If You're Ever in Aburatsubo

A pair of gracious hosts show Alvah and Diana Simon the royal treatment when the Roger Henry arrives in Aburatsubo, Japan. From "The Roger Henry File" for July 23, 2008

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In Aburatsubo, Japan, Junji Inoue instructed Diana Simon in the art of hand-making soba noodles.Alvah Simon

Upon meeting someone pleasant I might say, "If you're ever in Chicago look up my sister Sue." A Japanese person would never throw such an invitation out lightly, for from that moment on Sister Sue would be your official host and wholly responsible for your entire experience in Chicago. She might even be obliged to call in old favors and arrange similar such contacts in the next city on your itinerary.

In Guam we met a charming Chamorro sailor named Ben Santo. Over the years at the Marianas Yacht Club Ben met many Japanese sailors, crewed on boats back to Japan, and even lived for a while in Aburatsubo, just south of Yokohama, enjoying the vibrant sailing community there.

It was only after a month together that Ben mentioned he could arrange an introduction with his close sailing friends Junji and Sanai Inoue. I was not then aware of what a favor this was.

We arrived at the mouth of Aburatsubo at first light, which because Japan does not use daylight savings time, was at 4 a.m. Massive fishing nets blocked one side of the narrow entrance and menacing shoals the other. We cautiously crept into the long narrow bay, found the hidden secondary bay that Ben had described, and tied up to the docks of Misaki Marine as instructed.

At 0700, Junji and Sanai rushed down to the boat, distressed that we had arrived at an empty dock. In hand they carried flowers, fresh fruit, marinated meats, and a cornucopia of home-grown food gifts for the marina staff to ensure we would get the royal treatment at the dock and on the hard, for I hoped to haul the boat, re-pitch the prop, and paint the bottom.

Junji and Sanai are free spirits and back-to-nature types, a rarity in Japan. They whisked us away to their rustic hand-built home in the woods of Chiba Province. It's a zoo because Junji can't help but bring home every abused dog or stray cat he meets.

Through a series of yachts, Junji and Sanai have cruised under sail extensively, especially enjoying the outer reaches of Micronesia. But that sailing career has not been without misfortune. Junji lost his first boat on the outer reefs of Guam. Completely undeterred, he went home and built another. When nearly complete, some children playing with matches burned that boat down. Not to worry, this time Junji contracted with a yard in China to build his dreamboat. Upon its completion the yard asked for final payment, which Junji sent along in good faith. They then sold the boat to another customer, declared bankruptcy, and left Junji boat-less and in a deep financial hole.

Junji is a devout Buddhist. His beliefs are such that he can actually smile when he tells the story, and harbors no apparent bitterness toward those thieves. I need to study at his feet for I could never find such acceptance or forgiveness.

He took Diana into his workshop/soba studio and instructed her in the art of hand-making soba noodles. This dish is so ancient and integral to Japanese culture that it is not simply "cooking" as we know it, but a laboriously process bordering on ceremonial.

It was with obvious pride that Diana served her first authentic Japanese meal to us. She required further instruction in the art of slurping, for far from rude, the Japanese relish a loud and sensuous slurp much as an Arab might enjoy a reverberating belch. Diana's early table-manner training was so formally English that she found it physically impossible to suck those noodles from bowl to mouth with one hearty intake. Her attempts endlessly amused us all.

Junji took us to his ancient temple where I was able to stroke an enormous bronze bell (objects I have been inexplicably drawn to throughout Japan), beat on an antique giant drum in the inner sanctum of the temple, and sip tea with a monk who was so humble and serene that I told Junji he made me feel like a crass waste of space on Earth. Junji reassured me by confiding that, alas, this monk was still a slave to the flesh and indulged nightly in copious amounts of saki. Much to Junji's alarm I got a close up look at a beautiful poisonous snake. I also saw a stunningly muscular monkey in the nearby woods. It was perhaps my best day in Japan.

Back at Misaki Marine I began work on the Roger Henry. The phrase "couldn't have been more helpful" goes beyond rhetorical when the vice-commodore of the prestigious Aburatsubo Yacht Club follows you around your boat holding your paint tray. When Takumi Futamatsu, who can trace his lineage back through 74 generations, wasn't helping me directly on the boat, he was organizing Diana's solo trip to Kyoto, Japan's most elegant old city.

Junji sent a note instructing us to make our next port-of-call Ishinomaki. There, we are to raft up next to Cruising World contributor Tom Lynskey's old Bristol Channel Cutter, where we will be met by it's present owner, Koichi Ohmura, who will take care of absolutely everything.

The overwhelming hospitality, generosity and graciousness of the Japanese leaves me humbled and uncharacteristically speechless, except to say, "If you're ever in Chicago..."

Alvah Simon

For more photos of Aburatsubo click here

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