Home  >  Magazine  >  Issue 19 : Nov/Dec 2007  > Columns  >  Shipwrecked Memories OR: The Price of Tea in China


By Mitsuharu Kume

Shipwrecked Memories OR: The Price of Tea in China


Shipwrecked Memories OR: The Price of Tea in China

Things we no longer use are tossed aside and called "trash." Yet among these abandoned objects, some things continue to have intrinsic values and hold a special place in our hearts. A ship washed ashore is one of them.

It was some 15 years ago when the vessel's seaworthiness came into question and it ran aground on the shores of an inlet on Tanegashima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture. I moved to the island after the ship became land-locked and, although the rusted hull had already seen many a year since its last voyage, it still sat upright on the beach.

I was enamored with it at first sight, as the boat had not a hint of "trash" in its character. Each of the ships washed ashore along Tanegashima's beaches brought with it the stories and legends bearing the weight of the island's history. The abundance of abandoned vessels seems to rather suit Tanegashima.

Ropes still hung from the masts and the boat was now both a playground for children and a picture-perfect point of interest for shutterbug tourists. Surf photographers made it a point to include the rusted hull in their portraits of the surrounding breaks. I fell so in love with the spot and, despite its inconvenient location, rented a place nearby and lived there for a time.

No one can predict the changes that follow in the footsteps of Father Time. Despite naively thinking the rusted and rotting hull would continue to grace the beach through the seasons, one day wreckers began taking apart the ship. Economic developments in China had apparently pushed up the price of steel and a local dealer had seen an opportunity in the dilapidated ship, now worth a rumored ¥500 per kilogram.

When by fate or by fault something is thrown asunder, we often resign ourselves to saying something esoteric such as, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." Such would be the case here.

Beaten by the wind and waves, this beached vessel was returning to its steel roots to be given a new life—recycled after 15 years of dormancy. Although reusing raw materials portends a "high tide" for the next generation, in the case of the shipwrecked boat I remain slightly saddened.