With so many devices to keep up to time, plus so many changes, it was rather unfortunate that somehow, I managed to set the alarm on my watch for 5:45am last night - but forgot to change the time. Fortunately, it didn’t really upset Paula too much as she was out of bed really early to enjoy the sail into the amazing pier of Yokohama port. Yokohama is Japan’s second largest city. At about 5:30am – by which time I was up anyway, the piped music from the pier was playing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, as we berthed on our side of the ship.
What is so amazing about a pier? Well, if the combination of millions of strips of wood screwed down with stainless screws forming amazing shapes wasn’t enough, add in the hobbit like semi underground halls, with a recreational area, complete with grass, above. What this means is that there is no boring concrete edifice spoiling the skyline, with wasted lofty interiors.
Many local residents were out early, some to greet the ship and many just to exercise out in the fresh air. Underneath, the customs entrance hall is also a dark timbered floor, but ceilings are low and when we returned later in the day, there were several stalls set up. Height is great in a building’s interior but in a utility building like this, can be a total waste, so in this instance, the architects have come up with a design where from the outside, you wouldn’t even know there was a two storey building under the boardwalk.
We headed for the buffet early (of course) but I opted to supplement my light breakfast with a couple of Imodium pills, as 4 hours on a bus with a rumbling tum was a gamble I wasn’t prepared to take.
Unfortunately, we were fairly near the end of the queue for bus 9 and we were led through to the terminal building for a fingerprinting - both index fingers at the same time, in twin readers. At least 25% of people failed this and were sent elsewhere, so our queue didn’t move too quickly. (Having had a face to face with the Japanese on board the ship and issued with a photocopy of your passport to take ashore, quite what the purpose is of the finger-printing I am not at all sure. At least it was just the two fingers and not all fingers and thumbs and an eye scan as in a US airports – but not sea ports.) We were therefore almost last on the coach and had to sit right at the back, which was fine, as we had more legroom than the average business class aircraft seat.
The run to Tokyo was surprisingly smooth, given that we were on the road about 7:30. Yokohama and Tokyo almost merge, so there was no run of green fields and forests before hitting the centre of Tokyo. Our city tour trundled around until the seemingly early time of 9:30, going past the Imperial Palace which seems to occupy a very large city site, but is only open to the public twice a year. Today wasn’t one of those days. At 9:30 we alighted at the Tokyo tower, a somewhat odd representation of the Eiffel tower, but painted bright orange and white. After the impressive modern towers in Shanghai, this was not exactly something that was a true representation of Japan.
After the usual, ritual, wheelchair unloading from the coach, holding up everyone else, we eventually collected our tickets, queued, then crammed ourselves into the lift up to the observation platform, whereupon the resident wag, in a loud voice exclaimed, “Sorry to disappoint you, madam, but that was my walking stick.”
The observation deck and the view was nothing compared to Shanghai, as the view was just of city buildings for as far as the eye could see in just about all directions. Signs on the (enclosed) platform point to various points of interest and the sign to Mt Fuji was 97kms and in the heat, was of course, well out of our viewing range. From what we can gather, on a winter’s day, Mt Fuji is visible from here. The trip back down to the ‘shopping’ floor was uneventful and the various stalls had heaps of merchandise, but almost all would only deal with Yen, not USD. Fair enough I suppose, but as most passengers just can’t be bothered to change into local currency for a one day short stop, they miss out on many souvenir sales. With today having at least 500 passengers, all happy to spend say $5 each, I suspect they lost out rather more than we did. It is pointless accumulating piles of change in local currencies wherever we go, as the leftovers are usually only worth a few dollars and by the time you have been changed $6 transaction fee, it isn’t worth it.
We did hear of various stories regarding ATM machines though, ranging from “They only accept Japanese cards”, to “Minimum withdrawal, ¥1,000” (over $100USD – I think) even on Visa cards.
We had to be back on the coach 10:30am. The wheelchair bound arrived at 10:38... People are not at all impressed and more and more are just opting to sort out their own tours, or take care of their own arrangements. We opt generally for short tours and whether they are easy with no steps, or with steps is not our consideration, just the length, but it seems that most of these short tours are also classed as easy, but it doesn’t take into account getting on and off the coaches.
We headed back to Yokohama and the last 500m could easily have been mistaken for France, as the pavement cafe’s did not look Japanese at all. Back at that superb pier building, Paula managed to find one stall holder with signs in USD, so she bought a couple of shot glasses, so that should stop her swigging the port from the bottle in the night!
As I wrote yesterday, the ship was undergoing a massive sanitising programme today. Our cabin was stripped, devoid of bed linen, toiletries, toilet paper, tissues, towels, drinking glasses etc., so we headed up for lunch.
The cabin still wasn’t ready on our return, so we headed out back for a lounge, but even in the shade, it was rather warm, so we headed back inside and found a cool spot in the vista lounge for a while. The cabin was eventually done and after our own clean up, just before gangway lifting, the pier came alive with the sound of music. Wow!
There was a school band of young teenage girls, who marched along the pier and back again before assembling about half way along the pier, level with the ship’s deck 7. We opted to stay and watch from our cabin, as they put on a most accomplished and polished musical performance. We just loved it. With one or two featured soloists playing a real mix of music, these young girls were really talented and got a huge and thoroughly deserved response from the ship. No sheet music either.
We sailed away to the strains to a spirited rendition of “When the Saints go Marching In”, though maybe that should have been the arrival number, rather than “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. The crowd on the pier was large and this was a fantastic send off, with lots of waving.
A good visit and we can see now why many so many people love visiting Japan. Clean and friendly - not a fatty in sight anywhere.
Whilst in Tokyo City, it was pointed out by our guide, that the city men are still in white shirts and black trousers, but are now wearing short sleeved shirts and no ties. Sensible. On a hot day like today I can’t now imagine anything worse than having to wear a collar and tie, but thinking back, it was never an excuse during most of my working life, regardless of the weather. The times are a changing.
Just after sailaway we opted to go and see the comedian, American Jack Mayberry, but scheduling an act at sailaway time is not a very good idea and after the show, we, along with the few passengers who witnessed the show, probably decided that we would have been better off enjoying one of the various sailaway parties too.
After a pleasant dining room dinner, we went to the atrium and Alan’s entertainment trivia quiz, with M & M. We didn’t do too well at that one either! No dancing as Paula’s twisted her knee on the coach, so that needs a bit of R & R.
Clocks now go forwards an hour a night as we do “The Chunk”. Seven days at sea heading straight across to Alaska, so there won’t be any exciting or interesting blogs for a while – not that there ever were of curse.
Who knows? Maybe even Paula will find the time to write a personal email or two.
Marilyn has a BIG birthday coming up back in NZ, but we are crossing the international date line about then. I think we get two August 30ths on board, which confuses everyone! So I‘ll just change the dates in my diary, so that when we fly out of San Francisco September 14th, arriving in NZ on September 16th, I won’t have a blank page in it.