Seto Nakai part 2 – Kitagi Surprise

We never heard of Kitagi until we were in Okinawa and doing research on shipping Calliste from Kobe, thus having to sail through the inland sea. We came across several blogs that suggested Kitagi to be a great stopover place for cruisers and visit with Colin and wife is like a foreign cruisers ritual if one is passing through the Seto Nakai.

Colin and Mika runs a sail loft and marine supplies shop on Kitagi island. What a unusual place for such a business… why Kitagi? I guess we are here to find out.

We arrive at Kitagi on a rainy morning day, a little breeze all around and some gust coming down from the mountains. A dreary day. We went into the harbor where Colin has his sailboats and allow side ties up to the boats… but we were not comfortable tying up and conditions were not quite right… so Doug drop me off the red ferry pier and went out to anchor off the beach in 8M. I carry my little portable Standard Horizon VHF for shore to ship comms on channel 72.

Ferry waiting hut.

Ferry waiting hut.

It was late Saturday afternoon when I landed at the pier. I thought I’ll just walk around and see what provisions could be gotten on the island, maybe even a nice dinner to take out, then bump in Colin at his shop… Well, I guess one can always plan for the best and accept whatever the outcome.

A beautifully kept garden and mansion on Kitagi island.

A beautifully kept garden and mansion on Kitagi island.

There are only few streets in this village and a road goes around the island, joining all the villages. My estimate is that one can walk leisurely around the island in 4hrs, but for today, I am only going to walk around this village and gawk at the beautiful ornamented old houses. There were some very well kept gardens with bonsais and stone ornaments next to well kept manors… and on the flip side, there were some run down shop fronts, messy shop windows and signs of a glorious past left to decay.

There were quite many houses, but not many people at all… There was a small group of 5 tourist, and I guess they must be staying at the 1 operational hotel… where’s the restaurant..? No restaurant!? I didnt find any… I mean there should be a sign, menu or lanterns that would make a restaurant quite obvious right?

Yes, there is 1 provisions shop, and its quite well stocked. I am surprised, but they do have a limited selection of rice trikes and bentos. The trikes taste very good! One of the best that I have had in Japan. Well, that, fruit cake and fresh bananas for Doug. Thats all I could get for dinner… could have gotten frozen meat and some veges, but dun really wanna cook.

Colin's sail loft on the left

Colin’s sail loft on the left

I couldnt find Colin’s marine business in my walk, so I ask the man at the ferry waiting hut. Well, not that we could really converse, but I gather from his gestures that Colin is not on the island on that day… Well, time to ask Jaap, using my Docomo mobile internet and FB of course. Ok, made contact, Colin will be back this evening and we’ll hook up on Sunday. Called Doug on the VHF, picked me from the red pontoon and out to anchor again.

Skinny whitey

Skinny whitey

Next morning, while sitting at anchor, we figured out that the big building next to the waterfront is Colin’s loft. Somehow, we just did feel like that must be it… and we were right. 1200hrs, I called Colin to ask if its possible to arrange a small craft to come pick us from our anchored spot, and he was so obliging 🙂 .. Doug wouldnt have gone on shore otherwise… hard-headed man. Anyway, from what I hear, he was really happy that he did go onshore and made that connection.

Fatty Blackie... reminds me of smudge...

Fatty Blackie… reminds me of smudge…

1st stop, tour de sail loft! Colin bought the building cheaply as many business were moving off the island, and converted it for sail work, warehouse, office and residence. Impressive! ..

Then we meet Mika in the office. And he has room for 2 cats here… sweet!

Buttered, pan fried abalone and top shells.

Buttered, pan fried abalone and top shells.

2nd stop, lunch. So there is a restaurant on this island? Yep, 4 restaurants but we’ll go to the only one thats open on Sunday… good thing is that they serve a lot selection of foods and cooking style. Seafood is their speciality of course… judging by the abalone and snail shells that lined their garden. So I must try the buttered pan fried abalone and snail dish… and I really like it! I’m a sucker for anything in shells.

The food was great and the company of Colin and Mika was amazing. This was such a treat! One of my most memorable meals in Japan for sure!

3rd stop, visit a stone works shop. We were so curious about Kitagi, I mean the numerous mansions suggest that there was a time when this was a very prosperous city and now falling apart as there are not many people left on the island. .. So this island was a rich granite mining ground and had many stone works shops, but demand for stone works fell off the cliff when the Japanese economic bubble burst in the 80s. Most of the quarry and stone workshops could not compete with cheaper foreign products and declining demand, had to close or moved away from Kitagi. Most of its younger families had to move off the island to get work in the city, leaving the elders and those who enjoy a simpler island life to continue working the land.

Stone works shop

Stone works shop

There is still a small demand for Japanese stone works that could be satisfied by the smaller number of craftsmen still in this trade. Colin brought us to a shop that was busy and had to work through Sunday. It was the only shop that was open and it was busy because of automation, passion and innovation by its owners. 2 generations of husbands and wives work together in this shop.

What kind of blades cut a slab of stone...?

What kind of blades cut a slab of stone…?

Using computers to control the cutting of the stone, technology to design and create the cut list for each project. Much less stone is wasted at this shop as they were able to design imperfections in the stone into desirable features of art in their work. They learned how to use art and technology in their work and that help them stay in business and stay together as a family. I am impressed!

We were very thankful to Colin and the people who told us about Colin. Without them, we wouldn’t have stopped at Kitagi, we wouldn’t have known what we missed. Kitagi may never become prosperous again, but the beauty of it is that the people remaining on the island has transcended the need for material wealth and is living the beautiful life of simplicity.

We returned to Calliste that evening feeling quite awed and … very zen…


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Sailing 2015: Port Townsend(WA, US) -> Costes Island (BC, Canada)

Sailing 2013: Singapore -> Okinawa -> Kobe

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