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The whirlpools of Naruto

Whirlpools in the Naruto Strait are formed as currents from the Seto Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide. Tourist boats give visitors a close-up view of the phenomenon.

Publication Date : 24-03-2014


Churning tides, art reproductions await sturdy pilgrims


The tidal whirlpools of the Naruto Strait appear and disappear as if by magic, thrilling visitors and prompting local residents to try to seek Unesco World Heritage registration for the phenomenon.

The Naruto no Uzushio whirlpools are best viewed in spring or autumn, but I made the trip in mid-February. It was a bit early but I was far from disappointed.

After arriving in Naruto, I quickly travelled to the Kameura fishing port nearby to board a boat aptly named Uzushio, which took me into the 1,300-metre-wide strait between Naruto and Awajishima island in neighboring Hyogo Prefecture.

The ebb and flow of ocean currents from north and south in the narrow strait act in concert with the rough topography of the sea bottom to form large and small whirlpools, some lasting a short time, others longer.

With seating capacity for 80, the Uzushio was rather small, but I stood entranced on the deck as the boat weaved among the whirlpools. Every time the boat was hit by a wave with a splash, the passengers shouted with surprise and delight.

The strait is famous in one way, but infamous in another: Countless ships have foundered here after collisions, or run aground due to the rough waters. Skippers say navigating the strait requires high degree of skill.

“It’s difficult to read the flow of tides here as they change according to the seasons. Ships can run aground if we forget the locations of rocks in shallow waters,” said Motoyasu Yoshida, who skippered the Uzushio for 25 years.

Although navigating the strait requires skill, Yoshida said with a smile: “We want passengers to see the whirlpools when viewing conditions are best. The work is challenging but worth doing.”

Yoshida, 63, turned over the helm to his 33-year-old son in 2012, and now teaches navigational skills to young people while serving as an executive of his company.

In the afternoon, I visited the Otsuka Museum of Art in the city, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Tokushima Prefecture.

The museum displays about 1,000 reproductions of famous works, showcasing the history of art from ancient murals to masterpieces owned by more than 190 museums overseas, including contemporary works. They have been reproduced on ceramic boards by an Otsuka Group company using special techniques.

Art textbooks often publish famous works of art with different dimensions from the original, particularly if they are small. However, the reproductions at the museum are the same size as the originals. It may be one of the reasons for the museum’s popularity.

“This museum features many famous works, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ and Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers.’ Pieces here are accurate reproductions of these works not only in colour but also in texture,” said Chihiro Yamagawa, who is in charge of the museum’s public relations. “You can see all the masterpieces of the world art in one day.”

Yamagawa also claims the colours on the ceramic panels will not fade even after 2,000 years.

The museum has two different versions of Leonardo’s “The Last Supper.” When the museum opened in 1998, it displayed a reproduction of the work before it had undergone restoration work. After the work was completed, the museum reproduced the restored version as well. The two versions are on display in a same room so visitors can compare them.

The following day, I stepped into the first footsteps of Kukai (774-835), a monk who founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism.

Tokushima Prefecture and the three other prefectures in Shikoku are known for a 1,400-kilometre pilgrimage involving 88 temples associated with Kukai. These temples attract as many as 130,000 people annually.

The temples are numbered with the Ryozenji temple in Naruto the first on the pilgrimage, so this is where visitors generally start walking. People who visit these temples are called ohenro-san.

As this year marks the 1,200th anniversary of Kukai’s pilgrimage, I heard that the number of ohenro-san has increased.

Recently, more people take a bus, rather than hike round the temples. Some people are merely sightseeing, while others hold strong religious beliefs and are determined to complete the pilgrimage.

“If you visit these temples, you can certainly gain something,” said Kiei Kinoshita, 74, a nun at the Ryozenji temple. “Some people take several years to complete their pilgrimage and then return to this temple to express thanks for what they have achieved. When I talk with these people, I feel they are strong both mentally and physically.”

When I visited the temple, it was very cold. However, I saw many pilgrims setting out on foot. I silently wished them good luck.

Travel tips

A flight from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Tokushima takes about 80 minutes. Naruto Station is a 20-minute bus ride from Tokushima Airport, and another 20-minute bus ride will take you to Naruto Strait.

For more information, call the Naruto city’s tourism promotion department at +81 (088) 684-1157.


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