Grand Pacific IV - April 7 - April 12
Today’s weather is a bit overcast and about 60 degrees, which will be perfect for our private touring today. Not too cold, not too hot, no rain, and no hot sun! Breakfast was served in the room again and we were off by 11:00am to find our guide.
That’s not difficult because we can see the gangway from our verandah and she is standing there holding a sign not three feet away. The car is immaculate with white lace covers on the seats. The driver wore white gloves and a crisp uniform. Our guide is a pretty Japanese woman who was once a flight attendant and lived in London, so she speaks perfect English. The car is really a taxi, but there are no signs on the outside, so it looks more like a private car. We have never seen a car so spotless inside and out. We felt guilty tracking dust into it at each stop.
First we made a stop at the money changing window. That was a bit of a hassle because their machine only recognizes the new version of U.S. currency, but they were extremely polite and it was all worked out quickly. We had asked for the nearest ATM, but that elicited blank stares. As it turns out, there are no ATM’s, or at least we didn’t see any the entire day even though we walked past several banks.
The drive into downtown Hiroshima takes about thirty minutes through a modern suburb of single family homes and condominiums. We can’t say enough about how immaculate the city is. It is orderly, but not oppressive. The traffic isn’t terrible, and the streets are clean. We were just a bit afraid that we would be disappointed because we have been so looking forward to this, but our fears were unfounded.
Downtown Hiroshima is a gleaming city of modern high-rises and shopping centers. We didn’t stop here, instead making our way to the ferry terminal for the short ride to Miyajima Island, which is billed as one of the three most beautiful spots in Japan. On the way we passed more tidy suburbs with attractive, modern houses. We asked our guide if this was an expensive area and she said that an average person would live here, including herself. She also said that most younger people prefer to live in condominiums because homeowners are required to sweep the streets and sidewalks around their house on a daily basis. That is more trouble than most people care for or have time for in this busy society.
We arrived at the ferry just as it was ready to leave, purchased a ticket from a machine, and boarded for the brief journey across the water to the island. The first sight is the famous Otorii Gate floating on the water in front of the Isukushima Shrine. These gates are usually on land because people believe they are purified by walking through them to reach the shrine. There are a number of differences with this sacred island, so this one is on the water and people would pass through it by boat. At low tide, it is possible to walk through it, too.
Upon arrival on the island, visitors are surrounded by overly friendly deer who are permanent residents of the island. We were warned to watch anything that may be dangling because they will eat anything, including jackets. The restrooms have gates to keep them out so they won’t eat the toilet paper. However, the gates have to be made to open outward because the deer know how to push the gates open, but they can’t pull them…yet. The deer just stand there looking at you as you walk by. They didn’t bother us at all. Children pet them, adults take pictures with them, and they don’t seem to mind in the slightest. They hang out in the little park at the entrance for the most part, but they have free roam of the whole island.
There is a small village (not as dark as it appears in the photo) for local tourists full of restaurants, souvenirs shops and such. To say that the people here are friendly is definitely an understatement. Any smile in their direction elicits bows and broad smiles. The restaurants have extraordinarily realistic plastic models of the food, so all one has to do is find one that looks appealing and point to it. We didn’t have time to stop, but we wished we had. Our guide bought us some little pastry things filled with chocolate custard that were quite tasty. Shop after shop and restaurant after restaurant had every type of food imaginable, including fresh oysters being grilled in front of our eyes. We could have stayed here for hours, but we had to keep moving.
After the village is a waterfront promenade lined with stone lanterns that glow at night. There are 108 or something like that, for a purpose we can’t remember. Everything here has a meaning or superstition attached to it, which is quite interesting in spite of the fact that we can’t recall a single one of them.
Along this walkway are a number of traditional gates and such. It’s amazing to finally see the real thing in its natural habitat. Around a bend and we are confronted with a view of a close-up of the Otorii Gate. The gate is made of the natural shape of the tree and sits on the surface of the sand under its own weight. It is repainted every 8 years. Again, there is a reason for this time frame, but we don’t recall quite what it is.
Behind the gate is the Isukushima Shrine (that's our guide taking our picture), an open-air affair of bright vermilion beams and ornate rooftops. At high tide, it appears to float upon the water, but it is high and dry at this time of day.
Before entering the shrine we participated in a cleansing ritual that consists of pouring water from a big stone tub, using a wooden dipper, over first our left hand, then the right, then pour some into the left hand, put it in your mouth, spit it out and hold the dipper up so the rest of the water runs down to clean the handle. Next, the guide shook some white paper things on a stick over Dave’s head and proclaimed him purified. That was easy. All virginal again!
We walked through the shrine, past a wedding ceremony just commencing and viewed several traditional things along the way. One may buy slips of paper with fortunes on them from the priests. If the fortune is a bad one, it is tied onto metal bars and the priests will pray for the victim and then the papers are burned. Originally, these papers were tied to the trees, but it proved too difficult for the priests to retrieve them, so this new method has been devised.
Immediately adjacent to the Shinto shrine is a Buddhist temple. The Japanese usually have both types together so they can pick and choose different parts of each tradition to suit themselves. Nice, huh? The temples are darker and look more forbidding than the bright shrines, but they are also more ornate.
Our guide asked if we would like to climb some stone steps at the end of a village lane to view a rarely visited temple. Sure, we’re game. We climbed a tall set of old stone steps lined with prayer wheels in the center and a different Buddha for a variety of things. There is a Buddha for each of the different animal years as well. Let’s just say these religions have quite a profit making gimmick going because each little shrine or God also has a small bowl for donations. It is amazing to see this money out for the taking, but no one steals anything, of course. What a pleasure!
There are beautiful little gardens, pagodas, statues and ponds along the way. The view across the rooftops to the bay below is breathtaking. There are no tourists here and only about ten locals poking around. It simply could not be more serene and beautiful. Upon arrival at the temple, we each rang a huge bell to tell the God’s that we have arrived.
We rushed back down to catch the 11:50am ferry back to the mainland, pausing along the way to purchase a good-luck rice paddle as a souvenir. We have to jog to catch the ferry, which runs like clockwork. This trip has been well worth it and we’re glad we didn’t go to the museum or park at this point.
The drive back into the city takes about 30 minutes along roads as modern as ever with manageable traffic and polite drivers. Next stop is the reconstructed Hiroshima Castle (descriptive sign). Originally, this complex was comprised of many different buildings and housed the Imperial Military Headquarters, hence the reason the first Atomic Bomb was dropped here. Obviously, the original buildings were destroyed in 1945, but a few of them have been rebuilt as museums.
A large moat lined with cherry trees in bloom surrounds the island that houses the castle. Its grounds are now a public park with only the stone foundations remaining of the ancient structures.
Directly across the moat from the castle grounds we visited the charming Shukkeien Garden where we briefly viewed a traditional tea ceremony. This garden is just what one thinks of when imagining a Japanese garden. Cherry blossoms drift down from the trees like snow, immaculate gardens, ponds, bridges and hidden grottos fill the relatively small area. We ran into a couple of other ship guests on private tours, quite drunk from a visit to a Sake factory for which Hiroshima is well known. There were several women in traditional kimonos out on this lovely Sunday enjoying the park and the tea ceremony.
Our time was almost up at this point, so we drove toward the Peace Memorial Park to view some of the monuments. Originally, the plan was to leave us at the shuttle stop, but we were unable to find it which means that we have to be taken back to the ship instead. Still we did drive past the park to get an explanation of some of the events before and after the A-Bomb was dropped.
Upon arrival at the port thirty minutes later, we witnessed a ceremony at which the port of Hiroshima presented a plaque to the Captain for our maiden call here. We found out later that this ceremony was completely unexpected, so there was a scramble to assemble photographers and such to participate in it. There is quite a crowd of locals taking pictures of the ship and smiling at us as we passed by in the car. We rushed out to take some photos of the ceremony and port and the location where we were anchored overnight from the vantage point of the Sun Deck, then fortified ourselves with ice cream before making our way to the shuttle bus to return to downtown.
We retraced our route to downtown and disembarked near a huge shopping center on one of Hiroshima’s wide boulevards. Public transportation here is outstanding. There are subways as well as an excellent bus system. We need none of these today because our goal is simply to visit the Peace Memorial Park to view some of the memorials.
Our walk took about fifteen minutes from the shopping center, down a side street, passing several shopping streets, to finally reach the river and the first of the major sights in this area.
Nothing can prepare you for the impact of that first stunning view of the A-Bomb Dome. It is like being hit in the chest to lay eyes upon this ruined building. It is one of the only structures to remain standing and is only a few hundred feet from the epicenter of the bomb blast. It is like a traffic accident you want to turn away from, but can’t. To think of the horror of that moment is unimaginable. As you know, we are not prone to sentiment, but the emotion of this sight is impossible to describe in words. They are currently experimenting with ways to preserve what is left of the structure so no one will forget it (descriptive sign).
The A-Bomb Dome (back view) is across the Motoyasu-gawa River from the Peace Memorial Park. At the time the bomb was dropped, this island was the center of a bustling city of 200,000 people. 70,000 people were killed instantly and 70,000 more died in the days afterward. Looking at the serene beauty of the river today, it is almost impossible to grasp the fact that this very river was so packed with bodies that the water was hidden. The river surrounds the island which is now the grounds of the park.
Obviously, there are monuments here to everything one can imagine, each poignant in it’s own way. Particularly touching is the Children’s Peace Monument. There is a famous story of a little girl who became ill with leukemia from the radiation. She believed that if she could fold 1,000 paper cranes, that she would survive. She was unable to complete the task before she died, so schoolchildren from around the world sent thousands of paper cranes to the city in her memory. This tradition continues to this day and the glass booths that surround the monument contain millions of these tiny creations.
The center of the park contains the somber Flame of Peace that is at the beginning of a string of monuments to the A-Bomb victims. Standing in the stark silence of the Flame of Peace is an unforgettable experience. Across the Pond of Peace from this memorial is the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims, a touching symbol of the innocents lost. Fresh flowers are laid at the foot of the stone coffin under the protective roof as people stop and reflect.
Standing at the very end of this central plaza, the A-bomb Dome is perfectly aligned with the Flame of Peace under the Cenotaph. Behind this is the austere Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum that houses in graphic detail the horrors of the war so that it may never be repeated. We chose not to view the interior.
In front of the museum is the huge Fountain of Prayer that constantly changes patterns. At the very edge of the park is a statue depicting the tragic figure of a mother protecting her children from the storm. The park also contains some of the living trees that were exposed to the A-bomb. They are still clinging to life, but their leaves are yellow and stunted.
But, from the ashes rose a beautiful city dedicated to peace and the eradication of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. We strolled back across the river and into a shopping street that leads to an enormous covered pedestrian mall jam packed with locals and tourists alike. This mall goes on for many blocks and ends up at a huge department store. We turned at that point and ended up on another wide boulevard.
More walking, back toward the huge mall where we started, leads us again past the covered shopping streets. We were slightly interested in seeing the inside of the shopping area, so we dragged ourselves across the street and took the escalators up to the third floor. We didn’t find anything of interest, other than lovely architecture, so we staggered back to the shuttle stop about four blocks away, tired and hungry, but full of images we will not soon forget.
Back on board, it’s time for a refreshing shower and the snacks left by Rainer in our room. He brings us something interesting every day in addition to the usual guacamole and chips. Today is it chicken sandwich rolls that are quite tasty after a long day.
the Soup Kettle
Food review: We were so hungry that anything would seem fantastic, but we did enjoy all of our selections tonight.
Earlier we talked to Billy at the Front Desk and he said that several people at the museum had made disgusting scenes that were dreadfully insulting to the Japanese people who may have overheard them. We can only hope that maybe they didn’t speak enough English to understand it. One of the outbursts occurred when the ticket window wouldn’t accept payment in dollars, which got this response, “Why do you hate us so much?!” You’re standing at a museum for the a-bomb and you have to ask that? Besides, it had nothing to do with hating anyone. They have their own currency, so why should they accept U.S. dollars? Would we accept Japanese Yen? Jerks. Billy did say that, to their credit, some guests were in tears when they returned to the ship.
We all know that it was a difficult decision to use such a weapon and much suffering was averted by speeding up a surrender. That said, how can anyone not be sympathetic to so many innocent people being killed? By the way, most of the men in the city were gone, having been drafted into the army. All of the children over 4 years old had been evacuated to the countryside. So, 90% of the people left in the city were women and small children. Obviously, a lot of the blame lies with the Japanese government at the time since they did know in advance that an attack was imminent, but that does not diminish the reality of the suffering that resulted regardless of whose fault it may have been.We’re too tired to do anything except go directly to bed after dinner. We never could have figured out the entertainment schedule anyway. It was weird to begin with, and was changed twice. Notices had to be sent to the staterooms and an announcement was made, but to no avail.
It’s a beautiful day today cruising the scenic Inland Sea of Japan. The sun is shining and it is about 65 degrees with no wind at all. All around us are towering peaks and small forested islands. We are so close to shore that we can clearly see cars and people. This waterway is quite busy, so the fog horn sounded until around noon today just to warn traffic around the bend that we are coming.
We tried to sleep in, but failed in that regard. Although we didn’t notice the sailing away at 6:00am this morning, we did notice the constant blasts on the ship’s whistle. The water is mirror smooth, but there is some listing due to many sharp turns and avoiding obstacles and traffic in the waterway.
Our first stop is for lunch in the Dining Room.
the Soup Kettle
Food review: The pasta was ordinary, but edible. Both entrees were very good with the Nasi Goreng having the edge on greatness.
Jerry and Ger were a bit annoyed because every time they started an in depth conversation with us, Augusto would come over and interrupt by interjecting something off the subject. We were interested in talking to Ger because he was just sort of chatting about his apartment in The Netherlands and how they live there. He seems quite content with it and it does seem pleasant.
After lunch we perused the gift selection in the shops to see if we could do the correct thing by our guide tomorrow. We didn’t find anything we thought would be appropriate, so Bill went down to Shore Excursions to ask Gregory what we should do. He began profusely apologizing for spelling Bill’s last name incorrectly in the confirmation letters. Bill didn’t care and the sign in the car was correct yesterday. Apparently, Renato had noticed when the sign was first printed which led him to discover that Gregory had spelled it wrong on everything. So, he had to make a new sign with the correct spelling in order to teach him a lesson.
We hadn’t met Gregory before, he’s from South Africa, but he’s as white as white gets, just as Billy is. We’re going to jump to the conclusion (incorrectly, but it amuses us) that every white male from South Africa is gay. Well, at least the two we have met are, so it must be true, right? Anyway, he told us money would be fine for the tip and not to worry about it, so we won’t. He also had stories about appalling behavior by some of the guests at the museum yesterday. Why can’t people just zip it and wait until they get out of earshot of the locals before saying something revolting?
Next stop is the room to catch up on the diary entries. It takes forever with all of these interesting ports, so we can’t let it go or we get so far behind it takes days to finish it. We also have haircut appointments at 4:00pm, then, of course, we have to stop for some ice cream before returning to prepare for dinner and continue catching up on computer stuff. By the time we finished our snack it was starting to get quite cold and cloudy again.
Tonight’s dress code is Informal/Medieval, which means it is time for the Royal Feast again. We won’t bother listing the menu for the fourth time because this one never changes. We have ordered a special entrée anyway so we won’t be ordering from the menu tonight.
We had Sweet and Sour Chicken for our entree and it was outstanding.
The lobby and Dining Room are dressed with the usual velvet banners. And, of course, the staff is wearing those Medieval costumes they all hate. They look fine, but must be hot and uncomfortable to work in. We finally remembered to get a photo of Josef the King and Keiko the Wench.
Tonight’s entertainment is the lavish, but nearly unbearable, “Excalibur!” We’re sure the audience will be even smaller than last time, if that’s possible. We skipped it because we have an early wake up call tomorrow.The ship was already anchored off of Osaka by the time dinner was over, but will not dock until the scheduled time tomorrow.
We had to wake up this morning at 7:00am for our 9:00am private arrangements, but we were both awake hours before that. It was pouring rain when we finally got up and Dave has a cold (surprise, surprise!) He’ll take a cold over the ghastly Crystal disease that we usually catch, so it’s not as bad as it could have been.
The rain stopped by the time we went out to meet our guide and driver who are at the bottom of the gangway. Renato remarked that we look like we just woke up, which is incorrect because we have not yet done so. The temperature today is about 65 and partly cloudy. Unfortunately, the yellow dust is blowing in from China, so visibility is quite poor. The city is surrounded by mountains, but you’d never know it.
Although we can’t believe it is possible, this car is even more immaculate than the last one. Instead of just have lace covers on the headrests and arm rests, this one also has a lace curtain in the back window and the seats are completely covered in crisp white linen. Our guide again speaks excellent English and the driver is very pleasant.
Osaka is a very modern business-oriented city that doesn’t offer much to interest tourists, hence the reason we are driving to Kyoto. The drive takes about an hour along a modern freeway. Since the guide spends this time discussing options and giving us history, the time passes very quickly. Good thing because the sound walls along their freeways arch over the road so the entire drive is through a sort of tunnel without a top.
We have always heard that a trip to Kyoto is a must because it still has much of the ancient charm and original buildings that are lacking in Japan’s big cities. Well, yes, there are some, but to be honest, it looks just like Hiroshima and Osaka to us. The streets are clean, everything is orderly, etc. It is a little disappointing to find basically nothing as we expected it.
Our first stop is at the famous Golden Pagoda, which is part of the Rokuon-ji Temple. It was built by the 3rd Shogun after he abdicated the throne and it was meant to be impressive. And that it is.
Both the second and third floors are covered with gold-leaf on Japanese lacquer. The roof, upon which the Chinese phoenix settles, is thatched with shingles. The structure appears to float on the mirror-like surface of the pond, aptly named “Mirror Pond.”
Beyond this part of the garden is a shady walkway that meanders around streams, ponds with small islands, and cherry trees in bloom. Cherry blossom season started early this year, but the trees are still covered with blooms. There is also a traditional tea house with a thatched roof on display.
We met up with one of the ship’s tours here and let’s just say that Eloise and Dick did not look like happy campers. In spite of the cost of these private arrangements, we are glad we are not on a group tour! In the immaculate restroom, Dave heard a man from the ship screaming, “They don’t even have any f-ing towels to dry your f-ing hands around here!” FYI, the Japanese carry small towels with them for this purpose, so there is no need for paper towels.
Next we traveled a short distance to Nijo Castle (Map). It was originally built in 1603 to be the official Kyoto residence of the first Shogun. In its day, it served as a symbol of the power and authority of the military government. The structure is composed of many interconnected rooms divided by beautifully painted Japanese screens and ventilated by equally stunning carved wood transoms. An outer hallway divides the inner rooms from the rice paper sliding doors that open onto beautiful gardens. This floor makes a sort of bird call sound when walked upon so it has been given the name “Nightingale Floor.”
To enter the compound we pass through a stunning gate replete with golden metalwork, thatched roof and gorgeous woodcarvings featuring the Japanese phoenix. We have to remove our shoes to walk through the building, which is in immaculate condition. High ceiling and lots of light make it an inviting place. Add some Western style furniture and we could live here! Spectacular details are everywhere, from rooftops to gardens. Even the wide moat surrounding the complex has its own serene beauty.
The poor souls trapped in the group tour were being herded across the street to a hotel for lunch. They did not look happy. We heard later from Rainer that many people said the lunch wasn’t very good, but we will reserve judgment until we can talk to someone we know is coherent, such as Eloise and Dick.
From here we traveled another short distance to the Heian Shrine (Map) to view its amazingly beautiful gardens. First, we must pass through the huge gate and into an expansive courtyard. This is a Shinto shrine, so the same vermilion color pervades and we have the opportunity to purify ourselves once again. Since this shrine is more of a tourist attraction than a working religious facility, most people do not avail themselves of the chance to become pure once again.
We receive a good luck paper with our ticket, but one may also purchase fortunes from machines or a little booth. You may recall, that only good fortunes are taken home. Bad fortunes are tied to the bushes in front of the building to be prayed over by the priests.
Behind this shrine is the main attraction. Stunning gardens full of cherry blossoms. Again, we run across the remnants of a ship tour, including photographer, so we take the chance to get a photo with our guide.
Meandering pathways wind through a cherry blossom tunnel, across serene ponds, and through mossy grottos. Then, we pass through a gate and into a larger garden centered around a huge pond that is surrounded by more cherry trees in various colors, beautifully shaped Japanese maples, and sculptured pine trees. Throngs of people are here enjoying the scenery, but it isn’t oppressive. We cross a line of huge stepping stones and continue around the lake to a pavilion bridge to reach the exit. The view from this angle provides yet another breathtaking scene. Gigantic Koi rush to the edge of the water at the slightest hint they might be fed.
Our guide decided we should see some of modern Kyoto, too, so we went to the ultra-modern Kyoto Train Station. This enormous mirrored glass jumble houses not only the train station, but also two department stores, a Broadway style theater (currently playing Phantom of the Opera), and hundreds of restaurants. Across the street is a controversial tower atop a hotel that the locals opposed before it was built. For good reason, too. It’s hideous. At least the train station is beautiful in a space age kind of way.
The point of going here is to find a place to have lunch. We nixed the idea of going to a fancy Japanese restaurant because we don’t want to waste that much time. So, the guide suggested a Food Court. We expected take out type things, but Food Court here means hallway after hallway of tiny eateries. She was impressed that we wanted actual Japanese style food and not McDonald’s. We opted for a tempura restaurant because it didn’t have a line.
We sat at a counter in the tiny, but ultra modern establishment. The method of service was similar to a sushi bar where the cooks bring your food directly from the deep fryer to a tray in front of you as it is cooked. We had shrimp, eggplant, lotus root, green bean and something else. Also, there was miso soup that contained tiny clams. The guide loved them, so we fished them out of ours and gave them to her. She was beyond impressed that Dave could pick them out with his chopsticks. Actually, she was shocked when we turned down an offer of a fork by the waitress. Of course, we also had a bowl of sticky white rice and a little bowl of pickled something or other. Everything was extremely tasty, crisp and fresh. We had a pleasant conversation with the guide in the meantime and she really seemed to appreciate that we are truly interested in Japanese ways and not in forcing them to be like us.
We visited a Buddhist temple after lunch, but to be honest, everything began to blend together after a while. That’s not to say we were bored, just that we can’t recall the details at this point. We do know that we visited a temple after lunch, but that’s all. We ran across the tour group again at this stop so we knew we are on schedule to make it back in time for the sailing at least.
At this point, she offered to take us to a place where we could shop or we can go to another temple. We decided we didn’t need to waste thirty minutes shopping, so she had the driver take us to the older part of town. She warned us that it really only has “atmosphere” at night, but she thought we should see it anyway. This is where the old guest houses are and where Geishas still stroll the streets between them. By the way, Geishas provide legitimate entertainment, not sexual favors, and they are extremely expensive to hire.
We found an interesting side street that ends with a view of a pagoda on a hill that she told us is fairly typical of how this area looked in ancient times. We drove past a few other ornate buildings such as the National History Museum.
After this, we made an unexpected stop at a huge Buddhist Temple that is still in use. This turned out to be one of the highlights of the tour because it wasn’t full of tourists and had a more authentic feel to it since, if fact, it is! Although there were hundreds of uniformed schoolgirls touring and taking group photos, it only added to the fun of it.
This enormous wooden structure is across a huge courtyard from the elaborate entrance gate. Huge bronze lanterns flank the front of the buildings. We must remove our shoes to climb the steps up to the buildings. Once inside we walked across the tatami mat floors to view an elaborate altar with a bronze Buddha sitting in the center. Priests brought candles and incense and went about their usual routine.
Outside, we were treated again to the intricate details found in these structures. Ornate rooftops, enormous bronzes, expansive courtyards, cherry trees, etc. We really were pleased that we didn’t take a group tour because we never would have stopped here.
By now, it was getting a bit dicey on the time, but we made it back to the port in record time because there was absolutely no traffic. Half an hour later and it would have taken hours to make it back.
We had rushed out to the car so quickly that we didn’t realize until we returned that the Osaka Aquarium is on the pier along with an Imax Theater and an enormous Ferris wheel atop the terminal building. We could have stayed here and filled an entire day, but we did enjoy the company of our guide, so it was an informative and interesting day. We gave both the driver and guide a tip, which elicited much bowing from the driver.
By this time, Dave was about to fall asleep standing up, so we decided to clean up a bit and wait for the sailing at 6:00pm, which we did. This is the first port where locals were allowed on the pier while the ship is in port, so it was like the old days when people stood and waved as we sailed. There are enormous bridges crisscrossing the harbor area and many industrial complexes and tall buildings across the channel.
As we sailed out a small airplane buzzed the ship several times which made us wonder about security. Apparently, it isn’t a concern here at all by the looks of things. It got too cold for us to stay up on deck so we briefly went down and sat in Palm Court to watch the scenery until we were outside the breakwater.
We decided to take advantage of the Casual Dining Option tonight by the Neptune Pool. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t bother with this, but being tired and crashing fast, we went for it. Essentially, the offering consists of the usual burgers and such available at the grill, plus Lemon Chicken, Pork Ribs, and Sea Bass, also grilled. There is also a small selection of salads and a station where either Cobb Salad or Caesar Salad is made to order. Guests sit anywhere they like and a waiter takes their entrée order. Everything else is from the buffet.
We each ordered a different kind of pizza and the Cobb salad. We were satisfied with everything and the atmosphere was pleasant, but this concept needs some development before it really works properly.After an early dinner, we were off to shower and get into bed by 10:00pm. The earliest we have ever felt like sleeping.
Overnight, the winds really picked up and made for quite a rough ride. By morning, things were pretty much back to normal with almost no noticeable motion. At around 6:00am there was quite a racket that sounded like metal scraping on metal. That got our attention rather quickly, but it repeated on a regular basis for about an hour, so we figured we hadn’t run aground after all.
It is overcast and about the same temperature as it was yesterday. The Captain said it is raining in Yokohama, but that he hopes it will clear up. He always says that, so we have no idea what it will be like when we arrive tonight.
By the way, no need for pity because Dave’s cold is no worse than yesterday, so we’re hopeful that it won’t be an issue in a day or so. We dragged ourselves down toward the Dining Room at 11:30am, but decided to stop by Lara’s desk and ask about some of our Crystal Society credits. Good thing we did because we had been shorted $1,800! She said that the computer in Los Angeles is overburdened and can only hold so much information about each guest. When it reaches the limit, it simply doesn’t apply the credits that are posted. Charming. She wasn’t any happier about it than we are. Alert to travel agents, be sure to advise your clients to check their on board account during any back to back cruises or they might miss some money that is owed to them.
We also informed Lara about the rumor that she is madly in love with Josef Matt. She thought that notion was hysterical for obvious reasons. When Atle came up, she couldn’t wait to inform him that she is leaving him for Josef the moment he leaves tomorrow.
Nikki was finally available, so we went over and booked the next World Cruise. She said that everyone is annoyed because Gregg Michel announced they would decide whether or not we can use our shipboard credits toward future cruises and let us know before the end of the World Cruise. Obviously, everyone keeps asking her about it, but they haven’t committed to anything yet. She said that she told them years ago that this would become a problem but they went ahead with the program anyway.
Also, we learned that they are facing somewhat of a nightmare for the Serenity’s inaugural. Everyone expects to attend the christening ceremony, but there are 1,000 guests booked. All of these guests are the top cruisers with Crystal. So, what are they supposed to do? Haul 1,000 people out to Dover and back to London to spend the night? There is only one hotel in Dover and it isn’t what Crystal would consider acceptable, although we wouldn’t mind staying there.
So, it looks like we are all paying a huge premium for nothing. Nikki said to have our travel agent harangue the office non-stop in order to secure a spot at the ceremony. We have decided that if that isn’t part of the deal that we will cancel. We don’t want a repeat of the Symphony inaugural where we paid a premium and got nothing for it. Also, can you imagine an inaugural voyage filled to capacity? What were they thinking? Money, obviously, but if anything goes wrong they are going to annoy their best customers.
We heard from a reasonably reliable source that bookings for the Symphony in Europe after Serenity debuts are miniscule. Waiters are starting to look for jobs on other ships because they can’t live on the tips from only four guests per cruise. The bookings are far lower than even the 600 on this World Cruise and they are barely making anything now. It will be interesting to see what happens. Also, we learned that some executives from NYK (Crystal’s Japanese parent) were on board before Joe Watters left and they were not amused by the lavish spending on costumes and the expensive wine orders by officers and staff, among other things.
the Soup Kettle
Food review: We were very pleased with everything today. Bill asked for extra rice for the stir fry and Ger brought enough for two, so Dave added some to his soup entrée and it made a nice sick-person meal.
Jerry was concerned because we didn’t show up to dinner last night. Augusto saw us arrive back at the ship, so he also wondered what had happened to us. We explained why we weren’t there which prompted Jerry to bring hot tea with lemon and honey, while inquiring every now and then how Dave was feeling. It’s not that bad, really!
Jerry went to the Osaka Aquarium on the pier yesterday and was overwhelmed by it. He carried on about it until Augusto came over and joined in. He also thought it was fabulous. Both of them wanted to be sure we would show up tonight, but it depends on how we feel and whether or not we go ashore at 5:00pm. At this point, we assume we will stay on board.
By late afternoon, we had arrived at the mouth of Tokyo Bay. Up until now, the boat traffic has been about average, but now it is quite busy and must be a chore for the bridge to forge a route. There are about ten ships visible in close proximity at any given moment.
Josef stopped to chat and horrified Jerry when he went to fetch more tea for Dave. Josef thinks it would have been better, and saved some port charges, if we just arrived tomorrow morning as usual. He said that all of the guests he has asked say they are not going ashore tonight. It takes over an hour to get to Tokyo, so what’s the point? We’ll see what is adjacent to the dock when we arrive, but it is supposed to be a shopping area.
At around 4:45pm, we sailed under an enormous suspension bridge and into the harbor. The ship has been received very warmly in all Japanese ports and this one is no exception. A fire boat spouting fountains of water accompanied us into the dock where a brass band played as we arrived. Two kimono clad women stood waving on the pier along with a crowd of workmen rushing to complete the ultra modern terminal building. On the “old” terminal building’s balcony, another crowd of waving people await our arrival. By the way, it is freezing! The Captain said it is 59, but it feels more like 39, so we went inside to see what was happening with the kimono girls.
The city has a space-age skyline to rival the most modern city. There is another of those huge Ferris wheel contraptions surrounded by a twisting roller coaster track near the shoreline. Directly adjacent to the pier is a tree-lined avenue fronted by high-rise hotels. As with all Japanese ports, this one is clean and safe.
In spite of several announcements not to crowd the gangway, there was a huge line of people waiting to disembark. We watched a woman on shore, who is obviously embarking the ship today, pacing and looking annoyed even though we had only been docked for two minutes. People don’t seem to understand that there are procedures to be followed.
Speaking of procedures, here is a photo of our friend Harry on the pier today. He is the Clearance Officer for this cruise.
There are about twenty guests disembarking today and tomorrow, so they are also crowded in the lobby to be cleared by stern-looking Japanese officials. The kimono girls with their flowers and a small entourage were herded off to make a presentation to the Captain.
Doris came up to us to try to get warmed up. She also has a cold, as does her sister, so we are going on the assumption that we all caught it on the China tour. They are both sicker than Dave is, so we won’t complain too much. She and her sister went on the over night tour to Kyoto and Nara. She said they saw temples, shrines, gardens, temples, shrines, gardens, big cities, temples, shrines and gardens. Acknowledging that everything was beautiful, she also said that they cancelled their all day tour for tomorrow. We sort of feel the same way…how many temples and shrines can one look at before they all look the same? Our answer is, two, and we’ve surpassed that number already.
We alerted Doris to the computer glitch that is screwing people out of some of their Crystal Society credit. Honestly, we think that someone should start looking through the records to find these discrepancies before other guests discover them. Otherwise, it looks like they are doing it on purpose, which we are not totally convinced is not the case. It just seems somehow unbelievable that their computer is “full.” Someone in the office is just not doing their job properly is more likely.
Tonight’s dress code is Casual. We sat in Palm Court briefly to view the beautiful skyline of downtown Yokohama at night. The giant Ferris wheel lights up in all sorts of computerized patterns and behind it are the gleaming skyscrapers of the city. It is quite a sight.
the Soup Kettle
Food review: Our entrée was the Lighter Side selection and was satisfactory, but it has been better in the past. Dessert was quite good.
Tomorrow night is open seating in the Dining Room, so Jerry tried to convince us to come there rather than go to the BBQ on deck. We probably will just because it is so cold outside at night. At least when it is open seating we can arrive at 7:00pm and will be able to get to bed earlier than usual.
Paco, Ger and Rainer all told us we should go to Tokyo Disneyland rather than tour Tokyo, but we’re stuck with the tour now that it is paid for. Oh well. After all, we really should see the traditional sights at least once, right?
Tonight’s entertainment is a performance of classical Japanese music using traditional instruments. We skipped it and went to bed because we have to get up again tomorrow.
We received a gift of two wooden Sake boxes with this note: "On behalf of the port authorities of Osaka, we are pleased to present you with this special wooden Sake Box. In the tradition of this unique receptacle, remember to fill it to the brim to signify the hope that life should be full to overfilling."
We’re up and ready to go early this morning for our 9:00am departure for a full day tour to Tokyo. Honestly, we aren’t looking forward to this, but we’ll say right off that we were pleasantly surprised!
Our guide is again a very pleasant and interesting person, although she doesn’t speak English as perfectly as the previous two. Still, she speaks well enough to be understood. We just have to phrase our questions more precisely than we did with the others. Renato was standing next to her and pointed us out as we came down the gangway. The weather is the same as yesterday, about 65 and partly cloudy.
The first order of business is a 30 minute drive to the Yokohama train station to board a Bullet Train to Tokyo. As is everything in Japan, the station is orderly, clean and the attendants are friendly. We have to wait for about twenty minutes for our train because the traffic was lighter than expected on the way. By the way, Yokohama itself is quite modern, clean and attractive in its own right. There are nice shops and an abundance of restaurants just a five minute walk from the pier.
We expected quite a crush of people to disembark each train, but it wasn’t crowed at all. We have no idea how our guide knew which train is ours. All of them look pretty much the same and the signs list the identical destinations, but she finally did point out what she is looking for. The tickets and all of the signs are in Japanese except for some very small print at the bottom. Signs on the side of the train are in both English and Japanese, so once we figured out the system, we felt confident we could do this on our own someday.
The trains are sleek, pointy, shiny white affairs that look like jets on tracks. Cutesy music plays to announce each arrival as the gates open automatically to the platform. Inside, we have reserved seats in what looks like the first class cabin of a jumbo jet. The seats are huge and come complete with stereo just as one would find in the air. Since our trip will only take fifteen minutes, we have no need for this feature, of course.
We settle in for the ultra-smooth ride through tidy suburbs and into the center of Tokyo. The brick station was modeled after the central train station in Amsterdam, but the inside is bright and modern. This is a hub of interconnecting tracks for trains and subways, so a map is definitely a must for a traveler. Fortunately, we have a guide who seems to know where she is going.
Outside the station, another car and driver is waiting to take us on our sightseeing journey through old and new Tokyo. We are surprised to find no crowds, traffic, or anything else we have heard and read about. The city is modern, the streets are wide and tree-lined, and the attractions are far superior to those we saw in Kyoto and with no throngs of tourists to speak of.
The first stop is the Imperial Palace. The grounds are only opened to the public twice a year because the Emperor still lives here, but we can view the massive entrance gate and a scenic bridge across the wide moat. There is an ancient watchtower at one end of the bridge that was moved here from Kyoto. Most of the other buildings are reconstructions because the original wooden structures burned, were destroyed in an earthquake, or were bombed during the war.
We have to walk across a vast open parade ground sort of area that is surrounded by the high-rises of modern Tokyo. The lawns are full of manicured pine trees. We encounter only a handful of other people at this stop, including the same two people we ran across on a private tour in Hiroshima.
From the main gate, we walk quite a distance around the compound to the Imperial Palace East Garden that is the only part open to the public. Admission is free of charge, but we must take a plastic ticket with us and return it when we leave. Our guide said that a man on one of her tours accidentally dropped his into a pond and the guards would not allow the bus to leave until it could be retrieved. The point of this is to be sure that no one hides and stays in the compound because this is actually a working government facility.
We pass through a convoluted series of gates and gigantic stone walls meant to thwart an enemy attack. Along the way are beautifully manicured shrubs and trees. Once inside the outermost walls, we turn into a lovely garden area that is lined on one side by thousands of blooming azaleas.
The entire area is landscaped and maintained by groups of volunteer gardeners who receive an audience with the Emperor at the end of the season as a reward. There is a beautiful natural forest area, reflecting ponds full of colorful koi, and a traditional Japanese garden with a small waterfall. Just in case anyone is interested, there are also immaculate restrooms complete with both Western style and Japanese squat toilets. The guide informed us that they are doing everything they can to encourage more tourism, including adding English translations to signs in larger cities.
From the Imperial Palace we drive a short distance across town toward the Asakusa Buddhist Temple. This area was originally designed as an entertainment district by the Shogun and so it remains to this day. There are many ultra modern buildings in the area adjacent to the temple, such as a weird sculpture that looks like a potato atop a beer company. The skyscraper next to it is also part of the same beer company. When asked to guess what it is supposed to look like, Bill correctly said it looks like a glass of beer with foam on the top.
A gigantic lantern hangs from the outer gate leading to the temple. Along this pedestrian street, small shops sell everything imaginable from tacky trinkets to designer shoes. Ordinarily, this type of activity isn’t allowed between the gates of a temple, but in ancient times, merchants who made donations or helped the temple in some way were given permission to set up shop here as a reward. The custom continues today in a more modern form. Our guide informs us that during holidays it is impossible to walk down the street due to the crowds. She says that the first words out of the mouth of tourists at that time are, “Oh my God!”
Covered shopping streets branch off from this pedestrian area in every direction. We eventually arrive at the main gate of the temple which is flanked by a huge pagoda that is said to house some of Buddha’s ashes in the spire. The guide doesn’t necessarily believe this, she is just telling us what people say. In front of the temple itself is a famous incense burner known for its healing properties. We inform her that the one in Kyoto actually works because Dave’s cold is almost gone after only two days. On the way out we walk under an enormous purification gate.
By now, it is time for lunch and we opt for noodles. We are led down a shopping street used mostly by locals, to a tiny hole in the wall noodle restaurant that is famous because they make their noodles right in front of you in a window facing the street. The place is tiny, but we only have to wait a few minutes for a table. We had white noodles in a sort of beef broth with slices of beef in it. Other than the fact that it is a mess to eat with chopsticks, it is very good and we are satisfied once again.
We are struck by how kind people are to one another. After all, this is a huge city and very crowded. But we are barely aware that it is crowded. Only at the most popular tourist sites are any crowds in sight and they aren’t a problem. There isn’t any pushing or shoving and people speak politely to one another. It seems genuine rather than a forced behavior. Most people do not speak English, however, we think that their kindness and willingness to help would overcome that obstacle for any understanding tourist.
Every time we are ready for the car, he is precisely where the guide has told him to be. We never have to wait for him to pick us up. Off we go to the next stop, on the way passing the Government Guest House that was modeled after Buckingham Palace. The structure was constructed for use by the Emperor, but he disapproved of using so much money to build it during a slow economic period. When the government went against his wishes and built it anyway, he was so angry that he never set foot inside. It was used as the headquarters for the Olympics when they were held here, then it was remodeled for its current function as a place for heads of state to stay.
Shortly, we arrived at the entrance to the outer gardens of the Meiji Shrine. This shrine is a traditional Japanese Shinto shrine set in a man made forest of trees donated by people from across Japan. There are over 100,000 trees planted here that represent every species of tree in Japan.
We stroll along a wide, meandering gravel pathway and through an enormous Torii Gate. As you may recall, the posts of these gates are made from cedar tree trunks in one piece. Since there are no longer any cedar trees of this size, this will remain the largest gate to exist.
The forest and park area is quite serene and a wonderful introduction to the shrine itself. Shinto shrines are far less oppressive than the dark Buddhist temples, but they usually exist side by side. This particular shrine is so popular during certain parts of the year that the front of the pillars and, in fact, the entire façade, is pitted by coins thrown by the overzealous crowds who miss the huge offering bins that are placed outside for such things.
After this viewing this lovely setting, we drove around the city as the guide pointed out various buildings of interest. Then, we headed toward the famed Ginza shopping area. On the way, we inquired about World Cup Soccer memorabilia for Jerry and that prompted her to call someone for information. They called back with a specific department store, what they carry and the price of each. Unfortunately, we did not have time to follow up on it.
We expected the Ginza to be a crowded, noisy nightmare, but it was quite fun. Towering, modern buildings support gigantic television monitors bigger than the one in Times Square in New York. In fact, the whole scene reminds us of Fifth Avenue in that city except there is no pushing and shoving. The Japanese are quite stylish and have money to spend, so all of the top designers have shops here. Japan's major department stores also have outlets here. There aren’t your typical Western style stores either.
Department stores in Japan are multi-story affairs filled with every conceivable type of merchandise under the sun. We went to the basement of one of these stores to view the vast food hall. These levels go down three floors below the street and house everything from Godiva chocolates to fresh fish and vegetables. The array is unbelievable. Melons are so expensive that they are individually boxed and only used as gifts for a hostess or a sick friend in the hospital. We are told that near hospitals, one will always find a flower shop and a fruit stall. We estimated the cost of a small cantaloupe at about US$12.00.
To say that these stores are crowded is an understatement. They must literally roll in the money at the end of the day. Salespeople practically outnumber the customers and offer unsurpassed courtesy and service.
We continued walking along the Ginza admiring the glittering buildings and the lively activity. The guide wanted to show us a museum of wood blocks, but it had moved since last week when the bank in which it was housed merged with another one. Oh well. She cared more than we did. We also stopped in a stationary store to look for some handmade papers, but they didn’t have what we wanted in spite of some very solicitous help from the salesman.
Unfortunately, it is time to make our way back to the port. This time we drive all the way, which only takes about 40 minutes. The Bullet Train ride was only for our amusement. Ordinarily, people wouldn’t use it for such a short distance. It took longer to drive to the station and ride the train than it would have to drive directly into town.
Vast areas around the port have been reclaimed from the harbor. The enormous project began over twenty years ago and had been delayed by successive governments over time. Now they are constructing huge futuristic skyscrapers and entertainment districts along the waterfront. We drove over four gigantic suspension bridges on the way back to the ship. Traffic was not an issue, but we were told this is unusual. We arrived back at the ship at exactly the appointed hour, 5:00pm.
We will have the same guide tomorrow is Shimizu because they do not have their own guides in the small town. She said she will travel there by bullet train in the morning. No doubt she will be happy to see us again by the look on her face when we gave her a tip.
Surprisingly, we aren’t terribly exhausted in spite of the fact that we only slept maybe a total of 3 hours last night. Neither of us can sleep when we have a deadline to meet early in the morning. Why we even bother trying is anyone’s guess.
Dinner tonight is a choice between a BBQ on deck or open seating in the Dining Room. Both venues are open from 7:00pm – 9:00pm. Prego and Jade Garden are closed. We opted for the Dining Room because it is freezing and raining outside now. We could have told them days ago that this would not be a good night for a deck BBQ. People are tired, it’s cold, and we just want to get dinner over with so we can go to bed. Duh!
Needless to say, we arrived at 7:10pm to find the Dining Room completely full. Well, at least the tables intended to be open were full. When we arrived, panic ensued and Augusto seated us at the table on the other side of the glass partition from where we usually sit and instructed Jerry to wait on us. He did want to, but we could see this would overburden him. No matter, he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
In the meantime, the ONE waiter covering the now open center section of the room was having a nervous breakdown. Shortly thereafter, frantic phone calls to the Lido were made and waiters recalled to staff the Dining Room.
We had no problems with the service, but Jerry was bothered because he felt he didn’t spend enough time with us. We didn’t care. All we wanted to do was eat and get out of there as quickly as possible, which we did. He followed us to the door apologizing for the lack of service, but truthfully, we didn’t notice any problems.
No need for a menu tonight since it wasn’t very exciting to begin with. Bill had the always available chicken, which was satisfactory. Dave’s steak was excellent. Augusto brought us three desserts which prompted the woman at the next table to make a comment because she thought we ordered them. We had a brownie sundae in front of each of us, plus some sort of ghastly flan thing, and a plate of cookies. We only ate the brownies, which were very good.
The ship sailed at 10:00pm, as scheduled, amid much whistle blowing and commotion. We didn’t stay up late enough to watch it, but we figured since we had witnessed the arrival we could do without seeing it in reverse.We received Scratch and Sniff cards for the port tomorrow (they smell like peaches) that serve as passes for several free shows provided by the city. They also have several events planned for dockside, such as a Geisha performance, a brass band, and a welcome ceremony. Are these people friendly, or what?
By the way, we have been without Internet access ever since the ship docked here. It seems that the satellite is turned off for some reason because we also are missing all TV stations received in this manner.
When we woke up this morning, it was pouring rain. Too bad for those people who are dying to see Mt. Fuji because it isn’t going to happen today. That’s not a big deal to us, so we don’t care. By the time we left the ship at 10:00am, the rain was over, although it stayed mostly cloudy all day.
Renato was concerned because the driver and guide were nowhere to be seen, so he went to call the agent. Turns out they had mixed up the time and thought it was for 11:00am. The same guide we had yesterday came up to us while we were talking to Renato and said the driver would be there by 10:30am, which he was.
While we were talking to Renato, at least fifty guests asked him where the shuttle bus stops. Answer: Directly in front of us where the sign says, “Shuttle Bus.” But, he went on to tell them that the bus only takes them behind a red brick building that literally fronts on the dock. One man asked why there is a shuttle then, to which Renato replied, “Because it was raining and the city thought you would rather stay dry.” Even though he made it perfectly clear that the bus would only take them about fifty feet, all fifty of them went and stood at the bus stop for twenty minutes. They could have easily walked to the destination in five.
The city arranged free demonstrations of Geisha dancing, flower arranging and kimono dressing. There’s a big inflatable welcome arch across the entrance to the dock and a line of stalls selling typical souvenirs. Everyone also received a color brochure last night describing the sights here. As with all Japanese ports, this city could not be any more welcoming. We have never seen a warmer welcome extended to the ship and we’ve been to a lot of ports!
When the driver arrived, we hopped in and the guide took us to the top of a hill overlooking the port. The winding road is lined with tangerine farms and fields where they grow those $12.00 cantaloupes. Strawberries are grown in the crevices of stone walls because space is so limited.
We stopped at a lookout for a photo over the city with Crystal Symphony below. At this point in the morning it was still a bit misty, but it cleared up before we made the trip back down. This region produces 70% of the tea grown in Japan and the hills are covered with beautiful little tea shrubs that retain a manicured shape from frequent harvesting. It looks like mile after mile of Japanese gardens.
At the top of this hill is a “ropeway” that takes visitors across a deep, tree lined canyon to Kuno-zan Toshogu that is a shrine dedicated to the deified spirit of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the greatest shogun in Japanese history. It was built in 1617 by the second shogun. By the way, a “ropeway” is just the Japanese term for a cable car. It’s not some prehistoric contraption.
If one is to imagine a fantasy Japanese setting, this is it. Misty hillsides surround the serene grounds of the shrine. We just missed intercepting the ship’s group tour, so there is almost no one here besides us. The shrine was originally built in the mixed style of Shintoism and Buddhism. But, after the shogunate government came to an end, the new government, led by the emperor, ordered the separation of the two religions and a large pagoda and other structures were removed.
Visitors climb up the 1159 stone steps leading to the sacred grounds. The first structure is a traditional gate that leads to a courtyard lined with mossy stone lanterns. To one side is the platform that originally supported a pagoda. One the other is an ornate belfry that now houses a huge drum rather than a bell.
More stone steps lead to the entrance to the shrine and a storage building for rice. Up more steps is a barn for the sacred horse and even more steps lead to the level where the shrine itself is located. Moss covered stone walls line the walkways. Since this shrine is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, some of his possessions are housed behind the screen at the altar.
We continue up more steps to reach his tomb in a grove of trees. The setting is spectacular, yet simple. We have no idea how people any shorter than we are can climb the steps. They vary in height, but are at least 12” high.
Beautiful views of mossy lanterns, weeping trees, and ornate rooftops greet us on the way down. From the landing of the cable car, we can see all the way down the coast now that the fog has cleared. This is where they grow fruit in huge greenhouses. No wonder it is so expensive.
Adjacent to the shrine is a small museum housing some of the shogun’s swords and other items. Ordinarily, we don’t do museums, but this one is small and the guide really seems to want to show it to us. It was just about small enough to keep our interest until it was time to catch the 12:00pm car back to the parking lot.
We were supposed to go to a view point for Mt. Fuji, but the guide said there is no way we would see it today, so let’s do something else. Fine with us. She feels guilty for promising us the wood block print museum yesterday, so she has the driver take us to another one on the other side of town.
The museum is new, but is built on the site of an ancient rest house for the emperor during his travels around Japan. Small towns grew up along the roads to these structures and the town still exists today. Obviously, in a different form, but nonetheless interesting. The grounds also have the original water well used by the emperor and a modern Japanese garden and tea house.
On the wall just inside the entrance to the museum is a poster announcing the arrival of Crystal Symphony today! The Japanese print at the bottom says something like, “Finally, the most luxurious ship afloat comes to Shimizu!” One of the ships pictured at the bottom is the Azuka, which is owned by NYK, Crystal’s parent.
We have to return to the port by 2:00pm, so from here we drive directly back. Upon arrival, we find throngs of people arriving at the pier. A huge crowd of passengers and locals surround school children who have come to here a brief speech by Artie and Ron about our travels. They have a chance to ask questions and such. The whole affair is very cute.
We let the driver drop us at the end of the pier rather than try to force his way through the crowd. Our guide stood and chatted with us for a few minutes until she had to report back to the port agent. We shopped in a few of the souvenir stands and bought some of the expensive early harvest green teas to try. We gave our paper money as a tip to the driver and guide, but we had thousands of yen in coins, so we wanted to spend most of it.
By this time, the crowd had grown and even the balconies on the terminal building are full of people waving and taking pictures. An adjacent rooftop is also full. More lines of school children arrived all wearing colorful hats representing their school. It really looks like every school in the city has been let out to come see the ship.
We’ve seen a lot of sailings, but this one simply exuded warmth. As we were heading back for the ship, a woman came up and said, “Welcome to Shimizu!” She was just a local woman, not an official or guide. We saw a huge black dog that was so cute we had to ask if we could pet him. His owner spoke perfect English and said the dog speaks English, too! She had learned to train dogs in the U.S., so she used English commands with him. The poor dog was a bit overwhelmed by all of the people, but was very friendly.
More people arrived with some huge, white dogs that sort of looked like small polar bears. They seemed fairly oblivious to the attention everyone lavished on them.
Artie and Ron moved down to the next group of children and basically repeated the process. We boarded the ship to avoid the rush and went out to watch from the Promenade Deck. More children arrived, including a group of kindergarteners who could not have been more adorable. They all had little Japanese flags to wave.
More people arrived in droves. We found out later that the poster we saw regarding our arrival today is plastered all over town. So, this is literally the entire city here to see the ship sail. There must have been thousands of people on the dock, the balconies, rooftops, etc.
When the ship slowly started to slip away from the pier, a round of fireworks was shot from a nearby jetty. Each shell produced a different color of smoke, so they were interesting even in broad daylight. When the ship blew its whistle for the traditional three-blast salute, a cheer arose from the crowd. People were still arriving!
This was absolutely the most moving sail away we have ever experienced. Some people were in tears. There was such a genuine appreciation from the locals for our visit that it was palpable. It’s impossible to explain it without sounding trite, but it really was something to experience. And, what a way to leave our last major port!
The ship had to back up for quite a distance to make a turn and we passed more crowds gathered on a pier, along the shoreline, etc. A news helicopter circled the ship for about an hour as we sailed out beyond the breakwater. Boats small and large followed us out with waving passengers crowding their decks.
We sailed past the area where we would have had a great view of Mt. Fuji, so we will just have to use the origami version our guide had us make to imagine it. She showed us how to make it in the car and said to just hold it up and pretend it’s the real thing. How sweet is that?
As we reached the breakwater, we saw that it too is lined with cars and crowds of people. Finally, we were out in the open sea among some smaller islands. A sailing ship under full sail is the only watercraft still visible at this point, although that helicopter is still hovering at the level of our balcony.
We continued sailing along the coast of Japan, passing some scenic coastline as we made our way into the Pacific. Although we have no idea why the Captain insists on pretending it will not be rough, the wind picked up and the whitecaps grew bigger as the evening wore on. His announcement alluded to the fact that he “hopes it will be smooth sailing,” but why doesn’t he just come out and tell us? Probably for the same reason he keeps hoping the rain will go away when he knows full well that it will rain all day.
The clocks were moved ahead one hour the moment we left the pier today, so at this point it is about 5:00pm. That means our snacks are about to arrive and none too soon!
We didn’t leave the room until time to go to dinner. On the way we dropped off and picked up some film.
Tonight’s dress code is Informal, but it should be Casual in our opinion.
the Soup Kettle
There isn’t much to say about the food tonight that you haven’t heard before. Everything was fine, nothing was outstanding.
Augusto was talking to us when our appetizer was delivered and he decided he had talked so long that we needed new ones. It wasn’t all that long, but he made a waiter (not ours) bring us replacements. That prompted the idiot at the next table, who has to know what everyone is doing and what every headwaiter is cooking, want to know why we had sent them back. Augusto spent the next ten minutes explaining that we didn’t send them back, he replaced them. Honestly, that table gives Jewish people a bad name! If you ever wanted a stereotype definition, this table is it. These are the loudest, most annoying, whining bitches we have ever seen. The men never open their mouth because these women never shut up.
Augusto told us that the Catholic priest thinks we don’t like him because we never answer him when he says hello to us. He’s right, we don’t like him, but we always talk to him when he speaks to us. We thought he had been snubbing us recently. Not that we care, but he must think we are snubbing him. Gee, too bad. Another person we don’t have to bother being nice to!
All of the waiters are complaining because we have all these hours forward tonight and they have scheduled a non-stop array of events tomorrow. First, breakfast is being served in the Lido until 11:00am (usually ends at 10:00am), then there is a brunch in the Dining Room from 11:00am – 1:30pm because they seem to think people won’t be able to adjust to the time change. After that, there is a “Housekeeping Tea Party” for World Cruise guests. We had no idea what that was until Jerry informed us that all of the stewardesses will be joining the guests for tea while the waiters serve all of us. Tomorrow night is also the elaborate French Dinner, and a formal night. Great timing, huh?
We set the clocks another TWO hours forward tonight, for a total of three today. The Captain’s sail away announcement regarding this arrangement went on for fifteen minutes. Explanation after explanation after explanation. Apparently, the staff finds this more disturbing than any of the guests are likely to. We haven’t heard a single guest even mention it.By bedtime, it had become very rough. In fact, the roughest it has been so far. That’s not really saying much because it hasn’t been a problem at all yet. But, this is the worst it has been up until now.
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