Monday, May 02, 2011

Kon’nichiwa Asuka II Part Seventeen - Oh The Places You’ll Go

At the moment we are on sea day number two of six on our trip from Japan to Singapore. Outside my cabin, the theatre techs are clearing the stage from a famous Japanese singer’s show, and outside the theatre passengers are milling about, deciding whether to go ballroom dancing in Club 2100, listen to The Namana Band in Palm Court, make believe they are gambling in our casino, or rest up for another busy day at sea tomorrow. As for me, I’m just sitting here looking at pictures.

It’s been a long road travelled on the Asuka II, about ten and a half months worth to be exact, including four continents, eighteen countries, and over fifty Japanese cities. While I would normally take the time to explain what life is like during the final weeks on board, there honestly isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said. Since we last spoke I’ve travelled a bit around Japan, mostly to places I’ve already experienced like Yokohama and Kobe, and like I mentioned earlier, the last week is pretty much a blur of sea days at an average speed of eighteen knots.

So, I was thinking… how do I put a cap on all of this? As I was looking through my pictures, I thought it might be interesting to go back and pick my favorite shot from each Japanese port I’ve visited. Since I am writing this on the fly, this could end up being redundant, as some ports I literally have nothing to say, except for… well… it was in Japan. But, at the risk of putting you through the agony of looking at someone else’s vacation photos, I am going to blindly march on. Hopefully I’ll have something anecdotal, witty, or shamelessly oblivious to say. (If you're dying to read something with a little more substance, take a gander at my Cruise Ship Blog Directory) Let’s just jump in and see what happens:



Strangely enough, I’m beginning at the end, as Aburatsu was one of the last places I visited before taking off for Singapore. Outside the ship there was some water, some land, and not much else, so I went for a jog. What you see here is a large version of a Japanese “wishing statue” for lack of better term, and I actually have one!


As you can see, this one doesn’t have his eyes colored in… that’s my job. When you get one of these things, you make a wish. When you do, you color in one of his eyes. When it comes true, you color in the other. As you can see, I never got around to it. Other things on my shelf include a “Stone Grandpa,” which can be found all over the island of Jeju, South Korea, a tiny Daibutsu, and a paper mache squid and rabbit.



This, like many of the ports in Japan, I only visited once. On this day I went for a jog and took three pictures. Seen in front of the ship is a big pile of dirt or coal. It wasn’t long after that I started to formulate my equation of the amount of fun a port can offer… that formula, once again, is:

(Size of the pier * piles of stuff on the pier) inversely equals amount of fun to be had in port


Blog Akita

During a late night, and after a Japanese meal, we found ourselves drinking tall boys of Kirin by the water. Since I was two thirds of the way there, I bummed a smoke to complete the holy trifecta of white trash.



This night we were part of the Aomori summer festival. Everyone wore pretty much the same yucata (a light kimono), and marched down the street yelling “Ra Se Ra” over and over while people beat drums and played flutes, while large, internally lit paper-mache floats nipped at our tails in the hot and sticky Japanese night.



The other big summer festival we took part in, only this time the marching was done in defined areas, and adjudicated by a group of experts. This time, the chanting was “Yac-te-sa,” but it was still unbelievably hot. You can see more pictures of both these parades, and some nifty video in part five: Dancing In The Streets.



It was hotter than hell this day, but as we sailed off, the locals still sent us off beating drums and dancing. Many ports did this, each in their own unique way.



This little girl was walking around with her parents outside a temple. I think this is some sort of child’s rite-of-passage, but I don’t know any of the details.



The view from the top of Mt. Hakodate. Located in Northern Japan, this is also the place where I had LIVE SQUID… that video is just below:

Of course, you can learn about all sorts of Japanese delights at my food blog... Oishi!



Another port, another pile of wood. The equation stands.



During this night I explored the city with a brother of a coworker of mine, and among the places I saw was the Peace Dome, one of the few surviving structures of the infamous bombing.



We visited Ito during Japan’s summer festival season, and like many cities, they celebrate with fireworks. We were anchored out in the bay, and the crew got a front row seat on the bow (which is a crew only area).



This city is best known for the bridge seen here, and the castle behind it. I forget the name of the bridge. The castle is called Iwakuni Castle, which is easy to remember. Of course, the bridge could be called Iwakuni Bridge for all I know. The foot bridge is historical and a tourist attraction, so there’s a small toll involved for getting across. The funny thing about the price of admission is that you can pay for a one way ticket, or round trip… you know, in case you decide that once you see what’s on the other side of the bridge, you might decide to stay. It could happen.



While this city has an active volcano that spouts grey smoke every 45 minutes, I still like this picture better. Below me is an American used car lot, complete with a fairly large Statue of Liberty poking out its roof.



One of the many ports we visited where we were only there long enough to pick up and drop off passengers during our charter cruise season. This one had a pretty dramatic sail in, with lush mountains and a large Buddha watching us, making sure we don’t take nothin’.



Here I am sitting with Daibutsu, one of the largest Buddhas in Japan. Kamakura is a quick twenty minute train ride from Yokohama, in case you’re ever in the neighborhood. You can see more pictures of my buddy Daibutsu, and Hasedera, by revisiting this quick video below!



Children in Japan, even the big cities, aren’t used to seeing gaijin walking around. Many times, when they are out in groups, they’ll come to me and say “hello!” over and over. On this particular day, I was walking around a shopping mall when I was literally mobbed by these kids. They were pulling my pant leg and jumping in front of me, each trying to yell “hello” louder than everyone else. While the Japanese love to flash the peace sign in pictures (and it must start at a very early age), I find it amusing that they associate The Fonz with America. That’s pop culture for ya.


One more for Kobe… Every year in December, Kobe puts on its Illumination Festival, in remembrance of an earthquake that rocked the city back in 1995. This light tunnel went on for four blocks, and the line to get in snaked around the city for, and I am not kidding here, at least twenty more.


beach 2

I’ll admit that I did not take this picture, but I was here. I took a long jog away from the ship, and after running over a long white bridge to an island, and down a bunch of cement steps, I find this little shrine atop a small craggy rock cliff looking over a crescent beach.



Was driven by my friend Akko to the next city over for a little Temple tour… best shot of the day.



This was the first festival I witnessed (although I was not a part of). Again, it was agonizingly hot outside, and while these dudes were jumping and dancing with their float, other dudes were soaking them with water. Eventually, the whole group, shrine included, marched right into the ocean.



Another summer festival destination, this city is known around Japan for having the best fireworks display. So, the Asuka II, and the other three Japanese cruise ships, dropped anchor outside the city for the special event.



Considered by many to be the most scenic place in Japan, especially during the cherry blossom season. Well, I got here by way of Osaka on March 23rd, which is about two weeks early. What you see above is the only cherry blossom blossoming in the entire city of Kyoto on that day.



In Maizuru I got my hands on a map, and hit the mother load of shrines, seeing at least half a dozen in one day, including a hike to one at the top of a mountain. Shown here is a typical Japanese cemetery, which from what I’ve seen, are usually built up a hillside.



Usually you see these guard dogs in front of a shrine, and I thought I would give him a hand.



Another day, another shrine.



Hanging out in the Nagasaki Peace Park.



Nagoya Castle. A couple of things tie together the castles in Japan, or at least the ones I’ve seen. One is that they all look the same. Two is that for some reason, America destroyed them with bombs.


Naha is a city on the island of Okinawa, but while we docked close to the city, it was just like all the rest… restaurants, department stores, shops…


and a coffee shop that’s stimulating.



You can find anything in a Yakko Yen (Japanese dollar store).



While I’ve never really mentioned it, Japan is pretty crazy about observation towers, and there are dozens of them scattered around the country. The Niigata tower, shown here, is unique in that the observatory slides up and down the tower itself.



Hanging out with a baby Buddha atop a mountain.



Some days all you want to do is swing around an authentic Samurai Bushido blade that is hundreds of years old, and has actually killed some one. Wait, you don’t do that?



Onahama, the city as a whole, loves Hawaii, and the entire time we were there hula dancers were doing their thing.



Since Osaka was my gateway to Kyoto, I didn’t really do much there… but I did visit the Universal Studios City Walk!



Here I am with my good buddy, Marimokkori.



Well, we had an overnight, and well, we were in the middle of nowhere. Took this picture as I was walking back to the ship, dejected and defeated.


Didn’t think I had anymore of these, did you?



Hell yes sea days count! I have no idea how many I’ve seen working on Asuka, but coming off the heels of the Oceania cruise, it feels like damn near a hundred. Anyway, here’s Mt. Fuji getting in the way of a Japanese sunset.



Obviously I am excited either because we are in another port where we are unable to go ashore, or because the port is full of nothing but container cranes and piles of stuff. You know what? I think it was both.



On the top of a mountain sat one of the more colorful shrines I’ve seen.



Another in a long list of towns where following your nose can be a 50/50 event. One of the only notable things I ran across during my two visits here is a somewhat elaborate entrance to a tiny shrine built at the base of a large tree.



Laurel and Hardy have found a second life selling auto parts.



Here I am with another temple. I am only showing you this picture so the city of Toba won’t feel bad, because in actuality, this is the picture I want to show you:


Now, I took this picture back in August, 2010. I thought it was just a funny looking bear with a hat, lantern, and abacus. It wasn’t until I saw a larger version of the thing in Kyoto that I realized a few things:


  1. Supposedly, it’s a raccoon dog.
  2. Supposedly, it’s a mascot for Shigaraki Ware, a brand of Japanese pottery.
  3. It has really, really, really big balls.



Every time I look at this picture, I fall out of my chair laughing. There are so many things going on with that guy… why the wig? Did he coordinate it with his tie? And the shirt sleeves? Plus, what is he looking at? Yep, when I think of Tokyo, I think of him…


oh, and the night my buddy Steve and I went out to a couple of clubs in Roppongi. After a night of drinking and dancing, the only thing left is to attempt daunting feats of dexterity on escalators. Ahhh… treasured memories.



Eating Yaki Niku with my buddy Jun, who was the first one to teach me dirty Japanese.



Ever see a vending machine with an AED built in? Only in Japan…



Here I am with my buddy Maria, lifting a parade float (like the ones I saw in Otaru and Kozushima)


Never got tired of seeing Yokohama as we were sailing in, or in this case, sailing out, and this is one of the nicest shots I have of the city.

And there you have it! Since we visited some cities only to drop off or pick up passengers and leave, I don’t have pictures of every place we stopped, but the count has got to be over fifty. But each place, even the ones that may not have offered much more than a mountain of wood or a intricate slide made out of rollers, is unique and special for its own reasons.

And now, as I finish this blog, the Asuka II is probably somewhere between Africa and Europe. I can only say that much because outside my window are trees and grass, and they ain’t moving at any speed, miles or knots. Yeah, I’ve been off the ship since April 12th, enjoying catching up with friends and family. I’ve still got some things to talk about, and a few more pictures and video to share, but I’ve taken my last picture of Japan… for now. More to come.

Keep on Livin’ The Dream,


Michael Lamendola

(Hanging out at the Yokohama International Passenger Terminal)