The Smell of the Sea

posted in: Japan: Living, Journal, Nature, Tokyo | 2
Shetlands Foghorn
Foghorn on the Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, the Shetlands, Great Britain, 1995.


In the last two weeks three times the air has carried the smell of the sea through Tokyo. Tonight was another such night. In all my years living in Tokyo never before have I smelled the ammonia and seaweed and salt away from the coast. It was like a subtle reminder of where I am, where all people in Tokyo are, but which is so easily forgotten amidst all the concrete and rush.

Tokyo.. once called “Edo”… was once famed for the variety, excellence, and freshness of its fish. The best fish was referred to as “Edo-mae”, sort of an equivalent of the American Grade A beef. During the Edo Period the docks and piers and wharfs and landfills that block the city’s access to the water today existed only in some dreamer’s mind; many of the waterways extended quite far inland, and the smell of the sea must have been a daily ingredient in Edo’s sea breezes.

To add magic to the briny air, I’ve been watching the TV series “Horatio Hornblower”. As a boy I loved seafaring stories and would devour such books as “Two Years Before the Mast”, “Treasure Island”, and “The Mutiny On the Bounty”. While other kids put together plastic racing car and robot models, I took my tweezers and rigged the intricate sails and masts of such tall ships as the Cutty Sark, the Golden Hind, the H.M.S. Beagle, and the H.M.S. Bounty. I still dream of one day learning to sail a yacht and crossing the Pacific. I would love to spend one night out in the middle of the ocean, lying on deck, and watching the stars.

This month “Pirates of the Carribean” will start. The sea has hoven into my shores this summer. The salt spray is calling.

2 Responses

  1. Pica

    So you aren’t also a Patrick O’Brian fan, are you? At least, not yet? If you like Hornblower, you’ll love these–it’s dangerous, though. There are twenty books in the series. I’ve read them all AT LEAST four times.

    (First one is Master & Commander…)