JAPAN – February 27 – March 1


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(Written by Steve)


“I was very thirsty, and went out for water. I found the water with something like oil all over it. I wanted water so much that I drank it as it was with oil all over it.” Sachiko Yamaguchi (age 9 at the time of the 1945 Nagasaki bombing)


Peace fountain in Heiwa-koen (Peace Park) is dedicated to those who, like 9 year old Sachiko, died in a desperate search for water following the Atomic blast.

That was more than 50 years ago but, each year a somber ceremony recalls the horror of that fateful day. Just after the bomb’s deafening destructive wave shook the city as though an earthquake had struck, an eerie quiet fell upon Nagasaki. At precisely 11:02 am there was silence.





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There is no escaping the atomic bomb with Nagasaki. It fell on an unsuspecting population in the ancient community just after 11 am, August 9, 1945.  Referred to as “Fat Man” the bomb was twice as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb that was dropped a few days earlier.


In nearby Hypocenter Park, a black monolith stands to mark the exact epicenter of the explosion. A ghostly, charred section of the original Ukrakami Cathedral has been preserved. The Buddha-like statue of peace holds out his hand in an appeal for mankind to cease the madness of war. At the same time he points towards the sky reminding us of the horrors that human beings have often unleashed on each other. A black box at the base of the statue contains the names of the innocent victims of the 1945 bombings. Each year the names on that list are read aloud. Nearly 1/3 (74,000) of the city’s residents were killed in the explosion and another 1/3 (74,000) were seriously injured (that data was taken on Dec. 31 1945). All of which were left homeless when virtually all the property was instantly destroyed in the heat that rose to a million degrees (that is hard to believe, but that’s what the museum posted).

Each year, on the anniversary of the bombing, a somber pro life demonstration is held in the park.

We walked through Peace Park and were very disturbed, that’s the only way I can explain it. It has the original foundation of the prison that once stood on the site and is surrounded by monuments by countries from all over the world. The walk in the park was very peaceful and I am so glad we went to see it, we are very fortunate to be here.

 I just wanted to give you a quick run down of our first impression of Nagasaki and Japan before I tell you about the Atomic bomb Museum.

We loved it, really loved it, and we are going to move here! (I can hear my mother-in-laws voice again) just kidding. But what an experience for someone to come to this wonderful land for a year or so and learn the language, and see the way they live.

We are not the worldliest travelers quite yet, but we have noticed one thing that hits us every time we enter a new country. You get a feel if you’re going to be safe, if it’s clean and basically if you are going to like it. All of this seems to happen in the first ½ hour, and it has been bang on so far. Well, we absolutely love this place! The people are nice and the food is fantastic and everyone is so polite, it’s awesome. The only problem we had today was with the kids.  They were a bit of a gong show. That was mostly my fault (Steve’s) because I wanted him (Nikolas) to be so interested and he was not. Helen told me to leave him alone because, as she said “how many 9 year olds do you know that would be interested in this park”? I guess I would not have bought into it either if I was his age, but it really angered me. I am standing in the middle of the epicenter and looking into the sky to see if I could see any planes, and out of the corner of my eye I could see Nikolas moping around walking on the forbidden grass and having no part in this place. O.K. it was not forbidden, it was not even green, but I was angry so it sounds better. Anyways I lost it on him and the rest of the day between us went down hill. I even let him wander in the museum and I think that was a big mistake, a little too much for a 9-year old to be thinking about.  He was here and he saw it, I just hope it does not get inside his head. Or maybe I do, I don’t know. Standing there myself, I was blown away, so I am not sure what effect it should have on Nikolas in the future.

We went up the block to the Atomic Bomb Museum and before you climb the stairs up to the Museum itself you have to go through a park. The park has a handful of monuments and the grass area is covered in little sticks and things, and part of an original wall still standing from the Urakami Cathedral. It’s quite amazing that the wall and the steps were able to withstand the blast and it is in very good condition. As you walk up to the steps you see more of those little sticks in the ground everywhere. I am not quite sure what is planted there and could not find the words in the phrase book that we could use to ask.

That’s one problem with not knowing the language, you spend ½ an hour putting 3 words together that you hope make sense. Then you ask someone the question as if you are fluent in Japanese and they blast you back with about 25 words in less than 2 seconds. After they hit you with that rapid fire response, you just bow and smile and say A-ri-gat-to (Thank You) and bow and then walk away as if you are going to exactly what they said to do, but you don’t have a clue what the heck they just said.  

O.K. now back to the depressing part, the Bomb Museum. I am so glad we came here to see it, but it was much more graphic than I ever imagined. They had a Fat Man bomb cut open so you could see exactly how they made it and it was the actual size. It was 3.25m in length, 1.52 m in diameter and weighed 4.5 tons. Ya, the thing is huge but the nuclear pocket in the middle was actually quite small. I just find it hard to believe that that’s what killed and injured 150,000 people. The rest of the exhibits are as follows; lots of very graphic film footage, steel helmet with the remains of a scull, a work uniform of a worker that was 1.2 km away and the right side of the uniform is blown away, hand bones melted into glass bottles something that was right out of the x-files. There were 2 pictures of 2 different walls from the blast area and they were both of dark shadows that somehow were imbedded into the walls. The first shadow was of laundry hanging on the clothes line and you could clearly see that shadow. The second was of 2 men on a ladder. One man was holding the ladder at the bottom and looking up and the other was on the ladder. I know this does not sound too fascinating as I tell you, but it was as if it was painted in charcoal paint right on the wall. You have to see it! This museum had a ‘peace on earth’ theme throughout the whole thing, and it even showed how many nuclear warheads there are remaining in the world right now. And let me tell you, nothing horrified me more than knowing this one incident could happen over 100,000 times more if all the warheads were released. I had no idea.

After leaving that place I felt a little guilty for being mad at Nikolas that morning and I was wondering what was going through his 9-year old head. Everyone asked us afterwards what Nikolas thought about the Museum and it wasn’t until that moment that I realized we just let him walk through and look at whatever he wanted. When you are walking through it, I can only say that you and everyone around you are in a trance. I know what happened and how it happened but being in there with the film footage running everywhere and all those pictures, you just go from one room to another. There are hundreds of people in there, only not a sound is heard, and we are all just walking. If you ever get the chance please come to this Museum or Hiroshima, it is a very important place.


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Phewwwww,  enough about that, now back to Nagasaki.

We got off the ship and walked until we found a train and then I pulled out Lonely Planet Japanese Phrase book and started speaking Japanese like it was my second language. Well I managed to say Hello (kon-ni-chi-wa), Thank you (a-ri-ga-to), goodbye (sa-yo-na-ra) and the number 4 (shi/yon). Pretty good for one day, no one could understand a word I said, but I must have used those 3 phrases about ten times today.

O.K. I know I am a supposed to be a mature adult, but I was so excited today I just had to bring my camera into the bathroom to get a picture of this thing. We were eating in an average kind of Japanese diner when Helen came out of the washroom and told us we had to see this thing. I went in and came right back out and got the camera. Move over New Zealand, because the toilet we saw today was unbelievable, it had more gadgets on it than a Binford 4000 (Tim the Tool Guy) dish washing machine. This thing sprayed the seat with cleaner, wiped it, had a seat warmer, and you do not want to know what it did to your bottom when you were finished. I’ll just let you know what Helen said when she came back, “we have to get one of those, I could have stayed in there all day”

We just had a super great day, and are so looking forward to Osaka and our 2nd day in Japan. We are most definitely coming back to this country!



 OSAKA -  

(written by Helen)


I have not seen the film “Lost in Translation” yet, but after walking through parts of Osaka I am looking forward to seeing it.  Steve and I have never been to Japan and for some reason were both really excited to see it.  From the movies we’ve watched to the images you see and envision, to us it was a far away land full of culture and very interesting people.  It helps too that we both love Japanese food!  Nagasaki was small and quaint and we loved it there but we were eager to see the ‘big’ city of Osaka. 


We were told that Japan is extremely expensive and that the weather was going to be bitterly cold so we bundled up and brought very few yen (thinking we wouldn’t buy anything).  Well, much to our surprise, it was cold but we ended up taking off some of our layers during the day and sunglasses were definitely an asset.  The temp. was about 2-5 degrees but it didn’t really feel that cold unless you were close to the water and the cold breeze blowing was bone-chilling.  And, the prices were not bad at all.  I bought a beautiful blouse for 500 yen which is 5 dollars American.  Not bad at all.


Lucky for us, our friends from the casino (they hate it when I call them that) allowed us to tag along again and so the nine of us headed off to the subway to get to the temple.


The very first thing you notice as you walk the streets and enter the subway system is that there is not piece of garbage to be seen on the streets.  I saw no graffiti and really the place is spotless.  The other thing you notice when you enter the underground subway system is the silence.  You really could hear a pin drop and I even looked around to see if the place was deserted but there were people everywhere.  It’s almost eerie. There is very little noise, or should I say human noise, talking, shouting, laughing, nothing!  They just seem to go about their business and that’s it.


The other thing we were surprised about is the lack of foreign people around.  We were in the heart of Osaka’s shopping district and every time I saw a ‘Westerner’ it was someone from our ship.  It was amazing.  We were even stared at and pointed at, in the most polite ways I must say.  People were stopping and smiling and saying lots of Japanese words we could not understand.  They loved Nik and Dani and they got the most attention. 


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Back to the subway system.  It is so well organized.  Each stretch of the city is divided into different sections and each subway train going to that section is a certain colour.  Does that make sense?  For example, we looked at our map and discovered that we had to take the ‘green’ train to a certain station (they are all marked for easy id) and then we had to get on the ‘red’ train to reach the temples.  So it doesn’t really matter that you cannot read a bit of Japanese because unless you are colour-blind you can figure it out.  In fact Steve was a little disappointed that he could not practice his fluent four words he has learnt in Japanese, he didn’t really need to ask anyone a question.  He would however, much to Nikolasembarrassment , say “kanichi-wa” (Hello) and “arigato” (Thank-you) to every person that was within a 2 metre radius.  He also did a lot of bowing and I knew instantly that he loved this place.  It’s almost like a comedy skit with him, as the person would bow and then he would and then the person would and then he would and so on and so on.  He didn’t know when to stop.  I had to walk away and pull him along or we would have been there all day.  He was also the typical tourist.  He took over a hundred pictures and he swore that he would never laugh at the Japanese tourists back home again!


Again, the best thing we did was not take a guided tour to the temples.  Instead, we figured out the subway system and made our way across the city to the temple area.  Actually, there are temples all over Osaka but we were interested in the one that claims to be the “oldest” in Japan, it’s called the Shitennoji Temple.  It was originally built by Prince Shotoku in the year 593 (and no I did not leave out the one at the beginning).  We had to walk down this street on our way to the temples and it was so wonderful.  The merchants had their ware layed out in front of their stores and they all bowed and said Hello (in Japanese, of course) and even one gentleman gave us all a sample of his turtle-shaped muffins.  He was so gracious we ended up coming back to his store after the tour of the temples and we all bought a bunch of stuff from him.  Again, after that, he sent us on our way with a bag full of his turtle-shaped muffins for us to enjoy for free. 


As we were walking along we had to be careful because not only were there a few cars on this road but more often than that were the bicycles.  You turn around and there goes another one zipping down the road.   A very smart and convenient way to get around a busy city.  We also noticed quite a few of the Japanese people wearing white surgical masks.  Steve thought it might be because of the pollution but others suggested it was to stop the spread of a disease like SARS or the bird flu.  We didn’t get a chance to ask anyone this question so we will have to figure it out maybe in Hong Kong.


We finally reached the temple and we were pleased to find out that it was a huge area with a stone fence around it and it was the sight of many temples not just the ‘oldest’ one.  As we walked inside, again, we realized how quiet it was here.  We walked along and came to one temple that was located next to a cemetery with many mausoleums made of granite.  Actually there were many of these pockets of cemetery throughout the compound.  This one temple had a big half circle that stood about 10 feet high.  It was made of some sort of grass and dangling from the top was two origami lightning bolts made out of paper.  We were all just standing there staring and we didn’t really know what to do.  I kind of felt a little nervous because I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to talk or not, or laugh or not , or take pictures or not, or walk up to the temple or not.  I’m a little superstitious so I was contemplating all this in case it was bad luck to do either.  This one lovely lady finally motioned with her hands that we were to walk under this arc but first she motioned that we must take off our hats first.  After walking under it we walked up to the temple and looked inside.  It was beautiful.  The giant golden Buddha sitting there with candles burning and lots of incense burning as well.  Every so often one of the locals would walk up the stairs, bow with their hands in prayer and then walk away.  We watched one lady walking back and forth between two granite pillars and when she came up to the temple she would read a page from her prayer book, bow, and then walk back and around the pillars, turn the page and read another prayer.  She was there the whole time we were and you could tell that lots of people do this because the ground has worn tracks from all the people that do it.


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We walked from temple to temple and each was more beautiful than the first. I wish we had someone to explain each one and I wish I knew more about Buddhism because the rituals look fascinating.  Throughout the day you could only hear the ‘bonging’ of a gong (is that what it’s called?).  Well, they would walk up to a temple and there would be a huge rope hanging down and at the top of this rope is a solid ball and when they swung the rope the ball would hit the gong and make a ‘bong’ noise.  It sent shivers up my spine when I would hear them.  We also saw a huge pond with a ton of cute little turtles in it and again I wonder what the association is with the turtle.  When I find out, I will write it in.


It rained a little and we were starting to get a little cold so we decided it was time to get back on the subway and head to the other side of the city.  We were headed to an area called Namba.  The area is right beside a river and all along there are stores and restaurants and it is THE happening place.  When we got there we were not disappointed.  We actually met a nice guy from New Zealand and he took us to this area and gave us a short sightseeing tour as we made our way there.  He even recommended a place to eat and told Steve where the internet café was.  He is living in Japan and he teaches English to people aged 12 and above.  He was a really pleasant guy and when we asked him if he had learnt any Japanese, he said that he can speak it and understand most of it but could not even begin to try and learn to read it or right it.  He said there are about 2,000 symbols in the Japanese language and it would take a long time to even scratch the surface.


This Namba area was incredible.  It was a Tuesday afternoon and the place was packed with locals.  The street itself is hard to describe, you’ve got to view the pictures.  It reminded us a little of Times Square, with all the neon lights and the noise (it wasn’t quiet here!).  For as long as the eye can see and down each street there are stores and restaurants and tons of people.  It was so fun to people watch.  I found that the businessmen in their suits reminded me of the old Beatles fashion.  They wore dark tailored suits with very narrow pants and they all had this hair cut.  It was exactly like the way the band Duran Duran use to wear their hair in the 80’s.  Quite long and kind of spikey but very messy.  And the women, to me, all looked alike.  They all had the same type of hair style, very jagged blunt cuts with bangs.  They also had some very strange fashion statements.  Lots of high cut black stiletto boots with short skirts.  Or else you would see a lot of almost punk-look.  Very interesting.  And everywhere you turn there is a trinket store full of things like “Hello Kitty” and tiny little dogs and animals. 


The guy from N.Z. told us to go to this one building for lunch and when we all got on the elevator and made our way up to the 5th floor we came upon a most incredible view.  It is also hard to explain this place and all but one of Steve’s pictures turned out because it was so dark inside.  This building must have been very old, it was made of stone and the walls on the inside were also made of big blocks.  It was somewhat like a castle and before you actually walk through it you are given a card and with this card you can pay for everything: food, clothes, and souvenirs.  When you are all done and you exit the building they scan your card and you pay then.  It’s a really cool concept.  We wanted to find a restaurant that had room for all nine of us but all of the restaurants in this building were tiny little spots here and there with a few stools sitting around the cooking area.  It was more of a fast food, take out kind of place so we didn’t end up eating there.  It was amazing though to walk through and each spot had its own particular aroma, some smelt delicious, others almost made me gag.  There were the gadget stores in here as well and also in one dark tiny corner sat the fortune tellers with their palm charts and tarot cards.  Nobody was brave enough to give it a try plus I don’t think they knew any English.


We decided to head outside and find a place to eat and ended up in a nice restaurant where we had some tempura, udon noodle soup, rice and green tea.  It wasn’t the best I’ve ever eaten but it was an experience and we were glad we did it.  The kids didn’t like it that much because we poured the wrong sauce on their rice.  It was not Soya sauce and it made their rice taste ‘funny’.  Soooo, from there we dropped Steve off at the internet café and the kids and I went to McDonald’s!!!!!  I didn’t mind actually because everyone told us you had to try it once.  We didn’t find it any different than at home other than the fact that they actually have a menu that you look at and on the back is the English version so it’s easy to order.  Plus our girl knew a bit of English so we got exactly what we wanted.  The other cool thing is that you must accept money, like your change with both hands, it’s their custom.  And they bow.


From there we walked a little down the streets and decided to head back to the ship because there was a shopping area right beside our ship as well.  Good thing we left when we did because we made it back to the ship just after 5pm and the All Aboard was at 5:30.  We did a tiny bit of shopping and then headed back to our home away from home!


We felt so safe in Japan.  The one funny thing that we saw to verify this was their “Loomis” guys, the ones that transport money to and from bank machines and such.  These two guys are walking by us and they have on these very casual uniforms  and one guy is pushing a dolly with about 10 big bags of coins on it.  One huge bag actually fell onto the ground when he took a corner and he had to heave it back up.  The other guy was holding a bag full of bills and neither of them had a gun or anything on them.  It was so amazing to watch, we all just stood there and laughed and shook our heads!


Well, we all really loved Japan and I would love to come back here later and travel to some more remote areas and see more of the culture of this incredible land.  Maybe by the time we come back Steve will have learnt another 4 words in Japanese!!!