Saturday, March 6, 2010

Part 1-1 Captain Nakagawa's Story

This was forty-six years ago, when I was aboard the Koto-no-Omaru for a field practical at Tokyo Nautical College. Our professor at the time, Kurakichi Nakagawa Sensei, related his experiences to us. He moved me in the pit of my stomach, it's a story that I'll never forget my whole life.
Forty-six years ago would be 1903, and it was May. We were on the Koto-no-Omaru anchored in Tateyama Bay of Chiba Prefecture.
The boat was large at 800 tons, with three fat masts rising up to the sky, each fit with five long sailing yards.
Those yards were lined up so perfectly that looking up above your head they looked like one, stretching out just past the gunwale.
I can still remember the figure Professor Nakagawa struck then. We were at the base of the third mast in the back half of the ship. He sat in a folding chair, and we, in our white work clothes, sat cross legged on the deck in front of him. We listened with all our hearts as he went on in his excited Tohoku accent.
Professor Nakagawa wasn't a tall man, but he was sturdy, and had a tanned face. Below his nose was a pitch black mustache that looked just like the sailing yards, jutting out to the left and right. His eyes glinted. Sometimes he would flash his pure white teeth.
While he had a stern demeanor, the warmth of his heart always flowed out. Despite this being a terribly rude comparison, he always reminded me of a square-faced, majestic fur-seal, lazing on top of a boulder.
Come to think of it, the three of us breathlessly listening sitting on the deck cross-legged in our brown stained white work clothes, must have looked just like little seals as well.
In his younger days Professor Nakagawa took a whaling ship to America, chased whales, and after coming back to Japan became the captain of a sea otter hunting ship. He caught otter and seal in the northern seas and after that he became the captain of a ship called the Ryuusui-Maru in the Hokkaido Reclamation.
The Hokkaido Reclamation was and expedition led by Captain Shigetada Gunji to the the tip of the Kuril Islands, the northernmost part of Japan. This tip was Shyu-Mu-Shyu Island where the the expedition members lived. The Ryuusui-Maru ran between the mainland and Shyu-Mu-Shyu Island, carrying information, food, supplies and anything gained in the reclamation of the Kurils.
The Ryuusui-Maru was eventually shipwrecked in the south seas. After that Captain Nakagawa became the first class helmsman on the practice ship Koto-no-Omaru, and was now sending us young sailors though intensive training.
I was always asking Professor Nakagawa to tell me the story of the trouble they ran into in the middle of the Pacific, and about being washed ashore a deserted island. After asking so many times, it was now that he finally told us the tale.
The sun was already sinking into the sea, Tateyama Bay was being wrapped in the evening mist. The other students had gone back to dry land for the weekend, and on-board you could only hear one sound.

In the story that follows below, the "I" is Professor Nakamura.

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