Blog based on Facebook posts made by Alex Reid during a cruise around Japan (and briefly South Korea) in Mar/Apr 2023

Click on any image to get a higher-resolution version.

Map of the cruise route, from Yokohama (Tokyo) back and forth twice, ending back in Yokohama:

Thursday, 23-Mar-23:
We've arrived in Japan, negotiated immigration, found our pre-booked taxi and arrived at our hotel in Yokohama. We need to adjust to Japanese culture - tiny hotel room, weird but not uncomfortable pillow, strange substances offered for breakfast, e-dog wandering around in the breakfast room...

Our hotel room.
View from our hotel room.
An e-dog wandering around at breakfast.

Friday, 24-Mar-23:
Transferred to the Daikoku Pier (a bit remote from everywhere!) and lined up in huge marquees to board the Diamond Princess (yes, of notorious Covid fame back in 2020).
Here's a photo of the Diamond Princess (berthed at Yokohama-Daikoku):

And the view over part of Yokohama harbour from the ship during my quick tour of inspection...

Our cabin (window, but no balcony).
The corridor outside our cabin - it was a loooong way from the stern where the restaurants were - so we got good exercise 2 or 3 times a day!

Sunday, 26-Mar-23:
After a day at sea (Saturday, 25-Mar-23), we arrived this morning (Sunday) in Kagoshima, the most Southerly city in Japan (apart from Okinawa). With the volcano Sakurajima (height 1,117m) dominating the bay and the city, it is reminiscent of Naples, with which city it is twinned. It is also twinned, as it happens, with Perth (as I discovered by "talking" with a taxi driver using Google Translate!).
Mount Sakurajima.
We didn't book a tour in Kagoshima, and found we were too far from anywhere interesting to walk, so took a taxi to Sengan-en house and gardens (on the far side of the city). Established initially in 1658, this place has been in the same family (Shimadzu) for 30 generations. Here are some views of the house, a typical Japanese style place, once visited by Tsar Nicholas II and also by King Edward VII. When the feudal system in Japan was abolished in 1871, the "nobility" were offered British titles in 1884 - Shimadzu was given the highest title, of Prince.
The main gate to the house & gardens.
The special "Tin Gate" (only to be used by the Prince and first son) to the house.
The dining room.
The main bedroom.
The bathroom.
The internal courtyard.
View over the gardens from the house.

The gardens of Sengan-en were beautifully laid out and organised for vistas, meditation, and overall pleasant appearance. Here are some views, including the view of Sakurajima, shrouded in clouds.
The gardens.
The bamboo grovem.
The shrine.
Mount Sakurajima.

And so, Sunday evening, we say farewell to Kagoshima (next stop South Korea), but not before we note some striking mountains - rivalling Fuji-san?
A beautifully symetrical conical mountain.
Other curiously shaped mountains/islands.

Monday, 27-Mar-23:
Today, Monday, we stopped in Seogwipo all day. This is the second-largest city in the island of Jeju, South Korea. We return here in a week or so's time, and didn't do much other than go ashore briefly (to admire the spring flowers, observe that all vehicles were either Kia or Hyundai (!), and to note the Dol Hareubang (Grandfather Made of Stone, carved from the island's porous volcanic rock in a consistent stylised shape) - origin mysterious. The city of Seogwipo is dominated by Hallasan, the highest mountain in all S Korea (1,947m). Coastline here is fascinating, and is UNESCO World Heritage listed (we haven't really seen much of that yet). PS what a beautiful day!
Mount Hallasan.
Seogwipo Islands.
World Cup Stadium.
Tulips outside the ocean terminal.
Spring flowers outside the ocean terminal.
Dal Hareubang (Grandfather made of stone).

Tuesday, 28-Mar-23:
Today, Tuesday, we arrived in Nagasaki. Beautiful natural harbour, surrounded by mountains (and a beautiful mild sunny day to set it off!). This is still a major ship-building centre, and this was one of the reasons why it was chosen for the second atomic bomb. Note that our ship, the Diamond Princess, as well as its sister ship, Sapphire Princess, were both built here by Mitsubishi shipyards.
Nagasaki Harbour.
Nagasaki Harbour, looking out towards the open sea.
Mitsubishi shipbuilding.

Of course, no visit to Nagasaki is complete without a visit to Peace Park, commemorating that dreadful day on 9-Aug-1945. Here an iconic statue dominates, pointing to whence the devastation came, and holding out hope for peace. The park has many sculptures and statues gifted by various countries, promoting "never again", including one from Western Australia that includes those affected by nuclear testing in Maralinga and Monte Bello Islands.
The Peace person.
The Peace Shrine.
Peace Park Fountain.
Sculpture contributed by Fremantle, WA.
Statue contributed by China.
Sculpture contributed by New Zealand.

We also visited (nearby to Peace Park) the "hypocentre" of the blast, or Ground Zero (though the bomb actually was detonated 300m in the air), and the Bomb Museum containing many moving images and artifacts illustrating its devastating power over buildings and humans.
The Hypocentre Museum.
The Children Statue.
Glass bottle fused by the blast.
Melted roof tiles that was all that was left of the house and children of a worker who was away that day.
Photo of the utter devastation caused near the hypocentre.
A replica of "Fat Man", dropped by the plane "Bockscar"; this one was based on plutonium (vs uranium used on Hiroshima).
Wall clock in a house 800m from the hypocentre, stopped at 11:02 on 9-Aug-1945.
The commemorative dome via which one enters the Bomb Museum.
Mother and Child statue at the Hypocentre.
Obelisk marking the exact spot of the Hypocentre.

The very salutary visit to Peace Park and the Bomb Museum were wonderfully offset by experiencing some beautiful cherry blossoms!
Helen and Christine enjoying petals falling on them (hanami).
Cherry trees.
Dense cherry blossom close-up.
Cherry trees.
Cherry street trees.

Wednesday, 29-Mar-23:
Today, Wednesday, we stopped all day in Aburatsu, but there was nothing much to see at the dock, or (so we were told) in Aburatsu itself (a town of 50,000 population). The attraction was Miyazaki, but a bus ride away, and overall not too impressive. So we stayed on board, admiring the great view of piles of wood pulp (cedar, I believe). There were some nice rocks/islands nearby, though...
Aburatsu in the distance.
Piles of cedar wood pulp for export.
Makeshift ocean terminal sharing the dock with wood pulp.
Some interesting rocks/islets.

Thursday, 30-Mar-23:
Today, Thursday, we arrived in Matsuyama, a city of about 500K. Its main attraction (to me) was the castle (started in 1602), which is on a hill in the centre of the city, combined with 200 cherry trees, at their peak right now! So we took a taxi there, took the cable car up to the castle and wandered around the grounds (didn't actually go into the buildings in the inner bailey). Took the chair lift down, and a taxi back. Wonderful experience. Here are some pics of the castle itself, including a telephoto pic from the ship.
View of the castle from the ship.
Chair lift and cable car to/from the castle entrance.

Castle walls.
More castle walls.
Yet more castle walls.
Walls and gateway.

The cherry blossoms were at their peak today when we visited Matsuyama Castle. I went mad with my camera, but have been very disciplined and only posted 14 here! Includes the camelia bush, which is the city's flower.
Cherry blossom within the castle walls.
Dense cherry blossom within the castle walls.
Lovely cherry blossom in a large castle courtyard.
Here is a great place to practise Hanami.
Plenty of cherry blossom.
The famous camelia bush.
Camelias also blooming.

View from castle grounds over the city.
Cherry blossom abounds.
Cherry blossom close-up.
More cherry blossom close-up.
More cherry blossom close-up.
Good place for a picnic (and Hanami happerns).
More cherry blossom close-up (different varieties??).

Friday, 31-Mar-23:
Today, Friday, we spent the whole day docked in Kochi. We didn't book a tour, but I decided I wanted to see the castle (one of he best preserved and picturesque in Japan), so I took the shuttle bus into town (near a large shopping mall); walking the length of the mall and a bit brought me to the castle. It lived up to its reputation, and here are some photos to prove it... The castle was not as high nor as large as in Matsuyama (yesterday), but well worth the visit anyway. The gardens around it were lovely.
Kochi castle.
Another view of Kochi castle.
Yet another view of Kochi castle.
View from near the summit of the castle.
The castle gardens.
Castle walls.
Castle from a distance.

Of course, cherry blossoms were also on the agenda today (Friday), and the castle and grounds proved to be an excellent way to see them; others were scattered around parts of the city that I passed... Maybe not quite as many or as good as in Matsuyama, but wonderful all the same, especially sitting for a while under them (Hanami) and watching the petals fall (on you!).
Cherry blossom arcade near the Culture Centre.
Kochi castle framed by cherry blossom.
Cherry blossom in castle grounds.
More cherry blossom in castle grounds.
Cherry blossom on the banks of the castle mound.
Cherry blossom close-up.

Some other sights on he way to Kochi castle and back included the shopping arcade (Obiyamachi), and an adjacent food/eating hall (Hirome Market). Vending machines (of course) are everywhere... Note the cluster of bicycles outside McDonalds - indicating heavy schoolkid traffic!
Obiyamarchi shopping arcade.
Another section of the Obiyamarchi shopping arcade.
Hirome market.
Hirome market.
Vending machines (they were everywhere in Japan).

Haiku to Cherry Blossom:
Given I have been so rapt with the cherry blossoms here in Japan, I asked ChatGPT to write me a Haiku in praise of cherry blossoms. Here is what it gave me:

Soft pink petals fall
Nature's art, fleeting beauty
Cherry blossoms bloom.

Saturday, 1-Apr-23:
At sea all day.

Sunday, 2-Apr-23:
Docked in Yokohama (Tokyo) all day; we just relaxed on board...

Monday, 3-Apr-23:
Today, Monday, we docked in Shimizu, and spent the day visiting Sumpu Castle and gardens, the Shizuoka Sengen Shinto Shrine, and Miho no Matsubara pine grove (also a shrine). We also saw more wonderful cherry blossoms, etc, etc. But pride of place must go to Mount Fuji ("Fuji-san"). We could see it from the ship as we docked, and again from the pine grove (where a special Fuji-viewing spot is located along the beach). The weather was bright and clear, but hazy early on. The clouds came and obscured the mountain summit later in the day, including as we sailed away past it. It is 3776m high, the highest mountain in Japan; it has not erupted for 300 years, but is still active.
View from the ship after docking early in the morning. Hazy, but still impressive!
Same view, but not zoomed in, so you can see the perspective.
View from the special "Fuji Lookout" at Miho no Matsubara pine grove. The peak just peeped out briefly.
As we departed Shimizu, again the peak peeped out briefly...

Today, Monday, we took a tour and first visited Sumpu Castle, built in 1585 (rebuilt in 1607) by Ieyasu Tokugawa one of the most famous samurai, who became Shogun and started a period of peace that lasted 260 years. He also introduced the isolation policy that prevented foreigners from entering the country for much of that period. The castle has only the walls and gates surviving (indeed the main gate was reconstructed from the original plans); it had a triple moat system, which now constitute an extensive park. Included is the Momijiyama Japanese Garden, designed to reflect the scenery of the region (it even incorporates a miniature Mt Fuji!). Still plenty of cherry blossom about...
The main gate to the castle.
A remaining turret on the walls of the castle.
Cherry tree blossom.
Blossom close-up.
Cherry tree blossom & tents for the event due tomorrow.
Momijiyama Japanese Garden.
Momijiyama Japanese Garden waterfall.
Momijiyama Japanese Garden with miniature MT Fuji.
Momijiyama Japanese Garden azalea hedges.
Cherry tree blossom - again!

After Sumpu Castle, we travelled a short distance to the Shizuoka Sengen Shinto Shrine, which comprised several buildings, including two being used for children's activities (drumming groups in one, and Ju Jitsu in another - there were several drumming groups, and all were rather good). These events were part of a festival held at this time.
Shizuoka Sengen Shinto Shrine, main building.
Shizuoka Sengen Shrine, another building.
Shizuoka Sengen Shrine, a third building.
We were treated to several groups of drummers.
Yet another shrine within the group.

Our final stop today (Monday) on the tour was at a pine grove, Miho no Matsubara, designed as a pace of beauty and in particular a vantage point (along the black-sandy beach) from which to view Mt Fuji. Sadly, Fuji-san was shy this afternoon...
The grove with the sea behind.
The grove of pine trees.
Mt Fuji peak just peaked out briefly: from behind the only clouds in the whole sky!

Tuesday, 4-Apr-23:
At this point in time there was a big gap in my travelogue - explanation below. Part of the reason is that we spent the whole of Tuesday in Kyoto and traveling there and back from Osaka (where the ship docked). We saw 3 or 4 major sights in Kyoto. First, a couple of views of Osaka, which is Japan's third largest city (after Tokyo and Yokohama), with a population of 3m, 15m in larger metro area (vs 8m for Tokyo, 30m in larger metro area). Osaka was founded in the 6thC, and was a major port for missions to China. The port is now adorned with a 100m diameter ferris wheel (right next to our ship), which displays all sorts of messages (including the time) when lit up at night.
Driving through downtown Osaka.
Culture buildings on an island in Osaka.
The illuminated ferris wheel that night.

After driving through Osaka, we reached Kyoto after about 1hr+. Our first stop was the Kiyomizu Temple. Extremely crowded as it was Spring (!), and the start of the new school year, and a special festival of some sort. So lots of local girls dressed up in kimonos wandering around the grounds (sometimes with menfolk in tow - often looking rather embarrassed - but not the girls, who all seemed really to love it - they usually hire the kimonos). Sometimes whole family groups.
Kimono-clad family group.
Kimonos, along with Covid masks.
Some stylish kimonos.
Crowded lane leading up to the temple with many kimonos and some blossom.
Young girls in kimonos.

The Kiyomizu Temple itself comprises several buildings (eg gate, main temple), set in lovely gardens (still a lot of cherry blossom about, as well as other spring flowers). The siting of the temple (in early 8thC) was due to the exceptionally pure water found here, now incorporated into a fountain where folk can wash and drink. One of the buildings incorporates a "stage", built entirely of wood and using no nails, which has been in place for 400 years.
Kiyomizu Temple Gate.
Main Kiyomizu Temple.
The amazing wooden supports for the temple platform.
The Temple with its wooden support frame.
The Fountain of pure water that prompted the siting of the temple.
A small pagoda in the Temple grounds.
A couple of non-kimono-clad girls...
Some amazing flowers (variety unknown).
Close-up of the flowersn.
More lovely flowers - an iris, perhaps?

After visiting Kiyomizu Temple (still Tuesday), we had lunch at the Shozan Resort, a Japanese cuisine. It was all explained to us on the coach, but I couldn't remember what was what, so didn't really know what I was eating. I ate it all apart from something that may have been calamari or some other form of seafood... Nice place, with a lovely Japanese garden. BTW, also saw folk enjoying eating Japanese-style in the Temple grounds.
The wonderful colourful meal at Shozan Resort.
A Japanese garden at Shozan Resort (only for residential guests).
Back in the Temple grounds, eating Japanese style.

Next stop on Tuesday was the Ryoanji Temple, which has a Zen rock garden, comprising raked gravel and 15 rocks. It is said that you can never see all 15 rocks at one time, which represents the limitations of our abilities. There is also an extensive landscaped area and lake, brought into prominence when visited by Queen Elizabeth II. Another feature was a small water feature that has a square with Japanese characters against each side, all together effectively saying "you only know how to satisfy yourself" - I can see some truth in that, but it's open to a range of interpretations (as with so many of these aphorisms), including a very selfish view...
The lake at Ryoanji Temple.
The raked rock garden at Ryoanji Temple.
"You Only Know How to Satisfy Yourself".
Blossom and other flowers at the Ryoanji Temple.

The final stop in Kyoto on Tuesday was the Fushimi Inari Shrine, established here in 711 (note: a shrine means it's Shinto, temple means its Buddhist - according to our guide, 90% of the population of Japan identify as Buddhist, while another 90% identify as Shinto, ie most are both!). Apart from the Shrine gate and main building (built 500 years ago), the main feature of this Shrine is the collection of 10,000 Torii vemillion (=red) gates - each donated by someone looking for favour. Once again, quite crowded, though it was late in the day when we got there, but I did manage a few photos of the gates without people! The writing on the reverse side of the gates indicates who donated it and when.
Entrance gate to the Fushimi Shrine.
The main shrine.
The Torii walkways were very crowded.
The reverse side of the Torii, showing who donated each.
By being patient, and picking your time, you could see the Torii without any people!.
The Torii gates are quite long!
Not quite infinite!

A few remaining features of Kyoto as we drove around it on Tuesday include the iconic Kyoto Tower, the train station (for which building height restrictions were waived), Kyoto Castle, and the Hongwanji Temple (to which sect our guide adhered).
Kyoto blossom and the iconic Kyoto Tower.
Kyoto Hongwanji Temple.
Kyoto Castle turret and walls.
Kyoto Train Station.

"What's on your mind, Alex?" says FB. Well, I have to says that occupying a good deal of my mind at the moment is "Covid". I felt a cold coming on during Tuesday in Kyoto and tested positive when we got back to the ship at 9pm. Confirmed by another test Wed morning, and so I called the ship's medical centre and they came and administered another test (also +ve). Meanwhile, Helen tested -ve and has continued to show no signs (we take our temp twice a day and report back). We have been moved to a cabin in an isolation area of the ship (along a with several others), which has a balcony so we can get fresh air. We are stuck here till we arrive in Yokohama, whereupon we transfer to a quarantine hotel for one more day (Jaoan require a 7-day quarantine: day 0 is when symptoms first appear, then day 1 starts the next day, day 7 being the day we arrive in Yokohama hence needing an extra day's quarantine). We'll have to put back our return flights by one day (in progress). I have felt pretty fine and now clear of any symptoms. Some people we have heard refuse to take a test when some symptoms show, in case they have to quarantine! This is how it spreads! Don't know how I caught it, as I always wore a mask, washed hands, etc. But so many go about without masks...
This is all why I had a "quiet patch" in my FB posts. There's been lots of issues I won't go into now, but it's meant it has been occupying my mind a fair bit!

Wednesday, 5-Apr-23:
To resume my story, after being so rudely interrupted by Covid! At least we can get some air via our balcony, and this is the inspiring view from the balcony when we finally got moved there on Wednesday (a lot of the day spent waiting about... I can keep an eye on the Captain from here!) - this is Kochi docks... (I did go into Kochi when we were here on Friday, 31-Mar, and saw the impressive castle, cherry blossom, etc - qv). We had not planned to go ashore again in Kochi, so not too disapointed...
Docked in Kochi - with view of the ship's bridge.
The uninspiring view of Kochi docks.

Thursday, 6-Apr-23:
So, Wednesday had been pretty much a write-off, but then we hadn't planned to do much that day, anyway. Thursday saw us docked in Hiroshima all day, which is a place I did want to see, and had booked a tour to take in the Bomb Memorial Dome, etc. Our *agent* Christine did the honours for us, and here are the fruits of her tour, which include a drive-past of Hiroshima Carp Castle, the A-Bomb Memorial Dome, the Children's Crane Memorial, the Victims' Cenotaph, and some exhibits in the Museum. All actually very similar in theme to the Nagasaki memorials, in particular, "this is terrible, we should never let it happen again".
The A-Bomb Memorial Dome.
The Victims' Cenotaphs.

The Children's Crane Memorial.
The Bomb Memorial Dome model, with what it used to be - the Hiroshima District Industrial Promotion Hall.

Models of the Hiroshima (right) and Nagasaki (left) bombs, to scale.
Hiroshima Carp Castle.

A Turrent of Hiroshima Carp Castle.

Friday, 7-Apr-23:
After leaving Hiroshima on Thursday evening, we sailed between 2 of the main islands of Japan, Honshu and Kyushu, ultimately the Kanmon Straits, which are only 670m wide. There are strong currents here, and we can only travel as the tide turns, and only in the daytime, and only with a pilot. We went through at about 7am Friday morning. Here are some views of the starboard side (ie Honshu). Weather not the best... The rest of the day was spent "at sea".
A view of how close we came to the shore (both sides).
Of course, we could only see out one side, the Starboard side.

Saturday, 8-Apr-23:
Saturday saw us in Busan, South Korea. This was an unscheduled stop, as we were to have stopped instead in Seogwipo, on Jeju Island, S Korea (where we had stopped on Monday, 27-Mar); however the combination of wind and tides made this unsafe so we went to Busan instead. We moored in the very busy and interesting Busan harbour (Busan is S Korea's 2nd city). Here are some views of the harbour & surrounds, and the later sunset. Of course, once again, we only got to see what could be seen from our starboard side balcony!
Bridge spanning the harbour entrance of Busan.
High-rise buildings abound.
A ferry leaving ahead of us.
A busy harbour, with more high-rise.
An interesting ship-shaped structure - actually a lighthouse.
As we departed Busan, at sunset, an island outside the harbour.

Sunday, 9-Apr-23, Easter Day:
After leaving Busan, we travelled overnight to Nagasaki, where today (Sunday) we spent the day. Again, beautiful day, and lots of activity on the harbour, but a somewhat constrained view, from our starboard balcony. One thing we discovered is that we could see anyone who ventured on deck 15 on top of the Bridge, so arranged for Christine to check it out - success! As we left the harbour, a red kite followed us out for a while.
Nagasaki harbour.
Bridge over the entrance to Nagasaki harbour.
Mitsubishi shipbuilding works.
We arranged to wave to Christine on deck 14, above the bridge.
Red Kite bird follows us as we leave Nagasaki.

This evening, Sunday, conditions (I gather) are ideal to see the "green flash" which sometimes happens when the sun sinks below the horizon (or *just* before it sinks, I believe). I've never seen it, and didn't tonight either! But am consoled by the fact that today commemorates that the Son has risen! Join with me, those of you who agree, in celebrating this most momentous of events!!!
Sunset across the ocean.
No green flash...

Monday, 10-Apr-23:
Monday, our final day of this cruise around Japan. An exciting day at sea! In the Pacific Ocean, East of Honshu, due to arrive in Yokohama early Tuesday morning (then we transfer to a hotel for another 1 day of quarantine - we're both feeling well, but rather frustrated and stressed by it all!). There's some of the above excitement of the sea passing by embodied in this photo.
The Pacific Ocean goes on and on...

Tuesday, 11-Apr-23:
After arriving quite early into Yokohama, we were transferred in a special quarantine van (with another Australian couple) from the ship to our quarantine hotel in downtown Yokohama. Originally, we were scheduled to leave the ship at 9:45am, after all the other passengers had left. But they then said it would not be until 4pm (actually, we left at 3:30pm). We spent the time in our cabin, cooling our heels, having lunch delivered to us, etc...

This is our quarantine hotel in Yokohama:
Best Western Hotel, Yokohama.
Our quarantine room.
View from our quarantine room.
One of the features of these Japanese hotels is the toilet controls.
Yokohama Train Station, with Bullet Train at the station.

Now, we can't see the train station from our hotel, so you may well ask how I managed to photograph it. The reason is that when we arrived I asked about obtaining meals, and they said we had to "go out" to get food, as there was no restaurant in the hotel!! So I went for a walk and found a 7/11 store where I bought stuff for dinner, and for breakfast the next day. Not only was there no control over our movements, but when I asked about checkout the next day (assuming we were supposed to be quarantined there for anouther 24 hours), they said we had to be out by 11am. If I'd know this beforehand, we could have left at (say) 6am and made our original flight back to Perth!

Wednesday, 12-Apr-23:
So we transferred during the morning by taxi to the Haneda airport hotel where I had made a reservation (so as to catch the relatively early flight home at 9:10am Thursday).
Our hotel at Haneda airport (entrance via the terminal!).
Our hotel room at Haneda.
View from our hotel room at Haneda.

Thursday, 13-Apr-23:
Flew home to Perth, via Singapore.
FB doesn't have any concept of "flying via" another city...

Alex Reid