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Ferries of Japan May 4, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Ferries of Japan” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-fk

Taking a ferry in Japan can be a completely new experience for anyone.  Taking a ferry in any country can be new.  Previously, my main experience on a ferry was in Vancouver.  Sailing between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay (Vancouver to Victoria) was a common experience.  It is only an hour and a half on a large sized ferry.  Usually there is a cafeteria and lots of seats to relax.  It plied the waters of the Georgia Strait and went between Mayne and Galiano Islands.  The trip was just over an hour and a half and it was a beautiful trip.  You can see the beauty of the natural forested islands.  The trip itself was generally calm, but at times, it could be rough.  As a motorcyclist, it was also great because you could easily get a spot on the ferry at anytime.  First off, you are usually the first to board the ferry.  You were boarded at the front of the ferry (first to exit) where no other cars could park.  From there, you had a wooden block placed under your bike for safety.  The car deck was also very flat as there were no places for tie downs.

My other experience on ferries was between Dover and Calais in the 90s.  My first crossing was in a hover craft.  Unfortunately, I heard the sailing has stopped.  The hover craft was a nice experience, but nothing to call home about.  It was noisy, bumpy, but fast.  It was akin to being on a small prop plane.  The second trip was on a standard ferry.  I was on a tour, so we walked on.  There was a nice large shop and by the time you finished exploring the ship, it was pretty much time to disembark.  I can’t remember the time it took to cross, but it should be about an hour and a half as well.  Finally, I had a chance to take a ferry between Hong Kong and Macau.  It was so long ago that I can’t remember it very clearly.  It was, for the most part, a short and forgettable experience.  Out of all of my experiences, I’d say the Dover Calais trip on a regular ferry was the best.

Japan is a whole new breed of ferry services.  It is distinctly Japanese.  I have only taken ferries because I was travelling on my motorcycle.  The first trip was a short hour and forty minute ferry ride.  It was between the fishing village of Oma and Hakodate, Hokkaido.  This short ferry ride is a typical ferry in Japan.  It is not too big and not too large.  The car deck was somewhat dangerous on a motorcycle, but I had a nice small area to park.  They would put a towel over my bike to protect it, and tie it down on both sides.  This is a very common thing to do in Japan.  Usually, motorcycles are the first to board, but it doesn’t mean they are the first to disembark.  Generally, they are the last, as the door can be in a difficult position.  It really depends on the ferry, as always.  The trip itself is not special.  There is nothing to really see until you reach Hakodate.  I’d say it was somewhat boring as well.  My second trip on a ferry in Japan was from Tokyo to Tokushima, as chronicled in my Shikoku adventure.  This is a very different breed of ferry.  It is much bigger.  There are two car decks, but only one is for passenger cars.  These ferries are mainly for transporting cargo, rather than passenger traffic.  However, they double as passenger ferries to service long haul routes.  During the busy times, there are dozens of motorcycles strapped to each other with barely any room to walk between each bike.  Thankfully, they still tie them down regardless.  This ferry has all the amenities to survive for weeks, if you have to.  The ferry from Oma to Hakodate had very few amenities.  Mainly drinks, some snacks, and maybe a little alcohol, generally nothing special.  It also smelt bad.  The ferry from Tokyo to Tokushima was a luxury liner compared to the other ferry.  Depending on the ferry, you might get your own restaurant, but both offered vending machine food, desert snacks, alcohol, and alcohol snacks.  You could also buy ice cream, play slots, and take a bath.  While the toilets weren’t great, you had pretty much everything you could need.

In general, ferries all over the world differ slightly from each other.  When travelling long distances, it’s always important to know what to bring and to always be prepared for rough seas.  I was lucky that I rarely travelled in rough seas.  Most of my trips were nice and smooth, with only a couple on rough seas.  I would highly recommend a nice leisurely trip on a ferry if you can afford it and have the time.  It’s a great way to relax and just think.  However, as most people who visit Japan come for only a week or two, it’s not the most viable option.  For those living in Japan, it’s a great way to have a new experience in life, and I highly recommend it.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Hakodate and Hachinohe February 24, 2009

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Tohoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Hakodate and Hachinohe” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-7D

This is Part VI of a multi-part series chronicling my motorcycle adventure from Tokyo to Sapporo and back again.

Background:  In 2007, I had finally gotten my Japanese driver’s license and a motorcycle.  I had been an avid motorcycle rider in Canada before I came to Japan, so after 2 years of no riding, I finally bought a motorcycle and decided to go on a big adventure.  I went from Tokyo to Sapporo by motorcycle and ferry. It was an adventure to say the least.

Leg 6 (Hakodate and Hachinohe)

The last day in Hokkaido and the poor weather had returned.  I had a two day journey that would take me straight back into Tokyo.  I had only one morning to get from Sapporo to Hakodate, about 270 km.  While I normally wouldn’t consider this to be tough, I originally planned to take the low roads and enjoy the vast scenery that Hokkaido has to offer.  Instead, with my bike troubles in the back of my mind, I ended up racing in the very early morning from Sapporo all the way to Hakodate along the Hokkaido Expressway.  It was very cold in the morning, but at least it wasn’t raining.  By the time I reached the 1/3 mark, it started to rain again.  In Japan, they call me an ame-otoko, or rainman.  Whenever an ame-otoko travels, it rains wherever he goes.  I certainly felt like this was true for me.  The expressway itself is much better than the Tohoku Expressway.  There is a section just past Muroran where you start to enter a narrow section of the island.  It is a very windy place and there are many windmills making the scenery very picturesque.  On my way to Chitose, I mainly took the low roads.  I felt the sea, and saw a little of it, but I never really saw everything.  The highway is located a little ways up the mountain range and every so often, you can see the entire curve of the coast.  It was very beautiful, but unfortunately, I would have preferred to have a car at that moment.  I kept dreaming of a car with a rooftop and a strong heater.

Once I reached Hakodate, I had to find my way to the station and ferry terminal.  Because of my horrible sense of direction, I almost got lost, but I figured things out.  Hakodate really isn’t a bad place.  There is a nice little hill near the city centre that has a nice lookout, and the fish market is one of the best in Japan.  Do note that almost every major coastal city in Hokkaido has a “famous” fish market.  In order to warm up from the cold rain, I decided to get a nice hot bowl of ramen.  It did a great job of warming me up and I was ready for the ferry ride back to Honshu.  If you do have the chance, Hakodate would be a great place to spend a night and enjoy a lot of sightseeing.  I’m sure there are a lot of great places to see.  While Hakodate isn’t the ideal location, there is an underground train station in the Seikan Tunnel on the Aomori side.  The Seikan Tunnel is currently the longest undersea tunnel in the world and the deepest.  There are two stations within the tunnel itself that provides emergency access.  One of the stations doubles as a museum to the building of this tunnel.  There are three tours available everyday.  However, you can only choose one.  One starts in Hakodate and ends in Aomori.  One does the reverse, and one goes from Hakodate, to the station/museum, and back again.  If you are a trainspotter, this might be a lot of fun for you.  If you have a lot of free time, this might also be fun.

Crossing back to Oma was a little different this time.  I knew the crossing, and the seas were rougher than last time.  It was raining and I spent my time drying my clothes.  I wish I was better prepared for all the rain.  The next time I take a long trip, I’ll try to prepare a lot more.  Once in Oma, the sun blocked by the clouds but it wasn’t really raining.  I only had to deal with all the mist from the cars and such.  I made a quick trip from Oma to Hachinohe, which was my final destination of the day.  The trip was cold, wet, and dark.  I had a bit of an adventure about 30km from Hachinohe.  I missed a road sign, or it didn’t exist, and I went in the wrong direction for about 7 km.  I had to turn around and find my way in the middle of nowhere.  Thankfully there was no one around to help me, whatsoever.  To say the least, I was a little scared, but I was happy that I turned around instead of getting completely lost.  It wouldn’t be the last time I got lost either.  By the time I entered the city limits of Hachinohe, I got lost again.  I ended up wandering around the city for about 1 hour before I found the main station.  I found the station and had to decide on where to sleep for the night.  I found a place in the downtown area and headed for it.  Unfortunately, the sign for the hotel was so small, I missed it three times.  I ended up going to a convenience store and asking for help.  After about 10 minutes a very nice man decided to drive ahead of me and show me the way.  I was so happy for the help.  After checking in, I had a few hours to dry my clothes and enjoy the city.

Hachinohe itself isn’t as bad as my personal experience.  It has all the amenities that you could need and everything is centrally located within the city centre.  They were also preparing for the summer festival.  I could hear taiko drums beating for a good portion of the night.  Aside from the festivals, I doubt that there is anything to really do in Hachinohe.  I’d be better off going straight through Hachinohe, but unfortunately, I needed a place to sleep unless I rode all night to Tokyo.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Mutsu and Oma January 20, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Tohoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Mutsu and Oma” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-6A

This is Part II of a multi-part series chronicling my motorcycle adventure from Tokyo to Sapporo and back again.

Background:  In 2007, I had finally gotten my Japanese driver’s license and a motorcycle.  I had been an avid motorcycle rider in Canada before I came to Japan, so after 2 years of no riding, I finally bought a motorcycle and decided to go on a big adventure.  I went from Tokyo to Sapporo by motorcycle and ferry.  It was an adventure to say the least.

Leg 2 (Mutsu to Hakodate)

On day two, I woke up early and left for Hokkaido.  Mutsu was everything I expected, a simple pit stop.  There are several routes I could have taken to reach a small fishing village called Oma.  I decided to take the main road to be safe as I had to catch my ferry.  I stopped at many places along the way and enjoyed this part of my trip a lot.  It is the best memories I had.  I found a small shrine just outside the city centre.  It was built on the side of a hill and very close to the sea.  I then took brief stops at various villages along the way for pictures.  There was so many things to see and so many interesting and natural things that I took a long time to reach my destination.  The villages were technically part of the “city” but they looked independent of each other.  There was a nice park and lookout along the way as well.  The park looked well maintained, but I was curious as to why it was even there.  The lookout allowed me to see some interesting mini islands.  They look like rocks sticking out of the sea.  If you travel to Matsushima, it’s very similar.  The only difference is that there were no holes under the island, but there were lots of tetrapods around.

Once I got into Oma, I got lost looking for the peninsula.  Trying to understand road signs in Japan is a nightmare.  If you ever drive in Japan, you’ll hate them; even Japanese people hate the signs.  The peninsula was nice, but very out of the way.  It is the northern most point on Japan’s main island, and a mini tourist attraction.  The people seemed friendly, but the wind made it cold.  There is a very interesting statue of fists fighting tuna.  It’s a symbol of the town, which makes it’s living by catching bluefin tuna.  There were a few shops there, but I decided that after taking a few pictures I wanted to head straight to the ferry wharf. Only one question… where was it?  The story of this adventure has to be me being lost almost every day that I rode my motorcycle.  Once I found it, I relaxed for about an hour and talked to another rider.  At the time, I got to practice my really bad Japanese.  He was an older guy from the Kansai (Osaka) area and riding an old BMW.  Even his bike was older than me.  I had a few pictures taken at the wharf and then boarded the ferry.

The ferry was a strange design for me.  In Vancouver, the ferry is relatively simple to understand.  Follow the lanes to your parking space.  This ferry was different.  It was a medium sized ferry with a special area for motorcycles.  Unlike Vancouver, they actually had tie downs for my bike.  Once secured, I rushed up to the passenger area.  If you have ever taken a ferry from Vancouver to Victoria, I’d consider that luxurious.  This ferry wasn’t good at all.  There were vending machines selling old looking things and a small kiosk selling your average ferry souvenirs.  There is only one place to rest, and that’s the tatami room.  It’s a large open room where you can put your things and lie down.  While it sounds nice, it’s far from it.  The room isn’t that warm and you are given a terrible pillow.  It’s basically a black foam block.  You do have the ability to watch TV, but unfortunately, reception is horrible.  All you can really do is relax and hope the seas are calm.  The ferry ride was short, but I got a little sick on the way.  My destination for this ferry ride was Hakodate.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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