Misaki, Japan A.K.A Tuna Town
Trip Start Sep 13, 2008
6Trip End Nov 21, 2008
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Where I stayed
R/V Kaiyo Maru #7
The rooms were small, probably the smallest I've ever had. We were in an area about 8' X 30' and there were six bunks. Luckily for us, there were only three of us staying in the room, so we could store our stuff on the bunk above our bed. The beds were an experience in themselves. About three feet across, I could barely lay flat on my back with my shoulders touching either side. They were long enough, which was surprising, but the mattress (if you want to call it that) was literally 1" thick. I don't know what was in it, but it didn't feel much different than the plywood beneath it. This discomfort was compounded by the strange things they called pillows, bags filled literally with half-inch pieces of drinking straws. It was very hard to get used to. As I look back on it, I realize that there was not a single comfortable piece of furniture anywhere on that boat. I guess I just imagined that leather over stuffed couches were things that transcended cultural lines, but obviously they do not.
Aside from the bridge and top deck of the vessel, and our cabins, everywhere else had 6-foot high ceilings. The door jams were even shorter than that. This was very dangerous in the morning for a 6'2" guy before he had his first cup of coffee. I can't even begin to count how many times I hit my head on the light fixture located just inside the main door. Finally someone wrapped it in bubble wrap for me. But I still ran into it on a regular basis, it just didn't hurt so much. The processing room downstairs was the worst, because it had florescent lights mounted on the already low 6' ceilings. I had to walk around with my head tilted to the side at a 45 degree angle constantly. One day I hit my head on a door jam so hard it knocked me completely on my ass and I had to lay there for a minute to collect my thoughts. It's really uncomfortable to not be able to stand straight up for a month at a time. I felt like the Jollly Green Giant in the land of Lilliput.
The first place we headed to was the Multibeam calibration site. We fired the new system up and started calibrations but for some reason the it wasn't working exactly as well as one would have hoped it would (It's a long explaination, I'll save that part for stories I tell to people in the industry). After a semi failed calibration we returned to pick up the last of our crew and install the back-up sonar. Normally Seafloor Systems rents out their gear on the jobs that I go on. If something goes bad, I'm usually the one who's shoulders it falls on, in this case, the Japanese boat owners were the ones responsible for the sonar so I personally was not responsible for diagnosing and mending the problem. I still helped where I was needed but It was nice not to have to stay up endless hours on end to try to fix it.
The Japanese boat crew had an average age of 54 years old. And these guys could work, let me tell you. They definitely held their age well. I would have guessed most of them to be in their mid 40's. When working on the back deck all you had to do was show them once how to do a task and they would start flying around doing everything needed from then on. I've never had a boat crew be so helpful before. This holds true for the culture in general as well as just on the boat. Japanese are EXTREMELY helpful people and so polite that it's almost embarrassing to ask for anything because of the diligence and persistence they will have to get it for you.
We arrived in Misaki the morning after the patch test. I was supposed to download some data to an FTP site so a group of us wandered around trying to find somebody's unprotected wireless internet. The first place we checked for it was the beer vending machine. Misaki is a relatively small fishing village, by small I mean roughly 20,000. And we we're totally out of our comfort zone now. No McDonalds, no translators, and fewer people who speak good english. There was at least a 7-11 and an AM/PM so we could stock up on snacks and pull out money. There was a grocery store as well but it was cash only, like many other businesses in Japan. We managed to find a wireless signal after checking the vending machines repeatedly and I got my data uploaded. We then walked back to the harbor area and had some sushi, I obstained, even though everyone said it was really fresh and good. I'm just not a raw fish guy. The last two sonar operators arrived that afternoon and we set sail again.
The inshore work was on the East side of the Chikura peninsula, a heavy fishing area that is home to most of the cable landings that come into northern Japan. The Japanese fishermans union is a powerful monster and you do not want to tangle with it. Our boat had strict guidelines for where we could and could not go and hours we could and could not operate. These nets are the guys livelyhoods and they kept a sharp eye on us to make sure there we made no mistakes. We finished the most shallow areas in the first week. The tough stuff was over and it was now time to do the deep water milkrun down to the south of Japan and back.
Before that, we did have to make one quick return back to Misaki to tighten some loose bolts on equipment tightened. The gear is located below the water line so we had to get a diver to come in and do it. While that was going on we hopped off and started drinking in the park downtown next to the Police sub-station. It's not illegal to drink in public anywhere in Japan. You might get strange looks from people if you're doing it at 8am, but there's no law against it. There is however, a curfew in Misaki, so after 11pm we got confronted by a police officer. We could tell he didn't speak our language and I think he saw the same was true for us. So all he could say that made sense was pointing at his watch and saying "go home". We got the hint.
When I woke up the next morning we were back at sea, and my head hurt.