Saturday, March 19th 1988
The final plan we came up with was to get the boat from Takeshiba in Tokyo head down past the largest island of Oshima to one of the smaller ones; Shikenajima, stay there for a day and then come back with an overnight stop on Oshima.
We set off from Takeshiba pier late in the evening. At first we were quite surprised by the crowds waiting to board the ship, but we were soon reassured that most of them were heading to Oshima. I thought that our vessel, the Cameilla Maru, had the appearance of a Mississippi river boat especially when viewed from the back.
Inside the ship there were no seats. Where the seats should have been was just a wide area covered by tatami mats. It was already very full with Japanese people making up their beds for the night using the small blankets and pillows provided. We grabbed a spot to put our own stuff down and then went straight out on deck.
After watching the lights of Tokyo disappear into the distance we went back down below and had some oden in the cafeteria before trying to sleep. We were surrounded by Oshima-bound high school students who had decided to play cards all night, so we realised that getting to sleep wasn’t going to be the easiest thing to do.
Sunday, March 20th 1988
Oshima was reached at 5:30am and, still trying to sleep, I sensed the ship had suddenly become a lot quieter. I then slept intermittently until about 8am. I woke Andrew and we donned all our gear and went back on deck to watch the little island of Shikenajima slowly appear on the horizon. Eventually we docked and about 30 people disembarked with us. The small size of the island, its remoteness and the winter weather gave Shikenjima an atmosphere that we both immediately thought was very attractive.
We found a minshuku just above the port and checked in. The owner was a little old lady and despite it only being 9am she served us with tea and Japanese cookies. When we told her that our plan was to stay on the island for 24 hours and explore it completely. She warned us that there wasn’t really an awful amount of things to do. Unperturbed by her warnings, we set out to explore at 9:30am telling her we would be back by evening.
By 11:30am we were back. We had seen everything and we had found time to stop for ramen at one of the only places we had found open. Most of the island was closed for winter. Restaurants, hotels and shops were boarded up and there were a lot of construction projects going on. It was obvious they were trying to get the rebuilding finished for the main summer tourist season.
When we told our landlady we were back already and would like to relax in the room for bit, she had a “I told you so” look on her face. We asked her for some hot water to make coffee with. The Japanese word for hot water was “Yu” and Andrew made the sentence “Yu ga hoshii” literally “I want hot water”. After she had brought the water we drank the coffee whilst joking about the similarity of the word “Yu” to “You”. We imagined her replying “What me?, you want me?”
We drank our coffee whilst listening to a tape of the Beatles and then wondered what we could do next. Eventually we went back out again and found an open air hot spring pool close to the shoreline. We stripped off and jumped into the beautiful warm water. It was a great feeling sitting there in the winter weather watching the crashing waves.
We thought there was no one around at all, but after a while we realised that we were being watched by a group of school girls from a cliff in the distance. We got out of the pool and dried off.
We walked around the island again on a different path. It was completely desolate and we didn’t meet a soul. We remarked about the longest time you could walk around Tokyo without seeing a person. After 6 months in the city, it really was a bit of a shock to be so totally isolated.
When it began to get dark we returned to the minshuku for a wonderful dinner of fish, rice and miso soup with clams in it.
Monday, March 21st 1988
I had a long beautiful sleep and woke to the sound of waves crashing on the rocks outside.
We had a relaxing breakfast, Japanese style, whilst watching the waves outside getting larger and larger. The boat wasn’t due until two-o-clock in the afternoon, and we hoped the weather would be a bit better by the time the boat did arrive.
Then our landlady then told us that she had just heard that they had changed the schedule of the boat. Instead of 2pm it would now be at the quayside in just 20 minutes time. That threw us into a bit of a panic. We went back to the room and got changed and frantically gathered our stuff together. We paid her the 5,000 yen for the night and ran out onto the quay.
We soon realised that we needn’t have hurried because we could see that the Camelia Maru was still trying hard to dock. It was quite frightening to see the ship, which was not small, being tossed back and forth by the waves. I wondered if they would manage it or whether we would be stranded on the island for another day.
Eventually they did manage to rope the ship to the quay and lower the gangway. The bottom of the gangway was on wheels and the movement of the ship meant it was frantically moving back and forth across the quay. It was just a tad dangerous and it took a bit of concentration to judge when to step onto it.
We made it onto the ship and went straight to the coffee lounge. We spent the best part of the day on the deck of the ship watching as she docked first at Kozujima, Nijima, Toshima and finally, by late afternoon, back at Oshima.
We disembarked and as we did so we were encouraged to see lots of people were waiting to get on. We knew that would help us in our search for accommodation. We climbed up the road from the port and called in a convenience store. The owner helped us find a minshuku close by. It was a nice place run by a young family and after we had checked in we talked to their young son. He was only 6 but he was already excellent at maths.
We had a delicious supper and we chatted to the couple a little more and also made conversation with the only other guest, a businessman from the telephone company NTT. They were all nice people but the conversation was a little boring and limited to basic topics about the differences between England, Canada and Japan. I found talking to the little lad about his model Boeing 747 a lot more interesting.
We headed out to find an akachochin pub and quickly found one nearby. It had a strange looking barman and there was no one in it. We drank up and eventually found another one on the seafront. That one was full of tour bus drivers having a drink with their boss. The boss didn’t speak much English but kept trying to impress us by offering us the chance to sleep with the sisters of the drivers. It all got a bit tedious after a while, so we drank up and returned to the minshuku, eventually falling asleep watching the TV.
Tuesday, March 22nd 1988
After another excellent Japanese breakfast we prepared to leave the minshuku. We saw that it was raining quite heavily. We refused the gift of a cheap umbrella and ran down to the quayside as fast as we could.
We boarded the Cattelya Maru. This was a smaller ship and it was bound not for Tokyo but instead for Atami about 60 miles to the west of Tokyo. It would actually be a quicker run to Tokyo as the sea part would be much shorter and there were frequent trains to Tokyo, about 90 minutes from Atami.
It was a rough trip and the heavy waves pounded the boat constantly. A lot of the passengers became seasick, and the boat slowly began to fill with vomit. The weather delayed the arrival into Atami too.
The late arrival was a problem as we were both scheduled to teach in the evening. I found a payphone and cancelled my 4pm class. In order to make the 5pm one we decided to get the shinkansen bullet train instead of the regular train.
This was to be my first trip on the shinkansen. I was slightly disappointed as I had wanted to travel first on the fast “Hikari” service. What we boarded now was the “Kodama”, the all stations service. It used the same type of train but as it stopped at every station it never really had much chance to get up to the full speed of 130mph.
In the event it was as underwhelming as I had expected. The ride was extremely smooth but the train was a bit tatty and old. It wasn’t particularly fast and it took us 40 minutes to reach Tokyo with stops at Odawara, and Shin Yokohama. I jumped on the Chuo line and was back in Shinjuku just in time to teach my 5pm class.
Sunday, March 27th 1988
I spent an enjoyable day with Aiko in Chichibu. We took the Seibu Ikebukuro line and had a delicious picnic breakfast at Chichibu railway station before ending up at Lake Chichibu. We walked around the lake and it was really quite beautiful. The area was still covered in snow and it was made all the more special by the fact we were the only people there.
We had a meal in Nagathchou and then a look at the shrine there. We hitched back towards Chichibu with a couple who didn’t talk much but had a beautiful car. We decided to take the Tobu Tojo line back to Tokyo not realising that it would take more than two hours to get back.
Saturday, April 2nd 1988
I volunteered to go to the ACA hanami “Cherry Blossom” viewing trip at the Tama lake Amusement park on the outskirts of the city. I had a passably pleasant day of walking around with fellow teachers Richard, Ann and John W along with some of the most friendly students including Keiko (Ann’s secret friend). The cherry blossoms were almost in full bloom and were quite beautiful.
Tuesday, April 5th 1988 – Wednesday April 6th 1988
I got food poisoning, not sure where from, and missed work for 2 days. They had started knocking the house down next door and as I sat at home in the futon trying to recover, the house kept shaking with the drilling. It was hard to distinguish from an earthquake and it kept me awake for much of the day.
Thursday, April 7th 1988
I went back at work. Amazingly they had already finished knocking down the house next door. We had gone from having a full house next door to a totally cleared site in less than a week.
I finally decided to try to see Kyoto and made a plan with Aiko to catch the overnight train the following evening after work.