Rather quietly, the Kaiwo Maru slipped into Honolulu Harbor just returning from a 150 year Anniversary celebration in San Francisco. The Kaiwo Maru is a modern day replica of the Kanrin Maru sailing vessel that made the first historic all-Japanese trans-Pacific voyage from Toyko to San Francisco back in 1860. It was at a time when Japan was opening up to foreign trade and influence. Interestingly, there is a NHK Taiga drama series currently running on KIKU-TV about this period called Ryomaden. In the series, Ryoma Sakamoto and Katsu Kaishu play pivotal roles in the creation of the Japanese Navy. Katsu Kaishu was in fact the Captain of the Kanrin Maru back in 1860 that brought the Japanese delegation to San Francisco. The 150 year celebration marks a long relationship between Japan and the U.S. although tumultuous at times (WWII and Pearl Harbor) has resulted in economic partnerships and a strong Japanese-American community. It is interesting to note that Hawaii played a role in the original 1860 voyage of the Kanrin Maru as Honolulu was the stopover point going to and returning from San Francisco. I can only imagine what the meeting was like between Katsu Kaishu and King Kamehameha IV. Visiting the Kaiwo Maru was quite a treat. Having been to several U.S. Navy vessels, it was a pleasure to experience (albeit short) a training vessel which is part of the Japan's National Institute for Sea Training. Although traditional in appearance, the Kaiwo Maru is quite technologically equipped. The ship runs on diesel engines while close to port but utilizes it's 4-masted sails when on the open ocean. Typical speed on the open ocean is 11 knots. The ship was fully equipped with radar, sonar, navigation, onboard electric power and satellite communications. On this voyage the crew consisted of 92 cadets in training (84 men and 8 women) and ship crew of 64, totaling 156. The 92 cadets are part of a multi-year training program that prepares them for a career serving commercial ships, like freighters, tankers and barges in the Japanese Merchant Marines. The above photo shows the route the Kaiwo Maru is on, from Tokyo to San Francisco and then to Honolulu. The ship leave dock tomorrow, May 23rd on its way back to Tokyo. Capt. Makoto Inui told me that training on the Kaiwo Maru helped to instill the heart and soul of Japanese maritime into the students. The Kaiwo Maru along with the Nippon Maru represent the traditional sailing vessels of the 1860's. Students rotate through the other more modern ships in the NIST fleet including the Taisei Maru, Ginga Maru and Seium Maru. Some of the uniquely Japanese things I noticed on the ship was this huge rice cooker. Right next to this cooker was another one similar in size for miso soup, which probably accompanies every meal. The fry cooker was also more hibachi style than the flat grilling surfaces I've seen in the Navy ships. I was also a little surprised to see this vending machine. I asked the First Officer who refills this when it runs out and he told me it was him. Another thing you won't see on any US vessel are these huge fudo or tubs for bathing. They are reminiscent of the public bath houses in Japan where the fudo is not a solitary place but one of community. The showers were the sit down type and if you notice the mirrors are about 3 feet off the ground. You can see more photos in my Flickr set for the Kaiwo Maru. One scene which I will unfortunately miss is on departure. All the crew members will climb the mast, the tallest being 175 feet. They stand on the ropes, suspended from the mast frames and in unison bid farewell to everyone at the port. First Office Iwasaki told me that it is not for those with a fear of heights. From what I saw on the cadet video, commemorating their voyage, they do this feat quite fearlessly, and barefoot to. I wish the crew of the Kaiwo Maru all the best on a safe trip back to Tokyo.
This week of Thanksgiving is special for a number of reasons. Family and friends are always always top of mind but it is a time to take stock of the goodness that has come your way in 2009. It is also the start of the Makahiki season and a time to rejoice in rejuvenation of the land as the weather cools and the life giving rains green the islands. One of the things I felt very thankful for this week is having the opportunity to accompany the crew of the voyaging canoe Hokule`a on one of its training runs. It was a short run from Sand Island where the Hokule`a is docked out into the Pacific Ocean several miles south of Honolulu. Although the voyage was short, it gave me a sense of the strength and fortitude it took for the early Hawaiian voyagers to venture across the vast ocean. Once out on the ocean you immediately feel how small the canoe is. There is no sheltered cabin to speak of and sleeping quarters are just a small area in the hull protected by a flap of canvas. If you are not sleeping you are out on the deck in the raw elements of the ocean, winds, sun, rain and whatever nature throws your way. Extended trips on a traditional canoe like the Hokule`a are only for the most hardy. As the sun set, we were blessed with a clear sky filled with stars. The crew gave a lesson in star navigation as the northeasterly trade winds kept the Hokule`a in constant motion. Hokupa`a, the North Star was precisely 21 degrees above the horizon. You can always tell what latitude you are in by charting Hokupa`a, as long as you are in the northern hemisphere. While out on the ocean you are treated to sights not common on land. We were visited by this Hawaiian Booby or `A as it stayed with us for several minutes flying back and forth wanting to land on our sails. The amazing thing is the `A normally lives in remote areas in sea cliffs. Since we were still south of Honolulu with the lights of Waikiki in constant view this Hawaiian Booby must have come a far way, perhaps living somewhere near Diamond Head or further east near Koko Head. With the moon in the background it was an amazing sight. The Hokule`a and it's crew are preparing for the World Wide Voyage starting in 2011. This practice run was one of many to train new crew members. In 2010 the Hokule`a goes into dry dock for major renovation and refitting for the upcoming long voyage. As I look back on 2009, this experience will be one I will always remember. Mahalo to Mei-Jeanne Watson and Nainoa Thompson for making this possible.