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Japan seems to have a glut of cruising boats themed around ancient sailing vessels. Today I was on a boat a Japanese cruising boat called Kashikojima on the Ise Peninsula called the Espana Cruise, sailing out into the beautiful island-studded Ago Bay. Yet despite a commendable level of effort and attention to detail in the building of this modern armada, I can’t help but feel a degree of confusion as to what these are really for.
Japan is of course the country of kitsch, the king of all things cute and super-cute and cool and kitsch. Walk past any group of Japanese school girls and 9 out of 10 times you will catch the word ‘kawaiiiiiiii’ being delivered in a high pitch voice of true awe and wonderment at how anything in this imperfect world of ours could possibly be quite so supernaturally and wonderfully cute. The Japanese seem to have an never-ending fascination with this cute universe. But amongst all the Hello Kitty merchandise and tiny toy dogs in designer Burberry coats, what is the place of these odd cruising vessels.
Perhaps the most used of these is the infamous Hakone ‘Pirate Ship’ which cruises to and fro across Lake Ashi day in day out, providing passengers with views of the beautiful mountains, and on clear days, Mt Fuji herself. But I have long asked myself, what is the point of the pirate theme? The pre-recorded tape makes it very clear that the operators are very proud of their mock-pirate vessel but why? That is all I ask? Surely the stunning natural beauty of this area is enough by itself. Isn’t the chance to see the sacred Mt Fuji soaring above the surrounding hills more than worth a day out to this, the world’s most visited national park? At the end of the day I am not sure there is an answer. This is one of the inherent contradictions visible day-in, day-out,in any town or city you might visit in Japan: That a country with such a rich and ancient culture of nature worship and love of the natural world can at the same time see nothing strange about a feaux Spanish galleon taking tourists around the stunning coastline to a soundtrack of muzak show tunes! There is, at the end of the day, no harm in it. But this, as much as anything, helps reveal quite what a multi-layered and confusing culture Japan has.