"Everybody, that is Fukuro [owl] rock. It's a work of art created by nature," said pleasure boat guide Yoshiteru Mizuguchi, 79, as he pointed to a rocky area sticking out into a blue sea. Passengers aboard the boat, the "Pearl Queen," exclaimed, "It's the spitting image!"
Mizuguchi is a guide for the Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort, a city-run marine complex including an aquarium, restaurants and souvenir shops in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture. He has become popular with tourists for the unique names he gives to the Kujukushima islands and their strange rock formations resembling animals and other creatures - so popular, in fact, that this May he gave the 7000th tour of his 15-year career.
He has so far named about 30 rocks, including "Merlion" (the Singapore mascot), "Nemuru Komainu" (sleeping guardian dog) and the fanciful "Ago no Hazureta Monster" (monster with dislocated jaws). He even names some formations after anime characters.
Hailing from Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture, Mizuguchi worked as a sales clerk for a department store in Yokohama for about 40 years before moving to Sasebo, where his wife's parents had a house. Attracted by the beautiful scenery of the Kujukushima islands - a chain of more than 200 islets both large and small - he became a volunteer guide in August 2003. He currently conducts tours 50 times a month.
He got the idea to offer tours of the islands' strange-looking rocks one day about two years after starting as a volunteer guide, when he noticed that rocky areas resembling human faces would change from "the peaceful expression of a Buddha" to "a furious expression of a demon" depending on variations in light and shade. When he told passengers on the pleasure boat about his discovery, he was struck by the greater-than-expected reaction to his observation from passengers both young and old.
"Although [passengers] easily tire of difficult historical theories, everyone can enjoy the shapes of rock formations right before them and also have fun searching out new ones themselves," Mizuguchi said.
"Rather than one-way, boring tours, explanations with interesting names leave an impression because they're something anyone can enjoy."
Mizuguchi has been commended by the Environment Ministry, the Sasebo city government and other entities for his unique tours. He even has fans who repeatedly join his tours, bringing along souvenirs to show their appreciation.
Yoshimi Nishimura, a member of the Kujukushima Visitor Center, which serves as headquarters for the volunteer guides, said, "I take my hat off to his enthusiasm, such as the way he hand-makes the visual aids that he uses to help tourists more easily understand his explanations."
This April, Kujukushima was added to the Most Beautiful Bays in the World Club, a France-based nongovernmental organization working to promote famous bays as tourist spots and protect scenery.
Also, with the recent rapid increase in foreign cruise ships calling at Sasebo Port, Mizuguchi has taken a direct approach to promotion, arming himself with a poster featuring his own photos in an effort to show tourists the islands he loves.
"This is my life's work," Mizuguchi, who turns 80 next year. "As long as my health allows, I'd like to continue to promote the beauty of Kujukushima and Sasebo."