Saturday, July 31, 2010

Kon'nichiwa Asuka II Part Four - Shrines, Hula Dancers, and Rubber Chicken

At the moment I am sitting in my cabin, good ol' 6278... I just finished lunch up in the Lido, and in a couple of hours we'll have the first of two Captain's Cocktail Parties, in which we will perform our mini-show, Classical Moments. Outside my porthole the ocean passes us by at eighteen knots as we head south to our home base, Yokohama. Sailing around Japan the past two weeks has been a welcome change from the world cruise, also known as the longest sea day ever, and while I've seen land more often in the past two weeks than I did in the first two months, caveats and conditions still apply.

To put it briefly: yes, I've been hanging out in Japan... and no, I really haven't done much worth mentioning. It's a little frustrating, but the bottom line here is while the ports we are visiting must be known for something, often times the reason we're there is lost on the crew. One could blame it on the lack of information given to us about the port, the general disinterest in anything but internet cafes, electronic stores, and shopping malls by the crew at large, or the simple fact that the points of interest each city has to offer are only accessible by tour bus (which is something else that is not available to the crew) or an expensive taxi ride.

Still, when I am able to get off the ship (yep, our friend Russia won one... more on that later), I try and make the most of it. There really aren't any fantastic stories to tell here, just a collection of pictures that hopefully walk the line between culturally aware and blissfully ignorant. So, enough words, let's make with the colorful pixels.

First stop, Miyako. Actually, the first stop was Kobe, but a drunk coworker of mine erased my pictures from that port, so we'll have to wait until September for that one... so, Miyako. As I recall, a lot of lumber yards in Texas seemed to prefer their names painted on the metal roof of their buildings. Such is the case with Miyako.

So it should seem as no coincidence that Miyako is a lumber port. All those stacks of wood and sawdust are pretty much next door to the expansive and welcoming parking lot that we docked along side. Actually, one thing most of our Japanese ports of call seem to have in common are their expansive and welcoming parking lots. So, Miyako is a city that is there because of its inhabitants, and not there because of tourism. I know this because as I walked around the city, I never once saw anybody from our ship gawking and taking pictures. That's okay, since I am easily gawkable... or is it gawked?

That's a bucket of octopus. Gawk away.

Miyako did send us off in style (or we sent Miyako away in style. I guess it depends on which side of the water you're on), with streamers and a bunch of kids beatin' on drums. Next stop, Onahama.

Onahama is a Japanese city that really digs Hawaii. The whole time we were in port, there was a constant rotation of hula dancers entertaining both our passengers and the city's residents. After watching for a few minutes, I decided to leave the immediate area and take a look at the surrounding city. After half an hour's worth of disappointment, I came back. Okay, enough culture... bring on the ignorance...

I tried to purchase a “fukupass,” but I was informed that I already held a lifetime membership.

Get too close to the hula dancers, and Tsang Tsung here is gonna take care of business. Also, it bears mentioning that kids with guns brings up another startling similarity Japan holds with Texas, adding to lumber yards and the whole “silent-head-nod-to-say-hello-or-to-acknowledge-one's-passing-presence” thing both cultures seem to enjoy.

After the hula dancers packed it away, we headed back to Yokohama to drop off and pick up. Yokohama is a large walking city with its own baseball team, China Town, and blistering heat. But even though we're sweating buckets, it's a welcome change from stacks of lumber and buckets of octopus. Here, I am happy to enjoy the normal things I would if I were in a similar sized city in America, like go out for lunch or find an internet cafe and surf the web.

Here is one of the entrances to China Town. Seems that a lot of Japanese cities have one of these, as do many American cities. My question is, why aren't there any Japan Towns? Is it simply because the phrase doesn't roll off the tongue so easily?

Since we are in China Town, I am unsure if this advertisement is for a musical or a meal. Yeah, I just went there.

Here is a very ornate shrine sitting in the middle of China Town. People walk up, toss some yen into a wooden chest, light some incense, and do some kneeling. Other than that, I know nothing.

Notice this man's fancy footwear... now let me explain what you can't see. When this couple passed me, there was no time to do a double take. The man with the summertime sandals was accompanied by another longer haired man, dressed in ladies clothes... but that's not the strange thing here. No, what was strange was that they were pushing a baby carriage with a rag doll sitting inside of it. Now, before some of you more culturally aware folks start to get upset, let me say that yes, I understand that some Japanese mourn the loss of a loved one by sitting a doll at the table while they eat, or in a seat if they are out to a show. But friends, these two dudes were getting confused stares by everyone around me. So, by proxy, they were nuts.

And now, my fondest memory of Yokohama. They have these stores scattered about Japan called "Don Quixote" of all things. In them you'll find pretty much everything manufactured ever crammed inside its four walls. Below is something that I found in the store, and is something I find truly captivating...

You can add easily amused to easily gawked. Let's move on to Otaru.

Nestled at the base of a string of mountains, Otaru would be just another Japanese city if it wasn't for the summer festival going on that day.

Just in front of the pier was a stage flanked on either side by hundreds of pink Japanese-style paper lanterns. Throughout the day different acts performed, and later a parade took over the streets. Below is a video that shows both...

Yep, most guys carrying the “floats” wore bathrobes and diapers. I couldn't tell you for sure what the floats represented, but my guess is that each one symbolized a neighborhood's local shrine. Speaking of which, I tracked down one of 'em.

Here I am sitting on the steps of a shrine nestled on a hill overlooking the city. I've seen several so far, and it appears that they are always open to the public to come in and enjoy some solitude. Other than that, I can't tell you a thing about it.

Well, look at that. I've often heard that American actors will lend themselves to advertisements overseas, since they have less chance of getting caught tarnishing their craft on things like tires. Hey, even Leo has bills to pay.

Next, Rishiri, where inclement weather kept us from making land... After that Abashiri, where I only had a couple of hours off in between rehearsals. Went for a jog, and done. Then we come to Korsakov, Russia.

Proving bad news comes in threes, today Russia made up for Petropavlovsk-Kamchatky, where it somehow found a way to keep the crew on the ship. Let me recap how this works, in case some of you missed the last blog. It's pretty simple, actually: passengers have a passport, and they are allowed in the country; crew have a passport and a seaman's book... that's two internationally identifiable forms of identification... and are not allowed to enter. Whatever Russia... I never wanted to be a part of your stupid club anyway.

Incidentally, the picture above shows a pretty useful way of displaying information to the crew. On the other ships I've worked, nobody was really sure when the crew could get off the ship. We would just approach the gangway and either be allowed off or sent away. Here, we know exactly when we can leave, what time we are expected back, and when a stuck-up country thinks it's too damn good for my time and money.

Coming down the home stretch is Hakodate. Again, the parking lot was welcoming and expansive... which I've discovered pretty much means the opposite for the neighboring city. After a jog along the waterfront, I came back to the ship, rehearsed a little, then took a taxi into town. The cast ended up at a Japanese buffet, where, as I noted in an earlier blog, is different from a Chinese buffet due to the lack of a pizza and nacho bar. Anyway, we were served a ton of sushi and ate very well. Most surprising about the meal, however, was the mineral water I drank.

You know it's mineral water when you can see the rocks sitting at the bottom. For the curious, it tasted just like regular old water.

That pretty much brings us to the present. Since I started this blog I got one Captain's Cocktail down, and one to go. The performing side of things... you know, the reason I'm here... is going well. We are just one show away from being totally open (the sixth show will be performed for the first time in a couple of weeks), and everything is humming along. I did have one performance, however, that was greatly different from the rest.

One of the guest entertainers that joined us recently is Makoto Ozone, who studied at the Berklee school of music and is well respected in Japan as a jazz pianist. He was rehearsing with his trio after one of our shows, and invited Jessica (female singer) and I up to jam with him, after which he asked if we would like to perform with him during his sets the following night. Now, Makoto travels with his own piano tuner (who literally took apart our grand and tuned it that night into the next day... something like twelve hours straight) and sound engineer; that should give you a little insight as to how serious, and seriously good this guy is. So, Jess and I sang in his sets; she the first, and I the second. Oh, and Makoto arranged it so we closed his show! Wow... what an experience. I'll leave the rest to the video below.

And that's pretty much ship life for you... one night you're in the crew bar playing Uno, and the next you're singing with a world class musician.

Speaking of ship life, the officer's mess is calling my name; it's been almost twenty-four hours since I've eaten rice, and my body is going into fits of withdrawal.

Keep on Livin' The Dream,

Michael Lamendola

(Hanging out with the Asuka II in Onahama)

1 comment:

  1. Great Blog! I really enjoyed this one. Also good performance with the piano player.