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Island with a rocky ‘horse’ famed in poet’s song

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Umanose Domon, a natural bridge whose highest point is 8 meters above the shore.

By Koichi Saijo / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterMIURA, Kanagawa — It started with a desire to take a short trip somewhere near Tokyo. Flipping through a guidebook, I found a touristy spot with a panoramic view of a sheer cliff and a rocky reef.

Jogashima is a small island with about 4 kilometers of shoreline, located only about 200 meters from Misaki Port in Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture. The island stretches east to west, with the sea keeping it cool in summer and warm in winter.

It’s said that the island became a tourist site after Minamoto no Yoritomo and other shoguns of the Kamakura period (late 12th century to early 14th century) made repeated visits to the island. Such a background is reflected in its district names, such as Asobigasaki. Asobi means “pleasure” or “play” in Japanese.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Naomichi Miyake, a member of a society dedicated to poet Hakushu Kitahara, stands next to the Hakushu Monument, on which the lyrics from “Rain over Jogashima” are carved. Jogashima Ohashi bridge is seen behind the monument.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

Horse of a different structure

The island’s iconic sightseeing spot is Umanose Domon, a sea arch made by wind and wave erosion to form a shape said to resemble a horse’s back. A 10-minute walk in Jogashima Park on the eastern part of the island brought me to the top of a cliff of about 30 meters above sea level, where Japanese cormorants spend the winter.

I arrived at the arch on the coast and wondered how this shape could resemble a horse.

“I get stuck whenever children ask me that question on my guided tour,” said Kenichi Iwaguchi, 71, a volunteer guide for the city. There is a theory that the natural bridge got its name in the Meiji era (1868-1912). “Maybe the rock used to be seen like a horseback back then.”

The blue ocean and the Boso Peninsula of Chiba Prefecture seen beyond the arch create a picturesque view, impressing one with the mystery of nature.

The top of the arch had gotten thinner than it appeared in pictures I had seen from the past. I worried that a big earthquake could destroy it.

I left the coast wondering what the arch really looked like in the time of Yoritomo.

Theme of Hakushu’s song

Returning to the park, I headed to Hakushu Memorial Hall in the Asobigasaki district. Poet Hakushu Kitahara (1885-1942) hailed from Yanagawa, Fukuoka Prefecture, but did a lot of writing in Miura. The memorial hall exhibits items related to the poet.

Hakushu came to Tokyo, where he enrolled in Waseda University and published a number of poems to establish his position in literary circles. However, he fell in love with someone’s wife, which became a big scandal and soiled his reputation.

Hakushu lived in Miura for about 10 months after the scandal, from 1913 to 1914. In that short time, he wrote “Rain over Jogashima” at the request of the Geijutsuza theater company, to be performed at one of its concerts. With music composed by Tadashi Yanada and sung by Ryozo Okuda, the song, which starts with “The rain is falling, falling, over the rocky shores of Jogashima ...” became such a big hit. I hear elderly people sing it to themselves even today.

Naomichi Miyake, a member of the Misaki Hakushu-kai society dedicated to the poet, recited some of the lyrics:

“The rain is falling like pearls

Or like mist at predawn

Or like my tears on my cheek.”

Miyake, 71, said: “The heart of Hakushu at that time is poured into the lyrics filled with remorse and regret, types of feelings that everybody can relate to. That may be why the song touched many people’s hearts.”

The song made Jogashima known nationwide. In 1960, the Jogashima Ohashi bridge was built from the Misaki side, and the island became a popular tourist spot in Kanagawa Prefecture.

“Jogashima is indebted to Hakushu,” Miyake said.

Breakwater for Misaki Port

Looking over Sagami Sea from the heights of Jogashima Park, I found impressively high waves smashing up against the rocks, even in the fine weather.

Sitting a short distance from Misaki Port, the island serves as a natural breakwater, and the sea facing the port is quiet. On top of the geographical advantage of being located near the mouth of Tokyo Bay, the tranquility of the ocean around the port must also have attracted many deep-sea fishing vessels such as tuna fishing boats to call at the port.

Access

It takes about 70 minutes from Shinagawa Station in Tokyo to Misakiguchi Station in Kanagawa Prefecture by Keikyu rapid train. From the station, it takes about 30 minutes to Jogashima by Keikyu bus. For more information, call the Miura City Tourist Association at (046) 888-0588.

To find out more about Japan’s attractions, visit http://the-japan-news.com/news/d&dSpeech

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