March 31st
Osaka, Japan

I set the alarm for 7:15; the TV says it’s 57*.  I stepped out on the balcony; it feels much cooler.  It’s a dreary grey outside with drizzling rain.  I was taking my time getting ready & packing my day bag.  At 8 am this horrifically loud (air raid type) siren went off outside.  I’m glad I was already awake; but I wasn’t sure if I should ‘duck & cover’ or what. I suppose the memories of Nagasaki were still a little too fresh on my brain.  Never did find out what that was all about.

Since I had a morning tour at 9, I thought I’d go down to the dining room for breakfast.  Maybe I shouldn’t have ordered eggs benedict; because it was taking a little too long to come from the galley.  But it finally arrived, along with some bacon & grape juice.  I ate quickly. Turnaround days are always kinda sad.  People all bundled up in their coats, rolling their carry on bags with the look of dread on their faces.  It had already started pouring down rain; so it wasn’t a good day for air travel.

Today’s tour was Panoramic Osaka (OSA-AI).  What few of us there were, got on bus #6.  Andy (from the Casino) was our escort; our guide’s name was Haruko; & our driver was Mr. Kawabeta.  The bus looked brand spanking new & had oodles of leg room.  The rain was beating against the windows so hard, everything was a distorted blurr. I was having flashbacks to the day in Noumea in early Feb.  Didn’t see a thing that day either.

Haruko seemed like a lovely lady; but she started her spiel explaining the differences between Osaka & Tokyo.  She quickly pointed out that they are not on friendly terms.  Since Osaka’s has always been a merchant port city, the sales clerks are very friendly, always smiling.  While in Tokyo, having been run by feudal lords (samurai) throughout history, sales clerks NEVER smile. People in Osaka have a great sense of humor, often playing practical jokes on others.  People in Tokyo look somber & dead serious all the time.  I’m not sure where she was going with this, especially since we had told her that our cruise did not include Tokyo.  So I have no way of confirming the validity of this information.

From what I could see as we drove through the city, parts of it are ultra modern.  A lot of tall, unusually shaped buildings similar to what we saw in China.  There are also areas that have a small town feel, with rows of brightly colored one story shops.  Yes; McDonalds, 7-11, Circle K, Pizza Hut & Starbucks are just around the corner everywhere.  Haruko joked that the city’s 2.7 million residents spend a lot of money on eating out. She said (& I quote), “we eat till we fall down”.  Alrighty then.... 

Some streets had 7 lanes of traffic going in each direction.  In all honesty, I saw quite a few interesting buildings.  I was moving from one side of the bus to the other trying to take photos.  But we were driving past them so quickly, there wasn’t time for her to tell us what half of them were.  I kept shooting; but only a few of them were decipherable.

One particularly strange building was the Umeda Sky building which has a floating garden observatory on the top floor.  I would love to check that out on a pretty day.

We drove along the river & viewed Osaka Castle from across the water.


We passed the Kyocera Dome sports arena.

It was the start of the lunch rush hour when the tour ended; & we were stuck in heavy traffic.  When I spotted the big Tempozan ferris wheel, I knew we had to be getting close.  But we literally inched ourselves the rest of the way. It was nearly noon when we arrived back at the ship.

I peeked in the laundry room & saw that it was empty.  This would be a good time to get that out of the way.  So I quickly gathered everything; & got 2 loads done.  I hurried upstairs for lunch.  I found that the Lido buffet had closed early; Taste’s wasn’t open (turnaround day remember). So, it was going to be the Trident Grill for a burger.  Benjamin got me something to drink; & told me he had just talked with his family & learned that his youngest daughter had just been selected salutatorian. He was beaming from ear to ear.

It was still raining outside; so I laid down for a little nap.  The phone rang at 4:30; & it was Debbie.  She was about to sign off the ship & wanted to say goodbye one last time.  She had seen Celeste out on the gangway; & she asked Debbie to tell me that the wifi in the terminal was super fast (& to get my ass up & come down there).

On deck peering down at the folks eating from the
carry out restaurants in the cruise terminal.

I packed up the computer stuff & made a quick dash in the rain.  I found Celeste & Bill (who were talking with another gentleman) over in a corner of the room.  There were quite a few tables & chairs, about half filled with crewmembers on their computers.  I had a plug right next to my chair; so I was happy.  The connection was fast; but a few us would randomly get knocked off.  And then had a hard time signing back on.  I thought it strange that there was a rather somber Japanese gentleman in uniform standing by the restrooms toward the back of the room.  He just paced back & forth, not saying a word; made me think of a prison guard.

Kris & Betty came through, on their way out to dinner & to ride the ferris wheel.  They had ridden it this morning; but wanted to see the city lights at night.  (Thanks to them for the aerial photos of Osaka Harbor above.) I was very tempted to go with them.  But my mission was to upload as many photos as possible while it was fast & free.  In a short while, the guy started making motions with his hands, trying to scoot us out of there.  We didn’t realize that they closed this room at 7pm.  Bummer!

I stood outside the doors of this building hoping I could still get a signal. Then I tried again from the aft deck; but no such luck.  Since it was now dark, the ferris wheel lights should come on at any time.  I went in, got the camera, coat, gloves; & waited out on the aft deck.  It was damp & frigid out there.  I waited a good while before the neon light show finally started.  I ran in to get Lizzie so she could see it. 

Sludge/sewer processing plant

Waste incineration plant

The tubes of light ran the length of the spokes of the wheel; & they flashed different patterns & different colors.  The lights stopped after about 5 mins.  I wanted to test the burst mode on the camera.  I waited & waited.  I didn’t realize that the lights only ‘danced’ every 30 mins! If it had been warmer, I would have sat there all night.  I made it through one more cycle.  By then I was chilled to the bone. 

I carried my dinner order over to Liz; & she brought it about 9:15.  I had an appetizer of Japanese style fried shrimp with creamy honey sauce.  It was so beautifully presented on a ti leaf.  It looked like it had come from Silk Road.

For my next course, I had the lobster bisque soup with puff pastry.  Very good.

My main course was sirloin steak, wasabi mashed potatoes & wilted spinach. The veggies were excellent.  The flavor of the steak great; but it could have been a little more tender.

Since I have an early tour in the morning, I thought I’d get myself organized tonight.  I started packing my day bag; & laid out my clothes. Went ahead & got a shower & washed my hair.  That reddish rash I had around my ankles.....well it’s moved a few more inches to my calves. The benadryl spray didn’t help much with the itch; so I guess I’ll add in some sudafed pills.  I’m beginning to look like a leper!

Photos of Osaka at night from the CosmoTower observatory. Thanks
to Kris & Betty again.


March 30th
Cruising Sea of Japan

I woke up at 6:30, just as it started to get light outside.  It’s hazy out there; & we are cruising around the southern end of the Japanese Island chain.  We will be ‘scenic cruising’ throughout the day as we make our way up to Osaka later tonight.  I lounged until the start of the morning show; & was able to answer one of the trivia questions (a cartoon caricature of) .....”Horse Whisperer”.

Capt. Glenn reported that we are cruising between 14-16 knots, depending upon the amount of traffic in the passages.  It’s 61* at 9am. He told us to be on the lookout for a series of 3 bridges starting around 10 am.  The Capt. will be adjusting the speed according to tidal conditions so that we hit certain checkpoints according to schedule. Sounds like somebody is going to be busy on the bridge today.  His thought for the day, “Winners make goals. Losers make excuses.”

I went up to the Bistro at 9:20.  Celeste was already there; & we had time to get caught up over breakfast consisting of my favorite meats, cheese, custard tart & a hot cross bun (which didn’t pass muster with me).  She filled me in on her dinner with Greg Michel, which turned into a ‘cross examination’ by the other invited guests.  They obviously took advantage of the opportunity of 'having his ear' to show their displeasure with some of Crystal's policies.  It appears Celeste was specially chosen to be the voice of reason  & referee at this dinner.

During the morning various friends came through the Bistro, sat & chatted for a while: Elaine, Rick (C.D.), Bill & Kinsey (Elise’s S.O.). Celeste left about noon; but I continued to work on photos until 1:15.  I packed up the mobile office & moved up to the Lido for lunch & a change of scenery.  I had a great lunch of spicy garlic eggplant, prawns, vegetable omelet & ground steak with onion gravy.

Chuck brought his carving project over & sat a table next to me.  We chatted a good while; then Che came over to visit.  Lido steward, Michael, came to say goodbye as he starts his vacation tomorrow.  And (Dance Host) Jim came with a goodbye hug.  He also leaves the ship tomorrow.  It feels strange saying goodbye to crewmembers, when I’m continuing on.  Never been in that position before.

I stayed up there working until 5:30.  The scenic cruising became more interesting as we were getting closer to Osaka & passed several fairly large cities.  The haze finally lifted.  First there was this monstrosity of a bridge called the Great Seto Ohashi Bridge.  It is a series of bridges that connect two huge prefectures of Japan (Honshu & Shikoku islands), skipping across 5 small islands in the process.  The total length is a little over 8 miles, making it the world’s longest two-tiered bridge system.

Iwakurojima Bridge

Minami Bisan-Seto Bridge

I went back to the cabin to write some long overdue postcards (it’s doubtful that they will make it back to the U.S. before I do).  An urgent note was shoved under the door, notifying us that Osaka now requires all Passengers to carry their passports ashore with them.  So I rushed down to the front desk to pick that up & drop the postcards into the mailbox.

At 7:30 I dressed & met Celeste, Bill, Jelena & Debbie in the Palm Court for drinks.  This is Debbie’s last night onboard; & we wanted to make it her ‘going away’ party.  The girls looked so pretty; & I couldn’t help but be melancholy. I was really going to miss Debs.

With Bill, Celeste, Debbie & Jelena

Much to my surprise, Jelena & Debbie turned the tables on early birthday party.  They arranged for a cake with candles, even the band played happy birthday.  They presented me with cards & even gave me a beautiful purple Swarovski ballpoint pen.  They’ve watched me write in my tour notebook; & knew that I’d love it (because it’s purple) & get plenty of use out of it during the remainder of the cruise.  Well, this started the flood gates; & set the tone for the rest of the evening.  So, I had a couple of drinks tonight.  It is a celebration after all.

Celeste & Bill had to leave us at 8:40, they had dinner plans.  But we stayed & laughed (& cried) some more.  We watched the approach into Osaka harbor from up in Palm Court.  First thing that we could see off in the distance was a huge ferris wheel illuminated with neon lights that changed colors.  Awesome!

Finally at 10:30, I suggested we call it a night.  Debbie had an early morning; & I had asked Liz to leave my pre-ordered dinner in the cabin at 9:45. Of course, I got choked up all over again saying goodbye at the elevator.  I would share more adventures with Jelena; but saying goodbye to Debs was very hard.  She & Gaye have become very special to me.

My dinner had sat longer than I intended it to; but I’m not turned off by room temp food.  My appetizer was outstanding; blue cheese cake, sitting on a Ritz cracker, surrounded by little cubes of port wine marinated pear, topped with toasted walnuts & drizzled with port caramel sauce.  A robust, but not pungent flavor.

I followed this with a hearts of butter lettuce salad with marinated cauliflower & mimosa dressing.  Excellent!

My entree was calf’s liver with caramelized red onions topped with marsala wine sauce.  It was a little too rare for my tastes.  This was accompanied by ever so crisp, steamed green beans & moon shaped semolina gnocchi (which looked more like polenta than gnocchi).  The gnocchi was the highlight of this course.

The Osaka Aquarium was right next to the stern of the ship

Before getting ready for bed, I decided to step out back & take one last photo of Osaka all lit up.  It looks very pretty; & I can’t wait to start exploring tomorrow.

Osaka Cruise Terminal



March 29th
Nagasaki, Japan

It was unusual for the bright sunshine to wake me.  At 7:45, it pointed directly at my window.  We were already tied up at the dock.  Within a few minutes Capt. Glenn made the announcement that the ship was cleared & that the first group of Passengers could proceed ashore for Japanese inspection.  Like we experienced in China, all guests (whether you planned to go ashore or not) were required to report at a designated time to officials in the terminal.  In this case we were to pick up our ‘personalized envelope’ which contained a copy of our passport, copy of the Japanese visa & a provisional landing permit.  As you snaked your way through this long line, you would be photographed, fingerprinted & your temp would also be scanned.  They made you feel so welcome....

Some of us went through this procedure & marched right back on the ship; some proceeded out the front door & headed on their way doing whatever. My appt. time was between 9-9:30.  I carried my baby netbook to the terminal for a little free wifi & exchanged some USD for yen for tipping ($25 USD bought me 1,825 JPY) at their friendly exchange desk. I got back onboard at 10:20; headed to the Bistro for my usual breakfast (& a Portuguese custard tart).  I had a quick chat with Christie, Peggy & Elaine. Then back to my cabin.

Since I had some time to kill until my tour, I sat on the verandah enjoying the warm sunshine (low 60’s) & read a bit.  Liz came in to tidy up; we chatted while she worked.  At 12:15 I went back out & hopped on bus #8 for the afternoon tour entitled “Introduction to Nagasaki” (NGK-BW). We had the most adorable guide, Keiko, & Mario (Spanish teacher) escorted our group.

During our ride to the Atomic Bomb Museum, Keiko provided some historical & geographical facts & figures (in her very soft spoken, high pitched voice). The city of approximately 450,000 is located on the southernmost island of the Japanese Island chain (Kyushu Island).  What started as a small fishing village, soon became an important international trade center & shipbuilding mecca.  It is indeed a modern city; but in such an understated way compared to Hong Kong & Beijing. Buildings are spread out; there’s lots of green space. Although our timing is a little early in their spring season, the cherry blossom are starting to bloom & the many soft green willow trees wave gracefully in the wind.  With temps in the mid to upper 60’s, it was a perfect day to be outdoors.

We were dropped off in a courtyard beside the Atomic Bomb Museum. From there we walked past a curved wall of falling waters & into a round building with a geodesic glass dome ceiling.  We walked down a long spiral ramp that had strands of origami cranes draped along the walls.  (Cranes, being the city’s symbol of peace.)   It was very bright with natural light, very quiet, signs with messages of peace everywhere. We descended into a basement level to start our tour of the museum.

The first set of exhibits were remnants of various clocks that had all stopped at 11:02 am (8/9/45), which of course marks the exact moment of implosion of the bomb that the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki.

The next room housed the largest pieces of the exhibit; a mangled water tower from a middle school & a mangled fire lookout tower from the outskirts of town.

At the far end of this room was a reconstructed piece of the facade of the Urakami Cathedral, the largest Catholic Church in eastern Asia.  The overhead lighting was on a timer.  The light would illuminate each of these exhibits for several seconds; & then go out.  It was as if to remind us that one moment they were there; & the next, they were gone.  Very moving.

Another display showed a layout of the terrain around Nagasaki.  With the use of sound & pulsing colored lights, they were able to show the extent of the damage in just those first three seconds.  Try to imagine 6,000* fahrenheit & 600+ mph winds?

A great deal of forethought went into planning the flow of these exhibits. One moment you are experiencing the total shock of the widespread devastation; then move to another room & study the impact it had on the tiniest reminders of everyday life.  Things like melted glass bottles, charred lunch boxes, clothing, jewelry, books, etc.

And then around the corner...... a life-size replica of the (plutonium) nuclear fission bomb (code named ‘fatman’) that was used that day.  It was large; but not as large as I had expected it to be.  That within itself was eye opening, realizing that the amount of destruction caused was not necessarily relative to size.

As we progressed further, we saw photos & video showing the effects of radiation damage that followed the impact.  And at the end there was a large map that showed the location of all the nuclear weapons stockpiled around the world today.  Above it hangs a life-size nuclear missile.

There were several who admitted to being disgusted by what they saw; & some who still carry the bitterness of this war in the Pacific.  I know people who refuse to purchase or even ride in a Japanese made vehicle! As an American citizen, am I supposed to be ashamed for what we did? Or am I supposed to carry a grudge forever because the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor?

Having grown up in the 50’s & 60’s, believing that we could ‘duck & cover’ under our school desks to protect ourselves from the weapons of cold war; I realize that the average person can hardly imagine the impact of war.  Post 9/11, we only got a small glimpse of what it could be like.

I walked across the street while I waited for the others to finish the tour. I sat on a bench looking down on the monument at the hypocenter (otherwise known as ‘ground zero’).  It was located at the bottom of a hill, accessed by a very steep stairway.  I knew if I got down there, I wouldn’t be able to get back up.  So, I sat & pondered everything I had just seen.  I feel for the Japanese people that I watched cry as they walked from exhibit to exhibit. This event directly impacted them or someone they loved.  Just as a visit to the Vietnam Memorial does for those who visit Washington.  We can’t change or make amends for what happens in wartime.  All we can do is learn, show respect, heal & move on.  And the next stop on today’s tour, set that very tone.

Ground Zero
We reboarded the bus & just a few miles away, we arrived at the Peace Memorial Park.  They dropped us off in an underground parking lot, from which we were SUPPOSED to climb 49 steps to the park level.  It was almost twice that many.  I had to pause & rest at the top.  I looked over to my left & was surprised to see Celeste getting off the elevator (there’s an elevator?). She chose her tour specifically because it did not go to the museum.  But there were a few on the bus who coerced the guide into visiting the museum & the park instead of time for shopping. Celeste was not happy.

At the north end of the park is a 30’ bronze statue of a sitting man with his right arm pointing to the threat of nuclear attack from above & his left arm extended in a sign of peace.

There is a huge open grassy area as you walk toward the south end. There are several long rows of short stacks of bricks that are the remnants of the former walls of the old prison.

The circular Peace fountain dominates the south end of the park.  The ornate brick walkway & the water spouts in the fountain are shaped to mimic the wings of the crane.

The sidewalk around the perimeter of the park showcases the dozens of statues & unique pieces of artwork that were donated to the city from various countries around the world in the name of peace.  Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to leisurely study the symbolism of each piece. Some were easy to understand.  Others were a little more obtuse.

We made our way back to the bus & across town for our last stop of the day. We passed by a tiny wooden hut (named Nyokodo, about 90 sq. ft) with a heartbreaking story.  Doctor Takashi Nagai lost his wife & his home in the bombing.  Although he suffered severe radiation burns, he & his two children remained at the hospital to treat as many patients of the bombing as they could.  A few months later, he had the hut built from the remnants of his family home.  He lived the remainder of his life in that tiny hut in homage to his wife.

Our tour ended at Glover Gardens, the former home of industrial pioneer, Thomas Glover.  His home is located on top of hill looking down on the ship’s dock.  The bus was parked at the bottom of this hill; & the small road you followed up to the top was lined with shops, restaurants & a church for good measure.  By this time, some of the Passengers had had enough & chose to take their life in their own hands & cross a major thoroughfare without the benefit of a traffic light in order to return to the Serenity early.

I wanted to see what was in Mr. Glover’s magic garden; but it was a tough climb.  Up 2 long steep inclines, a rather long flight of stairs BEFORE you reached the escalator to the very top.  The escalators only went up, you had to take even more stairs to get back down.

Thanks to Peggy for the use of her Glover Gardens photos.

Halfway up, I began to question the person who designated this tour as ‘moderate’ walking.  I got halfway up the steps & decided it could not possibly be worth it.  So, I went back down & sat on a bench in the shade as others made the climb.

Both Peggy & Darko proceeded upwards; & I begged them to take my camera up with them.  They declined; but promised they’d share their photos with me.  Well, at least Peggy came through for me.  From what I saw later, the views of the harbor looked spectacular.  The grounds were supposed to be the setting for the fictional opera ‘Madame Butterfly’. But I didn’t see anything that made me regret my decision not to climb that mountain!

We got back to the ship at 4 pm.  We were scheduled to depart at 5.  So, I went to the cabin, unloaded my stuff & then went out on the promenade deck dockside to await the sailaway activities.  There was a local school band that was going to play on the pier; & some of the locals came down & waved goodbye to us from the roof of the terminal. I thought it strange that there was no one else out on deck as I watched them set up.

A little before 5, I watched as this group of women & children made their way down the gangway in the most gorgeous kimonos.  In a few minutes other Passengers began to come out on deck.  I asked who the ‘kimono people’ were; & they told me that there had been a welcome show & ceremony in the Galaxy Lounge at 4.  It was in the Reflections; & I had totally missed it. They said it was a great show; & the little kids were so precious.

Man, I’m sorry I missed that cause those little people were jumping up & down, laughing & waving to everybody up on the ship.  The band, 95% female, played for about 20 mins.  They were still playing when we pulled away from the pier.  The last song, Auld Lang Syne, guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes.

It got quite cool as the sun was setting.  I went up to the Trident Grill to get a grilled ham & cheese sandwich & fries.  Carried them back to the cabin; got under the covers to warm up while I ate.  I remember checking email; but I must have dozed off right afterward.  Liz woke me up at 8:30 when she came in to check on me.  I told her I didn’t need anything more tonight. I was just wiped out & fell right back to sleep.

BTW, Capt’s Glenn’s thought for the day.....”Any man who knows all the answers, most likely misunderstood the question.”

My beloved Clarke sandals that walked on 5 continents were forced to retire
today in Nagasaki. May they rest in peace!