Tokyo

This post is being uploaded well after the events took place from aboard Viking Orion. The Great Firewall of China kept me from being able to publish it sooner

Our ship docked in Yokohama which is 40 minutes to an hour from Tokyo by train/subway. I had gotten a group of six of us together and requested a “goodwill” guide. These are local volunteers who guide visitors around their city for free! The tourist only pays for any admission costs, transportation during the guided period and any meals shared with the guide.

Our group was lucky that Yuko was our guide, she had been great via email and even rode all the way out to Yokohama (1.5 hours from her home) to meet us at the station about a 10 minute walk from our ship. She even sent a picture of the entrance where she would meet us. That’s her below with Phil one half of Corry & Phil).

Yuko helped us buy our tickets. Tokyo (actually all of Japan) has an extensive and interconnected mass transit system and different lines are owned by different companies. This means that our rail pass was good on some of the transit we used but not on others. Very confusing. Below is the map just of Tokyo.

But buying a ticket, while taking a little learning to figure out turns out to be relatively easy once you press the “English” button on the upper right of the machine.

After getting our tickets we road about 40 minutes to our first stop. The train as expected were crowded but while we saw them, we didn’t experience the pushers. These gentlemen cram folks into the trains during rush hours. But it was full enough for me.

Our first stop was in the Askausa district where we went up to the roof terrace of the visitor center for the view shown at the top of this post. The tall Tower is the tallest in Tokyo. From this perch we also looked down upon the Buddhist Shrine we would be visiting next.

In the picture above, the main gate is under the big roof and the green roofs are over the market street that leads up to the shrine.

Vanna is pointing out the huge lateen that hangs from the center of the gate.

As you can see it was crowded everywhere we went in Japan. The Rugby World Cup was underway and fans from around the world had traveled to cheer on their teams. This is sorta a test event for the Olympics next year. As you can see from the title picture, Tokyo is counting down the days.

The market area was originally fruits and vegetables but is now tourist souvenirs, street food and kimono rental places. Apparently it’s big business to rent tourists (particularly Chinese girls) kimonos for their day of sightseeing. We saw them everywhere in Tokyo and Kyoto. And no, we didn’t try to rent one.

After making our way through the crowds, we arrived at the temple. Mike and I both paid a yen or three and shook the metal canister to release a wooden skewer with a number on it, we then opened the corresponding drawer and received our fortune. Mike’s was great so he kept his, mine not so much so I tied it to the nearby fortune tying place so it would blow away and not come true!

The Japanese honor both Buddhist and Shinto teachings (Buddhist is about life and Shinto about that afterlife) and the temples and shrines coexist peacefully. In fact across the street from the Buddhist temple was the oldest Shinto Shrine in Toyko.

The Buddhist temple has another big gate (those are Buddha’s big sandals!) and an incensor where one waves smoke over oneself to be purified. Then you walk up the steps to the temple, throw in some coins, ring the bell to get Buddha’s attention, pray, clap three times, now and leave.

The Shinto Shrine also had a gate and we were lucky enough to be there when a wedding (or at least the pictures of a wedding) was taking place.

From the temples we rode the subway to the Ginza area where we had a traditional lunch at a little restaurant. As you can see, we were greeted warmly by even the kitchen staff! Some of our group went fully traditional and sat at low tables on the floor. Mike and I elected to sit at a table with Yoku. Given how hard everyone had to work to get up after lunch, I know we made the right decision!

I had a delicious pork, soft boiled egg, vegetables, pickles and rice dish (also great miso soup. I thought I hated Miso soup, but it’s tasty in Japan) Mike has a beautiful selection of shashmi, tofu, and other nibbles.

After lunch it was back on the train to the central Tokyo Station for our visit to the nearby gardens of the Imperial Palace. This original station is huge and beautiful. The upper floors are now a Hilton associated hotel, unfortunately we couldn’t get a room there on points but we did walk through it on the day we left Tokyo for Kyoto so stay tuned for those pictures.

The gardens were pretty but I bet they are spectacular with spring flowers or the cherry trees are in bloom.

After retiring to the station, we headed for the famous crosswalk in the Shibuya district. This crosswalk reportedly is used by thousands each day which is probably true, but I think most are there as we were as tourists and crossed it not to get to the other side, but just to cross and come back.

From the Shibya station we said goodbye to Yuko and the rest of us headed back to the ship-luckily it was a single train all the way to Yokohama so nobody got lost!

We had a great day in Tokyo and got a brief overview. While we hated to leave the ship the next day, we were excited about our Japan and China adventures yet to come!

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Great crew!

l

At breakfast this morning on Orion, Merial remembered us and Mike’s mother from our transatlantic last spring on Viking Sea. She said to Mike, there was something special your mother always wanted…I said decaffeinated ice tea and she smiled and said, that was it! Love the personal interactions like this on all cruises but especially noticeable on Viking due to only 930 passengers. Have also recognized or been recognized by the Shore Excursions Manager and two other waiters.

Aboard!

Aboard! After the longest wait ever for checking in for a Viking Cruise (8 min? LOL) we are aboard @vikingcruises Orion. I live that their ships are all the same design so it always feels like coming home! We were offered and accepted an upgrade to a Penthouse Veranda for a nominal upcharge and know we will like the extra room (see that big sofa!), the incabin booze and the ironing service! Looking forward to the next 15 days!

Transpacific Cruise

As expected the cruise was very relaxing and a lot of fun. We had a very active CruiseCritic rollcall. In addition to the usual sailaway gathering, meet and greet, slotpull and cabin crawl, a bar crawl and groups playing various card games (foot & mouth???) were arranged. I organized a cocktail hour of LRC, the $3 dice game. We had a group that ranged in size from 8-15 each day for that fun. I only won once, so I guess I made my $6 investment in the dice back!

The bar crawl/poker run was so popular that there ended up being three! The ships crew and officers were great to work with and they even provided a bartender who followed us from bar to bar and provide us unexpectedly with free drinks-of course most of us had a beverage package so probably was just easier for them.

It wasn’t all just drinking though. Our friend Elizabeth who we met while in Hamilton joined the passenger choir so it was fun to know one of the stars of the two performances. That’s her in blue and glasses smiling up at us in the 2nd picture. We hope to have dinner in Beijing with her next week. She is going to be in China visiting her daughter who is teaching English there

The big event during the crossing was the let’s celebrate not having a Friday the Thirteenth party on the day we crossed the international dateline and lost a day. Celebrity had a countdown and a balloon drop just like on New Years Eve…but it was at 11pm (maybe cuz most of us were having trouble staying up late since every day we lost an hour and therefore were waking up an hour earlier everyday?) and we actually crossed the line at 2:30 in the afternoon. But it was fun!

We enjoyed Celebrity, it was our first time sailing them in 15 years and like all they have changed with the times. They offer “select” dinner seatings (in addition to traditional fixes times) which means you got to dinner when you want which we like. And they no longer require formal dress on their formal nights. So we will definitely consider them for future cruises. We also really enjoyed the length of this cruise so highly recommend it if you have the time and need a slow boat to Japan.

Hakodate

Like Otaru, Hakodate is not the first city you think of visiting in Japan. But the ship stopped there so we did too. That’s Mount Hakodate with all the radio towers on top.

We are glad it was one of our ports-they pulled out all the stops to welcome us. From what appeared to be the retired postal workers greeting us with a big welcome banner and shouting “Haarow” to us as we walked onto the pier to the school kids places throughout the town to assist us. We understand the schools use this volunteer assistance as part of their English language courses.

Hakodate provided shuttle buses to run us the 15 minute drive from the ferry and industrial port into downtown dropping us off at the train station. This would prove advantageous later in the day.

We followed the crowds and the advice of the school girls whose answer to most questions was a big smile, a handpoint to the left and “Morning Market that way”.

What a market it was-inside, outside just everywhere for several blocks. Seafood, fruits and vegetables. But as in Otaru not inexpensive-the crabs below range in price from about $20 up to about $50 for the large one in the right.

The highlight of our market visit for me though was my non verbal interaction with one of the vendors. She and her boss were giggling and nodding my way, she smiled and came over to see how tall she was beside me. We both started laughing when we realized my walking stick was as tall as she was!

From the market we walked several blocks to the “Brick Warehouses”. These former warehouses have been renovated into shopping and restaurants. It’s a great use for these and I suspect what Otaru hopes to do with the buildings along their canal.

Thankfully Lois isn’t along on this trip as I am sure we would never have gotten her away from the shops!

We ran into some friends from aboard who were sightseeing with two of the activities director’s staff and they mentioned they were heading to have ramen in a place they knew about. Unfortunately Mike and I ate too big a breakfast and weren’t ready for lunch and later when we tried to go there the place was packed. Since the clouds were turning darker we decided we better head to Fort Goryokaku. We took the tram from downtown out to the park, about a 15 minute ride. The city sells a day pass for about $5.50 and the tourist map had great instructions including step by step how to buy the pass on the tram and which stop to get off and even pictures of each intersection on the 15 minute walk from tram to the park. The one think they didn’t explain was what a one day pass was called in Japanese. So before we got too far from all the helpful students, I asked how to say “one day pass” in Japanese. The response I got was a smile and “onedaypass”. I smiled and said yes, how do I ask for a one day pass. “Onedaypass” was again stated to me with a smile. Finally on the third try of what ended up seeming like a “whose on first” comedy act, I realized that the Japanese word for what I wanted was the English word for it’ 😂

This fort which was built to protect the port and the Magistrate’s House (Governor’s office?) in the late 1800s is one of a couple of handfuls built in this style.

It is currently a park open to the public and while pretty now is I am sure quite beautiful when flowers are in bloom.

The highlight of the park for us though was the Magistrate’s House.

This building is a reconstruction of the original main building. It was built using the exact same techniques as the original-hand made ceramic tiles which are tied with wire together, wooden decorative carvings with hand hammered metal at the gables, all the joints are notched and pegged so no nails or screws.

While I wish it had of been built to a larger scale (ole Frank Lloyd Wright would have felt right at home) it was just beautiful and the details incredible.

We were lucky enough to have one of the docents take us under her wing (I think she enjoyed showing off her great English skills and was obviously proud of the house). She told us it’s history, explained how they could only build the main portion as otherwise it would be too large for current building codes for wooden structures.

We loved the original wooden urinal and toilet-I wish we had some this beautiful today!

Below are some photographs of the exhibits relating to the rebuilding including a structural model and samples of some of the joints

By the time we finished in the park it was close to 2 and the skies were continuing to darken so we hurried back to the tram and to the train station.

We purchased (as one must) rail passes in the US before we left. In order to use the pass we had to turn the voucher we bought into the pass. We decided that might be easier at the smaller Hakodate station rather than one of the busier ones in Tokyo. So we spent our last 30 minutes or so in the city doing that paperwork and making seat reservations for the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto we will take on Monday after we get off the ship. We even got seats on the right side of the train so hopefully the weather will cooperate and we will be able to see Mount Fuji.

We made it back to the ship just before the skies opened up and unlike most nights when we laugh at the old folks who are in line at 5:30 when the dining room opens-we were with them. After nothing to eat we were hongry! And after walking 4.5 miles (on what I thought might be an easy day since there was a shuttle to town!) we also were in bed before some folks had even gone to dinner.

Unfortunately because of the early dinner, we didn’t get to completely enjoy the sendoff from Hakodate. Through the dining room window we got glimpses of all those students arriving in school buses and standing in the rain, jumping up and down and waving flashlights as we left port!

So if you get a chance to go to Hakodate, we suggest you go!