Kawagoe is an old town on the northwest of Tokyo, about a 40 minute ride on a train. It became one of the successful satellite towns of the capital city 400 years ago when the military government was established in Tokyo after a long wartime period. It stood out as a major commercial hub for the urban market at that time.
“That’s technically California State of the United States. If you accidentally drop off the boat, please remember to swim back to the portside park which belongs to Japan. If you want to travel abroad, you can swim to California with your passport. You may also need US dollar in that case.”
The cruise started with that humorous announcement. The pier is located between Japanese naval facilities and those of the U.S. just behind a shopping mall on the main street in Yokosuka, which is famous for the largest base for the U.S. Navy in Japan. That is the only cruising boat allowed to sail through their facilities watching warships while any private boat is prohibited to enter the area.
“The main spectacle of this naval port is the aircraft carrier George Washington of the U.S. Navy. Unfortunately, it’s not here today. What’s disappointing, many vessels of the U.S. are gone as well. That’s because they have to escort George Washington for security. The carrier is so large as to embark 5,000 crew members. When it goes out, around 10,000 people are gone out of this city as it takes its fellow ships out together. So, you don’t see many American sailors around the port today. Otherwise it feels like an American city with English as the first language.“
We had no time to be disappointed by the absence of George Washington and its family. There were many other things to see. The boat sailed along the U.S. side of the port to see their dockyard and the so-called “hotel ship”. When a vessel is in the dock for maintenance, the sailors are to stay in the hotel ship. Actually, one vessel was in the dockyard that day. Probably the hotel ship was full of booking accordingly.
The boat was leaving the U.S. when it was passing by the two huge cranes. “The name of the larger crane is Yokozuna, and the smaller is Oozeki. They are named after sumo divisions by the U.S. Navy just because they are so huge. The sailors have a sense of humor, don’t they?”
In contrast with the vacant side, there were many ships anchored in the Japanese area. Some of them were warships for national defense purpose and the others were ocean investigation vessels. “Finally, I can show you what you’ve expected from this cruise. You can shoot photos of those warships. But remember they are so large that your lenses may not capture the entire figure.”
The boat turned around the cape to see different angles of the port. When the boat was sailing into the industrial area, we were welcomed by the huge shipbuilding crane. Literally, a Japanese welcome word was written on the crane, “Yo-U-Ko-So (welcome).” The guide explained humorously, “We are too far from the crane to realize how big it is. But the data says the frontage is as wide as 100 meters. You can see the welcome word on the face of the crane. It costs 10 million yen to print just one letter on it. So totally it costs 40 million. You can imagine how huge it is, cant’ you?”
Passing by the oceanographic survey center, the boat turned into a somewhat rustic area. Then we found some fishing buoys floating. Thanks to the complicated coves around the water, the area used to be a rich fishing village. Even today, that tradition lives together with the modern military accommodation. That’s a unique view of the city.
When the boat entered the narrow channel, the surrounding views changed. Both banks of the channel were covered with forests, which had been used for secret storage of military supply such as ammunition in wartime. This area, at the entrance of Tokyo Bay, had been the very hub for defense of the capital city. It felt somehow isolated with no sign of life. In the quiet solitude of the forests, the boat was slowly heading for the pier.
We were getting back to the entrance of the naval port, and the guide was finishing his joke, “the heliport carrier in front of us is named Ise. Look. The name is printed on its huge stern in so small letters. I love that funny contrast.”
It was a wonderful 40 minute cruise from California to Japan with the unique naval view.
In Bintan Island, Indonesia, Agro Beach Resort is the home base for Kitoons.asia, a kiteboarding team from Singapore, during the best seasons of the year. While major hotels are located in the mega resort area in the north of the island, Agro Beach Resort is isolated on the idyllic east coast, with only a few houses in the tranquil neighborhood.
It was around sunset, and I was about to leave the swimming pool for my room. “Would you like to join us for dinner?” Some kiteboarders of the team asked me. “We are going to a restaurant outside. It’s just 150 meters from here. Their food is so nice.” According to them, there was one restaurant run by a local family. It had no name but just a good reputation. “Yes!” I sat at their table on the terrace where they had been drinking and singing with guitars till the right time to eat.
As the night fell, the group of 30 people including me started to walk toward the beach instead of the main road in front of the hotel. “Let’s take a shortcut!” I followed the adventurous seamen trailing into the darkness.
There was a 2 meter brick wall at the border of the neighbor house. It was at high tide and the bottom of the wall was submerged in the water. When I arrived there, some people were already climbing the wall. Hey, is this the shortcut?! But there was no choice any more. I was called, “Now it’s your turn!” Relying on some iPhone’s flash light applications, I climbed over the wall. “Good job! You are a qualified ninja!”
Our adventure went on. Clearing the wall, we were walking on the rough beach with stones, seaweed and driftwood, which was not a good place for sandals in the darkness. It felt like far more than 150 meters from the wall, but technically it was just a few houses over from the hotel.
Getting through the windbreaker trees, we arrived at a small square dimly lit by a few bare light bulbs. There were two long rustic tables awaiting diners in front of us, and a walled small floor with a large barbecue pit and a cooking table in the back space. That was the place for our dinner. A few house dogs came to welcome us.
When we sat at the tables, a young boy appeared from the kitchen. “Who wants Coca Cola?” “How many Bintan beers?” The kite team leader handled our order quickly and communicated with the boy fluently in the local language while the others were enjoying talking with each other. “We found this dining place 8 years ago. Since then, we frequently come here.” They were so familiar with local attractions. “There are Yashin Bangalows a few miles away to the north. They don’t have air conditioners, but it’s so comfortable to be blown in the wind looking up to the sky in the night. You should try it next time.”
The chilly wind was constantly blowing from the sea in the rural coast. If not for this dining place, the murmuring of palm trees and the star-filled sky would have been the only things I could have found in the darkness. No mosquitoes, no heat, or no city noise.
Shortly, our tables were occupied with many plates of food. Fried squid, crabs with chili sauce, boiled clams, sauted vegetables, nasi goring, and boiled gong-gongs. “Have you ever tried gong-gongs? It’s so yummy with chili sauce!” Gong-gong is small hermit crab. It had a similar texture to squid or octopus. The meat itself didn’t have much taste, but it was excellent in the sauce. “Yes, yummy!” That strange shellfish went really well with cold beer.
The seafood was so fresh and soft without any stiffness, bitterness, or disgust. “They are fishing in the sea in front of their house and the fish come to their kitchen just after landing. You can find cages to catch crabs around the beach.” Every food was cooked just right as if in a three-star restaurant. We were eating and drinking all the time feeling the breeze under the sky willed with innumerable stars.
Though there were many plates with some food left over on the table, the dinner time ended. The leader divided the bill accordingly. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5…, 30 guys here. Everybody, give me 80,000 rupiah.” As we were in the small village far away from the busy towns, and they were recognized as semi-locals, it was so cheap when we had eaten so much. We paid the local price without “tourist tax.”
“Galaxy!” Someone shouted when we were leaving for the hotel. “This iPhone application says that’s a galaxy!” Actually I saw grayish spots like clouds in the dark sky. That was a galaxy. What a great view! I had never seen it before in my city life.
When we got back to the hotel, the kiteboarders walked straight to the terrace where we had started our adventure. “It’s time to drink again! Why don’t you join us?”
That’s the best unforgettable restaurant in the island.
■The restaurant location (around 150 meters from Agro Beach Resort to the north along the street)
■The kiteboarding team I met Kitoons.asia