Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: Japan

Day 7 Kushiro 9.5.2023

We are again without WiFi, apparently due to interference with the satellite signal, quite why is not explained but we have a free morning as our trip today is in the afternoon.  We go up to the observation lounge and can watch activity around the port, Jackie is knitting and I am listening to some podcasts, downloaded when we did have some connectivity!

Whilst eating breakfast we note once again that there is a TV crew seeking to interview passengers going ashore, everywhere we have been in Japan has been covered in the local news as demonstration that tourists are back in town!  And I get the feeling that some of these places do not see much in the way of cruise ships normally anyway.

We find our coach on the dockside and we had off to the marshlands to see the once believed extinct Japanese crane.  It was believed extinct until the 1920’s when a duck hunter came back from a hunt and complained that he could not shoot any ducks due to the large number of cranes.  A conservation programme is now in place and one of the oldest cranes (39) has in the last few days given birth and we were able to see mother and offspring.  Crane numbers are now being managed.  Brown bears are also growing numbers with spring hunting now banned as that is the time when they are most vulnerable – being half asleep from hibernation.

Returning to Kushiro town we go to the fish market.  Unlike the Tokyo market I visited many years ago this is a retail market although there is a huge variety of fish and molluscs with some still alive in tanks awaiting selection for someone’s dinner.  Also in the market are vegetables and one cheese stall.  Given all the food on board we cannot eat at the market although the guide shows us how it can be done!

Back aboard we are required to visit the Japanese immigration team and we are cleared to leave Japan.  A little later we are set free from our moorings and we head out into the Pacific Ocean and with our stop in Russia removed from the itinerary our next destination is Dutch Harbor on the very tip of Alaska.

For dinner we are booked into Chartreuse with recipes embedded in French cuisine but with some slight twists.  Four courses and too much wine!  Back in our suite we find the film “Belfast” which gave a child’s eye view of the start of the Troubles in 1969.  I will admit that I was distracted by the inconsistencies; the road block at the end of the street when it suited the story and then removed completely when it did not match the narrative.  And TVs young King Arthur from a few years ago is a baddie as a protestant enforcer!

We lose an hour tonight as we are on 23 hour days for a while!

Day 6 Muroran 8.5.2023

When we wake we are still waggling through the waves, passing a variety of islands as we head towards Muroran where we berth soon after breakfast.  Our excursion is not until lunchtime so we have a quiet morning, my hope was to be able to download a number of podcasts and listen to them and catch up.  However the Internet is unavailable and the TV system which is reliant on network services is also not working!

In the absence of the web I can listen to some of the stored recordings, eliminating the downloaded backlog of Archers episodes but my plan to listen to the weekend podcasts is scuppered.  Using Evernote can be annoying in that the notes written are locked away online and cannot be accessed either or updated from Wikipedia!

Our trip today is not connected to Japanese history but instead is to look more at the countryside with a visit to Chikyu to see the view over the lighthouse and often, we are told, to see dolphins but the latter are not in evidence today, perhaps off put by a chilling wind.

We then move onto Mount Usu which has a “ropeway” to the summit of the volcano.  It turns out that this is a cable car with a capacity of 96 passengers to take us to the higher level, a long way from a “ropeway”.  To reach the volcano crater is over 100 steps and my lungs struggle with taking the steps at a normal pace.

An additional point of interest is an adjacent hillside which during earlier volcanic activity had turned in two years from a flat wheatfield to a 400m mountain as evidenced above.  It is slowly cooling and is now slowly reducing in height as well as trees slowly growing up the hillsides as they cool and in a few years will be completely covered.  As it is a cool day we are able to see the escaping steam but that is not usually so obvious.

The main volcano erupts on average 4 times a century but looks quiet at present however as the last eruption was in 2000 it cannot be long!

We return to the ship.  Our sliding door has been secured with vast amounts of gaffer tape, which means that the balcony cannot be accessed, but then it is not really warm enough!

Day 5 Sendai 7.5.2023

We awake in another industrial port and our tour guide proudly announces that he has just been interviewed by the local tv news as we are the first cruise liner to use the port.  A quick passport check as the scanners are working today despite the rain!  Yes, rain.  Indeed not just rain but significantly lower temperatures as well, we have rapidly moved from a beautiful May day as per the guide in Tokyo to a dingy,  murky May day.

In Sendai we are retreating further into Japanese history with the visits in connection with a significant leader early in the 17th Century.  There is a statue of Date Masamune at the site of Sendai Castle, which along with most other castles in Japan was destroyed at the time of 19th Century revolution.  There have been three castles in the area of growing size and importance but little remains of any of them.

Date Masamune had lost an eye to smallpox plus he wore a crescent shape on his helmet marking him out as a huge warrior.  He was also aware of the external world sending a mission to the Pope and encouraging trade (no doubt much to his personal benefit).  His personal appearance no doubt being significant in later film and other representations!

Some excavations have identified the shape of the Great Hall of the castle which is marked out on the ground but only a map of the remainder of the layout exists.  Some of the walls remain but we arrive by an indirect route as one of the walls has collapsed following an earthquake.  Most of the surrounding area is now part of the local Tofuku university which is in the top three of Japanese universities.

Our second site visit is to shrine.  By now it is quite wet so we do not join the main group to walk down to the main entrance and back.  We retreat into a room and watch a video of various festivals held at the shrine.

Back on board a light lunch and then we retreat to our cabin.  Once we set sail there is a strong whistling noise around the sliding door and we report it to reception, this will be an ongoing saga!

Day 4 Hitachinaka 6.5.2023


Having sailed overnight we dock at Hitachinaka this morning and we gather for our first shore excursion (the vast majority of which are included in the pricing) which is to some sights in Mito City where the Mito clan was based.   The Last Shogun leader married into the Imperial family and lived in Mito establishing an orchard of plum trees and cherry trees plus there is a bamboo growing area.  The garden has such a vibrant display that Kaikuronen station only opens seasonally to allow visitors easy access.

Tokugawa Yoshinobu also established a Samurai school where young warriors were trained but following the revolution, where he was the leader who capitulated to the revolution leaders, they held him prisoner in a single room of the school for some months.

No doubt given his familial links to the re-established Imperial family, his decision to convert to the Shinto religion (from Buddhism) and perhaps a wish for reconciliation the Emperor granted him special status and enjoyed a long life (also perhaps recognising that his actions prevented a bloody conflict), with a brief version of his timeline as follows:
28 October 1837 Born
29 August 1866 Becomes Shogun
3 January 1868 Resigns as Shogun
22 November 1912 Dies

We return to our ship and consume coffee and cakes as a very light lunch.  The main activity this afternoon is a presentation by three ladies demonstrating geisha dance, an art form which is being revived as the number of practicioners had reduced to very small numbers.

We dine well and then have a couple of drinks in the observation deck, although in the dark there is nothing to observe.

Tokyo Day 3 and Sail Away Friday 5.5.2023

Friday is a day of two halves.  The morning is our last two visits to Tokyo sites and then we journey on to Yokohama port to board our cruise ship.

As we were shown earlier in the week the Buddhists have temples, the Shinto religion has shrines and our first stop this morning is the Meiji shrine.  The shrine, located in Shibuya, honours Emperor Meiji, although his tomb is elsewhere.  He was notable for opening Japan to western influences and outside the shrine this is reflected in there not only being, as with most shrines, a range of sake barrels, but also a range of wine barrels with some of the historic wine brands of which the Emperor was an early Japanese consumer.  He ruled from 1867 until his death in 1912 and was responsible for the transformation of Japan during that period.

Our next stop takes us back to the warlord era at the Hamarikyu gardens adjacent to Tokyo Bay where the waters are a fresh / sea water mix and replica Japanese tea houses have been constructed.  In the 17th century the land was reclaimed from Edo bay and a warlord villa constructed along with gardens.  It has been a public space since 1946 and the teahouses have been reinstated in the current century.  It is warmer again today and I was extremely pleased to find a water fountain adjacent to the toilets before we depart.

Rejoining coach 1 we are therefore first to reach the Hammerhead pier where the Regent Seven Seas Explorer is berthed.  First however is a need for a health declaration, no coughs, no sneezes, no covid.  Boxes ticked and we are moved to a seried rank of seats to await being summoned onboard and check in.

Once through check in we head to deck 11 to get a first taste of the dining facilities (not found wanting in the slightest) before descending to our suite with the first bag already delivered awaiting our attention.    The other two soon arrive and we slowly unpack and get ourselves organised.

Between the bathroom and bedroom there is a walk in wardrobe and we manage to fill the hanging area with our clothes plus there are enough hooks for our coats!  And there is room under the bed for the three now empty suitcases.  Beyond the bedroom there is a lounge space and finally a balcony, although weather expectations are such that it may not see much use!

A welcome drink (and canapés) in the observation saloon are consumed as we sail away prior to descending to the main dining room for an excellent meal.

It is noticeable from the guides that we are some of the first travellers seen in Japan since restrictions have been lifted and they are glad to be closer to normal.

Tokyo Day 2 Thursday 4 May 2023


This image taken from without permission

Our trip today seemed more like ordered mayhem than a managed sightseeing trip.  Apparently Tokyo loves rules and the application of those rules meant that we could not partake in seeing the  bridges above on the edge of the Imperial Palace.  The time for arrival at the drop off point in Ginza is strictly regulated and we were nearly 5 minutes late.  The initial consequence was therefore insufficient time to walk from coach to the above viewpoint and return on the only stop between the hotel and Ginza.

In Ginza we were taken to the Kabuki-za theatre and shown the basement of market stalls and then taken upstairs to a little garden and a display in remembrance of a famous actor.

We return to the centre of Ginza where the Wako department store is now very obviously the oldest buildings visible in any direction.

In Ginza 6 we find a Starbucks for some coffee and something to eat.  The Starbucks seems to be inside a bookshop, yet on careful observation there is another branch of Starbucks within this branch of Starbucks!  Very strange.  And busy with all seats occupied, we grab two stools at the counter.

Regaining the coaches is similarly time limited but then I must admit to snoozing most of the way back to the hotel.  Time to repack our cases as tomorrow we board our cruise ship and sail away.

Before we do our dinner tonight is a Chinese meal, again in our hotel.  This is not as good as the meal the previous evening.  The cases are outside the room ready for collection.  Let us hope for better sleep or at least more of it.




Tokyo Day 1 Wednesday 3 May 2023

Waking in the middle of the night notwithstanding, we are woken by the alarm. We hit peak breakfast time which means waiting for the buffet to be replenished!  The interruption at 2am was a text message allegedly from a grandson suggesting that I join “Snapchat” – as if it was likely to be of interest or relevant. 

A morning coach trip takes us to the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa and although not early Tokyo seems much quieter than I had expected until reminded that we are in the middle of Golden Week where holidays happen on alternate days and are then bridged with holiday days allowing a week’s break from work.

Needless to say the Temple is very busy and the walk up through the adjacent street is consequently very slow as we are walking against humanity flooding in through the main gate by the nearest station.

It is, our guide assures us, the best time of year to visit Japan.  Warm, but not excessively hot, not raining and a pleasant day all round.

Our return from the Temple is an extended tour through some key Central Tokyo districts.  First Ryogoku which contains the headquarters of Sumo and a major stadium which hosts week long competitions six times a year. Then onto Akihabara, once the electronics centre but which has moved with the times and is now the manga comics and games centre.  We pass Tokyo Central station before heading towards the Imperial Palace, then seeing the Diet (Parliament building) and both the 1962 and 2021 Olympic stadia. 

Our guide implies that Ginza has been overtaken by Shibuya as a shopping area and the latter certainly has many designer name shops.  It is more famous for the “Scuttle Crossing” and as we approach we are treated to a demonstration as hundreds of pedestrians walk in every direction possible for 50 seconds.

We return to our hotel in Shinjuku not far from the station of the same name.  The station is the busiest in the world with an average of 3.5m passengers a day, which implies something like 12 times the annual numbers passing through Waterloo!

Later we partake of a tenpanyaki dinner in the hotel.  Excellent dinner even if a little expensive. 

Earlier having completed the tour we were tested for covid.  Initially advised that results would return in a hour, later revised to four hours but we are both much relieved to collect two negative results.  We can board the cruise ship on Friday. 

2023 Starts Here

Over five years since the last post and a lot has happened – many holidays took place and quite a few did not.  Hardly surprising given the intervention of a pandemic and the consequent disruption to holiday plans.

Long ago in 2020 we booked this trip.  Initially to commence in April to see the cherry blossom and with a stop in Russia along the way.  The trip was redated to May, the Russian stop expunged in the light of the invasion of Ukraine and another day shaved off the schedule to satisfy the timetable of the ship’s later cruises.

As we are sailing from Yokohama we have to first get to Japan.  Once at Heathrow it is to JAL for check in!  As a traveller in front has a lot of luggage we get redirected to the first class check in, but regrettably not the first class cabin.  Security does not take long and we had for the Qantas Lounge.  The quality of the snacks is lacking so we decide to visit the Cathay Pacific lounge.  Champagne and samosas gets us off to a good start!

90 minutes to kill is enlivened by an advert for a play at the Donmar Warehouse and after a brief discussion we also book Corrigans for dinner.  Waiting time at airports is obviously online shopping time.  I am relieved when our flight is announced.  We board and pull back from the stand on time.  It is about 30 minutes before we take off and start heading east.  It soon turns dark outside.

We are heading for a variety of ‘stans plus Mongolia whilst the on board system thinks we are going to overfly Russia.  Amusingly like a car sat nav it keeps showing an immediate left turn is needed to achieve the desired route whilst like me the pilot is no doubt saying that he knows he is not lost!   Once in the air I sequence a number of radio recordings and podcasts.

So having eaten dinner I have just worked out that it is really about 6am, future time.  Somehow I think it is time for some sleep.

Not enough hours later I wake, somewhere “near” Ulan Bator according to the maps, but with about four hours flying time still to go.   Looking at the map later as we fly over South Korea it is noticeable that there are lots of small turns as we are presumably following a more tightly defined route and not simply taking a route akin to a great circle.  Just past Seoul we turn left and then right again.

I stopped the podcasts but on restarting then realise I am half listening half sleeping through the last item I had sequenced and realised that I have missed large chunks of the various podcasts.

About 40 minutes before landing I manage to destroy the calm as I have lost my passport which I thought was in my jacket but it was in the zip pocket on back pack, but not before absolute panic descends as the JAL 777-300 also commences downwards.

Passport found in zip pocket of backpack and calm returns.  In less than an hour from touchdown we are waiting departure in our coach.  Much of the coach ride is in tunnel as we head from Haneda to Shinjuku Hilton.

Check in, order room service burger and then some sleep.