Japan offers plenty of sights and activities as couple continues on Pacific voyage

Martins enjoying an education about the country and relishing the beauty of many settings

By Ed Martin
Guest Columnist

(Editor’s note: Ed and Peggy Martin of Venice have begun an 82-day Pacific cruise, which will take them to the Asian coast, Russia, Bali, Australia, Hawaii and other islands before they return to Los Angeles on Dec. 12. Ed Martin is providing periodic reports from the trip for the readers of The Sarasota News Leader.)

Oct. 16: Kushiro, Japan

A graphic provides information about the cranes in Kushiro. Photo courtesy of Ed Martin

Kushiro, a port city on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, is urban in nature. It has a history of appreciation of, and desire to, preserve an indigenous Japanese crane that lives in its marshes.

The crane, which is the only one to breed in Japan, appears to be a relative of the Sandhill cranes familiar to Floridians (and Canadians, since it begins its migrations in that part of North America.). The crane shares with its Sandhill relative a red crown, but the remainder of its plumage is white with some black, rather than the blue-gray of the Sandhill. Its coloration resembles that of the wood stork, but its red head is easy for this layman observer to spot.

Hand feeding and protection have resulting in increasing the numbers of the crane, which once was thought to be extinct. About 10 were found in the Kushiro marsh in 1924. There are an estimated 1,000 today.

The port is on the Kushiro River, in an area with a convention center, market and moorings for fishing vessels. A walkway along the river affords pleasant outings. The nearby commercial streets seemingly offered little of touristic value.

However, we found a gem of a museum, The Kushiro City Museum, which was not on the tour list. Its collections, which date back about 2,000 years, include crafts, pots, tools and other objects from the indigenous Ainu people, who lived by fishing, hunting and gathering plants until they were forced to work for a fishery, harvesting herring, kelp and salmon.

The museum also has a collection of fauna and flora, including indigenous salamanders, insects, plants and displays of ito, the largest freshwater fish in Japan.

A special treat to us were the hollowed tree canoes and handmade fishing boats, the latter of which were in service until the early 1900s.

We rate the museum five stars for interest and charm, as well as succinct descriptions in English.

Oct. 17: Yokohama, Japan

This is a scene in the park in Yokohama. Photo courtesy of Ed Martin

This was the first Japanese port to welcome outsiders, beginning about 1850, after years of deliberate isolation. The change came about as a result of an order by the emperor.

Yokohama has become a major city; it is the gateway to Tokyo. We enjoyed the vistas of a wonderful park with historic buildings and the views from a waterfront park.

Oct. 18: Shimuzo, Japan

Mt. Fuji is obscured by snow clouds. Photo courtesy of Ed Martin

Do you see Mt. Fuji in this photo (above)? Neither did we, but we did not pay a couple of hundred bucks to ride a bus to get closer only to find ourselves disappointed.

We did enjoy a lovely shrine and some quiet time, and we saw beautiful children perform a type of dance. Its intricate steps were akin to the motions of a marching band, but with lots of scampering and fun.

Oct. 19: Kobe, Japan

Peggy Martin stands in front of a temple in Kobe. Photo courtesy of Ed Martin

Kobe turned out to be a delight, perhaps No. 1 or 2 so far on this wonderful voyage to Asia.

The views from the port were not impressive. Kobe is just another city with high-rises, although with architecture more attractive than what is found in most cities in the mainland U.S.

However, we visited the jewel of gardens, Soraken. As in the case of the lovely Yokohama park we had toured, this property was a gift from another wealthy man, Taijaro Kodera. Besides the lovely trees, some hundreds of years old — including Camphor trees — flowering bushes, streams, stepping stone bridges and a central pond, there is a “houseboat” (Kowagozabune), which was built between 1682 and 1710. Used for river cruising, it is the last vessel of its type in Japan.

Among other buildings in the park are a house and teahouse.

The beautiful designs, water elements, stone elements and shaped foliage create a mood of quiet appreciation of life and natural beauty.

This another scene from the park in Kobe. Photo courtesy of Ed Martin

One interest feature of the park is a bamboo fountain with a dipper. When you pour water over a stone with the benefactor’s family insignia and listen through a tube in the ground, you hear musical sounds made by the water you poured as it flows underground. I have my guesses about how that occurs, but no definitive answer.

On the walk back to the ship, we “grazed” in Chinatown, which is like a similar large settlement in Yokohama. The myriad booths serve Chinese and Japanese dishes. I had some steamed dumplings and ramen, with some bits of Kobe beef.

Arigato, Kobe!

Oct. 21: Fukuoka, Japan

Fukuoka is another in a string of lovely port cities.

This trip is teaching us that Japan is an island chain, something we recognized about Hawaii, of course. Still, Japan “out-islands” Hawaii.

And these cities we have visited, with the exception of Yokohama and Kobe, were unknown too us, but are major cities. From the port, we can see airplanes landing frequently, including every few minutes around noon.

We take a walking excursion, if that is at all possible. Our favorite destinations are shrines, temples and the beautifully designed gardens. Often one stop combines all.

Toda, we had a special treat, a comedic dance in a park filled with Sunday visitors and locals. This short segment in a video gives you a taste of it.