Last night we had a Japanese dinner in the Terrace Café and I have to say that Mario again outdid himself. Both the food and the decorations were outstanding.
Our port today, Kobe, is the fifth largest city in Japan with a population of about 1.5 million people. It is where the famous Kobe beef is raised. It is also famous for good saki because of the quality of the water coming from the mountains. Many international corporations have their Japanese headquarters here, including Procter and Gamble, Asics, Nestle and Eli Lilly. It is a huge port. Here is a picture as we arrived.
The tour we chose today was to Kyoto which was the imperial capital of Japan for over a thousand years. It is known as the cultural and artistic heart of the nation, best known for its Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, beautiful gardens and historically priceless buildings. There are no high rise buildings in the city and no freeways run through it. There is also no smoke in the city. We got out our jackets and jeans as the temperature was only 59 F. A delight after our hot weather days.
Our tour guide was Mari. She was both delightful and informative. Kyoto is 47 miles northeast of the cruise port so our bus ride was about 1 1/2 hours long. The bus driver had to take an alternate route due to an accident on the road. This gave Mari plenty of time to tell us about Kobe, Kyoto and Japanese traditions. We have learned a lot about Japan from our guides and from Becky who does the book club and Japanese culture discussions. More about that later, but first, here is what we did in Kyoto.
Our first visit was to the Golden Pavilion – Rokuon-Ji Temple. This was built by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimutsu in 1397. It was a three story home and was converted to a temple by his son. It is, as many temples are, positioned at the edge of a tranquil pond. The walls and eaves of the second and third stories are covered in shimmering gold leaf. No one is allowed into the Golden Pavilion but just seeing it, the peaceful gardens and the reflections in the pond are simply spectacular. It was VERY crowded there and so some of our pictures have other people in them and I took one of the crowds. I can only imagine what it must be like when there are fewer people there. Does this sign remind you of Trader Joe’s?
At the shrine, you pull the ropes, clap two times and bow to get the attention of the gods before your prayer. There were also candles and incense for offerings.
We don’t know what kind of bird this was but Norm tried hard to get a picture.
After our visit to the Golden Pavilion, we went to the Nijo Castle, a fortification of cypress wood built in 1603 as the residence of the Tokugawa clan. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is protected by a moat, stone walls and most interestingly, nightingale floors, which chirp like a bird when walked upon to alert the guards of potential intruders!!
Despite its defensive elements, the castle was primarily a home. It is adorned with wooden carvings, artistically painted sliding doors and rooms decorated with extensive paintings. Unfortunately no pictures are allowed inside so all of these photos are of the outside. As we toured the inside, Mari explained each room and the significance of the drawings. The ceilings are also quite beautiful. Many of the wall paintings are reproductions with the originals in the museums.
Mari is holding a picture of the Shogun at the time he was at the castle. It was not a residence, just a place to conduct business and receive visitors.
We had time for a walk through just two of the extensive gardens. It is just the beginning of the cherry blossom season so we wanted to see the ones that were in bloom.
Some of our other sights at the castle. Including one of the people dressed like the Shogun and some tourists in kimonos.
They have lots of moss on their grass here and some of it is quite decorative.
After our tour of the castle, we went back to the port and were given a bento box lunch to eat on the bus trip back. Mari was pleased when we took the chopsticks instead of the fork.
Here are some of the sights from the bus, including pavilions and shots of the mountains.
Now for some of the Japanese culture. Mari talked about the geisha culture. Young women start their training at about 16 years old. They do not finish high school but attend a separate school where they learn dance, conversation and the manners and dress of a geisha. They train until about 20 – until then they are apprentices. As apprentices, they have their own hair adorned with flowers. They live in a group home. When they become full geishas, they wear wigs with kinds of combs but no flowers.
Geisha parties are by invitation only. They often cost 50,000 yen ($500 US) to attend so Mari says it is primarily older rich men who are there. There is dancing, drinking games and conversation. Geishas are not prostitutes but are there to entertain the guests.
We bought some Eikun lemon and also plum saki, it was served to us cold and it was delicious. We will need to have a saki party when back on board.
Again with the toilets, they are all heated and even have a music setting in case you don’t want anyone to hear you while in the stall. And all have the water features.
There are vending machines everywhere and Coke is big. The machines even dispense hot drinks. And we heard that in places, they dispense puppies. Yes, puppies.
This is a very clean and orderly society. One of the passengers saw a woman walking her dog. The dog peed on a tree and the woman got out a spray bottle with some solution in it and sprayed the tree. You don’t see garbage anywhere and you can leave your belongings out in plain sight and no one touches them. You see bikes not locked up with the helmets just in a basket and all kinds of examples of the formality of the culture. There is virtually no crime and the police have to find things to do. Shoes must be removed in most places and put in a specific assigned spot. If you are doing something wrong in a restaurant or shop, someone will chase after you to try to let you know.
98% of the adoptions in Japan are of men aged 26-35 years of age! The reasons are #1 to pass on businesses and #2 to have someone to care for you. They have a significant problem in that there are fewer children and the population is aging.
26% of people are over 65 in Japan as compared with 16% in the US. The largest population of people over 100 years of age live in Japan.
English is taught in the schools but they are not good at it here and rarely speak it. Mari and Becky say that is because English is taught by Japanese teachers in most cases so it isn’t really user friendly.
The post offices here are also banks so all business can be done there. They have stacks of these brochures that show you what you can order directly from the post office and have sent to yourself or anyone else. And they sell everything from soup to very valuable gold pieces!
Yes, they do eat horse meat here.
You see a lot of people wearing face masks. In some other countries it is because of pollution. They face some of that here, but it is mostly because of allergies. Becky’s husband David couldn’t believe how effective they were – he resisted for years and has bad allergies – now he is convinced. One of the guides said sometimes women wear the large ones if they don’t have time to put their makeup on!
Becky brought all kinds of snacks for us to taste. The tall package contains a kind of small cookie with chocolate in the center, shown in the first picture. They have a picture on each of them and one is different. Kids love to get them and I hope the kids are better at spotting the different one. We needed all kinds of hints before we got it. The last two pictures are of Becky and David.
David told us a lot about work culture in Japan. Again it is very regimented Cleaning is not done by a service, everyone does it, including the CEO. They get vacations but almost no one takes them. You can’t leave the workplace before the boss. You are seated by length of service, with the CEO always furthest from the door and your place moves as new people join. You are expected to be working at the time your shift starts so people have to come in early so they are working at the exact correct time. There is a morning briefing, at David’s place of work, it happened 5 minutes into the shift. The boss talks about what is going on, including detailed descriptions of why someone is not there and why. If ill, the illness and recuperation is discussed. Lots more to tell, but will save some for future posts.
This first picture is the ticket into the castle. Beautiful! The second picture is a brochure we got in one port with very helpful English/Japanese phrases.
When we were ready to leave the port, a band came out and played several songs including “It’s a small world after all, stars and stripes forever, YMCA (and people on the balconies on the ship and on the pier acted it out) and when we pulled away from the pier – Anchors Aweigh. I did take video but sadly can’t upload it so pictures will have to do. And these young ladies were not tourists and neither were the ones on the pier.
Then it was up to the cabaret in Horizons where Stephanie had her last performance – she will leave us in Tokyo, as will Damien and many of the guests who have traveled on this segment.
On to Tokyo where we arrive at 4 PM and have an overnight stay. We have an ATW event the first evening and a full day tour the second day. I have mentioned that we like to be off the ship when it is an embarkation day and the next segment guests will join on our second day in Tokyo.
Oh, and due to local regulations, the casino is closed when we are at sea around the Japanese ports.
After that we have three more ports in Japan so I will save some of the culture discussions for those posts. It is a fascinating place and very different in many ways than most of the places we have visited in the world.