Shanghai, China

April 10, 2011

We were scheduled to arrive at 5 PM yesterday in Shanghai.  Well, at 10 AM the captain came on the intercom to tell us that the port in Shanghai was closed due to dense fog.  No surprise, we couldn’t even see out the windows!  He had to drop anchor and wait for the port agent to notify him that the port was open again.  Fog lifted a little, we could see other cargo ships all waiting too. Then, more fog.  Our ship is small enough to get up the Huangpu river to the very convenient port in the city, and it is a long trip (50 miles), so we pretty much knew we were not going to get in anytime before the morning.  Leslie and the staff put together a new Currents newsletter with all new activities for the day and evening.

For me it was an issue because I was scheduled to do a program in Shanghai for China Enrichment at 7:30 PM.  So, we were communicating via email all afternoon about what to do.  We agreed to move the program to tomorrow night.  So they needed to call each one of the participants to make that change and we had our fingers crossed that we would make it in.  About 100 people were off the ship for an overland tour in Beijing and Xian, so Oceania  had to find hotels for them as they were scheduled to get back on.

Amy did a cabaret in Horizons (normally the “room with a view”, Leslie called it “the room with no view” tonight! And my contact had let me know that our ship would be in the next morning.  Shortly after that, the captain made the same announcement, and we did get in early today.

Here is Amy doing her show…

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and some of our fine dining room staff.

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Our first glimpse of the city (we spent time here 7 years ago, so it wasn’t new to us, but we love it here.

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In colonial days, Shanghai was called the Paris of the East.  There are still some colonial buildings but much of the city is huge high rise buildings.  The flowers are beautiful and yes, there are blossoms here too.

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The Pudon New Area has developed in just 5 years so it wasn’t even created when we were last here.  Shanghai has the most modern stock exchange in the world and is the symbol of China’s rise to economic powerhouse status.  I am not sure if I mentioned that all of China is on the same time zone!

The city population is 8 million.  It is China’s largest city, its largest port and its largest industrial base.  It has the best shops and restaurants in the country and the most fashionable people.  It is called the “dragon head” of East China, the leading force driving the economy forward.

Due to the rescheduling of my program, I had to cancel the tour we had scheduled for the afternoon.  Norm went by himself, and I met a colleague, Connie, for some shopping and lunch and Marilyn joined us.  We had a great time and here we are with our shopping bags.  Connie helped us to find the shops and treated us to lunch at a restaurant she was familiar with. Marilyn and I shopped at the jade and pearl factory before Connie met us. We didn’t buy anything in these pictures, but they had some wonderful jade pieces.  Marilyn bought one and I got a necklace from the pearl side and bracelet from the jade side.

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Norm’s tour took him to the Shanghai Museum, which we both loved on our last visit.  He said it didn’t disappoint this time either.  This museum is 5 stories high and has a round top and a square base, symbolizing the ancient Chinese perception of the world as “round sky, square earth.” Here are some of the beautiful items in the museum.

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Mickey in the museum shop. Very expensive.

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His second stop was the Yu yuan Garden located in the center of the Old City.  It is the largest of Shanghai’s ancient gardens.  The gardens were commissioned in 1559 , built over the course of 19 years, destroyed by the French during the first Opium War and later rebuilt.  The Grand Rockery in the center of the garden is the most renowned sight. The gardens are surrounded by the dragon wall.

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His last stop was the silk shop – and he bought me a beautiful scarf there.

In the meantime, Marilyn and I returned from our outing with Connie and I showered and dressed for my presentation.  Sarah picked me up and we had a delicious dinner with many of the people from the company.

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I have to say, they were very organized – and I was amazed that the attendees all came (about 75 people) even with the change in date.  They also live streamed the program and more than 100 attended.  They did a professional photo shoot, a live streamed interview and had Eric (who is a trainer with Nestle) do translation after each segment of the program.  They had copies of my book, which I signed, and many of the participants wanted pictures with me.  I felt like a rock star!  A really fun experience.

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I got back to the ship by midnight, and will need to leave the ship at 4:30 AM to go to the airport for our trip to Nepal and Bhutan – the ship leaves Shanghai at 6 AM.

Norm got these great shots of Shanghai by night.

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Next – Nepal!


Posted in April, Asia, World Cruise 3 | 2 Comments

Tianjin/Beijing, China

April 7, 2019

Here is our arrival into the port of Tianjin which is the port you go to for Beijing. It is a huge container port.

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Our morning started with a compulsory immigration face to face inspection.  Because we will be leaving the ship in Shanghai, the purser’s office instructed us to be in the reception area at 7 AM so they could escort us off the ship to go through immigration.  There were 6 of us in the same situation and we all walked out ahead of all of the other passengers, including those going on the 3 day overland in China.  That part worked OK, but when we got to the immigration officials, they were very confused and didn’t speak English and there was a big hold up. Finally I got through, but Norm was delayed.  Without going into too much detail, it turned out that the passport copies the ship provided to us to be stamped at immigration were from our old passport which we had to bring along because it has our India visa in it. They also did not give us arrival cards to complete.  Well, finally the immigration officials made a copy of the correct passport and we got through. We had to go back into the ship to get our things for our tour, and that caused another Chinese conundrum when we came back out as the official could not believe we already went through even though we showed him the stamp!

So now we were ready for the tour. But we waited for 45 minutes on the bus because the guide said they were waiting for 2 more people.  No one ever showed so we were on our way to Tianjin, our tour destination for the day.

Our guide today was Liu and his English was actually very good.  He repeated everything and was concerned that we would understand him.  He taught us some Chinese words and even gave us his cell phone number in case of any emergency.  He said just to stop any Chinese person and ask him/her to call him!

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The seaport where we are docked is only about 6 years old, so it wasn’t here when we did our China trip in spring of 2012.  It is all built on reclaimed land and is quite massive.

Our trip to Tianjin (we chose not to go to Beijing since we spent quite a bit of time there in 2012 and saw the Great Wall and all of the important sights in Beijing) took about an hour.  Along the way, it was impressive to see literally many thousands of trees of all sizes, some recently planted.  Lots of peach trees that were blossoming were spotted.  Liu explained that March 12 is tree planting day in China.  They are very committed to planting many trees as a wind break and way to prevent devastating dust storms.

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There were also many very tall apartment buildings as well as commercial buildings.

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China has 34 provinces and 1.4 billion people in 9.6 million square kilometers making it the 4th largest nation in area behind Russia, Canada and the US.  But it is the largest in population.There are 56 minority nationalities in China and so there are many language variations.  Liu said that all children in Chinese schools, starting in pre-school, learn both Mandarin which is the official language, and English.

The word Tianjin  – Tian means heaven and jin means ferry boat. 

We passed the rail for the bullet train which travels between 350 and 500 km/hour!  350 is about 217 mph. This has made travel in China very fast and accessible.

We saw a lot of fish ponds along the way – mostly for carp.  Liu said that many Buddhists stock the ponds as offerings, and then other people catch the fish.  He thinks this is kind of peculiar.

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When we reached the city, here are some of the sights we saw along the route to our first stop, the Confucius Temple. There are many buildings that used to be concessions of other countries and there is a distinct European flavor to many of them. The silver clock is at the top of the huge railway station.  The ferris wheel is the only one in the world build on a bridge! And yes, they have Budweiser here along with McDonalds.

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The Confucius Temple is the third largest temple in the country, where Confucius has been adored for centuries.  It was founded during the Ming Dynasty and is considered the greatest ancient architectural site in the city.  Within the temple grounds are the Dacheng Palace Hall, Shrine of the Great Wise Men and the Lingsing Gate. The archways are quite decorative but sadly in disrepair. There is a lot about Confucius and his writings and teachings but only a small amount is in English. 

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As you can see, photos were allowed here.

After our visit to the temple, we went to the Ancient Culture street.  Since it was Sunday, this area was very crowded with Chinese families enjoying the day. We noted that this city was not nearly as polluted as we found when we visited in 2012.

There is a temple to the goddess Lin who died at the age of 27.  She was a good swimmer and saved lots of people but unfortunately died at a young age trying to save someone. The people dedicated a temple to her.

There are many shops selling mostly beautiful crafts and foods of all types.  Nearly all the buildings along the street are constructed with blue bricks and feature colorful pictures of historical figures, flowers and birds painted on their doors and windows. There was even a Lego store!

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What Norm is eating looks a lot like pineapple but it is a type of lightly sweetened rice.

Here are some of the other street foods we saw. I ate some of the nougat squares they were selling.

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We went into a shop that had the most amazing selection of tiny tea pots and we saw the craftsman making them. They had a cute resident dog.

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Tianjin has the Haihe river running through the city and the Ancient Culture Street is on the west bank of the river.  We didn’t have time for a river boat.

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Some of the adorable children we saw.

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Posted in April, Asia, Excursions, Food, World Cruise 3 | Leave a comment

Cruising the Yellow Sea

April 6, 2019

I typically do not do a blog post while at sea unless something special is going on.  Well, today was something special.

Each segment, there is a special ATW gathering.  Victor, our general manager, reminded us that on the first world cruise, the company didn’t really want to provide too many extras.  We were on that one, and really it was simply wonderful, but now with half the ship going around the world, these special events are, well, more than special.  You have seen the posts of the previous 3.  This one was kept a closely guarded secret, we weren’t told anything except we got an invitation for the date.  It was at 11 AM today in the Insignia Lounge, and was a seafood extravaganza.

The entertainment staff dressed in their equator crossing attire and the seafood was nothing short of amazing.  Kudos to Mario and the entire culinary team!

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The drinks and desserts were great too.

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I ate a lot of shrimp and lobster but there was seafood of every variety.  It is hard to see how they might top this in the next segment.

As is typical at these events, there was also a short slide show of scenes from Japan.

It is on to Tianjin tomorrow.  90 people are leaving the ship for a 3 day overland trip in to Beijing and  Xian. We spent a week in China several years ago and are not going on this overland.

But, we are preparing for our 10 days off the ship to Nepal and Bhutan which will begin on April 11 from Shanghai.  Stay tuned.

Posted in April, Asia, At Sea, Food, World Cruise 3 | 2 Comments

Sasebo, Japan

Well, here we are in our last Japanese port.  Sasebo is the second largest city in the Nagasaki prefecture, Nagasaki is the largest. Although it was spared an atomic bomb, Sasebo was one of the original 17 possible targets and suffered heavy damage during World War II. 

 Here are some shots of our sail in and arrival this morning. This is a big naval port – 80% of the port is a US Navy base and there is a Japanese base tool  Note the sailors on the deck of the ship.  We were again welcomed by a band.

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The amusing sign says “do not leave door open” and it is on an open door.

Our guide today was Maijumi.  She was excellent as all of our Japanese guides have been.  She talked about the bowing that is done out of respect and how the angle of the bow indicates the depth of the respect. The bow is 90 degrees for the emperor but just a slight bow as we greet people here.  We do bow as we greet people and they seem to really appreciate the gesture.  She explained the origin of the bow – in feudal days, the idea that you would bow before another person means that you trust that they won’t kill you.  She said it is like the origin of the handshake in the US, it shows that you don’t have a weapon.

She also stressed how much of a problem the aging population is for Japan.  Of the 126 million people in Japan, 28% are over 65 and only 12% under 15.

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Our first stop was at the Ohashi Kannon, a beautiful Buddhist temple surrounded by forest.  The temple is one of many in Japan dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy and compassion.  According to legend, the priest Gyoki founded Ohashi Kannon  in the 8th century.  The surroundings were really gorgeous, with forest and many cherry trees.  This is the peak week here for the blossoms and we feel so lucky to be in the presence of all this beauty. Daffodils are in full bloom too. We walked up some steep and slippery steps to get to the natural area with many old statues.  So serene and wonderous.


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The last statue in this group is said to be about preventing senility. We bought a little trinket with a picture of this statue in it – we can only hope it works!

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The ancient figures in the woodlands are really a sight to see.

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We could take pictures in this temple so here are a few of the inside of the building.

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After leaving this area, we went to the Yamashita house, a traditional Japanese style guest house constructed in the 19th century.  It was constructed without a single nail! The result is that the house has stood the test of time as a testament to the highly skilled craftsmen that built it.  We were taken on a tour through the house by the owner of both the house and the sake brewery next door. More on the brewery later.  Maijima needed to translate as he spoke only Japanese.

Back in the days of the feudal lords, the Shogun wanted to be sure to keep power, so the lords were commanded to return to Edo (now Tokyo) to pay homage to the central ruler. This journey took 40 days of walking.  They then needed to live there for 1 year before returning.  This house that we visited served as a guest house along the way.

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The hat is a metal rain hat!

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This folding divider depicts the four seasons in intricate drawings.

There was a small but beautiful garden where tea ceremonies are held.

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The sake shop was across the street and we enjoyed a tour of the brewery (which has only 10 employees) before going across for a tasting.  The round piece hanging from the ceiling was the sign that the sake was ready in early years.  Most people couldn’t read then so the branches started out green (early sake) and when it turned brown the more fermented sake was available! Sake is made from rice, and we heard about the whole process during this visit. We also got a brochure explaining it all.

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The back of the jacket is the crest of the family that owns the brewery.

We enjoyed a tasting and bought a small container to take home.

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Our last stop on the tour was the Funakoshi Lookout where we had almost an hour to stroll around the grounds and observe the beautiful Kujuku islands.  Although Kujuku means 99, there are actually more than 200 islands in the group, most of them uninhabited because the area has been designated a national park. The islands are so undeveloped and photogenic that they were shown in the opening scenes of the movie The Last Samurai which was set in 1876.

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On our way back to the ship, Maijumi taught us some Japanese words and also how to count in Japanese!  She also gave us each one of the green tea Kit Kat bars.  She told us that they are very popular here because Kitto Katto means “surely you will win”.  So lots of students eat them before exams.

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She also showed us the symbols that have to be on cars.  The first is for a student driver and the second is for a senior citizen.

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They have a new one for seniors now.

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She showed us pictures of her wedding, too.

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The license plates here are interesting.

White is for cars less than 600 cc, they pay only 7000 yen/year tax.  The yellow if for larger cars and they can pay 36-58,000 yen/year ( 322-519 US).  The green is for commercial vehicles like buses and taxis.

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We returned to the port and headed out to walk to the shopping area. The specialty here is the Sasebo Burger.  It’s a beef burger topped with bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and a sunny side up egg.  It was created in the 1950s when the local eateries tried to catered to the appetites of American servicemen.  It is very popular and people line up to taste them.  The egg is a stopper for me, though! I had an ice cream cone for lunch.

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But we had a good time, I found a couple of items that I wanted to buy and we were back in  time to line up for immigration before departing Japan.  Looking forward to our next visit.


Posted in April, Asia, Excursions, Food, World Cruise 3 | Leave a comment

Sasebo, Japan

Well, here we are in our last Japanese port.  Sasebo is the second largest city in the Nagasaki prefecture, Nagasaki is the largest. Although it was spared an atomic bomb, Sasebo was one of the original 17 possible targets and suffered heavy damage during World War II. 

 Here are some shots of our sail in and arrival this morning. This is a big naval port – 80% of the port is a US Navy base and there is a Japanese base tool  Note the sailors on the deck of the ship.  We were again welcomed by a band.

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The amusing sign says “do not leave door open” and it is on an open door.

Our guide today was Maijumi.  She was excellent as all of our Japanese guides have been.  She talked about the bowing that is done out of respect and how the angle of the bow indicates the depth of the respect. The bow is 90 degrees for the emperor but just a slight bow as we greet people here.  We do bow as we greet people and they seem to really appreciate the gesture.  She explained the origin of the bow – in feudal days, the idea that you would bow before another person means that you trust that they won’t kill you.  She said it is like the origin of the handshake in the US, it shows that you don’t have a weapon.

She also stressed how much of a problem the aging population is for Japan.  Of the 126 million people in Japan, 28% are over 65 and only 12% under 15.

IMG_5542

Our first stop was at the Ohashi Kannon, a beautiful Buddhist temple surrounded by forest.  The temple is one of many in Japan dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy and compassion.  According to legend, the priest Gyoki founded Ohashi Kannon  in the 8th century.  The surroundings were really gorgeous, with forest and many cherry trees.  This is the peak week here for the blossoms and we feel so lucky to be in the presence of all this beauty. Daffodils are in full bloom too. We walked up some steep and slippery steps to get to the natural area with many old statues.  So serene and wonderous.


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The last statue in this group is said to be about preventing senility. We bought a little trinket with a picture of this statue in it – we can only hope it works!

IMG_5749

The ancient figures in the woodlands are really a sight to see.

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We could take pictures in this temple so here are a few of the inside of the building.

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After leaving this area, we went to the Yamashita house, a traditional Japanese style guest house constructed in the 19th century.  It was constructed without a single nail! The result is that the house has stood the test of time as a testament to the highly skilled craftsmen that built it.  We were taken on a tour through the house by the owner of both the house and the sake brewery next door. More on the brewery later.  Maijima needed to translate as he spoke only Japanese.

Back in the days of the feudal lords, the Shogun wanted to be sure to keep power, so the lords were commanded to return to Edo (now Tokyo) to pay homage to the central ruler. This journey took 40 days of walking.  They then needed to live there for 1 year before returning.  This house that we visited served as a guest house along the way.

IMG_5605IMG_5606IMG_5614IMG_5619IMG_5620

The hat is a metal rain hat!

IMG_5623IMG_5624IMG_5626IMG_5627IMG_5741

This folding divider depicts the four seasons in intricate drawings.

There was a small but beautiful garden where tea ceremonies are held.

IMG_5601IMG_5604IMG_5632IMG_5634IMG_5636IMG_5642IMG_5643IMG_5738IMG_5740

The sake shop was across the street and we enjoyed a tour of the brewery (which has only 10 employees) before going across for a tasting.  The round piece hanging from the ceiling was the sign that the sake was ready in early years.  Most people couldn’t read then so the branches started out green (early sake) and when it turned brown the more fermented sake was available! Sake is made from rice, and we heard about the whole process during this visit. We also got a brochure explaining it all.

IMG_5644IMG_5645IMG_5647IMG_5648IMG_5650IMG_5651IMG_5652IMG_5653IMG_5654IMG_5655IMG_5656IMG_5657IMG_5660IMG_5666IMG_5667IMG_5670IMG_5671IMG_5672IMG_5673IMG_5675

The back of the jacket is the crest of the family that owns the brewery.

We enjoyed a tasting and bought a small container to take home.

IMG_5677IMG_5678IMG_5681IMG_5682IMG_5683IMG_5684

Our last stop on the tour was the Funakoshi Lookout where we had almost an hour to stroll around the grounds and observe the beautiful Kujuku islands.  Although Kujuku means 99, there are actually more than 200 islands in the group, most of them uninhabited because the area has been designated a national park. The islands are so undeveloped and photogenic that they were shown in the opening scenes of the movie The Last Samurai which was set in 1876.

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On our way back to the ship, Maijumi taught us some Japanese words and also how to count in Japanese!  She also gave us each one of the green tea Kit Kat bars.  She told us that they are very popular here because Kitto Katto means “surely you will win”.  So lots of students eat them before exams.

IMG_5697IMG_5685IMG_5686IMG_5687IMG_5689

She also showed us the symbols that have to be on cars.  The first is for a student driver and the second is for a senior citizen.

IMG_5693IMG_5694

They have a new one for seniors now.

IMG_5697

She showed us pictures of her wedding, too.

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The license plates here are interesting.

White is for cars less than 600 cc, they pay only 7000 yen/year tax.  The yellow if for larger cars and they can pay 36-58,000 yen/year ( 322-519 US).  The green is for commercial vehicles like buses and taxis.

IMG_5596IMG_5597IMG_5598

We returned to the port and headed out to walk to the shopping area. The specialty here is the Sasebo Burger.  It’s a beef burger topped with bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and a sunny side up egg.  It was created in the 1950s when the local eateries tried to catered to the appetites of American servicemen.  It is very popular and people line up to taste them.  The egg is a stopper for me, though! I had an ice cream cone for lunch.

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But we had a good time, I found a couple of items that I wanted to buy and we were back in  time to line up for immigration before departing Japan.  Looking forward to our next visit.


Posted in April, Asia, Excursions, Food, World Cruise 3 | 1 Comment

Kagoshima, Japan

Last night was the captain’s cocktail party and Victor is back as our general manager.  So I needed a picture with Victor and Captain Kurilic

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And here are a few more pictures from the event. The captain always introduces his senior officers and there were some new people who boarded in Tokyo. Amy, one of the singers, entertained and Steve and Tricia are our Around the World Ambassadors.  I am in the picture with Jennifer, chef Mario and Roberto.


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Kagoshima is not a port that gets too many cruises, and our port is quite near the city.  It is on the western shore of Kinkowan Bay and is the southernmost city on the southern island of Kyushu. Japan consists of 4 islands. The population of the city is 600,000.

Here is our sail in this morning. We saw this volcano along the way but it is not Mount Sakurajima which we will see on our tour.

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We were met by our guide, Zenin Sumiko which means “child of goodness; beautiful child”.  She said her English name is Suzie and that is what we should call her.

We headed on a short drive to the Shoko Shuseikan Museum and Senganen Garden. It was still chilly today but a lot warmer than the last few days. And the sun was out so it was beautiful for our outing.

We could not take pictures in the museum.  It was established by Lord Shimazu in 1865 to produce armaments, glass, ceramics and farm tools and was Japan’s first Western style factory.  Now it is a museum detailing the 800 year Shimazu family history. This family helped to establish the city as a vital port for trade and commerce. It is also said that Kagoshima was the birthplace of Japan’s industrial revolution and there are many tools displayed in the museum.  The museum is small but interesting. The first picture is of a Starbucks near the museum!  The stone walls are built with no mortar at all.

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Most of our visit was spent in the serene Japanese landscape garden which was established in 1658. It is the site of the former summer villa of the Shimazu Clan.  The views of the bay and Mount Sakurajima are exquisite.

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The volcano’s eruptions have actually connected the island to a nearby peninsula.  It rises 3665 feet above the sea and last erupted in 1914, covering the Kagoshima city center with a deep level of ash.

We have so many pictures of the gardens, here are some of them.  What a great way to spend the afternoon. There are several Shinto shrines in the gardens, you will notice features that I have written about in previous blogs.

The house on the property was used in the filming of The Last Samurai, the story of Saigo Takamori, one of the most influential samurai in Japanese history and a leader of the 19th century drive to modernize Japan.

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There were cherry blossoms, the azaleas and rhododendrons were in full bloom, and there is a bamboo forest too.

This was an interesting feature – this piece of wood is actually a tool used to remove the husks of rice- when the end fills with water, the wood moves down hard to remove the husks.

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We visited some of the shops in the gardens, tried some green tea (didn’t like the variety they gave us) and had to have some of their famous purple sweet potato ice cream, which was delicious!

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Some pictures of children, of course.

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Posted in April, Asia, Excursions, Food, World Cruise 3 | 1 Comment

Hiroshima, Japan

April 2, 2019

We missed Godzilla in Tokyo but our friend Mary Anne got a picture of him.

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Beautiful sunrise over Hiroshima this morning.

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And pictures from our sail in.

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Today we chose to go on a tour to Miyajima.  This is a beautiful island, considered one of Japan’s most scenic destinations.  The main attraction is the Itsukushima Shrine with the famous large torii gate that rises up out of the Inland Seto Sea.

We boarded a bus with our guide Kuniko who said that we should call her by her English name, Kate.  She held up the characters that spell out her name in Japanese.

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As our other guides have been, Kate was fluent in English and very well informed. 

Japan consists of 2000 islands and all together is about the size of California.  70% of Japan is covered with mountains. As I have noted and you will see again in this post, spring is cherry blossom season and they are in full bloom here even though Hiroshima got some snow last night!  It is cold! Autumn is known for Maple leaves – they are most beautiful in November.

Hiroshima now gets about 4.5 million visitors a year and is, of course, most noted as the place the atom bomb destroyed near the end of WWII.  We visited the peace park after Miyajima and I will add information about that near the end of this post.

The bus was well equipped with wi-fi and it was only about a 30 minute ride to get the ferry to Miyajima. Kate advised us to sit on the right and told us that it is high tide which is the best time to view the O-tori Gate rising from the sea.

While on the ferry, we noted the oyster rafts.  Hiroshima is the biggest producer of oysters in Japan.

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The Itsukushima Shrine was established in 593, the first year of the reign of Empress Suiko and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The current torii was erected in 1875 after the original one was destroyed.  We got our first sighting of the torii from the ferry and it is beautiful.

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The entire shrine and surrounding area is so beautiful.  There are 108 lanterns surrounding the shrine which are lit up at night. This is said to be for enlightenment.

We wanted to look for several things in the shopping area – wooden rice spoons with sayings on them made from different woods and originally designed by monks, special cakes made in the shape of maple leaves and of course, the oysters, which we don’t eat but wanted to send pictures to our brother-in-law, Mike, who loves them.  But first we took in the beauty of the large and impressive shrine. The whole thing seems to be floating in the water.

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Only 1400 people live on this island and there are also 500 deer which are considered sacred.  We were given a map with specific instructions that warned us that deer will eat paper and cloth and to be sure to keep an eye on our belongings, especially tickets and souvenirs as the deer might eat them!

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We were again fortunate enough to see a wedding procession and also part of the ceremony.  The family and guests wanted to pose for us.

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There was a beautiful area with lots of cherry trees in full bloom.  We just can’t get enough pictures of them!

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We still had a little time for shopping (would have loved to stay here longer, but had to get the ferry back).  We bought and ate some of the delicious maple shaped cakes.  They are filled with everything from chocolate to red bean paste – we loved the cream filled ones. There were many places to watch them being made. I did buy a wooden rice spoon. Mine says “excel mind.”

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And the oysters were everywhere..

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A few other pictures that were just fun.

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The last picture is of a kind of honey.  And who knew there would be that many kinds of soy sauce!  A whole shop full.  I also never saw peach Coke.

A few other facts we  have learned about Japan from our lecturers and various guides.

  • More people are killed by lightning in the US than are killed by guns in Japan.  That’s how rare it is.

  • There are more McDonalds in Japan than anywhere except the US.

  • KFC is the most popular dish at their main holiday of New Years.  They don’t celebrate Christmas and are unclear about Santa, they think Col. Sanders might be Santa.

  • There are all kinds of animal cafes here, cat cafes, hedgehog, owl…

  • There are about 3.7 million vending machines, one for every 35 people. It is like grocery shopping by machine – you can get underwear, ties, clothes for your pets, etc.  There is even a vending machine on top of Mt. Fuji (which we couldn’t see, rarely seen due to the clouds).

  • There are 300 varieties of Kit Kat bars here, Kitto Katto. Some of the types are wasabi, red bean, hot chile, sake, baked potato and ginger ale!

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After our visit to the shrine, we took the ferry, then the bus back to the pier where we boarded the shuttle to see the Peace Memorial Park. The park is said to be a triumph of the human spirit, having been the site where the first nuclear weapon was used in war.  On August 6, 1945, the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay unleashed the atomic bomb on the citizens of Hiroshima on ground zero which today is this park.  The explosion destroyed most of the city and only a few steel and concrete structures are still standing.  The most prominent was once the Hiroshima Prefecture Industrial Promotion Hall, the ruins of which are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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It is quite the sight to see the lovely living cherry blossoms against the wreckage of this building. 

The Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound contains the ashes of tens of thousands of victims who were too badly burned to be identified. 

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This is a huge park and there were people having picnics and generally strolling around but there was an air of reverence as if it was a shrine, which in some ways, it is.

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We saw the eternal flame and the Peace Watch which counts the number of days since the Hiroshima attack as well as the number of days since the last nuclear test.

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Also, the cranes are made for wishes to come true.  The legend from a 12 year old girl who made 1300 is that if you make more than 1000, your dreams will come true.

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It was a beautiful, chilly day with a lot of interesting and sobering things to see. We were glad for sun, Kate said they  had snow here yesterday.  We just wished for more time and will have to return.


Posted in April, Asia, Excursions, Food, World Cruise 3 | 2 Comments

Day 2, Tokyo, Japan

March 31, 2019

Our second day in Tokyo, and we had a full day tour. Today our guide was Himoto. She was really amazing – good English speaker and full of facts about Japan and Tokyo. She even showed us the meaning of some of the alphabet figures by holding up the symbol and having us guess what they were.  And she showed statistics and had us also guess the meanings.  Very interesting approach.  Real estate in Japan is expensive as is almost everything else.  A small condo is about $700,000 US.  But they do not pay as much in taxes.  She pays 10% of her income in taxes and she said only the very rich pay about 20%.   Public university is about $5000/year but private universities are about the same cost as in the US.  Medical schools are much more expensive.

The most serious issue, as I mentioned before, is the aging of the population. They have always resisted bringing in foreigners but a law was passed and goes into effect on April 1 to allow it as they need the workers and caregivers.

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Tokyo is the capital of Japan (it was formerly known as Edo). The word Tokyo means eastern capital. The bay is 18 miles long which is why it took us some time to get into the port.

We again passed by the Olympic Village under construction.  Himoto says it will be very hot during the Olympics – their summers are quite hot and humid but winters are quite mild.  It was very chilly this morning, started at 41 degrees but warmed to 50 as we started our tour. Still, jackets, jeans and scarves were the wardrobe of the day.

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Our first visit was to the Imperial Palace, home of the emperor of Japan.  This is in the heart of the city.  For 2 weeks each spring and fall, the palace is open to visitors.  This is the spring open time, but the overwhelming crowds enabled us to just have time to see the outside of the palace and hear about the government.  The current emperor is 86 years old and is  retiring in April and the crown prince will take his place on May 1.  The new era will be called “Good fortune with peace”. The emperor and his wife live here at the Palace, but the crown prince now lives in a separate residence surrounded by gardens.  This is for security reasons.  The emperor has no real power, the government is run by a prime minister.  Here are pictures of Emperor Akihito and his family.

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The palace grounds and waterways are beautiful. The bridge is called the Nijubashi Bridge and spans the moat.

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I can’t stop writing about the bathrooms, I guess.  All with the amazing toilets.  As I have mentioned before, all of the restrooms are ultra modern and spotless.  Many even have solution in them to clean them. But here was a first for me – what do you do with your baby when you are in the stall?  toilet seat.

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Our next stop was the Meiji Shrine which is the most renowned Shinto shrine in Tokyo.  People here generally practice Shinto or Buddhist religions – Himoto said 80 % Shinto and 90% Buddhist which adds up to more than 100% because many people practice both.  Shinto is quite interesting. Shinto or kami-no-michi (as well as other names) is the traditional religion of Japan that focuses on ritual practices to be carried out diligently to establish a connection between present-day Japan and its ancient past. They believe that spirits live in natural places. As I mentioned in the Kyoto post, when at a shrine, you bow twice, clap hands twice, pray then bow again.  They believe in many spirits who are quite busy so you have to get their attention before you pray!  There is no founder, no holy book and not even the concept of religious conversion. Shinto values harmony with nature and a sincere heart.  Ancestors are revered and tied to many of the celebrations.

The Meiji Shrine is surrounded by a 200 acre park and while somewhat crowded, it was nothing like what we saw on the streets and in the Palace area.

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Here, you pay respect at the font.  First you rinse your left hand, then your right hand. You pour water into your left hand and rinse your mouth.  Last you rinse your left hand and rinse the dipper.

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Emperor Meiji passed away in 1912 and Empress Shoken in 1914.  After their deaths, people wished to commemorate their virtues and to venerate them forever, so they donated 100,000 trees from all over Japan and overseas and they worked voluntarily to create the forest.  The shrine was established in 1920 so will celebrate 100 years next year.

We were lucky to see two wedding processions while in the shrine. Notice the hair covering on the brides.

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Another interesting thing we noticed here is the wishes that people wrote – they are all displayed openly and are in many languages. They are on what is called Ema boards or Japanese wishing planks.  Here is what the area looks like and here are some of the wishes in English. Had to include one I spotted from “Philly”!

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This rope between the trees is the marriage tree and you are supposed to have your picture taken under it. The lightning symbols are lucky because lightning signifies rain which is needed for rice to grow.

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There was a display of these colorful sake barrels and also wine barrels as we left the shrine area.

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After our visit here, it was time to go to the Jojoen restaurant for our Japanese lunch.  It was both interesting and delicious. We were seated at tables for 4 (Ken and Ellen were with us).  The center of the table had a fire grill and we were each presented with a plate of well marbled beef and one piece of pork to grill.  We also had beer, salad, appetizers, tofu, rice and soup and a heart shaped ice cream for dessert.  What fun!

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After lunch we traveled to the Asakusa Kannon, the oldest temple in Japan dating to the 7th century.  It is dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of compassion. First we took a walk along the river where there were so many beautiful cherry trees in bloom.  Here we saw a lot of young girls in their own or rented kimonos.  These are not geishas in training (who avoid photos) but girls who want to be seen in their traditional dress.  Some boys were seen in samurai dress as well.

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The temple area was VERY crowded and we actually got separated in the crowds.  Lucky to have text messages in that situation.

You could not take pictures in the Shinto shrine or in the temple. Here are some of the outside of the temple.

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After our temple visit, we braved the crowds and did some wandering around the shops.  I was looking for some of the Japanese cookies which I finally found in a store called Family Food Mart. They also have a 100 yen store which is our “dollar store”!  The city streets and markets were very crowded with people but no motorbikes like in other Asian cities.  Many of the streets are closed off on weekends, so since it was Sunday, we were walking in the streets.  Many of the restaurants here have “fake food” on display so that people can point to what they want.  Many vending machines are everywhere.  Empty sake containers are for sale and many people use them for stools or just for decoration. The liquor stores have the full ones.

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The building behind us is meant to look like a glass of beer with the foam on top!

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We stopped in to a pachinko parlor – there are many gaming parlors in this area of the city.

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They have Uber here.

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And yes, they make fun of our president.

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There were lots of families out and about, and having picnics along the river too.

Most of the buildings in the shopping areas have signs on the side to let you know what is on each of the floors. The worst earthquake was in 1923 when 140,000 people died so now most buildings are designed to withstand the worst.  They have had many.

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This is the Honda headquarters which is designed so that if windows break in an earthquake, the glass will fall into the balconies and not onto the street.

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Ginza area is like 5th Avenue in New York, every high end store you can imagine is located here. There are plenty of Starbucks and all kinds of other American chain stores and restaurants. Here are some other sights of the city.

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No overtime is allowed at work on Wednesdays.  The main subway station has 40, yes, 40 different entrances.  There are 13 subway lines but we didn’t try to use them – apparently they are not so easy to figure out. During rush hour, professional pushers are employed to push people along into the cars!

Our sail away was in the dark – here is the city by night as we left.

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Tokyo is very clean and safe yet very crowded. We can’t wait to spend more time here next year!




Posted in Asia, Excursions, Food, March, World Cruise 3 | 4 Comments

Tokyo, Japan

March 30, 2019

Our arrival in Tokyo was quite spectacular.  We didn’t know that it was the first time that the Insignia was in this port of call and there was a ceremony with the captain which our friends Karin and Bill got to attend.  They are the most traveled passengers on Oceania.

Fireboats greeted us at around 3:30 with the spray of their hoses. I did put a video that Norm took on Facebook while on shore. But here are the photos.

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Arrival had been planned for 4 PM and we were just a little later than that.  The temperature is only in the 50’s!

Here are some other pictures of our approach.

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We had a wonderful Around the World special event tonight at the Hotel Gajoen Tokyo.  It was a 30 minute bus ride to get there and we had a guide on the bus named Kitty.  We passed the Olympic Village which is under construction for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  There will be 10,000 condominium units built there and guess what – they are already sold to people who will move in after the Olympics. The village is very close to the port.

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127 million people live in Japan and 13 million live in Tokyo.  It is very crowded.  Many people are wearing masks here too, and unlike Kyoto, here in Tokyo the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.  The cherry blossom season is very significant in Japan and means new beginnings to them.  School starts in early April, university graduates get their first jobs, and this year, the emperor will abdicate the throne and the crown prince will become the new emperor.

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When we arrived at the hotel for the special event (and remember, there are over 340 world cruise passengers, so this was a real feat to pull off), we were mesmerized by the beauty and the size of the hotel.  Just walking to the ballroom where we would have our dinner and entertainment was a delight.  Here are some of the beautiful sights.

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We were welcomed by performers on the Japanese harp.

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We had a traditional Japanese meal – of 8 small courses.  Here is the menu.  The sushi was not listed on the menu.

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And some pictures of our friends,  the venue and the food.

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You can bet I didn’t put that raw egg in my dish.  But Norm did… We also had wine and saki with our meal. We could watch the sushi making demonstration, although we can see that every day on the ship!

During and after the meal, we were entertained by Miyabiya Japan Show which consisted of kabuki (only men are allowed to do kabuki dancing), geisha, ninja, samurai, shamisen, Japanese magic and more.  Some of the dances go back as far as the 17th century in Japan. And of course we could have photos taken.

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After the event, we went back to the ship – it was too late already for the evening show which was from Tokyo, flute and Japanese harp.  Luckily we had the harp at our event.

Early departure tomorrow for our tour of Tokyo.

Posted in Asia, Excursions, Food, March, World Cruise 3 | Leave a comment

Kobe, Japan

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!!

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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.

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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.

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Some of our other sights at the castle. Including one of the people dressed like the Shogun and some tourists in kimonos. 

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They have lots of moss on their grass here and some of it is quite decorative.

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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.

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Here are some of the sights from the bus, including pavilions and shots of the mountains.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.IMG_4477

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 





Posted in Asia, Excursions, Food, March, World Cruise 3 | 1 Comment