About a year ago, we were on the open sea, a 25-hour-long ship ride to Ogasawara Island.

March 19th, 2013, 3pm

There is only one way to visit Ogasawara Island: by a ship called “Ogasawara Maru.” It was built in 1996 and revamped in 2004. Weight: 6700t, length: 131m, width: 17.2m. It runs average 22.5 knots (about 41.7 km/hr) and can carry 1031 people. It is not small, but not big either. If I own a ship, this is the size I want.

When J. first suggested going there, I said to him, “You’re kidding me, right? It takes 25 hours to get there, you said?!” I didn’t want to do it. Sounded too intense. If you go there, you have to stay there five days because the ship immediately turns around to go back to Tokyo and won’t come back another five days. The idea of being on a remote island without airports was unreal, like a bad paperback novel. I just couldn’t visualize anything but residents who are actually fugitives or minor delinquents with fake names and decayed teeth.

At the same time, a long ship ride had been one of my fantasies. I’m not talking about a cruising ship tour, which seems prone to massive food poisoning, inappropriate drinking behaviors, and bad music. I had fantasized a low-key maritime experience, such as traveling on a cargo ship or a fishing vessel. But I also knew my tolerance threshold was pathetically low. So traveling with Ogasawara Maru sounded like a great compromise.

After we reserved the 1st class cabin (the second class seemed crazy and it was), I asked a baker in the neighborhood about Ogasawara, knowing he used to work for a travel agency.

The baker said, “Yeah. Ogasawara is great. I’ve been there many times.”

“Oh, great to hear that.”

“So when are you going?”

“Next week.”

His facial expression hardened.

“What’s wrong?”

“The ocean is rough in winter and spring. The ship will rock.” Sure, the ocean could be rough, I thought, completely underestimating it.

The outward journey was relatively calm. We even came out on the deck several times to enjoy the view of the vast ocean. Liberating, but scary. The color of the ocean was vivid than I imagined. But the most arresting aspect was the current, so visible and physical. I had heard about “Black Tide” (Kuroshio), a warm and strong current but being on it was a different story. A series of waves looked like an army of hundred mounds coming at you. As far as the eye can see, there were waves, waves, waves. No flat surface. They were constantly formed and crashed against the ship.

Finally, the captain announced that the deck was no longer safe.

The return trip exceeded my expectation. The baker was right. The ship “rocked.” Now I know what that means. The ship not only swayed from side to side, but also jumped high and pounded against the water, over and over. I couldn’t even sit up. So I lied down, but had to hold on to the side of the bed. Otherwise, I would have fallen off. It went on like that for more than 15 hours.

My head was spinning, and I felt like my stomach was my head, and my head my stomach. Meanwhile, J. was walking around, enjoying the view from the little round window and even eating a Cup Noodle. That sight made me sicker.

Then J. asked me about the cow.

Earlier, we had seen a cow on the stern. Among containers the ship was carrying, there was a cage. J. asked me if the cow was doing all right, all by herself, out there. I said, “Of course not. She must have been scared shitless.”

Ken, Priscila, Ragini, Christine and 1 more said thanks.

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Shu Kuge

Woodcut printmaker

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