, the usual international symbols (for lights etc) are used and they (now) have exact lats and longs indicated. However, most of the script is Japanese (kanji), so one of the first things you need to do is have a friend transliterate the harbour names into western script. An “S” inside a red circle indicates areas/walls considered particularly suitable for small craft; the books also have a chart showing the meaning of the complex arrays of lights that Japanese fishing boats display (again, translation is necessary) and a small but useful chart of typical typhoon tracks. We found it useful to supplement these chartlets with Google Earth. The books are by no means comprehensive; for each harbour shown, we would estimate there are twenty omitted (!). Where possible, Japanese yachtsmen should of course also be consulted, but these are a rare breed. References below are to the edition of the Chartbooks available in mid-2011.

Further notes. The “artificial” nature of cruising in Japan (virtually no anchoring, always in harbours) is more than compensated by the amazing hospitality that is customarily offered to the few foreign yachts that venture to these waters (about ten to twelve annually, it is thought). Reciprocating can be a problem but in our experience, friends really appreciate simply being invited on board for a cup of tea or a drink. When visiting Japanese friends' homes or boats, be wary of expressing too much admiration for items on view as they will likely be pressed upon you! Learning a few words of Japanese is of course a good idea; you may be surprised by how little English your hosts have, this notwithstanding the fact that English has long been a compulsory subject at school; in our experience, only those who have lived/worked abroad are likely to be at all fluent. A preparedness to sample the local cuisine, however odd or mysterious it may initially seem, will of course enrich your stay; basic chopstick-handling is essential.

Kagoshima To Nagasaki

Kagoshima. This is a modern city of some 600,000, on the western shore of of Kagoshima Wan, where the long and wide bay is forced to narrow by the imposing, invariably smoking Sakurajima Volcano on the eastern shore. There are several miles of built-up docks/waterfront, which are used not only by freighters but by large ferries that ply to Okinawa and elsewhere, and fast jetfoils that run to Yakushima Island. Incoming yachts are asked to tie up at Taniyama, which is a suburb of Kagoshima proper, about five miles to the south of the centre. Officials will travel from downtown to meet you there, so there is no need to find a mooring space in the main dock area.

Kagoshima Marine Services (KMS) at Taniyama consists of an office and a yard for the dry storage of yachts; it formerly had responsibility for the “marina” adjoining, but at the time of our arrival the relationship between KMS and the marina was cloudy and no charge was levied for our tying up. Yachts moor in a well-protected cut off the main harbour; mooring is bow or stern-to the wall (tide is 2 to 3m), using buoys, mooring lines and foam fenders that are already in place. Each mooring slot has its own tiny raft on which you pull yourself to the nearest ladder in the harbour wall. Our position: 31 29.665N, 130 30.910 E; Chartlet book p72, H-809W. The location is well-protected, the only downside being some wash from small passing fishing launches that come and go from their moorings further up the cut. Some twenty or thirty yachts are moored here, with the same number on land; KMS owns a large crane and hauls yachts in and out on a daily basis; indeed the local racers keep their boats on land and have them put in the water only for a few hours at a time.

There are showers at KMS (available in working hours) and a washing machine; no charge for either. The loan of bicycles may be possible. Water is available close to the office but not at the quayside. Diesel can be easily arranged through KMS (a truck comes regularly to fill the crane); alternatively it is ten minutes' walk to the nearest gas station. The owner of KMS (who is also the crane driver) has a reputation as an excellent mechanic and all-round Mr Fixit for yachts. Hauling and longterm storage are possible.

There are two or three restaurants within five minutes' walk, and large supermarkets to the N and S, but a little further (20 mins walk, 10 mins by bike) Local currency (yen) can be obtained via the ATM at the Post Office (about fifteen minutes' walk, up the hill behind Taniyama) during normal working hours. There are suburban trains to Kagoshima proper, leaving from Sakanoue station, close to the PO; usually three per hour, about USD $3.50 one way. It is also possible to take a bus from Sakanoue.

There is quite a lot to see in and around Kagoshima and its environs, which appear to receive very few foreign tourists. In the city proper are the Sengan-En gardens, dating from as early as 1658, and various houses and other building associated with the first installation of modern industry in Japan in the 19th century. It is a ten-minute ferry ride across the narrows to Sakurajima volcano, but the volcano is so active that you are not allowed anywhere near the rim. Half an hour by bus, to the south, is Chiran, which was the principal base from which Kamikaze pilots took off in the final months of the war; the associated museum is interesting and carefully non-judgmental. In Chiran there is also a well-preserved street of Samurai homes, most of which (modernised...) are still lived in, but whose formal gardens can be visited. Ibusuki, on the southwestern corner of the bay and reachable by train from Sakanoue, has a famous and near-unique Onsen (natural bath/spring): as well as the usual segregated hot pools for soaking, it has hot sands where (for a fee) ladies will bury you up to the neck for as long as you can stand the baking. Unlike in the rest of Japan, where the liquor of choice is sake, in Kagoshima it's Shochu, distilled from sweet potatoes; the locals are very proud of their Shochu (and of a host of other sweet potato products...) and it will be difficult to escape Kagoshima without sampling it.

Yamagawa (Chartlet pp 66-67 in H-809W) is a small fishing harbour in the SW of Kagoshima Bay, usefully located for vessels heading up either the E or the W coast of Kyushu; it is 24 miles S of Taniyama (Kagoshima). There are three pontoons on the E shore of the bay; we tied up at the southernmost, which is pale green; our position 31 12.193N, 130 38.028E. No fee. There is also a small inner enclosure behind walls in the SE corner of the bay; a side-tie would be possible. As in many of these fishing villages, there is less and less fishing and the population is dwindling; and as in most the starting and finishing hours for the working day are signalled with chimes of popular tunes (Edelweiss, Love is Blue...) on the village loudspeakers. On shore there are one or two small shops and a covered market area; very quiet. A local train line runs to Kagoshima.

Makurazaki (Chartlet p 62 in H-809W), 27 miles W of Yamagawa, is a medium-sized fishing town and harbour towards the SSW tip of Kyushu, approached via a series of L-bends between claustrophobically high harbour walls. Unlike most of the smaller ports it is classed as an “open” port, so there is no need to list it on your permit from the Department of Transport; compared to other harbours we visited, Makurazaki was relatively lively but – still – by no means busy. Deep inside, this would be a good typhoon shelter. But – exposed as it is to the Pacific – Makurazaki no doubt gets more than its fair share of very heavy seas from passing typhoons. We tied to a pale green pontoon on the N shore at 31 16.146N, 130 17.433E; no fee; a municipal worker indicated that this would be OK, but for one night only. Wall tying would also be possible, notably in the enclosure in the extreme NW corner. There is a large supermarket in town, also a “sento” (public bath). Local train to Kagoshima.

Kasasa, 23 miles onwards to the W and then N, along a rugged and spectacular coastline, is in a narrow but very well-protected inlet some three miles ESE of Nomo Misaki; it does not appear in the book of chartlets and it may be helpful to Google Earth it. As you approach, beware the fish havens in the lee of the northern breakwater; on the southern shore are the landmark buildings, red brick, of the large luxury Ebisu Hotel. The Ebisu has its own pontoon. Although there would be room for a medium-sized yacht on either side and at the end, one side of the pontoon is semi-permanently occupied by a much-travelled but modern Yamaha sailboat that is here – essentially – as a museum piece (another such yacht is permanently installed on shore). The end of the pontoon may be occupied by a local whale-watching craft; either side tie to it or to the free side. There is a fairly steep fee of 2000 Yen (USD $25) plus 600 Yen for the crew. This is however a very secure and quite interesting location (31 24.916N, 130 08.046E). Your fee entitles you to a free printed weather forecast (!) and free use of the Hotel's luxurious Onsen, with a fine view over the East China Sea (the uninitiated should beware: the two sections of the Onsen are alternated for male and female use, each day...!). You can also visit the Hotel museum; this has miscellaneous exhibits on fishing (including two full-scale reconstructions of traditional wooden craft) and one room dedicated to the voyages of a locally well-known long-distance cruiser. There is a large wind farm on Nomo Misaki Cape and you can visit, free of charge, a wind-farm “museum” on the edge of town; there is a path to the lighthouse, but the vegetation is dense and there is no view to speak of from the light. A couple of small shops in the village.

Sato Ne (or Sato One) (Chartlet p 59A, in H-809W) is towards the N end of the Koshiki Shima archipelago, 29 miles N of Kasasa; this picturesque group of islands was reportedly used by the Japanese Navy when rehearsing for the attack on Pearl Harbour. There is a white and blue pontoon close by a very prominent, large hotel; posn 31 50.510N, 129 55.287E. Ask permission at the hotel (which has its own Onsen); we were given one night (free); one side of the pontoon is used by a local sightseeing boat. There would be plenty of other spaces for side-tying to walls (colourfully painted with murals), as commercial fishing here seems almost to have ended. There is a small supermarket 5 mins walk to the S. The town is very quiet but is reportedly a little more busy in high summer; behind the town, to the NW, is another beach and small harbour. There is a Buddhist temple and, on top of the hill at the S end of town, the ruins of an old castle.

Akune (Chartlet pp 50-51 in H-809W), 19 miles to the NE from Sato Ne and back on the big island of Kyushu, is a large harbour with several mooring options. There is a pontoon in the SE corner, marked on the chart, but this was occupied so we tied to another one in the northern sector, at 32 01.738N, 130 11.443E. One side is used by a tourist boat/ferry; no fee. This is quite a big – but dying – town; good shopping options. Many of the shops' shutters are enlivened by imaginative mural paintings.

Ushibuka (Chartlet pp 48-49, in H-809W) is a complex of harbours 18 miles to the N, including some tightly-boxed pools with high “typhoon fencing” (perforated fencing that adds another 5m to 7m to the already substantial walls); although pontoons seem to be in short supply at Ushibuka this might be a good place to seek shelter in case of an advancing storm. We side-tied to the inner side of a wall protecting the final “pool” in the NW extreme of the harbour but, when approaching, passed two other enclosures on our right that looked to be very snug as well. Position: 32 12.031N, 130 00.623E. As along most of this coastline the tidal range is 2 to 3m; it is advantageous to arrive close to high tide so that you can easily climb ashore; fender board useful against the very gnarly barnacles that encrust all the walls. Ushibuka is picturesque; the small fishing boats in our pool tied up directly in front of their own combined stalls/sheds. They also seemed quite well-organised here; when the weather forecast called for 25 to 30 kts, a red flag flew and nobody went out (the only place we have observed this).

Nomo Ko (Chartlet p75 in H808W; note new volume), 35 miles N, is a superbly protected harbour in an inlet on Nagasaki Hanto, the long peninsula that juts into the E China Sea to the S of Nagasaki. Although the 50m-wide entrance between the cliffs, with 5m of depth, could be intimidating in a strong northwester, once inside you are safe from almost any wind and sea. The inlet is about half a mile in length and its shores are entirely walled. There are at least three pontoon options; we tied up to one on the end of the small peninsula that divides the bay into two arms, near its head; posn 32 35.014N; 129 45.222E. We asked permission at the office just behind; no fee. Walk through the town at the head of the bay and you come to another, S-facing, harbour. Nomo Ko was very quiet in the prevailing rain and mist but it would be harder to imagine a safer anchorage. One or two small shops.

Sailing North towards Nagasaki on a gloomy morning with fog and drizzle, we were startled when an eerie sight loomed up from the mist: what seemed to be an enormous grey-black battleship at its moorings. In fact it was the island of Gunkan Shima, an Alcatraz-sized black rock crowded with decaying buildings and structures that give it a decidedly ghostly air. For a hundred years this was a colliery, its shafts and galleries extending deep under the ocean, with a small city of miners and their families crammed onto the top of the rock; it has been abandoned since 1970; on a calm day it would surely repay a visit.

Nagasaki is approached along a steadily narrowing channel lined by the huge Mitsubishi dockyards and with houses tumbling down the steep green slopes on either side. An elegant grey-silver suspension bridge crosses the inlet and about a mile further on, to starboard, is the small, artificially-indented rectangle of water called Dejima Wharf. Two T-shaped floating pontoons, each with three 15m fingers on each side, are reserved for passing yachts and, provided you approach slowly enough, the marina manager will hurry down from his office and direct you to a space. The pontoons are new and well-maintained, and access from the land is controlled by gates that require pass-keys (500 Yen/ USD $6). For foreign yachts, mooring is free for the first week, but 2100 Yen per day (USD $26) thereafter; local yachts pay for each and every day. There is an alternative location at Sunset Marina, some five miles away, but there is no deal for foreign yachts and, unlike Dejima which is in the very heart of Nagasaki, Sunset is a good distance from town. Our position: 32 44.642 N, 129 52.209E.

The only downside of Dejima is that it adjoins the ferry terminal, which is busy with comings and goings and whose announcements punctuate the day; ferries leaving and arriving do set up some wake, but as long as space permits (and it usually does) you are encouraged to lay lines across the marina slip to hold yourself a few centimeters off your finger; the problem is not a major one. At Dejima you are only five minutes' walk from a major shopping complex and supermarket, called the You-Me Saito, and about fifteen minutes from the main train station; restaurants line the waterfront above the marina, which is lit at night with fairy lights. The main line of the city's excellent tram system passes very close by; it is about twenty minutes' walk (or five minutes on the tram) to the nearest “sento” (public bath), the same to the closest internet option. There is a chart agent in Nagasaki, perhaps best contacted via the Coastguard; they hand-delivered to us a chart we especially wanted, as their office is some way out of town.

As is normal in major Japanese ports, a few minutes after arriving, we were besieged by a bewildering variety of officials from varying government departments, all impeccably polite but demanding that we fill in a multitude of forms: Customs, Immigration, Coastguard and Police all came. When it comes time to leave, the key Department – Transport – is fortunately only a few minutes' walk away. It is necessary to submit to this Department a list of desired stops for the next leg (in our case, Nagasaki-Fukuoka); this took a couple of hours for us to negotiate with a patient official (as each port has to be carefully transliterated from Kanji into European writing, then back again) and a further 24 hours to be processed and approved; as before, the final permit was delivered to us exclusively in Kanji, and with only the opening and closing dates noted.

Nagasaki is sadly famous for one terrible moment in August 1945, and a visit to the site of the atomic bomb blast is on most visitors' itinerary. The area is now a leafy, middle-class suburb. The point above which the bomb detonated – the “hypocenter” - is marked by a simple black obelisk in a park; close by is the larger Peace Park with a set of sculptures, a memorial hall and a Peace Museum. The Museum documents the day of the blast and also has exhibits on the build-up to the War – known in Japan as the Pacific War – and the postwar nuclear arms race. Exhibits and captions are very carefully balanced: harrowing video accounts by survivors include one by an Australian who was at that time being held as a POW in appalling conditions in Nagasaki and who makes no bones about saying that it was the best day of his life, “because I knew it was finally over”. All of the sites, the day we visited, were thronged by Japanese schoolchildren on guided tours.

There is in fact an awful lot more to Nagasaki than The Bomb. This was the location through which, after millenia of isolation, Japan first entered into contact with the west. Immediately behind the marina is a full-scale reconstruction, on its actual site, of the original trading post of the Dutch East India Company. In several locations there are Christian churches – in fact the largest Christian church in Asia was destroyed by the atomic bomb (it has since been reconstructed). None of the surviving churches are much more than a hundred years old for, following the initial conversions made by St Francis Xavier and his disciples, Christianity was soon banned and went “underground” for two hundred years; one stands close by where some 26 Christians were crucified during this period of persecution. Meanwhile there is a long, narrow street lined by Buddhist temple after temple, attesting to Chinese influence: it is only 200 miles or so from Nagasaki across the East China Sea to Shanghai and it was through this city Buddhism first reached the Japanese archipelago. And across the other side of the harbour from Dejima, and a little more off the tourist track, is a location that the friendly marina manager recommended to us: the Foreign Cemetery. Here there is a tiny onion-domed Russian Orthodox Church surrounded by dozens of graves with the distinctive crooked cross of that church; many of these commemorate Russian sailors who died in the massive naval engagement in nearby Tsushima Strait in 1905, which saw the Russian Grand Fleet annihilated by Japan. Back at the waterfront is the currently empty brick shell of the British Consulate, some 110 years old, and scattered over a beautifully-kept flowery hillside called the Glover Gardens, are ten or more re-located European-style buildings from the early twentieth century.

The Gotto Retto Archipelago

It is a 50-mile sail West from Nagasaki to the southern end of the Gotto Retto archipelago. Although night-sailing in Japanese waters is not generally recommended, this stretch is relatively free of fishing floats and nets. It is worth carefully studying your charts before submitting, in Nagasaki, your list of proposed “closed port” stops to the Department of Transport; we visited overland a number of locations that we wished we had listed.

Fukue (H-808W, pp 136-7) is the main town, on the largest island (of the same name). There are two ferry pontoons, not counting a third that is used by the Jetfoil; at the the inshore end of one of the pontoons, on the town side and immediately opposite the four-storey building that houses the Coastguard and Customs, a space is reserved for yachts: 32 41.786N; 128 51.020E. A modest fee (about USD $1.50 daily, depending on size) is payable at the office on the first floor of the very modern adjacent ferry terminal. Wi-Fi (free) and garbage disposal in the ferry terminal. Five minutes' walk to a large supermarket. Tourist info inside the ferry terminal; there is a bus-stop immediately outside it. This corner of the harbour is quite well-protected; we rode out the fringes of a typhoon here. Customs and Police visited us here. There are a couple of yachts based at Fukue and their friendly owners may well introduce themselves.

Arakawa, an inlet on the W side of Fukue with a well-protected artificial harbour, would be an interesting and safe place to visit (Chartlet, p141B in H808-W), while Omoura (NE side), reached under a high bridge, is reported to be calm in almost any condition. There are a number of interesting old Christian churches to visit on the island, notably at Dozaki and Mizunoura (near Kishuku). There is an Onsen at Arakawa (E side of the island, reachable by bus) and another inside a clinic near Kishuku, also reachable by bus; there is a Spa inside the Campana Hotel, Fukue.

Eight miles Northeast of Fukue is the quiet, beautiful island of Kabashima (not featured in the chartlet book). There are two villages of about 200 persons each, each with an artificial harbour, but the best place to stay for a yacht is on the large pontoon in the central bay that almost bisects the island, with the large white buildings of an Elementary School and a Junior High at its head: 32 45.491N; 128 59.317E. This could be a little exposed in a heavy northeaster. Although the schools share fourteen staff, you are not likely to be greatly disturbed: there are only two pupils (!); the staff welcome visitors. This island is a classic example of rural depopulation; apart from the teachers and the schoolchildren, almost everyone else is in their seventies.

A further ten miles to the NE is Narao, (Chartlet in H-808W, p134) with two adjacent harbours split by a hill. We tied up to the pontoon on the SW wall in the almost deserted northern harbour, at 32 50.810N; 129 03.482E (pontoon not shown on the chartlet, although the Jetfoil pontoon on the SW wall is). Wi-Fi (free) at the Jetfoil terminal. (Additional note re chartlet: the outer, detached, breakwater is straight - no bend at N end - and has no green light; the southern inner wall has two green lights at its N end, not one). Narao used to be a very busy purse-seining port but now sees little if any fishing movement. The southern harbour would be snugger in heavy weather but is a little tight; it has a couple of small, rickety pontoons. There is an Onsen in the red hotel on top of the hill. One or two small shops; very quiet.

The passage N from Narao needs to be timed: about thirteen miles to the N, a stretch with reversing current of up to 5kts is traversed; there are no current tables, but slack appeared very roughly to coincide with high/low water.

On the island of Uku Shima, the northernmost large island of the archipelago, there is a very safe modern marina, behind high walls, with about 40 slips; water on the pontoons; fee of 1100 Yen (about USD $14). Chartlet H-808W, p129. Position 33 15.377N; 129 07.737E. Fifteen minutes' walk into town, there are two small supermarkets and one restaurant. Free internet at the single terminal inside the large yellow-brick municipal building on the waterfront, which is where you also pay for the marina. The marina makes a good, safe base to visit the neighbourhood, which is quiet, bucolic and rapidly depopulating.

From Uku Shima (both the main port and the smaller southern port of Konoura, reachable in ten minutes by bus) there are frequent ferries to nearby Ojika Island (large artificial harbour; several pontoons), whence you can visit the very beautiful Nozaki island, by a ferry combination that leaves you on Nozaki for about six hours. High and wooded, Nozaki has been uninhabited since about 2002 and is now overrun by deer; there is a very beautiful Christian Church to visit, and you can walk on trails through the forest to either end of the island; at one end is the abandoned village of Funamori, and at the other, deep in the woods, an eerie abandoned Jinja (shrine). There is a wide sandy bay in the middle of the island, which in steady conditions would be a fine anchorage; there is a tiny, snug artificial harbour in the N corner of this bay, where it would be possible to tie either to the wall or the small pontoon (but the ferry needs the pontoon twice a day). No shops. In Spring and Summer there is a caretaker at the old school, which operates as a hostel.

Gotto Retto to Fukuoka

The approach to historic Hirado, on the large island of the same name just off the NW tip of Kyushu, needs to take account of tides/current; there are current tables available for Hirado Seto, where the max is about 5 knots. The current runs fastest under the Golden Gate-lookalike bridge a mile or two south of the town, and in the immediate approach to the harbour (which is, however, current-free). Chartlet pp 56 and 58 in H808-W. Contrary to what the Chartlet shows (three), there are only two pontoons, both on the N shore; tie up on East side of the innermost pontoon, with the cream-painted tin roof; position 33 22.287N; 129 33.290E. Check in at the small municipal tourist office in the nearby bus-park; they will ask you to fill in a form but no fee is payable. Another small office in the bus-park is most helpful with tourist info and free green tea; free Wi-Fi in working hours. Most of the time this is a secure location but should any swell enter the harbour (or should a ferry leave a particularly large wake), your shrouds/spreaders could be in danger of striking the pontoon roof; use your thickest possible fenders so as to keep your distance. Coastguard and the Police visited us here. There are two large supermarkets; a gas station (diesel available) is about ten minutes' walk from the pontoon..

There is a lot to see and do in Hirado, which was the first location where Japan had contact with the West, in the 16th century; a reconstruction of the Dutch East India Company's trading post was due to open in September 2011. The ancestral home of the Matsura clan is worth visiting but the castle, on the hill overlooking the harbour, is more spectacular from a distance; it is a modern reconstruction. William “Anjin” Adams, the model for James Clavell's Anjin-San, is buried on the hillside behind the town. Lots of restaurants (including one that serves whale-meat...). There are Onsens in the two largest hotels in town; one of them is below sea-level and turtles watch you idly through the plate glass as you sit naked in the steaming pool. A short bus-ride to the S, on the shores of Hirado Seto, is the ancient, quaint fishing village of Kawachi, where the notorious pirate Coxinga was born.

Six miles to the North of Hirado is the island of Azuchi-o-Shima (not to be confused with O-Shima, NE of Fukuoka). There are three harbours on this island; we spent several days in the smallest, which is in the SE. Chartlet in H808-W, p53. Our position, tied to a wall: 33 28.471N; 129 33.429E. There is a pontoon used by the (surprisingly large) ferry, that calls four times a day, but the “free” side of this pontoon looked very shallow to us. There is one shop in the village, which is very quaint with narrow streets and overhanging wooden houses. On top of the hill behind town is a red-roofed hotel with an Onsen; this can be reached via a stiff 20-minute walk that cuts off the hairpin bends of the road. Also above the village are a number of wind-generating turbines; if you visit the municipal building at the far end of town, an electronic display will tell you the wind strength “outside' (!).

To the North again from Azuchi-o-Shima is the much larger island of Iki Shima, which has several harbours. Uncertain as to which was the most suitable, we had randomly listed Intuuji (p105 in H-808W). However, after talking to locals and other yachties we discovered that Gonoura, on the SW corner (p107 in H-808W) is much more suitable, with three pontoons set aside for visitors; the position quoted to us was 33 44.842N; 129 40.589. We did not take this up; the Coastguard are present in Gonoura and we judged it likely that they would have “inspected” us and, finding we had not listed Gonoura, asked us to move on.

Instead, we moved eastwards, passing a nuclear power station, to Yobuko. This is an important squid-fishing center and is the largest and busiest port we had so far visited. There are various harbours within a small, well-protected area; a spectacular suspension bridge joins the “mainland” to an offshore island and separates the two principal harbours from each other. For our first night here we moored to a blue and white pontoon on the western side of the bridge, immediately below a restaurant with a prominent bright blue roof (the “Sea Terrace”): 33 32.057N; 129 52.906E. The management here were friendly enough but uneasy about our spending more than one night here; the restaurant serves good seafood meals and is open 11:00 a.m. to 17:00 p.m. (i.e. if you arrive outside these hours it is not necessary to ask permission...). We then moved under the bridge and found a wall-spot at 33 32.610N; 129 53.479E, in one of the two “L” shaped enclosures that jut out from the eastern shore (p47 in H-808W). This was much less satisfactory; the wall has an unpleasant overhang that becomes evident at mid-tide; the harbour was also very busy through much of the night, with squid boats coming, going and setting up wakes.

With a personal recommendation, we next moved to the small, hat-shaped and wooded island of Takashima, which is about a mile off the large commercial port of Karatsu, but a world away in terms of tranquillity. Karatsu can be identified from many miles away by two prominent and very tall chimneys, supported by steel frames, and – from closer - by a reconstruction of a mediaeval castle. There are two adjacent harbours on the South-facing shore of Takashima. The easternmost (which is now protected by an additional free-standing breakwater not shown on the chartlet) is the quieter, but it may be the shallower, with LWS depths barely exceeding 2m. We tied briefly to the small ferry pontoon (longer term stays on the pontoon not welcome) while a local made enquiries about our friend, Nozaki-San, and then rafted to a fishing boat next to our friend's Med-moored yacht: position 33 28.373N; 129 59.431E; p45 in Chartlet book H-808W. Nozaki-San makes visiting yachts (which in a busy year may reach three...) most welcome; he has sailed around Japan in his yacht and is a former Bosun in the Japanese Navy. There are no cars or shops on the island, but there are frequent ferries to Karatsu. It is a thirty-minute walk around the perimeter, another thirty minutes to the summit. The island is locally famous for its shrine, to which people bring their lottery tickets and cash to be “blessed” and also for a legion of cats, some of which have been trained to “pray” (for the benefit of the TV cameras...).

At Fukuoka, the largest city in Kyushu, there are two popular marinas, close to each other: Odo (the municipal marina) and Marinoa, located adjacent to a modern shopping complex and identifiable from a distance by a large Ferris wheel. Odo seems to offer the best rates and is by far the fuller, although its installations are not as modern; our position 33 35.463N; 130 18.704E. Page 42C in H-808W. The approach is straightforward; tie up on the W side of one of the three long N-S running visitors' fingers before enquiring at the office for a berth further in (where there is greater protection). Neither marina any longer offers free moorage to foreigners, but overall Odo offers the better deal: Y34,800 (about Usd $420) for one month or Y2900 (USD $36) per day (this assumes a length of 8m, which is what we are, but we were told informally that the 8m length is applied, as a concession, to all foreign boats). Water fee of USD $5 if the marina hose is used. Coin-op showers. Free Wi-Fi on the ground floor of the marina office building. It is five minutes' walk to a large food supermarket, the same to a big hardware store, ten minutes to a coin-op laundry, fifteen/twenty minutes to the nearest subway stop, whence central Fukuoka is another twenty minutes' ride. Fukuoka is a vibrant modern city with all imaginable services available and is a good place from which to make a “visa” run to Korea (Jetfoil, ferry or flights). A small marine supplies shop opens up within the main marina office building on most days; there is an active dinghy racing scene. The marina will phone Customs, who will come and visit you on board.

June 26 2011

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