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Japan sets sail
Tristan Rutherford
29th October 2019

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Japan sets sail

The Japan archipelago was off-limits for centuries. The 3,000km-long island chain, which dazzles the distance from Norway to Sicily, was closed to foreign shipping until an American fleet sailed into the Bay of Tokyo in 1853. Japan’s maritime highlights, including the golden beaches at Yonaha Maehama and the coral reefs off Amami ?shima Island, thrived in isolation. 

Sailors may now discover an island kingdom far removed from traditional cruising grounds. In 2019 the Japan Times predicted up to a 100% rise in superyachts sailing Japan’s 29,750km shores. By most calcuations this coastline is the 6th-longest in the world, some four times greater than Italy or Croatia. 

This year the Japanese government announced a consultation to deregulate laws in order to welcome superyachts sailing north from the Philippines or Hong Kong. Some regions, like Kanagawa Prefecture, have arranged visits from high net worth individuals to the coastline’s marinas and resorts.

Riviera Group, one of Japan’s premium marina operators and hospitality companies, employs a proactive approach to attracting superyachts. Since 2001 the firm sallied into the luxury yacht world with the opening of two marinas. 

Riviera’s President and COO Akio Kobayashi believes yachts can sail in tandem with Japanese culture. “Riviera Zushi Marina, one of our two marinas, is ringed by sandy beaches and is located a one hour drive from central Tokyo. A mere ten minute drive is Kamakura, a stunning historic coastal town which, along with Kyoto, is known as a cultural capital of Japan. There are lots of ancient shrines and temples, plus teahouses and restaurants.”

The firm’s second harbour, Riviera Seabornia Marina, is a shimmering mix of land and sea. The port sparkles on the southernmost tip of the Miura Peninsula, pairing views of Mount Fuji with a Mediterranean microclimate. “The seafood is amazing,” attests Kobayashi. “Guests may also walk through the Koajiro Forest adjacent to Seabornia Marina, which occupies 70 hectares of wilderness landscape. It hosts 2,000 different animals including 150 threatened species such as native red crabs.”

Riviera also operates Shimoda Boat Service on the Izu peninsula. This harbour offers access to the Izu Islands for dolphin watching and sport fishing. From here another 30 islands - the sun-sparkled Ogasawara Archipelago - are scattered like Tiffany diamonds 1,000km south of Tokyo. Their population (a mere 3,000 residents) combined with unrivalled biodiversity, has encouraged their nickname ‘the Galapagos of the Orient'. The islands were recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

A new yachting partnership with Camper & Nicholsons will allow Riviera to indulge ever greater adventures. Most incoming guests will cross the passerelle at Tokyo. The city is rightly famed for possessing more Michelin stars than Paris. Less publicised are the boutique eateries from upcoming chefs like Yuki Noda (previously at Parisian landmark Le Taillevent) at Kiki Harajuku. Teenagers should be deposited at Harajuku, the mind-bending fashion bazaar frequented by cosplay shoppers and digital natives. 

Osaka, Japan’s second largest metropolis, dances to a different tune. The wealthy port city is home to castles (like Himeji) and museums (like its acclaimed aquarium). A brave commentator might claim that Japan’s best food comes from Osaka. Those in doubt should try the €70 tasting menu at Franco-Japanese restaurant La Cime. Here dishes are crafted by Yasuhiro Fujio, S.Pellegrino’s Young Chef of the Year.

Japan’s Inner Sea is its yachting secret. Shielded by Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu - three of the five main islands - a warm breeze cossets 3,000 far smaller islands. The water town of Kurashiki is like a little Venice. Stone bridges cross countless canals, which shelter cafés and ateliers. Kurashiki’s Ohara Museum of Art contains a spellbinding selection of Claude Monet canvasses.

The Inner Sea island of Naoshima is equally arty. Here contemporary installations are scattered within mansions, museums, in forests and along the sea shore. Some artworks are even sited within a converted bathhouse, where a life sized baby elephant hovers above a communal spa. 

With so many islands a luxury yacht grants exclusive access to Japan’s greatest sights. Nor does local culture doesn’t stop when you step onboard. Classes in ikebana flower arrangement and shodo calligraphy can be arranged. A Japanese sake tasting session offers a lesson in Japanese geography as the finest blends hail from Shikoku (the rare Juyondai), Fukushima (the unpasteurised Snow Blossom) and Miyagi (for purer Junmai sake blends). 

There is a second aspect to the relationship between Riviera and Camper & Nicholsons. “High net worth individuals would like to explore enriching lifestyles which only luxury yachts can provide,” says Kobayashi. Despite Japan’s rich maritime history, superyachts have seldom been marketed within the world’s third largest economy. “I think the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and the Asian resorts could be potential destinations for Japanese guests,” Kobayashi explains. 

Arguably the greatest gift to Japanese yachting will be the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. This summer the world’s gaze will behold the XXXII Olympiad with sports including BMX, skateboarding and karate. A watersports programme will showcase Japan’s ocean spirit, particularly in the surf events on Shidashita Beach. All eight sailing events will be held at Enoshima, a short sail from Riviera’s Zushi and Seabornia marinas. 

Of course, the Olympic Games have form in promoting Japan. Back in 1964, when Tokyo first held the tournament, Japan was considered an enigma, little known in the Western world. The viewing public were awed by scenes of shinkansen bullet trains, Sumo wrestling and skyscrapers. Many venues will be reused for the 2020 games including the Nippon Budokan (for karate) and Enoshima (for sailing). 

One young man inspired by the 1964 games was Minoru Sait?. The Japanese yachtsman went on to participate in three solo round-the-globe competitions. In 2006 Sait? was inducted into the Sailing Hall of Fame alongside single-handed greats Joshua Slocum and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. As a retirement pastime, Sait? completed an additional circumnavigation of the globe at the age of 71. That's proof, if anything, that Japan can rule the waves.