As I stretch awake, the sound of footsteps and voices fill the small space I’ve crammed by body into the previous night as my alarm is blaring its last loud beeps into the brisk morning air. I sit up and pull my sleeping bag off my body looking at the early morning walkers off in the distance, disappearing behind the small forest of trees separating us. I quickly pack my gear and give my Sea to Summit compression sack bag its last few firm tugs on the nylon straps while I sit on it to squeeze out every ounce of extra air. Walking over to my kayak and removing the hatch covers, I store the relatively small amount of gear (sleeping bag and pad) I’ve taken with me the previous night inside the semi-damp bulkhead compartment. Finally, I grab my drysuit and walk over to a paved walkway overlooking the kayak and a small bay in which I will be kayaking.
As I’m pulling on my drysuit, I look over a see a surprising sight; two kayakers loading their gear for the days trip. I walk over to greet them as they are inserting their fishing rods in the holders mounted on the kayak and beginning the process of lifting, what appears to be, a fairly heavy cooler on the back of the kayak. As they finish their preparations, I take a minute to watch the pair push their kayak into the water and step onto the kayak. I notice the person in the front, wearing a drysuit, has a much stronger and consistent paddle stroke as I watch the rear paddler take short strokes, with the paddle diving into the water a only few inches.
In Tokyo Bay its especially easy to get lost and being no stranger to the phenomenon, I once again partake in staring at my map, trying to figure out where I am in relation to Yokohama port, yet this time I can at least partially blame my map. When I first printed these maps, my main goal was being able to identify only large landmasses like mountains or islands, which created a serious problem when I’m trying to locate a small channel, not even 10 meters wide. Not only is this map giving me problem but add this to the fact that that when you look around, everything looks relatively the same; buildings and more buildings with the occasional cargo crane towering over the port. After about 15 minutes of wondering about, I do some dead reckoning and decide on a compass bearing of North-North West and start paddling.
Not exactly sure where I will end up, I keep paddling past the open channel of Yokohama Port, one again seeing the familiar light gray colors of Navy vessels. Eventually, I become slightly more confident about my choice of direction as I see the channel narrow and eventually lead to a much smaller canal. Earlier in the day I was informed by my friend Misawa San that I will be meeting a local kayak guide, Kosui Itoi San, who will guide me to the less dangerous and trafficked areas of Tokyo Bay, to my final destination. Paddling into this channel, not more than 10 meters wide, I begin to notice a stark difference in my surroundings. Going from the relative calm and peace of Japan most beautiful islands to the constant noise of a city that is alive with people and business, I regret for a minute that I will soon end my journey as I paddle further into this artery through the city.
Watching my paddle disappear into the water with each stroke, I see that its not algae or sediment that is clouding the water, its pollution. I’m beginning to pass rows of boats, some overturned with their hulls facing the sun; even more in such a state of disrepair they are beginning to sink into the murky water. As I come to the fork in the road, or more literally, a fork in the river, I wait and check my GPS to see if I’m at the right location to meet up with Itoi San. After 10 minutes pass, and with no sign of Itoi San, I think of the advice of Yogi Berra “If you come to a fork in the road, take it” so I do and push my right foot against the rudder pedal and I’m off down a section river traveling under an highway overpass. This section of river gives me the sense that I’m paddling in embalming fluid, or more correctly, the fluid that is used by scientists to keep items in suspended animation. As I paddle in this liquid we call water, there is not a single millimeter of movement in this channel. I see a plastic bag ahead and as I come to it, I marvel at the fact that its positioned as if its been blowing in the wind; stretched out with its edges pulled tight, suspended motionless in the water. I paddle further and see a dead fish, its bloated body curled up toward to the sun.
It resembled a small metal barge, yet upon first glance it looked like a floating house boat. It too was in disrepair, to say the least. When I was next to it, its hull, rising at least 10 feet above the waterline, resembled swiss cheese. Peering into the holes in the boat, I wondered how this monstrosity of sheet metal and welds actually stayed afloat. Paddling a little further towards the end of the channel leading me to Keihin Port, filled with ships traveling in every direction with hundreds of these floating barges, I catch the first glimpse of the Metropolitan Expressway Bayshore Route bridge, towering above the water below. At this time, starting at this cable and concrete monstrosity with the noise of city life filling me ears, it really hits me; I’m in almost finished this expedition. I take a second to rest, placing my paddle across the cockpit of my kayak and watch the dock workers, busy ferrying freight back and forth between docked boats and large trucks. One young worker in particular catches my eye, he glances back, not completely stopping what he was doing. Captivated by our distance which is worlds apart both in culture and what we are engaged in at that very moment, I stare a little linger. Now the current has carried me beyond his view and my concentration once again turns to kayaking across the vast body of water, bustling with ship traffic, under the Metropolitan Expressway Bayshore Route Bridge.
Crossing these waterways is a thing of timing which is bread from some of the many close calls I’ve gotten into with miscalculating the time needed to safely pass in front of a ship. This time I know I have to wait, at least until the closest ship is still a small dot on the horizon but because I’m in a port, a ship can come from almost direction and arrive at my position in a matter of minutes, leaving me little time to evade a possible collision. I look left and right, taking note of all the moving objects in my immediate surroundings and start across. Fortunately, there was not a strong current under the bridge of I could have been easily pulled into Tokyo Bay. After crossing the channel, I begin to feel a creeping pain in my lower back so I take a break, positioned about 100 feet behind two insanely massive car carriers, about 60 feet high. I look around once again for Itoi San but he is no-where to be found. At this point I assume that he maybe was unable to meet me or might have slept past his alarm. In any other circumstance I would have soldiered paddling on without contacting him but for some reason the sheer number of large ships swarming around me worked to rekindle sense of fear in regards to my surroundings. I waited for my hands to dry and with my legs out of the kayak and spread over the cockpit, I open my waterproof box and call Itoi San. To my surprise, I found out that it was me who went the wrong way and he was attempting to chase my by following my moving GPS track which is always broadcasted on the Delorme Mapshare page. He tells me to wait where I am and he will come to my position in a few minutes.
After about 5 minutes, I decide to paddle to a position where I have better visibility of the surrounding waterway. Still with no sight of Itoi San, I begin to carefully scan the surroundings while devoting a bag of cashews I was given as a gift a few days ago. With cashew crumbs all over my sprayskirt, I give a few wipes, watching them sink into the water, and glance up to see a kayak off in the distance. I wave my paddle and he waves back. We kayak towards each other and he snaps a few photographs. At this point I’m thinking how lucky I am to be a part of such a strong community and even though I’ve never met Itoi San before, we greet as thought we area already friends. We talk about how he missed me by only a few minutes at the fork in the river (at which time I went the wrong way) and tried to chase me across the channel under the Metropolitan Expressway Bayshore Route Bridge but was delayed because of ship traffic. He also told me that the way he had chosen would have taken us inside of the port, much less dangerous than traveling across the mouth of this busy shipping port. He also tells me the rest of the trip will be in small waterways behind the main thoroughfare of the large shipping route.
As we enter the Tama River, the last leg of our paddle together, Itoi points out a small grassy outcropping, adjacent to Haneda Airport, which was the site of a child on child murder. After some ghastly details, I’m distracted by fish literally jumping inches in front of our kayak, such a stark contrast to the stale and stagnant waterways I kayaked thought in Yokohama. After only a few seconds another fish jumps, and another. Itoi tells me that this river is famous for its fish because the current pulls water from Toyo Bay/Pacific Ocean and is therefore a fairly fast moving river circulating millions go gallons of water. Just before we part, Itoi San gives me his last word of advice, “follow the Mono Rail next to the airport and turn left.” I say “okay, it was great meeting you,” and we are off on our own paths.
Paddling in what I assume be the direction of Omorifurusatonohamabe Park, I stop for a bathroom break on a small vacant boat ramp that has a resident bird population. As I pull up, scraping the nose of the kayak on the concrete boat ramp, all the birds scatter. I walk up a the ramp and see a bird carcass, its winds spread out on the hard gray concrete of this decrepit ramp. I also see a old plastic lawn chair, once white, stand gray by the sun and bird droppings. I get back in my kayak and paddle towards Omorifurusatonohamabe Park.
Preparing to land/camp at beaches that are teeming with tourists is a special kind of skill, stepped in misdirection. As I land, I’m careful to not unpack any of my gear, so as to make it seem as though I’m only there to take a rest and will be departing again shortly. The only problem is that I have at least a few more hours until nightfall. I think of my possibilities and decide to change and wonder off into the surrounding city looking for a liter of milk and snickers bar. After a 30 minute walk and some directions from a young police officer, I locate the booty and am soon walking back to my kayak.
As nightfall approaches, the once bustling beach begins to clear as does my hesitation about being caught and told to leave. Although I was not approached as of yet, I’m already preparing my defense if the inevitable does eventually happen. This strategy, consisting of simply speaking my native tongue with in generally confused look on my face, has proven to be effective in many situations and should be no less effective in this situation. As I wait, looking back and forth for some type of security to approach, I check my phone and see that my good friend Misawa San has messaged me and will be coming to visit. Moments after reading this message, I see a small light which soon materializes into a blinking safety vest, approaching my position. I stand and begin to walk towards this blinking safety vest and when we are about 15 feet from each other, this person begins to speak Japanese and I start speaking English. After I get out only a few words the person turns and walks away, I say a few more things as they depart, probably to the tune of “excuse me” but receive no response as this blinking safety vest disappears into the distance. I one again sit upon the small concrete wall just above my kayak. Slightly more relaxed now that I’ve survived the questioning and I’m still on the beach, I look once again at my phone to see if I received another message from Misawa San. Looking up, I once again see lights approaching but this time it looks to be moving faster and I soon realize its a bike with a tube of lights placed horizontally across the handlebars. As it approaches, I once again stand up and ready myself for the interrogation. This time, this person dismounts and begins speaking in Japanese to me, I tell him “I’ve kayaked from Yamaguchi,” and make a kayaking gesture. He continues to speak and says “Abu-Nai” which basically means “you can do this/be here.” My response is a big wide paddling gesture while repeating “I kayaked from Yamaguchi.” He stops for a second and looks at me, still wildly gesturing the long sweeping paddling motions. He tires one more time and says “kesatsukan” meaning police, and puts his hands together in a gesture of being arrested. In response, I once again give the paddling gesture, acting completely oblivious to this obvious threat. Exhausted, he raises his hand and moves it back and forth in front of his face, as to suggest that he is done with this conversation and says something about locking the gate. I say okay and wave goodbye. Returning to my kayak, I look at my phone phone, checking for Miasma San’s message. He tells me he has arrived and is walking towards me. He approaches carrying a bag, which he gives to me and asks me about the trip…