Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Slow Boat to China Was Indeed Slow

So I posted about taking the slow boat to China a while back. I'm finally getting around to posting about my trip. Yes it was indeed slow but it was muuuch cheaper than flights to Shanghai and it was fun too.

The trip took two and a half days. Most of the people onboard were Chinese. There were some Japanese, and then there was a small group of Mexican or Spanish backpackers and me.

The trip itself was nice and I'd recommend it to anyone that can spare the time. It cost about about $220 I think.... All the flights from anywhere in Japan to Shanghai were in the $600-$800 range. Needless to say, I was very pleased to save that much money.

There are details on how to book the trip here:

This is the ferry company I took:
English Version

Info on going to China from the Japan

To book my ticket I asked people working at my hostel to book the ship for me. There are no English speakers at the Tokyo or Osaka office.

Breakfast is included but you must pay for all other meals. The food is surprisingly not too shabby, some of them quite good actually. For entertainment most of the guests play mahjong, card games, or in the case of a few - playing chinese chess. There's also dancing and karaoke after dinner time but it's filled with mostly old people. A few of the younger Chinese and Japanese girl decided to sing as did the group of Mexican or Spanish backpackers. There are shower and laundry facilities onboard but I decided not to use them. Yep, I did not shower for 2 1/2 days... this may seem nasty but the showers didn't seem all that great to me. There's also a small arcade and ping pong table.

All aboard!

My Bed

Goodbye Kobe, Goodbye Japan

A ramen making vending machine.

Yep, a slot machine on board.

Really old arcade games for about $1 each.

Street Fighter 2, Champion Edition

Lounge area
Food on the ship
One of my meals on the ship

More food
Another one of my dinners
Free breakfast
Hello Shanghai

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Japan Closing

I had a great time in Japan. It's a wonderful country full of character and history. The people are very polite and the country is pretty clean. It's not sparkling like I had imagined, but it's very clean. Pretty much everyone in the cities speaks English so it's not difficult to get around. The trains and subways make travel so easy. While I was there the weather in Japan was very nice, no humidity!

I have never seen a people so concerned with their own identity. Everything must be Japanese. Even an ice cream sundae is turned into a Japanese style sunday. Their preoccupation with making sure everything is Japanese is probably a by product of their Japanese superiority mentality from the World War 2 era (just my guess). While Japanese people were very polite, I cannot say they were in general nice. I met nice Japanese people, but also some not so nice people. Generally speaking the young Japanese people were all very nice when they found out I was not Japanese. A few older people however became somewhat rude, or disinterested in helping me -- even going out of their way to help someone Japanese and ignoring me. This probably has to do with the gross racism in Japan's past, which is still relevant today. If you watch any Japanese TV watch how they portray black people. It's quite disturbing. Still, like I said, no country is perfect and Japan was quite fun.

The Best guide book you can get for Japan:The Rough Guide to Japan Fourth Edition (Rough Guide Travel Guides)
It's award winning, and covers everything from practicalities to history to food and where to sleep.

Free online guide:

Get a Japan Rail Pass, also known as a JR Pass. This will allow you to travel across Japan on their high speed trains and local JR metros for an unlimited amount. You can only purchase this outside of Japan so make sure you take care of it before you go. It will save you TONS of money as traveling in Japan can add up fast.

Some Random Pictures:

Don't swing your umbrella like a golf club in the subway station.
No sitting on the floor in the subway car.
You know, Japan did not seem to have very much engrish. This was one of the few I found.

The ladies only car on the subway.

I just did a google search for "princess osaka castle favorite granddaughter" and my blog comes up as the first search result!

Himeji / Kobe

I only dropped by Kobe because the ship I was taking to Shanghai leaves from Kobe. Kobe seems like a nice city, but since I didn't really spend anytime in it I don't have much to say about it.

Instead of spending time in Kobe I decided to head off to Himeiji Jo, probably Japan's most impressive castle. It's the castle used in one of the James Bond Movie: You Only Live Twice and briefly used as the Castle in the distance of The Last Samurai. If you visit only one castle in Japan make sure it's this one. Himeji-jo is really that good!
9AM - 4PM everyday
600 Yen
720 Yen with a combined ticket to the gardens near by (I missed this because my tour went longer than i expected, but great tour)

I took a free english tour as recommended to me by my book The Rough Guide to Japan. It was actually very good. The volunteer spoke English very well and was quite knowledgeable about the castle and its history. Ask for a guide at the main entrance to the castle.

The view of the castle from the JR station.

Getting closer...

Map of Himeji-jo

Inside the entrance

a hook used for camouflage nets during World War 2

Himeji Castle was built in the 1600s by Tokugawa Ieyasu's son in law in the 1600s. By that time the Shogun had united Japan so the country was peaceful so the castle itself was never used in any combat, but there were still many defensive capabilities built into it. During world war 2 nets were placed over the castle to attempt to camouflage it from Allied bombers. One bomb did fall in the castle but it did not detonate; a few brave men removed the bomb from the castle.

stone throwing holes

Air vent for gun smoke to escape

a gun port, it also tells you how tall, or in this case short, japanese men were in this era; hey the guide said it - not me.

recreation of a Princess Senhime playing a game with shells

Remember Princess Senhime from Osaka Castle? Well she remairried and ended up here in Himeji Castle.

Some of these rocks have words carved into them from the village they were brought from

This area was used in one of the James Bond movies

A defensive door way. This would force attackers into a narrow line making it easier for the defenders to fight them.
It's rumored that there's a secret switch some where in here.

Harakiri-maru - this courtyard was made for seppuku: samurai ritual suicide. My guide said it was never used for seppuku.

This area in the courtyard is where the court would sit and decide the fate of the samurai.

This well was to be used to wash the beheaded head.

This stone would be used to behead the samurai during seppuku.

Okiku-ido (well)

Okiku-ido is home to the castle's famous ghost story. Okiku was a servant girl who had been falsely accused of theft. She was dumped in this well after being tortured to death. It is said that her ghost can be heard wailing from inside the well. I believe there is a shrine dedicated to her in the city.