THE SETO INLAND SEA

The Seto Inland Sea narrowly separates three three main islands of Japan, stretching about 440 km from east to west, and 5 to 55 km from north to south. The calm waters, dotted with pine-covered islands and islets, provide a variety of scenery all the year round.

The islands hold various livelihoods, some serving as orchards or pastures, others as bases for fishing or shipping, yet others are known for producing fishing nets and fishing boats. Some are predominantly religious, others were port towns, while yet others have been known for the production of granite.

Today some are turning to aquaculture or tourism, many of the 800 inhabited islands offering cosy summer resorts along their usually unpolluted beaches. Not a few of them are of historical interest, still retaining legends, relics and monuments from the long past of the Inland Sea as an artery of Japan's cultural, political and economic development.

The following are some of the islands well-known for their specialities:

The Seto Inland Sea as a Witness of Japan's History

The climate in the Inland Sea area was relatively mild and the sea was calm and bountiful. Thus its coastal areas cradled some of the earlest civilizations in Japan. From around 300 BC to 300 AD advanced cultures arrived from China and Korea, introducing ironware, bronzeware, weaving and rice-growing. Those who succeeded in crossing the treacherous Japan Sea or the China Sea continued along the Inland Sea up to the early capitals in Naniwa (Osaka) or Yamato (Nara). During the centuries after that, Chinese writing and Buddhism followed the same route.

おだやかな気候と海の幸に恵まれた瀬戸内海沿岸地方は、わが国最古の文明の光がさしそめたところでもある。紀元前300年から西暦300年にかけては、中国や朝鮮から鉄器、青銅器、機織、稲作の技術がつたえられる。波高いシナ海や日本海にもまれたあとは、内海の浦づたい、島づたいに、難波や大和の都へと渡っていったのであろう。やがては中国の文物や仏教もおなじ経路をたどっていく。

Meanwhile the seamen of the Inland Sea area were acquiring knowledge of tides and currents, navigating expertise and ship - building skills. Some early Emperors enlisted them for military expeditions as far as the Korean Peninsula. On the other hand, the cultures and human resources from ancient Korea - Paekche, Koguryo and Silla - greatly influenced the cultural, political and economic development of ancient Japan.

一方、内海海人・舟人も、複雑な潮流や海流にかんする知識をたくわえ、操船や造船の技術を向上させたりもする。一方、古代朝鮮半島(新羅・高麗・百済)から渡来人がもたらした文化・文物のおかげで、わが国の政治・文化・経済の基盤もしだいにととのっていく。

In 646 the Taika Reform declared all land in the country the property of the Emperor, and it was divided into kuni as administrative districts. Now each kuni had to send its products regularly to the Imperial Capital as mandatory tribute. The Inland Sea was needed as a main route for maritime transportation. It was also about this time that the Inland Sea saw Japanese envoys dispatched to China several times, seeking the advanced knowledge and technology of the sui and T'ang dynasties.

646年、大化改新によって「公地公民」が敷かれ、すべての土地・人民が天皇の所有となり、中央集権的支配機構がうちたてられ、統一的課税制度が設けられる。西日本諸国から朝廷への貢物をつんだ船が瀬戸内海を定期的に行きかうようになったのもそのころからである。

But the life of the people was far from easy. Heavily burdened with taxes and mandatory tributes, many turned to piracy. Eventually even the initiative for them. Fujiwara no Sumitomo is famous for one such escapade. After quitting the lordship of lyo (now Ehime Pref.), he made himself pirate chief and ravaged for several years with his fleet of 1,000 ships, completely paralyzing Inland Sea transport until 941 when he was finally quelled at his base of Hiburijima Island off present - day Uwajima City.

だが、庶民の生活はらくではなかった。租税の重圧にたえかねて海賊になる者がぞくぞくとあらわれる。ついにはその海賊を組織する有力者もあたわれる。藤原純友にいたっては、伊予の掾の任務をおえたあとも伊予にとどまり、1,000叟という海賊の首領となって勢力をはり、内海の交通を完全に麻痺させてしまう。941年、純友が本拠にしていた日振島で討ちとられるまでその混乱はつづいていく。
To patrol their coastal waters, many local clans organized their own marine guard. These guards called suigun, usually led by the clan's chief, were instrumental in the history of the centuries that followed. The central government enlisted suigun to patrol the sea, to suppress pirates and to guard its trading ships to and from Sung dynasty China. Soon some suigun were engaging in coastal trade and even overseas trade themselves, thus gaining the wealth and power to control the land as well as the sea.

一方、自衛のために「水軍」を組織していた各地の豪族たちは、水軍を核として、しだいに武士的な成長をとげていく。すなわち、中央政府からの指名をうけて、海上警護や、中国へ行き来する貿易船護送の任務につくようになる。水軍のなかには、みずからも国の内外で交易し、富をたくわえ、勢力をのばしていく者もある。

In 1185 they joined a civil war known as Gempei no Kassen. The end of that war marked the fall of the refined Heian civilization that flourished in Kyoto. Kono Michinobu, whose suigun had contributed to bringing about the new era of the Kamakura Shogunate, was appointed by the Shogun to govern the main part of Iyo. Some suigun dubbed themselves ' Admiral, ' taking pride in their activities as independent merchants as well as official guardians of the sea.

1185年、平安時代に終止符をうった源平合戦にも各地の水軍が参加する。源氏に見方して功のあった伊予水軍の大将・河野通信は、鎌倉幕府によって伊予の守護大名に任じられ、さらに勢力をのばしていく。水軍のなかには、みずから「海賊大将軍」として私貿易に従事する者もある。
Some other suigun joined the Wako - the fleets of Japanese pirates who from the 13th to 16th centuries plundered the coasts of the Korean Peninsula, China and the South Sea Islands, while other suigun helped the Shoguns stop the Wako. To defend herself against Wako, Ming China issued an identification mark for the use of Japan's official trading ships, which brought swords, sulfur, copper, gold, folding fans and gold lacquer, among other things, bringing back copper coins, raw silk, silk fabrics, books and so on from China.

13世紀から16世紀にかけては、「倭寇」となって朝鮮半島、中国や南海諸島の沿岸を荒らしまわる者もすくなくない。かと思うと、幕府の命令をうけて、倭寇の征伐に出むく者もある。中国は倭寇にたいする対策として勘合符をもちいての貿易を旨としたが、これにより、日本からは刀剣・イオウ・銅・金・扇・金蒔絵などを運び、中国からは銅銭・生糸・絹織物・書物などをもちかえった。

During the Civil War Period, one suigun after another was consigned to powerful clans, for any ambitious warlord had to prepare himself with a strong army and navy. The civil war that lasted about 100 years rendered the lands and seas into chaos until 1573 when Oda Nobunaga managed to enforce some peace.

室町時代の後半、つまり戦国時代(1477-1573)には、各地の大名が戦いにそなえて海上軍をも強化しようとしたため、各地の水軍はつぎつぎと強力な大名の配下に組入れられていく。約100年にわったて戦国の嵐も、1573年、織田信長が幕府を倒し、天下統一をなかば達成するにいたってようやく静まってくる。

In 1588 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who succeeded Nobunaga and unified Japan, restricted sword ownership to the samurai class. He severely banned piracy, having decided that society had to be strictly regulated to ensure peace. Now pirates found their heyday was gone, and so did the suigun clans, most of whom had already been incorporated into the feudal domains of the Daimyos.

1588年、信長のあとをうけた豊臣秀吉は念願の全国平定に向けて「刀狩令」と「海賊禁止令」を出し、取締なりをきびしくする。これにより、海賊もついに息の根をとめられ、独特の活動でしられた水軍も封建体制の枠組みの中にうずもれていく。

Only the suigun of the Shiwaku Islands were privileged to continue their activities because of the great assistance they had given to Nobunaga and Hideyoshi. Soon after the unification of Japan in 1590, Hideyoshi waged two wars against Korea assisted again by the Shiwaku suigun without success, but the thousands of Korean artisans he brought back were to greatly promote Japan's arts of printing, dyeing, weaving and ceramics through the new era to come.

たった一つの例外は、塩飽水軍であった。信長や秀吉を助けて功のあったかれらには、「人名」として、塩飽諸島250意思の禄があたえられ、今までどおりの活動がゆるされたからである。1590年、秀吉は全国統一をなしとげると、その勢いをかって朝鮮にも出兵する。所期の目的は達成できなかったが、そのおりに朝鮮からつれてきた技術者集団は、その後の日本の版画・染色・織物・軍磁器方面の発展にいちじるしい貢献をすることになる。

The Tokugawa Shogunate, established in 1603 in Edo (Tokyo), was careful enough to put Osaka, the former capital of Hideyoshi, under its direct control, because it had already grown into the commercial and financial center of Japan. In the 1630's the Shogunate adopted a national isolation policy with a small island in Nagasaki Harbor as a window only open to China and Holland, thus consolidating Japan's feudal society. Now the only foreign vessels seen on the Inland Sea were those of Korean envoys of the Li dynasty to the Edo Shogunate.

1603年、家康は江戸に幕府をひらく。秀吉が手塩にかけた大阪は政治上・軍事上・経済上、西日本でも最重要の地として幕府の直轄領とする。1630年代には「鎖国令」を出し、長崎の出島を通し、わずかに中国人・オランダ人と通交 ...

In 1672 'a westward route' was opened, leading all the coastal trade of the Japan Sea side into the Inland Sea up to the port of Osaka. Now 70% of Japan's commodities passed through Osaka, earning this town the nickname of 'Kitchen of the Country'. Some merchants were so wealthy that even Daimyos borrowed money from them. Many of the local specialties date back to this time when each Daimyo was eagerly promoting local industries in order to improve the revenue of his province.

It was also about this time that the religious fervor of Kompira worship combined with the Shikoku Pilgrimage began to attract hordes of people to 'the Remote Island of Shikoku.' The seamen of the Shiwaku Islands talked of the great merits of visiting 'Kompira-san' and 'O-Shikoku-san' while sailing around the coast of the nation not only as the Shogun's seamen but also as independent merchants.

In the 1860's the three driving wheels carrying out the Meiji Restoration were busily crossing the Inland Sea, as the Big Three Clans came from Kyushu, Shikoku and westernmost Honshu.

In the 1870's when Japan's modernization started, Osaka, Kobe and Kita-Kyushu were readily industrialized, followed by Hiroshima. But it was not until the 1960's that the rest of the Inland Sea area began to undergo the large-scale industrialization that we see today. Toward the end of the same decade what is called akashio or red tides (an unusual generation of plankton that turns the tide an ominous red) began to appear.

By the end of the 20th century, the Inland Sea will see even greater changes through the three routes connecting Honshu and Shikoku by bridges.

Miyajima Island 宮 島

The whole island of Miyajima dedicated to Itsukushima-jinja 厳島神社 is traditionally known as one of the three most beautiful scenes in Japan. It is also designated a Special Historic Site.

Its founding dates back to 598, but it was not until 1168 that a magnificent shrine complex was built by Taira no Kiyomori, the patriarch of the Taira Clan, who revered the three goddesses of water, rice-planting and sea-faring enshrined there.

The original buildings are gone but the style-the shinden-zukuri (noblemen's residence style of the Heian Period) - has been preserved whenever they were reconstructed. Most of the main buildings are National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties.


From the English-Japanese Shikoku Bilingual Guidebook, by Akiko Takemoto and Steve McCarty. Takamatsu: Biko Books. E-mail the Editor of this Website: Steve McCarty.


Updated on 22 October 2016

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