October 23, 2018 – Sea Day

On this sea day we attended several lectures on a variety of topics. The first was a lecture by Ambassador Krishna Rajan on the Rise of China and what it means to the world. His opinion was that it would not be possible to stop China from growing at this point but that the world would need to learn to keep them at bay. The second item of note in his opinion was the fear that China’s economy would stall and create an international crisis. China has been spending an incredible amount of money around the world creating a huge deficit.

Next, we attended a lecture by Ian about the Secrets of the Forbidden City. He spoke about things to see in the forbidden city and said that the government was in the process of building an underground museum at the site as well as restoring many more buildings in the complex. The construction is expected to be completed by 2021 at which time many more structures within the forbidden city will be accessible to tourists.

In the afternoon we attended a lecture by Captain Thomas G. Anderson about the Coastal Megacities of Southeast Asia. Most of these cities are located along the coast and over time more and more people are moving from farming to cities for work and a better way of life. This trend is expected to continue causing more and more megacities to be built.

Next, Ian had another lecture on Temple Etiquette and the Statues of Buddha.  He spoke about the many different poses you would find in the Buddha statues and what the meaning of the poses meant. He also spoke about how to dress, point and about not wearing shoes in temples as a means of respect.

In the late afternoon we were invited to a cocktail party hosted by Tom, the host of our travel agency that is onboard. They served drinks and appetizers for about an hour and we were able to meet a few more folks traveling with our group onboard.

For dinner we met up with Clydie, a woman who is traveling with our group and we met in L.A. the night before we boarded the ship. Along with her were two assistant cruise ship directors. Kass from Australia who runs the library and the book club and Amanda who is from Washington State and does many of the onboard exercise classes.

The evening’s entertainment was a second show by Jo Little the great vocalist and comedian. We thought that her show on this night was funnier and more entertaining and the audience appeared to be laughing more.

October 22, 2018 – Sea Day

This was the first of two sea days on our way to Tianjin, China, the gateway to Beijing. The weather was considerably cooler and the skies were gray once again. We were so lucky to have beautiful sunny days while we were in Japan.

Two new lecturers are onboard for another round of interesting and thought-provoking topics. The morning featured Ambassador Krishna Rajan who spoke on “How China sees itself and the world.” He outlined China’s plan for retaking control of the world through several means. The first is the construction of a new rail system along the route of the old silk road. They have also developed and paid for the construction of ports throughout Asia and Europe. They contribute billions of dollars to assist foreign countries with infrastructure to help them become self-sustaining and in turn need more products from China. China continues to build islands in the China Sea to expand their border lines. China wants to take back control of territories lost over the last century as a buffer zone against the rest of the world.

Ian gave a lecture on things to see and do in Tianjin and Beijing. He also gave a lecture on the word “Kamikaze,” its history and meanings today. Kamikaze in Chinese means Divine Wind and it once referred to soldiers willing to make suicide missions on behalf of the ruler. Young men would fly into harm’s way to drop bombs, risking their own lives to assist the country. Today Kamikaze is used to describe all things from drinks to rides at the local county fair.

In the afternoon a new lecturer, Navy Captain Thomas G. Anderson, spoke on “China and the Geopolitics of their Inland Waterways.” He discussed all of the waterways in China and how they play an important part in the success of the country. Waterways are vital to the success of any large country to expand inland and to transport goods.

During the cocktail party, a fellow passenger, Peggy, came up to us and suggested she had had her eye on us since embarkation and wanted to talk with us. (Think she thought Mark was a movie star or something.) She was very complimentary and hoped we could talk more with her during the cruise. We said we were happy to do so.

The evening entertainment was an Amsterdam Singers and Dancers Show called Rule Britannia! The show was a musical look back at the past fifty years of the UK’s pop history. The show included songs from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to current artists like Coldplay and Adele.

October 21, 2018 – Fukuoka (Hakata), Japan

Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine

Bridge at one of the shrines

Performing Monkey

View from Fukuoka Tower

Oiyama Race

This morning the weather was glorious with sunshine and warm temperatures. We transited the Kanmon Strait this morning between two of the main islands of Japan transiting from the eastern shores to the western shores of Japan. The narrow strait is heavily trafficked with cargo ships and many industrial sites along the shores. We arrived in Fukuoka about noon.

Fukuoka is located on the northern shore of the island of Kyushu and is the most populous city and metropolitan area on the island with a population of about 2.5 million people. About 1.5 million of those live in the city. This area like so much of Asia has a humid subtropical climate with hot humid summers and relatively mild winters. This city sees an average annual rainfall of 63 inches mostly between the months of June and September. The humidity averages 70% and about 40% of the year it is cloudy. Fukuoka is Japan’s youngest major city and has Japan’s fastest growing population. Many universities–both national and private–exist in the area and is home to about ten thousand international students.

The shore excursion we took on this day was called “Kushida & Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrines and Fukuoka Tower.” We first drove to the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine where we walked about 15-20 minutes to reach the shrine from the parking area through a pedestrian only shopping street. The shrine was dedicated in 905AD to scholar Sugawara no Michizane commemorating a Heian official renowned for his learning and his purity of heart. The current shrine dates to 1591 and is a classic example of Momoyama Period architecture with its elegant, Buddhist-inspired bridges, serene ponds and ancient camphor trees. Michizane was so admired that there are now 12,000 shrines dedicated to him across Japan. This famous shrine to him is well known for its 6,000 plum trees that blossom in the early spring. Of note was the trained monkey performing tricks like walking on stilts and jumping from one platform to another. The monkey and its trainer gathered quite a crowd and many people put coins in his hat after each show.

We then continued to the Kushida Shrine in the heart of Hakata, passing through the Tenjin Business District on route. The shrine is very ornate and featured a lot of unique structures, shrines and garden areas. Founded in 758AD, the shrine is the starting point for the Oiyama race that ends the city’s annual summer festival on July 15th each year. Competing in the race are seven teams, representing different boroughs of the Hakata district of Fukuoka. The members of each team are clad in nothing more than a simple loin cloth and a short coat. The teams compete to carry a portable shrine along a five-kilometer course lined with cheering spectators who douse them with water. It takes around 30 men to shoulder the one-ton float, which is weighed down further by the team members sitting on top of it and shouting out directions and encouragement.

At birth and ages 3, 5 and 7, Japanese take their children to a Shinto Shrine to ask for good health and life. We saw many young kids dressed in beautiful Kimonos at the shrines for this occasion with their proud parents. Often the grandparents are with them and the entire family is dressed up for these special occasions.

We then visited the iconic Fukuoka Tower, considered a city landmark, it’s Japan’s largest seaside tower. Standing 767 feet tall, it is quite a sight, covered in 8,000 one-way mirrors that reflect the sunlight and passing clouds. At night the exterior of the tower is illuminated with changing lights depending on the season. Currently the lights represented Halloween that has become very popular in Japan. There are three observation decks including one for dining, each boasting 360-degree views of the area. The Tower functions as a broadcast antenna for TV and radio networks.

After dinner we enjoyed another short presentation of six Geisha’s. Four were dressed in the traditional kimono with white faces and red lipstick while the other two sang and played the guitar like instrument. The dances are called Tachikata Dances and the stories they sing are about love, sorrow and nature.

October 20, 2018 – Kochi, Japan

Kochi Castle

View from the top of Kochi Castle

Katsurahama Beach

Kochi Food Court

Kochi Food Court Stall

The weather on this day was absolutely perfect with clear skies and temperatures in 70’s.

Kochi is located on the island of Shikoku and has a population of about 335,000 people. The city is exposed to the Pacific Ocean making it the most typhoon prone major city in Japan. It has twice received over 20 inches of rain in a single day from typhoons.

The tour we took on this day was called “Kochi Castle & Katsurahama Beach.”  Our first stop of the day was at the Kochi Castle Museum of History housed in a very modern building across the street from the Kochi Castle. The museum houses a collection of some 67,000 historical materials and artworks. We visited the third floor of the museum where they had a variety of artworks and information on famous people from the Kochi Prefecture during the mid 19th-Centruy.

Kochi Castle, the city’s most famed landmark, dominates your views from any vantage point in town. Built by Yamanouchi Kazutoyo following the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, the massive castle took more than 10 years to construct. In 1727, some of the fortress was destroyed in a fire, but later, in 1753, it was reconstructed with the “donjon” and the splendid Otemon Gate remaining as originally constructed. Kochi Castle has undergone several preservations over the years, but it has retained its original Edo period architecture and the integrity of its architectural style. The main tower of the castle was quite spectacular, all built of wood and six stories tall. We climbed the steps of interior staircases to the top to enjoy the great panoramic views over the city. Inside, many of the ancient rooms are not accessible to the public, but we were able to visit a small museum in the castle with a small collection of cultural artifacts.

We passed the beautifully-restored Tsumemon Gate that connects the second citadel of the castle to its inner sanctum.  We then visited the honmaru, or wall or ring of defense, preserved in its original entirety, with unique holes for guns, pouring hot oil and arrows.  All of the structures in the honmaru are designated as Japan’s Important Cultural Properties and house both local and historical treasures. Back outside, we strolled the castle grounds, now a popular public park, dotted with magnificent statues of the Yamanouchi family.

A 30-minute scenic drive took in some of Kochi’s popular sights, including the Harimaya Bridge that is the subject of a popular folksong, and the Harimayabashi Shopping District, which sports a wooden arcade and a large mechanical clock. At the shoreline we visited our next destination, Katsurahama Beach. Famous for moon-viewing parties, the beach is home to a monument commemorating Sakamoto Ryoma, one of the founding fathers of modern Japan. He is credited with spearheading a bloodless revolution to transform feudal Japan into a modernized, unified nation.

We were given time to explore the picturesque beach area. In addition to the beautiful scenery and pleasant walking paths, there was a small aquarium, a small shrine and other attractions that the locals come to enjoy.

We had a four-course dinner in the Italian specialty restaurant onboard called the Canaletto with some of the folks from our travel agency. They invited all of their customers to dine on a variety of evenings and ours was on this night. Following dinner, we enjoyed Australian Sony music recording artist Patrick Roberts in a show called Prince of the Violin. He was accompanied by the Amsterdam show band and played a variety of music form Frank Sinatra to the Beatles and Les Misérables to Led Zeppelin.

October 19, 2018 – Kobe, Japan

Nijo-Jo Castle

Kinkakin-Ji Temple

Heian Shrine

Heian Shrine Gardens Bridge

Kobe is located on the southern side of the main island of Honshu and is the sixth largest city in Japan with a population of about 1.5 million. Kobe was one of the cities to open trade with the West following the 1853 end of the policy of seclusion and is known as a nuclear-free zone. In 1995 the Great Hanshin earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter Scale left more than 6,000 dead and 212,000 homeless. Large parts of the city and the port were destroyed diminishing much of Kobe’s prominence as a port city, but it remains Japan’s fourth busiest container port. The city is the point of origin and namesake of Kobe beef.

Here we took a tour called “Kyoto, the Ancient Capital”. Kyoto has a profound history and rich tradition representing the soul of Japan. Kyoto was the capital of Japan before Tokyo was the capital city. Our tour began with a 90-minute bus ride from Kobe to the ancient capital of Kyoto where we set out to discover some of Japan’s best-known sights. Our first stop on the tour was the ostentatious 1603 Nijo-jo Castle, complete with “nightingale” floors that were designed to squeak to warn the inhabitants of intruders. The castle was completed on orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu who unified Japan after a long period of civil war, and ushered in a period of over 260 years of peace and prosperity. The government that Ieyasu established lasted for 15 generations and was one of the longest periods of stability and prosperity in Japanese history. In 1603 Ieyasu came to Nijo-jo. Priot to that he was appointed Shogun following the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. The Nijo-jo Castle served as his Kyoto residence on the rare occasions when he visited the Imperial Capital. When the Shogun was not in residence the Nijo Zaiban samurai guards, who were dispatched from Edo (Now Tokyo), were garrisoned at the castle. In 1867 the political rule by the Shogun came to an end and the power was restored to the Emperor.

The castle was granted to the City of Kyoto in 1939, was registered on the UNESCO Heritage List in 1994, and in 2011, underwent full-scale restorations.

The Ninomaru-goten Palace (within the Castle) was absolutely beautiful with six connected buildings and was within the larger walled compound of the castle and gardens. We were required to remove our shoes for the tour of the palace to protect the floors and it is in excellent condition. The palace contains 3,600 wall paintings dating back to 1626 although many have been replaced with copies and the originals moved to museums for safe keeping. The floors of each room are covered with finely woven Japanese mats while the ceilings and walls are elaborately painted. There are also many finely carved wooden transoms between rooms.

For lunch we were taken to a very large restaurant called the Fortune Garden Kyoto Restaurant within what was once a hotel built in the early 1900’s. Here, on the third floor we were treated to a lovely buffet lunch of grilled vegetables, chicken, pork belly, salads, desserts, and more. At the rear of the restaurant there was a secret garden of sorts with a pond filled with large all white koi fish. The garden featured very tall, thick bamboo stocks and flowering ground flowers.

Next, was the Kinkaku-ji Temple, originally built in 1397 as a retirement dwelling for Shogun Yoshimitsu, then reconstructed in 1955, faithful to the 14th-century design. This Zen Bhuddist Temple is said to contain relics of Buddha. Elaborately covered in 22 karat gold foil lends the structure an almost-gaudy appearance, as well as being appropriate for its name — the Golden Pavilion. The temple is built on a lake within a stunning garden filled with Japanese maple trees, meticulously manicured pine trees and many flowers and shrubs.

Kyoto’s 1,100th birthday was celebrated with the construction of the Heian Shrine. This temple was unlike any others we have seen in that it was painted in a Chinese style with a bright red/orange color and a green tile roof. Surrounded by gardens, this two-thirds scale model of the Heian Imperial Palace features a Chinese-style covered bridge. The gardens were divided into four sections representing the East, Central, South and West. The main features of the gardens are the cherry blossom trees although this was not time for them to bloom so the trees only had bare branches. The gardens included many water features, streams and lakes.

The evening’s entertainment was Lifford Shillingford who was a semi-finalist on this year’s Britain’s Got Talent. This was only his second cruise so he was a bit nervous and bouncing all over the stage but there is no doubt that he has a great voice and can sing. His selection of songs were mostly soul songs.

October 18, 2018 – Shimizu, Japan

Shizuoka Sengen Shrine

Shimizu is about 25 miles from the town of Tokyo and has a population of about 35,000 inhabitants. Since ancient times, Shimizu has thrived and prospered as a harbor town due to its natural harbor. In 1899 Shimizu was established as an open port for trading with the

Shizuoka Sengen Shrine

Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu Statue

Momijiyama Japanese Garden

Mt. Fuji

United States and the United Kingdom. Shimizu port is a major commercial fishing port as well as handling tankers for imported natural gas and handles more than 250,000 containers each year in products. The area is known as a producer of Japanese Mandarin oranges, roses and green tea.

Our tour on this day was called “Sunpu Castle Park and Views of Mt. Fuji”. We stepped back in time to explore the key historical sites of Shizuoka. We began at Sunpu Castle Park, built by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1585 where we viewed the ruins of this Edo-period castle. We saw its stone walls and moats, the East Gate and guard tower that were reconstructed using original construction plans. The main site of the castle is now being excavated and was mostly closed off. We saw a bronze statue of Ieyasu and an orange tree believed to have been planted by him.

Next, we headed to the Momijiyama Japanese Garden, located adjacent to the Castle Park. The park has four landscaped gardens to represent each of the four seasons and a traditional teahouse. The grounds of the park include a beautiful lake, an iris garden, camellias, a pine grove and a grass covered mount made to represent Mt. Fuji.

Next, we were off to Shizuoka Sengen Shrine — a complex of three main architectural buildings. The shrine features an extensive collection of artifacts from the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan. The guide that we had today said that the Shinto religion has about 8-million different gods. The buildings here were more ornate than many we have seen and were more colorfully painted. The interesting thing to me is that these temples are not actually used for the people to enter but instead to pray outside of the temple and leave a donation. On the rare occasion of a birth or wedding one can arrange for the priest to take you into the temple for a special prayer although this requires a significant donation which may not be published.

Our last stop was at the Miho-no-Matsubara. This is a picturesque pine grove along the eastern coast of the Miho Peninsula designated as a spot of scenic beauty. We walked about 1/3 of a mile down a boardwalk nestled amongst the pine trees to the rocky beach to try and capture the illusive Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately, our guide let us know that she is a bit shy when handsome men are in her presence and she hides behind the clouds. This day was one of those days when she was hiding.

When we returned to the ship the local heritage organization presented a geisha show on the main stage. They showed us several dances performed by two young girls in white powdered faces and elegant and ornate kimono dress. They also wore hair pieces that you see depicted in photos with the hair up in a very structured curves and flowers attached. Two older women accompanied the girls with one playing a small string instrument and the other singing along.

We saw a documentary called “Walk with Me” about the Zen Buddhist monks and nuns who have dedicated their lives to mastering the art of mindfulness with their famous teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.

Dinner was a Gala night with a Kimono theme so many of the women dressed for the evening in Kimono. Some of the gentlemen had kimonos as well and the dining room was decorated with an Asian theme. Each place setting had a colorful bamboo placemat and chopsticks. Small bamboo plants were on each table and the chairs were covered in red and black fabric to match the napkins.

The entertainment was a singer and comedian from Britain by the name of Jo Little. Her name fit her size as she is a petite woman but she has a wonderful voice.

October 17, 2018 – Yokohama, Japan

Tokyo Street Corner

Nezu Jinja Shrine Gate

Nezu Jinja Shrine Grounds

Nezu Jinja Shrine

Fukagawa Edo Museum

 

Kiyosumi Gardens

The weather on this day started out beautiful with sunshine and temperatures around 70 degrees. By the end of the day it began to rain slightly and the skies had turned gray and dark. The sun is rising early about 5:45am and setting about 4:45pm with it getting dark by about 5:00pm.

Our tour on this day was titled “Old Town Tokyo”. We headed to the Fukagawa area, east of the Sumida River, called the Shitamachi (Old Town).

Our first stop was at the Fukagawa Edo Museum, nestled in a narrow, tree-lined street among numerous temples and shrines. The museum was established in 1986, and here we saw a display from the Edo period, including everyday items and a reconstruction of Fukagawa Saga town. The town from the 1800’s was very interesting in that they had a full-scale neighborhood with homes and shops that would have existed at that time. We saw typical one-room homes with mats on the floor, a corner carved out for the kitchen and everyday items that would have been in a home at the time. They showed the watchtower that would have existed at the time to watch for fires and the fire brigade buckets in the event of fire. The homes often served as the family business as well selling things like noodles, vegetables or household items.

Our next stop was at Kiyosumi Park, near the Sumida River where it is easy to imagine you are far from the bustle of the city. The site of this park was once the site of a mansion owned by a wealthy merchant. By 1878 the surrounding area was acquired by Iwasaki Yataro, the founder of Mitsubishi. The garden served as a place for recreation for the family’s employees as well as a place to entertain dignitaries and distinguished guests. In 1923 after the great earthquake the Iwasaki family donated the land to the city of Tokyo. After restoration the property was opened as a public garden in 1932.

The gardens are extremely beautiful with immaculately manicured pine trees trimmed into topiaries. The large lake has several islands and is home to a variety of fish, turtles and birds. Unique rocks gathered from around the country create a walkway around the lake and there is also a teahouse and iris garden.

After lunch at a local restaurant we visited Nezu Jinja Shrine built for Shogun Tsunayoshi Tokugawa. The shrine has been designated a National Cultural Asset. Families visit this site when children are born and when they turn 3, 5 and 7 years old to give thanks to the gods for healthy children. The locals practice Shinto religion that believes in gods of all types including the god of the moon, sun, house, trees, and most anything that the locals come in contact with. They also believe in the Buddhist religion from India while Christians represent only about one-percent of the population.

Next, we were off to Ueno, which is a district in Tokyo’s Taito Ward, best known as the home of Ueno Station and Ueno Park. Some of Tokyo’s finest cultural sites are found here, including museums and a major public concert hall. Here we headed to the Ameyoko Discount Market (a very crowded local market area) near Ueno Station where we were given some time to shop. The streets were filled with vendors selling fresh fish, toys, shoes, clothing, food items and more. The vendors would often stand on stools hocking their goods with signs stating what type of discount or price they were offering on something they were selling. We helped our friend, Bryan, find some Bonsai pruning shears but could not find his wished-for Sandalwood soap.

The evening’s entertainment was a saxophonist, pianist and singer by the name of Craig Richard. Craig is from Colorado Springs and was featured in a television show about people who should not be alive. He is a rock climber and broke his leg while rock climbing and had to crawl for 18 hours to get out of the mountains. He was also a finalist on American Ninja’s last year. We thought that he was a very accomplished musician but his show was lacking a spark.

October 16, 2018 – Yokohama, Japan

Tokyo Imperial Palace Plaza

Tokyo Kannon Temple

Tokyo

Tokyo – Local girls in Kimono’s

Tokyo – Local artist work

The weather had improved dramatically so we did not even need a sweater on this day. The morning had a bit of fog as we sailed into port but it cleared to mostly sunny with scattered clouds.

With 3.7 million inhabitants, Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan after Tokyo. Much of Yokohama was destroyed on September 1, 1923 by a large earthquake which killed nearly 31,000 residents and wounded nearly 50,000. Yokohama was rebuilt, only to be destroyed again by US air raids during World War II. In just one hour and nine minutes the air raids had destroyed more than 40% of the city. On the morning of May 29th, 1945 in what is now known as the Great Yokohama Air Raid eight thousand people were killed.

Our tour on this day took us for a whole day tour of the Best of Tokyo. Tokyo has a population of 32-million residents and is a world finance, business, architecture, music and fashion center. The unemployment rate is currently about 2.8% but there was relatively little traffic on the highways wherever we traveled. We traveled by motor coach to the city center about one-hour away, passing several famous landmarks. We then headed to the Imperial Palace Plaza in central Tokyo – the home of Japan’s Emperor. There we had time to wander in the Plaza to view the Fushimi-Yagura watchtower. This famous building is a remnant of the mighty Edo period. We also saw the famous most photographed Nijubashi Bridge. The unique thing about Tokyo is that there are many waterways running through the heart of town with many bridges over them. There are also many parks and green spaces throughout the city for the locals to enjoy. The only thing that disappointed me about the city was that it did not have much architecture that made me think of what I think Japan should look like outside of a few buildings.

On a panoramic drive through central Tokyo, we saw the National Parliament Building, the Guest House and the Tokyo Tower. Our next stop was one of Tokyo’s best-known areas, the legendary Ginza district — virtually unequalled for glitz, glamour and good deals. Tokyo is like most large cities in the world with high rise towers of offices and apartments.

We had a short stop and free time at the Ginza before returning to the ship. We window shopped all of the high-end shops from around the world like Tiffany, Louis Vuitton, Harry Winston Jewelers, Chanel, Bulgari, and more. We also visited the eleven-story Wako Department Store featuring clothing of all types as well as a market and food court on the two lowest levels. The food court featured all types of Bento Boxes for lunches, cookies, candies, salads, meats, fruits, desserts and so much more.

We stopped for lunch at a local hotel for a buffet lunch. The buffet included all sorts of food from Japanese dishes, pastas, pizza, salads, desserts, ice creams and more. The food was not bad but the dining room was not particularly inviting and there were busloads of people dining at the same spot.

Our next stop was Asakusa. In ancient times this was a notorious entertainment district, but now it is the location of the beautiful Senso-ji or Kannon Temple. A golden image of the Buddhist goddess, Kannon, is enshrined here. Legend claims the statue was miraculously fished out of the river in 628AD. The buildings at this site were beautifully painted and well maintained. At this site there is also a tourist shopping street where they sell all types of souvenirs, fans, Japanese sandals, key chains, food items and more.

The evening’s entertainment was the Tom Cruise Movie titled “The Last Samurai” shown on the large screen in the main theater. The movie was interesting but very severe violent scenes with lots of people getting killed in battles.

October 15, 2018 – Sea Day

On this sea day we attended a morning lecture by Ian on the upcoming Japanese port of Yokohama. Spencer was cooking up grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup in America’s Test Kitchen. For lunch there was a special Biergarten Festival in the Lido where they served up beer, sausage, roasted pigs, sauerkraut, lots of desserts and other German dishes.

In the afternoon Ian lectured on three upcoming Japanese ports. Guest speaker Michael Hick gave his last lecture on Japan and its economy. Michael said that the future forecast for Japan’s economy is not good. As the population is aging and the birth rate is very low they will have trouble caring for the aging with the small work force. They are so against letting foreigners into the country that they only let about 20 people into the country each year. Of those folks let into the country they need to have a PhD degree, under 40 years of age and an income of more than $350,000. These high standards keep most people out but there appears to be no plan for the future and who will be taking care of the aging population.

The evening’s entertainment was a show by the Amsterdam singers and dancers called Salsamania. The show was a fast-moving energetic show with many upbeat songs and fast dances in a variety of styles from Salsa to Country.

October 14, 2018 – Kushiro, Japan

Ikoro Theater

Akan Lunch

Kushiro Cranes

Kushiro Drummers

Japan is a stratovolcanic archipelago consisting of 6,852 islands. The four largestislands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku, along with the Ryukyu Island Chain, which includes Okinawa. The country is divided into 47 prefectures in 8 regions and has a population of 126 million, the world’s tenth largest. The Greater Tokyo Area, which includes Tokyo and several surrounding prefectures, is the world’s largest metropolitan area with over 35 million residents and the world’s largest urban economy. With a varied and vibrant cultural history dating back to the Late Stone Age, Japan is a living mix of the modern and the traditional.

Kushiro with about 180,000 inhabitants is the capital city and the most populous city on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. It is situated along the banks and the mouth of the Kushiro River. The natural harbor has been transformed into a large commercial and fishing port. It is known for its large Kushiro Marsh, home to deer, sea eagles and Japanese cranes.

Our tour on this day was called “Lake Akan and Ainu Village.”  We visited Ainu Kotan, where we saw rows of shops selling wooden knick-knacks and other locally made handicrafts. The wood carvings included key chains, bears with salmon in their mouths, spoons, wooden cups, wall carvings and so much more. The more traditional-looking carvings were natural wood while many have now begun painting the statues in bright colors to look flashier. This village of Ainu people has a population of about 130 people.

The local Ainu people have traditional Ainu dances that have been designated an important intangible cultural asset. We saw some of these dances at the Ikoro Theater including the Ainu traditional costumes. They have a variety of many dances that are simplistic in style and represent the motion of the cranes, blessings for food, the taming of wild horses, hope for a fruitful harvest and many more. The costumes are made from heavy quilted fabrics due to the cold weather here and are colorful with bold graphic designs.

We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant that served a traditional Japanese lunch. Each place setting had two ceramic hot pots (similar to a fondue pot) with candles underneath and a pot or bowl on top. The heat of the candles heated the soup broth on one side and the second bowl cooked the raw fish and beef on the table in front of you. There was a dish with noodles that you added to your stock pot with bok choy and a chicken like broth for the soup. The meat pan had a scallop, a piece of salmon, a dumpling of some type, small pieces of beef and a couple of pieces of asparagus for color. They served a variety of tempura vegetables like bell peppers, sweet potato, mushroom and carrot. There was a small dish with finely sliced pickles. There was a small dish of shredded greens with a dressing, a small dish with a wedge of orange for dessert, a small dish with a dipping sauce for the meat, a small dish with a sesame sauce for flavoring the noodles once you ate the soup broth. They did offer people the choice of western silverware but Kent and I chose to use the traditional chopsticks.

After lunch we walked to Lake Akan, the beautiful crater lake at the Akan National Park. The lake is quite large in size with ferry boats and speed boats used to transport people from one town to another around the lake. The lake is a tourist destination where people come to relax and enjoy the local beauty. Many hotels overlook the lake and restaurants; gift shops and ice cream shops abound.

Next, we visited the Kushiro Marshland Observatory. As the largest wetland in Japan, Kushiro has been placed on the Ramsar Convention list of important wetlands. The marsh extends across the Kushiro Plain and is fed by the waters of the Kushirogawa River. Reeds grow in the wettest areas, which are surrounded by grasslands, encircled in turn by dense stands of alder. Approximately 600 plant species have been identified in the park. It offers habitats for many birds, including the endangered Japanese crane and migratory birds that stop here to rest.

We found the island of Hokkaido to be much more rural and beautiful than we expected. There was very little development on the island and little traffic anywhere we traveled. The fall leaves were beginning to turn bright colors of yellows, reds, golds and browns, particularly with the Japanese maple trees.  It looked a lot like North America with very little visible evidence of Japanese architecture.

Our guide for our tour was a dentist by profession, who lived in Sapporo, about four hours away by train. She was very excited to show us photos of her wedding kimono, her husband and children who are now in their 20’s. She also asked permission to sing us a couple of songs which she was very proud to sing for us.

For our sail-away party, the locals had come out to perform for us pier side. There was a 69-year-old gentleman who sang a variety of English songs and he had a really great voice. There was a group of seven young men who played these huge drums and many locals who waved flags and wished us well.

The evening’s entertainment was a variety show with pianist David Howart and Inna Tolstova, the Russian violinist.