A Travellerspoint blog

Cruise - Part 3

20th Nov 2019

Today we arrived in Shimizu. Until it was incorporated into Shizuoka City in 2003, Shimizu was a city of its own centred around its port. It is famous for being among Japan’s most scenic ports thanks to the views of Mt Fuji on clear days. As we sailed into Shimizu, we were lucky enough to get a view of Mt Fuji, but it didn’t stay uncovered for long, so we were grateful to see it at all today.

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It took a while to get off the ship as we had to go through immigration on the ship as we had re-entered Japan. Small children entertained us on the dock while we waited.

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Once again, we wanted to venture out and see as much as we could. We visited Sunpu Castle Park. Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu built the castle in 1585 and lived there on two occasions. The Edo Period castle was surrounded by moats and stone walls whose size and fortitude can still be seen in the ruins.

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The castle's gate and turret have been restored.

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We also saw a bronze statue of Ieyasu with a falcon resting on his arm, erected by the castle's keep near a mandarin orange tree believed to have been planted by Ieyasu.

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The park has four different landscaped gardens and a traditional teahouse where visitors can enjoy a ceremonial tea service.

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From the park, we continued on to Shizuoka Sengen Shrine, a complex of seven shrines, the three main ones remodelled over a period of 60 years beginning in 1804. Sengen Shrine contains 26 "Important Cultural Assets" and an extensive collection of historical artefacts from the Tokugawa shogunate that ruled Japan for 300 years during the Edo Period.

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Sengen Shrine is also noted for its dramatic architectural style and extensive use of gold leaf, lacquer and wood carvings.

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There was a 5-year-old boy at the shrine dressed in his kimono. It was so detailed.

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We then went to Miho-no-Matsubara, a picturesque pine grove along the eastern coast of the Miho Peninsula. This inspirational spot for artists offers dramatic views of Mt. Fuji. Well not today unfortunately.
This is the view you would have on a clear day.

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This is the view today. Just a small tip of the rim was showing above the cloud.

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If you walk deep into the pine grove, you'll spy a 650-year-old Japanese black pine called Hagoromo-no-Matsu. Believed to have mythical origins, its branches spread in every direction, and it is said that an angel bathing in the waters hung her clothes on its branches. A fisherman took the garments, and the angel had to win them back by dancing for him.

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Beside this legendary tree, there stands a monument of a French ballerina who composed a dance inspired by this legend.

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While walking back to our bus we saw an osprey.

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21st Nov 2019

We were back in Yokohama today farewelling some of the passengers, but we were continuing on. As we had a spare day, we decided to visit Kamakura. I arranged for a local guide to take us there as it was a way from Yokohama, and we had to be back to the ship by 4pm. Her name was Yoko and she was fantastic. We got to see so many places in one short day. So, we took the free shuttle to the train station and then headed by train to Kamakura. Once in Kamakura we purchased tickets for the hop on hop off bus and headed around this lovely little town.
Secluded in the hills of eastern Kamakura is a small temple of the Rinzai Sect of Zen Buddhism. Originally founded during the early years of the Muromachi Period, Hokokuji Temple was the family temple of the ruling Ashikaga Clan and was later also adopted as the family temple of the Uesugi Clan.
Appearing rather unassuming as you arrive, the path to the temple leads past a relatively modest gate.

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A garden as you walk up to the temple.

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This is a shrine to children.

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Then you walk through a small garden to the main hall, which was rebuilt in the 1920s after the original building had been lost in the Great Kanto Earthquake. The hall houses a statue of the historic Buddha, the temple's main object of worship.

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To the left of the main hall stands a unique looking bell tower with a simple, thatched straw roof, which was also a feature of the original main hall before it had burnt down.

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Hokokuji Temple, however, is best known for the beautiful, small bamboo grove found behind the temple's main hall, which lies thick with over 2000 dark green bamboo stalks.

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Also located behind the temple are a series of shallow caves carved into the hillsides, which are believed to hold the ashes of some of the later Ashikaga lords.

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A garden at the shrine.

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Next was the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine which was built during the rule of Minamoto. The first thing you see is the big Shinto gate.

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This is followed by an arched bridge and stairway made of stone.

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There is a long walkway to the shrine and there were lots of little stalls. We had eaten toffee apples in the past, but they were selling toffee strawberries on a Jatz cracker. It was absolutely lovely.

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Then a bit further on there was grape flavoured toffee on grapes. Yum.
The cleansing area where they cleanse their selves before entering the shrine.

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These are sake barrels that are gifts to the shrine.

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The main building is located deep into the compounds.

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We then took a walk along the famous Komachi-dori Street. It was rather narrow street with modern shops in the centre of an ancient city.

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There were animal cafes down the street.

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We stopped here to have a traditional Japanese lunch. Shane had a Kamakura beer.

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We then shared a tempura set meal which included lots of things we had never eaten before. It included a savoury egg custard, a sour plum, miso soup and rice and tempura.

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Nicola and Yoko.

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We then continued on to Hasedera which is a temple of the Jodo sect.

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It is famous for its eleven-headed statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The 9.18-metre-tall, gilded wooden statue is regarded as one of the largest wooden sculptures in Japan and can be viewed in the temple's main building, the Kannon-do Hall. You are not allowed to take photos of the goddess.

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As you walk up to the temple, there is a large area where parents can remember babies that were miscarried or stillborn. It was quite moving.

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The water feature at the bottom.

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A beautifully landscaped garden.

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Our final stop was the Kotokuin Temple. This is the entrance.

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The temple is famous for the Great Buddha of Kamakura which is a bronze statue of Amida Buddha. It is 11.4 metres high and it has long been the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan. The statue was cast in 1252 and originally located inside a large temple hall. However, the temple buildings were destroyed multiple times by typhoons and a tsunami in the 14th and 15th centuries. So, since the late 15th century, the Buddha has been standing in the open air.

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We then took a train back to Yokohama, farewelled Yoko and got back on the ship for the last leg of our cruise.

22nd Nov 2019

Another day off the ship in Toba. It is located at the north-eastern end of the Shima-hanto Peninsula in Mie, flourished as the castle town of the Kuki family who ruled this region from the 16th century
In Toba Bay, Mikimoto Pearl Island is known for its ama (female pearl divers). The Pearl Museum traces the history of local pearl cultivation. We didn’t bother going over to the island, we chose to take the loop bus and go exploring.

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Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t too good, but we did get to Meoto Iwa Rocks which means wedded rocks.
You walk around the coast to get there.

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The path that leads to the rocks carries on eastwards, passing another small shrine, the Ryugu Shrine which is dedicated to the dragon god of the seas. It had an interesting dragon feeding water for the purification area.

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We then got to the Wedded Rocks. They are two famous sacred rocks which represents the husband and the smaller is the wife. Both rocks are connected by a shimenawa rope which acts as the division between the spiritual and earthly realms.

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Not far from the Meoto Iwa is the Futami-Okitama Shrine, where a number of Shinto deities (kami) are enshrined. Many frog sculptures can be seen in the vicinity of the shrine as they are believed to be a type of charm for bringing people or things back.

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Even the purification area had lots of frogs around and in it.

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Our next stop was Oharai Machi.
Oharai machi is the traditional approach to the Inner Shrine of Ise. Nearly one kilometre long, it is lined by many traditional style buildings, housing shops and restaurants. Some of the businesses found here have been serving pilgrims and tourists for several centuries. It was an amazing street to walk along even if it was raining quite a bit.

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There were lots of tea houses.

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A lot of the restaurants had copies of their food in the window so you could see what sort of dishes they had.

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This was a dried fish shop; you can see a big dried fish in the photo.

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There were lots of buildings with characters on the roofs such as monkeys and squirrels.

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We were pretty cold and damp by the end of that so we headed back to the ship early.

23rd Nov 2019

For centuries, Osaka was Japan's cultural and commercial gateway to Asia - the point of entry both for trade goods and, most importantly, cultural influences that shaped Japanese society. The city reached its zenith in the late 16th century, when the great feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi made Osaka his capital. Toyotomi was master of Japan, and an immense administrative and commercial centre rapidly developed around Osaka Castle. After Toyotomi's death, the nation's seat of power shifted from Osaka to a sleepy little fishing village called Edo - modern Tokyo. While overshadowed by Tokyo, Osaka remains one of Japan's largest cities and a vital commercial centre. We only had one day here and really wanted to head to Kyoto which was an hour and a half away. Originally the seat of Japan's imperial court from 794 to 1868, Kyoto today remains the cultural capital of Japan. We were in for a real treat today as we had the best autumn leaves, we had seen so far.
Our first surprise this morning was being greeted by a fire boat that put on a welcome display.

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Then as we docked there was a school band playing and they were very excited to see us.

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The view of our port.

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Our first stop was at Kiyomizu Temple. We had to walk up a narrow street with lots of shops and people.

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The entrance.

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Renowned as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Temple was founded in 778 on the site of a rushing waterfall. Its waters are believed to have mystical powers and if you drink, you'll achieve success in school, live a long life or find love.

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But Kiyomizu is best known for its wooden stage, which was built completely without nails and juts out over the hillside offering panoramic views of the cherry and maple trees, and Kyoto off in the distance. Unfortunately, it was being renovated but we still got a lovely view of the city and the autumn leaves.

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Looking back up the hill.

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There is always a lovely pond nearby.

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The Ryoanji Temple was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Temple, built in 1450.

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It is noted for its Zen rock garden of white gravel and moss-covered boulders.

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It is set near the meditation hall furnished with tatami mats and a small Buddhist altar.

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There were some unusually sculptured fur trees.

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The beautiful autumn leaves.

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Other areas of the temple.

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This is Kyoyochi Pond. It was made in the twelfth century. It was accented by the beautiful autumn leaves.

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We then had a lunch stop where we had a traditional Japanese lunch. It was great. There was salmon and squid sashimi (raw) and lots of other things that we had no idea of, but it all tasted great.

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Our last stop was the Fushimi Inari Shrine. OMG there were thousands of people everywhere. It took a while to walk down some narrow streets to get there and it was so busy. There were food vendors all the way down the street.

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Built in 711, it's one of Kyoto's oldest and celebrated shrines.

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The fox is the Inari Okami’s (god of harvest) servant. A fox it is, but it is not one that lives in the fields, it is a spirit fox that has been believed to convey wishes to Inari Okami.

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The Shrine is most famous for its 10,000 brilliant red gates that arch over a pathway that leads through a forest and up to a hilltop overlooking Kyoto. Again, there were people everywhere.

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I had read if you could get further up the hill it may be possible to get a photo by ourselves, so we rushed up as quickly as we could, and we were in luck.

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After a long day we headed back to Osaka. It was dark by the time we got back but we had a lovely time wandering around near our ship as there were illuminations everywhere relating to the nearby aquarium.

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We walked through a food hall to get back to the ship. To our surprise there was a KFC with Colonel Sanders dressed for Christmas.

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Another Christmas display in the food hall.

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The views from on the ship.

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24th Nov 2019

Kochi sits on the broad alluvial plain facing Urado Bay. This city in Shikoku takes its name from the great feudal castle that sits at its very heart. Kochi is one of the wettest places in Japan - and a frequent target for cyclonic storms or typhoons.

We got off the ship early and caught the shuttle into town. We then took a loop bus to Godaisan which is a small mountain to the east of Kochi's downtown. It was named after a Chinese mountain by Buddhist priests visiting from China. We hopped off at the observatory so we could get a view of Kochi.

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The same visiting priests established Chikurinji Temple on Godaisan, which has since become an important stop on the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Chikurinji's temple grounds feature an interesting array of halls and structures, including a beautiful five-storied pagoda.

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Not far from Chikurinji is Makino Botanical Garden.

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The gardens are named after Dr. Makino Tomi taro, a botanist from Kochi.

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The spacious garden includes extensive walking paths, outdoor parks and a greenhouse.

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The greenhouse was amazing. It was huge and had such a variety of plants.

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Upon our return to Kochi we walked along to Kochi Castle which is one of just twelve Japanese Castles to have survived fires, wars and other catastrophes. It was first constructed between 1601 and 1611, but most of its main buildings date from 1748. The castle used to be the seat of the Yamauchi lords, who ruled over the surrounding region, then known as Tosa, during the Edo Period. The castle buildings have since been designated "important cultural properties", and now house local treasures and historical objects.

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This is the statue of Yamauchi Katsutoyo which is outside the castle.

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It was Sunday so the Sunday markets were in full swing. The market went for about a kilometre.

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We then went to Hirome Ichiba which is a market where there are lots of eateries.

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We took a walk along Obiyamachi Ichibangai Shopping street. This is all under cover.

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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 centres 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. However, their romance was exposed one day when the priest was caught buying a hair comb for his lover at Harimayabashi. As a result, the couple fled the city to avoid punishment.

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The shop nearby has a big Hello Kitty on the Harimayabashi bridge.

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We also found some manga characters on one street corner.

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Once again, we were farewelled by entertainers and many Japanese that had just bought their family down to farewell the ship. These famous entertainers have special musical instruments that are like clackers.

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25th Nov 2019

Another new stop today at Kagoshima. From the 12th century to the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Kagoshima was the chief stronghold of the mighty Shimazu clan. The city lies at the top of the Satsuma Peninsula, a mountainous, geothermal wonderland of hot springs and geysers. The area is also rich in modern Japanese history: Saigo Takamori and the Satsuma samurai were leaders of the Meiji Restoration that toppled the shogun and restored the Emperor to power in 1868. In 1877, dissatisfied with the direction of the new government, Saigo led the Satsuma Rebellion, which ended in his death and the final defeat of the samurai.
The symbol of Kagoshima is Sakura Jima - the volcanic island that sits just offshore. The volcano has erupted over 30 times in recorded history. The volcano smokes constantly, and minor eruptions often take place multiple times per day. Located in the middle of Kagoshima Bay, Sakurajima is the area's most prominent geographic feature, having an elevation of 1117 metres and a circumference of about 50 kilometres. It was a bit hazy, but we did get to see it smoking.

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A view of Kagoshima from the ship.

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There were a few locals there to greet us, waving flags.

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This morning we visited Chiran. The streets were decorated with beautifully sculptured trees.

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Chiran was the stronghold of the Shimazu samurai during Japan's Feudal Era. We strolled down a lane lined by residences of warriors who lived in the Edo period (17th through mid-19th centuries). Some of the properties were open so we could go in and see their gardens that are mainly sand, trees and rocks.

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There was one however that featured water which apparently is unusual.

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We came across the river and an old bridge.

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There was one house that was totally different to the others. This is a Futatsuya style house, found only in Chiran. It connects a living space called Omote and the kitchen called Nakae.

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It was a lovely place to visit and we were so glad to see it seeing we had missed another samurai village from the day we could not dock.
We haven’t seen many birds around; we are not sure if it is because of the season. But we did see one today. It was so small but made a lot of noise.

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In December 1941, The Chiran Army Flight Training school opened. However, with the deterioration of the war situation, it changed into a military base for “Tokko” in March 1945. Tokko means “Special Attack” in Japanese and refers to the military tactic of ramming attacks in which pilots crashed themselves and their aircrafts into enemy warships. Tokko is better known as Kamikaze internationally. From each base in Japan, but mainly Chiran base, 1036 Tokko pilots who were in their twenties, made a sortie and died in the sea of Okinawa.
Today, a peace museum dedicated to the pilots, the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots ("Tokko Heiwa Kaikan"), marks the site.

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Out the front of the museum was a statue of a Kamikaze pilot and a plane.

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There was also a statue of a mother looking at the pilot’s statue. Her clothing is the national wartime attire. There was a lovely inscription on he back of the statue “Mother and son will be together forever”.

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This scene was above the entrance.

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We visited the museum and saw its comprehensive collection of recovered aircraft, models, mementoes and photographs of the Special Attack Corps.

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Portraits of the deceased pilots.

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This is the remains of a plane that they found on a seabed and recovered it for the museum.

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There are hundreds of Japanese stone lanterns, one for each deceased pilot.

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The grounds of the museum had several shrines and other planes.

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There was a replica of the pilots living quarters.

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This is the peace bell that anyone can ring.

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26th Nov 2019

We were back in Busan South Korea today. As we had already visited Busan we decided to have a lazy day onboard the ship as the last few days had been long.

27th Nov 2019

Our final port was Nagasaki. It is located on Kyushu Island. The earliest contacts between Nagasaki and the west took place in 1543, when the Portuguese arrived. Next came the Spanish followed by the Dutch.
For most travellers, Nagasaki is a symbol of the horror and the inhumanity of war. An estimated 75,000 people perished in 1945 when the city became the second target of a nuclear attack because of its strategically important ship building industry. This occurred 3 days after Hiroshima on the 9th of August. Today the city has been completely rebuilt. It was a beautiful city with the mountains as a backdrop. We explored the city on the efficient tram system.

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Our first stop was the Nagasaki Peace Park which is a tranquil space that commemorates the atomic bombing.
The Fountain of Peace. The fountain sends up a sparkling spray of water in the shape of a pair of wings, evoking the dove of peace.

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The main feature in the memorial park is the iconic Peace Statue which is 30 feet high.

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Some of the other monuments in the park.

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Not far from the Peace Park is Urakami Cathedral. After enduring a long period of oppression, Christians built the church over the course of 30 years starting in 1895. It was destroyed by the nuclear blast. A new cathedral was built in 1959 and renovated in 1980.

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In the church grounds are remnants from the blast.

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This is the remains of the belfry. It weighs 50 tons and rests on the spot where it fell on the day of the bombing.

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In the Hypocentre Park is a black monolith that marks the explosions epicentre.

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The park also has part of the Urakami Cathedral Wall. A portion of the southern wall was brought to the hypocentre to make way for the construction of the new church in 1958.

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This is the statue in the park.

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You can also see the ground level at the time of the bombing. They have preserved part of the ground where roof tiles, bricks, scorched earth and glass melted.

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From the Hypocentre we made our way to the museum. There were several memorials as you climbed the hill.

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This is the peace flame.

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On the hill above the park stands the sobering Atomic Bomb Museum.

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Next to the museum stands a memorial hall for the victims. The hall is located mainly underground and its design involves water and light.

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This is a memorial for School Children and Teachers.

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A statue depicting Children trusting in the future.

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The Sanno Shrine, situated 900 m from the centre of the blast, was instantly obliterated by the explosion and the 4000 °C heat wave vaporised nearby trees. The only thing that remained is the torii arch standing on a single pillar, reminding us of the tragedy that took place.

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These two camphor trees survived the atomic bombing. Both trees were broken at the upper portions of the trunk however branches have flourished to form lovely canopies. Although they were stripped of their leaves by the bombing, they eventually budded and regained their vitality.

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We went up Mount Inasa which is 333 metres high. The summit can be reached by ropeway.

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The views of Nagasaki were great.

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This is Mount Inasa from the ship.

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This is the Site of the Martyrdom of the 26 Saints of Japan. 6 foreign missionaries and 20 Japanese Christians were crucified on February 5th, 1597, after Christianity was banned. The story of these 26 Christians was heard in Europe by Pope Pius IX who canonised these martyrs as saints in 1862.

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Nearby there was also an unusual church.

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A fun character we found along the way.

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Meganebashi or Spectacles Bridge is the most remarkable of several stone bridges that span the Nakashima River in downtown Nagasaki. The bridge gets its name from the resemblance it has to a pair of spectacles when reflected in the river water. The bridge was originally built in 1634, its construction apparently overseen by the Chinese monk who would go on to become the resident priest of Kofukuji Temple, which is located a short walk away. The bridge, along with many of the others along the river, was badly damaged by floodwaters in 1982, but has since been repaired with recovered stones.

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We then headed to the Dutch Slope. During the Foreign Settlement era western residents of Nagasaki were known as Dutchmen regardless of their country of origin. This slope was called Hollander (Dutch) Slope to denote the many westerners that lived in the area.

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These are some of the oldest western homes at the slope.

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Oura Church is a Catholic church that was built towards the end of the Edo Period in 1864 by a French missionary for the growing community of foreign merchants in the city, it is considered the oldest standing Christian church in Japan. It is dedicated to the memory of the 26 Christians who were executed in the city in 1597. The church was the first Western style building in Japan to be designated as a national treasure.

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Our final stop was at Glover Garden.

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It is an open air museum that exhibits mansions of several of the city's former foreign residents. It is located on the hill where Western merchants settled down after the end of Japan's era of seclusion in the second half of the 19th century. The main attraction of the garden is the Former Glover House, the oldest Western-style wooden building in Japan. Unfortunately, it is being renovated and was covered up.
Thomas Glover (1838-1911) was a Scottish merchant who moved to Nagasaki after the opening of its port to foreign trade in 1859.

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This is a public water tap from the Meiji period. Nagasaki’s modern waterworks started operation in 1891. A municipal employee was assigned to each public water tap, opening it in the morning and closing it at night.

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This is the former Walker House. The second son of British ship captain and entrepreneur Robert N Walker purchased the house in 1915 and lived there until his death in 1958.

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This is the former Ringer House.

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One of the gardens.

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This is the former Steele Academy. The building was erected in 1887. The school provided a unique style of English language education for some 45 years.

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This is one of the earliest asphalt paved paths in Japan. Frederick Ringer suffered from heart disease later in life and he had a path paved from the bottom of the hill to his house so rickshaws could carry him to his home.

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This is the former Jiyutei. Erected in 1878, the building was originally a western style restaurant. The building was purchased by the Japanese government and converted for use as a public prosecutor’s office until being donated to Glover Gardens in 1974.

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This is the former Mitsubishi No. 2 Dock House. Erected in 1898, the building served as a dormitory for crewmembers while their ship underwent repairs.

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This is the Gatehouse of the Former Nagasaki Higher Commercial School.

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This is the former Alt House. It was built in 1865. It also served as a school house and US Consulate.

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On our walk back to the ship we came across the Former Hong Kong and Shanghai bank building. It was established in 1904.

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After a day at sea our cruise comes to an end back in Yokohama so we will sign off here.

Posted by shaneandnicola 18:58 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Cruise - Part 2

12th Nov 2019

We were back in Yokohama today to drop off some of our fellow passengers, so we planned a trip to Mt Fuji. We do get the opportunity to see Mt Fuji in the distance on part of our cruise but as there is no guarantee we would see it due to the clouds we thought we would try while we had a spare day. We had already missed seeing it once on our way to Hiroshima due to the low cloud.
So, we were up early to take a bus out to Mt Fuji. We decided to do a Princess cruise excursion as it was going to be a long day and if we use their excursion, they guarantee to wait for you should you be late, so the ship won’t leave you behind. Mt. Fuji is an active volcano about 100 kilometres southwest of Yokohama. Commonly called “Fuji-san,” it’s the country’s tallest peak, at 3,776 metres. A pilgrimage site for centuries, it’s considered one of Japan’s 3 sacred mountains.
As we headed out of Yokohama, our guide was so surprised. We had a magnificent view of Mt Fuji from Yokohama. The guide said it was rare to be able to see it so clearly from Yokohama. This is the view we had on the highway from our bus.

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The drive took two and a half hours to get to Hakone National Park. Our first stop was Mt Komagatake where we took the Mt Komagatake Ropeway, an aerial tram that lifts off from the shores of the lake and takes you up Mt Komagatake in an enclosed cabin with 360-degree views.

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A view from the ropeway.

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When we reached the summit, we enjoyed some time taking in views over Lake Ashi

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We were so lucky with the weather; we had such clear views of Mt Fuji.

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We climbed to the shrine at the top of the hill.

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The countryside was colourful.

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After lunch we took a short cruise across the lake in a galleon.

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Lake Ashi is surrounded by mountains including Mt Fuji and Mt Komagatake.

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It was a long drive back to Yokohama, but we were so glad we had taken the chance to go and see the magical mountain.

13th Nov

Today was a day at sea heading north up the Japanese coast.

14th Nov 2019

Today we were meant to visit Akita which is a key city in the Tohoku region since medieval times, Akita was once a castle town of the Satake clan. Surrounding the city, fertile farmland and rice fields produce some of the best sake in the country. We had a full day planned for today, but it was not to be. Our luck had run out. The captain made an announcement that due to extremely high winds we were not going to be able to dock in Akita. We would therefore sail slowly to our next destination. We were very disappointed as we had planned on visiting Lake Tazawa which is the deepest lake in Japan at almost 1,400 feet and the Kakunodate Samurai District. The day at sea was uneventful for us, but we felt sorry for the ship’s crew who were on vomit duty. There were a lot of sick people. The captain advised that we had winds as high as 84 knots which is about 160km an hour and seas were 7 metres. Shane and I slept really well being put to sleep by the constant rocking. Although there were times when it felt like a roller coaster ride.

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15th Nov 2019

Today we arrived in Niigata. With a population of over 800,000, it is the largest port on the Japan Sea coast and is the capital of the Niigata prefecture. It is famous for its rice, sake, seafood, and cut flower industry, especially tulips. It is located in the Chūbu region and is located at the mouth of Japan's longest river, the Shinano River. The ship was docked a long way out of the city, so we had to use a shuttle bus to get there. The weather was only going to be 12 degrees and drizzly, so we rugged up. The weather ended up being pretty good considering the weather yesterday.
We were on the first shuttle of the morning and it took an hour in peak traffic to arrive. The people in this town were amazing. They had volunteer staff everywhere helping out with directions. They also provided an autumn shuttle which took you to a couple of places so we took advantage of that early on but then walked our legs off seeing as much as we could.
Our first stop was Hakusan Shrine and garden. The Hakusan Shrine bas been popular with the people of Niigata from around 1000 years ago. The main shrine, whose history goes back to around 1647 when it was erected.
We first walked through the Shrine Gate; it connects the world of humans with that of the gods.

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Then there was a second gate.

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These are the Guardian Lion-Dogs. This the god’s guardian beast and is the talisman of the shrine. The statues are placed in pairs, one with its mouth opened and one closed.

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This is the ritual cleaning place where visitors cleanse themselves before worship. You draw water in a ladle and cleanse yourself by washing your hands and rinsing your mouth.

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This is the shrine and other buildings around the shrine.

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We then had a walk around the gardens. We were in luck with the autumn trees.

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This is the monument of Hakusan Park. Hakusan Park was the very first city park made in Japan. It was established in 1872. This monument is the oldest monument of any park in Japan.

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This is Masataka Kusumoto. He was a warrior and a Japanese Samurai who devoted himself to modernising the city of Niigata. He was the one who made the park.

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A statue of an Akita dog.

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We then went to the Saito Family Summer Villa.

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In 1918, a wealthy merchant, Saito Kijuro (IV), built a beautiful summer villa. The villa cost a huge amount of money and three years to complete. The villa itself was carefully and spaciously planned for the viewing of its superb Japanese garden and to avoid the summer heat. A lovely Japanese man who volunteers there took us around and explained the rooms in the villa. They were absolutely beautiful.

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There were lovely views of the garden from the inside of the villa.

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We had a walk around the gardens afterwards.

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We then headed towards the river to visit Bandai Bridge which is said to be the symbol of Niigata City. The current bridge is the third incarnation, known as the solid bridge, that didn’t budge during the 1969 Niigata Earthquake. The bridge lights up at night.

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Yasuragitei was the name of the river walk. We had a walk along the river and visited the tourist sign.

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Along the way we stopped at Toki Messe which is a multi-purpose international convention centre. The centre was opened on May 1, 2003, and contains a hotel, restaurants, an art museum, conference rooms, and the offices of several international organizations. They have a free observation deck so you can take a look at Niigata.

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We then headed back to Niigata station where the shuttle was taking us back to the ship. We had heard about a shop called Ponshukan which is unusual as it features a sake-tasting corner. For 500 yen, you get five full shots. Small vending machines offer 117 different brands of sake produced by Niigata breweries. There are lists and rankings of recommended sake to help you make your choices. We had a couple of lovely ones.

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We then headed back to the ship where there was a lot of food vendors and shops. There were also some photo opportunities.

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This is what the set up looked like from the ship.

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Several fun characters came out for people to have their photos taken.

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Once again people came all the way out to the port to wave us off.

16th Nov 2019

Today we spent the day in Tsuruga which is located in central Fukui Prefecture, bordered by Shiga Prefecture to the south and Wakasa Bay of the Sea of Japan to the north. Much of the city centre was destroyed in 1945 during the Bombing of Tsuruga in World War II. It was a strategic transportation centre. What a lovely greeting we again had at the dock. There were lots of school children wanting to shake our hands and they were giving out presents. This is a towel shaped like an apple. During World War II a Japanese vice consul in Lithuania issued Japanese transit visas to Jewish refugees. This enabled them to go to Vladivostok by the Trans-Siberian railroad and then cross the Sea of Japan to Tsuruga. It was the only port in Japan where some 6,000 Jewish refugees landed. One young boy gave out apples to the refugees, so our apple shaped towel gifts stand for the hospitality of people in Tsuruga.

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You can see we are berthed at a working dock as around the stalls that were set up there were piles of coal and bark chip.

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There were of course some more furry creatures.

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We headed into town to do some sightseeing. It was quite a small town so easy to get around by ourselves.
There were a few statues around, that had some meaning to the town, but we weren’t sure what.

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This is Kehi Jingu Shrine which is believed to date from the year 702. The shrine’s tori gate is one of the three biggest in Japan at 11 metres tall and is a designated Important Cultural Property.

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The inside of the shrine complex is quite big.

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The petrol stations are different here. There are no petrol bowsers. An attendant pulls the hose down from the roof.

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Tsuruga Symbol Road runs between Tsuruga Station and Kehi Shrine and has along its route bronze statues of figures from two popular anime series: Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato. The statues were placed here in 1999 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Tsuruga Port’s opening.

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Some of the figures had so much detail. This one had a train going up the metal pole.

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The Tsuruga Red Brick Warehouses are two preserved historical buildings built in 1905 that today house souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes, and a large diorama of Tsuruga port and its railway lines as they appeared in the mid-20th century with running model trains.

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The Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum is a museum celebrating both the early history of Tsuruga Port and also its role in the story of the Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara and the Jewish refugees he helped escape from the Nazis in World War II. The museum recounts his story as well as the stories of the refugees who passed through Tsuruga’s port.

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This is the railway museum.

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We then visited the Eishouji temple.

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We then took a long walk over to the other side of the town to visit Kehi-no-Matsubara which is a large pine grove along Tsuruga Cove with around 17 thousand red and black pine trees. A place of great scenic beauty it has many walking trails and its white sand beach is very popular in the summer.

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We had some lunch at the beach and next thing this eagle or hawk swooped for some of our lunch.

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On our way back into town we crossed a river and there was this unusual duck.

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When we returned to the ship, we saw the Gagaku Traditional Court musicians.

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Then there was a group of men who had a musical instrument made from a shovel.

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The school children were also at the dock to entertain us.

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Then some calligraphy students did a presentation.

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By then it had gotten dark, was pouring with rain so we set sail for our next destination.

17th Nov 2019

Today we were in Sakaiminato. This small fishing port has been esteemed for centuries for its superb seafood. Here, the Sea of Japan yields up both crab and hon-maguro, the prized Bluefin tuna esteemed by gourmets around the world. To the east rises the great snow-capped summit of Mt. Daisen, considered one of the four most scenic mountains in all Japan.
We drove an hour out of Sakaiminato to visit the Tottori Prefectural Flower Park which is a spectacularly laid out and meticulously maintained 50-hectare garden park in the west of Tottori Prefecture. It was opened in 1999.

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At the entrance there were lots of fun shaped plants.

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The valley of flowers is presided over by lofty Mt. Daisen in the near distance.

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The focal point of the park is its futuristic transparent tropical Flower Dome. The Flower Dome is a huge, clear transparent hemisphere 21 metres high.

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Inside the dome.

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Encircling the dome is the 1-kilometre fully covered Circular Walkway for access to the various themed gardens that fill the circle, and to the several other sprawling gardens beyond.

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Staff planting out more gardens.

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A fun photo opportunity.

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This is the mist garden.

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This is the floating garden.

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This is the jungle dome.

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Our next stop was a massive sweet factory and shop. It was built 20 years ago in the shape of the local castle.

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We then returned to town to visit the famous Shigeru Mizuki Road. It runs for almost a kilometre.

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Famed manga comic author Shigeru Mizuki was born in Sakaiminato. This manga author and historian is best known for his series GeGeGe no Kitarō. Manga are comics or graphic novels created in Japan or by creators in the Japanese language, conforming to a style developed in Japan in the late 19th century.

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A common sight is the Yokai - approximately 160 bronze statues of supernatural characters as imagined by the author. The Yokai have become synonymous with the town and delight visitors at every turn. Not just are there the bronze statues but everything around town is geared towards them.
As you can see the taxis, buses, vending machines and even the police station are themed as Yokai.

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There are so many signs and graphics too.

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Even the Sake Brewery.

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There is a manga museum.

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Even the public toilets signs are manga themed.

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We found a bakery who had a sign thanking Diamond Princess passengers and a lot of their baked goods had faces on them.

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The park lampposts and shop lights have the eye theme.

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We found it hard to narrow down the number of Yokai we took photos of. Here is a rather big selection.

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We had a long day ashore. When we returned to the ship the locals had yet again set up to entertain us and farewell us. There was a school marching band.

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They then created a love heart shape and had lights and balloons.

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18th Nov 2019

We also got to visit South Korea. We docked in Busan.

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Busan is the second largest city in South Korea, it was formerly known as Pusan and is now officially Busan Metropolitan City. Modern high-rise towers dwarf ancient Buddhist temples.

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We had another full day on shore. This time we arranged to have a local from Busan give us a private tour of this amazing city. Her name was Lada. We went to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.

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Nestled on a beautiful stretch of cliff coastline in north-eastern Busan, the temple dates back to as early as 1376. Like most temples in Korea, it was damaged and rebuilt over the years. During the early Japanese invasion of Korea (1592-1598) the temple was nearly destroyed by fire, falling into ruin, where it remained for years. It was only in the early 1930’s that a monk began to reconstruct the complex.
From the carpark you walk down a street full of vendors. They had lots of unusual food and teas for sale.

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You then come across the Chinese star signs.

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Mine is Tiger.

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Shanes is Horse.

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There is then the Traffic Safety Prayer Pagoda.

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To get to the main complex there are 108 stairs and stone lanterns that snake their way towards the temple.

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There is a beautiful bridge to cross where you can try and throw a coin into a big bowl for good luck.

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The temple complex is centred around the Daeungjeon Main Sanctuary, which was restored in 1970.

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This rock formation is known as the dragon.

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Perhaps the most noteworthy site is the Haesu Gwaneum Daebul, or statue of the Goddess of Mercy. It’s said that this structure is particularly mystical, as snow never settles.

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The complex had several parts to it.

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Pigs are good luck.

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We went down into a small underground temple where so close to the ocean there was a spring that you could drink out of. The water was so clear and tasted amazing.

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A view of the whole complex.

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We then visited the United Nations Memorial Cemetery.

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The main entrance.

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The cemetery marks the final resting place for the troops from 16 nations who gave their lives during the Korean conflict. There were some surprise nations involved. The countries were Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom and USA.

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This is the memorial service hall which was built in 1964. It has stained glass on all the windows.

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This is the UN Forces Monument. It was constructed in 1978. The front wall is sculptured with doves.

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Inscribed on the copper plates on the walls are the support troops provided by the UN nations and the numbers of their fallen. This was Australia’s.

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This is the unknown soldier’s pathway which stretches southward from the UN Forces Monument. Each side of the pathway consists of 11 cascades, 11 fountains and 11 pine trees representing the 11 countries who have soldiers interred at the cemetery.

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This is the Wall of Remembrance. Engraved in the wall are the names of all the UN troops who fell during the Korean War. 40,896 names in all.

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This is the Daunt Waterway. The waterway is named in honour of JP Daunt, an Australian soldier who fell at the age of 17. He is the youngest fallen resting in the cemetery.

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Outside the cemetery there was another memorial at an intersection.

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We then headed to Jagalchi Fish market.

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It is Korea's largest seafood market, selling live, dead and dried fish. After the Korean War, the market solidified itself as a fish market. Most of the people who sell fish are women, so the vendors here are called Jagalchi Ajumma, "ajumma" meaning middle-aged or married woman in Korean. There were 2 parts to the market, an inside part selling fresh live seafood.

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There were some species that we could identify but several we couldn’t.

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While we were walking around one of the vendors asked where we were from. Next minute Shane has a live octopus in his hands.

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The second part was outside stalls where everything was dead or dried.

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There were even stalls selling pork.

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Not far from the fish market was Busan’s modern movie district which was originally little more than a pair of cinemas that were built following Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule over half a century ago. However, major renovations took place ahead of the first Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), and the newly transformed district was named BIFF Square on August 14, 1996.

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We then took a walk through the streets. There were lots of Christmas decorations.

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Also, lots of food stalls.

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We went to a Korean barbecue restaurant; it didn’t look much from the outside, but the food was great.

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We had pork belly with lots of condiments. We tried it all, some of it was unusual but tasty. Along with the pork we had Soybean stew and Stone-pot rice.
Leaves were provided so you could wrap up your goodies, dip it into a sauce and then eat it.

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Our last stop for the day was the Gamcheon Culture Village which is a lot more colourful now than what it used to be in the 1950s when Korean refugees fled for safety to Busan (the only place in Korean peninsula that was war-free). The small population of the hillside- and coastal village quickly grew as makeshift houses from wood, rocks and corrugated iron popped up everywhere. These days there are lots of artists in residence. It was really colourful.

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We had a walk around the streets.

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The artists have some out there artwork. Including:
Pigeons with human faces.

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The cat with a backpack.

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The birds with beanies and scarfs or headphones.

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Even their fairy floss was artistic. There were kids everywhere carrying around their fairy floss art.

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On our way out of the port we had crossed under this massive bridge. Earlier in the day we had driven over earlier in the day. It is so high and there is not enough road for a big ramp, so it circles around like a roller coaster to get you onto the bridge.

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Posted by shaneandnicola 02:42 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Cruise - Part 1

4th Nov 2019

This morning we had a late checkout and headed to the cruise terminal.

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We were boarding at the brand-new cruise ship terminal at Shinko Pier.
Our ship is the Diamond Princess.

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We had priority boarding so at 10am we were checked in and ready to board at 11am. It was quite strange. We went through the x-ray machines but there was no immigration. We had a wander around the ship to get familiarised.
The view of Yokohama from the deck.

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Yokohama Bridge where we sail under when we depart.

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The atrium.

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The indoor pool.

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The outdoor pool.

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This ice-cream shop where you get free ice-cream.

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At 3.30pm they had a sake barrel breaking ceremony to wish us good luck on our voyage.

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Then at 5pm we sailed away for our next adventure. It was already dark. There were lots of people on the pier and balconies to farewell us. They had light sticks that they were waving at us.

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There was also a school band playing.

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The views of Yokohama as we sailed away.

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5th and 6th Nov 2019

We had 2 days at sea heading south to visit some remoter parts of Japan. The first morning they had a fruit and vegetable carving demonstration. We love watching this as they are so clever.

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We had a lovely 2 days at sea with calm seas. So, we really relaxed and did lots of reading. We also got several laps around the ship in each day to compensate for some of the meals we had eaten.

7th Nov 2019

After the 2 days at sea we arrived at our first destination of Okinawa. The largest island in the Ryukyu Archipelago, Okinawa has been a centre of trade and a source for conflict through its history. Okinawa was the scene of bitter fighting in 1945 during the closing days of World War II. Over 100,000 civilians perished, and the island was left in ruins. A US military possession, Okinawa returned to Japanese rule in 1972. Naha is the island's largest city and the capital of Okinawa Prefecture. Did you know that Okinawa is the birthplace of karate?
There was a variety of activities to do here but we really wanted to see some of the historic sights commemorating the Battle of Okinawa. Here are some figures for you. Total deaths were 200, 656 people. American – 12,520, Japanese – 188,136. In 90 days, the Americans used 2,716,691 shells. Out of this figure 1,178,869 unexploded shells were disposed of and they are still finding them today.
Our first stop was the former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters. There was a small museum at the entrance.
A map of the tunnels we visited.

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We then descended the 105 steps down through the 450-metre complex that was dug by hand and served as the Japanese Navy's headquarters during the war.

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The commanding officer, Rear Admiral Ota, and many of his men fought and died here. The underground complex includes:
The Commanding Officer's room

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Petty Officer’s room

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Generator room

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Signal room

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Code room

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Medical room

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Staff rooms

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There are still rooms where the walls are riddled with remnants of hand grenades going off where the Japanese soldiers committed suicide in the tunnels. There were 2.400 bodies located in the tunnels after the Japanese surrendered.

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More of the tunnel corridors

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From there, we visited the Himeyuri Peace Museum and the adjacent Himeyuri Monument, which commemorates the lives of 240 female high school students who worked as nurse assistants in army field hospitals during the Battle of Okinawa under difficult and ultimately tragic conditions. They had several responsibilities, but it included disposing of amputated limbs. On the night of June 18, 1945, as soon as the deactivation order had been issued, students were thrown out of the caves into the war front surrounded by the approaching US military. More than 100 students were killed within a few days of the order.

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The Peace Museum displays photos and personal effects of these girls, members of the Himeyuri Student Corps. Testimonies from the surviving members of the group serve as a moving memorial and reminder of the miseries of war, the importance of peace, and the preciousness of life. Outside the museum were lots of colourful paper cranes that are all linked together as a sign of peace.

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This is one of the stone cave entrances that served as a hospital.

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Our third stop was the lovely, nearby Peace Park and Okinawa Peace Memorial Museum, the main memorial to the Battle of Okinawa. We perused the halls of this memorial museum.

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In the museum there was an observation tower. This is a view of the park.

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We then wandered the grounds and there was a lot to see.
The "Cornerstone of Peace" opened in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the battle and the end of the war. Its purpose is to commemorate those who were lost, including the more than 100,000 civilians who lost their lives, and to serve as a place to meditate and pray for peace. The 117 monument walls are shaped liked folding screens. 69 walls have five folds and 48 walls have three folds, for a total of 1,212 faces with space for 250,000 names. They are separated into US soldiers, Japanese soldiers and Japanese civilians.

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The Flame of Peace burns in the monument's centre. This flame is composed of flames from three other places: one flame was taken from AkajimaIsland in Zamami Village, the first landing place of US forces in Okinawa, and two other flames were taken from the cities where nuclear bombs were dropped; from the "Flame of Peace" in Hiroshima, and from the "Flame of Peace" in Nagasaki. The flame that had been burning since 1991was transferred to the Cornerstone of Peace monument on July 23rd1995 (Okinawa Memorial Day).

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The museum from the flame.

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Some other memorials around the park.

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A view of the cliffs. They were called the suicide cliffs as many Japanese jumped to their death. The Japanese soldiers had brain washed the civilians to commit suicide instead of being captured.

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The Okinawa Peace Hall was opened on Oct. 1, 1978. The Hall stands on the Hill of Mabuni where history bears testimony to the futility of war and the value of peace. The Hall has a regular polygonal roof which expresses seven seas and the shape of hands joined in prayers.

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Near the Peace Hall was a bronze statue of a boy. Many promising boy students were killed in the Battle of Okinawa. On the tenth anniversary of Okinawa's reversion to Japan, a bronze statue 'Boy' was erected, to remember the boys and girls who died in the Battle and to send a peace message to the world. Schoolchildren of all parts of Japan cooperated in raising funds for the erection of the statue.

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There is a Bell of Peace. The Bell is rung on the memorial occasions of praying for world peace. There is an inscription which says “Calm the souls of the war dead. Swear the permanent peace of the world. From the Hill of Mabuni in all directions, sounds everlastingly the Bell of Peace, in solemn prayers of all people.”

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A memorial at the side of the hall.

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A view of the park from the Peace Hall.

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When we got back to the ship, we then took a walk to the Naminoue Shrine. On the way there were these big statues.

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There was a beach nearby, you can sunbathe but not swim.

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You can see the shrine on the top of the cliff.

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This is the entrance.

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The steps up to the shrine.

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Shane preparing for his visit to the shrine.

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The shrine.

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Returning to the ship.

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We went out on deck for the sail away. Here is Okinawa from the ship.

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We also liked the sign for this hotel. They have a lot of hotels in Japan where you can pop in for a quickie.

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8th Nov 2019

Our next stop was Ishigaki. The balmy, subtropical climate draws countless visitors to its sandy shores. It is the cultural, political and economic centre of the Yaeyama Islands, originally founded in 1908 as Yaeyama Village and becoming Ishigaki Town in 1926. Ishigaki was elevated to city status on July 10, 1947.
We decided to visit Taketomi Island so once ashore we made our way to the ferry terminal where we took a high-speed ferry to Taketomi. It only took 15 minutes.

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It was a short walk to the village.

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We came across a cemetery along the way.

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It is the site of a beautifully preserved, traditional Ryukyu village. The Ryukyu kingdom was an independent kingdom that ruled most of the islands around here from the 15th to 19th century. Thanks to preservation efforts, the small village consists almost entirely of the traditional style, one storied houses, which are surrounded by stone walls and covered with red tiled roofs. A lot of the roads are made of white sand.

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There are ample lion-like shisa statues to ward off evil spirits.

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We could either walk around or take a water buffalo cart ride. We chose to do the 6km walk around the island, but others chose the buffalo carts.

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In the middle of town is the Nagominoto Tower. It is a 4.5-metre-tall tower which sits on a small hill. As it is old you can no longer climb it.

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A smart local has created their own look out for a small fee, so we were happy to pay to get a bird’s eye view.

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The first part of our hike came out at the Western Pier.

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We then walked along the coastline to Kondoi Beach.

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We continued on to Kaiji Shore where there is star shaped sand. The sands of this beach are very special. In fact, only two places on Earth are known to produce the tiny star-shaped grains of sand that make up Hoshizuna no Hama (Star Sand Beach). These unique grains are actually the pointy husks of millions of tiny protists known as Foraminifera.

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We headed back to the village. There were lots of butterflies.

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After having a good look around, we caught the ferry back to Ishigaki.

9th Nov 2019
Today we docked at the port of Keelung which is the gateway to Taiwan. The oldest Chinese reference to Taiwan dates back to the Han Dynasty in the 3rd century B.C. However, it wasn't until the 17th century A.D. that Chinese Hakka traders first settled on the island. These bold merchants were soon followed by European and Asian adventurers seeking to control and colonize the strategic island. The most famous migration of all occurred in 1948, when the government of the Republic of China fled the mainland. Taipei is Taiwan's capital city and one of the world's most important commercial centres. Despite its turbulent history, Taiwan today boasts an economy that is the envy of the world. Modern Taiwan is a world leader in the production of bicycles, computer chips, plastics, chemicals and computer notebooks.
We have already visited Taiwan some years ago so had visited a lot of the tourist sites including a quick drive through Keelung. At that time, we could see ships in amongst the buildings we thought they looked like they were on land. Views from the ship.

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This morning we visited Yeliu Geo Park, which is famous for its spectacular rock formations. We walked along its lunar-like landscape that abuts a pounding sea. Being a weekend there were thousands of people there.

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We encountered a bizarre array of rock formations, including:
Mushroom rock formations – there are about 180 rocks shaped like mushrooms.

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Yehliu's most iconic landmark; the Queen's Head Rock.

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Ginger rocks

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Marine Bird rock (but I think it looks more like a rabbit)

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Ice-cream rock

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Fairy Slipper rock

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Right by the fairy slipper is earth rock

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Elephant rock

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Candle rocks

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Honeycomb rocks

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There were lots of fossils in the sandstone.

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We then drove to Bisha Fish Market where there are dozens of stores selling fresh seafood, supplying all kinds of deep-sea, inshore, coastal and cultured seafood.

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Visitors can ask the restaurants in the food court to cook the seafood that they have bought from the market. This stall had all live tanks.

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There was certainly a variety of fish.

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This stall sold dried fish.

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Look at these baby squids

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They tie up the live crabs so they can’t bite.

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We then went to Heping Island Park where we walked along the scenic track. There were unique rocks shaped by the sea erosion and you could even see the Keelung Islet from far.

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In the afternoon we headed into Keelung and walked around the Maritime Plaza.

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We set sail at 5pm, it was just getting dark, so the lights had come on for the Keelung signs.

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You can see how close to the town we were; we had been docked on the right -hand side.

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In Australia it has become popular to paint water and wheat silos. Here in Taiwan they are doing the same.

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As we sailed away from Taiwan there were lights everywhere. We then clicked that these were all squid boats. They have bright lights on that attract the squid.

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10th and 11th November

We had 2 more days at sea for our return journey to Yokohama. This will then complete the first of three parts to our cruise.
On the 11th it was Remembrance Day. They had a service on the ship which we attended.

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Posted by shaneandnicola 04:13 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Tokyo, Hiroshima and Yokohama

28th Oct 2019

This evening we headed to Melbourne for our flight to Japan. We were able to get a really good deal on business class flights but have to go via Melbourne and Hong Kong. Our international flight was for 1am so we looked forward to our flat beds so we could get some sleep. We decided not to have anything to eat on the plane and went straight to sleep.

29th Oct 2019

After a good sleep we awoke an hour before the flight arrived and had breakfast. We had a 3 and a half hour wait for our flight to Tokyo, so we held up in the business lounge, had some more breakfast and relaxed. Upon arrival at the gate we were told that they needed to swap planes over due to technical issues so we would have to wait an extra 40 minutes. We arrived in Tokyo at 16:30. While we waited for our luggage, we had our first experience with Japanese toilets. I sat down and the toilet seat was heated. It felt really weird. Our luggage arrived, so we then made our way into Tokyo to our hotel the APA Hotel Ginza-Takaracho in Kyobashi. It took about an hour and a half as it was peak hour and cold and drizzly. We had read the reviews about the rooms, but I gasped when I opened the door. The room was tiny.

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30th Oct 2019

We had a spare day today so wanted to visit the Imperial Palace. The weather had changed. We were so lucky we had a lovely sunny day all day. Our hotel was only a half hour walk so off we went. The history of Japan being reigned over by an Emperor dates back to 660BC. The Tokyo Imperial Palace is located on the site of the original Edo Castle which was established during the Meiji period. In 1868 the capital moved from Kyoto to Tokyo and was established from this exact spot. None of the original buildings remain but there are original moats, walls, watch towers and entrance gates. It is still the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family.
We first visited the statue of Kusunoki Masashige (1294-1336). He is a Samurai Warrior from the 14th century who fought for Emperor Go-Daigo in the Genko War. He is said to have been a brilliant tactician and strategist and his loyalty was recognised with the highest honours of the Meiji government in the 1800’s.

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We then went to the Kokyo Gaien which is a large plaza in front of the Imperial Palace. It is about 500 metres from east to west and 800 metres from north to south. Originally it was a garden for the Imperial family, but it was opened to the public as a national park in 1949 after World War II. The main area is covered with gravel roads, lawns and Japanese black pines. From Kokyo Gaien, you can view the Nijubashi, two bridges that form an entrance to the inner grounds. The stone bridge in front is called Meganebashi (Eyeglass Bridge) for its looks. The bridge in the back was formerly a wooden bridge with two levels, from which the name Nijubashi (Double Bridge) arose. This is the formal entrance to the Imperial Place and is only open for important State events.

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There were guards on duty.

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This is some of the views closer to the bridges.

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You couldn’t miss the moat surrounding the grounds.

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We then walked over to the Kikyo-mon Gate where you could do a free tour of the Imperial Palace grounds. You couldn’t go inside any of the buildings, but it was nice to hear the history and see all the buildings.
There were 2 gates to go through to get inside the grounds.

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The tour was very well organised, and they had 5 groups for 5 different languages.
We visited Fujimi-yagura. This three storied keep was reconstructed in 1659. It was a watch tower and is one of the oldest remnants of Edo Castle. The rampart is 15 metres high and the keep itself is 16 metres high. The city surrounds these grounds, you can see the skyline in some of the photos.

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At the foot of the high stone wall there is a moat called the Hasuikebori (lotus moat) where in summer the lotus bloom. As it isn’t summer, we didn’t get to see them.

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This is the Imperial Household Agency Building. It was constructed in 1935. The third floor of the building was used as the temporary Imperial Palace for some years after World War 2 until the new Imperial Palace was built.

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This is Kyuden Totei. This plaza is located in front of the Chowaden Hall of the Imperial Palace. On occasions the Emperor and his family stand on the balcony. The plaza can hold 20,000 people.

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Beside the plaza is a structure that represents a fur tree.

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Behind Chowaden Hall is the Kyuden which is the actual Imperial Palace (although they don’t live there) it is only used for special occasions. They live in another area of the complex. It was completed in 1968 and consists of 7 buildings including a Function Hall, State Banquet Hall and Emperors Office.

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On the roof of the centre piece is a phoenix.

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We then had the opportunity to walk across Nijubashi bridge. This is the steel bridge we had taken a photo of previously.

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Views looking back to the city.

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We then wanted to visit the East Gardens. This is another part of the moat.

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The Otemon gate is the watari-yagura, a building that was used for storage and defence. This was reconstructed in 1968, the original having been destroyed in April 1945 during WWII. This is where you entered the East Gardens.

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We walked around the gardens which were lovely but unfortunately a lot of it was closed off for renovations.
A guard house.

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A tea house.

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Some of the gardens.

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We then headed to Tokyo Station for another experience. On the way we found the sign for the Rugby World Cup.

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Outside the train station they also have a count down for their Olympics next year.

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We even found a famous shop. Well famous for us.

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The old part of the train station was lovely.

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We then headed inside to try and buy some tickets to Shibuya. That was an experience in itself but between the 2 of us we worked out how to buy the tickets. So, we headed off to the Yamanote line and headed for Shibuya. A trip to Tokyo wouldn't be complete without setting foot on Shibuya Scramble Crossing. Jostling through the surging wave of people that floods the intersection outside Shibuya Station every two minutes is an experience in itself.

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We went up to Starbucks for a drink so we could sit and watch the frenzied crossings. It was a bit of fun.

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A high rise view.

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Meet Tokyo's most famous pooch, Hachikō. This Akita dog came to Shibuya Station every day to meet his master, a professor, returning from work. After the professor died in 1925, Hachikō continued to come to the station daily until his own death nearly 10 years later. The story became legendary and a small statue was erected in the dog’s memory in front of Shibuya Station. We couldn’t believe it there was quite a long queue to have your picture with the statue, so I just snapped a shot between poses. What a sad story though, I teared up telling Shane about it.

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Then as experienced train travellers we went back and bought our ticket back to Tokyo Station and headed back to the hotel after a long day.

31st Oct 2019

This morning we checked out of the hotel as we had an early start. We had to be at the Tokyo Station for a 6.50am train to Hiroshima. So, we boarded the Tokaido Nozomi Super Express Shinkansen. This bullet train is named for the road that took travellers in centuries past between the new and old capitals.

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We arrived in Hiroshima at 11am. It had been a smooth ride with a few stops along the way. We couldn’t believe we had travelled 676 km in 4 hours. We then headed to our hotel. The Hiroden Hotel. It was only a short walk from the station. Hiroshima, a modern city on Japan’s Honshu Island, was largely destroyed by an atomic bomb during World War II. We only have a short time here, so we headed straight out to see some of the sights.
We visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park which commemorates the 1945 event. It is in the centre of Hiroshima and this is the memorial. It is dedicated to the legacy of Hiroshima as the first city in the world to suffer a nuclear attack, and to the memories of the bomb's direct and indirect victims.
In the park are the ruins of Genbaku Dome, it is a brick building designed by Czech architect Jan Letzel that was completed in 1915 as the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall. In 1945, the structure housed national and municipal government offices. At 8:15am on August 6, 1945 an American B29 bomber carried out the world’s first atomic bombing. The bomb exploded about 600 metres above and just 160 metres southeast of this building, ripping though and igniting the building, instantly killing everyone in it. Most of the building’s walls were destroyed in the bombing, but it was one of the few structures in the area to remain upright. In the post-war era it became a symbol of the atomic bombing; in 1996 it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Preservation work at three different times has helped to keep the building standing.

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This is the Red Bird Monument which was by the dome. It serves as a symbol of Hiroshima’s recovery from the devastation of the bomb and the hope for world peace.

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A view of the dome and peace park from the bridge.

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Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall was opened by the Japanese government in 2002 as a place to mourn the victims of the atomic bombing. It contains tens of thousands of written and video testimonies by survivors of the bombing and photographs of those who were killed.

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The cenotaph consists of a stone chest beneath an arch representing the roof, inspired by the haniwa pottery used to decorate prehistoric tombs. It is also known as the Memorial Monument for Hiroshima, City of Peace, because it was built out of a desire to reconstruct post-war Hiroshima as a city dedicated to peace. Within the chest is a record of the names of all the victims of the atomic bombing, not limited by nationality. As of August 6, 2015, there were 297,684 names on the list. The cenotaph is inscribed with the phrase: “Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.”

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The eternal flame.

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The eternal flame, cenotaph and museum complex.

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Sasaki Sadako was exposed to radiation at the age of two when Hiroshima was bombed. A decade later, she was diagnosed with leukemia and died after an eight-month battle with the disease. Based on a traditional Japanese belief, Sadako thought that if she folded 1,000 origami cranes she would recover; she ultimately made more than 1,300, often using the paper wrappings from her medicine. When she died, her shocked elementary school classmates wanted to build a statue for all the children who died as a result of the atomic bombing, and schools around the country began raising money. On May 5, 1958 (Children’s Day), the statue was completed. Schoolchildren often bring folded cranes with them on trips to the monument today. There were lots of children at the memorial today.

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The museum was built by the city of Hiroshima to present an accurate picture of the atomic attack by recording the tragic and terrible effects of the bombing and subsequent radiation. It opened in 1950. The main building conveys what happened on August 6, 1945, through scientific explanations and exhibits of items belonging to the victims. The east building tells the story of Hiroshima before and after the bombing and describes the city’s nuclear disarmament efforts. This was horrific but well presented and sent shivers down our spines.
A view of the park from the museum.

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We then continued walking around the peace gardens. This is the Bell of Peace. You are asked to step forward and toll the bell for peace.

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The Peace Clock Tower. At quarter past eight every morning which was the time the blast occurred, the clock chimes for peace.

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1st Nov 2019

Today we headed to Itsukushima, also known as Miyajima. We headed down to the Hiroshima Peace Park where a ferry leaves from. The hotel had given us a free day pass for the light rail, so we went on that instead of walking. It is a very good form of transport in Hiroshima. Some of the cars were modern and some were still old.

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It was a 45-minute ferry ride to get to Miyajima. 20 minutes was on the river and 25 minutes was on the inland sea.

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Miyajima is a small island in Hiroshima Bay. It is known for its forests and ancient temples. The island is also famous for the deer that wander all over it. You are warned to be careful as they will eat pretty much everything. We laughed quite a bit during the day as they were chasing people that were trying to eat.

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We first had a walk along the waterfront.

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We headed to the Itsukushima Shrine. Originally built over the water in 593 AD, the shrine has about 20 wooden buildings which are connected by boardwalks.

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Just offshore, the giant, orange Great Torii Gate is partially submerged at high tide. It marks the entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine, which was first built in the 12th century. Unfortunately, it is being renovated, so this is what we saw.

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This is what it would have looked like.

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You could see the Five-storied Pagoda from the shrine. It is 27 metres tall.

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We went up to the Five-storied Pagoda.

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Next door was the Hokoku Shrine made in wood.

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A view from the shrine.

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We then took the ropeway up Mt Misen. We first had a lovely walk up to Momijidani Station where the ropeway started. To do this we walked through Momijidani Park.

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There was a lovely bridge there.

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We were lucky when we arrived at the ropeway. There was no one else there so we had a small green car to ourselves which took us up to Kayatani Station.
There were lovely views on the way. We also chose this time of the year to visit Japan due to the autumn leaves. We had been told that they are a bit late this year due to the previous weather, but we were lucky to see some signs of colour.

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We had to get off and transfer to a much bigger car which took us up to Shishiiwa Station.

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There were thousands of oyster beds in the inland sea.

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Once you get off at the platform it was then about a half hour walk to the summit. We were so lucky with the weather. It was a beautiful sunny 24 degrees. This was the sign about the walk.

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Our first stop was Misen Hondo which is the main hall.

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At the same spot was Kiezu-no-hi which is the hall of the spiritual flame. This hall is said to protect a flame which Kobo Daishi is said to have lit when he began worshipping on the mountain. It has been burning ever since and was also used to light the Flame of Peace in the Peace Park.

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There were certainly some unusual sights along the way.

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We then climbed up to Sankido Hall.

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Some other temples

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There were unusual rocks along the way.

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We then made it to the summit.

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When you get to the Mt Misen summit, there is a viewing platform. You are now at 535 metres above sea level.

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On the way back down, we stopped at Dainichido Hall.

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We took the ropeway back down and continued our sightseeing. About 15 minutes from the ropeway was the Daisho-in Temple. This is where Kobo Daishi first began the practice of Buddhism. Daisho-in features a variety of buildings, statues and other religious objects for visitors to admire. These include the Kannon-do Hall, the Maniden Hall, a sand mandala made by visiting monks from Tibet, a tea room and a cave filled with 88 icons representing the temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. It was absolutely beautiful.

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The colourful buddhas were lovely.

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Shane had an unusual lunch. Hiroshima is famous for its oysters. Shane decided to eat a Oyster Curry Bread. It was a donut consistency and inside was a big oyster with curry sauce. He said it was yummy.

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We then visited the Tahoto Pagoda. This was built by the priest Shunkan in 1523, it is 15.6 metres tall.

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This is the Kiyomori Shrine.

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We still had some time before taking the ferry home so decided to have an ice-cream. Shane thought he would have deer poop ice-cream. He said it was yummy. (I guess that’s because it was covered in chocolate pieces).

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When we got back to the hotel, we decided to have a Bento Box for dinner. We had no idea what most of it was, but it was really nice. We identified octopus and lotus seed and of course the rice, but not much else.
This is the packaging which wasn’t much help.

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This was what it looked like.

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2nd Nov 2019

Today we had our last day in Hiroshima. Our train wasn’t until 17:06 so we checked out of the hotel, left our luggage there and headed off to see more of this lovely city.
We visited Shukkeien Garden which is a historic Japanese garden which was started in 1620. In the centre of the gardens is Takuei Pond and around its circumference are bridges, arbours, gardens and a tea house. Again, this garden was destroyed by the bomb, but they restored it to the condition of prior to the bombing.

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There was a bit of bird life in the garden.

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These 2 girls were having photos taken in the garden. They told us they were celebrating “coming of age”. This means they have turned 20.

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We also went to see Hiroshima Castle. Before the moat there is an old gate. It was bombed 170 metres from the blast centre and survived. It was moved here in 1956.

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You can see what it looked like after the bombing.

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In the park there were some children all dressed up.

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Hiroshima Castle, also called the Carp Castle, is a good example of a castle built on a plain in the centre of a city as opposed to hilltop and mountaintop castles. The main part is five stories tall, and its grounds are surrounded by a moat. Also, within the castle's precincts are a shrine, some ruins and a few reconstructed buildings of the Ninomaru (second circle of defence).
Hiroshima developed as a castle town, whereby the castle was both the physical and economical centre of the city. Built in 1589 by the powerful feudal lord Mori Terumoto, Hiroshima Castle was an important seat of power in Western Japan. While it was spared the demolishment that many other castles met during the Meiji Restoration, like the rest of the city, Hiroshima Castle was destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945.
Thirteen years later, its main keep was rebuilt in ferro-concrete with an attractive, partially wooden exterior. Inside the keep is an informative museum on Hiroshima's and the castle's history and Japanese castles in general.

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Panoramic views of the surrounding city can be enjoyed from the top floor.

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In more recent restoration efforts, some structures of the Ninomaru, the castle's second circle of defence, were reconstructed using original building methods and materials. They include the castle's main gate and two turrets adjoined by a long storehouse.

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There was a man on the moat bridge feeding ducks. He gave us some of his bread and told us to go to the other side of the bridge as there would be something better than ducks.

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We wandered back to Hiroshima station and caught our bullet train to Yokohama. We then had to find our way from Shin-Yokohama bullet station to the underground station near our hotel. We are getting pretty good at using the train systems but boy it was hectic. We just happened to arrive when all the fans from the Rugby World Cup were trying to make their way back to Tokyo. It was loud and chaotic.

3rd Nov 2019

Yokohama is Japan's second largest city with a population of over three million. It is located less than half an hour south of Tokyo by train, and is the capital of Kanagawa Prefecture. Towards the end of the Edo Period (1603-1867), during which Japan maintained a policy of self-isolation, Yokohama's port was one of the first to be opened to foreign trade in 1859. Consequently, Yokohama quickly grew from a small fishing village into one of Japan's major cities. This is where our cruise will leave from tomorrow, so we spent some time having a look around.
A view from a bridge.

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We then passed the Red Brick Warehouses. These former brick warehouses are now a shopping & cultural centre with stores, cafes & its holds seasonal events.

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The Osanbashi pier is one of Yokohama's best spots for a walk, it also one of two cruise ship terminals. The 400-metre pier has walkways and green spaces that are open to the general public, making Osanbashi Pier an interesting attraction even for travellers not boarding a ship. The pier was originally built in 1894 but was reconstructed in 2002 as a passenger terminal. Its bold new design incorporates grass and floorboards that mimic rolling waves. We were originally departing from here but a few weeks ago we were advised we were now boarding from a brand new cruise terminal not far from this one.

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From the pier you have unobstructed views of the Minato Mirai skyline. Minato Mirai 21 is a seaside urban area in central Yokohama whose name means "harbor of the future". It has many large high-rises, including the Landmark Tower, which was Japan's tallest building from 1993 until 2014. The area was a large shipyard until the 1980s, when development began to turn it into a new city centre.

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We took a walk along the waterfront to Yamashita Park. Yamashita Park is a public park that stretches about 750 metres along Yokohama's waterfront. The park is about a hundred metres wide and consists mostly of open green space. It was constructed after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

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There is a statue of a girl in the red shoes. The sad song portrays Kimi Iwasaki, who was separated from her mother and adopted by American missionary Charles Huit and his wife when she was 3 years old. The song has been sung by nearly all Japanese during their childhood. It was first performed in 1921 so has now been memorialised with this statue.

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Strolling through the park, it is hard to miss the massive ocean liner in the water beside the promenade. The ship is called the Hikawa Maru and was first put into service in 1930 along the Yokohama-Vancouver/Seattle line. The ship had first-class cabins that attracted the likes of the imperial family and Charlie Chaplin for the transpacific journey. In 1960, after 30 years at sea, the ship was retired. It now serves as a museum, with informative displays and interiors in the style of the 1930s.

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Near the Hikawa Maru, and also hard to miss, stands the Yokohama Marine Tower. It is located just beside the park and extends 106 metres into the air. Although not as high as the Landmark Tower Sky Garden, the Marine Tower's observatory also has a 360-degree view, located 100 metres above ground but unfortunately that is closed at present.

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As it was Sunday there were people everywhere. They love their dogs, there were dogs everywhere too. Some were being walked, some were being pushed in pushers and some in handbags. We came across this wedding where they had to have their fur baby included in the wedding shots.

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We visited the Nippon Maru which is a training ship. It was right in the middle of town in front of the Landmark Tower.

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There was a school band playing. They were really good. They played the music from West Side Story and a Steven Spielberg set including ET, Jaws and Star Wars.

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We then headed back to the hotel for a rest as we wanted to head out tonight to see the city by night. At the moment they have an illumination event and there are lots of things set up for the kids to do in the evening. We also got some shots of the city by night.

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Posted by shaneandnicola 02:57 Archived in Japan Comments (2)

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