Homeward bound

 

DSC01846rThe last night of the cruise – don’t know how many balloons they go through in a year, because there is a big ‘bash’ at the end of every cruise.

We’d left Akita and headed north east through the night and the following day, which was a sea day.
During the night of the sea day, which was the last night of the cruise, we entered the straits of Tsugaru Kaiko, around 1.30 am, not being a night owl z z z z z I just believed what I was told.
The Tsugaru Kaiko Straits divide the rest of Japan from Hokkaido Island, and around 3.15 am we cleared the straits, entered the Pacific Ocean, and headed for Yokohama.

DSC01849rMorning arrival in Yokohama – later we would cross the bridge shown in the picture.

In the evening of the last night we were asked to leave our heavy luggage outside our cabins. This luggage was removed during the night and the next time I saw it was in the passenger terminal. The whole operation was extremely efficient, we picked out our luggage, after which we were shown were to go for the coach to the airport. We just followed a guide and boarded the bus as our luggage was stowed underneath.

Princess Cruises offered a shuttle service (for a fee) to both airports, Narita and Haneda, but we picked Narita, because our flight would be leaving from Narita the following morning.
On researching the best way to get home I realised that we would not be able to make any morning flights from Narita on the morning that we left the ship, and that we would have to stay at an airport hotel overnight.

DSC01855rWe crossed the bridge after which we encountered traffic.

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Most of the way we were in a convoy of slow traffic and it took us two hours or more to get to Narita, which is about 100 km or 60 miles. At least it confirmed that staying over night for the following day’s flight was the correct decision.

We stayed at the Narita Airport Rest House, which was only a few minutes from the airport and the price was ‘right’ at AUD $110. The room was a good size, and it was clean, as was the bathroom, and you could see the planes but not hear them, perfect for a quick overnight.
We booked a couple of seats on the 6.30 am shuttle (five minute ride) to the airport. On arriving in the foyer at 6.00 am we were just two of quite a few. We were early, because I had a feeling that the bus might well be full at 6.30 am. The driver waved to us and we all climbed aboard and we left at 6.10 am – initiative and efficiency, because the driver would be back in time to make the first run of the day at 6.30am.

On entering Narita Airport we were surprised at how quiet it was, so we found our check-in area and realised that the airport didn’t open until 7.30 am!
I’d never experienced an airport operating on office hours. Last year we checked in at 4.00 am for a 6.00 am flight out of Sydney, and we consider Sydney to be a ‘terminus’, with a curfew, but Tokyo’s Narita would be a 24 hour airport, or so we thought.

DSC01859rcThere were plenty of very quiet planes.

After checking in, because we were business class, we were given an invitation to the lounge. We were given a map along with our invitation – it took us a good twenty minutes to get anywhere near the lounge, and we still had to ask in the end. The airport is huge!

DSC01867rWe were at gate 93, and passed four lounges (for the same airline – JAL) before getting anywhere near Gate 93 and the lounge allocated for this area. The exercise was good for both of us . . .

DSC01862rBecause of our early start we hadn’t had breakfast, so the spread was very welcoming. The blackboard is advertising some sort of food along with Mount Fuji, but self serve was better.

DSC01864rThe lounge was very nice and quiet and had good internet reception.

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It was 5.00 pm somewhere in the world, even if it was only 8.30 am in Tokyo, so I had to try Japanese bubbly.

DSC01878rFollow the leader for take-off to Kuala Lumpur, we were flying with Malaysian Airlines.

DSC01880rAirborne

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One  last shot of Mt Fuji as we left Japan behind.

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Lunchtime – my starter, smoked fish, thought I’d do the right thing because I wanted the meat dish for the main course.

DSC01891rVery apologetic cabin member (can’t say stewardess anymore), said that they had run out of the meat, but I could have the poached haddock.

At home I have fish once a week normally, so now I have two weeks free . . . . .

Because we don’t like night flying we decided to stay over night at the Kuala Lumpur airport hotel, the Sama Sama, which is a lovely hotel, having stayed there a few times.

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Hotel Lobby

Premier_Room_KingTypical Premier Room, which gives you access to the Executive Lounge.

DSC01899rThe advantage is that it includes food and drinks from 6 to 8 pm. By the time you’ve picked through the offering you don’t need an evening meal.

DSC01901rOver eating might be a problem

The following morning we check-out of the hotel and checked in for the flight to Sydney – daylight flight 9.00 am to 7.00 pm. Our ticket entitled us to visit the Golden Lounge, which is the name of Malaysian Airline’s lounge in KL.

DSC01904rIt has all been refurbished

DSC01908rHot food to order –  just ask for the type of omelette you want and the chef makes it . .

DSC01909rVarious types of food for breakfast from western to Asian; hot or cold.

DSC01919rBrunch on the plane.

I was waiting to be told that my main course was not available  . .

DSC01920rI should have had more faith – Nasi Lemak, one of my favourite Malay dishes.
Spiced just right for me – I like spice.

DSC01922rGetting close to home – the wide open spaces of Australia.

DSC01927rStrapped in the seat for landing and held the camera onehanded across Maureen – must do better next time – give the camera to Maureen, I can be an idiot when I try.

Just for my Sydney readers – from walking off the plane, through immigration, collected bags, through quarantine and outside waiting for our lift home – 20 minutes!!

About 7.00 pm on a Sunday night – never had such a fast arrival.

 

 

 

 

Tsuruga

 

DSC01619rA quiet town with a very unusual historical link.

We took a ship’s cruise, because I was unable to find a ‘walker’ guide.

DSC01625rAnother temple – Kehi Jingu Shrine, or as the locals call it “Kei-san,” I took the above photo, but as usual you couldn’t get a clear shot for the tourists :- o)

kehijingu_mainThis shot is from the Tsuruga Tourists Association site.
It is said to have been built in 702 AD. The 11-meter-tall torii gate is known as one of Japan’s three greatest wooden torii gates.

DSC01626rAs we crossed the bridge to enter we came across a bride & groom.

DSC01627rcCouldn’t get a clear shot of her because the lady in blue kept getting in the way, perhaps she was the bride’s mother making sure all was well with the dress. She did look lovely, and everyone wanted a photograph of her.

DSC01636rPart of the temple.

DSC01637rThe prayer board was not far away.

DSC01638rIt appears that as well as selling prayer boards and good luck charms, she also fixed radios & told jokes, because her customer was laughing his head off.

DSC01640rOnce again after the faithful had purchased a fortune slip, and it wasn’t what they wanted,  they would tie the slip to the line and walked away, leaving their bad luck behind.

DSC01641rThese ladies seemed to be working for the temple on a tea stall, and they were quite happy to have their photograph taken with Maureen & I. Perhaps they were the Japanese version of Mother’s Union.

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Maureen & I escaped because we wanted to see how the locals lived and we had visited quite a number of temples over the years. The above shows the local high street, which had Saturday stalls on the pavement – they were just setting up for the day.

DSC01647rThese ladies were trying to encourage us to visit their tea shop – if we’d have had more time perhaps we would have sampled their tea, but our time was limited, because we didn’t want to miss the coach.

DSC01650rPort of Humanity Tsuruga Museum

This is a museum – one that I’d never heard of, but a must for any visitor to Tsuruga.
We were not allowed to take photographs inside, so I have used the internet for those who are interested.

p_e-1-1-2sChiune Sugihara was a most unusual diplomat.

He was born on January 1, 1900 in Yaotsu-cho, Kamo-gun, Gifu Prefecture. His father wanted his high-achieving son to become a doctor, but the young Chiune desired a field in which he could use foreign languages, and at the age of eighteen, entered Waseda University’s Faculty of Education, Department of English Literature. He later passed the stringent exams for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His choosing to learn the Russian language, as recommended by an examiner during an interview, would determine his destiny.

Humanity Museum – 763 Polish orphans rescued between 1920 and 1922.

On September 1, 1939, the German forces invaded Poland and two weeks later on the 17th, Soviet forces stormed in from the east. Poland was divided and occupied according to the secret clause in the Nonaggression Pact concluded by Germany and the Soviet Union.
The Polish Jews were stranded without means to obtain approval to flee the country.  Their only escape route was Japan via Siberia.
They escaped to Lithuania but, Russian troops invaded Lithuania, and stopped the refugees from leaving.
They were now facing deportation to Siberia, so they contacted the Japanese Consul, Chiune Sugihara, to obtain a Transit Visa. The Consul contacted Tokyo for permission to issue so many transit visas – he was denied permission.
Sugihara, in an act of defiance, ignored the orders, and commenced granting visas.

The refugees who obtained the visas were then at the mercy of extreme hardship. While traveling to Vladivostok on the Siberian Railway, Russian Secret Police boarded the train and confiscated the refugees’ jewelry and watches. Many youths were arrested without reason and led away to forced labour in Siberia. By the time they reached Vladivostok and the ship to Japan, most of them had lost almost all of their money and valuables. From Vladivostok they took ship to Tsuruga.

The Jewish Escape Route lasted until 22nd June 1941 when Germany attacked Russia and the Siberian railways was closed to the refugees.

Hundreds escaped thanks to Chiune Sugihara.
From Tsuruga the refugees would make their way to Kobe, and then to China, Australia, US, Canada & S. America.
Read the links for more detail.

Across the road from the museum we were shown a diorama of Tsuruga – every boy’s Christmas wish.

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DSC01660rThe trains never stopped, the lights dimmed to simulate night and the ships came alongside, with their navigation lights lit. The ships also sailed during ‘daylight’.

DSC01664rNote the ship at sea near what looks like a lighter coloured part of the sea – this is a viewing hole. From where I took the picture one could crawl underneath the ‘town’ and pop up to take photos of the town from the sea. The images on the top right hand side are, I think, reflections of a photograph of railway workers that was behind me when I took the picture. I didn’t know of this until I arrived home and transferred the images from the camera to the computer.

DSC01665rEven the buses and the general traffic moved around and stopped at lights.

All the men from our coach were clicking like mad and admiring the whole project, but our wives went to the souvenir shop after a couple of minutes looking at the display. Obviously the politically correct unisex concept was not in anyone’s mind, so please don’t report us to the PC police.

For some reason were taken to a ‘forest’ of pine trees . . . I’ve no idea why,

DSC01671rat the same time we were shown a beach –

DSC01668rNothing like an Aussie beach as the sand was very gritty.

DSC01670rcAs you can see it was not beach weather, even for an optimist like me in my shorts . . . the top for the day was 15 c (59F), not sitting out weather.

DSC01685rOf course we had to go round another market – not too bad, because they had plenty of samples, mainly fish and various seaweed etc.

DSC01687rThis stall holder was shaving seaweed in to very thin strip from a large piece of seaweed. It was interesting to watch his skill at getting slices that you could nearly see through.

DSC01691rThey had various restaurants & cafes. Some of the tour group had lunch others just made do with the samples.

DSC01684rI didn’t receive any free samples of crab at $81.50 for one crab . . .

DSC01693rVarious types of fish mixed with herbs and  . . . can’t remember, but it smelt ok.

DSC01695rThe smaller towns do make an effort to turn out for a ‘sail away’ & wave goodbye,

DSC01696rand the band with the Manga figures as well.

The one thing that sticks in my mind is that everywhere in Tsuruga was clean – we didn’t see any litter or graffiti. Tsuruga’s zebra crossings were different – once you had permission to cross, birds tweeted as you walked and stopped as soon as the light changed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tokyo

 

DSC01255rThe symbol of Japan, the rising sun, as we enter Tokyo Bay, on the final day of our voyage from Sydney. Our ship was too large to berth in Tokyo so we had to dock in Yokohama. The two cities have expanded so much that they have become one huge metropolis.

Many of the Sydney originating passenger were leaving the ship and either extending their holiday with land based tours or flying home. Many of us were staying on board for the first Japanese coastal cruise – called back to back. As such, I thought that Princess Cruises would have offered day tours of Tokyo, but they didn’t, just two tours aimed at those passengers who wished to fly out later on the day of arrival.

The tours offered by Princess would take about five or six hours to show the main sites of Tokyo before ending at one of the airports. The cruise company didn’t offer any tours for the couple of hundred passengers doing a back to back.

The two main airport for Tokyo are Narita, opened in 1978, and Haneda Airport, which used to be the main airport and on the opening of Narita became a domestic airport until 2010. The opening of the new terminal allowed Haneda to revert to being an international airport as well as domestic – it is also called the ‘downtown airport’ as it is close to Tokyo city.

The lack of ship’s tours for those staying on caused me to research tours for Maureen and I. This was when I found out about hiring personal guides, so we hired Masaharu to show us Tokyo.

With hindsight I think we should have still hired Masaharu, but to show us Yokohama and the surrounding area, because we didn’t realise how far away we were berthed from Tokyo city.

DSC01258rThe train tickets were cheap enough, but the actual train ride was 45 minutes before we changed to another service within Tokyo city. I’d seen Tokyo some year earlier, but Maureen hadn’t, so one couldn’t come to Japan and not see Tokyo, even if it meant a long train ride.

DSC01260rOnce again the trains were spotless and the stations very clean – the above is our origin station in Yokohama.

DSC01289rStations and trains within Tokyo were as clean as those in Osaka. The use of escalators was limited and most people used the stairs. The stations did have lifts etc for those not as nimble, but when on the stairs or the escalators in Osaka we stood on the left, but in Tokyo we stood on the right.
The yellow line that can be seen is for sight impaired people so as to find their way around. The yellow line is made up of rubber ‘bubbles’ so that they can feel the bubble through their shoe or when using a cane. In the concourse areas the yellow lines followed the main direction so as to take a person to the correct platform. They had yellow ‘junctions’ to help guide people.

The Japanese drive on the same side of the road as the UK & Australia so crossing roads was not a problem for us.

DSC01265rAfter about an hour and a half of travel we eventually popped out of the metro near the Imperial Palace. The picture above is the outer moat.

DSC01268rIt was quite a walk from the moat through the royal park to the inner moat. The bridge across the moat is the one used by international dignitaries when visiting the Emperor on State visits. Like Buckingham Palace in London, we were restricted as to how close we could get to the palace.

DSC01277r Beyond the bridge used by dignitaries, is another, but there is little chance of getting any closer.

DSC01287rI photographed the fence because it reminded me of Scottish thistle. Our guide did tell me what they represented, I think it was a pine cone. The park that we walked through had many pine trees.

Another train trip to an area in which we planned to eat, Asakusa, plus it was an area to see and perhaps shop for souvenirs.

DSC01291rAs we came out of the train station it was the old meeting the new.

asakusa-rickshaw

The above picture is from the Japan Travel site.

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Lunch was at a famous restaurant Sushizanmai in Asakusa, and the owner, shown in the picture, owns quite a number, (about 30 I think) and in 2013 he paid about AUD $1.9 million at auction for a bluefin tuna, (222 kilos) the first of the season.

In Australia, at auction, people buy the first tray of cherries or the first mangos and the money goes to charity. Buying the tuna for such a high price is similar, and of course he was on national TV and radio, so the price was cheap considering the publicity for his chain of restaurants. I’ve been told that the owner of the Sushizanmai chain, Kiyoshi kimura, is one of the riches men in Japan.

Masaharu (our guide) went in to the restaurant and listed us down for a table, because the restaurant is open 24 hours a day and people are queueing outside all the time, particularly after twelve o’clock for lunch. We arrived about a 11.45 am and didn’t have to wait long before we were shown in to the restaurant.
Our table was being cleared of dirty dishes and the previous  diner was still putting on his jacket – time was money.

DSC01299crWe could have sat at the counter and watched the staff making the sushi, the process never stops, all day every day. The menu was all in Japanese (of course), but with pictures and having Masaharu with us, we were able to ask questions.

Once decided the service was very polite and friendly, and fast.

DSC01301rMasaharu and I had small battered items (not sure what was in them, but they were tasty) . The jug was full of Sake and small cups for our use. Masahaeu poured mine and I poured his, and Maureen’s. Sake is a rice wine with an alcoholic percentage of about 15%. It had been years since my last drink of Sake.

DSC01303rWe ordered a mix of sushi with various different centers and pickles, (the white item on the left). All eaten with chop sticks of course (hashi in Japanese).

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The suchi was followed by seaweed soup, I quite liked it . It didn’t taste of the sea, but it was different. Wild seaweed can be used, but the seaweed is mostly cultivated for quality and regular supply.

The meal for three of us, including the Sake and two beers (Masaharu & myself), came to about $54, cheaper than I expected.

 

 

 

 

大阪市 = Osaka food market

 

DSC01109rThe food market – many foreigners come here, just to stroll around and perhaps taste some of the local food.
DSC01108rWould you like a white strawberry – not sure of the weight, but the box will cost you about AUD $56.25

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Pre-packed lunch boxes, which reminded me of bento, which is a Japanese packed lunch either bought from a bento seller or created by a worker’s wife, for her husband or  child at school.

Bento_box_from_a_grocery_storeTraditional bento meal

DSC01112rJapanese butcher stall – it all looked very attractive, but I lost my appetite as I worked out the cost. The top one with a price of 255 yen is per 100 grams, which equates to AUD $32 / kilo. The bottom right at 280 yen = AUD $35 / kilo.

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I moved on a few stalls and checked the competition. The meat shown at 1200 yen equates to AUD $150 / kilo . . . . it was interesting to check out the food, and the meat displayed was very different to the meat in Australia – even though some of it might have come from Australia – all in the eye of the beholder.
The Japanese meat was very thin with lines of fat running through each slice. I don’t know if it would be eaten raw, à la beef carpaccio, because it looked so delicate that it might disappear if you tried to fry or grill the slice.

DSC01114rFurther in to the market and more stalls.

DSC01116rFish stalls, mainly shell fish, which is not my favourite fish food.
1500 yen is about AUD $18.75, but I don’t know if this was the price of a single crustacean or per 100 grams – the 1800 yen equates is AUD$22.50.

We came out of the market and were bamboozled with adverts, and the noise of hawkers shouting on behalf of their restaurant, and loud music from everywhere.

DSC01120rStaff are constantly advertising to encourage pedestrians to enter their restaurant – just the type of restaurant that I didn’t wish to visit for lunch.

DSC01136rAcross the way from the smiley guy was a large octopus to encourage one to visit – we didn’t.

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Perhaps a restaurant that specialises in one eyed crabs . . . we avoided this one as well

DSC01139rIt didn’t matter how big your crab was, I wasn’t interested . . .

DSC01135cI definitely didn’t want a blow fish meal . . . not sure if the sign to the left of the blow fish is for a hot dog or a nail brush.

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As we walked through this ‘mad house’ of restaurants you might find yourself on TV via a very large screen capturing shoppers and general foot traffic – Maureen was ‘captured’ with our guide, Toichi, who is on Maureen’s right.

As we came out of the market area and left the encouragements to eat in various restaurants behind, we arrived at Dotonbori canal, which is considered to be the heart of Osaka.
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As we crossed the Ebisu Bridge I snapped the canal.

GlicoThe Glico running man. He’s doing well considering, because he has been running since 1935.
If you think he is advertising running shoes or a running vest you’d be wrong. He is the logo of a confectionery company that manufactures sweets and ice-cream, so he is most probably running off the snack he had last night.

The company was founded in 1922 and the snack was an energy product that had glycogen added (which came from oysters), to it was advertised that each treat would give you enough energy to run 300 metres, which is why their logo is a running man.

Osaka_Dotonbori_Ebisu_BridgeThere were plenty pf people around when we were there, but the crowds grow in the evening. The bridge that can be seen is the Ebisu Bridge.

If you go back to the photograph that I took of the canal you will see the ubiquitous Ferris wheel to denote a shopping area. It was built in 2005, but has been out of action for some time, but is now operating again – approx. AUD $7.30 per person and a rotation takes about 15 minutes.
Ferris

The link will take you to a piece of film called Osaka at night, which is about 4 minutes long, but you can jump ahead for various views of the city taken from the Ferris wheel.

The oblong wheel is also known as the as the Ebisu Tower – Ebisu, is the god of tradesmen, fishermen and luck (prosperity), which is featured on the façade of the Ferris wheel.

 

 

 

 

 

大阪市 = Osaka

 

DSC01095rWe arrived early morning in to the port of Osaka in Japan. The weather was overcast, but it wasn’t raining, which was a good sign.

DSC00981rThe port authorities seemed please to see us. Different coloured water jets from a local tug boat.

I’d checked the cost of the ship’s tours and found them to be more expensive that I was willing to pay, so I investigated an alternative way of seeing Osaka.

I’d heard of private guides in Japan, so I researched this aspect of touring, and I am pleased that I did, because the cost of a guide for six hours was cheaper than the ship’s tour for Maaureen & I.

Because we wished to travel around by metro, we were bothered about the language barrier and that we would waste too much time trying to sort out which train etc. Our time was limited (we sailed at 6.00 pm), so we considered a private guide to be the best answer.

The guide and I decided the number of hours required, after I’d listed what Maureen & I wished to see. This chatting was all via e-mail, and very easy. Having a local, all to ourselves, enabled us to understand the various aspects of Japanese life much easier.

The small additional costs, over and above his hourly fee, were for the guide’s train ticket and his lunch. My only stipulation was that I wanted to eat at a Japanese restaurant that was not on the tourist route, but was typically Japanese.

 

DSC00988r.jpgThis is for those readers who like shopping.

In Japan, just find a big wheel (Ferris wheel), and at the bottom you will find a shopping centre. I would say that every shopping centre that we saw had a Ferris wheel attached, or very close. I hate Ferris wheels now . . . .

DSC00995rRush hour was over by the time we had met our guide, Toichi, and made our way to the local metro station. The station was spotless and I didn’t see any graffiti or litter.

The trains were clean inside & out, and if they were a few seconds late they announced an apology for being late . . . . . enough said.

DSC00996rMaureen and our guide Toichi holding a map of the rail system.

DSC01002rI doubt that we would see such a notice on Sydney rail.

DSC01004rWe changed trains from the dock area train to a city metro – still didn’t see any litter of graffiti. Our new train is arriving.
DSC01006rWe exited to rail system and made our way towards the mint (as in money), to view the famous cherry blossom.
Once we were in the area all the main sites that we wished to see were within walking distance.

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We arrived a few minute before the gardens opened at 10.00 am. All the way along  the queue guards kept us clear of the road via the orange ‘hats’. They were all very polite, but they didn’t have to worry too much as the queue was very quiet, friendly and civilised.

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The gates have opened and we moved in to the park, without pushing or shoving. To see the cherry blossom is free.

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The trees around the mint are pink blossom trees, as against the traditional white blossom. The white blossom had been early blooming this year, and as the pink blossom comes after the white, we were just in time to catch the pink period on opening day.

DSC01019rThroughout the gardens are lamps as shown in the photograph and these are lit at night, which I should imagine would add to the whole experience.

DSC01023rCrowds thinned as they spread out across the gardens.

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As we strolled through the gardens a small orchestra from the mint played music – not just Japanese, but western music as well. All very pleasant.

DSC01027rThere were a few white blossom cherry trees.

I took so many photographs I didn’t know where to start, so as to pick out just a few for illustration.

DSC01034rFor such an important event as the Cherry Blossom season the media were on hand photographing the crowds for newspapers and filming for evening TV news broadcast.

We couldn’t pick up Japanese TV on the ship’s TV system, so I don’t know if we were on TV or not . .

DSC01037rLoud speakers warned in Japanese, Chinese (Mandarin I suppose) and English, not to pick the flowers or to break the branches, and not to walk on the grass. I did notice the security people chasing  certain Asian visitors from a large country with a long wall. But most obeyed the request.

DSC01052rWe left the blossom tree area and entered the food sales area to make our way to Osaka Castle, which was to be our next place to visit.

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Not yet lunch time, but the vendors had started to cook snacks.

DSC01055rI did ask our guide what various items where, but I was more interested in the colourful display.

DSC01057rThis was a different way of cooking BBQ fish over hot coals.

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Keep the children happy with a fishing game  . . .

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Coloured dolls & stuffed toys, the same the world over.

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On arriving near the entrance to Osaka Castle we saw this train – it transported passengers to the Castle, but from where I don’t have any idea.

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Osaka Castle – we had yet to cross the moat.

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The moat was big enough to operate small tourist boats to show the castle from various positions.

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As we entered the outer area of the castle we saw this memorial.

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DSC01076rOsaka Castle

DSC01079rAs we walked up to the castle, damaged areas from the bombing during WW2 was pointed out to us. Note the black marks.

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It was massive – the picture doesn’t do it justice – the stone weighs about 130 tons.
Takoishi

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We visited a Shinto temple, which is the national religion of Japan. Buddhism and Shintoism live in peace, side by side.
According to our guide many Japanese are Shinto, but like many who call themselves Christian, it is because of their parents and the society in which they live.

DSC01089rShinto Temple within the castle grounds.

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When I saw the above display of rocks I thought it was the Ryoanji Temple rock garden, but I was wrong as the Ryoanji Temple is in Kyoto.
From what I’ve been told if you stand in the Ryoanjt garden you will only see 14 of the 15 rocks, regardless of where you stand. The symbolism being that nothing is perfect on this Earth, and only after death will we see perfection.

I tried to write the history of Osaka Castle, and keep it short – and found that it is easier to copy the Japan Guide description, after all it is their castle.

The following is thanks to Japan- Guide web site.

The construction of Osaka Castle (大阪城, Ōsakajō) started in 1583 on the former site of the Ishiyama Honganji Temple, which had been destroyed by Oda Nobunaga thirteen years earlier. Toyotomi Hideyoshi intended the castle to become the center of a new, unified Japan under Toyotomi rule. It was the largest castle at the time.

However, a few years after Hideyoshi’s death, Tokugawa troops attacked and destroyed the castle and terminated the Toyotomi lineage in 1615. Osaka Castle was rebuilt by Tokugawa Hidetada in the 1620s, but its main castle tower was struck by lightening in 1665 and burnt down.

It was not until 1931 that the present ferro-concrete reconstruction of the castle tower was built. During the war it miraculously survived the city wide air raids. Major repair works gave the castle new glamor in 1997. The castle tower is now entirely modern on the inside and even features an elevator for easier accessibility. It houses an informative museum about the castle’s history and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

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The old world and the new world as we left the castle.

Next stop is a market area – in downtown Osaka

DSC01107rThe trains are beginning to get crowded.

 

 

 

Pollwogs & Shellbacks

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The crowds start to build

Once again the Diamond Princess crossed the ‘line’ i.e the Equator. Of course this can’t be allowed to pass without a ‘crossing the line’ ceremony.
The director of entertainment was the ‘hostess’, and managed to get the audience alive with anticipation of a visit from King Neptune.

All those who hadn’t crossed the line – i.e the Pollywogs, were required to attend an initiation to become Shellbacks, (those who had crossed the line) – they were all volunteers.

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More crowds and the large TV screen for those who can’t get close enough.

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The empty chairs that can be seen are for the Pollywogs.

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Dolphins guard the pool

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Our Hostess arrives

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And shortly after, King Neptune and his wife arrived. His wife, known as Double D,  should have stood a little closer to her razor.

The whole ceremony was in rhyme, and even the jokes rhymed, which must have taken some work.

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The Italian Master (Captain) was also involved in asking permission for his ship to ‘cross the line’, also in rhyme.

He is 38 years old, happily married, and lives in Italy.
Apparently the most asked question on the ship was ‘Is the Captain married’ – and to be un PC, as far as I know, only the females asked that question.

DSC00451rcThe first group of Pollywogs are sitting and waiting their turn to kiss the fish.

‘Kiss the fish’ was the first part of the initiation, (it was a real fish). I took the above photograph of the large TV screen because I was not in a position to take a close-up of this part of the ceremony.

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The next part of the ceremony was for each Pollywog to suffer being covered in various coloured food – mainly very sloppy jelly, rice dishes or coloured custard. They used to throw the initiated in to the pool at the end, but this was stopped because of all the work emptying the pool, cleaning it, and refilling.

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At least the Pollywogs didn’t have to suffer being tarred and feathered, and they were hosed down later and given towels to clean up, before making their way to their cabins for a shower.

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In all, three rows of passengers, and a row of crew members became Shellbacks.

The heat of the day (it was around 11.30 am) drove many of us indoors. I think we actually crossed the line around 12.15 pm.
Noon ever day was signalled by the striking of eight bells, the only link with my time at sea, but the sound of eight bells does bring back happy memories.

The Captain would then give a short chat on various nautical themes, e.g from the origin of ‘starboard & port’, to why eight bells at noon.

DSC00464rc Of course everyone received a certificate, even those who had already, ‘Crossed the Line’. I crossed the line in the early 60’s . . . . . . and at that time even the airlines used to give you a certificate.

 

 

A Diamond that fades . . Pt 2

Fiji

The normal high standard of Princess cruising has, in my opinion, slipped somewhat, but for us it started last year when we sailed in the Majestic Princess from Rome to Singapore.
We have completed a total of nine cruises, seven of which were with Princess, so I think we can judge when standards are falling. It makes me wonder if Princess has a new CEO.

This latest cruise to Japan was a cruise that I really wanted to do to show Maureen a ‘foreign’ country outside the norm. The language and the signs could not be worked out, unlike Europe or ex British colonies in Asia.

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We didn’t realise that this was an advert for a game.

DSC01296rWe had lunch in this restaurant – more of this guy in another blog

My disappointment began soon after we sailed.
While changing for dinner on our first evening I switched on the TV to watch the news – neither of the two screens worked. A sign on one screen informed us that there was a technical fault. This technical fault went on and off for days, and in the end every passenger received a $50 credit – it was onboard money to be spent onboard.
Princess was hoping that the TV system would be fixed in Darwin.
The system was never up to scratch for the whole cruise. There was always something not quite right.

When you watched a film, and you wanted to save where you were up to, sometimes the system would remember the position and other times you had to fast forward to reach the point that you wanted.
None of the news channels worked in Japan and we were informed (via the TV screen) that it was due to Japan blocking the signal . . .

Our next problem was the cold water tap in our bathroom – it only gave out hot water. I complained three times, but it wasn’t fixed, so each night we placed glasses of hot water in our fridge to cool down for the morning.
We also bought cold water in bottles at $3.50 a bottle, which we wouldn’t have done if the cold-water tap had worked, because the water is potable.

After leaving Darwin the Crooners Bar ran out of Peroni beer (the Italian beer).

PeroniA day later I found out that I could get it at the Outriggers Bar. A small detail, but why not make sure all bars carry stock that is listed on the menu. A few days later I bought the last can of Guinness in the Explorers Lounge. This time I couldn’t find Guinness in any other bar – why?

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A couple of days later I was told that they had run out of Grolsch, a Dutch beer . . .

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The next one to ‘go’ was Fat Yak

Fat YakMaureen doesn’t drink alcohol, but occasionally she likes a small Champaign, which we have bought during past cruises in small bottles.

KorbelWhen I asked for a single small bottle of Korbel (187 ml) I was told that they had ‘run out’ and that the only Champaign available was in a 750 ml bottle, which was too much for Maureen to drink on her own.

More and more items were ‘running out’ so the question is, why didn’t Princess restock in Darwin – checking stock and replenishing when required is simple, regardless of quantity, every household in Australia does it most weeks. It’s not rocket science after all.

While focused on the bar area – we started the voyage with peanuts for nibbles when buying a drink.
After about a week or so the nuts stopped (they’d run out), and the nuts were replaced with bhuja mix.
Several days later this nibble ran out and were replaced with rice nibbles.
Not a killer in the scheme of things, but don’t you think someone would anticipate a certain amount of consumption with 2700 passengers?
Small things, but who is planning the consumables?

Maureen, being a coeliac is gluten free, so at breakfast in the Horizon self-serve area she ordered GF toast, which is always available on cruise ships.
The GF toasted bread was presented after ten minutes. The ‘toast’ was as hard as a rock and shattered when Maureen tried to bite in to it.
Oddly enough when GF bread was ordered in the dining room in the evening, Maureen asked for ‘well done’, yet when it arrived it was lightly toasted and a perfect consistency and didn’t shatter when handled.
Why the difference?

We did dine once in the dining room for breakfast, but this simple meal took 90 minutes from start to finish. I didn’t wish to waste my morning from 8.00 am to 9.30 am every day, so we used the Horizon buffet area, which allowed us to control the times.

A week before we reached Japan we ran out of marmalade, and I was told that an orange coloured spread was marmalade, one look and I commented that I can tell the difference between apricot jam and marmalade.

On previous Princess cruises I used to buy a ‘drinks package’ at around AUD $55 a day, (May 2017), and this allowed me to drink soft drinks & water, as well as alcohol.
The cost of a drinks package on our latest cruise was AUD $89.60 per day!
This is approximately 63% increase in prices in less than a year. Considering the cost of most drinks, without duty tax or GST/ VAT is very small, why the jump?
I didn’t buy the drinks package, nor did I deny myself during the recent cruise, and my daily drinks bill was around $53 / day, which included the 15% compulsory tips (for my convenience, of course).
Maureen’s soft drink package was AUD $7 a day, which was one and a half glasses of her favourite mocktail. That’s more like it!

Azamara cruises and Celebrity cruises often include a drinks package with their cabin prices, but if Celebrity doesn’t include the free drinks, passengers can purchase an alcohol package at a daily rate of AUD $45 / day.
Princess’ ‘nickel and diming’ program comes to mind. This is not my comment, but one made to me by an American passenger during our recent cruise.

Finally, the Princess wine package – which I only found out about a short time before arriving in Japan. Each evening I would buy a bottle of wine for dinner, and on average I’d consume half the bottle and the remainder would be saved by the steward, for the following evening. The cost of a bottle was between AUD$29 and $31, they had more expensive wines, but too expensive for me.
The wine package was explained to me that for a set amount of $161 I could buy a Silver Package, which allowed me seven bottles, which worked out at $23 a bottle. A good deal as far as I was concerned, but I wish they’d told me earlier.

Reverse wine

We’d become friendly with a couple from Yorkshire in the UK, and they decided to buy the Gold package, which allowed them to buy more expensive wine (up to $45) at a discount. Half way through their purchase time the Diamond ran out of wine between $31 and $45, and they were offered the cheaper wine as a replacement.  Our new friends were not happy.
Later we found out that the Japanese consider cruise wine around $40 a bottle to be a steal, because foreign wine is far more expensive in Japan. The next cruise was going to be a Japanese coastal cruise, and the Japanese would buy the ship’s expensive wine to take ashore.
I am not suggesting that Princess were holding back certain higher priced wine, but it appears that the Diamond had run out of another consumable.
Our twenty-two-night cruise came to an end in Yokohama and the vessel was prepared for an influx of Japanese tourists for the first Japanese cruise of the season.

We bought a back to back package, which means we were staying onboard for the first seven-night Japanese cruise.
The bar menus were changed to reflect USD prices and the drink description was now in both English and Japanese. Various Japanese beer was also listed, only it took two days for some of the bars to be stocked with Japanese beer other than Asahi.

AsahiThey sold Asahi on draft only in one bar, but you could only buy it in half pints, but you could buy draft Heineken in pint glasses, why the difference?
When I asked I was told that I could only buy draft Asahi in half pints . . . . I suppose I could have bought two half pints, but by this time I was fed-up with Princess Cruises policies.
I was told that this is how the Japanese drink their beer, and that it was a Japanese cruise – the small detail was, that of the 2700 passengers only about 500 were Japanese, and the majority were westerners or other Asian nationals, but mainly Americans, Australian & British. Who am I to argue with a barman.

SapporoI did manage to get a few cans of Sapporo, but never saw any Kirin although it was on the drinks menu.

As for the food during both cruises –  in the main dining room I suppose the best that can be said, is that it was uninspiring, and often repeated itself.

DSC01704rI can not remember what this starter was called, but from memory it was rice stuffed inside a tube, of what, I don’t know, but I thought it very bland.

DSC00972rThe menu choice was limited to fish, chicken or meat (not both), and pasta, which is one food group that I don’t like. Pasta of sorts seemed to be on the menu most nights. Cheap and easy.

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Sweet in the main dining room – layers of ice cream, looked fancy, but still ice cream.

For lunch time in the Horizon Buffet, the choice was wider for the main course, with daily choices of beef, pork, lamb and chicken as well as various fish dishes. The main negative with the Horizon was the pudding or sweet dishes. Rice milk pudding and custard, sago pudding and custard, sometimes mixed with chocolate sometimes plain, bread and butter pudding and custard (with and without chocolate), jelly and small cakes.

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Small tarts, cakes and jelly – I should have photographed the sago . . .

The last time I had sago pudding was after the war, during school dinners, when the British Government tried to give every pupil one hot meal day during the time of rationing.
I tried each of them for old time sake, and they were better than school dinners, but to have one or the other everyday was taking nostalgia a little too far.

Quite a number of Australian and Americans were doing a back to back cruises. As time went on more and more passengers that we met in the lift, around a bar or during various waiting periods for shows or trivia, complained about the food, lack of drink choices and the overall drop in service. These comments were not solicited by me, but just came out of the blue.

One American lady, who was an ‘Elite’ passenger, and had sailed with Princess on fifteen cruises and never even considered any other company, told me that the Japanese coastal cruise was her last with Princess, because of the food and overall drop in standards.

From what I heard I was not the only one dissatisfied with Princess Cruises.

The one positive aspect of the cruise was the attentiveness of the staff. Many people commented that the staff were the best part of the Diamond Princess, but that the land-based management had managed to destroy customer loyalty.