The sea of Seto

Tides, currents and traffic in Japan’s inland sea

By arnaud In Cruises

The Seto Inland Sea, the “Japanese Mediterranean”, is a body of water that lies between three of the four main islands of the archipelago of Japan: Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. It is approximately 500 kilometers long. This is a shallow sea (30-meter deep), with more than 600 islands and islets.

La mer intérieure de Seto au sud ouest du Japon“What the Japanese have been missing, is a great river,” wrote Henri Michaux in the early early thirties. But while there are no big rivers in Japan, one can argue that the inland sea, this narrow road between sea and mountains, dotted with islands and easily navigable, played the same role in Japanese civilization as the Tiger, the Yellow River and the Ganges. The maritime dimension weighed heavily on human settlement in Japan. How could it be otherwise, isn’t Japan an archipelago?

Robert Guillain, press correspondent in Asia for nearly forty years speaks rightly. “It is all full like ours, this Inland Sea, of sailors stories, from those galleys before the year thousand, to the sixteenth century adventurers who sailed all the way to Java. It was the sea of the merchants. It had its pirates in the Middle Ages, hidden in the straits. We still speak of mermaids who were the islands girls, who bewitched the sailors and would not let them go. Wasn’t it also a mermaid story, that of the daughter of the king of the sea, who brought Urashima, the sailor of the legend to her underwater palace? The island of ogres where battled Momotarô, the hero of Japanese children’s stories, isn’t it a little like  the island of the Cyclops? Even without an Odyssey, this sea has at least an Iliad in its own way: they are the famous stories of the terrible war of the Heike and the Genji, which took place on its shores. We can still visit the battlefields, the ruins or the relics, like the armors of my island. Elsewherehe  in the straits, I saw the whirlpools of Charybdis, who are named Kijima or Naruto, and the pitfalls of Scylla or their lookalikes, feared by the skippers of the big steamships. And as this sea has its olive trees, it also has its bullfights near Shikoku”.

It is sunny, there will be sun and sometimes there’s some sun.

The Seto area is nicknamed “the land of the beautiful weather” (晴 れ の 国, Hare no kuni). It is known for its mild climate, especially in the spring, from early March and autumn. The environment thus encouragges fishing, aquaculture and agriculture on its shores.Almost the entire water of the Seto Sea renews itself in just a year and half, fifty times faster than the Mediterranean. This shows an intense maritime dynamism. The Inland Sea is crossed by tidal currents and particularly strong residual currents, sometimes over 12 knots. At the time when ships engines did not exist, Japanese sailors perfectly mastered the tides of the sea of Seto and used them to get from one island to another. In the region, we don’t wait for the wind to rise; the word “Shio-machi” means waiting for the current direction to be favorable. We find many bays or harbors to wait for “Shio-machi” in the islands of the Seto Sea.

merdesetoDuring your cruise in the islands, you will come across as many industrial or traditional fishing boats as freighters and passenger ships The region is particularly successful thanks to the important maritime traffic in an easily navigable sea. The main axis of communication between the Kansai region and Kyushu, has played and still plays an essential role in the transportation of goods and raw materials. On average almost 1,400 ships per day pass through the Akashi Strait. Our routes cross the Inland Seto Sea. It is dotted with beautiful scenery and plays amidst a blue sea crossed by heavy traffic.