Open main menu
Rowing. A discussion was carried on some years ago in the local press concerning the respective merits of the Japanese and European styles of rowing. The pros and cons are as follows:—


"The Japanese method of rowing is entirely different from ours. We row with our oars at right angles to the side of the boat, while we are seated. The Japanese oars are almost parallel to the side of the boat, and they row standing with their faces to the side. The movement is different also. We lift our oars from the water after each stroke. The Japanese oar is always submerged, and the oarsman moves it backward and forward with a sculling motion. There is an oar also at the stern of the boat, as well as on the sides. In our style of rowing, we exert our force only from the waist up, and at every stroke must exert motion out of the water with our oar to secure another hold on the water. The Japanese bring into action all their muscles from the feet up; and as there is no removal of the oar from the water, there is no loss of the power they exert."[1]


"Putting the Japanese and foreign methods of rowing into comparison, full credit is due to the Japanese method of rowing (or yuloing[2]), for its affording the most complete bodily exercise. As Professor Bell says, every muscle from the feet up comes into action. Another instance where yuloing comes in practically and usefully is in passing narrow passages, when a Japanese boat (sampan) can continue to be propelled forward, while the crew of a gig would probably have to shift oars. Its superiority or advantage over the foreign way of rowing, in any other direction, I, however, venture to question.

Speed.—Taking a pilot sampan as an example with six good sailors, a speed at the rate of 4 to 4½ knots an hour can be obtained, while a well-manned six-oared gig can do 5½ to 6 knots without much trouble. Besides, the latter can easily keep up that speed for an hour or more, while 4½ knots yuloing for that length of time would hardly be possible, because the exertion in yuloing is very much greater than in rowing, and this for the very reason that the yulo being always submerged, every movement is an exertion, and swinging oar through the air after each stroke gives the oarsman a rest. Rowing on fixed seats means work for the arms and the back, which little affects the lungs; yuloing is as fatiguing as rowing on sliding seats. The heavier and more clumsy build of a Japanese boat does not account for this difference in speed.

"Stability of the boat.—In smooth water one man yuloing creates a most disagreeable, wobbling, side-way motion for passengers. A sampan manned on both sides goes more steadily, but yet there is not the perfect steadiness of a gig. In rough water it occurs to the most skilful of Japanese oarsmen that the yulo shifts off the pin; and putting it into position again is not always easy in a rough sea, especially as yulos are long, and necessarily made of strong and heavy wood. A good gig-oarsman will never lose his oar, and if it by mischance should jump out of the rowlock, it is easily fetched in again. Moreover, it stands to reason that men sitting down in a boat will balance a boat better than men standing up, as is the case in yuloing.

"Resistance to wind.—It is needless to point out that men sitting offer less resistance than men standing in a boat."[3]


So far the discussion on Japanese rowing. In the north, among the Ainos, may be seen a style of rowing quaint indeed. The boatman uses his two oars, not together, but alternately; or if there be more than one rower, those on the right pull while those on the left raise their oars, and vice versâ, so that the boat goes sidling along like a sailing-craft perpetually tacking. It is hardly conceivable how so absurd a method can have maintained itself in use, as it apparently has from time immemorial.

  1. Quoted from Dr. Bell, as reported in the "Yorozu Chōkō" newspaper, Tōkyō, 17th February, 1899.
  2. From the Chinese the Chinese 搖櫓 and Japanese method of rowing being identical, owing to the Japanese having borrowed from China, as usual.
  3. Quoted from the "Japan Herald," February, 1899.