13-Oct-2003 -- I first heard about the degree confluence project in September of 2003, just about a week before our planned vacation to Japan. A member of our GIS society sent us all a notice about a newspaper article that detailed the confluence exploits of one of our colleagues and a friend of mine, Joseph Kerski.
I thoroughly enjoyed the article and had the immediate reaction of “what a geeky thing to do,….but fun!” I was hooked immediately and my partner Jean was also enthusiastic about the project. In past travels, we have learned that going on an “search mission” in another country can lead to the most interesting experiences.
Before our trip to Japan, I noted the country has four or five unvisited confluence sites, most of them north of Tokyo where we had planned to visit and explore. As our trip progressed however, we shifted our focus towards Shikoku island. A quick visit to the web site showed that there was at least one confluence point that might be achievable—133 degrees east longitude and 34 degrees north latitude.
Early in our visit we stayed near Tokyo with our friend Sumiko and her parents Toshiko and Masaki Abe. Masaki-san, her father, is an electrical engineer who has done support work for satellite ground stations for the Japanese space industry. He liked the idea, too!
Masaki-san and Sumiko took us to a bookstore in their town and helped find a map of Shikoku that showed latitude and longitude lines as well as railroad stations, towns, and roads. Masaki-san also printed out some large-scale maps from the internet to show the small roads around the confluence point. Then Sumiko wrote the key place names in roman script because we do not know enough Japanese to translate the kanji (Chinese) characters on the maps.
Masaki-san researched train schedules for us so we would have an idea about how long it would take to get from various cities to the small town near the point. Upon reaching Shikoku, we also obtained a train schedule booklet—which only came in Japanese. It turned out that the maps Masaki-san gave us were invaluable for several reasons. For example, we used them to match the Japanese place names on the train schedule to place names on the map, even though we often couldn’t pronounce a particular name until we reached the station and read the signs that were written in the phonetic Japanese alphabet. (Japanese has two phonetic “alphabets” as well as several thousand kanji characters.)
Prior to reaching Shikoku, I entered a waypoint of 34 degrees north 133 east into my Garmin e-Map receiver and called it “Shikoku.” We left Kyoto on the train and headed for our first destination on Shikoku, the city of Matsuyama. The rail route appeared to pass within three to four kilometers of the confluence point. As we approached the closest place to the confluence point, I turned on the receiver to verify distance and direction to the point. This helped us make a decision as to which train station we would stop at later.
As luck would have it, the day we set out was one of only 3 days of rain we saw on our twenty-one-day visit in Japan. We packed ponchos and snacks, and rode a one car train to Iyotomita Station. For good measure, we took a waypoint at the station, which we later used to find our way back to the train.
Point “Shikoku” was 4 kilometers away. We set out on foot to see what we could see. Our research had showed that it there would likely to be roads to within 500 meters or so of the point, but we were not sure what to expect. We were hoping for rice paddies.
We walked through a beautiful village with narrow paved farm roads that serviced the hundreds of rice paddies interspersed among the clusters of houses. It was easy to find roads that trended in our general direction, although increasing rain drenched us. As we got closer to the halfway point, we became more concerned about the terrain. It started to look as if our goal was going to be on the slope of a steep and wooded hill.
When we got to about 500 meters from the point, it looked as if we were out of luck. We were at a house, which we assumed to be some sort of religious building due to the cemetery next to it. We were at a small orchard on the edge of the woods.
One of the ironic things about our little venture is that this one of the few places we saw a sign in English. It said “No hunting.” As we got to close to our point we could hear gunfire coming from at least two different locations, not so far distant. Because of the woods, we could not see the shooters.
We looked around and found a small two-track road leading up hill and into the woods. (We did not take the other dirt road, which had a cable across it with a picture of a man with a hard hat and a big read x through it. We took this to mean no trespassing.) Amazingly our GPS receiver said we were headed almost directly to our confluence waypoint. About 60 meters from the point, we again ran out of luck. The two track we were following died out as the draw it was in closed in on us and we were left trying to bushwhack our way up the middle of a steep draw, with even steeper slopes on both sides. After trying to scale the sides a couple of times, we gave up and walked back out.
On the way out we examined a water pipe that was exposed where it crossed the draw to the opposite bank. We crossed the draw and found a trail carved into the side of the hill with survey markers and concrete manholes every 20 or 30 yards. Apparently it was some kind of water works for the municipality. As this road climbed the hill and went around the side of the ridge, we were again walking in the direction of the confluence point. The biggest problem was the presence of gigantic spiders—about the size of small hummingbirds—with big webs every 100 feet or so.
At about 60 meters from the point, the road veered away from the direction we wanted to go. What to do? Bushwhack of course!! Our only choice now was to go back into the woods. It was still very steep and thickly wooded and some places the ferns, which were about armpit height, completely obscured the ground. It was raining lightly, just enough to keep us damp. We went straight up the hill to reach dense undergrowth, ferns as tall as our armpits. Our feet couldn’t grip the ground and we couldn’t see if there were snakes under the ferns. The GPS receiver read “134.00023 34.00022.”
We stopped only 40 meters from the point, but 40 meters too far. I was only 120 feet and we had to give up. (Later I realized that these 40 meters were in a horizontal distance and we seemed to be going straight up to get there. No telling how many vertical meters we had to go to make that last 120 feet.)
We went ahead and took a waypoint and a couple of pictures and then walked out to the turn in the trail (approximately 80 meters from the point) where we could see down into the valley and to the Inland Sea beyond.
Our goal was to hit 34.00000 133.00000, and when we didn’t make that, I wasn’t as careful documenting our visit as I would have liked. I had forgotten about the 100 meter rule. We were actually well within 100 meters of the point in several spots. We had a beautiful walk back to the train station, past shrines and plant nurseries. We were happy, albeit, wet, muddy and exhausted.
If anyone else would like to get closer to this confluence point, send us an email and we will send you the log file from our GPS receiver to use as a track to get you up to the bush-whacking site. Maybe you can climb that hill to rack up the zeros on your GPS receiver.
Have fun! We did!!! And for those of you who may be coming from somewhere else, as we did, Japan is a great country to visit.