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 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 13, 2018 – Sea Day

This sea day continued to be cloudy and overcast with small patches of blue sky. It was certainly an improvement over the dark gray and rain of yesterday.

We attended the morning show with cruise director Jorge who was interviewing the five-member Amsterdam band. The band director, Irving, is the same band director that we had on the 2013 World Cruise and he has been working for Holland America Line for 26 years. They do an incredible job accompanying all of the Amsterdam singers and dancer shows as well as all of the guest entertainers.

Ian Page the Explorations Central Guide shared his insights on our visit to Kushiro, Japan. Guest Chef Denise Vivaldo showed us how to prepare a pecan crusted Halibut filet with a Dijon cream sauce and prosciutto wrapped scallops with pesto in America’s Test Kitchen.  She didn’t seem too organized, but she was very entertaining with her chef stories.  Michael Hick lectured on Japan including the Pearls of Hokkaido, Kushiro and Hakodate, the island we would be visiting the next day. Michael discussed how Russia has two ports near Japan but that both of them freeze over in winter and that ships from these ports must transit by the northern or southern shores of Japan, making it difficult for them to get to sea.   During WWII, Russia took possession of several smaller islands to the north of Japans Hokkaido Island.

The evening’s entertainment was a new show by Tasmanian Comedian and Magician Bodane Hatten (now living in Australia). Mark was selected to participate in two different magic tricks. The first was an trick where Bodane pokes a knife through Mark’s sportscoat. The second was a card trick where Mark selected a card out of a deck of cards and signed his name on the card. Bodane then shuffled the cards and before you knew it, he pulled the card Mark had signed out of a sealed envelope in a billfold that was sitting on the table.

When we returned to our cabin for the night we found gifts on our bed. This day’s gift was a power bank used for giving your computer or tablet extended battery power when away from a power source.  We each got one, along with chocolates.

October 12, 2018 – Sea Day

The weather had taken another turn and was cloudy, gray and raining once again.

This day was the first of two sea days before we arrive at the town of Kushiro, Japan. The morning activities included the Morning Show with cruise director, Jorge, interviewing the two guest lecturers. Ian gave a lecture on the upcoming tours that were available for the ports of call between Tianjin, China and Hong Kong. Next came Spencer in America’s Test Kitchen where he prepared Chinese Dumplings (Shu Mai), Shrimp Pot Stickers, Chili Oil and a Soy Ginger Dipping Sauce. The recipes have a variety of ingredients that we don’t normally have at home but they looked very delicious. When we get home maybe I will be brave enough to try making them.

The afternoon included a lecture by Dan Benedict on the Travelers Century Club for travelers who have visited more than 100 countries. The club has very specific criteria as to what constitutes a country on the list. In the case of the U.S. even Alaska and Hawaii can be counted as additional countries due to the separation from the main 48 states. I’m certain that we could join the club with all of the travels that we have done but all it gives you is bragging rights.

Michael Hick lectured on Japan and its unique culture and how it differs from other parts of the world. Japan’s culture is based on relationships whereas north America’s culture is based more on facts. The Japanese are more about family and a collaborative effort in the workplace while north America is more about the individual.

In his free time, Mark continued his work on the jigsaw puzzles with his puzzle ladies and Kent continued reading the news in the Times Digest.

The four female vocalists in the group called Voce performed on the mainstage this night. They all have incredible voices and performed solos as well as group numbers from a variety of musical styles. Opera, Broadway, Judy Garland songs and contemporary songs.

October 11, 2018 – Petropavlovsk, Russia

Russian Trinity Cathedral Interior

Russian Volcanoes

Russian Smoked Salmon

Russian Caviar

Petropavlovsk is a city and the administrative, industrial, scientific and cultural center of Kamchatka Krai, Russia. Petropavlovsk has a population of approximately 180,000 inhabitants. The city is situated on a peninsula with high hills surrounded by volcanoes in the southeast region of Russia between Japan and Alaska. The city was founded in 1740 by Danish navigator Vitus Bering in service of the Russian Navy. He named the City Petropavlovsk after his two ships the St. Peter and St. Paul. During the 20th century the city was a great source of fish, particularly salmon and crab meat for the Soviet Union. Since the end of the Soviet era, fishing rights have been granted to foreign interests. Poaching of salmon for their caviar remains a problem amid tax law enforcement and widespread corruption.

Today the city has developed a tourist infrastructure with a wide range of services from bear hunting to paragliding. No roads from the peninsula connect to the rest of the world so travel is dependent on ships and the local airport.

We took a three-and-a-half-hour panoramic tour of the area to get a little idea about the area and what it has to offer. The panoramic drive introduced us to the natural history of the Kamchatka Peninsula. We learned about the lifestyle of its inhabitants and saw some of the city’s highlights.

Our first stop was at the Trinity Cathedral Church completed just eight short years ago. This large imposing structure is topped with five onion shaped domes covered in brass. The interior of the church is all new so what might have been gold-plated in an old church is now painted gold instead. The paintings and ornamentation throughout the church are very modern in style. The ceiling is painted and one large wall is covered in gold framed paintings of icons. The Russian Orthodox churches do not have any pews but instead people stand for the normal two-hour services.

Panoramic views from the church grounds include the volcanoes in the surrounding areas. The tallest of these snow peaked volcanoes stands some 3,456 meters or about 11,250 feet.

Next, we drove to Lenin Square where we paused to see the monument to Lenin and view the Kamchatka Regional Administration building. At the foot of Nikolskaya Hill, we saw the Chapel Monument devoted to the heroes of the Petropavlovsk Battle of 1854. There’s a common grave where French, English and Russian soldiers are buried. At Liberty Square, we saw another tribute to fallen soldiers. The Monument to the Kuril Islands Defenders was erected in 1946 to commemorate the 1945 victory of Russian troops over the Japanese.

We then took a drive up the hillside to the highest peak where there is a wonderful outlook over the harbor and town. The hillsides were lined with birch trees that had begun to lose their leaves.

Next, we stopped for a visit at the USSR Museum that houses hundreds of objects dating back to Soviet times. The collection includes cameras, radios, pianos, skates, gramophones, toys, household items, posters, photographs and so much more. It reminded us more of an American antique shop than a museum as things were just stacked around the room and not really presented in a formal manner like you would expect at a museum.

Of more interest at the museum was a Russian woman who explained to our guide in Russian what life was like in this town during the Soviet times. The guide then translated what she said into English. The winters are very harsh by our standards with as much as twenty feet of snow fall. The temperature when we arrived in town was only 37 degrees with an expected high of 55 degrees. The wonderful thing was that it was sunny and clear for a change which was greatly appreciated after all of the gray days we have had.

The last stop on our excursion was at the local market which I expected to be an open-air market but it was not. The market that they took us to was a multi-storied mall with white marble floors throughout. The ground floor was mostly food items with an enormous assortment of red caviar and smoked salmon of all sorts. The caviar was stored in five-gallon plastic containers one right next to another, each slightly different from the last. Fresh fish and live crabs were available as well.

Most of the meat is sold frozen as this is the way that it arrives in town generally transported by train and then shipped from mainland Russia down to the tip of this peninsula. Fresh fruits looked beautifully displayed and many bakery shops offered many types of breads, crackers, pastries and decorated cakes.

The most surprising part about the market was how clean everything was and how everything was in modern refrigerated cases. And, it was difficult for the locals to respond to our nods and hellos with a smile!

On the upper floors of the market building there was one modern clothing store after the next. We did not recognize the names on the shops but they sold all types of clothing and especially things like heavy coats and boots that would be needed in this part of the world.

For dinner there was a seafood extravaganza in the Lido. They had prepared fresh seafood like lobster tails, clams, mussels, salmon, etc. in a variety of ways. There were soups, chowder, seafood pot pies, steamed, grilled and baked varieties. Following dinner was a new show by comedian Bud Anderson who was very funny.

October 10, 2018 – Sea Day

This day was another quiet sea day on our way to Petropavlovsk, Russia. The weather was much improved with sunshine, no rain and calmer seas.

We attended Ian’s lecture on things to see and do in Petropavlovsk. Spencer cooked up a steakhouse dinner for two in America’s Test Kitchen. He prepared a steak with a Béarnaise sauce as well as baked potatoes with two toppings and a wedge salad with bacon bits, blue cheese dressing and cherry tomatoes.

In the afternoon Michael Hick finished his lecture on Russia discussing the extensive land mass and its vulnerabilities from those who might want to invade the country especially from the west. Russia is so large that it has twelve different time zones and is so far north that it has very limited opportunities to produce its own source of food. It relies on other countries to provide most of the items that it consumes, including food.

The evening entertainment was provided by a young Russian violinist by the name of Inna Tolstova. The violin that she played was an electronic version which has a unique sound. She was accompanied by the Amsterdam band but the majority of the songs she performed all sounded alike.

We continue to eat more than we should even though we are doing our best to cut back by eating three meals a day in the dining room where the portions are more controlled. Desserts seem to be our largest downfall as they offer a list of them at lunch and dinner and we are rarely able to resist.

Since we left Dutch Harbor we have been turning our clocks back one hour each night. Even with the extra hours of sleep we still manage to enjoy a good night’s sleep right through the extra hour.