Seeing Some Sights

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Wed 5 Feb 2014 11:58
Position: Alongside Tokunoshima
Wind:light and variable
Weather: overcast, cool

There is a tap only fifty meters away from where Sylph is berthed, so I had determined that this morning's job would be to connect my hose to it, top up the water tanks, and give Sylph a good wash down. As I was screwing various fittings together to get Sylph's hose to reach the tap and to be able to connect to its push on nozzle, two men arrived dressed in blue uniforms with Japan Coast Guard embroidered on their ball caps. There was the usual language difficulties but this time I had Saori's card up my sleeve. I gave this to one of the officers who rang Saori who soon had things all sorted out. The officers were enquiring about whether I had permission to tie Sylph up where she was, and Saori explained what we had done upon my arrival to obtain the appropriate permission. I also showed them the permit that had been issued in Naha, and Sylph's papers, which they photographed. They gave me some instructions about contacting the Coast Guard by VHF radio on arrival at my next port, and, seeming satisfied, then left as politely as they had arrived.
One good thing about the visit by the Japan Coast Guard officers was that during the official phone call to Saori she and I had had the opportunity to talk on the officer's phone and arrange for Saori to pick me up later in the afternoon and take me for a bit of a tour of the island. Saori duly arrived at half past one and her little brown box had soon whizzed us out into the surrounding dense green countryside. The narrow road wound its way around hillsides, initially with the coast's fringing reef on one side, but then, as we moved inland, it was frequently bordered by stone walls made of concrete blocks or often of grey coral, separating us from numerous vegetable gardens on the further side.
Our first stop was a small wooden church painted in red and white. Saori explained to me that these days the church only had one parishioner, and twice a week a priest and nun would come to the church to provide this one worshipper with the rites of the Catholic mass. Next on the agenda was the local bull ring where, unlike the Spanish tradition, the bulls, instead of fighting a matador, fight each other. There were no fights scheduled during our brief stop here but we did watch a promotional video in the small museum set up under the stadium. It would seem this form of bull fighting evolved from the farmers boastful pride in their beasts. Bulls would be brought together in a makeshift ring on a beach, around which all the islanders would gather to watch the spectacle of two bulls going head to head to see which was the more powerful. What I saw of the sport looked not a little brutal but apparently it is rare for an animal to get hurt. It seems it is a short contest, the animals lock horns and then push, like the reverse of a tug of war, and one has soon pushed the other onto the ropes or one has conceded defeat in the time honoured gesture of turning tail and running away. Saori told me that last year she had worked in the stadium for two weeks before quitting, after an argument with her boss about having some partitions provided in the museum. She did realise one achievement in her short time there, namely in having a water cooler installed to provide drinking water which was otherwise unavailable except by a long trek to the toilets.
We then drove through the township of Isen where we sighted a famous old lady. She walks the roads and streets of the island near continuously, often walking many miles in a day, carrying a ghoulish white doll which apparently she believes to be a real child. Saori told me that she often goes to he welfare office to claim benefits for the doll, though whether she gets paid them or not Saori did not say, one would assume not. I caught a glimpse of the doll as we drove past and its large white face with pitch black eyes that may have been nothing more than empty sockets was indeed a sight to make one think of a late night horror movie. I could not help but feel that the woman's story was very sad, I would liked to have known more of her background.
Next was the local museum. The manageress of the museum had rung Saori that morning seeking her advice on what the English translation of museum's name should be. Saori said it translated into History and Folklore Museum, but invited me to give my opinion after seeing the museum. It was small but very interesting. Perhaps the most striking display was of a well preserved two thousand year old skeleton of a woman carefully buried when she was about thirty years of age. At that period the island history the manageress said the people living there would have been beyond the reach of the flourishing Japanese and Chinese cultures, and would have been following a simple hunter gatherer lifestyle.
There were many other interesting artefacts, ranging from a dugout canoe to a hand cranked fan used for winnowing wheat. I was surprised to learn that this antique device was still in active use as late as the 1960s. Various cooking utensils were also on display, including thousand year old pottery whose style reminded me of small scale Roman amphorae (I wondered whether it was a case of function determining form), and more recent well crafted kettles cast into classic decorated domestic forms from the recycled metal of crashed World War Two aircraft. The local flora and fauna were also represented as in any typical natural history museum. After some consideration I suggested to Saori that the museum should be named a cultural and natural history museum, as I really did not see any folklore represented anywhere in the various displays.
From there Saori drove me back to Sylph as she had to pick up her son from school. But the day is not yet over, shortly Murray and his wife Yoko will be meeting me at the boat, then we will be going somewhere for a quiet social drink, and Soari might join us also.
All is well.