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Saturday, June 5, 2004

JAPAN LITE

Glitzy city jars journeyer to 'real' Japan


"We are having a gale all night and a beauty too. The waves are lashing about us at a desperate rate, even against my window at times away up on the upper deck, but they can't drive us off our course. I go to bed at night, I fully expect to find myself on the floor in the morning. Please have a cradle for me when I get home so that I may be rocked to sleep. I am sure I could not sleep without it. O, what a mariner I have become! Also have a machine of some sort that will imitate the roaring of the wind and waves, and if you can find a picture anywhere of Captain Cuttle hang it on the parlor bulkhead. Feed me on seafood and put racks on the table when you do so that I may be able to live a land-lubber's life.''

So wrote my great-grandfather in his diary in 1900 as he plied through Japan's Seto Inland Sea on a U.S. Army transport ship.

Yet I, 104 years later, doing the same trip on a 40-foot (12-meter) yacht, could have written nearly the same entry in my diary. The sea is timeless.

My own trip was coming to an end as well. We had left the last island, Oshima, at 32 degrees 57 minutes north, 132 degrees 4 minutes east, and were now heading into the Pacific Ocean, sailing along the coast of Kyushu en route to Miyazaki, a southern Japanese city full of palm trees and typhoons. I could feel a difference already, the big swells of the Pacific lifting the boat up and down rather than the smaller waves of the Inland Sea rocking us back and forth. Fishing boats became fewer, and for the first time, I looked at the horizon without seeing the outline of Japan's mountains watching over us. I said goodbye to the sea god, the mountain god and all the other gods we had worshipped at their special shrines along the way, and thanked them for providing us a safe passage.

"The engines stopped and believing we were at the end of the Inland Sea, I arose and found this to be the case. The night was cold and the wind blew fearfully but I wrapped a heavy officer's coat about me and stood on the deck as we sailed down the channel toward the great Pacific, I gave the mere outline of the mountains and valleys of the 'Land of Flowers and Sunshine' a parting glance.''

When we foreigners come to Japan, we are often in search of our own romantic images of Japan -- rice fields, temples, local traditions and a lifestyle that no longer exists for most Japanese. For us, the "real Japan" is where things have changed little over the past 100 years, and is the lifestyle still followed only by those in the countryside or on the islands of the Inland Sea. Even three generations later, I can still see a glimpse of this life as it was seen through my great-grandfather's eyes.

But most Japanese have abandoned their previous lifestyle in favor of the modern city life. This couldn't have been more apparent than when I stepped off the boat in Miyazaki, a gleaming city with glossy tourist brochures boasting sights such as an indoor beach, the world's largest pedestrian suspension bridge, and a bus tour to Cape Toi, where "Travelers' hearts melt at the sight of gazing wild horses." It's no wonder I escaped into a place called Murray's Bar and indulged in fish 'n' chips, nachos and draft beer.

And while I was there, I realized that there in Miyazaki, a modern city in the Land of Flowers and Sunshine, this was the real Japan. And as my great-grandfather summed up so well: "I, even I, no writer at all, could write, write, write and continue writing on the subject of Japan."

Amen.

This is the last in a series on Amy's voyage through the Seto Inland Sea. Get "Amy's Guidebook to Japan: What the Other Guidebooks Won't Tell You" at the One Dollar Bookstore at www.mooooshop.com/MooooBooks/order/index.htm


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