29-Apr-2003 -- Alex Waugh, from the UK, and I, from the US, currently teach English in Sapporo, Hokkaido from where we ventured off on the evening of April 28 to begin a week-long trip. We were to hit Tohoku, the northern prefecture of Honshu, Japan's biggest island, for what's called the Golden Week holiday. It was the ideal time for 'cherry-blossom viewing', yet we planned to make it into a trip of hitchhiking, travel and confluence-hunting, as well as cherry-blossom viewing!
This first confluence on our path was on the way between the harbor of Hachinohe, where we arrived by ferry the morning of the 29th, and Hirosaki, an historic town famous for cherry blossom viewing at Hirosaki castle and park. Yet the confluence was a few kilometers off the coast in Aomori bay so we weren't sure we would make it. We thought we'd give it a try anyway.
We got off the train at Kominato station next to a small town called Hiranai. We found out later that the area next to it on the bay is an attraction for watching swans that nest there during the winter. We walked with our packs for about 20 minutes across an area scattered with homes and small agricultural plots before we arrived at the sea side.
The sea-side area was somewhat quiet, yet in some spots bustling with activity. It was crowded with small boats of independent fishermen. Although the small central street of the residential village was quaint and picturesque, the harbor area was a bit dilapidated and strewn with old nets, buoys, shell fragments and a stench of rotting seaweed and sea animals. Nevertheless, there were few signs of any economic problems with workers and some small businesses humming away with seemingly successful operations.
Such was the case at the first place we asked for a ride out to sea in quest of our confluence point. The point was now about 7 kilometers away from us, and all we needed was a boat to get us out there. While helping workers lug crates of sea cucumbers and other sea animals from fishing boats to a small warehouse, a manager tried to help us with an arrangement.
Alex's knowledge of Japanese was indispensable, as he described our "strange hobby" to them. In my experience Japanese people aren't that fazed by confluence hunting, compared to other Asians. Strange hobbies seem to be common in Japan. The manager tried to set up a ride on his friend's boat, but being that this day was a holiday, his friend had taken apart the boat engine for repair and it looked like it might be some time before it could be up and running. Several people suggested to us to go to Shiranai, a town which is closer to the point but with not necessarily as many fishing boats.
So we got out on the main village road and stuck out our fingers for only a few minutes before a pick up truck let us hop in the back. A few minutes later we hopped off in the small village of Shiranai, only 4 kilometers now from the point. But the prospects for boats didn't look very good.
The exception was an old woman and man loading a boat up with fluorescent orange, green and yellow net bags. The woman was extremely nice and she initiated conversation with us. They seemed really busy and the woman was saying something about the fact that it was too bad they had to work so much, in particular that day, a holiday. We walked off without asking them for a ride, but I suggested to Alex we should ask just in case. It seemed like it might be our last chance at the point. Up to this point, it had really seemed that our expectations were too high to get a ride out to sea.
We went back to ask them, and to our pleasant astonishment the couple offered to take us out on their way to do their work.
The fluorescent bags, it turns out, contained scallop larvae. They would take them out to submerge them, and a month later come back to reel in delicious adult scallops to sell as seafood.
They sped us out of the harbor, past sticks and buoys where others had deposited nets or cages underwater, and to our surprise we arrived at the exact location of the confluence in about 10 minutes. I documented it quickly so they could get to work.
Oddly, they took us back to the harbor without doing any of their work. We felt bad that they had taken about half an hour away from their work and offered them money which they wouldn't accept. They rushed back out to sea as we waved goodbye. The kind couple had been the key factor in our obtaining the confluence point.