High of 85 in Guam, hotter in Saipan… life’s a bitch sometimes, ain’t it? And actually, if you are feeling a little glum because your American Christmas was cold and wet, then you only have yourself to blame, because I was in America. Guam and Saipan are tiny American territories left over from WWII. After many months in Japan, it was kind of a surreal experience to be somewhere where I could speak English, spend American dollars, and see cars drive on the right side of the road on their way to Wendy’s, Chili’s, Home Depot, and Ross…
I mean, look at that… I am in a Ross, where one can dress for less, but if you didn’t know, you’d just expect this picture to be taken anywhere… but look a little closer. All the people in the store, or outside driving their cars and sharing the sidewalk were all Filipinos, Guamese, or Saipanese (with the exception of the American men and women who are stationed there).
So, I was in Guam on December 30th, and Saipan the following day. All I really did both days was go to the beach and thaw out. That first beach picture up there was in Saipan, which was a little more rough around the edges than Guam… kind of reminded me of some of the Mexican beaches I’ve seen in the Yucatan. The water, no matter how far out you walked, never got deeper than your waist… and it was comfortable. Not bath water… but close.
You see? Even in a place like Saipan, you can have a white trash Christmas!
Guam’s beaches felt a little more resort like, with nicer hotels dotting the coast.
Both places are actually little getaways for the Japanese. Knowing which side their bread is buttered, many of the shops catering to tourists, and all the maps leading to them, were in Japanese. There really isn’t much more to say about these places… however, I did find a rather large souvenir store in Saipan, and amidst all the tropical stuff one could buy with “Saipan” stamped all over it, I found this:
Finally, I also found one business worth mentioning. If you ever find yourself in Guam and looking for legal representation with a little sizzle, then take your case over to:
T&A Associates… yeah, I’m (still) easily amused.
But hey, I just got finished spending late December in Japan! What the hell was that like? Well, it was a little of everything, really.
Essentially the Japanese think of Christmas only as a celebration. They like the decorations and music, and the stores and businesses participate with Christmas themed sales and merchandise, like the following:
I like the fact that not only is Santa concerned about the environment, but that he also has an official ranking with the military.
I’m still not sure if the red nose is for Rudolph, or for Uncle Chuck, who always seems to overdo the Christmas Schlitz… either way, it is necessary. However, in Japan Christmas is not something that starts in October, nor do they make a huge deal about buying and exchanging presents. Of course, they really don’t get into the whole birth of Jesus thing, either. Actually, the interesting thing is that in Japan, Christmas is about throwing a party with friends, and New Year’s Eve is about tradition and family, but more about that in a bit.
So, what did I do over Christmas? A little of this, and a little of that. The cast had a secret Santa game going on, with small presents given out on the days leading to Christmas Day, where the big presents were exchanged. The crew was given a nice Christmas Dinner, which was a mix of Japanese and Traditional Christmas type cuisine. In order to hedge our bets, the cast also chipped in and thus supplied ourselves with our own little Christmas dinner.
The Christmas Cruise itself was noting special. We left Yokohama on the 24th, spent the 25th at sea, then returned to Yokohama on the 26th. And this time, our path did very much resemble a Family Circus cartoon. Imagine, if you will, that the Asuka II is Billy, and his mother asked us to go to the store to get some mint jelly for Christmas Dinner… what path did Billy take?
Looks like Billy needs to up his Ritalin.
So, with Christmas Day at sea, what did I do? All of the following:
Yeah, it was a good day… but different. Having been on Asuka for this long has changed my eating habits, first of all, so I didn’t have that lethargic, over done feeling… even though I had two dinners. Still, when it comes to Christmas dessert, it would be rude of me to not overdo it, especially when I am challenged by The Man to not do so.
Other differences were the lack of college football to watch, and the lack of land outside my window. But hey, it’s all what you make of it, and it was certainly a Christmas I’ll always remember… oh, and the Shrieking Chicken? Awesome.
Of course, there was also a special Christmas show that we performed for the majority of December. Some songs I sang you would know, like “Winter Wonderland” and “White Christmas.” Others you may not, like “She” and “Christmas Eve.” I am unable to post any video, but I also sang Silent Night in Japanese… everything else was in English. The song “Christmas Eve” seems to be a big hit in Japan, as I heard it played many times in stores and restaurants. Oh, and I achieved a personal milestone…
That’s right! Ho ho ho y’all! I came through the back of the house singing a rock n’ roll-ish version of “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.” It was kind of funny, since most of the adults couldn’t bear me passing by without waving and touching my hand… the kids, on the other hand, could give a damn. One time, however, I found myself singing next to a man who might have had a little too much eggnog, and was fast asleep. So, as I was singing, I poked him on the shoulder. He woke up, looked at me, and jumped, seeing the biggest bearded gijing ever! Good times.
So, before I get to New Year’s, let me show you some more of the Japanese country side. We had a few days in Yokohama, so I ventured out a couple of times for a little sightseeing. One day I found myself in Kamakura, a little town about a half an hour’s train ride away. The two things everyone comes here to see are the Hasedera and Kotokuin Temples, the latter being home to Daibutsu (aka The Great Buddha). Normally I wouldn’t waste your time with slideshows, but take a moment and see what I saw:
As far as Daibutsu goes, supposedly he’s not the biggest Buddha in Japan, but he’s close. He was built over 700 years ago with a temple around him… that burned down 500 years ago, and he’s been hanging outside ever since. And, true to what has been posted online, walking inside him is really no big deal, but for 20 yen you can experience it for yourself! As far as Hasedera is concerned, it was the nicest temple complex I had ever seen. It sits on a hillside, and the further up you climb, the more stuff you see, like statues, caves, and shrines.
Something you can do at many of these temples is leave a prayer for someone, which can be done in many different ways, such as lighting a candle or leaving a note. Passing by the large golden Buddha in Hasedera, I came across one note worth sharing:
It’s true… we all should have a Buddha guard of our own.
Oh, the Asuka Christmas video had a brief glimpse of Mt. Fuji. Not so long ago, I was in the port of Shimizu, which is also known as the “Gateway to Mt. Fuji.” To see a brochure quality shot of the big guy, check this out:
Okay, on to New Year’s Eve, which was very traditional, very Japanese, and the whole experience very unique. Overall the word “symbology” comes to mind… for example:
There was a bunch of these suckers on display all over the ship. The colors red and white, when together, mean (I think) luck and prosperity… no coincidence that these colors also comprise the Japanese flag. In the center you see a shrimp, thought of here as the old man. Above him is an orange, which has two Japanese words associated to it, much like the color and the fruit. One word, pronounced “die-die,” is used here to mean the connecting of generations… old to young, much like the American New Year’s symbols of the old man and the baby. But it doesn’t end there.
This is soba, which is a buckwheat noodle, in miso soup (naturally). This is what the Japanese eat on New Year’s Day. Not unlike the Southern tradition of black eyed peas (which I was unable to find), eating soba on New Year’s Day also symbolizes the connection of generations… but there’s a catch here. You see, if a strand of soba equals many generations from beginning to end, it would be in bad form to chew it up. So, you slurp it into your mouth (which is not considered bad manners here) and swallow everything whole. It felt strange at first, but my mind was at ease on this occasion, since I was invited to share this Japanese meal with an ear, nose, and throat doctor… no kidding.
As far as the countdown itself, it was actually a pretty big party, especially when compared to the other, mostly low key, soirees I’ve seen thrown around here.
So we literally rang in the New Year, as you saw. Continuing with the Temple theme, the next day the atrium lobby was converted to an Asuka temple, complete with the red entry way, guard dog, and box with which to toss your yen.
That, friends, is a big barrel of New Year’s sake. The depth of the barrel only goes a third of the way down, but trust me, a stiff sip of sake during lunch the day after a night full of drinking is not exactly what I needed. I will say that yes, it was smooth… but for a culture that is not known for its drinking prowess, they sure know how to drink.
But then I got to thinking… I’ve seen barrels like this before. I asked one of the officers where this sake came from, and he said Kobe. Then I asked him if some temples make this stuff, you know, to make ends meet. He said no… but I went and looked in my stack of pictures and found proof that yeah, they do:
This was taken in a temple complex near Nagoya. At the time I thought maybe they are storing food for the long winter… nuh uh… they’re just waiting for a big damn party! And this isn’t the only picture I have… other temples seem to do the same thing.
Finally, it’s not often I am star struck, but while in Nagoya I saw a line of people waiting to get their picture taken with some important looking man. Not wanting to be left out, I waited in line and had my photo snapped with him too.
After some digging back on the ship, I found out that I had met the Mayor of Nagoya… sweet.
And that’ll just about do it for me. It’s night outside as the Asuka II continues to shake, rattle, and roll in the dark and tumultuous Pacific as we are nearly two days in to our three day trip back to Yokohama. Once we arrive, it’ll be a little more than a week before we go into our near three week dry-dock, or to put it another way, nearly three weeks paid vacation!
Keep on Livin’ The Dream,
(Enjoying a New Year’s Eve martini)