Guest blogger: Holly Melton
Mark and I have been told repeatedly that cruising is a Smorgasbord – you get just a taste of a country and can decide to go back for an in-depth visit at another time. Yesterday was our 8 ½ hour taste of Japan … and Hai (Yes), we want more!
After 6 days on the deep blue sea, it was a thrill to wake up around 5:00 a.m. and see twinkling of lights in the distance and the flashing of a lighthouse! Something so comforting about the light and land so near. By 6:30 a.m. the ship was docking at Muroran, Japan. This is a small port (hard to find on most maps – Pacific Ocean side of the bottom of Hokkaido Island), but because it’s small, they are pleased to have Princess Cruises docking here a couple times a year. It’s a big deal. No kidding! We were 2 1/2 hours early on a Sunday morning but waiting for the ship to come in were probably a couple hundred people. One enthusiastic dock worker stood in his bright orange jacket calling across the water, “Welcome to Japan”. The Australians called back from their stateroom balconies, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie – oy, oy, oy”. Such fun!
There were the officially invited personnel (bus drivers, dock workers, tour guides, greeters, high school students to practice their English on us, etc…), many of whom were waving flags. But then beyond the official area, over to the side, in a large parking, were just curious people from the community, standing in the parking lot to watch the ship come in. You could see the people taking pictures of each other with the ship in the background. Yes, we felt welcomed. It had the feel of a carnival. (No photos taken … too early in the morning for my favorite photographer to be functioning).
We took an all day tour into Sapporo – had a fun tour guide name Kimi, who gave us a lot of information as we rode the 2 ½ hours to Sapporo. She showed us this photo while talking about multigenerational families living in the same home. She was taught to make paper cranes by her grandmother as a very young child. At the end of our tour, she gave us each a crane to take home with us.
One thing off my Japanese Bucket List – we were able to pick up a bento box lunch from a rest station. While they didn’t have a variety of boxes to choose from, it was still fun to try. Kimi told us that this particular company is well known for the beauty of the foods – including the magenta colored rice. Having a bento box lunch or snack is an almost required part of the train travel for a Japanese person. Something like having milk with cookies or jelly with peanut butter in the States.
The 2 long rolls are kind of a crepe wrapped around the purple rice. Gelatin seems to be a standard – the top right corner is a berry gelatin with 2 blueberries in it for dessert. Salmon with a marinated cabbage in the bottom right.
At the same rest station, we also purchased a small bag of these fish shaped waffles with cream fillings in various flavors (strawberry crème and bean curd) from a gentleman who was making them in waffle molds as we watched. Tasty.
Much to our chagrin the tour had a western style lunch included. Being the rebels that we are, we asked our tour guide if there was any way we could eat a Japanese lunch. We were able to go upstairs to a restaurant in the same hotel and have something more appropriate (to our minds) in Japan. It was beautiful to look at and great eating for the most part. The white sticks are some kind of marinated vegetable – looks like turnips or radishes but not nearly as dense once you bite it. Mark enjoyed the flavor, but I couldn’t get beyond the mouth feel – like stewed okra – you know that kind of slime? I thought of Leighton and his love of okra … it’s just not for me.
Spent an hour or so wandering Odori Park – we caught the last day of the Autumn Festival. As you can see the weather was beautiful and the park overflowing with flowers in bloom. The Autumn Festival mostly included food booths with a German Oktoberfest theme … but fun to walk through and be with people enjoying themselves.
I learned many things about Japan in lectures given before our visit. For those of you like me and it strikes you as a bit odd when you see Japanese visitors wearing facemasks in Santa Barbara, I now have an explanation. It turns out that there are a few reasons they wear the masks. One is for those who suffer from allergies or asthma to filter out allergens – also when the air pollution levels get high. Another is that the Japanese routinely put these on, if they are a bit sick – to protect those around them from germs. Here’s a street scene that we saw repeatedly as we went around Sapporo. I can only imagine the teasing that would occur if a school kid showed up in class with a facemask in America – but it’s expected and accepted here. Great idea, huh?
My niece, Merritt, has been particularly interested in Japan and for a while studied Japanese. I kept a sharp eye out for the baby doll subculture (google it!), but was unsuccessful in sighting a person in this dress to take a photo of. I know Merritt would have enjoyed this. I do have a number of photos to show all the different street dress styles – but that’s to share with my girls when we get home.
After our time wandering around downtown Sapporo and the Sapporo Autumn Fest in Odori Park, our tour went next to the Historic Village of Hokkaido. It’s similar to places in the U.S. like Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. Historic buildings from around the island of Hokkaido have been brought together to create a village where visitors can see buildings from different eras in Hokkaido’s past. Here we are at one of the buildings, an old police station, typical of the type which are spread throughout a town, so police have a very high profile. (The policeman’s cap is provided for picture taking.) Finally, I have been hauled in for all my crimes.
Mark would not let me publish my guest blog with a picture of his favorite sight, the “old American west” horse drawn tour bus. Please note the buckaroo handling the reins. Japanese found this as much of an oddity as he did – they were taking photos also. I’ve remember learning in about the double decker covered wagons on the Oregon Trail … don’t you?
You know there are phone apps for almost everything? You’ll have to ask me about the phone app available here related to Japanese sensibilities and water saving. It’s certainly practical – but a hoot to me
8 ½ hours is not enough time to see and experience Japan. Having sat through a lecture on proper etiquette for an onse (public house at natural hot springs) I definitely must come back for this quintessential Japanese experience. Until that wonderful day in the future, it’s Sayonara for now.