HAL guest blogger Sharon Wilhelm is currently sailing aboard Amsterdam’s 75-day Grand Asia & Australia Voyage. While aboard the ship she will chronicle her cruising experience for us on the blog. Enjoy!
Days 12 – 18:
October 3 – 9, 2012
Day 12 – At Sea
It was Kimono Night/Formal Night. Since we were in Japan, we decided to wear our Yukatas, making sure the left side overlapped the right side :-).
Day 13 – Yokohama, Japan
Yokohama is the port of call for Tokyo and for locals it is a “bedroom community” for those having employment in Tokyo e.g. lower cost housing, easy commuting and easy access to water (Tokyo Bay) for recreation. The weather for the approach into the docking position at the Yokohama International Passenger Terminal (Osanbashi) was perfect. We were able to capture a photo of a rainbow accenting the city skyline, the docked Costa Victoria and providing a Japanese welcome for the Amsterdam.
We had previously booked a tour called “Tokyo Sites” and we departed by bus at 9:25 “led” by our tour guide Yama san. She provided descriptions of the sites during the 80-minute journey. For anyone getting homesick, a Costco store was prominent site just off the freeway. We toured the park, adjacent to the distant Imperial Palace, from which a photo opportunity was provided to capture the famous double arched Nijubashi Bridge. Next, the tour went to the Asakusa district to a Shinto Shrine where Yama san demonstrated the manner in which to pray – it was a very interesting sequence. In this same area a highlight is the Kaminarimon – the Gate of the God of Thunder, featuring a huge red paper lantern suspended overhead. The gate marks the entrance to the Kannon Temple grounds complete with an incense burner, a five story pagoda and the Main Hall which has paintings on the ceiling from the Edo Period. Kannon = Goddess of Mercy.
We ended the Tokyo part of the tour in the Ginza area where we were given a map and were requested to return to the tour bus in 100 minutes. We chose to spend most of this time in the Mitsukoshi Department store with particular interest in their food hall. From previous visits we remembered how extensive this part of the store was but it seemed even more amazing this time as the variety of food items is nearly beyond comprehension. In addition, the manner in which every item is packaged almost makes one feel guilty when unwrapping a purchase. Yes, they do promote the tasting of samples.
A buffet lunch was also a part of this tour. I bring up the subject of the Japanese buffet “style” because I’m sure it was new to most of those on the tour. There were numerous Western and Japanese foods around a very large oval table, however, what made this meal interesting is that the table had no starting point. It was quite a sight to observe people struggling for a suitable position in order to get food onto the wooden plates provided. All in all, this Japanese eating experience was truly memorable.
On the bus ride back to the ship, Yama san led us in an English version of Sakura after she sang the song in Japanese – this completed a very interesting day of touring.
Day 14 – Yokohama, Japan
As the ship needed all hands to be on board at 11:30, we did a short walking tour on our own that included seeing the former British Consulate building, Yokohama Park and Stadium (they take their baseball here very seriously) and Chinatown. We did a Tai Chi and a Qi Gong workout in the park much to the interest and amusement of the locals who were there. Our departure was highlighted by a fire fighting boat that had all water cannons fully engaged. It made for a perfect goodbye to us from the Port of Yokohama.
Day 15 – Kobe, Japan
At our docking position at the Port of Kobe there was a large welcoming party including a band and various welcoming figures and individuals. As we had previously visited the attractions of Kyoto and Nara, we took a shuttle bus to the downtown area of Kobe and were let off at a shopping arcade named Motomachi. The arcade is the longest we have experienced without even including the side streets. It is huge – nearly ¾ miles long! On the way back to the shuttle bus location we walked through the Kobe Chinatown. As this was on Saturday, the locals were in full attendance and all seemed to be eating – standing up. At one corner noodle shop a long line of locals were queued up for their favorite bowl of soba. I believe that getting something to eat for 300 – 350 yen attracted all of those customers. Our exploration concluded with a visit to the Sego Department store.
Back on ship the crew presented a wonderful Tapanyaki barbecue at the Lido Pool area complete with beautiful Japanese decorations. The feast was well done and was well attended.
Day 16 – Kobe
Once again we took the shuttle bus into the downtown area. We were met by local translators one of which was asked about the location of a “knock off” shop. She said “it is a 10 minute walk – I will take you there” and off we went. Indeed, she was right on – there were two complete floors of all sorts of items at one price 105 yen ($1.40). Considering the high cost of shopping in Japan, this was a real find for souvenir items.
Another travel moment occurred while in the above mentioned store. We both needed a visit to an otoire (restroom) when a ladies facility was found. Interestingly enough, because there was no door, a latrine was visible inside. A man used the facility and when he exited Mark attempted to enter and use the same space. He was quickly dismissed by a local female who apparently only wanted Japanese ladies in her facility. We are still laughing as to how we get into these “situations” or are they really “opportunities?”
We then returned to the Motomachi area and selected a restaurant in order to have a Kobe beef meal – a must do when in Kobe.
Day 18 – Nagasaki, Japan
The approach to the harbor is really beautiful – small islands and rocky obstructions abound. Our passports were checked, checked and re-checked by port authorities as we made our way to the tour bus. We booked the ‘Nagasaki Sites’ tour and it was led by our guide who said to call her “Soda.” The tour included a drive up the Inasa Climbing Road to get a high position overview of the city, a visit to Peace Park / Statue of Peace where we participated in the daily 11:02 A.M,. ringing of a bell commemorating the exact time of the atomic bombs’ explosion on August 9, 1945. Numerous nations have erected sculptures in memory of this tragic event. The USA monument depicts seven figures holding hands in a circular configuration in reference to world unity. There were several other interesting sites we saw during this tour that describe the events prior to and following the event.
Nagasaki city was in full celebration mode for the annual Kunchi Matsuri (festival) at the Suwa Jinja Shrine. We saw numerous groups of celebrants decked out in traditional garb including a group holding up a multi – segmented Chinese dragon (called the dragon dance) as well as several portable shrines being carried by the locals. The relationship between traditional Japanese religions, the emperor and Christianity has a long history in Nagasaki. Periods of tolerance and then intolerance are well documented including the public crucifixion of 26 Christians in 1597. Today, tolerance is well represented.
The required “face to passport” departure clearance inspection was required by Japanese immigration procedures prior to our departure. Let’s just say it was a very interesting traveling experience from the ship, through the port terminal and back to the ship for everyone.
We are now on our way to Jeju, South Korea, and are looking forward to attending a performance of “Cookin’ Nanta” tomorrow morning. Oyasumi nasai (good night).