Yakushima island

Events are completely overtaking our blog writing again. We are currently already three port stops from Yakushima, but we’ll try to write in chronological order now, so let’s start with our three-day stop in Miyanoura port on beautiful Yakushima island.

We arrived in Miyanoura port after a lovely overnight sail from Naze. The wind was fresh and from an angle that is very comfortable for our boat (broad reach), so apart from the heat and humidity that we cannot get away from, the conditions were fantastic. Big Sis was on watch until 2 am, so Mr Finn and I had plenty of sleep that night too (thanks Big Sis!). The Miyanoura port, as most ports that we stop at, is a working port but a quiet one. We knew from the sail blogs of those other rare sailors that have ventured to Japan in earlier years that they had stopped in Miaynoura, so we had a bit of a shock when we made our way into port as our depth sounder showed that it was almost too shallow for our boat (none of the many charts we have showed the depth of the port). In fact, we soon realised that it would indeed be too shallow three days later at spring tide! However, we had no choice but to stay at that port, as that was the only port that we had permission for from the Ministry of Transport (having driven around the island, we later realised that there weren’t any better locations to moor anyway). We quickly decided that we would use the spring tide as our “deadline” to leave Yakushima, since the forecast was for good weather too. The other option would have been to sail out of the port before the low tide, and wait around for the water level to rise again, but we didn’t fancy having to dock in the port again, as it was a bit tricky the first time around.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Yakushima island – a World Heritage Site – is extremely beautiful. Its natural wonders include the “Yakusugi” cedar trees, which at best are 3000 years old. These trees grow in the mountains, and as the island cannot really be appreciated from the towns dotting the coastline, we rented a car and drove up to the mountains. The vegetation in the mountains reminded us of New Zealand with its moss-covered trees and rocks, streams, waterfalls and the smell of lush greenery. It was also 5 degrees cooler in the mountains than at the seaside, something we truly enjoyed!

We were also lucky enough to encounter lots of wildlife on Yakushima. A sea snake (Banded Sea Krait) decided to take a liking to our boat and kept swimming around it for a couple of hours. A land snake (Tiger Keelback) also chose to show itself on our way around the island. We saw several monkeys (Yakushima macaque) and deer (Yakushika) up in the mountains. The monkeys on this island apparently sometimes ride on the backs of the deer, but that is something we did not manage to witness. In the evening, on our way back to Miyanoura port, we stumbled upon the magical sight of hundreds of crabs crossing the road on their way to the beach – Mr Finn had a hard time trying to avoid crushing them!

We also had the unexpected pleasure of witnessing a live space rocket launch in the area. We got a warning about the launch on our Navtex boat messaging system, and of course then wanted to see the rocket, as we had never seen a live launch before. Apparently, it was a big thing for the Japanese too.

We also got a great send-off from Yakushima. The evening before we were due to leave, we returned late to our boat and slightly wondered why there were cars parked everywhere in the otherwise quiet port. We showered and were ready to go to bed (we had a 5 am wake-up the next day) when we suddenly started to hear the sound of fireworks. We went up into the cockpit and enjoyed a fantastic 20-minute fireworks show for which we had an absolute prime view. We later learnt that the fireworks marked the end of the Goshinzan festival, and the Japanese take their fireworks very seriously. The fireworks we saw in Okinawa a few weeks back paled in comparison with the Miaynoura display. When the fireworks ended and the cars started to leave the port, we felt very privileged to have been able to watch the show from our very own boat-home!

Depth sounder shows 2.2 metres of water, and we draw a bit over 2.1 metres. The next day low tide would have been 10 cm lower, so time to leave!
Sea snake next to our boat.
The Tiger Keelback snake, which gets its venom from the toads it preys on!
Yaku macaques seemed to all be either sleeping or picking lice off each other.
The island is the habitat of a variety of sika deer, the Yakushika.
Mountain vegetation.
Navtex warning of rocket launch.
Space rocket successfully launched!
Fireworks seen from our cockpit in Miyanoura port.



Quick update

We didn’t write an update from Naze on Amami O-Shima island as expected, because we ended up only staying there for the night. After a long and fairly tiring day spent sailing there, we arrived only to find that there was no good spot to dock the boat. The fishing harbour was absolutely full (apart from the bit of the harbour area that was too shallow for us) and the commercial port we could not dock in as it is in active commercial use. We had to retreat back from the designated small boat harbour into a separate basin inside the main breakwater. None of our maps showed the depth of the basin and there were no boats in it, so it was with great trepidation that we made our way inside, moving as slowly as possible. The depth was sufficient, but it was otherwise a difficult spot as the wall was not even and we had to keep adjusting our fenders and fender plank during the night as the tide changed. It was out of the question to leave the boat for any longer period. What little we could see of Naze didn’t particularly appeal to us (but it may be because we mainly saw the industrial area next to which we were docked), so we were not too sad to leave again early in the morning.

After two days and one night at sea, we then landed on Yakushima island. This island is absolutely stunning. Apart from the narrow coastal belt, the island is all mountains. It rains a lot here (the island was surrounded by clouds when we arrived even though there were clouds nowhere else) and the vegetation in the mountains is therefore lush and green. I could write a really long post the delights of Yakushima, but unfortunately it is late and we need to wake up at 5 am tomorrow morning to continue our journey onwards (partly because the port here is so shallow that we would hit the bottom tomorrow due to the extreme low tide), so I will need to leave it for next time.

Yakushima island
Miyanoura port town on Yakushima



Lovely Oshima Kaikyo area

The three typhoons passed without incident although Typhoon Noru, zigzagging across the Pacific in an unpredictable manner, did have us on our toes until the last moment when it finally took a more northerly turn. We are now on our journey onwards, hoping that there will be no more close calls with typhoons. We arrived in Koniya port on the southern side of the Amami Oshima island a few days ago, having sailed from Okinawa for two days and one night. The journey here was otherwise uneventful, but two heavy thunderstorms that we passed on the way did give us some chills. It is one thing to be in a marina surrounded by other boats (particularly as there are always boat with taller masts than ours) in a thunderstorm, but quite another to witness one at nighttime when alone in the middle of the ocean. Both times, we took evasive action since we could see the lightning miles away in the dark, managing to stay out of the way of the storm, but it cost us dearly in terms of nautical miles and time. Also, we were more tired than normal after an overnight sail when we got to Amami Oshima, since we didn’t really manage to sleep due to the roar of the thunder. Well, apart from Lil Sis who slept like a log and probably wouldn’t wake up even if we were actually struck by lightning.

Amami Oshima differs greatly from the other, rather flat islands that we have visited in Japan in that the terrain here is very hilly. The southern end of the island runs parallel to the northern end of another island, Kakeroma-jima, and the sheltered fjord-like water area in between called “Oshima Kaikyo” is a fantastic location for sailing. It is also an astonishingly beautiful and lush area. Koniya town has a very welcoming “visitor’s berth” in the harbour area for boats like ours despite the fact that it is a small, very non-touristy town. There is no fee to berth, and boats can get water from the park next to the concrete berth. A supermarket and some small local restaurants are within walking distance. The only thing missing from the setup is a place for rubbish disposal. We asked the town’s information centre where we can leave our rubbish, and they said there is no place to leave the rubbish and that we would have to take ours with us. Hopefully there is a place to dispose rubbish in the next port of Naze! This is not the first time that we have been surprised by the total lack of rubbish bins, let alone larger rubbish disposal areas, in Japan, but it is the first time that we truly have been unable to find any place to leave our rubbish bags.

We loved our previous location Okinawa for the convenience that it afforded in terms of shopping, boat repair and entertainment. We also met some lovely people in the marina with whom we will for sure stay in contact going forward. However, Naha and its surroundings were also very modern, and as a relatively sizeable place (not to mention its huge American army population), it didn’t have as much the feel of Japan as the other places we have visited. Well, in Koniya we are back to (what to us feels like) Japan proper. People greet us with a happy “konnichiwa” in the streets and children call out to us with a “hello” to try out their English. Here in Koniya, we have also once again experienced the astonishing friendliness of ordinary locals. Lil Sis has just finished reading the sixth book in the Harry Potter series, and when the girls saw a DVD rental shop in town, they asked us for a Harry Potter movie night on the boat. We told them that we would not be able to rent a DVD since we don’t have a local address, but they begged us to at least try, and so into the shop we went with absolutely no expectation of actually being able to rent the film. The shopkeeper soon realised that we did not speak Japanese, and that we did not have a rental membership card as required. We also managed to explain to him by way of the few Japanese words that we know, and some miming efforts, that we had arrived in town by boat. Instead of telling us the obvious fact that we did not fulfill even the smallest requirements of a rental customer, the shopkeeper slid the DVD into the box and handed it over to us without asking for any kind of documentation, and without even knowing our names. Not only that, but he completely refused to accept payment for the DVD! He just happily said “free service” and gave Mr Finn a high-five. So the girls got their movie night, and Mr Finn and I were smiling all evening too. In the morning, we returned the DVD to the shopkeeper together with some bags of sweets – and a high-five from Mr Finn – which we hope in turn made him smile.

Today, another unexpected thing happened. We woke up to someone knocking on the hull, and when Mr Finn stuck his head out of the companionway, he saw a cheerful Japanese gentleman who handed him a bag of fresh mangoes and then told Mr Finn that he would pick us up in an hour for some sightseeing. And so he did! He drove us up to a viewpoint from where we had a fantastic view over Koniya, and could also see the whole beautiful strait between Amami Oshima and Kakeroma-jima. He had brought along some ice creams in an ice box, and we stopped by a picnic area to enjoy the sweet snack. He drove us back, and refused our offers to refuel the car. He then left just as quickly as he had first appeared, but at least we had had the chance to give him some vendance or “muikku” fish that we had brought along from Finland as a tiny thank-you for the wonderful sightseeing tour and local information. Once again, we are overwhelmed by the friendliness of the locals.

The police and Coast Guard have visited us here (this is now becoming routine), and we’ve told them we are off tomorrow, so as long as the weather forecast doesn’t change overnight, we had better be on our way. We’ll try to find time to give an update next from Naze, located on the other side of Amami Oshima and a day’s sail away.

Visitor’s berth in Koniya.
Panorama of the amazingly beautiful Oshima Kaikyo. Koniya town can be seen to the left.
“Free service” with a high-five to boot!
Our wonderful surprise host laying out ice creams for us.



Back on the boat

We are back on the boat after a fantastic although rather tiring 5-week ”holiday from the holiday” in Europe that saw us visit 16 countries and drive over 10,000 kilometres. We had fun celebrating a family birthday in Spain, and enjoyed stops in many beautiful places along the way. We also visited several historical places, and the girls got a homeschooling lesson about the sad history of World War II when they first stepped into Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam, and later witnessed the scene of crimes committed at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

The boat has survived our absence well, but we did spend a whole day preparing her for the eventuality of a typhoon while we are absent. We were fortunate in that no typhoons visited the marina while we were gone, but the most powerful typhoon season is only beginning now, and there are in fact three tropical depressions currently on the radar in this area. As per this morning’s forecast, two of those appear to pose little threat to us, but the third one (already typhoon force) called “Noru” is forecast to only grow stronger, and the experts appear to be puzzled as to the direction it will take next week once it has gathered more power. Needless to say, we won’t be taking off in the next few days, and the tens of lines that are holding our boat and its sails currently, together with the oversized fenders that are meant to keep her from ramming into the dock in case of a strong wind, will have to stay in place.

The continued delay is frustrating for several reasons. Of course, we would finally like to be on our way again, but the most worrying aspect (apart from the risk of a typhoon hitting the marina!) is that we have had to commit to a particular route and timing in connection with our renewed port application to the Japanese Ministry of Transport, and the weather isn’t exactly making it easy for us to stick with that commitment. Fortunately, at least the marina that we are in understands the situation and won’t kick us out tomorrow even though that is when our current berthing agreement ends.

In any case, we’ll now be stocking up our fridge and freezer, fueling up, cleaning the hull and propeller and checking that all gear works, and then we will just be hoping that Noru takes the path of least destruction and that there are no new tropical depressions forming in the meantime.

Finnish midsummer celebrations.
Swedish coast seen from the Finland-Sweden ferry.
Nyhavn, Copenhagen.
We fitted in a day in Legoland, Denmark.
Windmills in Holland.
View over Luxembourg old town.
Begur on Costa Brava, Spain. Spent a week for birthday celebrations here.
Another week was spent in Javea on Costa Blanca, Spain.
We stayed in the French Alps for a few days. Lovely, cool weather.
Prague city view, Czech Republic.
Former Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland.
The girls grabbed every opportunity to do schoolwork. Big Sis studying in Spain.
20 minutes before arrival at our final destination, we crossed the 10,000 km line.
Fireworks in the marina the first day we were back in Japan made our return feel festive.
However, the forecast about typhoon Noru also greeted us upon our arrival…


Fun and weather

Sorry for the long blog silence. We had a great time in Okinawa, so great in fact that we did not have time to write. We met many lovely new people, saw new marine wildlife, witnessed a sports fishing competition, visited one of the world’s largest aquariums, took a magical evening walk in a park where tens and tens of fireflies swarmed around us, and contemplated the futility of warfare at the Peace Memorial Park. We played billiards, threw darts and went bowling – all things that we would not normally have had time to do as a family. Of course, the girls have also done schoolwork, and we have worked on the boat, and handled other everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning and laundry that are way harder to do on the boat than on land.

We have also re-evaluated our sailing plans for this year. Ideally, we would now be in the Russian city of Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka peninsula. However, we are just too late to make it up north during the summer. Timing-wise, things started to go wrong from the very beginning, with the Northeast Monsoon never giving us the break we were looking for to cross over to Taiwan. That lead us to making the decision to sail down to the Philippines first, which in turn led us to experience some very bad weather and forced us to stay in Subic Bay for longer than intended. The weather in Japan has also been a surprise to us. We knew that these sea areas would be rough, but we were not really ready for there to be such a regular and frequent pattern of gale-force winds (and mostly from the wrong direction too). As we are a slow boat, we mostly need at a minimum one night, two days of good weather to make a crossing between any two Japanese ports, and such weather windows have been rare. Therefore, progress has been slow. Japan is a very long country (the ordinary map distorts the size of Japan – the country is over 3000 km in length), so to get from Ishigaki to Hokkaido takes a very long time and requires a considerable amount of days with good sailing weather.

We are not complaining, however. We were originally not meant to visit the Philippines, but ended up having a really interesting time there – we’ll never forget the pristine snorkeling waters of Hermana Menor, the lovely hotel owner in San Fernando who not only let us stay anchored at the hotel beach but helped us in every way imaginable, or the two nights anchored in the middle of a river in busy Aparri where fishermen came to take photos of us. Likewise, even though we were never intending to stay in some of the Japanese ports for so long, we’ve met the loveliest of people and have had amazing experiences in those ports. Even the experience of very heavy weather in the South China Sea taught us an awful lot, so we would not even trade that experience away!

Accordingly, we’ll gladly take whatever this year still has in store for us, and will continue to enjoy the opportunity to sail along the Japanese islands for now. As the weather continues to play tricks on us though and it is very frustrating to constantly wait for a weather window that never arrives, we’ve decided to wait 2-3 weeks for the seasonal rain front to pass further north before continuing further into Kyushu. We’ve found a good place to leave the boat in the Ryukyu island chain and will take a short “holiday from the holiday” in Europe. We’ll try to write a couple of overdue blog posts about our sailing trip while in Europe, but the next time our boat moves will not be until mid-July at the earliest.

Fish from a sportsfishing competition had to be lifted by crane.
Beautiful but dangerous lionfish have been visiting us in the marina too.
A huge turtle was swimming around one day.
Monorail in Naha.
The humbling peace memorial park where the names of over 200,000 people who died in the battle of Okinawa are engraved in stone.
Whale sharks in Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.



Ikema island

We arrived on Okinawa island late last night, but before we talk about that, we want to tell you about our visit to Ikema earlier this week.

Ikema is a small island with a surface area of only 2,6 km2. It is part of the Miyako group of islands, and is in fact connected to the Miyako main island by a long bridge. On the island, there is a small fishing village with a fishing port that we were moored at for two nights after sailing to the island overnight from Ishigaki on Tuesday. We found that the port is in very little use; it was very quiet during the day, and even quieter – perhaps even slightly eerie – at nighttime when it seemed that we had the place all to ourselves. Apart from the magnificent view over the bridge towards Miayko island best enjoyed from the terrace of a local restaurant right next to the bridge, few tourists probably venture further onto the island. However, what the island lacked in terms of hustle and bustle, it made up for by the quaintness and authenticity of the fishing village itself. Ikema is a place where fishing nets are still being dried on the stone walls surrounding people’s gardens, and where everyone you see greets you with a smile. It is like a step back in history, and we thoroughly enjoyed meandering through the village alleys. Unfortunately, like many other once lively villages in the developed world, including our home country Finland, the village looks like it is slowly dying, with many houses empty and most of the inhabitants (at least as far as we could see) being elderly. We could only assume that people of our own generation have not wanted to continue in the footsteps of their mothers and fathers, and the perception of a brighter future elsewhere has resulted in an exodus from this lovely little village.

The village enjoys a fantastic view over the turquoise coral-filled waters, and the sea area in front of the breakwater was a treasure trove for seashell collectors when it dried out at low tide (Lil Sis being somewhat fanatic in this pursuit, and the rest of the family enjoying it to varying degrees too). Hermit crabs had a field day looking for new shells on the dried out beach, and that was indeed the only lively location in the village with the crabs scooting along all over the place dragging along their beautiful shell-homes.

Our encounters with friendly locals that started in Ishigaki also continued on Ikema. We visited Miyako proper (which we didn’t particularly warm to) and took a bus back to Ikema in the evening; we had a short chat with the bus driver before it was time for the bus to leave (talking with our hands mostly as we didn’t really share much of a common language), and he knew that we were staying on a sailboat in the fishing port. When we were nearing the port, it started to rain, and to our amazement, the bus driver diverted from the normal bus route and drove us directly to the fishing pier that we were docked at! He even made sure that we saw where we were going in the rain by shining the bus lights onto the pier until we got onto the boat. Then he sounded the bus horn as a final goodbye. 

The evening before we left Ikema, two local men (who we understood to work at a local dive shop) turned up by our boat and asked us some questions about our boat and our journey. They then left, only to return ten minutes later bringing us four bags of sweets to enjoy on the trip! We had not even had a chance to invite them onto our boat (which we would normally do), because we were busy getting everything ready for our early morning departure. Such a lovely and completely unexpected kind gesture from them.

We had Ikema fishing port almost to ourselves.
Alley in Ikema village.
View from Ikema over bridge to Miyako.
Bus driver drove us all the way to the pier!
Unexpected sweet(nes)s from locals.

Ballistic missiles and other obstacles to sailing

We have been ready to leave Ishigaki since Thursday last week, but here we are still. First our “closed port” permit for the Okinawa prefecture was delayed by one day (although, to be fair to the Ministry of Transport bureau, we still got it faster than the official 7 days). We could not leave without official permission to visit the ports on our voyage plan. Then the weather turned really bad over the weekend – this is the rainy season and it was indeed raining non-stop, and the wind was blowing strongly from the wrong direction.

Yesterday we got quite a shock when our Navtex receiver churned out a message about “a flying object launched from North Korea”, and all vessels were asked to “keep clear when recognizing the falling object”. When it became clear that the “flying object” was a ballistic missile shot form North Korea in the direction of Japan, we were quite pleased that we are still in southern Japan rather than in the Japan Sea where it landed.

Even setting aside the odd “flying object”, it is slightly more stressful than normal to decide when to continue sailing to further ports in southern Japan. Even though we are in principle in no hurry, and can wait for a good weather window, we always have the possibility of a typhoon at the back of our heads since the typhoon season has now started. Last year, the first typhoon hit this area on 25 May. Should one come our way now, we need to be in a good location to take shelter, and somewhat to our surprise, it appears that there are not as many good typhoon shelters around as we had earlier thought. Therefore, making sailing plans involves not only considering the currents, the tide and the very fickle and often rough weather in this area, but also requires a plan for how to get to a typhoon haven quickly enough should it become necessary. It does not help that one is tied to the specific “closed ports” that one has permission for, and cannot divert to other ports or anchorages at will.

Having said all of this, we hope that tonight has been our last night in Ishigaki, and are planning a morning departure to the next port. Don’t get us wrong, we have loved our time in Ishigaki and really like this island and its friendly inhabitants, but we are sailors after all, and sailors always get itchy feet when moored for too long…

First Navtex alert describing a “flying object”
Second Navtex alert, identifying “flying object” as a ballistic missile
Third Navtex alert, now with location details

Boat music

While Mr Finn and I are busy handling administrative matters and taking care of never-ending boat related work, the girls are busy with their boat school work. In music, they have together chosen to rehearse the very aptly named Con Te Partiro (English title Time to Say Goodbye) piece made famous by Andrea Bocelli. Big Sis arranged the piece for clarinet, cello and piano, and the girls then played it on their instruments (yes, we really do have quite a few musical instruments on the boat!).

The final recording can be found below. The piano part is played by Big Sis and was recorded in Subic Bay, Philippines. The cello is played by Lil Sis and the clarinet is played by Big Sis, and those instruments were recorded here in Ishigaki, Japan. Any odd noises heard in the background are due to the marine recording environment…

This recording exercise has also taught the girls some basics about boat electricity, as it has been necessary to use an inverter to get electricity for the piano without the hum of the generator in the background. Talk about a diverse learning experience!

“Time to say goodbye.
Places that I’ve never seen
Or experienced with you,
Now I shall.
I’ll sail with you upon ships across the seas,
Seas that exist no more.
It’s time to say goodbye”

(Con Te Partiro – music by Francesco Sartori, English lyrics by Frank Peterson)

Boat cello and piano installation




Japanese efficiency and friendliness

I promised that we would write a proper report about our arrival in Japan, so here goes. Be forewarned, this is a very long post basically all about the port clearance process here in Ishigaki.

Japanese law requires foreign boats to inform the Coast Guard of their arrival at least 24 hours in advance of landfall. The penalty for not doing so may be imprisonment, and we have spoken to one Russian sailor who actually did end up being arrested. We were therefore very careful to inform the Coast Guard of our planned arrival already at the time when we left Aparri in the Philippines. We had little idea what to expect to happen in Ishigaki, and only knew that there would be lots of paperwork to be filled in. We had been told that the Quarantine, Customs and Immigration officials would finish work “at sunset”, and since we were arriving on a Friday (not due to choice, but because the Philippine authorities could not clear us out until Tuesday despite us having arrived in Aparri on Sunday), we worried that we would be stuck in quarantine on the boat for the whole weekend unless we got to Ishigaki on time. The last night at sea was rough, and we ended up being in a mad scramble to get to Ishigaki port on time. Ishigaki is surrounded by coral reefs, and there is nothing more frustrating than having to take your time going around a large island when you know that you had already been within a stone’s throw of the port but could not take the direct route for fear of hitting the coral. We arrived finally around 5 pm, not sure if we were too late already – in true Hitchcock style, a thunderstorm broke out right when we entered the port, and to say that we were nervous is an understatement.

When we got to the coordinates given by the Coast Guard, we were looking around for a good spot to tie up when we noticed an official-looking man standing on one side of the port. A few seconds later we realised there was also another man standing some 15 metres away to the left, and yet a third man standing  some metres in the other direction. They did not seem to be waiting for a boat to pick them up, and it soon became clear that the Coast Guard had been very efficiently following us on AIS (a tracking and collision-prevention system for vessels), and all four administrative departments were at the dock waiting for us. We were obviously more than pleased about such punctuality and efficiency!

The officials took our lines and helped tie our boat onto the concrete dock. An elderly lady appeared from a car that had been waiting further away, and announced that she worked for the Quarantine department. She very politely asked if she could step on board, and whether she needed to take off her shoes. She did not speak a lot of English, but she was extremely friendly, and helped us fill in the many documents which were partly only in Japanese. Once she declared us free of diseases, we invited the other officials to board the boat, but they made a point of asking us to first lower the yellow “quarantine flag” that we had hoisted according to old maritime tradition. We lowered the flag, and hoisted the Japanese courtesy flag instead. Only once that was done, did the rest of the authorities board our boat.

We dealt with the Coast Guard questions and documents first. Where were we going? How long did we intend to stay in the country? Did we have a crew list? All Coast Guard officials were very friendly, something that we had already got a glimpse of when they cheerfully congratulated us for successfully making the long journey over to Japan in their response to our email when we were nearing land. However, they also made it very clear that we needed to obtain pre-approval to stop at most ports in Japan, and provided us with the information for how to apply for such approval from the Ministry of Transport.

Secondly, we dealt with two teams of customs officials. One team was clearly there to make sure that we would not be bringing any harmful germs to Japan. They wanted to know which footwear we had been wearing in the Philippines, and when we identified those, they politely asked us whether they could disinfect them. We had no problem with an extra shoe cleaning, of course! They asked questions about food products that we had imported and gave us instructions for how to store those (nothing was actually taken away, perhaps because we had made sure that we ate the last of any Philippine fruits before we got to Japan). The other team made us fill in a whole lot of documents, listing ship’s stores, medications and personal items that we were bringing into the country. Lastly, both teams wanted to inspect the boat. Somewhat to our amusement, one official swiped some surface dust off of a couple of places on the boat, and carefully sealed it into zip-lock bags. We have no idea what they were looking for, but it was obvious that the sample would be checked in a laboratory for either some germs or substances, or both! 

Once the customs check was finished, it was already well past 6 pm. By this time, Mr Finn had been whisked off with an immigration official for fingerprinting at the nearby immigration office. We have not heard of many places where customs officials will drive you to their office to do a clearance that is your own responsibility! I was expecting that the customs officials would be in a hurry to leave once all the official work had been concluded. They had informed us that we could apply with Customs to change the status of our boat to “coastal ship”, a special category of ship that does not require further customs and immigration checks when in Japan (otherwise all of this procedure would have to be repeated in every port), and we were expecting to have to go to the customs office on Monday to fill in the paperwork. However, the customs officer offered to drive me to the building housing both the customs and immigration offices, so that I could also first be fingerprinted by Immigration, and then could fill in the “coastal ship” application. When I said I did not want to leave the girls on the boat alone and felt that I needed to wait for Mr Finn to return first, he happily chose to wait with me despite already being on overtime. While waiting for Mr Finn’s and the immigration officer’s return, he gave me restaurant recommendations and some other local information about Ishigaki. When Mr Finn returned, I was duly taken to the immigration office and then to the customs office, and my newly-made “coastal ship” application was promptly approved. In addition, I was given a local map (Mr Finn had also been given local maps by Immigration!) and many further recommendations for what to see. Not only that, but I was also driven back to the boat by a sweet, young customs officer. And it was already 2 hours past the official working hours for all of these officials! When we were finally alone on the boat, we marveled at everything that had been accomplished by these four government departments in the two hours we had been with them, and how efficiently they had handled everything. Even more so, we were in awe of their friendliness and will to help us out.

This was also not a one-off incident. Yesterday we visited the Ministry of Transport office with our “closed ports” application. The office is quite a bit from town, and we took a taxi there. Again, the officials were very efficient but also very friendly. When we were finished at the office, one official noted that it was quite far to town and asked us if we were going back to the port. When we said we were, he said he would drive us there. And so he did! There was absolutely no need for him to do so, and he went completely out of his way to do a favour for us.

 All in all, there is a lot of bureaucracy in Japan and the Japanese officials take things very seriously (it is a very different approach to what we were used to from the Philippines – and, although not everyone might agree, to us the Japanese approach is much preferred). However, our experience is that if you are prepared for the paperwork and play by the Japanese rules, things proceed smoothly and you may end up getting far more from the encounter than you would have ever expected. We don’t of course know if what we have experienced would happen elsewhere in Japan, or whether the people in Ishigaki are particularly friendly, but needless to say that we currently feel very welcome in Japan and are more than happy to be here!

Quarantine officer on board, others waiting.


Taking down the quarantine flag.
The shoes we wore in the Philippines being disinfected.

We are in Japan

Events are completely overtaking our blog writing, apologies that we have been so slow to provide updates. This is a quick note to say that we reached the southernmost port of Japan on Friday evening, altogether 11 days after we left Subic Bay. The last stretch was a three-night passage from Aparri in the Philippines, as we managed to find the Japan current and flew with a speed up to 8,5 knots through the Luzon strait. This area of sea is known for its roughness, but for the two first nights our only gripe was that we experienced winds contrary to what had been forecast…we were meant to have had a nice beam or broad reach, but instead we were mostly close-hauled, which made the boat heel quite a bit and was not particularly comfortable. However, the seas grew somewhat for the last night and day and became rather confused, and the wind was right behind us, making for a very rolly boat and not much sleep to be had by those off-watch. Nevertheless, the journey went well and we arrived in Ishigaki just before sunset so that port clearance could still be carried out before the weekend. The Japanese port clearance was a very memorable affair that we’ll be writing about more soon (promise!). Right now we are busy drawing up our plans for the so-called “closed” ports that we want to visit in Japan, because the list of ports has to be submitted to and approved by the Ministry of Transport before we can continue onwards.