Hōkūle‘a in Yokohama
On a Hawaiian Voyaging Canoe from Uwajima, May 30 - June 13, 2007
Updated: April 17, 2011
In the summer of 2007, I traveled to Uwajima, a fishing town in Ehime prefecture, on the west coast of Shikoku, to join the fifteen-member crew of the double-hulled Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hōkūle‘a, which was on a cultural exchange and goodwill tour in Japan. The canoe was headed for Yokohama on the final leg of a journey that had taken her from Hawai‘i, through Micronesia, to Japan, its first time in Asia.
Famous for its revival of traditional voyaging and navigation by the stars, ocean swells, and seabirds, Hōkūle‘a was welcomed warmly at each of its stops.
Hōkūle‘a Approaching Uwajima Dock
The crew in Uwajima was hosting visitors on canoe tours, waiting for a summer storm front to pass.
Before I arrived the crew had participated in a memorial for nine crew members of Ehime Maru, the training ship for Uwajima Fishery High School, which sank off Le'ahi (Diamond Head), Honolulu, in February 2001 after being rammed by the USS Greeneville, a nuclear submarine performing a rapid ascent maneuver with two civilian guests at the controls. Four students were among the dead.
In March 2001, the Hawaiian community came together to help with healing the tragic loss for the families of those who drowned.Hōkūle‘a participated in a ceremony at Maunalua Bay, to the east of Le'ahi, leading a flotilla of mourners, including a vessel with the families on board, to place lei on the spot where the Ehime Maru sank. A spiritual connection was forged between Hōkūle‘a and Uwajima.
When the families in Uwajima learned thatHōkūle‘a was coming to Japan, the father of the one students, the only crew member whose body was never recovered, expressed his belief that arriving in Uwajima,Hōkūle‘a would bring his son’s spirit home.
At the ceremony, the crew presented to the families of those lost at sea kahili, or feathered standard, representing aloha from the people of Hawai'i.
The crew also visited Taihei (“Grand Peace”) Temple in Uwajima and Hōkūle‘a navigator Nainoa Thompson and the crew were also presented with a miniature peace bell modeled on the bell at the temple.
The first modern peace bell was made from coins from countries all over the world and given to Secretary-General of the United Nations U Thant, of Burma. More miniatures were made and distributed to promote world peace. During the Cuban crisis in 1954, which threatened to precipitate a nuclear war, one was given to USSR premier Khruschev and another to US President John F. Kennedy. The priest of Taihei also had a miniature, which was in the keeping of the mayor. Both the priest and the mayor, on hearing of Hōkūle‘a coming to Uwajima, decided that the canoe should carry the bell on its journeys, in appreciation of its work in healing the sadness of the loss of the crew members of the Ehime Maru, and as a symbol of hope for a safer, more peaceful world for all.
The night after I arrived, JapaneseHōkūle‘a fans sponsored a gathering at a mountain campground above Uwajima to celebrate the canoe’s visit. They were also planning, after the canoe’s departure, to travel south to the Toujin Stones, megaliths in the hills above Cape Ashizuri on the remote southwestern tip of Shikoku, to pray for the safe passage of the canoe as it rounded the cape on its way to Yokohama. One web writer offers a hypothesis that these stones had been used as navigational aids in Jomon times: the reflection of sun and moon light off the giant stones allowing them to served as lighthouses that could be seen by vessels traveling in the Kuroshio, or Black Current, that flows eastward past the cape.
I had visited Ashizuri in 2006, in late November, hoping to see these stones. We never found them, because a storm front moved slowly over Shikoku during the two days we spent at the cape, and I didn’t think it was a good idea to be driving around unfamiliar mountain roads in the rain looking for them.
Hōkūle‘a left Uwajima just as the storm front passed, to make it to Yokohama on time for a ceremonial welcome. Kama Hele, Hōkūle‘a’s motor-sailing escort boat, towed us into the brisk winds and 8-10 foot swells. We would never have made it to Yokohama in time for the planned arrival if we had to sail there.
Ahead of us, the Kama Hele’s mast swung from side to side, rhythmically, like the arm of a metronome, and her hull bucked up and down as each swell rolled beneath her. Even the seaworthiest of Kama Hele’s crew bunked down for the night, were feeling seasick. The crew on the canoe, with its more stable double hull construction, was fine.
As we moved past Ashizuri, we could see the beam of lighthouse at the cape flashing beneath a cloudy night sky. I wondered if the Japanese fans had actually made it to the stones to pray for our safe passage, or if they had melted back into the nation.
Captain Bruce Blankenfeld didn’t want to cross the busy Kii strait at night so after traveling along the southern coast of Shikoku in the dark, we pulled into Muroto, at the southeastern tip of Shikoku. The weather and sea had calmed down.
The next day we were invited to the Bade Haus, a public bath with saltwater jets to massage each area of the head, neck, torso, and legs down to the soles of the feet. It was located next to the Utoco Deep Sea Therapy Center, the world’s first deep-sea water spa, established by make-up artist Shu Uemura, which had just opened in March. The deep sea water is supposedly pollution free below 3,200 feet and also rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, and other salutary trace elements missing from surface water, therefore having a therapeutic value. Japan has six places where slow ocean currents allow a lower layer of water to rise toward the surface; one of these places is offshore of Muroto, from where it is pumped to land.
Uemura extols the benefits of his spa: “We come from the sea originally. Deep-sea water contains all the elements our bodies need.” He believes that the water benefits digestion and the skin. He may have gotten the idea for this spa from the desalinated water from the deep ocean off Kona Hawai’i which was selling for $5 a bottle that summer.
The restaurant at the Bade Haus uses the water in cooking, and the water fountains dispense free desalinated deep sea water.
We departed Muroto at 1:30 a.m. in the morning and crossed the Kii Strait by 12 noon. The shipping traffic was relatively light. A highlight of the crossing was sighting a pod of small whales. As we rounded Cape Shiono on Honshu, pilot Kazu Nishimura took us under the bridge connecting Kushimoto (a fishing town) and an offshore island.
Just after the bridge, we passed a fishing boat towing a large aquaculture cage. Beyond Kushimoto we could see Hashigui Iwa (“Bridge Post Rocks”), an distinctive row of rock columns jutting up along the shoreline, like the remnants of a giant bridge.
We traveled all night and the next day, arriving at Cape Iro on Izu peninsula at about 3 p.m., then on into the sea of Sagami, past Izu-Oshima and Toshima, two volcanic offshore islands. We looked for Mt. Fuji all afternoon, but a haze over Honshu, a combination of clouds, smog, and dust from the Gobi desert reduced visibility, and only the coastal mountains were visible, fading into the haze.
At the entrance to Tokyo Bay, we encountered more ships and boats than we saw earlier in the Kii Strait, with dozens moving in and out of view in all directions, including giant tankers and cargo ships and sleek, fast fishing boats. A couple of fishing boats changed course to get a closer look at the first Hawaiian voyaging canoe ever to sail into their waters. A couple of pods of dolphins appeared, along with piles of shearwaters.
As the sun set at 7 p.m. the temperature dropped and everyone bundled up in warm gear.
We pulled into Miura, a small fishing town at the tip of Miura Peninsula at night, where a small crowd greeted us.
The next day we traveled north to Kamakura, on Sagami Bay, to honor Hōkūle‘a crew member, big-wave rider, fisherman, and cultural expert Tiger Espere, who spent time in Kamakura teaching Hawaiian culture and exploring “the ancestral connection between Japan’s pre-Buddhist settlers and native Hawaiians” a mission given to him by Tahitian elders. He established the Japan-Hawaiian Voyaging Society and was planning to build a voyaging canoe that would sail to Hawai‘i and reconnect the two cultures. He passed away in 2005 before this project was completed.
Photo by Jin Takuma
On board Hōkūle‘a for the visit to Kamakura was Loui Kaninau-Cabebe, Tiger’s brother who wanted to carry on Tiger’s dream of building a voyaging canoe for Japan. Hōkūle‘a anchored off Yuigahama, the beach in front of Kamakura city. The vessels were greeted by a couple of jet skis, dozens of surfers and paddle boarders, and six outrigger canoes. Loui chanted from the canoe, and a halau, formed by Tiger and under the direction of Misa Nakatomi, chanted and danced on shore. A hundred or so well-wishers lined the coastal road.
It was Tiger’s dream that one dayHōkūle‘a would visit Kamakura to inspire the people to build his dream voyaging canoe. For Tiger, Loui explained, a canoe was not just a physical artifact, but a spiritual way.
The celebration in Tiger’s honor was blessed by warm, sunny weather; most of the crew took advantage of this time to jump in for a swim or a paddle with the locals. The water was chillier than in Hawai’i, but refreshing.
When we arrived in Yokohama the following day, a crowd of several hundred greeted the canoe, including city officials, Japanese hula groups, and Miss Yokohama, in a kimono.
Photos by Jin Takuma and Kato Kosei
Hōkūle‘adocked at Minato Mirai 21, a futuristic twenty-first century development of high-rise condos and hotels, shopping malls and restaurants, an amusement park, and transportation facilities (subways, buses, trains). Nearby, along the waterfront, are Western buildings dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, spared along with the port facilities from American bombs in 1945 for use by the occupation force when the war ended.
Photo by Jin Takuma
A Hawaiian voyaging canoe was not out of place in Yokohama and the other Japanese cities she visited, where internationalism and multiculturalism are trendy, and cross-cultural events and exhibits are no longer mainly American and European, but increasingly, non-Western as well. During the summer festival season in 2007, the line-up at remote Sado Island off the coast of Niigata included Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain, Puerto Rican percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo, and French Guianese tap dancer Tamango.
With the recovery of the Japanese economy after World War II and Hawai‘i’s becoming a top vacation destination for Japanese tourists, Hawaiian culture, particularly music and hula, developed a strong following in Japan. There are more hula halau (schools) in Japan than in Hawai‘i, and Hawaiian musicians and dancers regularly tour Japan. Surfing, outrigger canoe paddling, and other Hawaiian ocean sports have grown in popularity, and driving along the coast one sees surfers in wet suits at almost every spot with breaking waves.
At a welcoming event the next day in Yokohama, we were greeted by a new-age hula group led by a woman of Japanese, Spanish and American ancestry, who goes by Sandii and who teaches Tahitian and Hawaiian dance in Tøkyø and Yokohama. The performance opened with a conch shell blown by a performer in a yamabushi outfit (the conch is traditionally carried by such priests); the performance included a didjeridoo, an instrument of Australian aborigine origin. The dance music on her CD features keyboards, guitars, flutes, accordion, ukulele, piano, Tahitian banjo, Polynesian percussion (pahu, puniu, toere), and Brazilian percussion (zabumba and marimba).
Photos by Jin Takuma
A Spaniard who was playing in Yokohama gave me his card and offered to play Spanish music for the crew.
The be-in at Uwajima and the new age hula and Spanish music in Yokohama were not exactly what I had imagined when I heard that there would be cultural exchanges in Japan. In Hiroshima, high school cheerleaders were part of the welcome. But there were also traditional folk dances and taiko drumming, especially in the smaller towns; and an excellent high school taiko ensemble performed at the welcome in Yokohama.