Exploring Kushiro

Got up at our usual time of 8.00am to find the Quest docked in the port of Kushiro.  Going out onto our balcony and looking down at the quayside, we could see several stalls set out below, and a shuttle bus waiting nearby.  We didn’t have any excursions booked today, instead preferring to do our own thing and look around at leisure.  Once again, the weather was fairly cloudy but at least it was dry; in fact, we’d seen no rain since leaving home.

We ate breakfast in the Windows Café, then collected our money, camera, shipboard pass etc and went down to Deck 3 to disembark.

As we walked along the quayside, several children in school uniform came up to us, asking us where we were from and giving us little information sheets about some of the stalls we could see; also shuttle bus timetables and small street maps of the area.  The children and teenagers were spending time in the port mixing with and speaking with the passengers from the Quest, both to help their English and for them to let us see some of their culture and traditions.

The stalls contained local handicrafts, clothes, street food items and the usual souvenir ‘tat’ such as fridge magnets and plastic toys.

We decided to go into the town, so we waited for about 10 minutes for the next shuttle bus, which only took about a short while (maybe 10 minutes) to drop us off at the Washo Market.  This was a large indoor market selling flowers, fresh fruit and vegetables and meats, but mainly fish; rows and rows of stalls of fresh fish.  We saw tanks containing crabs and lobsters, as well as those giant King Crabs.  There were also squid and octopus, scallops, and loads of smoked and fresh fish, gleaming on their beds of crushed ice.  The Japanese are very big consumers of fish, and this no doubt contributes to their healthy lifestyles and the fact that they have the longest life expectancy of any other nation in the world.

Leaving the market behind, we slowly walked along the streets, browsing in any shop windows and just soaking up the atmosphere.  We went down some steps into a subway crossing, and it was amazing because the walls were adorned with artwork.  Apparently, all the paintings had been created by artists with disabilities, and they were superb.  We took our time browsing the art, taking several photos.

We continued on our way, going through a park which had some interesting sculptures; one of them was a large brass globe of the World, which was cut open transversely showing rows of blocks inside.  I wanted to know who the artist was, because there is an almost-identical sculpture in the lobby of the ship Balmoral, on which we’ve already cruised three times and are booked to do two more.  I couldn’t see any plaque saying who the artist was (in any case it all would have been in Japanese!) but I will endeavour to find out.

As the sky had got duller and the wind a bit more brisk, we decided to take a walk back to the ship rather than take the bus, particularly since we could see the Quest’s funnel and she obviously wasn’t far away.

As we walked past the stalls again, we stopped for a free cup of hot milk with sweet sake (the fermented rice wine) which was quite pleasant.

Back on board again we enjoyed a late lunch, and looking out of the windows we could see that a dense fog was slowly coming in, obscuring our elevated view of the town and the distant hills.

After our lunch, we had to go to the Cabaret Lounge with our shipboard cards and passports for the Japanese departure immigration inspection, as today we would be leaving Japanese waters on our way to Russia.

We then had a half-hour power nap before looking out on our balcony to a grey wall of fog.  We pottered around for a bit, then went to The Den to take part in the first of the quizzes, called “Famous Faces”.  While we were there, we joined up with another couple who were from Darwin, Australia, and introduced themselves as Raleen and David.  We were given a picture sheet with famous faces on it, such as Neil Armstrong, Bill Gates, William Shakespeare, Charles de Gaulle etc.  We only got 15/20, not enough to win.

The next quiz was called “Disco Fever” and featured music from the 1970s and ‘80s, which is my best era.  There were 20 questions and you had to give the song title and the name of the artiste.  We scored 38/40 in total (there was one title and one artiste I couldn’t get) and we were wondering who could beat that, but the team next to us scored 40/40!!  Amazing.

At 5.00pm a loud blast from the ship’s foghorn indicated we were underway again; in fact the blasts continued, one every two minutes, because of the dense fog and poor visibility outside.

After the quiz, we stayed talking in The Den for a while afterwards, then we decided to go to the Mosaic Café, where they were holding a Japanese Art Expo as well as whisky and sake tasting.  There is a Japanese artist on board the ship who is unique in that she uses coffee as her painting medium and sits on the floor to complete her canvases.  We had seen her in action earlier on today, and now some of her completed paintings were being displayed for purchase, and we could enjoy some free sake and/or Japanese whisky (Suntory!!) while we browsed.

We enjoyed several samples of the free booze, then returned to 6009 to get washed and changed for dinner.  This time we decided we’d go to the Discoveries restaurant and while we were waiting to be allocated a table, Dale and Susie, who’d shared our table the first evening, arrived, so we decided we’d all sit together.

We were given a table right at the stern of the ship, where we could see faintly see the wake of the Quest stretching out behind us.  It was still foggy, but not as bad as it had been, and we hoped it would soon dissipate because the air was damp and cold outside.

We enjoyed a great, tasty meal in excellent company; there was certainly no shortage of conversation. Afterwards we thanked each other for their company, and realised we’d been in the restaurant a couple of hours.  We therefore went back to The Den for a couple of drinks before going along to the Cabaret Lounge in time for the show at 9.30pm.

Tonight’s performance was called “Piano Man” and featured a British performer called Tom Seals.  He was excellent, playing the piano and singing a number of Elton John songs as well as Billy Joel and other piano greats.  In fact, we’ve been impressed with the calibre of the shows we’ve seen so far on this voyage.

We decided to finish the evening up in the Living Room, where we listened to the disco music and watched the dancers from our bar stools.  We had to put out clocks and watches one hour ahead tonight so, when we left the bar well after midnight, it was really after 1.00am.  We were now nine hours ahead of British time and would lose an hour in bed, but it didn’t really matter because we had a sea day to look forward to tomorrow and could do what we liked, when we liked.

And so we settled down in bed as the Azamara Quest continued her placid way through the calm waters of the Pacific Ocean, en route to our next exciting destination.

Konnichiwa Muroran

Got up at 8.00am to find ourselves docked in the port of Muroran, the gateway to Sapporo, Japan.  This was a new port of call to us, as are all of them on this voyage, even though we’ve been to the countries before. The weather was dry but the skies were cloudy, and we hoped that it would brighten up as the day went on.

While Trevor went for breakfast in the Windows Café, I just enjoyed an apple and an orange from the fruit bowl in our stateroom; we then wandered around on deck and looked at our immediate surroundings.  We seemed to be in quite an industrial/commercial area and, as we didn’t have any excursions booked today, we just decided to take a walk out and explore on foot. Even just wandering around the town and the area, it’s possible to experience the culture and the differences between Japan and home.  😊

We disembarked the ship and walked along the dockside, getting some good pictures of the Azamara Quest moored up.  Then we just took our time strolling along, with no particular destination in mind, just exploring and looking around and seeing what we could find.  For a working day, the streets were surprisingly devoid of traffic and people, and everywhere was incredibly clean and well-maintained; there was no litter or graffiti or overflowing bins.

We walked along the street until we came across a Pachinko Parlour.  Pachinko is everywhere in Japan; the locals are mad on it.  For anyone who’s doesn’t know what pachinko is, it is an arcade game played with ball-bearings similar to pinball, but vertical.  The idea is to keep the balls in the air for as long as possible without letting them drop down the holes in the bottom.  When you walk into a pachinko parlour the first thing to hit your senses in the noise; the din is tremendous, with thousands of steel ball-bearings banging off the players’ paddles as rows and rows of people sit at stools in front of their machines.  It was surprising to see so many people playing, on what was a working day.

We didn’t join in, just walked about marvelling at this typically-Japanese phenomenon, and when we went outside again the usual street sounds seemed blissfully quiet!

As we were further north than Tokyo we found that the cherry blossom, for which Japan is famous (the cherry is their national tree) was still out on the trees, and we got some good photos of the trees with their gorgeous pink blossoms.  One of the photos I took had a Toyota car in the foreground for some more Japanese culture! 😊

We then decided to go into a large department store, and have a coffee in their little café and snack bar.  Then we had a wander around the supermarket, looking at the different things they have in Japanese shops from the ones back at home.  There were a lot of snacks of dried fish and dried octopus, as well as nameless snacks that just had Japanese writing on them and we didn’t know what they were, until a small photo of a dog on the packet showed that it must have been pet food; we laughed at the idea of bringing back some sweets and snacks for our colleagues only to find we’d inadvertently given them dog food!!  😊

Instead, I bought packets of what were undoubtedly sweets and, because I’d only had some fruit for breakfast and was feeling a bit hungry now, I bought a packet of cheese and chive flavoured crinkle-cut crisps (it had the description in English on the packet!) which were very tasty.  We then went to use the restrooms which had the usual control panel containing the usual array of water sprays/pressure, blow-dryers and perfume sprayers, as well as a comfortably-heated seat.  You could bring a book into the toilet and sit there for ages!  😊

Back outside, we wandered around the streets and the shops and were amazed to find that there were speakers intermittently placed on the lamp-posts, from which gentle music was playing.

We continued exploring and, by the time we arrived back at the ship in time for lunch, we saw on our phones that we’d done about 3 miles of walking.

Back on board the Quest we went up to the Windows Café again, where I enjoyed a plate of cold meats and fresh salad vegetables, washed down with a glass of chilled rosé wine.  Then we wandered around on deck for a while before returning to our cabin for a 30-minute power nap.

At four o’clock it was time for the quiz once more; today’s theme was Broadway musicals.  The music quiz (which was based on Michael Jackson hits) was due to start afterwards, but a voice came over the loudspeaker to say that there was a group of Japanese children dockside who had come to perform some singing and dancing for us, prior to the ship’s departure at five.

We therefore went outside and took up a good vantage point from Deck 5.  There were two large groups of children; one dressed in yellow kimonos and the other in red.  They did a variety of songs, chants and dances, some using hand-held percussion instruments.  It was a charming and colourful show, and I got some good photos and video footage.

Just after 5.00pm the Azamara Quest gave three loud blasts of her foghorn as the ship slowly pulled away from the dockside, and sailed off into the Sea of Japan once more, next stop Kushiro.

We pottered around the ship for a short time afterwards before returning to our cabin and getting showered and blow-drying my hair before changing for dinner.  Tonight I wore a green, navy and white dress with a matching green shawl crocheted in an intricate pattern in a fine alpaca wool.  We didn’t go to the Discoveries Restaurant for dinner tonight, but instead to the self-service buffet in the Windows Café, where a selection of Asian dishes was on offer.  While we were in there, we got talking to a Danish guy from Copenhagen who, inevitably, asked us what we thought about Brexit!

We then hot-footed it along to the Cabaret Lounge in good time for the first show at 8.15pm, which featured a really entertaining comedy magician called Greg Moreland.  He was very, very good as well as being quite hilarious, and we really enjoyed his show.

Afterwards we went up to the Living Room at the top of the ship as the dance-music group Riviera Trio were playing some Latin beats and teaching the cha cha cha.  As we’ve been learning this one at our dance classes at home, we already knew how to do the basic steps, but we still enjoyed doing the cha cha cha to the infectious Latin rhythm, and it helped work up a thirst for several cocktails at the bar, where we chatted to the Indonesian barmaid and the Gypsy barman.  Well, that was how he introduced himself; when we asked him where he was from, he said “I’m a Gypsy, I don’t have one particular place I live”.  Apparently he was born in Belarus but now lives anywhere from the Ukraine or Russia or on the cruise ships, only returning to Belarus to see his mother.

It was well after midnight when we left the bar (in fact I think we were the last ones out!) and returned to stateroom 6009, where we settled down and slept very well, looking forward to what tomorrow had to bring.

The Pacific, to be specific

Got up around eight o’clock after a great night’s sleep, and hoped we had finally got over the 8-hour time difference.  We went out onto our balcony, but there was quite a cold, brisk wind blowing which would have made it unpleasant to sit outside for any length of time.

As we made our way to the self-service dining room, we were surprised to see quite a few people out on sun loungers by the pool deck already; the difference was that they were covered in large checked blankets instead of the usual towels.  One lady had braved the chilly wind for the warmth of one of the Jacuzzis by the pool.  The sky was cloudy and we hoped the day would brighten up as time went on.

Looking at the daily programme we didn’t see anything, apart from one or two quizzes, that we wanted to participate in, and it was nice to have the time to ourselves and not have to let the clock rule our day.

In fact, by about 10.30am, we both found we were very tired (we were obviously still jetlagged) so we decided to return to 6009 and go back to sleep. We must have been exhausted because we went out like a light and didn’t wake up until it was time for lunch!  ☹

The weather had brightened up considerably by now; in fact, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  It was deceiving though, because the wind coming down from the north still had a bit of a bite to it and unless you found a nice sheltered spot on the deck it was still a bit cold to sit out in.  Trevor and I stood on the lee side of the ship in the sunshine, standing at the railing doing that very pleasant pastime of just watching the sea passing by.  At one stage we spotted the tell-tale spouts and black dorsal fins that indicated a school of porpoises.

We didn’t really do a lot this afternoon.  We went along to the Den and enjoyed a couple of cocktails at the bar, then we took part in the quiz, at which a pleasant American couple, Peter and Georgia, joined us.  The questions were themed around Japan; we didn’t do very well, only scoring 11 out of 20.

The next quiz was based on music from the 1960s, and we did a little better at that, scoring 15/20 – I was the one who got most of the answers.  Still not enough to win though, but at least it was fun and in pleasant surroundings with interesting people.

We finished with one more drink (they do a nice Aperol Spritz on board!) then returned to stateroom 6009 to get a little more glammed up for the Captain’s Cocktail Party later on.  On Azamara ships there is no dress code; smart-casual is the order of the day, but old habits die hard and I always make the effort to dress more smartly for the evening, so I had brought a long black evening dress and sequinned wrap to wear tonight.

Another Azamara difference is that there is also no set dining time and no set tables – you can go in to eat when and where you want and, although this does undoubtedly have its advantages, we prefer to have a set table and get to know our table-mates over the two weeks, and in the past we’ve had a lot of fun, good conversation and laughs with other couples at our table over the years.

Because we wanted to be out of the restaurant in good time tonight for the cabaret and then the Captain’s Welcome, we decided we’d just ask for a table for two this time.  We enjoyed the usual scrumptious meal washed down with rosé wine and amaretto, then made our way to the Cabaret Lounge where we were able to get front-row seats.  Tray-bearing waiters and waitresses flitted among us, dispensing prosecco, martinis and gin and tonic, and the band played lively tunes in the background, before the captain was clapped onto the stage to the strains of Anchors Aweigh!

The captain on the Azamara Quest is called Captain Magnus Davidson and hails from Norfolk; a fellow Brit like us.  He gave an amusing speech and thanked everyone from choosing Azamara, and introduced us to his senior officers.  A waiter came around offering us canapés, but after our giant dinner we had to reluctantly refuse.

The show tonight featured the show company performing snippets of songs and music from different eras and venues around the world; the one for Britain featured “The Pub” and they sang the Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 miles) which was less-known to the USA passengers but joined in lustily by the British crowd:

Now I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
To be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door…

All in all, it was a very good show which was something a little different.

We weren’t tired at all after our mammoth nap earlier on, so we just went back to The Den and sat at the bar and enjoyed a couple more cocktails, before returning to our cabin around 11.45pm.  Sliding open our balcony door a little, we were met with a blast of cold wind, even though the Pacific Ocean looked very calm.  We decided against going out and sitting on the balcony for a short while, which was a shame when we spent so much time doing it on our last cruise.  The temperature here was about 15 or more degrees colder, however.   😊

Tomorrow we were due to arrive in Muroran, another port in Japan, and we settled down for the evening and, once again, slept well.

Amazing Azamara

Didn’t sleep very well at all last night.  At some point I woke up in the pitch darkness, feeling as if I’d been asleep for hours, to find it was only midnight.  From then on I was asleep and awake and asleep and awake, tossing and turning, and morning seemed an absolute age away.

Finally, at 5.00am, I got up and made myself a cup of coffee, and had a look outside on our balcony in the cool and quiet morning air; sunrise had occurred about 20 minutes previously.  I then returned to bed to drink my coffee and read my Kindle, after which I settled back down and slept until after eight o’clock; in fact the last couple of hours’ sleep was much better quality than the rest of the night.

We then got up and I enjoyed a long, refreshing shower and shampooed my hair before we packed up our stuff and went down to the hotel’s huge dining room for breakfast.  The weather looked quite cloudy outside and we hoped it would brighten up.  I enjoyed some cold meats and cheeses washed down with coffee and orange juice, then we were ready for whatever the day had in store.

Back in our room, we put the cases outside for collection, then decided to take a walk outside in the hotel gardens, as we had a couple of hours before the coaches were due to arrive to take us to the ship.

It was very pleasant in the gardens; there were lots of trees and flowers and little winding paths.  We were just that bit too late to see the famous cherry blossoms.

We saw pagodas and statues and came to a pond which contained a selection of carp.  Some of them were very large, about 15 inches long, and they were in a variety of colours; orange and white, orange and grey, white and grey or black, with patches, smudges or dots of contrasting colours.  They had all gathered down at our end of the pond, no doubt hoping for some titbits, despite the notices up advising visitors not to feed the fish.

Afterwards we returned to our room and had a cup of coffee, before picking up our cases (which we’d amusingly heard referred to as “ruggage” at the airport) and going downstairs to check out.

We then had about half an hour to await our bus to Yokohama, where we would pick up our ship, the Azamara Quest.

The bus arrived and we happily boarded and set off for the 45-minute ride to the port of Yokohama. The sun was shining and we passed beautifully-clean cities and parks with trees and lots of colourful flowers and roses.

Soon we pulled up at the International Port of Yokohama, and we caught our first glimpse of our home for the next 14 nights, the Azamara Quest.  We have not been on this ship before, although we’ve sailed on her sister ship, the Azamara Journey, when we went to the French Riviera and Monaco Grand Prix in 2011. She looked quite distinctive with her black hull and white funnel sporting the blue “A” logo, and we couldn’t wait to join her.

Just in front of the port we noticed crowds of people and saw signs proclaiming, in both Japanese and English, that this was a “Belgian Beer Festival”, and we decided that if he had the time later on, we’d come back here and explore.  😊

It was fairly quick and easy going through the embarkation process.  Because we’d already been allocated our cabin and had printed off the bar codes for our boarding passes, it was just a simple matter of showing our passports and USA ESTA documents and registering a credit card.  Then we happily went along the tunnel which took us onto the Azamara Quest.  On boarding, we were each handed a glass of chilled prosecco, and told that we could go straight to lunch as our staterooms would not be available until 1.30pm.

Up at the pool deck, we enjoyed a light lunch; Trevor had a club sandwich while I chose a plate of tasty nachos, washed down with another glass of prosecco each.  On Azamara cruises, wine is included with your lunch and dinner, as are other selected beers, spirits and soft drinks, or you could upgrade your drinks package to included premium brands and cocktails for an extra £12.75 a day, which is in fact what we did.

After lunch we wandered around the ship which was already very familiar due to our having been on the Azamara Journey and the Adonia (which was a P&O ship until last year, when she then joined the Azamara line as the third ship in the fleet, the Azamara Pursuit).

It was then time to try our stateroom; we’d already spotted our cases on deck so we knew they would be delivered soon.  We went up to deck 6 and found stateroom 6009, a superior balcony cabin of 175 square feet.  It was decorated in shades of beige and grey with lots of mirrors, and had a king-size bed with crisp cotton sheets, a settee and coffee table, a dressing table and chair and floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors leading out a to a large balcony that contained a table and two chairs.  It all looked very nice indeed, and we knew we were in for a comfortable two weeks.

Once we’d dumped our bags we decided to go ashore once again, as we were not due to sail until 5.00pm.  In any case, in was good to be able to stretch our legs a bit, and the weather was sunny and bright, but not too hot.

We walked the mile or so along the sea front, back around to the beer festival.  The route along the way contained lots of colourful flowers and beautiful roses, and many people were taking photographs.  Everyone seemed smiley and happy and it was a nice cheerful atmosphere.

When we got to the beer festival, there were many, many stalls sets up, as well as standing tables containing little clusters of people clutching beer glasses.  In the middle, a stage was set up with some live entertainment.  We were advised that we needed to purchase the beer glasses (which you could keep as a souvenir) as well as tokens which were exchanged for the beer of your choice.

We joined the queue for our glasses and tokens, doing a spot of people-watching while we were waiting.  A lot of the visitors had their dogs with them on leads and there also seemed to be many student-types.  We got our glasses and tokens, then had a stroll among the stalls before choosing a beer each; mine was a sort of strong lager of 7% while Trevor chose one that tasted of cherries.  We had 11 tokens to spend, which seemed a strange number until you realised that most of the beers costs three or four tokens, a sales ploy forcing people to go back and purchase more tokens.  We therefore just shared the last beer between us, which was just as well considering it was 10% ABV!

After we’d enjoyed our beers we then took a slow stroll back to the ship.  The lady was still at the top of the gang-plank dispensing the free proseccos, but she recognised us from earlier so we didn’t get another freebie.

On returning to our cabin, we saw our cases outside, so we brought them in and spent some time unpacking and hanging everything up neatly and folding things into drawers and cupboards.

On Azamara cruises there isn’t a set dining time or set table, so we weren’t in any hurry.  As we were feeling quite hungry, however, we took the time to get washed and changed and smartened up a bit, then made our way to the Discoveries restaurant, where we were asked if we wanted a table for two or if we were happy to share.  As the conversation and banter with table-mates is part of the pleasure of cruising, we agreed we’d prefer to share, so we were shown to a table for eight at which an American couple, who introduced themselves as Dale and Susie, were already seated.  Presently another two couples, Peter and Jane from Phoenix, Arizona and François and Marliese from Antwerp in Belgium joined us, and the conversation and anecdotes flowed.  Inevitably, when they found out that Trevor and I were from Britain, they asked us for our views on Brexit, and we (who voted to Remain) said it was an utter shambles.

I enjoyed a delicious meal of jumbo shrimp cocktail followed by Caesar salad, then New York style steak with baked potato, washed down with chilled rosé wine and finished off with coffee and amaretto.

Our table was one of the last to leave the restaurant, whereupon we made our way to the show lounge where there was an introduction, by way of musical numbers, to the Azamara Singers and Dancers, as well as a welcome by the cruise director who told us all the exciting things the entertainment team had in store for us on this 14-night voyage.

We finished this eventful day off with a visit to the very pleasant bar and lounge called The Den, and we perched on leather bar stools and enjoyed a cocktail each.  Another couple were sitting at the bar and, when they spoke, we recognised from their accent that they were from Liverpool.  We sat there for a couple of hours, drinking and chatting, until it was after midnight which was surprising in light of our jetlag.

We then returned to stateroom 6009 and settled down for our first night on the fabulous Azamara Quest.  The sea was very calm and we left the balcony door open slightly, in order to get some fresh sea air and listen to the hypnotic “shhhhhh shhhhhh” sounds of the sea.

We slept very well.

Good Morning Tokyo

Disembarking the aircraft and making our way through Arrivals was fairly quick and efficient, and soon we found the Azamara Club Cruises rep and joined three other couples from our flight for the bus to the hotel, which they told us was about 1½ hour’s travel away.  In Japan, they drive on the left as we do in Britain, and we looked out of the bus window with interest as we made our way through the Saturday lunchtime traffic to the Grand Prince Takanawa Hotel.

The hotel was huge, with a massive marble-floored lobby.  As we walked to the reception desk, we were greeted by bowing and smiling hotel staff. It didn’t take long to check in, which was just as well because we were feeling very tired and longing for a lie-down.

We were allocated room 2520 on the fifth floor and as we made our way to the lifts I stopped to go to the toilet.  Now I have to take some time here to describe the toilets in Japan, because they’re unlike any you’ll see anywhere else.  When you go into the cubicle the lid of the toilet comes up automatically, then when you sit down, you’ll find yourself on a heated toilet seat, with a control panel where you can choose what music you want to listen to.  Then, when you’ve finished doing what you need to do, you can choose to have either your ‘front’ or ‘back’ gently washed with warm or cool water, you can choose the water pressure and whether you want the spray to be plain, oscillated or pulsed.  Then, you can sit and have everything ‘blow dried’.

As soon as you stand up, the toilet will automatically flush and the lid goes back down again.  I think it is the only time in my life I have ever taken photos of a toilet!  😊

Room 2520 was fairly plainly decorated, but clean and comfortable with a pleasant 5th floor view from a small balcony over trees and landscaped gardens.  We decided to have a nap first, then go out and explore our immediate surroundings afterwards.

We set the alarm for an hour’s time, then thankfully collapsed onto the bed for a power nap.  When the alarm went off all too soon, we forced ourselves to get up to try to adapt to the new time zone as closely as possible.  We then thought we’d go out and stretch our legs.

Walking back through the hotel foyer we were met with the usual bowing and smiling staff, then we went outside into the warm afternoon sunshine.  We were not in the main city centre of Tokyo, but rather on the outskirts, where it was not so busy and frenetic. Most of the buildings surrounding us were hotels and office blocks, with here and there some shops, bars and restaurants.

We opted to go into a nearby bar and have ourselves a Japanese beer.  We each ordered a cold pint of Kirin, and sat on a terrace table opposite our hotel, and drank our beer in a glassy-eyed, semi-somnolent state.  The beers were quite expensive at £7.85 a glass so, after we’d finished, we decided to go further down the road where we’d seen another bar advertising “Happy Hour” from 5.00-7.00pm where we could also get something to eat.

The downstairs basement bar was called the “Outback Bar and Grill” and was an Australian-themed steak bar.  We each ordered another Kirin beer and I chose a Caesar salad with steak (instead of the usual chicken) while Trevor had a delicious-looking steak focaccia.  We stayed for another beer each, then decided to take a slow walk back to the hotel and relax in our room for the evening.  When we came out of the bar about 6.50pm, we were slightly surprised to see it was already dark.

Back in our hotel we saw that they had a “7-11” general store, so we went in and bought a bottle of prosecco to enjoy up in our room.  We saw several bottles of wine or liquor that just had Japanese writing on the bottle and I was quite tempted to buy one and see what we ended up with, a sort of “Russian Roulette”.  😊

Last Monday, to get in the mood for all things Japanese, I decided to re-watch the movie Lost in Translation.  This is one of my favourite films and stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson as two fellow American ‘lost souls’ in Tokyo, and it highlights some of the cultural differences as well as having a slightly comical aspect.  Already, during our short time in Japan, I had seen several things that reminded me of scenes from the film; the smiling, bowing hotel staff, the disembodied Japanese voices spouting robotic gobbledegook in the toilets and in the lifts and the bottles of Suntory Whisky in the shop.

The Lost in Translation theme continued back in our hotel room, where Trevor quickly zapped through the various TV channels, all of which seemed to be showing Japanese game shows, their presenters yammering away in an over-enthusiastic manner.  There appeared to be no English-language programmes at all, but after all, the cultural differences are exactly why we go on holiday to places like Japan, Nepal, Ecuador and Brazil, to name but a few.

I got washed and changed into my PJs, and enjoyed a couple of glasses of prosecco while reading some of my magazines. I was trying to keep my eyes open as long as possible, but I really was fighting a losing battle, and I settled down before 9.00pm and was out like a light.

Turning Japanese

Turning Japanese,
I think I’m turning Japanese
I really think so.

The Vapors – 1980

There were a few songs that sprung to mind when thinking of a title for today’s blog; as well as Turning Japanese by the Vapors, I could have had Big in Japan  by Alphaville or Japanese Boy by Anneka.  So maybe that might give you a bit of a clue as to where we were going to start our next epic cruise!  😊

Yes!  Today we were flying from Newcastle to London Heathrow at 11.30am, then onwards to Tokyo, Japan at 3.45pm.  We weren’t really looking forward to the long-haul flight and the 8-hour time difference, but these things are a fact of life when you want to visit exciting locations, and fewer places could be more exciting or exotic than Japan.

We drove through to Newcastle and left the car in the long-term car park before joining the British Airways queue inside the terminal. We checked our bags right through to Tokyo, then went through security and into the Metro bar, where Trevor enjoyed a pint and I had a large cup of Americano coffee, hot and strong. Then it was time to make our way to the gate for flight BA1327 to the capital.

On arrival 45 minutes later, we proceeded to the connections area in Terminal 5, then made a beeline for the ‘Crown Rivers’ pub there, which is a Wetherspoon’s pub and was doing a lively trade in meals and drinks.  It was lunchtime by now and we were quite hungry, so I used the Wetherspoon’s app to order and pay for a couple of pints of beer, plus some traditional fish and chips for Trevor and a plate of chilli con carne for myself.

The service was excellent; the drinks arrived in three minutes and the meals only three minutes after that.  It was certainly a contrast from the last Wetherspoon’s pub we’d been in, the ‘Lord Chief Justice of the Common Plea’ in Keswick, where we’d had to wait a full half hour before we received any drinks.

We each enjoyed another round of drinks before it was time to go along to the British Airways departure gate, where we could see our aircraft, a B789 Dreamliner, waiting for us on the tarmac.  Boarding did not take long at all, and we made ourselves comfortable in our seats to endure the 11-hour flight to Tokyo.

The aircraft soared off into the skies and we settled back in our seats, looking out of the windows at the receding London landscape below. Then, once the ‘fasten seatbelts’ sign had been switched off, the cabin crew came around with pre-dinner drinks and snacks, and we passed the time looking at the interactive AVOD screens, reading, listening to music and all the other things you need to do to try to keep the tedium at bay.

The Dreamliner aircraft windows do not have the usual pull-down shades that you find on most aircraft.  Instead, they have a dimmer switch below which serves to lighten and darken the glass, a bit like those ‘Reactolite’ sunglasses you could get.  As we had the sun on our side of the aircraft and we were heading in a north-easterly direction, we dimmed the windows a little to make it more comfortable on the eyes to look out.

It was a strange time to be flying; it was neither a night flight nor a day flight.  We were due to arrive in Tokyo at 11.10am local time, which would feel like 03.10am British time, and we wondered how the jetlag would affect us.

As we were travelling north-east and into the daylight, we noticed a very unusual phenomenon; it never really got dark.  I managed to get some fantastic photos out of the aeroplane window of a blood-red sunset, with the silhouette of the aircraft wing against a deep blue sky but then, instead of the sun disappearing below the horizon, it started to come up again!  Looking at our sky map, we noticed we were flying over Sweden and then Finland, so we concluded that because we were so far north and flying east, we enjoyed the sight of the sun being constantly in the sky.  Against our blackened windows, it looked like a deep red ball, and it reflected into the interior of the plane as a warm red glow.

I can never sleep at all on a plane, so I just passed the time reading and watching a couple of episodes of Fawlty Towers, which is still funny after all these years.

Time passed in its usual way and soon the cabin crew came round again with our breakfast of Spanish omelette and fresh fruit salad.  Our sky map told us we had a couple of hours to go, and passengers around the aircraft were getting up and stretching their legs and using the restrooms.

Eventually the announcement came for us to return to our seats and fasten our seatbelts, and the words “cabin crew prepare for landing”.  We looked out of the windows with interest at the Japanese landscape, buildings, roads, traffic and gardens, as the aeroplane glided into Narita International Airport, Tokyo, and touched down at 11.00am local time.

We had arrived!