Thursday, March 18, 2010

Part 1-6 Homewards, to Japan

The Ryuusui-Maru, now more than ever, was folded into the bosom of nature, floating dauntlessly upon the waves of the great wide ocean. We filled the sails with a fresh wind and pointed the prow on a route that would run along the uninhabited islands of Hawaii.
It is shortest going in a straight line toward Japan, but along the way the ocean becomes deep and the fish are scarce. So we chose a circular route that would take us from island to island.
Fish and seabirds were confirmed in large numbers around these islands, so we would try our prospects there. And another thing, long ago sperm whale were known to frequent the area near these islands. Whaling ships in pursuit of those whales sometimes made reports of discovering small uninhabited islands as well. Still, in recent times the sperm whale had not been showing themselves in this area. This could be because the squid and octopus, the whales' food, had also disappeared.
Otherwise, when the oceans currents change, sometimes the whale leave. It's also possible that the currents had shifted. I'd like to do more research on this topic.
When you find a whale, no matter how fearless it is, it can be taken down. This is part of the excitement.
Beyond these things we also had to think about our supply of drinking water. Although we had our large and small tanks, you cannot just stop at any island and find water whenever your supply runs out. So we would stop at Midway Island to dig up spring water. This was another reason for our going the long way around from island to island.
We were following islands, though going on a sailboat from one island to the next depends on the condition of the wind, and can take up to three or four days.
Anyway, at every island we went to, there were many fish. And seabirds--albatross--flocked in huge numbers. The shark fishing was also good.
Nevertheless, no matter how many fish there were, we could not bide our time at any one island. We were rushing to get home not a day later than possible. We shortened our explorations accordingly and continued on home.
The first island we came to was Niihau Island. It is an utterly barren island made of boulders and has no inhabitants. However, long long ago, people did live there. There was an area resembling a ceremony ground surrounded by a wide stone wall, and many stone statues were left behind. There were also things left by people who had come later by boat. It was like a museum. Also, there were many seabirds and fish.
The next island we saw was rugged and uneven, made of lava which had flowed from from a volcano at the sea floor. The island jutted sharply down into the water, and would battle the ocean until the end.
An army of blue waves assaulted it from the sea. They formed ranks and hurled themselves against the fortress of boulders, coming endlessly, again and again. Each crash shook the island, burst into white and as it fell to pieces, sunk it's jaws into the boulders below. Above, the spray that was sent forth engulfed the precipice, and in the sweltering sun of the tropics it formed a seven colored rainbow over the edge of the cliffs. This battle would continue forever.
From time to time, people of the ocean witness things like this with their own eyes. And each time, as if they are learning it for the first time, the reality of nature's sheer power is driven home. Then, if they understand how weak they are in the face of nature, by that fact alone their spirits are strengthened.

Here and there a few grottoes were visible in the wind swept rock face. Several sea birds were screeching and flying around each other chaotically. I did not see many resting their wings on the boulders. This island was called Necker, and it was a desert island.
It was around ten AM, and we began fishing. We had a great catch of shark, pulling in large ones in rapid fire succession.
A three meter shark was skillfully pulled on board by one of my men. The mere sight of it was exhilarating, however even the slightest mistake could not be afforded. We took extra precautions to guard our hands while removing the hook from it's gigantic mouth. We took extra care of our footsteps to not be thrown overboard. A hand or foot would be bitten clean off if it could sink in it's sharp teeth. Because of it's size and fury, it felt more like big game hunting that any kind of fishing.
The one who assiduously cut the fins from the shark as it was tied to the base of the mast, was a fisherman from Hokkaido's Kunashiri Island, whom we called Kunashiri. He was a young man with broad shoulders, thick arms and legs and a round face. Opposite him in the disposal of the fins was a naturalized Japanese Ogasawaran. The blue-eyed, bearded warrior was fifty-five years old, an old hand at catching whale and the oldest crew member. He was loved like a father by the younger men, who called him "Oyajisan," meaning father, or "Old Man Ogasawara." He was a true man of the sea.

Kunashiri, while looking at the island, said, "hey, Oyajisan, that island is really fantastic, isn't it?"
The Ogasawaran was holding a fin and gazing at the island. "You're right, it's no ordinary island. There's a story 'round it."
Two cadets, Asano and Akita, overheard these words. They were now on their way back from morning classes in the captains quarters to their private lodgings in the bow, stepping over and around the sharks laid out on the deck, their notebooks and textbooks under their arms.
"Oyajisan, it looks so strange and gnarled. Is there something going on there?"
"There is, but it's better if you youngsters don't know about it."
Asano cut in, "you've got to teach us. We can learn from anything here, isn't that what the captain is always saying, Oyajisan?"
"Well, it's probably better if I just told you." The Ogasawaran stood up and pointed at the island.
"You see, the mountain is eighty-four meters tall. It's deserted, but there are signs that long, long ago people lived there. From more recent times, there is a row of over thirty gravestones.
"Over thirty tombstones?"
"Thats right. It's said that long ago, a foreign ship was wrecked at sea and drifted here. For seven years they lived in those grottoes until they finally starved to death."
Asano, Akita and Kunishiri all looked up at the summit in awe.
The bulges in the rock cast ominous shadows in the sunlight of the east seas. Flocking like a sudden gust of wind, the birds flew away from the shadows.
The surf washed over and over, sinking it's white fangs into the shores of the island.
Thinking of the more than thirty people who were now tombstones standing in a row on this lonely desert island, with our hometowns several thousand nautical miles away, Akita spoke in a tearful voice. "After living there for seven years, they just starved to death... couldn't they catch fish anymore?"
Then, suddenly someone struck the shoulders of the two cadets. They both jumped, turned, and found the fishing captain standing there.
The captain withdrew his hand from his pocket clutching several biscuits, and threw them into the sea.
The flock of sea birds who were flying around the boat twisted at once and suddenly dove. They snatched up every last biscuit and ate them while whirling back into air.
"Why did you feed them to the birds?" said Asano, and the captain turned his face to the island.
"It goes to the graves on the island."
"But, the birds stole it all."
We all solemnly watched the island.
Then the Ogasawaran shouted, "no matter who you are, the grave is the end! We all know this! But for them to have fought for seven years is a great thing. Truly, truly great. What do you say, young men, will you fight?"
The three cadets replied almost at once, "We'll fight! Even ten years--"
"These young men are wonderful, with them on board I can feel at ease! Ah ha ha ha!"
The Old Man of Ogasawara chased away the gloom with his laughter.
While we spoke like this the boat sailed along, and the melancholy stone mountain and the thunder of the crashing waves gradually shrank into the horizon far behind us. However, the story of the over thirty gravestones would not disappear so quickly from the hearts of the ships three young cadets.
Though they would never doubt that such a thing could happen to us as well...

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