Day 8

Muroran, Japan.

Finally a day off the ship! Sea days are pretty nice except for when they come six (and a half) in a
row.  Don’t get me wrong.  There was plenty to do on board, or not do, as the case may be.  The days were really
starting to run together.

The first stop on the M129 itinerary was Muroran,Japan.  It is located in the southwest portion of Hokkaido Island and is considered to be the “gateway” to Sapporo.  The city of Sapporo is known mainly to Americans for two things – hosting the 1972 Winter Olympics and of course the BEER.

When I first looked at things to do, I thought to do the tour of the Sapporo Beer Brewery, and other things were next on the list.  After doing some research and listening to what other people said, I learned the trip to Sapporo from Muroran was going to be 5 hours round trip with about 3 hours to wander around town on my own.  I decided to cancel the tour I had signed up for to stay in Muroran for the day.  I’m
glad I did.

I have to say Muroran is not a “tourist-y” city.  It is an industrial port city and probably would like to have a tourism industry.
From what I understand, though, Muroran on gets only a few cruise ships a year.  Since it is quite a big deal for the local folks, they go all out in trying to keep some passengers in town.

They set up “cultural” activities in various venues around the city and provide free shuttle busses to move people in circuit from place to
place.  I’m glad I did it and here’s why…

The ship docked in Muroran this morning about 6:30.  Japanese immigration officials were coming onboard to process everyone – about 2,600 passengers and the crew.  We were assigned group numbers and a time (in ten minute increments) to show up to get it done.  They started around 8:30, and my time was 9:10 in the Churchill lounge, Deck 6 Forward.  Yeah right.  What a freakin’ fiasco!

The Japanese officials showed up late and had computer/equipment problems.  By the time I went down at 9:15 to be processed, the line was WAY longer than it should have been.  I wish everyone could visualize the line from the Churchill Lounge stretching back to the Atrium
elevators, across the ship to the other hallway, back down past the lounge, and up into the lower entrance to the theatre.  It took 10 minutes to move 30 feet.  Oh, wait.  I have a picture.

I don’t know for sure how long it took to get everybody through immigration, but I know some people didn’t get off the ship until after
10:30.  An announcement asking  people to delay getting into line to help ease the pressure came over the PA.   Some friends of mine took the advice with the assurance their tour wouldn’t leave without them.  Well, they got left behind.

After getting photographed and fingerprinted, I went up and grabbed a snack.  By the time I gathered all my stuff together and changed clothes it was about 11:00.  I went ahead and headed out on my Japanese adventure.

The shuttles were typical city busses which were tasked specifically to move cruise passengers around.  I got on the blue line, and off we went.  The first stop was the old train station which had been turned into the Tourist Information Bureau.
Unfortunately, I was on the 6th or 7th bus load of people to leave the ship and there were still 3 or 4 loads of people at this
first venue.  It was so crowded, some of us couldn’t even get in the door (well, without pushing and shoving).  I decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, so I took off walking in search of an ATM to get some Yen.  At first I was looking for a 7-11 store where ATMs are known to be, but I found a couple ATMs within just a couple blocks.  With Yen in my pocket, I went and headed off.

I am not one to be herded into the direction the powers that be want me to go (i.e., shopping areas).  Instead of following the main road to the next “venue”, I turned right and headed up the hill into the local neighborhood.  As I made my way up the hill, I found several homes with well manicured gardens.  The amount of work involved in maintaining them must be extensive.

I also stumbled upon an abandoned Shinto shrine on the ridgeline at the top of the neighborhood.  It looked like someone nearby has been using for extra storage.  It seemed unfortunate, since the spot upon which the shrine stands could be quite serene.  The property had a magnificent view of a cove with a nice beach.

After a while I came across a sort of dead end.  Without trespassing on what I think was private property, I could no longer get to the ridge with the ocean view.  I headed back down toward the city center.  On the way down, I heard some music with drums and singing of to my right.  It was definitely coming over loudspeakers, so I thought I may just have found the next schedule stop on the bus schedule.  When I got down to the entertainment, I found what was some kind of local cultural dance company in costume doing
routines.  It wasn’t until several minutes had passed I noticed I was the only white guy in the crowd.  I looked around, and there were no other cruise ship passengers around.

What I had stumbled upon was the Fish Market.  Unfortunately, the market was just closing up for the day so I missed almost all of it.
There were still a few food vendors around, so a bought a snack.  A woman was grilling hotdog looking things, but I was focused on the sausage-on-a-stick.  At first it was tricky eating, but after a few humorous bites I got the hang of it…

I managed to make my way back to the main road and eventually back the bus stop.  Along the way I came across a big grocery/department store – a sort of Walmart.  I only wandered the grocery part.  It was interesting to observe the difference between western and eastern cultures in both the produce and the meat sections.  In American stores, the beer aisles can be long with a variety of domestic beer with the microbrew section next.  The import part may be large or small with MAYBE a small space for a Japanese beer like Sapporo or Kirin.  In this store the beer aisle was ALL Japanese and not a Bud to be found.

Later in the day I ran into JT, the DJ up in Skywalkers.  He and a friend were doing what I was – wandering.  We decided to find some food
and ended up at a noodle shop.  The place was non-descript as there was no signage outside.  Anyone walking by would not have noticed it.  WE would not have know it was there if we had not consulted a map of the area hanging in a business across the street.

When we went in and sat down, we looked for menus.  As we searched, the owner/chef came over,pointed at us, and asked/stated, “Three Noodle”.  Obviously he recognized us as westerners who probably didn’t speak Japanese.  JT looked at me and asked me if I had seen a menu yet.  My reply, with a shrug: “I think we already just ordered three noodle dishes”.  In just a few minutes, we had our noodles.  It was just
about then I noticed the menu up on the wall.

When we were done, we went in search of the nearby Shinto Shrine.  The map we consulted earlier indicated it was a couple blocks over and a few up from where we were.  It indeed was, sorta.  We ended up on the backside which took us a bit of time to navigate around to the front.  It was very nice.

One of the local “venue hosts” came out of the building next to the shrine and let us know we could take all the pictures we wanted but could not go inside.  Fair enough.  He then invited us inside the other building for some Japanese roasted tea.  I’d never heard of it, but it was quite good.  While we were sitting there an elderly woman came over and wanted to know where we were from.  Through the host/interpreter, the woman told us about her travels in the USA and how much she enjoyed seeing America.  She presented us with little tissue pouches she had made herself.  The wholeinteraction was awesome, but we were totally caught off guard when the interpreter let us know she was 93 years old!  She had the energy of someone in their 60s.

After that we headed back to the ship.  I was so very tired, I wanted to take a nap.  I decided to go to dinner instead, as I had been invited by members of my trivia team to sit in the “traditional seating” dining room.  I had to go.   I did dive into bed shortly after dinner though.

Next stop – Vladivostok, Russia.  Tomorrow is a sea day, so I don’t know if I will post about it.  We’ll see..  Until next time!