Ancient Boat Loaded with         Romance and Adventure


There is a display of a red ship at Kurahashi Historical Folk Custom Museum (倉橋歴史民俗資料館) in Kure. It is a replica of Kentoshisen (遣唐使船), a simple wooden boat with two masts. Kurahashi is famous for building these types of ships that carried ancient people and their dreams more than 1300 years ago. 


From 630 to 894 (Nara-Heian Era)  Japan sent envoys to China's Tang  ynasty about 15 times. This delegation made a great contribution to Japans cultural development. Just think of                      Flat-bottom ship with sails 

a small sailing boat (25m x7m) with 150 people                    made of  bamboo mats

on it as it crossed the East China Sea and made its way into China having no expertise in navigation. What a thrilling and challenging journey it must have been!


The ship sailed westward from Naniwa-zu (Osaka Bay), with occasional stops, leaving the Seto Inland Sea, passing the Kanmon Channel, and sailed on the rolling sea of Hibiki-nada. They stayed at Dazaifu for several days, and then headed for the Goto Islands. There they got their final supplies of food and water and put the finishing touches on the boats, caulking the joints with seaweed. With three ships

attending, they were ready to go.


Who was on the ship? Among the passengers of envoys were officials, monks, Shinto priests, mechanics, doctors, archers, students, and painters.


There were also fortune tellers who, when night fell, consulted the stars for direction 

standing at the bow. Priests chanted sutras at night wishing for divine protection

throughout the journey. 


What did they eat on board? Daily rations of sun dried steamed rice, which was 

durable but hard to eat so it had to be soaked in water. Silk, agate, amber were

also loaded as tributes. 


Storms made their voyage difficult. Usually it took 10 days from the Goto Islands to the mouth of the Yangzi River, about 800km. However, Kukai ’s journey was not blessed with fair wind. It was stranded at sea for 34 days and ended up being its longest journey. Out of 120 passengers, 23 headed for Chang’an, another long journey. Upon their return, they brought sutra, sandalwood, and herbs back to Japan. 


#125 Parkway Vol.22 No.3 July - September 2008














嵐がくると航海は困難なものになった。五島列島から揚子江河口までの約800kmの距離、通常は約10日の航海だ。順風に恵まれなかった空海の旅は、34日間海で立往生し、記録的に長い旅となった。 120人の乗客のうち、23人が長安に向かった。更に長い旅である。帰国の際には、経典、白檀、薬草を持ち帰った。