STAGE 1 – China to Japan

A quest by rowboat from China via Korea to Japan in search of Xu Fu and the Elixir of Immortality


It is not possible to sail in and out of China in a pleasure vessel without a special permit, as China, unlike most other countries around the world, is not open for pleasure vessels. Despite our best efforts we were unable to obtain permission to depart China in a rowing boat in 2023. We kinda expected that, but it is still dissapointing. Now we have our eye on 2024. 

If it was easy anyone could do it…

27 May 2023 four oarsmen from Denmark, China, South Korea, and Japan will embark on a row from Ningbo in China, via Jeju Island in South Korea, to Shingu on the Pacific Coast of Japan.

Over the following 60 days the quartet will row their 7-meter-long ocean rowing boat 2,000km through treacherous seas.

The planned route for the New Xu Fu Voyage East project

The row follows the route of the Chinese sorcerer Xu Fu, who in 210BC was sent by the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huang, to retrieve the Elixir of Immortality from the Gods in the Eastern Seas.

Xu Fu’s Voyage East is one of the earliest documented voyages in official Chinese history and there are numerous temples dedicated to Xu Fu in Korea and Japan. Enroute the oarsmen will stop to verify Xu Fu’s connection to these temples and conduct activities with local partners to celebrate the legacy of Xu Fu. Hopefully they will also find the Elixir of Immortality.

Joseph Needham, Professor of Chinese History, Science, and Civilization at Cambridge University believed Xu Fu may have travelled all the way to America.

Based on Needham’s research, two explorers have attempted to cross directly across the Pacific Ocean to America using their best guesses of the vessel Xu Fu may have used.

In 1974 Kuno Knöbl set out in a junk from Hong Kong and in 1993 Tim Severin set sail in a bamboo raft from Vietnam. Both vessels sank mid-Pacific, and the crews had to be rescued.

Knöbl and Severin’s failed attempts support the view that ship technology in 210BC was not advanced enough for direct Trans-Pacific passages. Instead of a direct voyage across the Pacific Ocean a mainly costal voyage along the North Pacific Rim to America seems more plausible.

Neither Knöbl nor Severin were granted permission to leave from China, but now we are 30 years on, during which China has rolled out its Open Door Policy, so it is reasonable to expect that we will eventually be granted special permission to leave.

The project has a lot of goodwill (see Support Letters) and since our rowing boat is already in China (getting it there was an adventure in its own right) the Chinese authorities know we are fully committed and ready to cast off.

Supporters  /  支持者  /  지지자  /  サポーター

Danish Ambassador to China, Mr. Thomas Østrup Møller
중국 주재 덴마크 대사



Danish Ambassador to Japan, Mr. Peter Taksøe-Jensen
일본 주재 덴마크 대사



Danish Ambassador to Korea, Mr. Svend Olling
주한 덴마크 대사



President of Mt. Fuji Jofuku Society, Mr. Hiroshi Hayakawa (早川氏) and
Representative of Mt. Fuji Jofuku Culture Study Group, Mr. Ken Ito (伊藤氏)
富士山徐福学会   /  富士山徐福文化研究会
후지산 서복후이 /  후지산 서복문화연구회
富士山徐福学会  /  富士山と相模の徐福文化研究会



The Friendship Association Denmark – China, Chairman Julie Brink
덴마크 중국 우호 협회



The Chinese Association in Denmark, Chairman Lin Yanbiao (林燕标)
덴마크 중국인 협회



The Japanese Association in Denmark, Board of Directors c/o Atsuku Sonohato
덴마크 일본 협회



Former Chairman of the Asian Rowing Federation & Founder and Chairman of Vanke (万科), Mr. Wang Shi (王石) 
아시아조정연맹노팅엄 대학교



The University of Nottingham, Professor Sarah Dauncey
노팅엄 대학교

The New Xu Fu Voyage East will provide new insights into where it would practically have been possible for Xu Fu to sail to, given the ship technology at the time. Xu Fu’s navigational limitations is an area of study where very little research has been done. The row will therefore add significant new knowledge to the study of Xu Fu.


Christian HavrehedDnmark Flag
Christian Havrehed

Christian is our Danish oarsman. He is the first Dane to row across an ocean (together with Sun Haibin) and the first Dane to row around Denmark. Christian lives in Copenhagen.

Christian is the project initiator, project manager, and expedition leader, and is responsible for the project’s overall success. He has studied and worked for 20 years in China. He reads and writes Chinese. He first started learning about Chinese history in 1986 at UWC in Wales and he has promoted Chinese-foreign understanding through maritime adventures since 2001.

Sun HaibinChina Flag
Sun Haibin

Haibin is our Chinese oarsman. He is the first Chinese, and Asian, to row across an ocean (he did this with Christian). He teaches outdoor sports at Beijing Sports University and is an honorary member of the Beijing Triathlon Federation. Haibin lives in Beijing.

Apart from being an oarsman, Haibin is our project coordinator in China, responsible for stakeholder management, relationship development, fundraising, and permission to row out of China.

Yuta FujikawaJapan Flag
Yuta Fujikawa
藤川 雄大

Yuta is our Japanese oarsman. He is an energetic white-water rafting and SUP instructor. He loves being at sea and is the proud owner of a Polynesian outrigger. He is keenly interested in human migration by sea in ancient times. Yuta lives in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture.

Apart from being an oarsman, Yuta is responsible for researching the Japanese leg of the row, understanding tides and navigational challenges, planning the Japan rowing itinerary, liaison with the Japanese Coastguard with respect to immigration and Safety, and the Japanese Fisheries Association to ensure access to their ports, given the number of marinas in Japan is limited.

Pic PlaceholderSouth Korea Flag

Are you our South Korean oarsman?

You will be joining the row from China, via Jeju, to Japan. Apart from rowing, your main responsibilities will be liaison with the Korean Coastguard with respect to immigration and Safety, and securing port access in Jeju Island.

If this sounds like fun to you, please contact

Support Crew

Kaori UchiyamaJapan Flag
Kaori Uchiyama
内山 香織

Kaori is an award-winning photographer and a Japanese teacher. She is based in Japan. Her photography focuses on the environment, with themes encompassing natural landscapes, people, and their lives.

The Xu Fu legend in today’s society is one of her research themes for her academic interest. Her experiences have helped her build better insights and perspectives. She now feels ready to expand her scope into ecology, the environment, and our livelihood. The legend of Xu Fu has much to teach us about how we may benefit from herbs and the ancient wisdom of living in harmony with nature.

Kaori is our fixer in Japan. She is responsible for building and maintaining relationships with the various Japanese Xu Fu Associations and other stakeholders.

Kaori Uchiyama Photography
Denmark Story

Yusuke MorotomiJapan Flag
Yusuke Morotomi
諸富 裕典

Yusuke is a LEGO® Serious Play® facilitator, UWC alumni, and a businessman residing in Indochina for over 20 years. His ancestors are from the region of Chikugo River where the highest concentration of Xu Fu sites in Japan is found, and his surname is related to Xu Fu. Yusuke speaks exceptional English, is fluent in Chinese, and has excellent project management skills. He has a spiritual approach to life and enjoys visiting temples. He currently lives in Cambodia.

Yusuke is our Japanese-English-Chinese language and culture translator.

Albert LiangSouth Korea Flag
Albert Liang

Albert is a retired banker, who spent 20 years working in Qingdao, China. It was during his stay in Qingdao that Albert first heard of Xu Fu. During Corona lockdown Albert wrote a Master Thesis about Xu Fu “A Study of the Written Records of the Story of Xu Fu – Focusing on the Old Records of China, Korea, and Japan”. Albert lives in Jeju where he also acts as a tourist guide.

Albert is our fixer in Jeju and manages our relationship with the Korean Xu Fu Associations. In addition to Korean and Chinese, Albert speaks and writes English fluently.

There are no reliable records of the type of vessel Xu Fu used, so it has not been possible to create a plausible replica. For lack of better, an ocean rowing boat is a good proxy.

An Ocean rowing boat is completely human-powered, slow, drifts significantly due to windage and lack of keel, has limited ability to travel to windward, and navigation of strong currents is precarious. An ancient vessel would have experienced similar challenges.

Trying to imitate the safety standards of 210BC would be foolish and the boat is therefore equipped with modern safety, communication, and navigation equipment.

Lack of onboard comfort, cramped quarters, language barriers, cultural differences, and fatigue will test the teamwork and resolve of the quartet, providing some insight into the hardship that Xu Fu and his crew will have experienced.

In 2001 Danish adventurer and sinologist Christian Havrehed founded the “Yantu Project” to promote Sino-Western understanding through cross-cultural nautical adventures.

In the first Yantu Project Christian and Beijing Sports University teacher Sun Haibin rowed unsupported 5,000km across the Atlantic Ocean in 56 days, raising USD91,000 to aid Chinese students studying overseas. As a result, Christian became the first Dane to row across the Atlantic, and Sun Haibin the first Chinese – and Asian. The project was highly praised in China and the West and was highly visible in the media.

Christian and Sun Haibin have now come together again to promote the Yantu Project spirit through a new epic maritime adventure not attempted before; the New Xu Fu Voyage East.

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