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Welcome to sailing yacht Alishan

Read more about the adventures and boat-projects on board of Alishan

part 1

In Short

Alishan has reached Kyushu and sailed north as far as Nagasaki prefecture. We’d changed our original plan: Instead of moving on to Fukuoka we decided to hang around until Edwin and Melissa had arrived in Japan. Our 21 and 24 year old niece and nephew from Holland were going to spend a month with us and the sail from Nagasaki to Fukuoka would be a lot more fun together. They would see the country side and get some city life, starting off with the exciting O’Kunchi festival.

Once in Fukuoka we would have to face the big dilemma: What next? Should we stay in our old hometown for the winter and run the risk of getting stuck again, or continue to someplace new? Mutsukashii!

In Goto we were so happy with our berth at the pontoon in Fukue, we stayed put and did all the exploring from there with our bicycles and a rental car. Local people were very friendly, giving us discounts and the vet, who gave Wakame her yearly shots, even remembered Nori’s accident 4 years before. We met Mrs. Ozeki, who helped us out that time and it all felt good.

Alishan in Fukue, which is now called Goto city, in the Goto Retto island group, just west of Nagasaki city.

We were more or less filling in time, waiting for our visitors and the start of the O’Kunchi festival. We got the boat ready as much as possible: creating space for 2 more people and their luggage is not an easy task. It was still hot and humid this early October, but by the end of the month that would (hopefully!) have changed. Edwin and Melissa would need proper bedding and space to stow their socks and sweaters; hard to imagine after 4 years of sweating and the hottest summer in centuries. We were so absorbed in our preparations; we nearly missed a local festival.

On October 2nd the town got dressed up and marched in a parade through the streets. There was music and drums of course and it was very colorful and entertaining.

Local companies had their staff dressed in uniformal yukatas (summer kimonos) and the groups danced their way through the shopping streets in the afternoon.

At night the real festival spirit broke through, when groups of youngsters showed their version of dressing up and traditional dance.

Huge paper lanterns called nebuta were lit, rigged on wagons and wheeled through town, their historical themes based on international exchange with China.

On Sunday the 3rd the matsuri ended with fireworks.

The backpack of this concrete giant in festival gear is a public telephone and in working order!

part 2

A day later we sailed back to Nagasaki to the small yacht harbor at the Dejima Wharf, right in the center of the city. All around us people were setting up stalls and stages for what was going to be one of Japan’s major tourist attractions: The yearly O’Kunchi Matsuri.

On the 6th we jumped in a rented car to drive to Fukuoka airport and back, but before that we had a small problem to deal with: we were running out of cooking gas. Alishan has 2 aluminum gas tanks that were bought, tested and officially certified in Japan. However, in Fukue we could not get a refill, because aluminum tanks had caused problems in the past and the local gas dealer would only handle steel ones. In Nagasaki there was no gas filling station nearby that neither we, nor our friends knew of, so the easiest thing to do was load the empty tank in the car and drive to the gas company near Fukuoka, where it came from. Now picture this: 2 foreigners, one sporting her favorite Arabian headscarf, the other looking kind of careless and sloppy, like a yachtie. Driving a rental car with a gas tank in the booth, on the highways across Kyushu to a major airport that had extra tight security because of November’s APEC meeting… And nobody noticed.

Welcome to Japan Edwin and Melissa! Here at the airport with Jaap, the could-be terrorist and our faithful Papa-rin

Every year on Oct 7, 8 and 9 neighborhood teams gather around wooden vessels, replicas of the foreign ships that used to frequent the harbor when Nagasaki was the only international port in Japan. These beautifully decorated ships are paraded through the center of town. The children onboard play drums and gongs, men clad in cotton kimono do the pushing and pulling and the women walk behind, dressed in their finest kimonos of brocade and silk. On various locations they stop and perform. Boys show their skills with a throw net, girls throw each other in acrobatic dance.

The men race their ship back, forth and around, while the children inside beat their drums and gongs, and others yell commands. The pace becomes faster at each performance. Spectators cheer and applaud and the atmosphere is laden with excitement.

Other teams carry heavy portable shrines on umbrella-like poles, again turning around and around. Just watching it would make you dizzy.

A popular group is the team of dragon dancers in their elaborate Chinese costumes, originally performed at Chinese New Year. The dragon chases a golden ball, revved up by fire crackers.

The dragon team wears Chinese costumes.

And makes the most noise.

Waiting in between performances

The children didn’t seem to be the least bit bothered by all the tossing and turning. They must have practiced for months.

Musicians and dancers perform in front of shops and businesses to express gratitude for their (financial) support.

On Oct 9th the festival ends with a parade, when floats and shrines return to their resting place.

Alishan, conveniently moored in the middle of this spectacle, became a popular place for friends to take a rest.

The Sawamura clan, who used to live downtown and with whom we stayed during this festival 21 years ago. Here Mum with some of her12 kids and I don’t know how many grandchildren.

Nobuko Kakoh took some time off from her busy job. (see later) She and our friend and hairdresser Michiyo came over from Fukuoka for the festivities and us. Here comparing photos in front of the Spectacle Bridge.

Alishan by night at Dejima Wharf

part 3

The day after the festival we left Nagasaki on what was to be Edwin and Melissa’s shakedown and our final leg of this 4-year cruise. The seas were calm and the islands gave us wind and wave protection, so nobody got seasick and we all enjoyed the sunshine and the scenery.

Via Mie we sailed to Hirado, passing Sasebo and the the 99 islands.

In Hirado we were lucky again, finding a berth on a pontoon, so we could easily get on and off to visit the sights of this town full of culture and history. Being Dutch it was double worth it, reading up on historical facts that Dutch schoolteachers never mention. So we did the castle, the museum, the Dutch well, the Dutch bridge and a temple or 2. E & M had many firsts, one of them a big Japanese bath on the top floor of the Kokusai Kanko Hotel. In Nagasaki they’d come with us to the sento (public bath house), but it was very old and basic (and the water too hot!) In Mie friends took us to their home and they learned to wash and bathe with their knees in their ears. This super bath came with towels, soap and shampoo and lots of creams and lotions to try. A tub to do laps in and a wonderful view. (Sorry, no pix)

Scenic temples and a footbath hot spring, just 10 mins walk from the harbor.

Kameoka shrine

The Dutch bridge (it’s the one in the far back) and the Dutch well from the time the VOC had their first trading post in Japan (1603), before they had to move to Nagasaki.

Hirado Castle, once home of the Matsuura clan, destroyed by fire at least once, like all proper Japanese castles. Interesting mostly on the outside. When the crows sit on the roof it looks real spooky, as in scenes from Ryoma den, popular TV drama.

Hirado port with s/y Alishan seen from the Matsuura Historical Museum

From here it was just a short sail to Madara Island, a place that’s known for nothing, has nothing but a village with 2 grocery stores, a church and friendly locals. And a protected harbor. We just wanted to go somewhere new, where nobody would ever go to. And see Japan at its purest.

The people told us there were usually lots of Green Pheasants around, eating their potatoes and making a mess, but the only ones we saw were painted on the concrete seawall. 

And here, at this non-popular, unknown and remote island we shared a meal on the dock with some fishermen of: FUGU SASHIMI, the dish of raw blowfish that can be lethal if prepared wrong. It was delicious and we didn’t die.

From Madara we sailed to the mainland and stopped in Yobuko, the squid capital of Kyushu. We saw them being dried all along the streets and we bought the famous squid dumplings, but we couldn’t entice Edwin and Melissa to a meal of raw ika.

At the morning market the narrow shopping street was lined with stalls selling fish and vegetables, locally made seaweed products and pickles.

Melissa holding a sea urchin. The vendor kindly offered them to try some uni (urchin eggs)

On the right pieces of whale meat, caught for scientific reasons… for sale.

A lot of grey concrete is used to protect the harbors from typhoons. What a sore sight it would be without the creativity of locals.

The hardware store tells the pace of time in this town, far from any big city.

Nori eyeing our laundry of dried squid.

part 4

From Yobuko it was only 25 miles to Fukuoka. We left early and reached Hakata-wan just after midday on October 18th.

There was a race underway and we scanned the bay for familiar yachts. After another mile or so an unfamiliar sailboat approached us with people waving and shouting. Thanks to mobile phones the case was soon clear: One of our marathon buddies had bought the boat and some others were with him, welcoming us. WELCOME HOME! they shouted.

In Atagohama friendly fishermen were waiting to show us where to tie up and the first meal of Meinohama fish was delivered that night. Yes, this is home. And if we didn’t realize it yet, the cats sure did. They jumped ashore and disappeared for a few hours. These cats, who always looked over their shoulder to make sure they could jump back onboard if needed to, who would then slowly proceed further, but never loose Alishan out of sight, they were gone, re(dis?)covering their old hunting ground.

Edwin and Melissa had another 2 weeks with us. Our niece, who is a veterinarian paramedic, had arranged to do some practical training in Odo Marina animal hospital. Noriko sensei took her under her wings and Melissa went there most working days, coming home with stories, learning and sharing all the time.

When Noriko isn’t working as a vet, running marathons or sailing on friends’ yachts she is just a good friend having a party for us at her Kame House.

At Shibaraku, our Papa-rin’s restaurant, M&E showed their brave sides and tried to eat sashimi. I don’t think Melissa cared much for it, but Edwin was all right.

We were just in time to see the exhibition of artwork by the daycare patients of Kakoh Orthopedic Clinic in the Fukuoka City Art Museum. Nobuko can be so proud of her work! She does most of the design and coordination. Above a mural made of bits of torn newspaper. Below that the photos of how it was made.

On Oct. 22nd we got another guest: brother-in-law Sjaak, also from Holland.

He made himself immensely unpopular by leaving Dutch cheese in his hotel room in Seoul. He had been in Korea for business, so Fukuoka was just a hop across the pond. We only had him for 5 days, thus we instantly forgave him and enjoyed his company.

A night with the Kakohs. It doesn’t look nice, these half-empty dishes, but the Chinese meal was very good.

At Kusuda Shrine in Hakata

The five of us did the rounds, visiting not only old friends, also shrines, temples and other popular hang-outs. The weather was still nice, the food good, shopping was fun.

Edwin nearly cleared the ‘Edwin’ jeans shop at Marinoa. He is totally Edwin now, down to his undies.

Presents from Nakazawa-san, also known as Papa-rin

Cheering the city marathon. Here comes Noriko!

No, we didn’t run ourselves. Too busy.

There were more parties, here with Miyoko at Kyoko’s house

And another small festival: O’Chigosan, starring Miyoko’s grand-daughter, Miku

Miku, Katsuyoshi

And more 4-5 year olds at the Sumiyoshi Shrine in Meinohama

On November 2nd it was time for our visitors to travel back home. 1 month seems so long and yet so short. It was just enough for them to get a taste of Japan and their aunt and uncle’s life onboard s/y Alishan. And for us to get to know them.

Farewell Edwin and Melissa. Hope to see more of you sometime. But for now all the best! Good luck with your jobs and further studies, remember we are only half a world apart.

part 5

Alishan at her possy in the Meinohama fishing harbor

We are only at 1/3rd of our quarterly update, but most of the story has been told.

The months November and December were spent settling down. When the kumiai (fishing corporation) agreed on letting us stay we started applying extra lines, fenders, an electrical cord and a gangway. The electricity, most important, doesn’t give us more then 80 of the 100 volts and only at night, when the street lanterns are lit. However, it’s better than nothing.

We can work on the computer at night and go out during the day.

Autumn colors of red maple in Ohorikoen and Imajuku

When autumn suddenly and way too soon turned into winter we bought socks, heaters and blankets. The monthly budget that stretched a long way in Malaysia and Thailand seemed to disappear real fast, but we’re careful and we know how to manage. We didn’t want to rush off looking for jobs first thing. We’ll probably be here a while, time enough for that later. Plus, to dress suitable for work we’d need different winter outfits. And they would be a bit beyond our means.

Jaap often made himself useful when the elderly fishermen needed help with their nets. They often work, husband and wife together until way in their 70s. Rather staying out in the cold than getting bored at home. Until an accident of some sort forces them to give up. This we encountered when the owner of a nearby fishing boat got a stroke and we could only just save him from serious injuries when he fell on top of the running engine.

Marijke’s favorite: Tomba

Needless to say we got plenty of fish, especially ‘tomba’. On our 30th anniversary we ate 30 of these little delicacies.

The days Jaap wasn’t helping Katsuyoshi or Sumie Maru he was out running, training for a full marathon. Hence he was the only living thing onboard who didn’t put on weight. Nori and Wakame have exchanged their slim tropical looks for the square winter type. They are eating 3-4 times as much! Marijke tries not to eat, but sore knees make jogging impossible and the public gym is so boring… The other live-aboards, our faithful team of cockroaches don’t seem to consume much. They have become very slow. Maybe this unusual cold winter takes care of them.

When we visit Nakazawa-san and his wife, his son makes us a special winter dish. Oyster nabe with miso. Oishii!!!

Things you run into when walking around town: a couple getting married and a little girl celebrating hichi-go-san, a tradition for 3, 5 and 7 year olds

And a painter in the park

Some friend of a friend left us an old battered, but drivable car, which we use to get out of the city, into the mountains for walks and hot springs. In fact, that’s what we did on Christmas Day with our friends Pam and Jon of s/y Tweed, who we’d buddy-boated with earlier this year. They returned from Australia to their boat in Odo yacht harbor mid November.

Jon and Pam with their first snow.

Mina came along as well, who is our Odo-based yachtie friend, currently looking after Anton’s yacht Searover and before that after Anton himself when he was in hospital. The snow had started and for Jon and Pam it was a special exciting day, as they’d never seen snow falling and had never taken a Japanese bath.

On the last day of 2010 we hit the snow again, this time on Mt Raizan.

A pilgrim negotiating the icy road from the temple down on traditional footwear made of cotton with very thin straw or rubber soles

Stone people watching over us from the snowy mountain slope.

When was the last time we saw icicles?

The only bit of color was inside the Raizan temple.

And that’s it. We are still in the yachtie-mode, but have made no plans to move. Japanese officials are having a hard time with it. They keep a close eye on all foreign yachts and want to know the exact itinerary. Preferably to the hour and minute. Recently they stopped coming by every day and we haven’t see the plain-cloth detective either. But whenever we run into them they ask the big question that we often ask ourselves: “When are you leaving?”

Not this year!

Wakame’s way to end 2010.

And yes, it’s her, not with Mt Fuji and not in Egypt, but with Mt. Kaimon at Kagoshima in the background on our New Year’s card. (See our blog