In this seventh installment of the multipart series on my favourite Japanese moorage ports, I introduce ports in the western end of Honshu’s Sea of Japan coast.
Every region of Japan has its own special attractions and unique features, but my personal favourite is the Sea of Japan coast. Often referred to as “the backside of Japan,” it is an area that “progress” has largely passed by and so there are still many reminders of Japan’s rich cultural and historical heritage. For the cruiser, there are many small fishing ports with room for visitors, the seas are usually calm (except in the winter!), there is relatively little shipping traffic, the sake is delicious, and, as everywhere, the people are friendly.
Going from south to north, I introduce four ports. I also briefly mention one other moorage spot that I have not visited but that has been recommended by cruising friends.
Munakata Oshima, Fukuoka
About 22NMs north of Fukuoka City is the island of Munakata Oshima (simply referred to as “Oshima” by locals), a popular stop for cruisers heading to/from Honshu’s western coast and to/from Kanmon Strait and the Seto Inland Sea.
Although there is an Umi no Eki (Sea Station) with a floating dock in the port’s southern basin, it is overpriced (￥4,000/night [$38] for boats over 30’; toilet and shower available; no water/power on dock) and far from town. Most cruisers prefer to side tie to the concrete wall just to the east of the ferry terminal. (33°53'48.0"N 130°26'09.5"E)
There are toilets, an Information Center, and a rental-car agency at the ferry terminal and several restaurants and shops within a 10-minute walk.
Most cruisers stay at Munakata Oshima for just one night on their way to some other destination, but the island is worth spending an extra day or two. Munakata Shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there are several excellent hiking routes (maps available at the Information Centre).
Tsunoshima is an island off the western end of the main island of Honshu. It is most famous for the bridge that connects it to the mainland, going in a straight line over turquoise waters and then rising and curving in the distance. (Note, though, that the bridge height is only 18 meters and there is a shallow area at its western approach, so cruisers are advised to resist the temptation to save a few miles by going under the bridge.)
Moorage can be found at the western end of the fishing port, side tie on the concrete wall. After rounding the end of the breakwater to enter the port, deep-keel boats should beware of an area that is only two meters deep (at lowest low tide); this chart shows how to maneuver around it if necessary. Also, one should be careful to avoid the many fish pens on the inside of the breakwater, on one’s port side heading to the western wall. (34°20'44.5"N 130°51'04.9"E)
Tsunoshima is a lovely spot to linger for a few days. It’s a great place for hiking, with the lighthouse (one of Japan’s oldest Western-style lighthouses) and several beautiful white sand beaches being among the highlights. Although the island has less than a thousand year-round residents, it’s a popular tourist destination and so it has quite a few good restaurants and cafes (many closed in the off season).
For those interested in Japanese history and culture, Hagi is a “must visit” place. It ranks in my Top Three moorage spots.
For about 260 years from 1604, Hagi was a castle town, the capital of the very prosperous and powerful Mori Clan. Hagi Castle, like most castles, was destroyed in the late 19th century, but one can still wander around the ruins and easily imagine its earlier magnificence. Nearby is an area of well-preserved, sprawling samurai homes, hidden behind high walls; many are still inhabited by samurai descendants, with some turned into informative museums and relaxing cafes.
In the mid-19th century, as the rumblings of discontent with the ruling Shogunate increased and as Western powers knocked on Japan’s doors, a young, lower-level samurai by the name of Yoshida Shoin established a school to teach military tactics and “correct morals” to the children of samurai and wealthy businessmen. Although Yoshida only taught 92 students for less than two years before he was executed for treason against the Shogunate, his students went on to become leaders of the Meiji Restoration.
Among them were two prime ministers, four cabinet members, four prefectural or lieutenant governors, and 12 people who were diplomats, justices, high-ranking military officer, and technical experts who were given imperial or court rank. Today, one can visit the simple one-room schoolhouse, which stands in the grounds of Shoin Shrine, dedicated to Yoshida’s memory.
Befitting its past as a wealthy castle town, Hagi has many other impressive and interesting temples, shrines, museums, and historic buildings. One can spend several enjoyable days exploring them all (they are rather spread out, so a bicycle is recommended).
Hagi is also famous for its distinctive pottery, recognized by its earthy texture.
Hagi has three different ports, each of which may have space for visitors. As with all fishing ports, though, one has to poke one’s bow in and see what is available.
The westernmost port (blue dot) is the most convenient for Hagi sightseeing (and also for shopping, restaurants). It is, however, often occupied with barges and other work boats. One can moor wherever there is an empty spot along the wall (although not near the ferry dock to the lower right). Space in the upper right corner is most likely to be available. (34°25'25.7"N 131°23'54.6"E)
Most cruisers end up mooring in the middle port, often along the wall marked by the red dot (but not at the southern end of that wall, which is used by a Yanmar engine repair shop). (34°25'42.8"N 131°24'57.3"E)
I know of quite large boats that have found space on the wall marked by the red star. (34°25'49.4"N 131°24'45.5"E)
Hagi Marina, in the easternmost port, offers visitor moorage on floating docks. However, it’s not cheap (￥5,115/night [$50] for a 40’ boat ) and it’s far away from Hagi’s sights. (34°26'24.7"N 131°25'15.4"E)
Going east from Hagi, the next popular stop for cruisers is Esaki. One can find moorage space on the long wall north of the bridge. It is generally well protected, but if north winds are sending a swell into the bay the northern end of that wall is preferred. (34°38'40.3"N 131°38'54.9"E)
The small town is about a 10-minute walk away. It’s a sleepy place with a lot of closed shops, but I did stumble across a good bakery and a nice coffee shop.
One Other Moorage Spot
Although I have not visited it, cruisers whose judgment I trust have recommended Yuya Bay. Just to the east of Tsunoshima, Yuya Bay is a large inlet that offers good protection from all winds except westerlies. Several friends have anchored there in about 10 meters, in the southeast and northeast corners. (34°22'51.8"N 130°58'31.6"E, marking the centre of the Bay)