Thursday, January 31, 2013


After visiting Hiroshima, our tour group took a bus and ferry to Miyajima Island, called one of the three most scenic spots in Japan.  The Itsukushima Shinto Shrine here is a World Heritage Site.  It was first built in 593 and remodeled in 1168.  It consists of many halls connected by long covered walkways, some over water.  Bright red lacquer is used throughout to protect from erosion.  The striking red O-Torii Gate stands in the water in front as if arising from the sea.

Other temples and pagodas abound on the island.  There is a wide seaside walkway along the shore.  Wild deer wander about, seemingly unconcerned.  It is incredibly scenic and peaceful.  I would definitely come back here for a peaceful vacation.

We stayed overnight at Hotel Miya Rikyu, a traditional Japanese ryokan, or inn on the waterfront.  I shared a room with three other lifelong learners.  There were bamboo mats on the floor and a large low table, which was pushed aside at night to make room for our four futons, which were rolled up in the closet during the day.  We had separate toilet, bath, and sink rooms.  There were two Danish style chairs by the window, so we didn't have to sit on the floor all the time.  The shoji screens along the far wall opened to a window wall overlooking the lake.

Our room.  The screens open up to a lake view, and the table is moved at night and replaced by futons.
Roomates Krissy from Boston, Phyllis from Boulder, and Cary from Florida.

When we got to our rooms, we were told to put on the traditional robes found there.  These consisted of a long robe covered by a knee length robe in a complementary fabric and finished off with a colorful sash.  We then went to the banquet room and were served a traditional Japanese banquet.  There were many courses, mostly fish, including at least four different oyster dishes, which is the specialty of the region.  They didn't light the fire under the rice till about half hour into the meal.  I was sick and wanted mainly rice and soup.  Soup comes right before the dessert here, so I had to wait about an hour to get to the rice and soup part.  I couldn't eat most of the rest, since I don't do oysters or sushi and we were told not to eat blowfish for health reasons.  It was beautifully served, though.

Trip leaders Brett and Julie Walker

Pre wash station for community bath

Wild deer in front of the hotel

My banquet table

After dinner, some of the girls ventured into the community bath.  It was really quite fancy, with individual stations to clean off, wash hair, etc first.  Only one of the life long learners went up, and she said it was amazing to see all the beautiful ,young, nubile bodies in our group.  They range from Gap year to college seniors, and I have to agree many of them are stunning.  There was a separate bath for the men, so I didn't get a report on them.  They wore the same robes we did to dinner, though.

The next day we had several hours to walk around the shrines, shops, etc. before boarding a ferry and eventually the bus and bullet train to return to Kobe.

O-Torii Gate seems to float in the lake

Hello Kitty dolls in the local shop

5 tier pagoda in the background

Japan followup:  Over the five days, Semester at Sea students, faculty, and life long learners had six people "roofied," 11 robberies, two assaults, eight credit card frauds over $1000, two ATM robberies, and nine health issues.  Japan was supposed to be fairly safe, so we will see if the people get smarter and more careful as we go along.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


I spent the second day in Japan walking around Yokohama, which is a very nice port city.  It seems strange to Americans that you can never find a trash can in public areas such as parks and train stations.  I was told this dates from the sarin scares in the 1990's, when terrorists were killing people  with sarin gas.  Now the public is responsible for taking their own trash with them.  It is amazing that you see no trash on the street.  Someone told me they got up early one day and saw people out scrubbing the sidewalks.  Shame still seems to be a big deterrent to bad behavior.  

Someone also noted nasty looks given to people blowing their noses in public.  In this culture you are supposed to do that in private, and never at the dinner table.  I have a raging cold I probably got from my roommate, since she had one last week.  I guess I have been insulting people right and left, because I am going through a lot of kleenex.

I spent a few hours outside a restaurant with internet catching up on email and blog.  We don't have good internet on the ship and it is expensive outside of the free university sites, which is probably why none of you have heard from me.  I had to move to the alley when she washed down the tables prior to opening.

We spent two days sailing to Kobe.  Most of the students went overland and will meet us there.  About 160 stayed onboard and were given a special sit down dinner with cloth napkins instead of paper, water goblets instead of plastic glasses, and a menu instead of a buffet.  The crew seemed to enjoy putting on their "formal" service and everyone had a good time.  I sat at a round table of five which included Desmond Tutu.  I didn't have my camera with me, so still no picture.

From Kobe I took a tour with other students to Hiroshima.  We took a bus to Shin-Kobe station then the bullet train to Kobe (80 minutes, about $100 one way).  The train was very comfortable, with reclining seats and lots of leg room.  You can't see much, though, since there are a lot of tunnels.

Bullet train

In Hiroshima, we went to the epicenter of the WWII bombing, which is now a big park with memorials and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.  The ruin of the old city commercial building is still standing as a stark reminder of the damage caused.  It was near the epicenter and caught a downward blast, while most of the town was flattened by a sideways blast.  The museum tells the real story, with lots of pictures and exhibits of actual clothes (what was left of them) taken off the bodies.  There were two watches that stopped at 8:15 August 6, 1945, the exact time of the first atomic bombing.  Stories of survivors are also included.  Babies born soon after had horrible birth defects.  Letters and exhibits call for an end to nuclear weapons and peace in the world.  It was a very sobering experience.

Children's Memorial, Hiroshima.  The glass cubicles in the background hold the paper cranes donated.

Watch stopped at 8:15 a.m., 8/25/45

Ruin of commercial building

What do you think happened to this child?

Sunday, January 27, 2013


My Sino-American Relations class took a field trip to visit the Koreshige Anami family in a suburb of Tokyo.  He is the former Japanese ambassador to China (2001-2006) and she is a former New Orleans debutante who married him 42 years ago after meeting in Chinese language school on Taiwan.  She is also a former student of my instructor, Dr. John Israel.  Our class is co-taught by Professor Tao Xie from a Shanghai University and there are about eight Chinese students in the class. 

We took a train (two transfers) to their neighborhood and were met at the subway by the ambassador.  We walked about ten minutes to his house, then enjoyed a buffet dinner of Japanese goodies, conversation, and the end of the sumo wrestling match finals on TV.  Finally we had a "paper, rock scissors" contest to see who would win the four chocolate sumo wrestlers she had bought.  We were there about four hours and it took about an hour and a half each way on the train.

Mosaic murals at the Yokohama subway station

Chinese, Peruvian and American students around Professor Israel at subway station

Snow on the ground
 The Anamis had postings in Atlanta, Georgia, Australia, Pakistan, and China.  His father, Korechika Anami, was a general in China before and during WWII, and was the last war minister in 1945.  He disagreed with the surrender, but signed the papers at the behest of the Emperor.  The next day he committed harakiri.  I had not realized before how much enmity remains on the part of the Chinese toward the Japanese, especially for war crimes during WWII.  They have demonstrations and boycotts of Japanese products, and are currently negotiating who owns some uninhabited but resource rich islands in the China Sea.  Everyone in our group seemed open minded about the problems.  Japan apparently needs the Chinese market and wants friendly relations.
Pakistani shoes

Pakistani matrimonial chairs

Ginny Anami and I
Ambassador Anami, me,and ProfessorTao Xie.  The amassador noted that I am between China and Japan, hopefully a bridge to friendship

Students listening to Anami stories


Last week I walked to an empty table in the dining room to eat breakfast.  At the table next to the one I was aiming for was Desmond Tutu, all by himself.  I have mentioned that the Nobel Peace Prize winner ("call me Arch") is sailing with us as far as Capetown.  I was afraid he was meeting someone else for breakfast so did not accost him.  Soon other teachers and students came up to him asking if they could sit at his table and he graciously agreed.  Opportunity lost!

Yesterday he did a question/answer session for the international management class and I attended.  He is a very gentle man, short, round, and bald.  I have only ever seen him wear black t-shirts and black pants which I suppose makes an excellent travel wardrobe because it doesn't show dirt and always matches.  He seems to always be smiling, but I did not know until that class that he has a wicked giggle and a crazy cackle.  The students posed questions:

About apartheid:  "We would never have won without the support we had from around the world.  Almost in every country there was a branch of the anti-apartheid movement.  I was the only one who could move around.  Most of our leaders were in jail or exiled."

His most memorable moment:  the inauguration of Nelson Mandela to the presidency of South Africa.  "The planes were roaring overhead and I felt like raising my fist and saying, 'They're ours!" instead of feeling oppression.

Visiting the White House:  "The Nobel Peace Prize opened doors that were previously locked."  He tried many times to get an appointment with Ronald Reagan and was always refused.  "It seemed like the minute I got the Nobel Peace Prize I was assured that the President would be very happy to see me."

On what it takes to get a Nobel Peace Prize:  "You need an easy name, like Tutu, and you need sexy legs."  "Everyone in this room has the potential to get a Nobel Prize," maybe not for peace but for medicine or something else.  He encouraged the students to reach for their best effort.

He quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.  'Unless we learn to live together as brothers and sisters, we are going to perish together like fools."

The next morning I walked out of immigration to the cruise ship terminal and noticed an empty seat next to Desmond Tutu.  I took the initiative, sat down, and asked him what he had planned for the day.  He is going to catch up on his internet correspondence, since the ship's internet is blocked in Japan.  We conversed for a couple of minutes and I got up to go.  He smiled and said, "Bless you."  So I have been blessed by the best.  Maybe next time I will get a picture.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Sailing past Diamond Head, Hawaii

The plan was nine sailing days from Hilo to Yokohama, but we ended up staying a day and night in Honolulu, where we refueled.  Sorry Skip, nobody was allowed off the ship or I would have arranged to see you.  The delay was due to a storm off Japan.  The seas were somewhat rougher during this time, but we stayed south till the last day and enjoyed temperatures in the 70's.  It got colder and rougher after we turned north.  The last night was actually scary, with 20-30 foot waves and high winds.  When you look out your window on the fourth deck and see waves taller than where you are, you tend to pray a little.  Of course the crew took all of this in stride.  The bus person at breakfast the next day, who has been doing this for seven years, said, "Oh, that was nothing."  The northern seas are apparently much rougher in general, which is why they don't sail from Vancouver to Japan.

This student worked her way through college doing balloon parties
We skipped a day as we crossed the international date line, so January 21 "never happened."  No Martin Luther King Day or Barack Obama inauguration.

Relaxing on Deck7

Dawn at sea

A lot of us got together to make paper cranes to give to the Hiroshima Museum.  Apparently this is a tradition to give cranes in memory of a girl who died of leukemia after the atomic blast.  She thought if she had 1000 cranes she would not die.  She did, but the cranes keep coming in her memory.  We made 500 total.

Proud crane makers

We sailed into Yokohama under sunny skies, temperature 43 F.  We could see Mt Fuji clearly for about an hour, but in Yokohama it is only a peek behind some buildings.  There is a beautiful white suspension bridge across the harbor and lots of skyscrapers.  A band and lots of cheering Japanese met us at the dock, but it will be awhile before we can clear immigration.

View of Mt Fuji as Commodore Perry probably saw it

View of Mt Fuji from Yokohama port
A band met us when we docked
A lively port full of container ships-reminds me of Panama

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


I left Santa Monica and drove to San Diego, where I stayed for two nights at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel.  It was fun to walk around the Gaslamp district and take the ferry to Coronado.  I walked around with Phyllis from Boulder, Colorado, who is my roommate at the hotel.  We visited the Hotel del Coronado, where Prince Edward met Wallis Simpson for the first time.

View of Coronado Bridge from our hotel room

Hotel del Coronado

We left Ensenada on January 9.  We have about 650 students and 57 faculty from 120 universities and 60 countries.  Quite a mix.  I am categorized as a Life Long Learner, people over 40 that get to enjoy the cruise and classes without having to do the assignments or take tests.  There are at least 32 of us.  The ship is fairly new and I am told the fastest ship on the sea.  I took a tour of the bridge and it looks like our max speed is 40 knots, though we seem to be going 15-20.  Our ship, the MV Explorer, started life as a Greek cruise ship but was bought in bankruptcy.

Main dining room

Lifeboat drill

MV Explorer

Small steering wheel for a big ship

Second officer (Russian) and Captain Jeremy (British)

Susan Phelps, my roommate, is from Martha's Vineyard

We had our first casualty, in that one of the kids did not make it onto the ship since he was too drunk to get on in Ensenada, even after the 1 1/2 hour bus ride from San Diego.  The dean tells the kids to "make intelligent choices,"  and there seems to be an "or else" tacked onto that.

We got to Hilo after about five days and are here for two days, leaving tonight.  I have been to the Big Island twice before, so stayed locally instead of taking a trip to the Volcano National Park or Kona on the other side of the island.  I walked to downtown Hilo, two miles away from the port.  This was a real pleasure since there is not a great place to walk on the ship since no deck goes all the way around and it is hard to walk when there are ten foot waves rocking the boat.  I visited the Tsunami museum, which talks about the multiple tsunamis that have hit the islands.  Hilo has been devastated many times.  The tsunamis have come from earthquakes in Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, Chile, and Japan and can hit even the coasts that do not face where the earthquake is.  I like it here, but I think I would want to live on a hill.

I took Bonine the first couple of days and did not get seasick.  It said it was a non drowsy formula but I felt like I could sleep the clock round.  We usually have programs in the evening but I missed a lot of them since I was going to bed at 8 p.m.  I was signed up for three classes but dropped the 8 a.m. one so I stay awake at night and sleep later.  Thankfully, my sleep problem has improved markedly since I stopped taking the medicine.  I am waking up at 6 a.m. and going to the gym, which is probably better for me anyway.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is sharing the voyage with us until Capetown.  He is a short, round man who seems to be perpetually smiling.  He asks that we call him "Arch."

Hilo update:  About 200 of the kids went to a hotel party and got so rowdy the police were called.  30 fake ID's collected.  The manager did not press charges or some of the kids would undoubtedly be in jail and miss the ship when it sailed.  Hearings will be held by the Dean, and a lot of kids will not be let off the ship at the next port.  I guess this is a good way to start, because it scared the hell out of the kids, thinking that they might be put off the ship when we have barely started.  I think the drunken parties will be a thing of the past.

Off to Yokohama tonight.

Monday, January 7, 2013

You're Going Where??

I enjoyed a Kwanza celebration at the Universal Unitarian church in Long Beach with Laurie Mutalipassi before heading back to Santa Monica to finally think about getting ready for my next journey.

The Kwanza Table
I am going on a 110 day voyage around the world with University of Virginia sponsored Semester at Sea.  I have wanted to do this since I was in high school and it was attached to Chapman College in Orange.  Breanne, my roommate in Tanzania, had gone and encouraged me to go as a Lifelong Learner.  This category is people over 40 who audit the classes (no tests or grades!) but enjoy the journey along with the regular undergraduates.

I have started packing but now I am supposed to take half the stuff out!  I have been living basically out of one suitcase for the past year and a half while I was in Africa and Panama, but I need a whole other suitcase for cold weather clothes!  I hate being cold!  I leave for San Diego tomorrow and this is where I am:

 To find out more about the voyage see