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Awash with beauty

A visit to the seaside in Kanagawa reaps many rewards

by Burritt Sabin

The escalator at the Keikyu Line’s Misakiguchi Station transported me to a windswept hilltop where a booth provided information on places to pick mikan (tangerines) and shops sold tuna, toasted laver bread and horse mackerel seasoned with mirin (a rice wine). I boarded a bus. As it descended between mikan orchards and freshly planted fields, I noted further intimations of the sea — trucks emblazoned with “Tuna Express” and “High-Class Blue Fin Tuna.” After arriving at the harbor, I strolled along a waterfront crowded with shoals of tuna restaurants.

The large emporium on the pier across the street from restaurant row sells blue fin and other marine delicacies. But noticing a sign for the Jogashima ferry, I was soon being dandled in a chugging boat from which I watched gulls and kites dive for sardines, and a training ship inch away from a quay, a rainbow of streamers slipping from the grasps of well-wishers ashore.

Our boat bumped the island pier, and the ferryman blamed a wind-tossed sea.

I walked down a lane of unpretentious restaurants offering tuna pickled in soy-bean paste or sake lees, bowls of tuna-over-rice, or fried tuna head. Seashell chimes tinkled in knickknack shops.

At the end of the lane, I turned right and climbed stairs to the base of the Jogashima Lighthouse. With alabaster walls, a gratuitous arch, columned belvedere and bold statuary, it seemed Greco kitsch.

Beneath the lighthouse, 71-year-old Toshiyori Takeuchi sketched the seascape. He had risen in Ueda, Nagano Prefecture, at 3 a.m. Asked why, he described the pull of Jogashima. For one thing, there was the Yoritomo connection. The founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-80) planted thousands of cherry trees on Jogashima and in Misaki, and he held blossom-viewing parties on a barge in the strait. Takeuchi sang a few bars of “Rain on Jogashima,” as if to say the song itself was reason enough to visit the island.

Below the lighthouse, we saw cockle-gatherers in tide pools and fisherman, their creels likely empty on this day of wind-churned seas. Other visitors were regarding the foreshore, the rocks taking on darker hues toward the water, and the vast sea beyond. Jogashima, a 30-meter-high island off Kanagawa Prefecture’s southern tip, is ideal for water-gazing.

As I bade Takeuchi goodbye, he handed me a rough sketch of myself.

I retraced my steps to the bottom of the lighthouse and hiked east along the shoreline. I trod gingerly over rocks eroded into fantastic shapes. I passed more water-gazers — a couple seated in portable chairs with holders for drinks — and overtook a straggle of young women, some with golden plumes of pampas grass in their hair.

In the distance came into view the piece de resistance of wind and wave, Horseback Cave, dubbed such by poet Keigetsu Omachi (1869-1925). I prefer its other name, Eyeglass Rock, for it lets you see the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture on the other side of Tokyo Bay.

From Eyeglass Rock, the trail climbs northeast through a tunnel of pampas grass. Eventually, I reached an open space for viewing the herons and cormorants that breed in the rugged cliffs of the southern coast from Jogashima Park to Awazaki Lighthouse.

The trail leads to the park, where there are still more scenic views and observation decks indicating the direction of Mount Fuji and Oshima, and the Boso and Izu peninsulas.

I returned by the trail along the ridge of the 1.8-km-long island, traversing “Glider Square,” where you are allowed to operate remote-controlled model planes. But no one was as much as flying a kite; seated on worm-eaten benches, all were lost in ocean reveries.

At the slip a fellow passenger had pressed the button for the ferry, and it was already midway in the harbor.

I asked the ferryman why his boat was called “Hakushu.”

“She’s named for the poet Hakushu Kitahara. Do you know Takuboku Ishikawa and Kenji Miyazawa? Well, Kitahara ranks with those great writers.”

Every locality in Japan touts a literary association, however tenuous. Misaki has made Kitahara (1885-1942) a favorite literary son.

He lived at Mukogasaki, Misaki, across from Jogashima, in 1913-14. His brief sojourn was fruitful. His so-called “Misaki Notes” became the stuff of his waka-poem anthology “Kirara” (1915). Outside literary circles, Kitahara is perhaps best known for composing “Rain on Jogashima,” the song that inspired Toshiyori Terauchi to sketch the island.

The ferryman suggested I visit the site of Tsubaki Gosho, The Camellia Palace, the residence of a concubine of Yoritomo’s, because Kitahara had lived in the vicinity as a young man. “It’s only a 10-minute walk.”

Ten minutes as the fish swims. I followed the contour of the harbor, arriving on leaden legs after 30 minutes.

A pair of signboards recounted details of Kitahara’s home, torn down after being damaged by a storm surge in 1917. With fellow poet Yugure Maeda (1883-1951), Kitahara revisited the site in 1924. The only relic of his past was Daichinji, the Temple of the Great Camellia, in whose precincts he had often strolled. He composed a poem: “The temple of Daichinji!/How lonely to be greeted by no one./We two in the gathering darkness.’

His former house was no more. Strangers lived in the large house next door. Only never-changing Daichinji greeted them in silence.

I took the bus back to the town center. The old Yamadaya sake shop caught my eye. Its owner said the building dated from the early Showa Era (1926-89), circa 1930, and the adjoining godown was older. I noticed ship chandleries of similar vintage. Yet not one had the explanatory plaque de rigueur found in touristy towns. Misaki was authentic.

The proprietor regaled me with stories of Misaki’s heyday as a tuna port, when sailors would take a cab for a distance of only a half kilometer, coins spilling from their pockets as they headed for the strip of bars along the approach to Kainan Shrine. Now the fishing boats remain at sea, and the last tuna boat in harbor was about to make a one-way voyage to China.

“Why do you place an owl on the roof?”

“To scare away pigeons.”

The bus arrived. I bade farewell and hopped on.

Misakiguchi Station is a 70-minute trip from Shinagawa Station on Keihin Kyuko’s limited express (¥900). The bus for Misaki Harbor leaves from pole No. 2 (15 minutes; ¥290). The ferry to Jogashima costs ¥200.