The sports-loving Japanese have, at one time or another, made a mania of every game and pastime that came their way from the industrial West. They are wild about baseball. They swarm to new golf courses, driving ranges, ice-and roller-skating rinks and ski resorts. They take frantically to the country's potty little roads with scooters, motorcycles and baby cars to engage in suicidal races. They do the same thing on the waterways.
One of the men responsible for keeping the kaminari-zoku (motorcycle riders) and the mobo-zoku (motorboat drivers) supplied with their implements of destruction is Genichi Kawakami, a 49-year-old sportsman-industrialist who heads the 80-year-old Nippon Gakki Company (Japan Musical Instruments Company), which was founded by an organ repairer named Yamaha.
Yamaha products have increased in 80 years from organs to all manner of musical instruments and further afield to motorcycles, scooters, outboard motors and plastic catamarans. Now, with the help of a 24-year-old female dream-boat designer named Noriko Kondo, Kawakami has come up with a plastic roundboat with a motor in the middle.
The craft (opposite) carries a seven-horsepower outboard motor (a larger motor is apt to cause vibration and upset the sake). The outboard is a prosy touch, but it fits the center hole like a cunning key in a great round lock, and the impression is more inboard than outboard. Sitting on rollers, the motor can be turned in any direction to propel the boat at a leisurely five miles an hour on calm water. Steering can be tricky when passengers are not evenly distributed around the center; with the weight concentrated on one side, the boat chases itself in circles. The roundboat is stable enough, but its shape and lily-pad speed give trouble in a high wind.
If desirable, a striped canopy can be unfurled overhead to keep out the sun, and side curtains can be lowered to keep out prying eyes. Who wants or needs speed on a summer's day? In the words of the (anon.) poet:
The water calm and
Overhead rides the blue sky.
With the hot red sun
Warming both you and sake,
Putt-putt goes a seven-horse.