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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Wednesday, May 14, 2003 03:45:05

Asia Pacific 2003: 9 - From Tokyo

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

This morning went amazingly smoothly. I'd picked up a package of sandwiches at a deli while wandering the tunnels yesterday, had some juice in the room and so had breakfast while getting ready to go. The dry run on the trains yesterday proved its worth, as I knew how to use the automated ticket machine and where the platform was for my trip to the ferry terminal in Tokyo Harbour.

Today, being a working day, the station was worse than ever. By accidentally getting into the lane for people getting off the train I managed to jump the line getting onto the train and so was able to wedge against the wall in the back of the car. It looked like one of those .how many people can you get in a phone booth. contests. There had to be 300 people in the one car! Fortunately my head was well above the crowd - I was the only one clinging to the tube that the hand holds are attached to - no one else could reach it. At my height I was close to the air conditioning so there was a little cool air to breath, but the only view was of a sea of heads.

It was fascinating watching the last people get onto the train. It would already be sardine can packed, but the method is to turn your back to the people in the train then just shuffle backwards, pushing into the others, until the door will miss you. The result could be seen in other trains going by, where people's faces were mashed into the glass of the door. Even though the trains run every couple of minutes, there is no point in waiting for the next one as it wouldn't be less crowded. While people got off at each station it seemed even more got on so it got tighter and tighter as we neared Tokyo.

It was ten stops to the ferry, which I succeeded in surviving while only falling over once, landing on some hapless fellow. It amazed me that while I had trouble standing up with my death grip on the rail, some people had no hand holds, but were supported upright by the crush as they stood with their eyes closed either meditating or sleeping. They seemed to have no problem remaining vertical. On the other hand, falling over for a person of average height would be an impossibility.

The directions to the ferry worked well, paperwork was in order, and after a 20 minute wait about two dozen passengers boarded for the 1,000 km voyage. It wasn't like a cruise ship - here you carry your own luggage and find your own cabin. I'd opted for one of the upper level cabins, which has two good sized single beds in it which are longer than I am! What a pleasant surprise, even if the blankets don't quiet reach my ankles! It also has TV, VCR, water boiler, table & chairs and quite a large bathroom with a shower. The control arm on the toilet had even more buttons! This one has a button to heat the seat! No one was assigned to my cabin so that was very good luck as well.

The lower class accommodation on the ferry is interesting. It is a large room with a padded floor. Passengers are issued a blanket and just pick out a chunk of floor. Lots of vending machines sell drinks plus heat and eat food. There is a small coffee shop, a good sized cafeteria and a small shop selling convenience items. The cafeteria had pictures of their offerings on the wall, so the point and order system worked. The food was good and reasonably priced and the staff went out of their way to be helpful.

No one on the ferry spoke more than a couple of words of English, all announcements and signs are in Japanese and all TV channels are in Japanese. Mind you, that was the case in the hotels as well. Even CNN was in Japanese. There was no life boat drill, and all emergency instructions are preceded by the either the English word .URGENT. or .EMERGENCY., followed by a large spread of Japanese characters which I assume explain the procedure. At least I know it is important!

The one TV channel that I can understand shows our position on a map, plus GPS coordinates, so I'll get a GPS fix to send from Ogasawara. There is also a map of the islands with photos of different locations. It looks very beautiful.

After a great night's sleep I had breakfast in the cafeteria. They served up scrambled or fried eggs, both purposely cold, plus various Japanese dishes. I opted for ham and fried eggs and was surprised that cold eggs aren't as bad as I thought they'd be!

Asami, the girl from the Beach Comber Hotel, was there to meet Mr. Fujiyama and I to drive us to the hotel. It turned out we were the only two guests in the hotel. The island is beautiful, tropical, very mountainous and has many deserted sand beaches. High season is not yet underway, but judging by the lack of accommodation even at the peak of high season it would not be crowded here.

The hotel is situated across the road from a nice beach with beautifully clear water. The hotel itself is very basic. The restaurant opens only for the included dinner and breakfast, and the room is small with a bathroom half the size of the one on the ship. There isn't even a control arm on the toilet! It is the first place in Japan I've stayed where there is no kimono supplied but where it is necessary to remove shoes before entering the building. Slippers half the length of my feet are supplied.

There is little to do in the area the hotel is in. It is too far from town to walk there. Dinners consisted of a large assortment of Japanese dishes. Mr. Fujiyama was booked for a boat tour of neighbouring islands in the morning and invited me to join him. The tour was operated by the water sports place next door, so Asami took me there, however both tomorrow's tour and the one the day after were booked.

I then tried to rent a car, or a scooter, but it seems they are all booked as well. It requires an international drivers license to rent any motor vehicle in Japan and I thought I would be in great shape having just got one, but there is nothing to rent. I can't imagine what they do in high season! Asami then tried a taxi for me, but the local taxi wanted 11,600 yen ($100) for 2 hours which I thought too high. A bicycle was suggested, but on this mountainous island I'd never make it! It looked like I was stranded.

After returning from a stroll to walk off dinner, Asami was waiting for me. She had talked to the owner of the water sports shop and he was prepared to take me around the island on a four hour tour for a little over $60, so a deal was struck. When I returned to the hotel Mr. Fujiyama was commenting on how helpful and friendly people were here in comparison with in Tokyo. It was his first time here as well. In reality, though, I must say that I've found most of the Japanese people that I have come across to be helpful and friendly. I guess I'll find out about Tokyo shortly!

Although there is evidence that in prehistoric times people from the Mariana Islands lived on Iwo Jima, the first formal exploration of Ogasawara was by the Japanese in 1675. The first permanent settlers were from Britain, USA and Polynesia, setting up a supply base for the whaling fleets in 1830. In 1861 the Japanese sent a warship, administrators and settlers to enforce their claim to the island. By 1895 there was a thriving population of over 4,000 people, increasing to 4,686 in 1911 (of which 728 were students), and then to almost 8,000 before WW II.

In 1944 the islanders were forcibly evacuated to Japan, leaving only military personnel on the islands. There is still lots of evidence of fortifications and tunnels. The US took the islands in 1945. The bloody battle for Iwo Jima is the best known of this campaign. In 1946 non-Japanese former residents of the island were permitted to return, and English became the language of the islands. It was not until 1968 that the Japanese were permitted to return, and a civilian government took over from the US military. There is a large banner in the harbour celebrating the 35th anniversary of the return to the island by the Japanese.

Today it is difficult to find someone who speaks English. Of the 30 or so islands that make up Ogasawara only two, 24 sq. km. Chichi Jima - which I'm on now, and 21 sq. km. Haha Jima, which is 50 km away and is served by a ferry from here, are inhabited. The population is holding steady at about 2,000, of which about 350 live on Haha Jima, but there is little work available.

All the islands are protected nature reserves, with the exception of the populated areas on the two islands. The US and Japanese military use Iwo Jima for exercises and the airfield there is apparently still in good shape, but no one is permitted on the other islands inland from the beaches. The people in tourism hope that one day the airport at Iwo Jima will be opened to commercial flights and that the islands will take off as a tourist destination.

The tour of the island was very interesting. There was not a soul on any of the beautiful beaches that we visited. We walked to some of the high mountain lookouts and drove down a narrow gravel road to a cliff top lookout where a WW II bunker is located. Inside was a complete drum set. The guide said it was used by young people who come here to party, but it amazed me that it could be left in such a deserted location with no fear of damage or theft. He said no one here locks doors or cars, as there is no crime. The graveyard was different as well - Christians and Buddhists are buried side by side.

I was dropped off at the far end of town, where there is a small museum with tourist information. Spoken English was a problem, but the displays were in both languages. I walked through the town, changed some money at the post office - there is no bank here, and finally found a tiny restaurant which was open for lunch.

I'd planned to take the bus back to the hotel - it runs the length of the island every hour, but it seemed every time it went by I'd found somewhere to have a beer, so I ended up walking. It was a good workout, but I saw a lot that I wouldn't have from a bus. At one little roadside inn there was a Japanese scare crow beside the road, and a little further a herd of the island's wild goats. These are the only wild animals here, there aren't even any snakes.

Today, Friday May 9, I signed on for a kayak tour. There were four of us including Mr. Fujiyama, two guides and the sports shop mascot - a Corgi dog, who stood in the front of a kayak wearing his own specially made life jacket. This proved useful when he fell overboard. There were two to a kayak, and both received a good shower when one very soggy Corgi was dragged back on board!

It was a good outing. We followed the coast, exploring sea caves and looking down on shallow reefs. We stopped at a deserted beach nestled into the cliffs where we went snorkeling in the clear water. There was abundant sea life and live coral, including a shark, a large sting ray and masses of tropical fish. After the swim we climbed to the entrance to a series of WW II gun positions, and explored the tunnels connecting them. It felt a bit strange, being the only non-Japanese in the group.

This afternoon has been catch up time. I'm taking advantage of the hotel washer and dryer, plus getting correspondence caught up and repacking. In the morning I hope to go into town early to have another walk around and get caught up on email. The Ogasawara Maru sails for Tokyo at 2:30 PM.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

Asami drove me into town at 10 AM while Mr. Fujiyama was out jungle trekking. After arranging to have the ferry office look after my baggage, she headed back to the hotel and I went to find the internet place. All three computers were busy, so I walked around town for an hour then came back to get on line. The system was the slowest I've ever encountered, and had no word processing, so none of the emails I'd written to floppy disc could be sent, including this update.

The ship sailed on time, and the departure was really touching. It impressed graphically what a life line this ship is - the sailing every week and a half or so is the only contact the islanders have with the outside world. A group of kids were on this sailing, going for a school trip to Tokyo.

Half the town were on the dock to wave us off, including anyone I'd had anything to do with - Asami from the hotel, the guides from kayaking and my driver/guide. Some big drums were set up and a farewell drumming done, then .Auld Lang Syne. was played continually over every speaker in the place as the ship slowly pulled away. Once clear of the pier, most boats in the port surrounded the ship, escorting it out of the harbour with everyone shouting and waving continually. When the small boats reached their turning point, the people on them jumped overboard and continued waving from in the water until we were out of sight!

In a short while we were clear of the islands and in very heavy seas. Huge rollers sent spray right over the ship making it impossible to go anywhere on deck without getting soaked. Once again, no one was assigned to my cabin so I had a comfortable bed to lay on in solitude. Walking around was difficult and dangerous. I couldn't help imagining the mass of kids and people in the lower accommodation area in this sea. It must have been a nightmare, with many people sea sick.

By morning the biggest waves had subsided and the roll was gentler. There weren't many people around for breakfast. I got the cook to fry me a couple of eggs and some ham and give them to me before they were cold, so had my first "English" breakfast for awhile - well, close, anyhow.

From the ferry I taxied the relatively short distance to the Takanawa Prince Hotel. I had no idea what to expect, as I'd not been able to find anything in Tokyo even at travel agent rates that was close to a reasonable price. Nippon Travel Agency had booked the hotel on my behalf at a much lower rate than I'd been able to find. When I got to the room I found it even larger than the room I'd had in Osaka, with king sized bed, desk, comfortable armchairs and all amenities. The bathroom had a bath, shower and double sinks and the toilet and another sink were in a different room. I was delighted!

The hotel complex covers about four city blocks and has some 25 bars and restaurants in it.

There is a restaurant complex opening onto the street adjoining the hotel with such familiar names at McDonalds, TGI Fridays and the Outback Steak House in it. I opted for the Outback Steak House where I downed a couple of oversized beers and had a meal of rack of lamb. Reasonable English is widely spoken in the area, menus are in English and there are a number of Western families in evidence. It was surprising to see how many restaurants were packed before 5 PM - people seem to eat early here.

I took a walk around the neighbourhood, which seems fairly quiet, coming across a couple of shrines along the way. Residences in this district seem to be in low rise apartment blocks, with some single family dwellings. This was a surprise after hearing about land prices in Tokyo.

My schedule for the next few days is going to be hectic, so I'll get this away at the first opportunity. The tours I've booked start around 8 AM and don't return to the hotel until after 7 PM. As the hotel business centre isn't open when I'm in the hotel, it is likely that I'll be out of communication until I get back to Victoria.