- Entering Sensuka Bay
In this opening print of the series, the viewer is transported onto the deck of one of the steam-powered ferries linking Sensuka to Kadonde, on the other side of the Golden Strait. The steamer is rounding the cape of Sakalumi Island at the entrance of Sensuka Bay. The lower portion of the island’s celebrated seashell-shaped lighthouse is just visible on the left side of the image.
This is the moment, for all sea vessels approaching Sensuka from the west, in which the city’s spectacular natural harbour first comes into view. Spread out before us at the far end of the bay is the densely built-up peninsula of Orepi, which juts out into the harbour by the mouth of the Juminta River. Orepi’s famous spiral tower rises from the warehouses and the forest of masts lining the area’s bustling harbourfront. Lomuku Castle—the city’s most iconic building, along with the Orepi Tower and the Sakalumi Lighthouse—dominates the city centre from its perch atop Labetachi Hill. Directly ahead of the ferryboat, another steamer ferry is moving in the opposite direction, away from the port. The placement of the column of smoke rising from its chimneystack makes the Lomuku appear to be floating in the air. This is a no doubt intended as a nod to the castle’s name, which means “cloud.”
The view in this print is among the most dreamlike and deliberately enticing of the whole series. Particularly if one happens to live very far away from Sensuka, so that it would be difficult to imagine ever visiting the city in one’s lifetime, such an image may evoke escapist fantasies. The idea of pulling into that sun-bedazzled harbour, with the wind on one’s face and the crying of seagulls in one’s ear, and with the penguins leaping alongside the boat, and all the wonders of the imperial capital awaiting one at the other end, might well seem like the very definition of that inaccessible exotic Elsewhere for which so many hearts are consciously or unconsciously yearning.
Looking at the image more closely, however, we can see that the artist has included an allusion to the essential unattainability of such desires for another world. The seated passenger in the foreground is looking down at an illustrated guide to Switzerland, oblivious to the view before her. Thus, the Fifty-Two Famous Views of Sensuka opens with a reminder that the object of our escapism is, by definition, always somewhere out of reach. No matter how wondrous the locale that we as travellers may find ourselves in, our surroundings inevitably take on for us the concreteness of the Here and Now. The sky and sunlight and wind above us, however exhilarating at first, are still after a moment a little too similar to—and indeed, they are none other than—the sky, sun, and wind that we experience every day, in the overly-rendered reality of the present moment. And even on this steamer deck, at least somewhere at the back of our mind, we would no doubt already be worrying about the pickpockets awaiting us on the crowded docks, the negotiation of transportation to our lodgings, that meeting tomorrow morning with the representatives of the silk weavers guild, or with that acquaintance of our cousin’s who said he could find us work, perhaps our incipient need to pee, or the persistent gnawing of hunger in our stomach, the health of a relative, or simply the same old anxieties that are with us always, because they are anxieties about ourselves.
If the inclusion of the view of Switzerland may be read as an admonition against illusory fantasies, it can also serve as an exhortation not to lose sight of the magic and mystery of one’s own particular location. Even as we pull into Orepi wharf and begin our exploration of the imperial capital, we are being encouraged to look up from these sheets of printed paper at the Sensuka all around us.