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.
|Friday, August 05, 2016 00:23:07|
Asia 2016: 2 - Diamond Princess from Muroran to Yokohama, train to Kagoshima, Japan
Monday, August 1, 2016
Today we are near Hakodate, Japan, population 280,000. As usual the tourist bureau had set up tents with free maps and tourist information near the ship. We docked some distance from the city, so the tourist bureau laid on a free shuttle bus to the Goryokaku area where a large park has one of the earliest western style fortifications in Japan. There are with five high walls shaped like a star, surrounded by a moat. Inside was the castle of the shogun, or ruler of the area. The site of the city has been inhabited for 13,000 years before being officially founded in 1454. In 1859 the city became Japan's first international trading port, causing rapid growth.
We walked about ten minutes to a bank to change money (the ship changes money, but at decidedly unfavourable rates) and then taxied to the 400 shop morning market, which sells mostly seafood. It was interesting, with lots of live seafood yet less odor than most. There were some of the biggest Alaska King crabs I've seen, huge octopus, big oysters and a lot of squid. One place was letting young children fish for squid in a tank. When a squid latched onto the lure and left the water it would squirt water over everyone around.
The tram line runs near the market, so we paid $2 each to get back near the shuttle bus. For $6 they sell passes good for the entire day. Lunch at a nondescript restaurant was pretty mediocre with a horrible sake - it was like drinking pure alcohol. After a walk around the Goryokaku fort the free shuttle got us back to the ship in time for happy hour. We were in port until late in the evening, then left Hokkaido to sail across the strait to Aomori on the big island of Japan.
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Aomori, with a population a little under 300,000. gets over 25 feet of snow in the winter and it can be hot and humid in the summer. Today was no exception. A free shuttle took us to a remote area where the tourist board had set up tents. They called a taxi to get us to the train station for the 40 minute trip to Hirosake, home of Hirosaki Castle, former home of the shogun of a territory which included Aomori City.
As it was an hour wait for the next train we went through the nearby Nebuta Museum, which showed how they made the huge illuminated floats that are used in the famous parades during the week long Nebuta Festival. Four of these enormous creations were in the museum, and as fortunately it is festival time and the ship doesn't sail until late we will be able to see the parade tonight.
We caught a comfortable express train that made few stops. A taxi got us to a beautifully landscaped large park that had been the castle grounds. The castle was been moved intact some distance from its high location on a corner of two moats as the foundations were giving out. A solid foundation is being built, then the castle will be moved back. There was a video of the move, it was pretty amazing. The castle is open to the public but the steep climb up the stairs to the second floor had me running with sweat and my knees were protesting, so we didn't climb to the upper floors.
We explored the peaceful grounds where there is a defensive tower, and tradition red curved bridges over the moats. I rested my knees while Marilynn went to look at the botanical gardens. There is a bus line that has a loop route through the city, running every 10 minutes, so that got us back to the train station for $1. It was standing room only, but a kind Japanese lady gave me her seat. The train back was like a subway car with bench seating along both sides, stopping everywhere. A taxi got us back to the ship in time for a last dinner with our delightful table mate whose Japanese wife was off on a tour. We never saw the couple with the Russian wife again after our first meal with them.
In Aomori there is evidence of people who lived in underground dwellings here before the last ice age. In spite of people living there for over 30,000 years there are no old buildings as the city was totally destroyed at the end of WWII. The city itself was founded in 1625.
After dinner we caught a taxi with a great driver who knew exactly where to take us to view the parade. A small food stand had put seats out along the curb. All but two had a plastic bag with containers of noodles and other eatables in it. Having just eaten we used hand signals to ask if we could sit in the two empty chairs, and the owner signaled OK. They had beer for sale on the sidewalk, so we were happy to spend some money with them that way.
There was already one of the spectacular floats in front of us. They are made of thin paper over a wire frame with two wheels under the platform on which it is built. They are brightly illuminated from inside, and moved by a dozen men pushing on a bar built out in front of the float, and others pushing from behind. As it has only two wheels it can bob up and down, and turn a full 360 degrees. They can be 15 feet high and about that wide and long, depicting warlords, evil spirits and a variety of other themes.
Between the floats were hand propelled sets of giant drums, up to 7 on one framework. The drums are played with what looks like a small baseball bat in each hand. There is one drummer for each drum and a team to pull the platform along. While the drums are booming out the beat a large number of dancing costumed men, women and children follow playing flutes and small cymbals. The astonishing spectacle took two hours to pass.
In the meantime, the Japanese people around us started sharing food and buying beer for us. When I bought beer in return it seemed everyone was sending more our way. Fans were given out by various parade participants, and we were taught how to properly show our appreciation by holding the fan out in front of us pointed at the object of approval and moving it up and down. Our whole group were noisily shouting and clapping - it was great fun. Then some of the crowd propelled Marilynn and I out into the street where they stopped floats take photos with the floats for background. I don't know how they did it, but one of the crowd later presented us with a folder with three large, glossy prints of some of our new friends with us in front of a float.
One guy, likely from our ship, stood on the street in front of everyone taking video. After awhile Marilynn went and told him he was blocking the view of others, something the Japanese were too polite to do. He told her to piss off, but did squat down for awhile before leaving. This increased Marilynn's popularity with our fellow participants even more.
By the time the parade ended we were all well lubricated, exchanging hugs, addresses and so on. When I mentioned taxi the whole lot set out down the street to find us one I don't know what the driver thought, surrounded by this loud, happy mob, but we were sent off with in great style with lots more shouting and cheering.
Back at the ship we hooked up with our friends Andy & Tim in our favorite pub, the Wheelhouse, then carried on in the uncrowded disco until the wee hours.
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Our last day on board was at sea, so I caught up on some writing and we did a little packing. Being another formal night we ate in the buffet, then after dinner met up with Andy & Tim for a going away party, which involved some of the staff. Photos were taken, contact information exchanged and a considerable number of toasts were executed. Tim, his mother and grandmother all made an appearance. Tim was casual, but Andy and his daughter were dressed to the 9s and looked great. Mind you, he quickly got out of the tuxedo jacket and tie! After a lot of hugs all around we did manage to make it to bed before midnight.
Thursday, August 4, 2016
The first part of the morning was spent getting the rest of our goods packed up. We had to be out of the cabin by 8 AM, so went for breakfast at 7. Neither of us were feeling that great. Because we didn't have any baggage carried ashore we were able to leave the ship at any time - those who had bags sent ashore were given meeting places at specific times 15 minutes apart from 7:30 AM until 10:30 AM.
Ashore customs was quick, easy and friendly. We checked with information for the name of the closest train station, as it would cost about $70 to get to the required Shin Yokohama station and found there was a free shuttle bus to the station. Once in the station we went to purchase tickets and were told the ticket we have for our next train connection was valid for the train to Shin Yokohama, so it didn't cost a thing to get there. It was interesting that in the station the song "I've been working on the railway" was playing over the speaker system.
We were an hour and a half early for the 11:29 train to the Island of Kyusho so sat at the platform watching the bullet trains go through every few minutes. The type of bullet train we are on is called Nozomi, they make few stops and are the fastest. The seats were comfortable, there were electric plugs,and a food and beverage service. As with all high speed trains the ride was smooth and quiet. The roughly 1,200 km trip with stops at Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Okayama, Fukuyama, Hiroshima, and Hakata took 4 hrs & 13 min.
At Hakata we had to change to another Shinkasen (Bullet) train operated by Kyusho Railways to go to Kagoshima. It was not as deluxe as the last one, and made all stops, but it moved along at a good pace.
In all stations we have been to there have been people who speak English, and it seems compulsory for ticket agents. Announcements and signs on trains and in stations are usually in both languages, and on automatic ticket machines English can be selected. Kyusho Railways also had all notifications in both languages, including what the next station will be. Most train stations have escalators and elevators available, and on escalators people stand on the left side to make room for those wanting to walk past. Lines are very orderly, with little cutting in or pushing.
While the train ride today was fast, it was really the wrong thing to do to see anything. We went through a lot of mountainous area, where the train goes through the mountains in miles of tunnels. On the beautiful island of Kyusho 75% of the trip was in tunnels, with only the briefest glimpse of the stunning tree covered mountains and ocean. Unfortunately we will repeat this going back in a couple of days.
The train station has a great information center with maps and tour arranging. We'll go back tomorrow to see what they can lay on for us. We are at the Green Rich Hotel where the bathroom and living area are tiny, but the bed is big. It is located on the edge of a several block square pedestrian area full of bars, eateries, strip shows and nightclubs. We had a walk around in search of sustenance tonight, and when we left the area at about 9:30PM it was just livening up.