Ine-Cho

The quaint fishing village of Ine-cho is the perfect place to while away the hours, but local lore suggests it's best to leave the turtles to their own defenses.

(Funaya (boat houses))

A famous Japanese fable tells about a boy named Urashimataro who saved a turtle from a pack of bullies. Legend has it that, while dawdling along the beach one day, the youngster happened upon a group of hoodlums roughing up a turtle. He promptly jumped to the rescue and, in a show of gratitude his new shelled-friend, took the boy to the magical underwater kingdom of Ryugujo. The inhabitants there treated the lad to a whale of a time but, after a spell, Urashimataro began to feel homesick and wanted to see his family again.

Upon his departure, the local princess gave him a box with strict instructions not to open it under any circumstances. Once topside he, of course, promptly opened the box and immediately wrinkled, grayed and most likely suffered from a sudden onslaught of acute arthritis. What had felt like just a few days under the sea had actually been many years, and Urashimataro’s true age had been safely contained in the box.

After many years of debate, it was recently concluded that this myth originated from a small village just a hop, skip and 16-km. drive north of Amanohashidate in Kyoto Prefecture.

(Yagi Kazuhiro. Local fishing co-op boss, historian and all round nice guy. He very kindly invited me into his funaya and spent some time talking about Ine-cho, before sending me on my way with books, info and a bag of fresh anchovies.)

Ine-cho lies in a secluded cove facing onto the mighty Miyazu Bay on the eastern side of the Tango Peninsula. It is the quintessential sleepy Japanese fishing village. As in the legend, it is a great place to let time pass you by. Minutes feel like hours, but without any harmful side effects.

The locale is famed for the 230-odd funaya (boathouses) which dot its coastal perimeter. With low rising mountains on one side, and just a thin strip of land separating them from the sea, there was little room for expansion. As a result, houses were built at the foot of the mountain, while the boathouses were erected on the water. The small tidal movement ensured there were no problems doing so, and the cove provided ample protection from any sea-born storms.

(Wakame (kelp) hanging out to dry)

What began as little more than a few sticks in the water, used to secure boats and hang the day’s catch to dry, evolved into thatched roof huts and finally into the slick two-story wooden structures we see today. The village, as it stands now, dates back just a couple hundred years, but research shows inhabitants have been fishing the area for millenniums. The town’s history is so old, no one is quite sure when it began.

Ine-cho was once a whaling port. Whales caught further out in the bay (in very limited numbers) were dragged into the cove, slaughtered and processed. Fishing, however, was until recently the town’s commercial mainstay. The decline of the industry, along with the steady migration of the area’s youngsters to the city, has left the locals feeling the pinch.

Hopefully all that is set to change from this year. The town was recently selected to become a “state preserved site.” This is hoped to bring increased tourism into the area. Enthusiastic locals, keen to welcome visitors to their vista, have already started modifying boathouses to accommodate guests.

Actually, the above-water dwellings have been used as a place to kick back for quite some time now. They also provide the perfect setting for local youths to enjoy some privacy in their angst-filled romances.

The small populace has always been friendly to visitors. As I meandered my way around the town, on its one and only street, I was constantly being stopped to chat by friendly locals. While admiring and photographing a small catch of sardines left out to dry, the owner came out and invited me into his boathouse.

I left 90 minutes later, laden with local history books, a new acquaintance, and the very fish I had photographed. The town welcomes fishermen and sea kayakers annually. It will even open up its town hall in order to provide some accommodation.

If you do happen to drop in, do yourself a favor and visit the local Mukai sake brewery. It’s owned and operated by a young woman who brings a fresh taste to what has traditionally been an old-boys industry. Her Nihonshu is sharp and fruity. It nicely compliments the tasty local seafood, and would have no trouble substituting as a table wine.

   
To enjoy panoramic views of the area, be sure to visit the Funaya-no-sato Park on the hill immediately behind the town. It also doubles as the tourist information center and carries a selection of local products and has a restaurant serving local dishes.

It is a handy place to spend the night if you get there late, although it is not encouraged. The toilets are open 24/7. Viewing the town from the sea is also possible aboard 30-minute ferry rides; however, the day I visited seas were a little rough, and the service wasn’t operating, so I wasn’t able to make the trip.

GETTING THERE

It’s about two and a half hours to Ine-cho from Osaka or Kyoto by car. Trains run directly to Amanohashidate Station from Kyoto or Osaka and take two hours depending on the train. While I recommend driving, buses run regularly from Amanohashidate Station to Ine-cho (50 minutes). For more details on timetables and events, check out:

www.8.ocn.ne.jp/~inetour/English/E.top.htm