The confluence 32N, 130E lies in the East China Sea, 13.4km from the nearest land (Kurokami Rocks, due south of the confluence). The Kyushu landmass extends to within16km of the confluence in the east, as does the inhabited Kami-Koshiki Island to the south-west. Nagashima and Amakusa Islands complete the north-east and north horizon also at about the same distance; thus in all but the west direction, the confluence is quite uniformly surrounded by readily visible land which in fact makes up for a total of 202 degrees of the horizon, even when seen from the lowly 1 meter eye level of a sea-kayaker.
The south-west coast of Kyushu is, due to its hilly topography, a rural outskirts of Japan. Hills drop steeply down to the sea here, forming a complex, indented rias coast, including a large number of outlying islands of various sizes. The largest of these is Shimo-shima; it reaches to about 20km north of the confluence point and is a part of the Amakusa archipelago, which includes about 130 named islands and helps enclose two large and economically important inland bays: the Yatsushiro Sea and Shimabara Bay. Most of the Amakusa islands are connected to Kyushu by a series of bridges that span the narrow straits in the northeast of the achipelago. Naga-shima is another fairly large island that extends within17km to the northeast of the confluence. It is bridged over to Kyushu, but not to Amakusa. To the south-east lies the Koshiki archipelago, an outlying group of scenic islands accessible only by ferry.
The population density in this area is relatively low for Japan, as there is little flat land to build sizeable cities. Satsuma-Sendai is the largest nearby city, with a population of about 100,000; it lies a little ways inland, about 35km to the SE of the confluence. Nearby on the coast, however, there is a large thermal power plant whose tall stack can be seen from the confluence. There are four other, much smaller, nearby towns worth mentioning: they are Ushibuka, 22km to the north in Amakusa; Izumi, 35km to the ENE; Akune, 18km to the east; and Kushikino, 40km to the SE; the last three are on the Kyushu coast. These are fishing towns whose inhabitants, if they are not out fishing, are sound asleep by late evening. On a rare patch of flat land partially reclaimed from the sea near Izumi lies the Izumi Crane Refuge, possibly the most important over-wintering area for cranes in East Asia. Every winter thousands of the large, graceful birds migrate here from as far as Siberia and gather on the rice paddies (their original estuary habitat having been destroyed long ago). These birds are highly symbolic and revered in Japan, which is lucky for them: at Izumi they are fed abundantly and farmers are compensated for any damage they do to the fields.
Upon browsing into the Confluence Project Webpage, we were surprised to see that the closest confluence to Amakusa, where we presently dwell, remained unvisited. We set about quickly to rectify this situation, planning to visit by kayak; we waited only for reasonable visibility conditions. Such occurred on Monday, Feb. 13, 2007; additionally, a south wind would build by late morning in advance of a storm; this would blow us conveniently back to Ushibuka from where we planned to depart in the wee hours of the same morning. Thus at 2:40am, we left Satsuki beach on Gezu Island, the southernmost inhabited place in Amakusa, under calm conditions, a starry sky, and a temperature of about 8 degrees C.
In less than an hour we cleared Ganze Rocks, Amakusa’s southernmost land, but still 15.9km from the confluence. Paddling at a moderate speed against a rising breeze and a slight opposing current, we passed the hours watching shooting stars and the rising crescent moon. Coastal lights from most of the aforementioned land points were visible, as was the glare from a dozen or so squid-fishing boats shining their bright lights onto the water just beneath the horizon to starboard. Squid fishing in these parts takes place nearly every day of the year. As the first traces of dawn tinged the eastern sky, the fisherman packed it in and the boats returned home, mostly to Akune fishing port. We were right in their path, so it took a modicum of manouvering to avoid them; we had left our lights off because in a kayak it’s generally better to not be seen than to attract attention. One boat passed within 50 meters of us in the predawn murk without noticing us; kayaks are low in the water and hard to see in the chop.
The sun peeked out at 7:08 from behind the shoulder of 1067m tall Mt. Shibi, perhaps the most prominent landmark visible from the vicinity of the confluence. We were now 800m from target and closing fast. There was now ample wind and chop but amazingly, as I recorded a waypoint on the very first pass, I came up with all zeros for the decimals. It was a little harder to actually get a picture of this, as I had to paddle upwind, then drift and shoot more or less blindly, but I got it on about the fifth try. We took pictures in all directions, noting that he 10 meter high Kurokami Rocks, the closest land to the confluence, were not even visible beyond the horizon and all visible land seemed quite far away in spite of the excellent visibility. Turning around, we headed home around 8am, surfing the wind waves and eventually landing at Satsuki in building surf at 12 noon. Having just rock climbed for two days straight, then done this 40km paddle excursion with hardly any sleep in between, we set ourselves up for a fun afternoon at work teaching English. It’s a living!
P.S. We would like to dedicate this admittedly short open water excursion to the memory of Andrew McAuley, an Australian kayak adventurer who disappeared last weekend less than 100km from his goal while trying a solo crossing from Tasmania to New Zealand. Andrew's boldness in an inspiration to us all, while the tragic ending of his well-organized expedition is a reminder that human intellect and endurance are no match for the vastness and power of the Earth's wide oceans and high mountains. Yet for some of us, life is meaningless unless we throw ourselves at the mercy of this wilderness.