Kodoku is one of those rare titles that immediately makes you want to learn more about what you just read. The slim kiddie book chronicles the extraordinary voyage of a young man – “Kenichi the brace, Kenichi the adventurer” for whom “the wind blows forever / across an ocean that never ends.”
“[A]fter Kenichi learned all he could,” he commissioned the boat of his dreams, and christened it the Mermaid. Provisioned with rice, jam, a radio, books, and 18 gallons of water, Kenichi set off on an epic journey from Japan’s Osaka Bay, “[f]rom one edge of the Pacific Ocean to the other.” He survived a 14-day typhoon, was accompanied by schools of fish, pods of whales, hid from slamming sharks and man-of war, and glided into San Francisco where he “kissed the comforting earth.” As glad as he was of reaching land, still he knew, “The wind blows forever / across an ocean that never ends.“
Illustrator Hanae Rivera gives Kenichi’s voyage swirling, swift motion, using a gorgeous palette of surprising colors, from the yellow-orange highlights of the beckoning sea, the pink glow of sunning-whale waters, to the indigo anger of the hunting sharks. Her hapa Japanese heritage adds detailed enhancement to her work, most notably in Kenichi’s 50-pound bag of rice marked with the kanji for ‘rice’ – not only does ‘米’ connote the sack’s contents, but it’s also the first character in the Japanese name for America (米国), hence cleverly announcing Kenichi’s faraway destination.
Kenichi’s epic adventure, in case you were wondering, is true! Which is also why as soon as you finish the book, you’ll surely be inspired to find out more, more, more. If I had one minor complaint, I admit I would have appreciated an afterword with more of Kenichi’s journeys.
Luckily a press printout was tucked into the book (which would be easy to add as that afterword in the next printing?), so allow me share: In 1962, at age 23, Kenichi Horie became the first solo voyager across the Pacific Ocean. He arrived in the U.S. without a passport, money, and speaking little English. He was arrested, then exonerated, and Mayor George Christopher granted him both a visa and a key to the City by the Bay. You can read further about Horie’s 94-day journey in his out-of-print memoir, Kodoku: Sailing Alone Across the Pacific, published in English translation in 1965 (it remains available from used booksellers). [And yes, I'm going to make you read this Kodoku to find out what the title means!]
For Horie, indeed, the oceans never ended. He’s continued his solo international nautical adventures … on environmentally-friendly vessels, from a pedal-powered boat to boats made of recycled aluminium cans and recycled beer barrels. He even recreated his original 1962 solo voyage 40 years later (at age 63!), in a boat modeled after the Mermaid made entirely of recycled materials. While Horie himself lives in his native Japan (when he’s not on international waters), the Mermaid is housed at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. That’s a destination to add to your own adventure list, now that you know the boat’s history. Let’s go!