October 31, 2018 – Naha, Japan

Back to Japan! After a lovely experience in Shanghai, our next port of call is Naha, Okinawa on the very southern part of the country.  This is the former capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Shuri Castle is located within the borders of today’s Naha City. However, since Naha was almost completely destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa, only few of the city’s buildings predate the war.

Southern Okinawa was the site of the biggest battles during World War II, and there are many sites commemorating the conflict.

Lying at roughly the same latitude as Hawaii, Florida, and the Bahamas, Naha and Okinawa enjoys similar mild sub-tropical weather.  The comparison with Hawaii, Florida, and the Bahamas is particularly apt as Naha, and Okinawa as a whole, are major vacation destinations for Japanese and overseas visitors from China, Korea, Taiwan and countries further afield (like Canada).

The big draw for us was Shuri Castle.  From the ship, we walked to the monorail station which delivered us close to the castle.

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Shuri Castle served as the administrative center and residence of the Ryukyu kings for several centuries until Okinawa became a Japanese prefecture in 1879. The castle is included as one of the UNESCO World Heritage designated Castles of the Ryukyu Kingdom sites.  Originally built in the late 1300s, it played an integral role in the political unification of the island. Wars and fires destroyed the castle multiple times over the centuries, most recently in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The current buildings are beautiful reconstructions dating from 1992. The approach to the castle’s central buildings leads through multiple gates, including the well known Shureimon Gate.

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On the top of the hill stands the castel’s main hall, the Seiden. The former venue of major affairs of state and ceremonies, the Seiden is the most lavishly decorated building and a landmark of Okinawa. Its architectural design and vermilion color differ significantly with those of castles on mainland Japan.

Una Plaza extends in front of the Seiden and was used for ceremonies in the past.

It is encircled on the other three sides by other buildings.  The Hokuden (North Hall) which was used as the Kingdom’s government offices where administrative procedures and documents were prepared and conferences of senior state-men were held.  Also, when messengers from China arrived this building was used to hold feasts to greet and entertain them.

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The Nanden (South Hall) was used to celebrate Japanese New Years and seasonal festivals.

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The Hoshinmon (Hoshin Gate) is the last gate one walks through to get to Seiden.

The interiors of the castle buildings can be explored by visitors in a circular route, beginning with the Nanden. Informative exhibits are on display outlining the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom as well as the interaction with the Japanese mainland and China. Historical artifacts, both made on the island and received during foreign trade, are also on display.  While the interiors of the Hokuden and Nanden are constructed like modern museums, the interior of the Seiden has been rebuilt in its original style.

We were able to get a feel for the splendor that surrounded the Ryukyu kings. A replica of the king’s throne is among the exhibits.

After our visit to the castle, we found a lovely Japanese restaurant…very zen with good food.  Karen had a fried pork dish and I had a Soba noodle dish with a couple of spareribs.  Both were very tasty!

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There is a legend about Shisa – The Guardian Lions of Okinawa.  According to the story, the villagers were regularly attacked by a giant dragon.  One day, on the occasion of a visit from the king of the Ryukyu archipelago, one of the village priestesses noticed the Shisa figure hanging from a necklace around his neck, which he had received from a Chinese diplomat in Shuri.  As the monster was ready to attack, the priestess asked the king to hold up the necklace to the monster.  There rose a thundering roar and the Shisha came to life, appealing to an enormous rock that fell from the sky and crushed the dragon’s tail.  Unable to move, the dragon died and was later transformed into a forest.  To this day, Shisha or “lion” are found everywhere in Okinawa because they are believed to provide protection.  These are some of the many, many Shisa that we saw around town.

That’s it for today.  Hope you enjoyed our stop in Naha, Okinawa.  Thanks for reading along as we continue our journey through Asia!

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October 21, 2018 – Fukuoka, Japan

Today we are on the island of Kyushu and Fukuoka (careful how you say it) is the island’s largest city.  Because of its closeness to the Asian mainland (closer to Seoul than to Tokyo), Fukuoka has been an important harbor city for many centuries and was chosen by the Mongol invasion forces as their landing point in the 13th century.

2Today’s Fukuoka is the product of the fusion of two cities in the year 1889, when the port city of Hakata and the former castle town of Fukuoka were united into one city called Fukuoka. Hakata remains the name of one of Fukuoka’s central districts and of the main railway station.

After several days of a variety of ports where we have seen fantastic castles and shrines, we decided that today, we just needed to go for a walk and find some green space to enjoy.  As a result, we jumped on the ship’s shuttle bus to downtown, then bypassed the local Fukuoka Castle and some shrines and walked about ½ hour to Ohori Park.  Great choice.

This area was once an inlet of Kakata Bay and when Fukuoka Castle was built, the north side was reclaimed and made into the outer moat around the castle.  Ohori Park was opened in 1929.

There was a lovely little lake where people could rent paddle boats in the shape of swans and row boats.  There was also a track for jogging or biking around the lake.


The weather was perfect as we walked around the lake.  There was a bridge to an island which also connected to the other side of the lake.  After strolling and crossing the bridge, we headed to the Japanese Gardens.

The Japanese Gardens were created in 1984 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ohori Park. It has an area of 12,000 square meters and the main features of the garden are its large pond, artificial hills, waterfalls, a meandering stream, dry landscape garden and more!  I hope these pictures capture the zen feeling of the gardens.

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Really a beautiful day in Japan.  Next stop is Beijing, China which promises to be a completely different experience!

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1October 20, 2018 – Kochi, Japan

Kochi Castle, is probably the town’s biggest attraction and is a completely original castle, one of only twelve such in Japan. The complete inner citadel (honmaru) of the castle is still intact.

First constructed between 1601 and 1611 by Yamauchi Katsutoyo, the feudal lord (daimyo) of Tosa, the castle burnt down in 1727 and was rebuilt between 1729-1753. The buildings we see today date from that period.

The reconstruction of Kochi Castle took place in the middle of a time of prolonged peace in Japan, so the feudal lord of the day had his living quarters (kaitokukan) situated on the ground floor looking out on to a pleasant garden planted with cherry trees and plum trees.

The 18.5m-tall castle tower (donjon) has three external levels on six floors. Being a clear day, there were good views over Kochi town stretching out below.

The famous landmark of Kochi’s downtown is Harimayabashi, a small red bridge on the west side of the main street. While it may not look particularly noteworthy at first glance, Harimayabashi is renowned for its role in a Kochi love story.

A common version of the story centers around a priest from Godaisan and a girl from Kochi. Because the priest’s temple forbade relationships, the couple hid their romance by meeting in secret and exchanging clandestine gifts. One day, the priest was seen buying a hair comb at Harimayabashi, and the couple’s secret romance was discovered. They were forced to flee the city to avoid punishment.


In addition to Harimayabashi, downtown Kochi has pedestrian shopping arcades and attractive streets for walking.  “Hello Kitty” marks the entrance to the shopping street.


At the end of the shopping arcade is the Hirome Market, a large building filled chockablock full of food vendors and shops.  Think of it as a huge Asian street food court.

We (read Ed) were in search of a local food specialty called Katsuo.  It is prepared by searing the Katsua (Bonita/Tuna) briefly.  In our case, it was seared over an open fire fueled by what looked like thin reeds.  It is then sliced and seasoned with salt and green onion.  Our order also came with rice and Miso soup.  The taste is somewhat smoky and I thought it was very good.

Karen enjoyed her chicken wing and something that tasted like deep fried kale.  We both enjoyed the ice cold beer!  That’s it from Kochi.  Until next time, thanks for following along.


October 19, 2018 – Kobe, Japan

Located between the sea and the Rokko mountain range, Kobe is also considered one of Japan’s most attractive cities.

4Kobe has been an important port city for many centuries. Its port was among the first to be opened to foreign trade in the 19th century alongside the ports of Yokohama, Nagasaki, Hakodate and Niigata.

In 1995, Kobe was hit by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which killed over 5000 people and destroyed tens of thousands of buildings. Today the city is completely rebuilt, and few signs of the terrible event remain.

Pulling into Kobe Port, we were saluted by a fireboat spraying fountains of water and then they released a large number of balloons in honour of our docking.

Where’s the beef?  Kobe is best known for the world famous and ultra expensive wagyu beef raised in the district around the city.  The cattle are fed grain fodder and raised according to strict protocols, resulting in beef that is marbled and said to be tastier than other varieties. 5 Having said that, there are many restaurants that feature Kobe beef but given we are from Saskatchewan where the beef is some of the world’s best, we were more interested in other foods.

First things first, we took the ship’s shuttle to downtown Kobe and from there walked up to the Ikuta Shrine which is possibly one of the oldest shrines in the country. It’s said to have been constructed by the Empress Jingu at the beginning of the 3rd century AD.

Today the shrine is more or less surrounded by modern constructions, as for example the department store Tokyu Hands, as well as sprawling cafes, and it’s hard to believe that the shrine used to be surrounded by forest until the 19th century.

Ikuta Shrine is worshiped as a guardian of health. This is also reflected in the shrine’s name, as the first Chinese character means “life”. For the people of Kobe Ikuta Shrine is also a symbol of resurrection, as it survived quite some challenges in the past: Wars were fought in and around the shrine grounds during the Genpei War (1180 – 1185​), heavy flooding from the nearby river occurred in 1938, there were air raids over Kobe during World War II and last but not least it suffered from the damage caused by the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. Ikuta Shrine withstood all the damage and is therefore a symbol of hope for the residents.

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Leaving the Shrine, we walked back to this massive covered shopping street where we had seen them making these steamed buns filled with a pork stuffing.  They looked fantastic and they only cost 110Yen each, about $1.50 CAD.  They were just as good as they looked!  The photo below through the glass isn’t great but you get the idea!

The shopping street was amazing and seemed to go on forever.  Thankfully, we got through it relatively unscathed (limited purchases), but well worth the experience!

Next stop is Kochi, Japan tomorrow.  We’ll be looking forward to a couple of sea days coming up to rest up for our China experiences, coming soon!  Thanks for following along!

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October 18, 2018 – Shimizu, Japan

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Shimizu’s rich cultural heritage is rooted in the surrounding Shizuoka area’s history as the home of Tokugawa leyasu, the founder of the Edo shogunate, following his retirement from government. A collection of historic buildings in the vicinity, such as Sumpu Castle Park, and Shizuoka Sengen Shrine, depict a fascinating portrait of the life and accomplishments of this major historical figure. So, that is where we headed!

The ship provided shuttle service to the Shin Shimizu Station where we caught the train to take us to Shin Shizuaka, home to our two main sights today.  The train took us about 20 minutes but again, people have been amazing in helping us purchase the right tickets, get to the right platform and explain where we need to get off.

Sumpu Castle was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1586 and later served as his retirement home. Shizuoka City, at that time called Sumpu, developed around the castle, which remains at the center of the city and a ten minute walk from Shizuoka Station. None of the original castle buildings remain, and the grounds now mostly consist of park space.

Throughout its history, Sumpu Castle was destroyed and rebuilt many times. In 1949, the innermost courtyards of the former castle grounds were converted into a public park, Sumpu Park, which remains surrounded by a moat.

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An English adio guide helped immensely in trying to figure out everything we were looking at.  We were required to take off our shoes before entering the restored section of the castle and don slippers.  Inside was a fascinating display of what life was like back in that era.   Judging by the size of the armour Karen is standing beside, the samurai were small but mighty.

In recent decades, efforts have been made to restore parts of the former castle.  The East Gate (above) and an adjoining guard tower were reconstructed according to original construction plans.

The next stop at the castle were the impressive and compact Momijiyama Gardens.  It is made up of 4 sections, based on Japan’s 4 seasons. Called Garden of the Village, Garden of the Sea, Garden of the Mountain Village and Garden of the Mountain, the grounds are meticulously cared for and a path leads you through the various parts.

The Castle Park is quite large and it seems very popular with the locals.  We loved seeing some of the kids from a daycare.

Shizuoka Sengen Shrine is the name for a collective group of three shrines, the Kambe Shrine, Sengen Shrine, and Ohtoshimioya Shrine. The grand and brilliant main buildings are richly colored in urushi coating. 26 buildings have been designated as a national important cultural property with over 2000 years of history.  The shrines are frequented by the locals, many of whom write good wishes on paper or wooden ornaments that are hung around the shrines for good fortune.

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To end the day, back on the ship, we were treated to a Geisha show where 2 Geisha performed a couple of wonderful dances extremely well-choreographed and timed to perfection.

We had a wonderful send off from Shimizu with a performance by 5-6 years who danced and sang to a variety of tunes including YMCA!  So cute and touching to see the community come out to bid us farewell.  They even had fireworks as we sailed away!


October 16/17, 2018 – Yokohama/Tokyo, Japan

Yokohama (横浜) is Japan’s second largest city with a population of over three million. Yokohama is located less than half an hour south of Tokyo by train, and so that is what we did on the first day…took the train.

Using the train was relatively easy once you figured out how to buy the tickets and people are so accommodating with giving directions and help.  We decided to go to the Shibuya area of Tokyo as we’ve seen many of the main tourist sights the last time we were in Japan.

Shibuya is a shopping and entertainment area but perhaps best known for the Shibuya Crossing, a multi-street crosswalk that as many as 1,000 people cross at any given time.  But first we have to get out of the train station and find it.  There are many exits from the underground train station and even with map in hand, it was quite confusing.  So, we headed out through one of the exits and with some luck, found the crossing.  It is quite a sight to see…looks like chaos but yet, everything goes very smoothly.

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We did some shopping in the area and decided to stop at a Ramen Noodle Restaurant for lunch.  Again, quite a system to figure out.  There are menus posted outside the restaurant and an ordering machine.  You put in your money, choose the items you wish to order and it gives you your change and a coupon which you take into the restaurant.  They seated us at the bar around the kitchen and based on the coupon, the cooks provide your order.  It was a very slick system!

We ordered the traditional Ramen Noodle dish, some dumplings and some chicken.  Delicious!

From there, off to do some more sightseeing, coffee at Starbucks (best place to view the Crossing and great Wi-Fi connection as this has been a huge problem on the ship) before catching the train back to Yokohama.

That evening, we walked into Chinatown, Japan’s largest, for a quick look around. The views of the harbor from the ship were spectacular too!

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October 17 – we decided to stay in Yokohama today and took the complimentary shuttle into town.  It was really just a relaxing day at a fabulous shopping mall until lunch time.  25.jpgAfter lunch we walked around a lovely park close to the ship to enjoy the beautiful weather and get some extra exercise.  We have been attending a stretch class and an abs class almost every morning and try to supplement that with only using the stairs on board (no elevators for us) and some additional walking.  So far it seems working as we are maintaining our weight pretty well.  Can you imagine 82 days of fine dining without some extra exercise?

Tonight, they had a sake ceremony and tasting before supper…several different types of sake to taste!


October 14, 2018 – Kushiro, Japan

Kushiro is often known as the “City of Mist” in Japan because it is quite often overlaid with a thick mist most of the time.  Kushiro, the most populous city in Eastern Hokkaido is a historic port city and well known for it’s strong fishing industry.

We opted to walk around the city today because it was a spectacular day…no legendary mist for us!

Our first stop was the “Moo” shopping mall right by where we were docked.  We have been sending our grandsons postcards from some of our ports of call.  The first thing I noticed was this vending machine where the prize is a crab, if you can catch it with the claw.  Similar to machines in Canada for various toys but I have never seen it for live seafood.  I admit I didn’t try it as I wouldn’t know what to do with the crab if I caught it!

We had heard so many people on board talking about the 100Yen Store (Dollar Store) that everyone seemed to want to find.  So, off we went on our adventure to find this store.  A few wrong turns and some perseverance and we found the store!  Karen was excited but honestly not a highlight for me.  A few small purchases of some neat things and off to find the Kushiro Washo Market.

As we are studying our map of how to find the Fish market, a local Japanese man comes over to see if we need help.  When we show him where were want to go, he starts to explain and then stops and beckons us to follow him.  This kind gentleman walks with us for about 15 minutes (no English) and walks us right to the door of the fish market!!  No idea how far out of his way he went but ever so kind!

This port city is quite renowned for producing tons of fresh seafood and while in downtown Kushiro there are restaurants you can get it and order some local dishes, the Kushiro Washo Market is “the place” to have fresh seafood.

Katte Don is the special dish to have there.  You buy yourself a bowl of rice, and then walk along the rows of shops selecting the ingredients you want to eat as toppings. There are also famous Hokkaido crabs there.  The market is a haven for sashimi lovers like me!  My bowl with 5 different sashimi choices was about $10CAD.  Karen, who is not a big fan opted for another local specialty…fried chicken, about $9CAD.  While the sashimi bowl was in my opinion, better, the fried chicken meal she had was very tasty too.

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Our tummies full, we walk back to the “Moo” market for some additional shopping before boarding the ship.  As we get set to sail away, the local tourism board provides some wonderful entertainment and a Grand send off!

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Sayonara Kushiro!  Thanks for following along.  The next installment will be our visit to Yokohama/Tokyo.