Day 14 - Japan Departure

Friday, September 7th, 2007

Now at sea. I am seriously worried about sea-sickness though I suppose it will be a bit of training for the train trips ahead of us. Getting my thoughts together is quiet easy with the dull throb of the engines and the (now) gentle motion of the boat here in our private cabin.

The mobile phone I rented has been very helpful allowing us to at least keep in contact with people back home and a bit of reassurance if we needed to get ahold of anyone else. We have used it several times and it has worked out well for us. Leaving the telephone with the front desk for them to post we checked out quite early in the morning. We had trains and a ferry to catch.

View from Hotel Room Window (SW)

Leaving the Hotel (SW)

At 7:30 Kyoto is just waking up. The subterranean shopping centre near the local subway stop was basically empty with only a few cafés just opening for the day. Dragging our luggage we were off on the first of many train journeys – starting with the Kyoto subways. Two trains and we were at Kyoto. Our train left at 8:22 and was due to arrive at Shin-Kobe at 8:52. Did it? Of course, it did. Even with the people now starting to fill the transport system on their way to work. The train car was quite full and we had to actually ask someone to leave our seats as we had reservations (they were very polite leaving though) – A bit odd since there are several cars on every train for people without reservations but I guess they were quite full. The train travelled the short distance passing through a number of mountains before clearing a final tunnel for the Shin-Kobe station stop. Shin-Kobe is still not where we wanted to be so we had to take a short journey on the Kobe subway system to Sannoymiya station and from there we got onto what I would call a LRT (Light Rail Transport) train which took us to the ferry terminal. The last train was quite pleasant (and very crowded – there is only one ferry to China every week leaving from this terminal so it was quite busy) as we left Sannoymiya and travelled above the traffic – Very good views of the surrounding area.

View of Kobe

The ferry terminal is on several levels on a thin strip of land leading to the airport. Beside the terminal there are several expressways at different levels passing by. It is a noisy place outside. All around is the activity of a large harbour with boats coming and going everywhere. Kobe appears to be a city being shoved in the ocean by the surrounding mountains. Not too many high buildings it quite small compared to Kyoto.

I was always a bit nervous about catching the ferry. I had done my work over the Internet but did not actually have tickets. I had been emailed a confirmation of my reservation but no money had yet changed hands. We joined the queue at the ferry operator desk on the ground floor. The terms had been explained to me: Present your passports, reservation confirmation number and cash. No credit cards, no cheques, etc, just cash. They did offer an on-board Visa service to get a Chinese Visa but we received ours in advance (we don't like to leave things to chance). I needn't have worried about the tickets. Luggage was also nothing to worry about since despite indicating about luggage weight/size restrictions they applied only to checked luggage. Since we have our own cabin we do not need to check our luggage so, no restrictions! Avoiding the luggage queue we headed up stairs to the departure lounge…

Waiting Lounge (SW)

Holding up a wall we paid a last visit to a Japanese snack shop to pick up a few things to munch on aboard the boat (the packet with the picture of shrimps looks interesting). At 10:00 they opened up the doors for the security checks. We presented our passports and tickets to the Japanese customs people then passed through a series of rooms on the way to the ferry which was docked alongside. The ship is quite large – I would guess at something like 100 m in length – But not all that fancy. The Yanjing from China Express (Ltd) traveling between Kobe and Tianjin (just outside of Beijing).

Mother's last trip like this was a long time ago when she took a boat to England from Canada as a girl guide. I have never done this so this is an adventure, really, for both of us. I think we are both looking forward to a bit of relaxation and perhaps time to ourselves after the hectic visit to Japan and the hectic visit of China to come.

Our Boat

Entering the ship we were greeted by the staff in smart uniforms as they bowed to us. We entered the boat into the main foyer of the ship which is an open area from the main deck up to the 2nd deck where our cabin is located.

Main Foyer

There are no lifts (elevators) so we managed to struggle with our luggage up to the 2nd floor to find our cabin. We have a “Special First Class” cabin which is not the highest class (that is the “Suite Room” of which there are only two towards the front of the boat on our deck) but quite nice nonetheless – For a boat. Entering from the corridor there is a small closet to the right then on the left is the small washroom that has a toilet, shower and sink (all attached with a lip at the doorway which is sealed from the rest of the cabin with a metal door). There are two beds on either side of the cabin with an air conditioning unit which appears to only have a setting of “frigid” (well, that and “off”). A window (portal, I suppose, but quite big) above the AC looks out over a walkway running around the upper deck of the ship. We have a small desk and also a table with a television on top of it though, of course, reception will probably be a bit tricky in the middle of the ocean, never mind the fact that the stuff we saw on it in Kobe was all in Japanese…It is a comfortable room and a bit of privacy.

Toilet/Shower in Cabin

After all the rushing about getting here we were just glad to sit in some of the plastic lawn chairs on our deck outside to view the harbour before the boat left.

Waiting for Departure

We did not have long to wait. Only a few minutes after our scheduled 11:30 departure we shoved off. A few people on the harbour front were on hand to wave good-bye to their loved ones as the ship slowly eased out of it's berth. The fery terminal is quite close to the city but the harbour extends out quite some ways into the ocean as we passed by what looks like a convention centre or large covered stadium then the shipyards with a large tanker boat in dry-dock. Eventually we cleared the harbour finally passing the area of the airport on our left before out into relatively open ocean. All day we have been passing along the coastline of Japan never far away from it. We passed under an impressive bridge connecting the main island to other islands close by. About an hour after we had departed we had had enough of watching the land go by and wanted to see what there was to see.


The ship is now our home for the next two days so we took a bit of a walk around to see what there was here (not much). The three levels all have accommodation on them with the lowest deck being the lowest class (many people sleeping in one room on the floor with shared toilets and showers). We found a staircase that goes below this deck down several levels. There are laundry facilities (a few machines lined up along a wall in a small room complete with both washer and dryer – free too!), an entertainment room (a Ping-Pong table – no ball immediately visible, nor paddles – in one room with another room with a few computer games and slot machines – all unplugged and stacked in a corner). There is also a bath facility here along with a sauna that is what the Japanese would want to see. I don't know if I could ever get into public baths…Quite a cultural thing.

Landing Seating Area

The main foyer with it's metal banister staircases also has landings at each level. The main floor has the ship's office (where we got our keys) which also does foreign money exchange and the first floor has a television set and a seating area on both sides of the ship.

Front Desk (SW)

Our top floor has just a seating area. The first two floors also have vending machines for drinks. Yes, the ubiquitous Japanese vending machines with coffee, water, soft drinks (sorry, all out) and alcohol (one dedicated to beer). I don't know how Japan would run without them…

Vending Machines (SW)

I was looking forward to lunch but should not really have had my hopes set to high. There is a small cafeteria on the first floor towards the back of the ship with about 10 or 12 communal tables set about the room. The food is Chinese but quite bland. For example, we tried some squid at dinner but it was very chewy and tasted like fish – Two things that should never be the case with squid. There are sad boiled vegetables dripping with soy sauce (to drown their sorrows perhaps) as well as tender but flavourless meat dishes. They also have soft drinks on offer or the complementary Chinese tea (there are also boiling water dispensers on each level so you can top up your tea canisters). While eating the motion of the boat becomes a bit more noticeable as the items on the tray want to move about and your tea sloshing about in it's cup.


There is a room marked “Japanese Restaurant” but it appears not to be open (perhaps only for the return journey) which could have held a bit more promise for better food…Next door to that restaurant is a small room with a few tables and a small bookcase with some reading material in it (yes, some in English as well). On the other side of the main cafeteria there is a small bar that opens in the evening (complete with television and karaoke machine). In between is a small snack shop that sells various snacks as well as duty-free items (alcohol and cigarettes) but this is also open in the evening.

I am a bit concerned about sleeping with the motion. I do not appear to be getting a headache but this is the first time I have ever been on a boat on the ocean for so long. Mother has sea-sickness pills but I hope not to have to use them. In the meantime we are really forced to do not a lot of nothing. Mother has been avoiding the cabin because of the cold AC and spending most of her time on the deck looking for somewhere to do her Sudoku (where it does not get blown away in the breeze). I have taken to starting one of the books I brought with me but have not touched so far in Japan but I have also been staring into the water at the jellyfish which appear to abound here. I guess it is the relatively calm, warm, shallow seas. Perhaps I should open up the Mandarin books…I do not know anything in Mandarin right now other than “hello”. Where we are visiting in China, for the most part, only speaks Mandarin Chinese. I studied Cantonese for a few years (in my spare time) but that was quite some time ago and does not have much in common with Mandarin. The two languages use the same characters in writing – but then, they use those same characters in Japan as well – lucky they all have the same meaning! It means I only have to memorise their meanings once but, true, I have to memorise how they are said three different times…Assuming I need to…

Not much to do around the ship at night. You can't see much on the deck and it is quite windy. Only thing is to really retire to the room, read a bit and go to bed early.

Cabin Sleeping Area (SW)

Day 15 - Ferry