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Reflecting on the voyage: across the Indian Ocean

Photo: A train judders past Peace Boat's chartered vessel the Ocean Dream, as it pulls away from the Port of Kobe (Joseph Hincks)
A train judders past Peace Boat’s chartered vessel the Ocean Dream, as it pulls away from the Port of Kobe (Joseph Hincks)

After three weeks at sea with Peace Boat, charting a westerly course around the world, time has become a slippery concept. Every few days we hit a new longitude and gain an hour – an anomaly I’m told will be resolved somewhere beyond Easter Island, when we shoot through 24 of them in sixty minutes.

“The day after the time change, it is always difficult to find space at morning Tai Chi; everyone has gotten up earlier and it’s way more crowded,” said Ian Kennedy from New York, who is volunteering as an English teacher on Peace Boat.

Onboard, spaces shift too: a media center has been set up in what was – in the Ocean Dream’s former incarnations– a casino. One evening geriatric partners waltzed across the ship’s Starlight Lounge; the next it was packed with syncopated ravers in headphones, blurting lyric snatches at a silent disco. The Piano Bar, whose walls and ceiling are frenzied with a black and white key motif, hosted English lessons, Shigin classical poetry recitations, a newly formed choir, and a lecture on US navy fleet admiral “Bull” Halsey all on the same day.

One of the unique aspects of travelling on a Peace Boat voyage, which makes the above possible, is daily jishukikaku (self-organized events). Passengers can arrange discussion groups, workshops or lectures based around a theme of their choice: “Jishukikaku are the lifeblood of the Peace Boat experience. By contributing their varied experiences and knowledge, passengers, or ‘participants’, can feel a sense of ownership over the voyage and are able to enrich it for everyone traveling with them,“ said Samuel Annesley, the 86th Voyage’s International Director.

Jishukiaku have so far included a watercolor painting class, a dissection of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, a tatami-mat discussion on the planned relocation of US military bases to Henoko in Okinawa, a personal story about delivering aid to Kosovo, and myriad mahjong, ping pong, and chess tournaments.

Below is a snapshot of some of the onboard events of the past three weeks.

PAINTER DRAGON 76 BREATHES LIFE INTO ART

Photo: Japanese artist Dragon 76 works on a live painting on Peace Boat’s Lido deck. (Joseph Hincks)
Japanese artist Dragon 76 works on a live painting on Peace Boat’s Lido deck. (Joseph Hincks)

“I have a Photoshop brain,” said live painter Dragon 76, who boarded Peace Boat in Singapore.

Periodically checking in on a work in progress, you can see what he means: lines thicken, colors fill blank space, and progressive layers hide or reveal portions of the work underneath.

With his canvas stretched across the ninth deck’s palisades, Dragon painted one of the four artworks he would complete on Peace Boat. He swigged from a can of beer between brush strokes, held a cigarette in his teeth while mixing colors, and a succession of true lines precipitated an impromptu dance.

Photo: In a special live painting exhibition in Peace Boat’s club Bahia, Dragon 76 completed an intricate pen drawing in under an hour. (Joseph Hincks)
In a special live painting exhibition in Peace Boat’s club Bahia, Dragon 76 completed an intricate pen drawing in under an hour. (Joseph Hincks)

Renowned for depicting “people and animals of strong life force,” Dragon’s works are highly acclaimed across Japan. Over the course of five previous Peace Boat voyages, he has produced paintings around the theme of hope in various ports, including a Palestinian refugee camp and an orphanage in Kenya.

On Peace Boat’s 86th Voyage, Dragon auctioned paintings he had produced onboard, along with a portrait commission, to raise funds for the African Youth Ensemble (AYE), a Peace Boat partner organization that provides free musical education to students in South Africa’s Soweto, and from which a group of youth are also currently onboard.

When Peace Boat docks in Toamasina tomorrow, Dragon will paint a mural for Village d’Enfants, which is run by international NGO SOS Children’s Villages International and provides a safe space for disadvantaged children in Madagascar to live and learn.

MARTIAL ARTS MASTER OSAWA NORIO LECTURES ON LIFE, DEATH, AND RELIEVING CONSTIPATION

Photo: Osawa Norio taught Peace Boat passengers the fundamentals of Tai Chi, acupuncture, and tug of war (Joseph Hincks)
Osawa Norio taught Peace Boat passengers the fundamentals of Tai Chi, acupuncture, and tug of war (Joseph Hincks)

Martial arts master, acupuncturist, and manager of the Ocean Dream’s massage room Osawa Norio, who boarded at Yokohama and departed in Singapore, is a veteran of more than ten Peace Boat cruises.

In a series of workshops onboard, Osawa taught passengers the rudiments of Tai Chi, acupuncture, and eastern medicine. In one lecture, he demonstrated the acupressure point to relieve seasickness: three finger widths beyond the first wrist crease. He also prescribed a self-administered therapy to increase lumbar flexibility, “place your fingers on your shoulders – the point directly above where your nipples used to be,” he directed his audience of mostly elderly passengers.

Incorporated in Osawa’s lectures were myriad gags, segues into Japanese etymology, and nuggets of life advice: appreciate the beautiful efficiency of your digestive system; cultivate death consciousness. “Our cells are already dead; dead cells form the surface of our skin. Being soft and flexible is important. If you are alive, you are dead; life and death co-exist with one another,” Osawa said.

Photo: Osawa Norio’s tug of war workshop series culminated in a contest on the Ocean Dream’s sports deck. (Joseph Hincks)
Osawa Norio’s tug of war workshop series culminated in a contest on the Ocean Dream’s sports deck. (Joseph Hincks)

On November 30, a tug of war competition was held on board, presided over by Osawa, who also happens to be Chairman of the Kanto Tug-of-War Association.

Earlier in the voyage, the martial artist had given instruction on tug of war technique and adjudication, through which around 20 passengers gained a refereeing license to judge the sport at official Japanese competitions.

“It’s so much fun being a referee, and I’m probably the only Swede with a Japanese tug-of-war referee license, which is hilarious” said Bjorn Kåberger who is interning on Peace Boat.

PREFECTURAL PRIDE AFTER 3/11

Photo: Yamana Hirokazu lists the attributes of his home prefecture Yamagata in Tohoku, which was affected by the earthquake and tsunami of 3/11. (Joseph Hincks)
Yamana Hirokazu lists the attributes of his home prefecture Yamagata in Tohoku, which was affected by the earthquake and tsunami of 3/11. (Joseph Hincks)

On March 11, 2011 the Great East Earthquake and Tsunami devastated Japan, killing close to 20,000 people and causing billions of dollars of damage. The Tohoku area, in the north of Japan’s largest island Honshu, was the most acutely impacted. The recovery efforts are still ongoing, and many areas continue to be afflicted by radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was damaged in the quake.

Last week, Peace Boat passengers Kurita Arata, 24 from Yamagata prefecture, and 22-year-old Nemoto Naoya from Fukushima prefecture arranged an onboard gathering for people from Tohoku. “I wanted to hear their feelings about 3/11. A lot of people here might have lost friends and relatives, so they are probably more affected than others in Japan,” Kurita said.

But it was hometown pride, and the more quotidian aspects of Tohoku life, that emerged strongest from the discussions. Participants shared little known attributes of their prefectures: Miyagi has produced an abundance of professional figure skaters; Akita has the highest elementary school grades in Japan; and every year Fukushima – which besides being the site of the damaged nuclear plant, is known for its five-color marshlands, and producing persimmons that are gifted to the emperor – hosts a major Hula festival.

UNLIKELY CARGO ON THE OCEAN DREAM

Photo: Volunteer interpreter Joe Flynn and African Youth Ensemble member Lesego Pheleu (AKA Size-10) sort Japanese Hina Ningyou dolls, which will be distributed to members of the Japanese diaspora in Latin American ports. (Katsuta Airi)
Volunteer interpreter Joe Flynn and African Youth Ensemble member Lesego Pheleu (AKA Size-10) sort Japanese Hina Ningyou dolls, which will be distributed to members of the Japanese diaspora in Latin American ports. (Katsuta Airi)

It took two weeks for the United People’s Alliance (UPA) team to sort and package the donations received from embarking passengers on Peace Boat’s 86th Voyage and other supporters from throughout Japan.

Every Peace Boat trip, volunteer staff deliver goods collected in Japan to partner organizations in the various ports the ship visits through the UPA programme. In accordance with the stated needs of NGOs in the respective ports, donations are collected from embarking passengers, and through other drives in Japan.

On the 86th voyage, UPA goods to be distributed include musical instruments, soccer balls, stationery, and traditional Japanese items such as Hina Ningyou dolls, calligraphy sets and kimonos that will be delivered to members of the Japanese diaspora in ports in Latin America.

In the past, Peace Boat has delivered supplies as diverse as an ambulance to Nicaragua, wheelchairs to Iraq, and diapers to a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan.

“Peace Boat began 31 years ago and so did the UPA project. This is the oldest project on Peace Boat and probably the simplest,” said Otsubo Rei, one of the Peace Boat staff running the UPA programme on board.