For an informal, illustrated account of the following locations please see Latest News.
The following notes are based on a cruise from Osaka Bay to Shimoda (Izu peninsula) undertaken in April/May 2012, a distance of some 300 miles. Notes on anchorages/moorings in the Osaka Bay area (including Wakayama) can be found at Japan for Cruisers – Osaka Bay. For some links you may need to use Google Translate (works automatically in Internet Explorer).
In Winter and Spring, north to westerly winds predominate along this indented coastline, but as Spring evolves into early Summer, low pressure areas that start to pass through every three or four days bring periods of rain, increasing warmth and easterly winds. In both 2011 and 2012 the first typhoon of the year occurred in the last week of May; on both occasions the systems stayed well to the south of the coast of Honshu but did bring enhanced easterlies in their wake. For sources of weather information see Japan for Cruisers – Kyushu. Offshore, the Kurushio Current runs powerfully to the east but inshore we received no benefit from it, and probably were set back by counter currents. Its location can be tracked at:
Heavy shipping (up to 15 vessels per hour) may be encountered in the vicinity of the three major capes on this route (Shio No Mizaki, Omae Zaki and Iro Zaki); many coasters in the 700 to 1500 tonne range are not equipped with AIS transponders. Local fishing boats may also be numerous: their courses and vigilance can be erratic, and at night their displays of lights (e.g. all-around quick-flashing green and red, simultaneously ) do not always conform to ColRegs. From October through May, large expanses of fixed nets may be encountered up to three miles offshore, often weakly lit and/or marked with tall bamboo poles; it is possible to obtain from the Coast Guard charts showing the likely location of such arrays. We found part of the coast of the Kii peninsula online. Eastwards from the entrance to Ise Wan as far as Omae Zaki is a 60-mile stretch of coastline with no safe refuge; provided you keep ten miles or so offshore – i.e. out of the normal range of the fishing boats – this stretch can safely be traversed at night.
Heading south from Wakayama some 19 miles, the quiet fishing port of Ao is a good refuge. See page 76A of Chartlet Book H-802W. Wall-tie to the east side of the center quay in the East pond (West side is overhanging) or to the South wall in the same pond; our position 33 54.228N; 135 04.674E. There is one small shop in the village; fuel and water are available. No fees, no officials.
25 miles further to the SE, on the Kii peninsula, is the large rock-studded bay that has Tanabe on its northern side. On account of the many rocks in the vicinity, the shallow underwater shelves off much of the coastline and a profusion of oyster rafts and fixed nets, many Japanese yachties are very leery of this area. However, there are adequate navigational markers and with care a very good refuge can be found deep inside an inlet on the south shore of the bay, at the resort town of Shirahama. Approach as follows: a) 33 42 420N; 135 19.100E; b) 33 41.910N; 135 21.990E; c) 33 41.570N; 135 21.980E; d) 33 41.110N; 135.21.380E. There is a detailed two-page colour chart on pp72-73 of Chartlet book H-802W. Tie either side of a pontoon with an arch at its head, with space for two yachts either side; our position 33 41.121N; 135 21.318E. Fee USD $25 (2000 Yen) per night but may well be negotiable. Water and electricity on the pontoon; closest Onsen (spa) is about 20 meters (there are many more in town). Shirahama is a resort town with a fine white sand beach on the seaward side; the season is July and August and it seems to be quite most of the rest of the year; there is a particularly fine open-air Onsen (Saki No Yu), with views over the Pacific from heated rock pools, west of the main beach. Supermarkets.
Just East of Shio No Mizaki (the cape at the tip of the Kii peninsula) and 40 miles on from Shirahama is the fine natural harbour of Kushimoto, protected from the West and South by the peninsula itself and from the East by an off-lying island, with a prominent arched bridge linking it to the mainland. If approaching from the West, you pass the Cape, then turn to port and under this bridge. Chartlet book H-802W p67. There are various wall-tie options but we found a quiet stretch at 33 28.162N; 135 47.151E. No water or electricity; no fees; no officials, although the Coast Guard moor one of their ships opposite this location. Supermarkets in town, and a sento (public bath). In stable conditions you could safely anchor in the bay outside the harbour walls, as coasters do, but – as elsewhere in Japan – this would likely puzzle the locals. This is a bonito and tuna fishing port.
16 miles North and identifiable from seawards by a mega-hotel atop an island, is another fine natural harbour: Katsuura. The approach is from South to North with spectacular rocky islands – some with natural rock arches – to starboard, the mainland to port and the small town built around a set of pools at the head of the inlet. All of the islands to starboard are part of one vast Spa resort. Tie to a wall on the port side as the inlet reaches its final set of narrows and turns slightly to the starboard: 33 37.732N; 135 56.930E. Chartlet book H-802W p60. No fees, no power, no water, no officials. Very well-sheltered. If there is no space here, you can tie to the wall of the artificial island you passed to port on the way in, on the opposite shore from the hotel and used as a car park – but it is the kind of wall (with hollows) where you need either a long fender board or you must pay great attention to the positioning of your fenders. Public Sento (much cheaper than the many Onsens in the hotel) at the head of the inlet. Colourful fish market; the specialities are bonito and tuna. Good shopping. From the train/bus station you can easily visit the ancient shrine/temple complex of Nachi Katsuura, built around the highest waterfall in Japan. Close to Katsuura is the town/harbour of Taiji, infamous internationally for its annual massacre of dolphins and pilot whales.
Just North of Katsuura, in the next bay, is a small harbour that is home to several yachts and where there is a pontoon made available to visitors: Nachi Fisharina (33 38.715N; 135 56.412E, but not personally verified). We looked at this from the mainland but were deterred by the absence of a detailed chart for the approaches, reports of a number of submerged and unmarked tetrapods, and the presence of surfers just off the entrance....
Still further North is the large commercial harbour of Shingu, where logs and pulp from overseas are unloaded for local milling. In its Northern extremity is the quiet and snug fishing harbour of Miwasaki. A keen local yachtie once maintained a pontoon here, but he has recently passed away and the pontoon is gone. There are several basins but the quietest is the Easternmost; tie to a wall topped with black and yellow paint at 33 41.047N; 135 59.454E; Chartlet book H-802W, p57. No fees, water or power but Customs may well pay a visit as they have an office that oversees Shingu. There is a “foot Onsen” in the fishing harbour and you can walk to the tiny Shrines on the islands that have been joined together to form the harbour. 30 to 40 minutes' walk to the South is a large modern mall with enormous supermarkets, a DIY store and a MacDonalds.
22 miles to the NE is Miki Zaki (Cape Miki) and a pair of beautiful, steep and tree-lined inlets: Kata Ura and Kuki Ura. These both afford excellent protection from the open ocean and, although they are studded with oyster farms and other fixed nets, it would be possible to find anchorage in either. In the southern (and larger) of the two inlets, Kata, there is a pontoon off a hotel (the Owase Seaside View), where yachts often tie up, for a fee of USD $20 (1500 Yen); we visited overland; position (33 58.088N; 136 11.789E) not verified personally. The pontoon is on the flimsy side: in a strong blow you would be better anchored away from it. There is a small walled harbour but it would bear reconnaissance as much of it looks too shallow. In nearby Kuki is a much more solid pontoon, identifiable from offshore by the Tori (Shrine gate) at its head; use the S side, room for three yachts. Position 34 00.814N; 136 15.220E. Electricity available (if you have a long lead) and water from a hose 50m away; no fee; no officials. The location is picturesque and well-protected , the village very small with one tiny shop; there is a train station but to go anywhere the route is largely through tunnels. Hal and Margaret Roth stayed here in the early seventies aboard Whisper.
30 miles to the NE, with the shoreline now trending E-W, is a large, multi-armed inlet called Gokasho Ura. At its mouth, which is identifiable by an enormous steel yellow buoy, are several sets of fixed fishing nets. Heading up the inlet, you turn to port then starboard to reach the well-concealed Shima Yacht Harbour, also known as VOC (Vivre Ocean Club). For the last mile or so, particular care is needed as you wend your way around oyster and pearl farms, but on the occasion of our visit, large floating foam buoys marked in brilliant red and green indicated the final approach. Choose a convenient outer finger for your initial berth – or head in as flagged by the marina staff – but only approach the inner bay by the office with caution: much of it is too shallow for a yacht. Our slip: 34 20.148N; 136 41.123E. Chartlet Book H-802W, p44A, plus good area chart. Very friendly English-speaking staff (Tommy), who gave us a very advantageous price. Free showers; water and power on the pontoons; haulout possible; coin-op washing machine. A very beautiful, tranquil location where the only sound is birdsong; very safe. Restaurant/bar at the marina open on weekends/holidays, but it is 30 mins' walk to Gokasho and the supermarket and bus station (no train); Tommy may well offer you a ride. From Gokasho it is one hour by bus to the famous shrine complex of Ise Jingu. At nearby Hamajima there are good Onsens and some good fish restaurants, notably one called Yotto (Yacht). Coast Guard visited us here.
Heading East from VOC, unless you turn into Ise Wan towards Nagoya, it is a long haul – over 60 miles - to the next safe harbour, under Omae Zaki Cape. Much of the coastline is sandy beach; the one harbour charted (Fukude) is prone to silting on its approach and may often only have 1.5m of depth. Accordingly, it is best to undertake this passage at night, keeping eight or ten miles offshore so as to avoid fishing boats and nets. You can save a few miles, just after leaving VOC, by cutting through Fusude Strait (between the mainland and a set of pesky offshore islets/rocks) but this is best attempted while it is still light; although buoyed it is quite narrow and can be busy.
After Omae Zaki (many ships!) Suruga Wan opens up to port, with Mt Fuji at its head. At Shimizu there is a good municipal marina that we visited overland: 35 0.693N; 138 29.649E. Chartlet Book H-801, p88-89 but no pontoons shown. This is in a redeveloped part of the harbour, with a restaurant/mall complex adjoining, but otherwise the surroundings are of an industrial kind. Good protection, water and electricity on pontoons. There is another marina in the south of the bay but we did not visit. Two hours by local train to Tokyo, one by Shinkansen (bullet train). Haulout by crane.
Shimoda, Northeast of the Southern tip of the Izu peninsula, is an historic location that played a key role when American ships forced the “opening” of Japan in the nineteenth century. The excellent natural bay has been given extra protection by breakwaters but things could still get a bit choppy in the main bay in a strong southerly. Shimoda Yacht Services has two operations here: a long pontoon and a set of yacht moorings in the quieter, less developed NE corner of the bay, and another pontoon (actually a set of four, with room for one yacht on each, on the “out” side only) on the port side as you make your way into the fishing harbour, which is actually a river mouth; the latter set of pontoons is better protected, more convenient for town, and happens to be at the exact location (marked with statue and park) where Commodore Perry landed at the head of his squadron of Black Ships. Our position: 34 40.290N; 138 56.777E. P74 in H-801 (note: new volume...). Water and electricity. Five minutes' walk to the nearest Onsen, ten to Max Valu supermarket; two other large supermarkets. Book swap at Shelley's English School which is located in the north of Shimoda by the river. Gas/diesel on the waterfront where most of the fishing boats are tied up; they will deliver at no extra cost. Pay at the office near the moorings, on the other side of the bay; price negotiable but officially starts at USD $40 (3500 Yen). Itoh San, who runs the operation and has done for forty years, is very friendly; he was associated with the Japan Americas' Cup challenge. Customs visit once a week (Wednesdays) and are happy to clear you out of the country (you do not need to leave the same day); in order to clear Immigration you must travel to Shizuoka (three hours' by train); they give you 24 hours to leave. There are many interesting sights in and around Shimoda; around the third weekend in May, the annual Black Ships Festivities take place, with music, dancing, fireworks and ceremonies; Shimoda is twinned with Perry's home town, Newport, Rhode Island, and ties with the USA are strong. Tokyo can be reached by local train in three hours.