Marion and I returned last week from a trip to Japan. It was unique because we flew for 11 hours into Tokyo, then took a bus to Yokohama, and boarded a cruise ship, the Sun Princess. It was an eight-day trip.
Our first stop was Nagoya, then Kobe. After touring these two cities, we continued down the Inland Sea for a full day to Matsuyama. Going then to Busan, Korea, we returned to Kagoshima, with our final stop in Beppu, before returning to Yokohama.
The majority of passengers were Japanese, and the shore excursions were, to a large extent, in Japanese. Even though we spoke a different language, I did feel comfortable amongst them.
We were joined by Marion’s niece, Jan (daughter of oldest sister Mary, who recently passed away), and her husband, Steve. They live in Pleasant Hill in the Bay Area. This worked out well, because in our independent touring we took the subways, buses, and taxis. Splitting the fare with the taxis made getting around quicker and inexpensive.
Despite having sight-seeing maps, we frequently got lost and had to ask strangers for directions. Steve, who is white, had bought a Japanese language CD and was eager to try out his newly acquired Japanese. This saved the three of use with Japanese faces the anticipated “What’s wrong with these people?” look from the Japanese we would stop for directions. All the people Steve asked were very gracious, not only giving us directions, but in more than one instance, walking a whole block to show us.
Once, however, when Steve was not around, Jan had to negotiate with a counter clerk with her limited Japanese. I had to smile when she complimented herself when she was able to retrieve a long-forgotten word.
Nagoya is an old city, and because of its proximity to the town of Toyota (where the car is manufactured) as well as other car companies, Nagoya is sometimes referred to as the Detroit of Japan. We took a subway into town, then transferred to a Meguru bus, which by its name made a loop, stopping at various tourist points of interest.
Our first stop was at Nagoya Castle, which was impressive, although it was rebuilt after being damaged by American bombing during World War II. This damage due to American bombing was something the two or three other castles we visited had in common. The next stop was at the Noritake China exhibit, which showcased the china as well as other beautiful artware.
Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit the Toyota museum; we were told by others who had visited it that it demonstrated the intricacies of auto manufacturing and was quite fascinating.
Cable cars going up mountains are popular in Japan. There they are called ropeways. The ropeway took us to the top of a mountain in Kobe, which featured a very elaborate and colorful herb garden named Nunobiki.
The day-long cruise down the Inland Sea was relaxing, but somewhat disappointing due to the overcast skies. Matsuyama Castle gave us a choice of using individual ski-lift chairs or the boxcars run on a cable, which we chose. Castles such as these were means of defense for towns such as Matsuyama. Prior to this ride up to the castle, we visited an onsen. We took the tour of the onsen and noted how un-self-conscious the men and women were being communally nude in their respective bathing areas.
The United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan was impressive. Aside from the beautiful flowers, what I appreciated was the painstaking work that went into the hundreds of obviously hand-crafted bonsai-type trees. The spacious grounds were divided into areas defining the countries from which the deceased had originated. We were at the flagpole when three uniformed soldiers raised the Korean flag.
Our next stop was a 14-story department store named Shinsegae in the middle of town. It was touted as being the world’s largest. Marion liked the enormous food section on the first floor.
We took a city shoreline bus tour in Kagoshima, which arrived at Isoteien Garden and the Shoko Shuseikan Museum located in the southern part of the town. The garden was spread over several acres and along with its beautiful landscaping had signs telling of the garden’s illustrious history. The museum informed me about Kagoshima’s importance as the southernmost part of Japan, making it the point of entry for explorers from China.
The well-known Catholic missionary Saint Francis Xavier began his evangelization of Japan in Kagoshima. Accordingly, a monument in his honor stands on a special island along the shoreline.
Our final stop, Beppu, is known for its steaming springs, called jigoku (“hells”). The steam from the several springs were visible from the ship. Unfortunately, we had other stops to make and were not able see one of them. I told Marion that was too bad — the next time someone tells me where to go, I could tell him I have already been there!
We did manage to visit the Takasaki Monkey Park. It was a unique experience being among the rhesus monkeys that were allowed to roam freely in the park.
This was a memorable trip. A special plus was having a chance to become better acquainted with Marion’s niece, Jan, and Steve.
Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at [email protected] The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.