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Saturday, Oct. 20, 2007

JAPAN LITE

Getting to the bottom of the mystery of the moving pier


I was sitting in the back of my pickup truck talking to Mrs. Amano at the ferry port. My husband was driving and I was sitting in the back. As we passed the ferry terminal, Mrs. Amano flagged us down.

The Amanos run the ferry service, and she said she was holding a package for me. She handed me the package, I thanked her, and my husband started to drive away. But something suddenly occurred to Mrs. Amano, something she forgot to tell me, so she cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled out, "Ashita, sanbashi wa chikaku ni na ru yo!"

As we drove away and Amano-san stood there getting smaller and smaller, I translated in my head, "The pier will become closer to you tomorrow." What the heck did that mean?

I live on the other side of the port from Mrs. Amano and the ferry terminal. Every day out my window I can see the ferries come in and out of the port and tie up on the ferry pier as the people get on and off the ferries from the mainland.

The sanbashi is where all this happens. It's a floating dock that rises and falls with the tides. There are many floating docks around the port, but the only one called sanbashi is the one the ferry uses.

Yet something big was going to happen tomorrow. How could the dock move? Would the sanbashi grow out toward my direction? Or maybe she meant "move," as in an earthquake prediction.

The pier will become closer to you tomorrow. Perhaps I will mentally bond with it and become closer to it.

Mrs. Amano obviously knew something about my future that I didn't. Perhaps this was a prophecy. The pier will be closer to me meaning it would be more accessible.

Perhaps I will go on a long trip and should pack my bags. Or maybe it was the Japanese way of saying "Some day your ship will come in," and she meant tomorrow.

Whatever it was, I could hardly sleep imagining the possibilities. I sleep with the windows wide open so that the sea breeze cruises across my bed and out through the back window. There is always a breeze on the port. But even more, I like the sounds that hitchhike in on the breeze and pass over me in the night.

On our side of the port, just below my window, there is a floating dock full of fishing boats. The dock creaks as it moves in the wind and with the tides. There is a soft and constant wailing sound produced from the wind whistling through the metal pipes in the dock and the gangways down to it.

The sides of the fishing boats lazily click against each other as they are jostled by surface ripples in the water.

When a fishing boat returns in the middle of the night creating a wake, the jetty creaks and groans as it rises over the rolls of waves.

Sometimes, when it's really windy at night, I walk over to another dock where the sailboats are tied up. I lie down on my back on the dock and get ready to hear the amazing wind concert the sailboats put on as the wind rushes through the hollow masts and rigging.

It's an eerie sound at first, starting quietly and slowly building up, and then when it is at its highest pitch, the wind literally screaming, it starts to quiet down again.

These masts, all lined up, and all of different heights and with different lengths of wire rigging, each produces a different tone. It's almost as if the sailboats are communicating with each other in their own singing language. Or maybe the masts just have whales inside them. At any rate, these sailboats create the world's largest wind chime.

When I woke up the next morning, I looked out my window and, indeed, saw something very surprising.

A tug boat was towing the sanbashi away!

The ferries continued to come in and out, but instead of going to where the sanbashi had been, they came to my side of the port, and left the people off at the fisherman's dock.

I thought about Mrs. Amano's words again: The pier will become closer to you tomorrow. All I could say was, "Naruhodo!" I get it! I later learned that every 10 years, the sanbashi must be taken in for a safety inspection.



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