National

Java ship seeks ancient Japan ties

by Christine T. Tjandraningsih

Kyodo News

JAKARTA — A ship representing the spirit of the ancient Majapahit Kingdom on Java Island set sail Sunday from Jakarta on a 9,000-km voyage to Japan and other countries to celebrate the sailing history of the Majapahit Kingdom and the historical relationship between Majapahit and the Ryukyu Kingdom, which ruled Okinawa.

The voyage is also aimed at raising money for an archaeological study of historic ruins in and around Java Island.

“We (Indonesia) must prove that we can be a great nation again by taking with us the spirit of the past . . . In the sea we are the victor, in the sea we are strong,” Tourism and Culture Minister Jero Wacik said before sending the ship off.

Called the Spirit of Majapahit, the ship, built as part of a joint Indonesian-Japanese project, is a replica of a merchant vessel used during the Majapahit period, when a vast archipelagic empire was ruled from eastern Java from 1293 to the 1500s. The replica is based on a relief panel on a wall at the Buddhist temple of Borobudur in central Java dating back to the eighth century.

The Japan Majapahit Association, a group of businessmen in Japan interested in the history and culture of the Majapahit Kingdom, initiated the project, which cost about 1 billion rupiah (about ¥9.65 million) and was backed by the Indonesian and Japanese governments.

“The ship was made to reminisce about the cooperation of the Majapahit and Japanese kingdoms during their battle against the Chinese in the Pacific Ocean,” said association member Yoshiaki Takajo.

The sailing vessel has a unique, oval shape with sharp points fore and aft to break 5-meter-high waves. It uses triangular sails and has two wooden rudders, as well as giant bamboo outriggers on each side of the ship to help it maintain balance. Not a single nail was used to build the vessel.

The 20-meter-long ship is made of dried teakwood, which is only available in the regencies of Tuban in eastern Java and Rembang in central Java, according to the ship’s chief engineer, Supardi, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

It took three months to complete and involved 15 ship builders from a number of fishing villages in Sumenep Regency on Madura Island, off eastern Java.

The ship is being skippered by two Indonesians. Yoshiyuki Yamamoto, a Japanese explorer who canoed across the Indian Ocean, is on board as a project leader.

The crew includes other Japanese and five people from the Bajau ethnic group, well-known in Indonesia for its seafaring traditions. Five university students selected from 800 applicants across Indonesia also joined the voyage.

“We, the students, are carrying the cultural diplomacy mission to Japan to promote closer ties between the two countries,” Agung Setiyo Wibowo, 22, a student of the International Relations School at the Paramadina Islamic University, said at the Marina Batavia Port in Jakarta.

According to the Japan Majapahit Association, the ship has been making port calls in Asian countries since late last month, asking for financial and technical support to excavate the ruins of the Majapahit Kingdom.

The ship will travel for about six months to Brunei, the Philippines and Japan.

It is scheduled to reach Japan around the middle of July, making its first stop at Kudaka Island, which served as a trading post for the Ryukyu Kingdom. The ship will then sail to Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, where the crew will make a courtesy call on Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima before continuing on to Kagoshima, Yokohama, Tokyo and Fukuoka. It will then go on to China, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia before returning to Indonesia.