Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Trip to Japan, Day One

From last Saturday until Tuesday, Keegan and I were away exploring a new country for us: Japan! I've had a hankering to go there ever since I found out that you can reach Japan by ferry from Korea in just three hours. Keegan's four-day weekend for the Lunar New Year seemed like the perfect time to plan a quick trip.

The first thing we learned on our trip is that the three-hour ferry ride is only a tiny part of the long day of travel that goes into getting to Nagasaki from Geoje Island. All in all, our travel ended up taking about twelve hours! The first leg was the now familiar ferry ride to Busan. In Busan, we walked a few blocks from the domestic ferry terminal to the international one, where we were able to get on an earlier ferry to Japan than we had planned on. The ferry to Japan was a hydrofoil, which means that the bulk of the boat is actually lifted out of the water by two slender wings underneath. The ride was fast and fairly smooth, although at one point the boat had to slow suddenly, and we lost lift. The boat crashed back down into the water with a dramatic splash that woke up all of the sleeping passengers. Fortunately, all was well, and we continued on to Japan without further incident.

As we traveled, we headed into more and more clouds, and by the time we got to Fukuoka, it was snowing! We headed quickly into the ferry terminal to go through immigration. Then it was time to figure out how to get to the train station. There was a bus stop right outside the door, and we knew we could take a bus to the station, so we hopped on one. This was our first taste of Japan, and we were wide-eyed and curious. Some teenaged girls got on the bus and wowed us with their elaborately teased hair. It was like a regular ponytail that exploded in the back like fireworks. We were amused. We were also impressed by the way the bus driver turned the bus off at all the traffic lights, instead of idling. How fuel-efficient! After some time on the bus, I became convinced that we were not on the right bus and persuaded Keegan that we should get off and take a taxi. We flagged one over, and the driver pushed a button that made the back door swing open automatically. I asked him to take us to the train station. About two blocks later, we were there. I felt a little sheepish, but at least we got where we needed to go!

In the train station, we got tickets on a train to Nagasaki and then stopped in a little bakery to get some lunch. It was cold and snowy on the platform, so we took shelter in a tiny glassed-in, heated waiting room. When it got too crowded, Keegan found a little noodle stand and proceeded to order a bowl of noodles. The way it worked was that you put coins into a vending machine and selected the dish that you wanted (all in Japanese of course, so we just picked at random). The machine gives you a ticket, which you then take to the vendor, who dishes you up your bowl of noodles. Very clever.

Keegan eats noodles at the tiny noodle stand in Fukuoka.

The train was very comfortable. We sat in a car where we had reserved seats, and there weren't many other people in it. We were impressed by the seats, which you could rotate 180 degrees so that you could face your fellow travelers if you wanted to. We were also impressed by the scenery going by outside the window. We noticed that Japanese apartment buildings have exterior balconies (unlike their Korean counterparts) and exterior staircases (for earthquake emergencies?). We also noticed that there were many more single family homes in Japan than there are in Korea. I thought the Japanese countryside was similar to Poland, but with an Asian flair, of course. The trip was made beautiful by the snow which fell almost the whole way.

Once in Nagasaki, we found our way outside to the streetcar stop. There we experienced our first example of how helpful Japanese people often are. We were comparing the map of the tram route to our Lonely Planet, and trying to figure out where we were going and how to get there. Another man on the platform noticed us and told us that we needed to cross the street to catch the tram going the other direction. His help was much appreciated. On the streetcar, I was again impressed when another man voluntarily held my duffle bag on his lap so that it would be out of the way of the mass of people crowded into the car. He didn't look particularly happy about it, but he was very kind.

At our hotel at last, we were greeted by a cadre of extremely friendly hotel staff. They got us checked in and helped us up to our room on the seventh floor. The woman who carried my bag gave us the weather report on the way up in the elevator. Our room was very small, but comfortable, with two purple and green kimonos laid out for us on the bed. I wanted to put one on and relax for a while, but we decided to get dinner instead. The guidebook recommended a restaurant close to the hotel, and it turned out to be a good recommendation. The restaurant was warm and cozy, and the food was delicious!

Once we had taken our shoes off and left them in a little shoe locker, we were ushered into the dining room. It looked like we would have to sit on the floor, but in fact, the tables had cut-outs underneath them so that you could sit on the "first floor" with your legs under the table and your feet beneath on the "second floor" if you wanted to. There was a small heater under our table, so I was quite happy that I could warm my feet! Fortunately, there was an English menu, so Keegan and I were able to order two set meals. The waitress brought us two enormous trays with a variety of foods on them. I had a tempura set with veggie and seafood tempura as well as miso soup, rice, a soft-boiled egg, and a delicious dish of soft tofu with ginger and soy sauce. Keegan's set was similar, but it also had some sashimi that he enjoyed. We got a huge pot of green tea to go with the meal.

Ellen enjoys dinner in Nagasaki.

By the time we finished with the huge dinner, it was definitely time for bed. We spent a little time watching a Japanese firefighter show and trying to figure out what was going on, but then we decided to go to sleep in order to be ready for a very busy day of tourism ahead.


Jamie said...

I am so excited for you! I want to hear more! I want to BE there!

chrissy said...

It sounds like you guys had an awesome trip! I look forward to reading day two (and more). The new pics of the kitties are great too!

Emily said...

What great description, Ellen! I can't wait to read more!