February 18, 2017
Paul Groves

Impressions of South Korea

Day 45 of 111. Incheon, South Korea

The two strongest impressions of South Korea were the large number of condominiums indicative of the very high population density and the amount of barbed wire and observation posts along the coasts, the river, and the DMZ. It was obvious from our observations and from the information of our tour guide that the threat of aggression from North Korea is a constant and real concern.

Our tour today was to the DMZ and the Third Infiltration Tunnel which is a tunnel built by the North Koreans as a secret way to send troops to attack Seoul, South Korea. The tunnel was discovered in 1978 with information from a man who left North Korea to South Korea. A tunnel was dug down to find the infiltration tunnel and there are tours of the tunnel. It was a very cold day, but even colder as we went down a small tram for a 300 meter ride to the actual tunnel. The tram went down a tube two meters by two meters. We were given hard hats to wear which really proved invaluable as many of us were hitting our heads on the trip down as well as when we followed the tunnel to the Demarcation Line between North and South. We had to walk bent over for much of the trek.

We were not allowed to take pictures in the tunnel, but there were several interesting photo opportunities in the small park above the tunnel.

The very bottom picture shows two large towers. The black tower on the left is a flagpole for North Korea and the blue tower on the right is a flagpole for South Korea. This makes the border between the two countries.

February 18, 2017
Paul Groves

Waking up in Incheon, South Korea

Day 45 of 111. Port of Incheon, South Korea

Early morning entry into Incheon, Korea, involved passage through a lock with very little room to spare. At each port, a pilot from the locality comes on board. Looking up into the navigation window I could see our captain and I think the other fellow was the pilot. The sun was just coming up as we left the lock. From the breakfast area on deck 8, we were eye level with the tower of the lock with the sign, “Port of Incheon”!

As we entered the bay on our way to Incheon we saw a tugboat, the captain in the navigation deck and a LOT of cars ready for export… probably Kia or Hyundai.

February 17, 2017
Paul Groves

Yellow Sea Day

Day 44 of 111. The Yellow Sea nearing Incheon, South Korea

In watercolor class we tried our hand at stylized bamboo painting. On our tours I took pictures of bamboo to get some ideas about how the leaves should look. It turns out that there are over 300 species of bamboo so almost anything can happen with leaves. Who knew?

Here are two of our table mates on Kimono Night. The ladies are posing with our head waiter, Indie. We are leaving Japan and heading to Korea where the weather is -6 C!

February 16, 2017
Paul Groves

Nagasaki–Beautiful City With An Important Message

Day 43 of 111. Nagasaki, Japan

Nagasaki, Japan. We toured Ground Zero where the second atomic bomb was dropped. It was a somber visit with the message that Nagasaki must be the last place on earth where an atomic bomb is ever dropped. The black obelisk marks the exact spot of ground zero. There were many, many origami cranes of all sorts around the park and in the museum. The special display of 1000 golden cranes caught my eye. The museum above ground zero is very well done, but still rather little disturbing. The artwork of the clock represents a clock at the beginning of the museum that remained after the blast but stopped at 11:02 on the summer day of the bomb.

The second stop in Nagasaki was the Nagasaki Peace Park. There are statues all over the park sent from various countries. The huge blue man is bronze and is thirty feet high. His one hand point up represents the bomb dropping from the sky and his horizontal arm represents peace. His eyes are closed in prayer for the souls lost in the blast. The statue with the angels holding a bell is above some buckets of water and flowers. Our guide told us of a 14 year old schoolboy who had been sent into the machine room on an errand when the atomic bomb dropped. The boy survived the blast but his hair and clothes were burned off. When he returned to the ground level he found his schoolmates very badly burned and calling for water. He returned to the machine room, found a rag, dipped it in water, and gave water to the others before they died. As we were nearing the main fountain a man walked into the park. Our guide told us that this was the same man from her story. He spoke to us in Japanese with the same message of peace. He shook all of our hands. It was a highlight of the trip.

We had a little time after the tours to wander the streets near the ship. This character is all over Nagasaki to welcome visitors. I saw another cool manhole cover. Finally, we saw a “fish spa” where you can stick your feet in tanks with tiny fish. Poor fish!

February 15, 2017
Paul Groves

Kagoshima, Japan–Sights and Thoughts

Day 42 of 111. Kagoshima, Japan

We visited Kagoshima and the Sakurajima Volcano. We took a ferry over to the island volcano and could see puffs of smoke rising from the peaks. The island is also the home of the huge white radish! Cool stuff.

Sengan-en Garden was built as the second residence of the powerful Shimadzu family. The residence overlooks Kinko Bay where our ship is docked and Sakurajima is plainly visible. The symbol of the family is the circle and cross and could be seen on walls, the main gate, and now even on manhole covers. The gardens are beautiful with many ponds, waterfalls, and shrines. Nariakira, the 28th head of the Shimadzu family helped modernize Japan by bringing in modern industrial technologies producing cannon and glassware and other useful items.

On our travels through Kagoshima, there were interesting sights. The safety barriers were held up by cute bunnies. The use of brightly colored plastic at the car dealerships was eye-catching and different that in the US. At the Sengan-en Garden there were blossoms, but I did not know what they were. It is too early for cherry blossoms and they are too pale to be plum blossoms. They were pretty, however. The manhole cover had the Shimadzu family crest on it.

Of course, it bears notice that there are Eastern-style and Western-style toilets to choose from. In some of the higher-tech stops, the seats are warmed and water jets will clean you if you push the right buttons. I’ve even heard that music plays in some of them, but I did not experience any of those… yet.

February 14, 2017
Paul Groves

Last Evening in Osaka, Japan

Day 40 of 111. Osaka, Japan

At dinner, we decided to leave the ship one more time and ride the giant Ferris wheel. Our table mate, Bernice, really wanted to go, so we ended up going along with the idea. It turned out to be a smooth and pleasurable ride and we got a good view of the ship from above.

We walked around the marketplace one more time before returning to the ship. Besides restaurants and souvenir shops, there was a petting zoo sort of place. They had dogs and cats and rabbits, hamsters and a large pig. I was told there were also small kangaroos and a llama! Ron thinks that maybe people who cannot have pets in their homes might be able to come and visit/pet animals at this station. It was certainly fun to watch through the little viewing windows. The animals seem very happy and healthy. I’m not sure whether it was just trying to be cute or if it was a real shrine, but there was a very cute shrine with cats in it near the restaurants.

February 13, 2017
Paul Groves

Tours in Osaka–Castles and Shrines

Day 40 of 111. Osaka, Japan

We visited Osaka Castle today with its huge tower. We took an elevator to the fifth floor then walked up to the eighth floor observation balcony. On the way back down the tower, we saw exhibits about the shoguns and their history. The Castle was built for protection and the huge rock walls and moats were interesting when contrasted with the modern high rise buildings of modern Japan.

We also visited the Shitennoji Temple, a Buddhist temple that is one of the oldest in Japan. The large tower is rebuilt about 50 years ago but the long low building is 400 years old. The fountain with long-handled ladels are for washing/purifying yourself. The statue in the photo looked like a burial place for people, but I just thought it was an interesting picture.

We saw an interesting sculpture of birds on a handrail as well as one of many snack shops at the Osaka Castle. There are so many cool things to see.

If you know me, you know I am always thinking about food. It was fun to see KFC and the ubiquitous McDonalds. The uniquely Osaka treat is Takoyaki, a little fritter with onions and veggies and in the very center is a bite of OCTOPUS! Unfortunately we did not try this treat.

February 12, 2017
Paul Groves

Miscellaneous Observations

When we stopped for lunch at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Kyoto, there were two girls dressed in kimonos in the lobby. We asked, and one of them posed for a photo. In one of the handicraft shops, I saw a Hoberman Switch Pitch ball that we use in chemistry class totally covered with Japanese fabric. I tested it and it worked fine. Interesting. When we were shopping, I saw a Crocs shoe store with this cute character in front of the store. Finally, we did see Pachinko and Slots casinos from time to time on our travels. We also saw 100 Yen stores (like our Dollar Stores at home). I have not gotten a picture yet.

February 12, 2017
Paul Groves

More in Kyoto and Osaka

Day 39 of 111. Osaka Japan

Here we are at the Heian Jingu Shinto Shrine. The visit was great, but the garden must be amazing in the spring. The stand full of wishes and the offerings of saki barrels were interesting things to see.

I really liked the trees covered with papers. All of the small pieces of paper make the branches look like blossoms. You get a fortune (with a donation?) and if the sentiment is good, you keep it. If it is not a good fortune, you tie it onto the tree… you get rid of it as soon as possible. So… don’t take the papers off of the trees. Some of the more sensitive trees were wrapped in reeds to protect them from the freezing weather.

In Kyoto, we saw several people dressed in kimonos. Some people simply want to be traditional, but our guide said that sometimes people in kimonos can get discounts or free entry into some places. The lighted wheel and displays are in an area adjacent to our ship’s dock. There is a large aquarium with many impressive lights. We visited the shops and restaurants nearby and had katsu-don in a bowl of rice. Yum!

February 12, 2017
Paul Groves

Osaka, Japan

Day 39 of 111. Osaka, Japan
We arrived in Osaka at 8:00 a.m. The sea was very calm (a welcome change) but the air was cold (35 F). In my down coat I was comfortable, but my ears were cold. I went shopping later for a knit cap. (2,000 yen)

We visited the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. It was a nice walk and beautiful sites. It actually snowed a little while we were there and there were patches of snow on the ground. Our guide, Miwa-San, is very good. She told us that the pavilion was the retirement residence of a Shogun who turned into a Buddhist priest. The pavilion is the centerpiece of a nice complex. The three floors of the pavilion are significant. The lower level was for visitors. The second floor was the living area. The top floor was the meditation area and had beautiful lacquered floors which mirrored the room. The actual pavilion was burned in 1950 by a visiting Buddhist priest. This is a reproduction.

The next stop was the Nijo Castle. The five buildings, the artwork, and the information about the Shogun made this visit memorable. The floors make little noises as you walk and are called the Nightingale floors. The sounds are small gentle squeaks that sound like tiny bird calls. They are caused by iron nail moving against the wood. The sounds are supposed to alert the residents against marauding ninjas.

On our bus trip to Kyoto, we had a rest stop. The bathroom had a map of the facilities. I thought this was very clever, very organized, and worth a picture.