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Another trip at sea – On the ferry

Sun 21 Jul – day 71 I had a poor night’s sleep as I kept waking up from a recurring dream that the taxi driver was taking me to the airport rather than the seaport despite all my protestations.

When the alarm went off I had to get up otherwise I would have gone back to sleep I felt so tired.  Shower, dress, pack and down to the foyer where I went on-line to tell my sister that I was moving on yet again.

The check-out was automated, so you just put your room key in the machine and it told you how much you owed; nothing in my case.  Just as I finished the process the taxi driver arrived and the desk clerk asked “Mr David?” I nodded and said “Naha Port”, he looked surprised as had the man last night when I booked the cab, but he told the driver Naha Port.  The drive through the city did not take very long as the streets were empty at this time on a Sunday morning.

I arrived before the check in was open, so completed my request for boarding and then bought a bottle of coke at the shop in the Terminal Building.  As soon as the check in opened I obtained my boarding pass, but then had to wait 20 minutes while they boarded all the families with young children; sensible as they take ages to climb the gangway.

So across the quayside to the ship, climb the gangway and at the top a crew member checked my boarding pass.  There are many types of accommodation onboard and these ranged from a 50 person dormitory where everyone sleeps on mats on the floor, through to the single cabins I had on the way down, while at the top end were five first-class cabins.  Although these cost a lot, I had booked one so that I could get some space to myself, plus I try not to inflict my snoring upon anyone.

I had a twin berth en-suite cabin with sole occupancy, but I could not find a towel.  Having dumped all my bags, got settled in and changed into shorts and flip-flops, I went on deck to take some photos of Naha as we departed.

The ship sailed on time and there were a few people outside the Terminal waving goodbye; the white roof of the baseball stadium shone in the early morning sun and across the harbour from the Terminal were the barrack blocks, built for the USN, but now occupied by the JSDF.

The journey to the first port of call at Motobu took just under two hours; here one person disembarked and was transferred to the inter-island ferry while containers, mostly empty, and meat on the hoof was loaded.  There appeared to be a problem with the stern door winching gear, but it was quickly fixed and we were away on time.

The ship was retracing the route I came down and so we were in and out of ports for most of the day.  Even at the smallest ports like Yoron, the ships arrival ensured a burst of activity as passengers leave or board and containers were unloaded or loaded.  Everything seemed to be carefully planned so that there was no delay.  At one stop beer was being transferred from a container on to a lorry which was then driven off probably heading for a bar.

As on the trip down the Pacific Ocean was flat calm and a fantastic shade of blue.

At Tokunoshima three groups of high school children board to join the other parties already on the ship and they are heading to the mainland to take part in various sporting events.  Parents were on the quayside holding a banner which I presumed was wishing them good luck.

By now the ship was full and I was the object of some curiosity as there were in excess of 650 Japanese passengers and crew plus me.  As always it was the youngest children that just stared until I smiled and said “Konnichiwa”, then their parents would give them a nudge and they would reply.

As the only non-Japanese onboard every announcement was repeated in English for me, but I think that it was just an excuse for the receptionist to be able to practise her language skills which were certainly better than my Japanese.

While I was having lunch an attractive middle-aged lady came to my table, bowed and asked whether she could join me.  No problem.  Having answered all the usual questions, the lady explained that she was the Headmistress of a school in Okinawa and asked whether I would be prepared to tell the school children about my travels.  Again no problem.  She left to ask the Purser for the use of the dining hall once the meal had finished and then to tell all the other teachers what she had arranged.

At the agreed time I waited by the reception desk and was escorted into the packed dining hall where everyone stood as we entered.  As I was introduced everyone bowed and I bowed in return.  I started by apologising for not being able to speak Japanese and said that if there were any queries or questions, one of the teachers would translate if necessary.

It soon became apparent that a lot of the teenage boys would have rather been somewhere else, while the young ladies were the most forthcoming.  Using my large map I was able indicate where I had been and talk about the various locations I had visited. For children who had been raised on islands of various sizes and for whom the annual sporting trip to the mainland was a big excursion, the thought of anyone travelling half way around the world on their own amazed them.  They were impressed about the length of time that I would have spent in Japan and as the majority of them had never even been to Tokyo, the idea of going to the far north of Hokkaidō seemed almost like a trip to the moon.

At the end of my talk and having answered numerous questions I was given a round of applause and then everyone stood and bowed before I left.  I continued to be stopped and asked questions for the rest of the trip, not that I minded; however my cabin provided a private space to get away from everyone and this was most welcome.

There were some interesting sights around the ship with the literal translations and a bottle of a popular rehydration drink on sail in a vending machine.

After a dinner of meat and rice covered in a curry sauce and topped with some micro-waved chips, all washed down with a couple of beers it was time for bed as the sun had set and there was nothing else to do.

Although both the mattress and pillow would be described as firm, I was sleeping between sheets which I hadn’t on the way south.  But as this was one of the second most expensive cabins onboard, a little bit of comfort didn’t go a miss.