#14     May, 2001

A Raft from the Past___________________The culture crossed this sea.

On April 16, the sea-gulls in the Karatsu Bay must have been very surprised because the East Wharf of Karatsu Port was suddenly crowded with people.
This port used to be a prosperous port, from which coal was shipped in the Meiji and Taisho Eras, and fish in the Showa Era.
While these two or three decades, this has been a lonesome place.
But this day, what attracted the citizen to run to this wharf?
A Raft was coming from the Past!
This simple raft of ten cedar logs tied together was 6meters long and 3meters wide. It had a mast, and hanging from the pole there was a kind of cloth, which you might call a sail.
On the raft, there was a low wooden box of 2meters square of ceiling, and one side of the low walls was open. Somebody told me that from this entrance people could crawl in it and use this box as a comfortable bed room for three people together.
Karatsu people welcomed this raft enthusiastically.
We waved small flags of both Korea and Japan.
Many Korean people living in Japan were here in their traditional dresses.They were so beautiful. The graceful long skirts were also waving their welcome in the spring sea-breeze.
Among these people there was an energetic Korean lady. Her name is Yu Hwa-Jun.
She is the representative of 'Genkai-Jin Club', which aims at mutual understanding and friendship between Korea and Japan. My husband and I are members of this club.

Then, what is this raft for?
Why do you think I called this 'The Raft from the Past'?

In the southern part of Korean Peninsula, there is a place called Yeong-am. An ancient scholar 'Wang-In Baksa(meaning Doctor)' was born in this sea-side county. Wang-In was a great scholar in the time of Paekche about 1600years ago.
At that time, Japan was almost unified and the Emperor Ohjin wanted to have the culture of letters. Those cultures like art, architecture, laws and systems of the government and religions were flowing into Japan through the gateway of this northern Kyushu. Karatsu was one of the nearest gates from Korea.

Wang-In probably sailed from Yeong-Am stopping at Tsushima and Iki Islands waiting for the proper winds and proper tides, with the high risk of the lives of the crew.
Many high-ranked priests of both Korea and Japan died in the sea without reaching the goal.
But Wang-In succeeded, and gave to the Emperor the wonderful gifts of 'The Thousand Letters' and 'The Analects of Confucius'
We Japanese owe him for the letters and other cultures with which Japan grew its backbone.
Wang-In had his influence widely in that time of Japanese government. He never went back to his own country. His grave is in Hirakata-City near Osaka.

At his birthplace, in every April, they hold a festival to celebrate Wang-In's birthday.
In this year 2001, it was a special one, and they decided to go over the sea on the ancient style raft trying to send the message of the history.
The Genkai Sea, between Korea and Kyushu, is famous for its rough waves. It seemed to be a dangerous project.
A tugboat accompanied it. But the raft was rowed almost 100 percent by human hands.
It must have been a rough and tough voyage of 6 days.
I am so glad that they survived.
There was a welcome ceremony with many speeches and flowers.
The speeches by the host and the visitor captain of the raft were both wonderful.

Our respected old man, Mr. Hikoki Takeo, made an amazing speech without glancing at a note.
He explained the history of old Japan and the achievement of the great Wang-In about 1500 years ago. Mr. Takeo said, "I am only 90years young, so I do not know about 1500 years' past. But I can imagine how hard the journey was and how much it meant to Japan. So let me welcome you with all the compassion and gratitude of ancient Japanese people.'
I hope the translator could have translated his wonderful speech well.

The Captain of the Crew made another beautiful speech. Later I found that he was a poet. It was natural that his speech sounded like a poem.

The 5 crewmen of the raft and the 16 of the boat did not have any reservation for the accommodation for that night. So we offered and they stayed with us in Yoyokaku. We had an exciting party.
Captain Che Ba-da's suntanned face broke into a big attractive smile, and his deep voice sounded like poems here too.
I now believe that Doctor Wang-In of 1600 years ago must have been a fantastic person like this poet.

Now I am more than sure of one thing.
Korea and Japan, specially Karatsu, are so close to each other.
To cross this sea!
However dangerous it may have been, it was possible with a primitive method of voyage.
I hope Karatsu will serve forever and ever as the gateway of the communication and friendship between the two countries.
              Thank you for visiting this web-page.
                                                                I hope you will visit me again next month.

                                                  Mail to Harumi Okochi