Wakayama: Lighthouse serves as beacon for intl friendship

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kashinozaki Lighthouse sits on the edge of Kii Oshima in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture.

KUSHIMOTO, Wakayama — Kashinozaki Lighthouse, Japan’s oldest such structure constructed with stone, holds a special place in history for helping to nurture Japan’s early exchanges with Turkey and the United States.

At the southernmost point of Japan’s main island Honshu is the picturesque Cape Shionomisaki, part of the Kii Peninsula in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture. On the east side of the cape, you can see Kii Oshima, an island connected by a bridge. The easternmost point of this island is where the Kashinozaki Lighthouse sits, high on a cliff, with a prominent chalk-like appearance.

Climbing the spiral staircase of the lighthouse, I was struck by the 360-degree view. It was early August and the sky was clear and blue. I saw the horizon forming a gentle arc beyond the open ocean.

“I can feel that the Earth is round here,” said a 21-year-old female student, who was on a trip from Sanda, Hyogo Prefecture.

The decision to build the lighthouse was made in 1866, while Japan was still under the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate. At that time, the shogunate had signed the Edo Treaty with four countries, including the United States and Britain, which led to the construction of eight lighthouses, including the Kashinozaki structure.

The Western-style stone lighthouse was built by British engineer Richard Henry Brunton (1841-1901), who is known as “the father of lighthouses in Japan,” along with a building for the lighthouse keeper’s residence. The one-story residence, which no longer serves its original purpose because the lighthouse no longer needs a keeper, is designated as a registered tangible cultural property. The lighthouse, which was first lit in 1870, after the Tokugawa reign ended, was equipped with a rotating flash lens.

Brunton is said to have planted daffodils around the lighthouse, missing his home country, and the plants still grow in clusters and bloom in winter.

Rescue of Turkish crew

The coast around the lighthouse has been called a choke point for maritime traffic because of its complex ria coast with many rocks and reefs.

In 1890 — 20 years after the lighthouse was constructed — a Turkish warship was caught in a typhoon around the waters, run aground on a reef by high waves and sank. The frigate Ertugrul was carrying a delegation to Japan from the Ottoman Empire, which ruled what is now Turkey.

In the darkness, 587 people died after being thrown into the sea, but 69 survived thanks to dedicated rescue efforts by local people in Kushimoto. It is said that some of the survivors swam ashore and climbed a steep cliff, guided by the lighthouse, and found shelter at the keeper’s residence.

“Light from the lighthouse was a beacon of life for the stranded foreigners,” said Mitsunori Hamano, who manages the former residence. He is also a member of a group that hands down tales of the Ertugrul disaster.

The rescue efforts of the local people have been passed down as a testament to the friendship between Japan and Turkey, and in 1974, the town government of Kushimoto established the Turkish Memorial Museum, which displays a model of the Ertugrul and the belongings of its crew. A monument in memory of the disaster was also erected near the lighthouse.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Turkish Memorial Museum

In addition to historical facts about the Ertugrul disaster being carried in a Turkish textbook, a movie about the episode — a Japanese-Turkish coproduction — “125 Years Memory” was made in 2015.

In March last year, the lighthouse, the former lighthouse keeper’s residence and the cemetery for the victims were designated as national historic sites.

“The residents selflessly engaged in rescuing the foreigners, and that fact has been passed on as a cornerstone of friendship,” Hamano said. “I’m proud of it.”

Pre-Perry U.S. arrival

Even before the lighthouse was built, a historic event took place slightly offshore in 1791.

The arrival of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry’s fleet at the port of Uraga, now in Kanagawa Prefecture, in 1853 was a shocking event for secluded Japan. However, 62 years earlier, the U.S. merchant ship Lady Washington and fellow ship Grace had called at the port in Kushimoto to interact with local residents.

The Japan-U.S. Friendship Museum near the lighthouse has kept a map depicting how the U.S. flag was flown for the first time in secluded Japan, along with related materials.

The Grace’s logbook was discovered in 2016, and the Kushimoto municipality began an exchange with Wearham, Mass., the home of Lady Washington Capt. John Kendrick.

“Research is progressing among Japanese and American experts, and the history of various exchanges will be revealed in the future,” the museum’s supervisor Hayato Sakurai said. “I hope that a lot of people will learn about this part of history.”

Extend your trip!

Space Port Kii

©Space One Co.
A rendering of a rocket launch

This small rocket launch site in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture, is the first such facility operated by a private company. Kii roughly refers to a region including Wakayama Prefecture and southern part of Mie Prefecture.

Space One Co., the Tokyo-based company that operates the facility, plans to launch the satellite-mounted rocket named Kairos — an abbreviation of Kii-based Advanced & Instant Rocket System — as early as December and has a goal of launching 20 satellites per year by the mid-2020s.

The town government will develop a space exhibition hall and a video theater in the town. Kushimoto-Koza High School will also have a space-oriented course in its curriculum starting in April 2024.

How to get there

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Getting to Kashinozaki Lighthouse takes 37 minutes by bus and 20 minutes by taxi from JR Kushimoto Station. By car, it takes 40 minutes from the Susami-Minami Interchange. Parking is available for free. Admission to the Turkish Memorial Museum is ¥500 and that to the former lighthouse keeper’s residence is ¥100, but for high school students and younger, prices are ¥250 and free, respectively.