In this fifth installment of the multipart series introducing my favourite Japanese moorage ports, I feature three ports in western Shikoku.
Although every island and region of Japan is special in its own way (one of the reasons why the country is such a wonderful cruising destination—so much variety!), Shikoku is my favourite. Perhaps because it was only connected to the main island of Honshu relatively recently, when several bridges were built, Shikoku has a distinctive feel. Each of the island’s main cities (all quite small) is interesting, with appealing quirks and fascinating histories, and very livable. The countryside is beautiful – stunning coastline, rugged mountains, extensive citrus orchards – and the people are friendly and sincere.
The west coast of Shikoku is lovely, with many islands, deep bays, and long peninsulas, all of which present numerous moorage opportunities. Few people cruise the area because they are usually in a hurry to get to / from the Seto Inland Sea, and when doing so they tend to favour the less attractive (but better known) east coast of Kyushu. Western Shikoku deserves to be considered a cruising destination in its own right.
One does need to be careful, though, when cruising western Shikoku. The jagged coastline and many narrow passes mean that one often encounters strong contrary, swirling currents in unexpected places and from unexpected directions. And the erratic current action also means that the area has an unusually large amount of floating (and semi-floating) logs and other flotsam....and I have a broken propeller blade to prove it!
One could easily spend several weeks exploring western Shikoku, but here I will introduce just three ports, going from south to north.
Located at the southwest tip of Shikoku, Tosa-Shimizu is a popular place for cruisers to stop on their way to / from the Seto Inland Sea, Kyushu, and the Honshu Pacific coast.
For those arriving for the first time, the narrow approach seems a bit intimidating. Just give the extensive reef on one’s port side a wide berth.
Moorage can be found at the very head of the bay, along the wall that runs east-west. The center one-third of that wall is generally open and can easily accommodate three-four cruisers – the eastern and western sections are typically occupied by fishing boats, and the eastern area is rather shallow. There is one ladder bolted to the wall, so side-tying to that makes getting on / off the boat easier. (32°46.7380’N, 132°57.4769’E)
The bay is very well protected, in normal conditions. But I would not call it a “typhoon hole.” Typhoons passing to the west of Shikoku generate strong winds and high waves that funnel right into the harbor.
Immediately in front of where one ties up is a gas station, which will cheerfully and promptly send a little tanker truck to your boat. Within a fifteen-minute walk there are a couple of supermarkets, a large drugstore, a classic sento (public bath), and several restaurants.
As I mentioned above, Shikoku cities are quirky! And perhaps the quirkiest of all, in a very positive sense, is Uwajima.
Uwajima is most famous for bullfighting! But they don’t have matadors. Rather, two bulls fight each other, with the loser being the one that takes a knee or runs away.
For those who say “love not war,” Uwajima has a fertility shrine featuring a three-meter-long wooden phallus. And next door is a sex museum with an extensive collection of pornographic materials from throughout Japan and around the world (for those cruising with kids, note that the museum is closed to those under 20).
Uwajima also has its fair share of “normal” sights, including impressive Uwajima Castle. It is one of just 12 castles in Japan (four of which are in Shikoku) that have their original structures (most were ordered to be destroyed in the late 19th century to reduce the risk of disenfranchised lords revolting against the new pro-modernization government). From its tower, one has a panoramic view of the city and the ocean, and nearby Tenshaen is a lovely traditional garden.
For over 250 years, Uwajima was under the control of the Date Clan, from Sendai in northern Japan, which might also fall in the quirky category – it was very unusual for a domain to be controlled by such a remote lord. The town prospered under Date rule, which made it a centre of industry, education, and culture. A small but interesting Date Museum highlights this aspect of Uwajima history.
Moorage in Uwajima can be found in the far southeast corner of the port, at a very convenient visitor dock, with room for just two boats up to about 45’ (assuming that local boats aren’t “squatting” there – a common problem with unsupervised visitor docks in Japan). Moorage is free and reservations are not possible. (33°13.3134’N, 132°33.4530’E)
If the dock is full, one can normally find room against the wall in a new basin about 1.5NMs to the north.
The dock is walking / bicycling distance to town (with some quirky coffee houses!) and the various tourist sights. Right in front of the dock is a Michi no Eki (Road Station), with stalls selling a variety of local products and souvenirs and a small food court, as well as public toilets. And next door is an excellent conveyor-belt sushi restaurant. There is a convenience store (with ATM) just across the street from the Michi no Eki and a supermarket about a 10-minute walk away.
Mikame is a quiet little fishing port that time and transportation networks have passed by. Like virtually all Japanese towns, it is suffering from population decline and a shrinking economy, but it continues to maintain its dignity and pride. Its people are very hospitable – I had two 10-day stays there (the first when I sat out a typhoon and the second when dealing with a damaged propeller – see above), and by the time I left after my second visit I felt like an Honorary Mikame Citizen.
Mikame has an Umi no Eki (Sea Station). The “main” dock is at the very head of the bay…it's a small, rough dock with a “squatting” fishing boat on one side, and it is exposed to winds funneling in from the sea. The “backup” dock (which should be the main dock) is much better – just a bit further to the south, it is comprised of two very solid pontoons, each about 70’ long. Moorage is just ¥1 / ton / day, so I paid ¥100 ($1) for 10 days for my 10 ton boat! Reservations recommended by calling 0894-33-1114 (Japanese only) or emailing email@example.com (use simple English). (“Backup” dock at 33°22.7680’N, 132°25.1761’E)
Mikame is an excellent typhoon hole, as long as one uses the “backup” dock. Specifically, try to get on the south side on the end closest to shore. I sat out a very powerful typhoon there – it was blowing 80 knots out in Bungo Strait but I only had 20 knots at the dock, with no significant surge. However, many local boats also move to that dock in advance of a typhoon, so get there early!
Also, note that it’s quite shallow just off the north side of the dock. There is ample depth at the dock itself, but when arriving don’t swing wide to try to moor bow out!
Within about a 10-minute walk of the dock there is a supermarket and a Michi no Eki (Road Station) that sells local products, notably various types of citrus fruit and juice found only in Ehime Prefecture (Japan’s citrus capital!). There are a few local restaurants in the back streets.
There is a public restroom at the Michi no Eki. There are no public bath/shower facilities, but the hotel in front of the “main” dock sometimes allows visitors to use the bath at the top of the hotel, with a great view of the port.