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Saturday, Nov. 3, 2007


The joys of being 'one with nature'

While the other six people on board were sleeping down in the cabins, I was sleeping outside on the deck under the canopy in the cockpit of the boat. This is my favorite place to sleep because I can see the stars and the moon while being lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the boat in the ripples. Now this is "being one with nature!"

The sailboat was tied up to a pier for the night. We had chosen a random island in the Inland Sea to drop anchor. Despite that there are over 250 inhabited islands in Japan's Seto Inland Sea, the number of remote islands is becoming fewer as Japan continues to connect entire island chains with bridges.

Where previously you would have had to take a ferry to each island, now you merely need to take an exit off the highway, go over the bridge to the first island, and island hop via bridges from there. Islands that used to be just small dots in the Inland Sea have now had their dots connected.

I suppose it is an effort by the government to revitalize the islands, to bring commerce and tourism. Drive, people, drive!

I wonder though, with Japan's aging population, why are they encouraging people to drive even farther? I see a problem when we start having 89-year-olds driving off the end of the pier of the last island in the chain while yelling "Where's the briiiiiiidge?!"

We had been sailing several days when we anchored at this island, so I had not heard the sound of a car in a long time. And it wasn't until I heard a car drive onto the pier and park next to our yacht that I realized we must have anchored at an island with a bridge.

Soon, more cars came and parked; the night fishermen had arrived! Well, there's nothing wrong with "being 10 with nature," is there? They had come out to enjoy the peace and quiet of the night as well.

I heard no voices as the fishermen quietly took out their fishing gear and set it up on the pier. But one thing seemed odd: they all had very powerful flashlights with long beams.

Now fully awake, I realized they weren't flashlights, but car headlights! All the cars were idling with their headlights on, while men stood in front of the headlights baiting fishhooks.

This reminded me how quick the Japanese are to use cars for any number of tasks. I've even seen Japanese people gather around the headlights of their car for a night BBQ, leaving the car idling the whole time. In the summertime, you can see people pulled over on roads next to parks or rivers, sleeping, using their cars as mobile beds. Other times, they are just sitting in their cars, passing time. Uh-huh.

I think it's the sound of the motor. Even if it's just running in the background, the Japanese seem to be more at ease. It has the same effect on them as classical music. Perhaps it's the way the motor heaves a sigh of relief every time the fan belt kicks in. Or maybe it is related to that inner ear problem the Japanese are said to have that makes it more difficult for them to learn foreign languages.

Or, in this case, it could be more of a passion for light. The fishermen were fishing for tachiuo, a seasonal fish that is very easy to catch, with or without light. But face it, a car's headlights can reach much farther than the light of a lantern. On high beam, they can fish 60 meters away from their car!

Maybe the fishermen prefer car headlights because they make them feel like they are under spotlights, like they are famous fishermen. Perhaps I should have been interviewing them. I half-expected them to take out their own microphones and sing some karaoke.

Finally, as the first rays of natural light showed through, the fishermen all turned off their cars. But just then we were slipping away under full sail, taking with us our carbon fingerprint. Not seeking to be one with nature this time, but once again with nature.

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