The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 13

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Thirteen

October 4 (Saturday, Day 18, Kobe, Japan) –

We took our time getting ready to see Kobe today since we were still feeling the effects of all the walking yesterday. The city offered a free shuttle to Motomachi Station so we decided to take it and then walk around. Our first stop was Daimaru Department Store and its food hall. For once though, we just looked and didn’t buy anything!

(In preparing this, Filbert notices a definite dearth of photographs from Day 2 in Kobe. Sorry about that.)

More after the jump . . . We were toting our computers in a backpack since one of our goals was to find an internet cafe. We walked down Motomachi Shopping Street (about a mile long, covered and no cars allowed) and asked a policeman. He didn’t speak English but understood enough and we figured out what he was telling us. We decided to walk to the end of the shopping street and then go to the internet cafe. We walked and we walked and we walked. We were also looking for an ATM since we had $6 with us. We decided to get off the shopping street to find an ATM and finally saw a post office and used its ATM. By now we were tired and hungry. Every restaurant we passed either didn’t have the plastic food in its window or was an udon restaurant and Snookums didn’t want udon. We finally saw a restaurant that said “English menu available” and decided to go in and eat regardless of food type. It was a Chinese restaurant and was the definition of a local hole in the wall. It had absolutely no atmosphere, the white walls were blank and it had 4 stools at the counter and 4 tables. But, it had locals coming in and yelling at the owner/cook. Filbert ordered the spicy prawns and Snookums ordered the pork and vegetables with mustard miso. Both were very tasty and the break was a nice one.

We went to the internet cafe and found it very interesting. It had five different kinds of booths you could rent. We were given one with a black leather loveseat in it and two PCs. We had our laptops so didn’t need the PCs. We could have also rented a booth with a recliner or even tatami mats. We each used 30 minutes of WiFi and paid $4.00 total. We also saw that there were showers and tanning booths in the internet cafe. It was more like a U.S. truck stop than an internet cafe! It even sold little packets of aftershave and razors and stuff.

Snookums decided she needed to have an ice cream bar from a convenience store since she really missed Japanese ice cream confections. She bought a vanilla ice cream sandwich that was encased in ice cream cone batter (cooked) and had a chocolate bar in the middle. She used to eat them a lot while in Japan and doesn’t know why they aren’t in the U.S. since there isn’t anything “Japanesey” about them.

We had about $20 left and decided that we would spend it on beer. That was our next expedition. Filbert wanted to buy room temp beer (not cold beer from a convenience store). We went to the department store’s food hall and only found cold beer.


We went to a convenience store and only found cold beer but asked about a liquor store. The convenience store clerk told us to keep walking down the street and we would find one. (Well, her English wasn’t that good but that’s what we thought she meant.) While walking down the street we passed a second convenience store (a 7-11) and asked that clerk. He thought about it for several minutes and finally suggested we go to a drug store. That was a classic example of a Japanese not wanting to tell us “No, I don’t know” and instead came up with an answer that he knew was wrong. (Drug stores do NOT sell alcohol.) We left the 7-11 and immediately found the liquor store. It was a sake store and did sell some beer, but the Japanese brands were all cold. (The imports, like Budweiser, were room temp.) At this point, Filbert didn’t care and bought as many cans of cold Kirin we could afford. We ended up with $0.77 left and went to a convenience store and Snookums bought seven items that were the same brand but different flavors. They packages are the size of a hot dog but feather-light. (She hasn’t opened any of them so she doesn’t even know if they are sweet or salty or what. Maybe they are Japanese versions of ChickOStix??!!) Our remaining 7 yen was donated to the container in front of the cash register.We walked back to the free shuttle and returned to the ship. Snookums went to use the hot tubs but they were closed for routine maintenance although the daily program listed them as being open. As a result, Snookums convinced the spa to allow her to use the $20/day spa treatment room. She used the sauna, the steam room, and the hot tubs and enjoyed being the only one there. She decided it definitely wasn’t worth $20/day though!! (It’s free if you buy a spa treatment.)

Filbert sat on the balcony and enjoyed watching the jumping fish in the bay. For some reason there are a lot of fish that jump out of the water in the morning and evening. The fish look like they jump about 1 foot high and sometimes 3 or 4 feet long. It’s kind of fun watching all of the splashes.

Snookums has been watering her plants every day and today the pansy has two green plants coming up. The impatiens doesn’t appear to be thriving, though.

We got ready for dinner early in order to walk around Deck 9 (outside) to see the beautiful lights of Kobe. There are three huge designs outlined in lights on the side of the mountains that could be seen from miles around. One was the symbol of Kobe, one was an anchor and one was “Kobe 2008”. Kobe has a ferris wheel that lights up in different colors and a lot of the skyscrapers also light up in different colors–it is located adjacent to that park we visited yesterday that had the replica Santa Maria and the public spaces. It is very beautiful at night.

Kobe at night
The anchor and the Kobe city logo on the hills at night

A local group was going to give a 20-30 minute folkloric show on the ship at 7:00 and we decided to attend that. It was three women in their 50s. One played a 13-string horizontal harp that the Chinese introduced in the 500s. Another one played the “banjo-type” instrument that we had seen the other night. These two women wore kimonos and the third woman wore a dress and played a synthesizer! It was a very odd combination. They played some Beatles tunes and ended with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It was very strange.

Japanese women play the Beatles!

After dinner Filbert stayed up until around midnight to make sure we safely left Kobe. Snookums fell asleep around 10:30 and missed saying goodbye to Kobe.

October 5 (Sunday, Day 19, At sea) –

Today was a day of rest and that’s what we did. Snookums finished another paperback (probably her tenth at least) and Filbert worked on putting photos in the journal: photographs from the first three Japan stops, that is. We’re behind on the whole journal entry process, but then, I guess we can either go do stuff, or we can write and compose the photos for it. Multitasking is hard when you’re on a cruise.

Pleasant skies at sea bound for Shanghai

While in the Neptune Lounge Snookums heard that one of the two penthouse suites is empty. Several people were called prior to the cruise to see if they wanted to pay $20,000 per person to upgrade to the penthouse suite from their current deluxe verandah suite (like we have) and they turned it down. The “owners” of the one penthouse suite that is booked didn’t get their clothing until Kobe!! She also found out that one older man upgraded to our kind of suite from the suite that we had originally booked by paying $15,000 for himself and his butler. One would think that if you can afford a butler you can afford to pay the whole amount for the deluxe verandah suite at time of booking rather than waiting until a few weeks beforehand and hoping for an upgrade phone call. But, maybe he is frugal so that he can afford a butler — who knows!

We decided to skip the Mariner reception for people that had sailed with Holland America before. Our awards were left on our beds on Saturday night. Snookums received her 100 night bronze medal (about 3″ in diameter and on a long 2″ wide blue ribbon, like an Olympic medal!) and Filbert received his red 50 night pin. At the end of this cruise Filbert will have 87 nights so he’ll get his 100 night bronze medal on our 15-night January, 2009 cruise. We were told that there is a woman on board (in an inside cabin!) with more than 2,000 nights on Holland America.

It was formal night and even Gary and Charlotte showed up to dinner. Gary had said at the beginning of the cruise that they wouldn’t come to any formal nights since he didn’t own a tux and didn’t want to even wear a suit. Well, he borrowed a black bow tie from Yvan and wore a white shirt and the yukata that he just bought in Japan. A yukata is a cotton robe that the Japanese wear at the onsens (hot springs) and that younger women wear in the summer to outdoor festivals. The maitre ‘d let him in so we were all happy. A Japanese man in his tux and his wife in her kimono went to their table near ours but left without sitting down. Her kimono was beautiful and we don’t know why they left. (Around 120 Japanese boarded the cruise in Kobe.) The wine was free tonight so everyone had a great time.

The wine was free, so the night was a blur!
Nary a scrap left on the plates
Snookums wanted a picture of her other formal outfit–here it is!

We returned to our suite and found two large commemorative serving plates on our bed with a drawing of the ms Amsterdam on them. A captain of the ship was also an artist and they put his pen and ink drawing on the plates. It was the gift for the night. We also were happy to see that we got to turn our clocks back one hour. Sleep is good!

October 6 (Monday, Day 20, At sea) –

We woke up and had the breakfast buffet. Berries and skim milk are still not available and Snookums doesn’t know where the restocking port will be (and hopefully it won’t be Shanghai for the milk since she doesn’t want to drink melamine!!!). Snookums collected more cereal boxes, more little jars of jam and more individually wrapped graham crackers to give to her American friend, Elizabeth, in Shanghai. Snookums knows how expensive (and difficult) it was to find American food in Tokyo and figures that Elizabeth (and her two young sons) will appreciate anything she can get. Elizabeth is going to get us tomorrow at 6:30 PM for dinner.

The Chinese immigration officials were on board on this sea day and everyone had to go through a face-to-passport identification check. The officials were doing it over a 3 hour period so the line was not long.

It was mostly cloudy today and around 72 degrees F. We started to see more and more small fishing boats as the day went on.

When we returned to our cabin after dinner, we found a pocket pack of Kleenex on our bed. This was a nice reminder that there’s not toilet paper in most bathrooms in China!

In our next post: Shanghai!

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 12

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Twelve

October 3 (Friday, Day 17, Kobe, Japan, continued) –

We hopped back on our Kobe hop on/hop off tour bus again and rode until Snookums decided she needed a bathroom so we got off near a department store and saw another bride and groom, in Western wedding attire, being photographed. First stop, toilet. Second stop, food hall! We were given samples of what looked like a “normal” salad and it was since the woman then showed us the bottle of Italian salad dressing that she was having us try. The one sample we get and it’s “American”! Snookums bought a circular cake that we had seen for sale at all of the bakeries. It looked like a really long roll of paper towels on a horizontal rotisserie. The cake was made of many, many layers and it ended up being coffee flavored. She managed to choke it down. Filbert bought a crab puff thingie. By now it was time to catch the tram to see the sunset so that was our destination.

We got of the hop on/hop off bus and walked to the Shin-Kobe Ropeway that would take us to the Nunobiki Herb Park. There were not many people there and we got the 6-person tram to ourselves.

The Shin-Kobe Ropeway

More after the jump . . . It stopped at a station halfway up the mountain but you had to stay on to the top. It continued on up and we finally got off after about 7 minutes or so. It was a great ride up and the view was spectacular.

Above the half-way station, we sight the Amsterdam
The resort village at the top of the tram
No, we were there, really!

The herb park was on the entire side of the mountain from the top tram station (where we got off) to the other station half way down the mountain. We started walking down and enjoyed the various flowering herbs like Mexican Bushsage.


We saw a purple plant that had many large hummingbirds around it and just watched them for several minutes with their long tongues getting the pollen (not sure “tongues” is the right word, but the hummingbird’s “tongue” was about 1 or 1.5 inches long and would curl into a curlicue when finished with one flower).


We started meandering down to the halfway station in order to see all of the herbs while being in a good position to see the sunset. We also saw quite a few large black and yellow spiders in their webs.

More flowers
The herb house
Snookums and the okra

After a few minutes, a short announcement was made in Japanese and repeated three times. Snookums thought it sounded like “The store is closing in 5 minutes” and decided to look at the brochure. (She didn’t recognize any of the Japanese words, but just thought it was short and sweet and seemed like something you would hear in the U.S. at closing time.) Sure enough, it was 5:00 and the park was closed! The tram continued to run for 30 minutes, but we now had to hurry to make sure we didn’t get stuck high up on the side of the mountain after it closed!! It’s open until 8:30 PM on weekdays but on weeknights it closes at 5:00. Luckily we looked at the brochure in time.

We got on the tram and rode down and caught the hop on/hop off bus back to the station to catch the Port Liner back to the ship. We didn’t see the sunset from the top of the mountain, but we had a very full day and LOTS of walking.

We got back to the ship and decided that getting in the hot tub would be a good idea for our tired bodies. It was very pleasant outside and Snookums got in the swimming pool, too, while Filbert decided to stick with the hot tub.

More adventures in Kobe in our next post . . .

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 11

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Eleven

October 3 (Friday, Day 17, Kobe, Japan, continued) –

After our lunch we caught Kobe’s hop on/hop off bus and rode it to a stop that was close to Sorakuen Garden which is Kobe’s premier Japanese garden. We were disappointed to find out that the chrysanthemum show wasn’t starting for another 3 weeks, but we did see a few blooming mums and the structures for the rest of them.

The garden’s pond

More after the jump . . .

A bit of fall color
Early for the flower show

It was a very nice (but small) Japanese garden. There were three businessmen scattered throughout the park eating their lunches and there was one that was actually sleeping on a large bench (with his shoes off).

Catching a nap in the garden

It cost 300 yen ($3) to enter which made it that much more interesting to see some workers willing to pay the entry fee to eat their lunches amidst the peace and quiet. When we exited, we were treated to a bride and groom in traditional Japanese wedding attire having their picture taken with the zelkova wood front gate as their background. The bride was beautiful in her white kimono and they said it was okay for us to take their picture.

Your travelers at the garden’s door
A happy couple

We walked back to the hop on/hop off bus stop and decided to go into the tourist place there. It was called Kitano Meister Garden and was billed as a building filled with Japanese craftsmen. What we found were six artisan chocolate makers selling their goods in the shops. They gave samples so that was okay with us. We got on the bus and decided that we needed to take the tram up to Nunobiki Herb Park to see sunset. That meant that we had to waste a couple hours.

We got off a stop harborside and walked around a large public area that the city had set aside. There were a number of attractions, like a maritime museum and an amusement park, and right next to it was a new-looking shopping area. The maritime museum included a full-scale replica of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria, which caused Filbert to meditate on crossing an ocean in something that small and open–that thought made Snookums a bit queasy. As we walked around the area, we speculated that it might be an urban re-development district after the Kobe earthquake, but never followed up to find out for sure.

Replica of Columbus’ Santa Maria
Japanese kids
More Japanese kids

But wait! There’s more Kobe coming up in our next post! Stay tuned . . .

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 10

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Ten

Hi, everyone! It’s been a long time since our last post–we’ve been busy! Port day after port day, with precious few of the days both Snookums and Filbert really like–SEA DAYS!!! But finally, we’re through the really intense stretch of port days, and have some time to catch up on posts. So here’s what we’ve been up to:

October 2 (Thursday, Day 16, At sea) –

We woke up around 7:30 and realized that the sun was peeking through the curtains. Sure enough, it was bright and sunny and HOT!!! It was around 75 degrees F so we decided to take advantage of our verandah and ordered room service.

Room service on the verandah

More after the jump . . .

Filbert had a fee acupuncture consultation at 11 AM for his heel so he went to that while Snookums chatted with people in the Neptune Lounge since our room was being cleaned. Filbert found Snookums in the lounge and said he wasn’t going to do acupuncture since the waiver he had to sign was going to release Holland America from absolutely everything up to and including being thrown overboard by the Spa staff. Snookums tried to convince him that it was just a normal waiver (and that acupuncture doesn’t cause problems) but he was adamant about not wanting to be thrown overboard. He also didn’t appreciate the fact that he was told 11 AM (via a call to Snookums) but when he showed up they said it was for 1 PM.

Rocks and a ship off of Japan

At noon we went to the wine and cheese party for the suite guests. It was an odd time for wine and cheese, but it didn’t seem to stop any of the suite guests from attending! When we returned to our cabin we had a nice thank you card waiting for us from Jae and Bari for the party last night.

The rest of the day was spent lounging around. Filbert wrote his book and Snookums attended the movie “No Reservations” and enjoyed munching good popcorn. We both worked out and then met our tablemates for dinner.

October 3 (Friday, Day 17, Kobe, Japan) –

Kobe’s fireboat–no colors, though, just white
The Kobe Ketchup Dispenser (ok, it’s probably a firecracker)
The wonders of Kobe lay before us

Filbert woke up early to watch us dock and after breakfast we got off the ship to go to the huge port terminal’s information desk to get maps and stuff to plan our day. The young woman spoke flawless English and even told us that people don’t bother going to certain parts of Kobe which meant we shouldn’t waste our time, either! (As a rule, Japanese don’t say “no” so her telling us that they don’t go to certain suburbs to see the temples and shrines was the same as saying “no”. We appreciated it a lot, but it definitely went against her Japanese upbringing.)

At the Kobe terminal, a model of the Amsterdam

After spending about an hour planning our day, we took the Port Liner (elevated subway) to Sannomiya Station where a lot of the action is. Kobe is a very large city and was totally different from the previous three Japanese ports we had been to. It’s not as big as Tokyo but is very similar. It is prettier than Tokyo, though, since the water is on one side and there are mountains on the other.

Expensive fruit at the Sogo Department Store

We found the “hop on/hop off” bus but decided not to get on since it was standing room only. We saw Sogo Department Store and decided to visit its food hall (where else would we go??!) Filbert bought yakitori (meat on a stick) from two different vendors and Snookums bought a tonkatsu bento box. Filbert thought he was buying a selection of chicken and beef “kebabs” but ended up with two chicken ones (very good), a liver one (not so good), a fish one (not so good) and a chicken/tofu meatball wrapped in a celery leaf (excellent). It was kind of funny that what we both thought were two beef ones were actually liver and some kind of fish part!

While walking around outside looking for a bench to sit on to eat, we saw Gary coming out of McDonald’s. We couldn’t believe that in a city the size of Kobe we would run into Gary. (No, he wasn’t eating in McDonald’s–he was using the bathroom.) He told us that he just put Charlotte and two other women in a cab back to the ship. Charlotte does beading and most beads are made in Japan so they went to a bead store and one of the women fell and scraped her arm. Anyway, Gary left them so that he could take the Shinkansen to Kyoto in order to just ride the Shinkansen since he’s into trains.

Kobe butterfly

The Kobe adventures continue in the next post . . .

Chimp adopts two white tiger cubs

Again from tireless West Coast Simian Correspondent Bill (who seems to be bucking for a promotion to Chief Top-Dog West Coast Simian Correspondent!), this from the UK’s Daily Mail:

The two-year-old chimp has been helping keeper China York care for the 21-day-old cubs at The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS) in South Carolina.

Awwwwwww pictures at the link.

And yes, more trip journal entries are on the way . . .

The Cheeta Story-Entertainment Weekly

Our West Coast Simian Correspondent Bill reports that Entertainment Weekly[*1] has a story on that most famous of simians–Cheeta:

Cheeta is used to having his photo taken, and over the course of a long afternoon, with the temperature hovering around 100 degrees, he poses without complaint. For the photographer’s benefit, he sits at a small dining table, eating a peanut-butter sandwich and a bowl of corn chips. (Long ago, he enjoyed cigars and beer, but since developing diabetes in recent years, he’s been on a healthier regimen.)

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 9

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Nine

October 1 (Wednesday, Day 15, Miyako, Japan) –

A female Taiko drum group, a Taiko drum group made up of 2nd graders and a bunch of city officials greeted us when we docked at Miyako.

The welcome ceremony
Taiko drum girls
Taiko drum kids

Miyako is a much smaller town than the previous two so a cruise ship docking was a big deal. The port had lots and lots of timber (logs) stacked up since Miyako imports lumber to be used in the local paper mills.


The dock was on our side of the ship so we sat on our verandah and listened to the exceedingly long speech by the mayor and then enjoyed the drum groups. We also noticed cars driving down the street by the dock and then making a U-turn at the dead end and driving away. We realized that those cars were full of local people that wanted to drive by to see the ship. This was a HUGE deal for Miyako.

We opted not to do the 40-minute walk to town due to Filbert’s heel hurting him. We also decided not to take the free shuttle for the disabled. So, we jumped in a cab with another couple and got to “town” about 10 minutes (and $12 total) later. We saw the train station which was a very small one and didn’t even consist of a building but rather was just a bunch of canopies over the tracks. Train stations are very important in Japan and the size of one will indicate the size of the town. This was a small town!

Miyako Station

We walked around and found “The True Drug Store” and went in. It was Japan’s version of a Walgreen’s and even accepted coupons. Otherwise, it was a very small town. We saw two fish stores, a clothing store, two electronics stores, a pachinko parlor, a grocery store (very small), one convenience store, one Mos burger (Japan’s version of McDonald’s), four or five restaurants, a few bars and that was about it. All of these stores, with the exception of the drug store, were very tiny.

The True Drug Store

Snookums thought she saw a sign (in Japanese) for a 100 yen store on the 4th floor of a building and she found a Chamber of Commerce-type person to verify and was told “yes”. Snookums thought she remembered some basic Kanji and this proved it!

Filbert decided to rest his heel and do some Japanese-watching so he sat on a bench outside the train station while Snookums went shopping in the 4-story department store with the 100 yen store on the top floor. Snookums bought a clothes dryer hanger thing with 8 clips to use to dry wet clothes.

The Japanese were commemorating something today since there were two or three adults at various places around Miyako with donation kettles. When you donated, you received a red feather. Maybe it was like the United States’ red poppies for veterans???

We took a cab back to the ship and Snookums went to the 3:00 Fit Ball class. But, only two people showed up and you have to have three for a class so she had to work out on her own. After she got all sweaty, she took a shower in preparation for the 4:45 sail away party. Filbert, meanwhile, sat on the verandah and watched various preschool groups and nursing home groups (in wheelchairs and walkers) come to look at the ship. He was the official waver since the Japanese would wave and wave and wave (and take pictures and pictures and pictures).

A Taiko drum group had been setting up but then it started to rain so tarps were put over the drums. Snookums was afraid it was going to rain on our parade. Our hot and cold appetizers, ice and glasses were delivered and our friends started showing up around 4:45. They oohed and aahed over the suite and couldn’t believe our luck (and we still can’t, either).

It DID rain, but the drumming started and our covered verandah (with an overhang) was filled with music, food, fun and friends. The sun was starting to set over the mountains behind the Taiko drummers and it was picture perfect. Everyone on the verandah took lots and lots of pictures. Yvan, a world traveler, even remarked that it was the most beautiful scenery he had ever seen and this is a man that has swam in a river in Laos (probably not the healthiest thing to do) and was almost arrested in Cameroon while on a cruise. “Auld Lang Syne” was played after the Taiko drummers were done. Someone must have told the Japanese about that song since it was played at our last two ports as we were leaving.

The sailaway party:

Charlotte and Snookums
The girls
Enjoying the lumberyard view

The potato chips never got opened, but the Japanese snacks and “sweatrag” party favors were a hit. Gary and Charlotte left around 6 and that somehow managed to divide the group. The women stayed out on the verandah (where it was getting chilly since the sun was down) and the men ended up sitting inside. Finally we realized it was almost 8:00 and we all went to our table together from our cabin. (Well, we almost all went together. The dress code was casual and Jae just didn’t feel right wearing tennis shoes and he insisted on changing. His wife and several others wore tennis shoes, though!) It was a great time and we all agreed it would have to be done again and again and again. (And it will be.) Yvan even decided to wear his Japanese headband gift during dinner and looked very “Japanesey” in it!

Author’s note: This is being written by Snookums around 2 PM on Thursday from the chaise lounge on the verandah while gazing at the calm seas and sighting a Japanese island or outcropping of rocks every now and then. Filbert is sitting on the verandah with his headphones on listening to Radio Australia on short-wave radio while writing his science fiction book. A beautiful day, indeed!

Miyako sunset

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 8

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Eight

September 30 (Tuesday, Day 14, Aomori, Japan) –

Aomori was added to the itinerary when Russia was removed. We docked around 8 AM and it was cloudy and even rained for a few minutes but ended up sunny and nice. We decided to stay onboard until around 10 or so shops wouldn’t open until then anyway. For about an hour after docking there was a Taiko drum group welcoming us which was very nice and we could easily see and hear it from our balcony. There was also a tent at the base of the gangway staffed by English-speaking Japanese to help answer questions.

YouTube of Taiko drum group:

The Aomori greeting celebration

We got a map and started our adventure by seeing a dead raven in the clear water as well as (and this is not an exaggeration) a million jellyfish and several starfish.

Dead raven

No swimming for us! We walked to the triangular-shaped 14-floor building near the dock and rode the glass elevators to the top.

Triangular building with seal statues
The travelers and the Amsterdam

We shopped in a few of the shops and saw the gift potatoes that cost around $30 for 11 pounds. Snookums had seen pricey melons and apples and other types of produce while living in Japan, but not potatoes. Aomori must be known for its potatoes!


We walked down the shopping street and stopped at the first department store to visit its Food Hall. We tried a sample of sausage and then tried some natto. Natto is fermented soybeans and is an acquired taste that we have not yet acquired. We decided that we needed a tasty snack and bought a raisin and walnut bun to share. The bakery rang a cowbell every time fresh baked pastries were brought to the shelves and it rang several times during the 5 minutes we were there.

We proceeded to a 100 yen store ($1) and Snookums bought a lingerie bag since she needed another one in order to be more efficient using the ship’s laundry service.

Then we walked to the next high-rise “mall” and went to another 100 yen store. We are hosting a sail-away party in our cabin tomorrow afternoon for our tablemates and Snookums decided we needed Japanese handkerchiefs (or sweatrags) to use as napkins and then for them to take as party favors. We found some Hello Kitty ones for the women and a cartoon Shinkansen (bullet train) one for Gary. For the other two men we found Japanese headbands/towels (think two bandanas sewn together to make a long bandana) with Kanji on them. (There were limited supplies of sweat rags suitable for men that still had a Japanese theme to them so we had to go with the headbands/towels.) Gary should especially like the Shinkansen design given his love of trains. We then went to the basement and found Aomori’s fish market and wandered around it and saw sea creatures we hadn’t seen before.

We were hungry for lunch and decided to go to the restaurant in the basement. It had a few pictures on its menu but had much more Japanese writing on its chalk boards.

Lunch menu

Snookums pointed to the ramen and Filbert pointed to the tempura and since the tempura had two prices next to it, he pointed to the more expensive one. He also got a draft beer. Snookums’s pork tempura with a boiled egg in it was delicious (or oishi-desu in Japanese!) and Filbert’s tempura set meal was quite something. It consisted of tempura (eggplant, green pepper, prawn, fish, and squash), white rice, miso soup with the head of a prawn in it, raw squid with wasabi, seaweed, and Japanese pickles. We both enjoyed our meals but realized that everyone else was eating a side of crab legs with their main meals so it must be crab season and that was probably what was written on the chalkboards.

Our meals:


We wandered back to the ship and stopped at a convenience store (well, two) on the way. Filbert had to buy the Guinness since the three pack came with a free Guinness glass and he also had to buy the three pack of Yebisu beer for its free little glass.

We also stopped at a big grocery store and bought potato chips for tomorrow’s party since Gary has talked about his love of plain potato chips and how he likes to try different brands. We brought three bags of Calbee brand chips and the pictures all look plain (no cheese, no paprika, no other colored items on the chips) but there must be a difference since the same brand wouldn’t have three kinds of plain, regular potato chips. Stay tuned — we’ll find out tomorrow.

We got back to the ship and enjoyed watching the digging going on right next to where the ship docked. We guess they are using some reclaimed land to make another dock. There were metal plates laid on the dirt to form a road for the dump trucks to drive on and a Japanese man’s job was to sweep the dust from the metal plates. It really didn’t make sense but it did give Filbert an opportunity to say, “The Japanese are a silly little people” in his usual affectionate (but still probably racist) way. Filbert continued to watch the dockside activity while Snookums managed to stay awake through an entire DVD of “Employee of the Month”.

Sweeping the metal plates

As we sailed away from the dock the Taiko drum group played and the Japanese on the dock waved and waved and waved and waved. Since this port was a last minute addition, we assumed it was the first time that Holland America came here and that’s why the Japanese were so enthralled. They even played a recording of “Auld Lang Syne” while we pulled away. It was very nice and we decided that we enjoyed Aomori even more than Hakodate.

Aomori Sunset