A Ship Launch on the Shimanami
A Ship Launch on the Shimanami
Uwajima-Unyu Ferries offers one of the major links to Shikoku with its ferry service between Beppu and Usuki in Kyushu, and Yawatahama on Shikoku. The Shimanami Kaido is another important link, with a road traversing the Geiyo Islands between Honshu and Shikoku. On September 7 (Thursday), Uwajima-Unyu Ferries will launch a new ferry at a shipyard on Ikuchijima, one of the islands of the Shimanami Kaido. Shikoku Tours is offering a tour to see this exclusive ceremony.
The Seto Inland Sea is one of the world’s major shipbuilding areas, especially the Geiyo Islands off Imabari. The shipyards with their array of massive cranes and brightly coloured, brand-new ships add interest to an already beautiful scene. For the photographer, the geometry of the cranes and the shining curves of the ships are irresistible. Nevertheless, dramatic as the scenes are, there’s no movement. But when a ship is launched, there’s movement and action aplenty.
A Japanese ship launch follows the customs of the West, but with a distinctive patina of Japaneseness. The ship is decked out in the red and white cloth used for felicitous occasions and new starts. There are flags over the bow and a giant ball suspended over the bulbous bow. On the bulb itself, a large champagne bottle is rigged up on a gantry, with a string running to a gallery erected in front of the ship, midway up its bows. Typically, a young lady from the shipowning family does the honours. Usually she’s wearing her most colourful kimono. Tightly wrapped, she makes her way mincingly up the steps to the gallery with help from her family in their formal black.
Around the ship, shipyard workers in their tidy uniforms with distinctly retro-looking gaiters make their final checks. They inspect the chocks supporting the hull and act busy, as if everything weren’t already finalized and ready to run without a hitch. The stalls reserved for spectators fill up, and everyone scopes out the best spot for taking the photos and videos they want.
After a couple of speeches, it’s time for the launch. With a chunky silver axe, mademoiselle cuts through the string to the champagne bottle, releasing it onto the nose of the ship where it explodes with a popping sound and tinkle of glass. Almost imperceptibly, the ship begins to move. As it picks up speed, the spectators are thrilled by the rumbling sensation underfoot. The ball on the bow breaks open and streamers and confetti pour out. Balloons float up, and wisps of paint dust rise in eddies above the slipway rails. The ship picks up speed rapidly and within seconds, the stern enters the sea for the first time with a splash.
Shikoku Tours is offering a rare opportunity to be a part of this special occasion. Uwajima-Unyu Ferries provides one of the key transportation links to Shikoku, and witnessing the launch of one of its ships is sure to be memorable. Our tour also visits Oyamazumi Shrine, a deeply historic and sacred site, and Towel Museum Ichihiro, one of those ‘only in Japan’ places.
Ship launches take place frequently but irregularly around the Seto Inland Sea. If you want to watch one, we may be able to make a special arrangement for you.