Takaya, Sado Island, Awashima, Toga, and an Earthquake!

Takaya, Sado Island, Awashima, Toga, and an Earthquake!

After a week in Tokyo, I returned to Starr via train–four trains, to be exact. As I got further from Tokyo and transferred to progressively slower, smaller trains, the other foreigners disappeared. By the time I got to Mikuni, only the conductor and I were aboard. The transition from bustling city to nearly-silent fishing village couldn’t have been starker.

The next morning we departed Mikuni at first light, not entirely sure where we were going. The weather was beautiful–clear, calm, crisp, clean. It felt good to be underway again. The shoreline is becoming more rugged and less developed as we head north.

By early afternoon we passed our first potential stop. We decided to press on. We don’t need to leave Japan for another three and a half weeks, when our visas expire, but we are beginning to feel the itch to get to Hakodate to prepare for the passage to the Aleutians. We want to have plenty of time to wait for a good weather window.

Just before sunset we reached Takaya, a small fishing port. We tied up to a wall, accepted a gift of a bottle of sake from a local, and went to bed, tired from a 100+nm day underway. Sorry, we forgot to take any photos.

The next morning we departed again at first light, bound for Sado Island. The weather was calm and clear once more. A few hours into the trip, I was in the engine room checking something while Don was in the pilothouse. Without warning I heard a loud rumbling sound and watched the engine bounce on its mounts. Moments later, the revs dropped. I assumed we’d fouled the propeller and rushed to the pilothouse. Don thought we’d hit a reef. A few seconds later, all of our phones began buzzing–kind of like an amber alert–to give us an “earthquake early warning.” Turns out we hadn’t hit anything, but we were within just a few miles of the epicenter of a 5.0 earthquake.

The Japanese earthquake early warning system is a marvel of modern engineering. The system utilizes a network of seismometers and other sensors throughout Japan to detect the initial seismic waves generated by an earthquake. These sensors continuously monitor ground motion and transmit data to central processing centers. The data is analyzed in real-time, and if a significant earthquake is detected, the system rapidly calculates the earthquake’s location, magnitude, and expected intensity. Once the analysis is complete, the JMA issues earthquake early warnings (EEWs) through various channels, including television, radio, mobile phones, and internet services. These warnings provide vital information such as the estimated arrival time of shaking waves, the expected intensity at different locations, and recommended actions for individuals to protect themselves.

The early warning system allows for seconds to minutes of advance notice before the arrival of strong shaking in densely populated areas. This time can be used to take actions such as taking cover, stopping trains, shutting down industrial processes, and activating emergency response protocols. It was fun to see it in action, even if it only warned us after the shaking!

We’d heard good things about Sado Island and were looking forward to visiting. In the Nara period (710-794), Sado was one of the independent provinces of Japan. It was also designated as a place of exile, and many court nobles and intellectuals were sent to the island for political reasons. Later, during the Edo period (1603-1868), gold was discovered, which became a major source of wealth for the island. Today, tourism and fishing are the biggest industries.

SV Life, a Japanese sailboat with a solo sailor aboard, was already tied up when we arrived.

Minoru, the owner of Life, has been sailing Japan for many years. He spoke no English, but brought his charts onto the pier and pointed to several good stops between here and Hakodate. Thank you!

We spent the afternoon walking around Sado Island. A seaside trail began near our moorage and led around a headland to a fishing harbor. Beautiful!

The town itself was very quiet. We thought there would be restaurants and cafes, but didn’t find much open. It felt like it might get busier during summer, when tourists arrive. Sharry found a salon to get a haircut and let it slip that it was her birthday.

After the haircut, the stylist instructed her to wait a moment while she ran across the street. She returned a moment later with a birthday gift—a traditional kimekomi doll in a glass case. Sharry was thrilled.

Kimekomi dolls are made by stitching fabric onto a wooden or papier-mâché base. The fabric is then painted and decorated with other materials, such as beads, sequins, and embroidery. Kimekomi dolls are often used as decorations or gifts. The word “kimekomi” comes from the Japanese words “kimeru” (to decide) and “komi” (to insert). This refers to the process of stitching the fabric onto the base, which is time-consuming and requires great precision. Kimekomi dolls are typically made by skilled artisans. It was a very generous gift!

Sunset at Sado Island

Rob and Kathleen on SV Capaz arrived just after sunset. We hadn’t seen them for a few days and it was fun to catch up.

Rob and Kathleen are both doctors. Don mentioned that his knee has been bothering him and Rob offered a steroid injection right in Starr’s salon/infirmary. The injection isn’t a cure, but it seems to have provided some relief until we get to Seattle and Don can get a new knee.

We’d originally planned on staying at Sado for a few days, but we were enjoying buddy boating with Capaz (not just for the house calls!) and they needed to keep moving in order to meet their kids in Hokkaido in a week. After a brief discussion, we agreed to move 60nm further north to Awashima the next day.

Awashima was even smaller and sleepier than Sado. We found no open restaurants, just a small grocery store, a tiny liquor store, and a nice hike to a lighthouse near the top of the island.

The streets of Awashima

Awashima has a population of just a few hundred and the store had very little produce for sale. After walking around a bit, it seems that many people simply grow their own fruits and vegetables right next to their homes:

The hike was just a few miles long, half of which was on stairs like this:

The view from near the top:

Rob and Kathleen came over to Starr for dinner to celebrate Sharry’s birthday and watch videos about the Aleutian Islands, where we are all heading next.

The next day we continued north about 100nm to the tiny village of Toga. The mountains on Honshu are getting bigger and bigger. Some of them have snow. As we motored past Capaz, 7,336 foot Mount Chokai peeked out of the clouds:

Toga is the sleepiest port we’ve been in in quite some time. As we tied up, several locals came by the boat to warn us that there are no stores or restaurants in this town. The lack of commerce was okay with us: it’s strategically located, within a one-day run of Hakodate, and it’s also naturally beautiful. It’s been a long time since we walked alone along an undeveloped beach:

Toga to Hakodate is about 120nm—a long day. We got started just before sunrise. After not seeing much wildlife so far in Japan, we got a few visits from porpoise today:

We’ve clearly left industrial Japan in our wake. Most of the shoreline along our route is hilly and undeveloped:

An hour or two before sunset, we slipped into Hakodate and found a spot just barely large enough for Starr, right across the street from the historic red brick warehouses. We’ll be here for a little while getting Starr and ourselves ready for our return to North America via the Aleutians.

  • Doug Cole
    Posted at 04:17h, 29 May Reply

    I’m a few days late from Don’s previous but as a former Starr crew I wanted to comment how touched I was at his report on Sharry. The love story continues! ❤️ We’re in Melbourne and also had a 3.2 quake this morning.

  • Andy Howard
    Posted at 04:56h, 29 May Reply

    Great blog Sam, really beautiful pictures also. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kimberley
    Posted at 09:55h, 29 May Reply

    Wow! You can feel the earthquake on the water! That is so interesting!

  • rob hurlow
    Posted at 11:13h, 29 May Reply

    We miss the Starr crew so much. We are following your progress closely on PW , Best of luck for a good landing in to Attu. We will be along soon!

    Rob and Kathleen

  • Jared Cook
    Posted at 15:43h, 29 May Reply

    Interesting that you got to experience an earthquake while on the water. It must have been frightening to be in the engine room with all the shock/sound waves being transmitted directly through the hull. In my 4 years living in Japan, I experienced many earthquakes. I recall my landlady telling me, “Don’t worry about the ones that go side to side. It’s the ones that go up and
    down that you have to watch out for!”

  • Janice Churma
    Posted at 11:39h, 30 May Reply

    What an adventure you are all having. Thanks for taking me along with you from afar. The pictures and the way you write makes me feel like I’m there with you.

  • Mike Gaylord
    Posted at 14:57h, 30 May Reply

    This brings back wonderful memories of a previous birthday passage between Tahiti and the Marquesas’s on a much younger Starr and with a much younger crew. Thank you Don and Sharry for creating this great community!
    So glad you are still out there! Happy Birthday Sharry!
    All our love,
    M&C Gaylord

  • Kat Petron
    Posted at 20:10h, 30 May Reply

    Happy Birthday Sharry!
    A memorable celebration! To have received such a beautiful doll from a stranger is so very special.
    All the pictures are awesome. Great blog. Thanks for sharing.
    Brings back great memories of our time on Starr in Japan.
    Jim and Kat

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