Ine no Funaya – A community on the sea

It almost felt like I was cheating on reenacting Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog. It was eight in the morning when I woke up on the bed I made myself the night before in a Japanese tatami room on the second floor. I opened the window to feel the cold air from Kansai’s seashore in February, almost instantly icing the warmth inside the room equipped with modern heating. The waves were running and ruthlessly slapping on the lone rock in the sea, echoed by the sound of my host sweeping away the snow off the road with a shovel.

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I was staying at a minshuku in a traditional Japanese house, the home of Shibata-san, a fisherman and his family. Breakfast was ready at 8:30am, as planned with Shibata-san, and I headed down to the small dining hall on the wooden steps. Japanese minshukus have stricter rules, smaller capacities, but a more intimate setting. Here in Ine, tourism has only started to bloom in recent years, and most hosts coming from a fishing background do not speak other languages than Japanese.

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Shibata-so is one of the few houses on the land accommodating guests on the seaside town of Ine, Kyoto Prefecture. Most other inhabitants live in one of the 230 remaining funayas – boathouses built in 1700s during the Edo period. At first, funayas were only one-story cottages, mainly built to house fishing gears. In the 1930s, new 2-storey boathouses were built on the shore after the government’s plan to widen roads. Fishermen would live on the second floor, parking ships and gears below. Until 40 years ago, the fishing industry in Ine was a living purely dependent on the nature. As fish farms for yellowtail and sea bream start to appear, ships became less useful, and as fish farms also start to disappear, these boathouses slowly became renovated for hosting tourists. Today, over 100 funayas, 11 fish farms and 80% of the town’s population have been gone.

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One can see that Ine is a true fishing community, or at least a sea people community. Walking on the road side of the funayas, wooden houses, doors and windows are bland and guarded, like any other land villages. Once on a boat in the Bay of Ine, however, the row of 2-storey funayas stretching 3 kilometres of the coastal line feels surprisingly accessible, friendly, and close. You may be working on a neighbour’s ship, and you can see what the children are doing on their terraces. This side of the boathouse is where the true door is, and it is always open.

After breakfast I was ready to check out and packed up my bags on the back of Shibata-san’s little wagon. He dropped me off at the bus station with a sincere greeting. I decided to take a walk on the main street before I get on the return bus. The trees were still covered in snow from last night, but the sun was out, and the sky was cleared. Flocks of seabirds were flying and singing, enjoying the emptiness of a Sunday morning.

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