Circling Japan - Summer 2014 travel blog

toilet control panel

enjoying the sun

1st timers @ the champagne fountain

keeping an eye on the Aussies

kimono @ formal night

soba noodles?

The Sanctuary

Two days at sea have given us time to think about what we have seen so far and try to make sense of it all. We read a review of this cruise before we left home that had us worried. The English speaking writer felt that the ship was 90% Japanese and was frustrated by the lack of information and activities that he could somprehend. On this first of three cruise legs, the Japanese numbered about 40%, giving us lots to observe and wonder about and giving them a chance to experience what to us is really a typical Princess cruise. We brought lots to read and movies to watch. I’ve only started one book and we haven’t watched a single of our own movies. That’s because there has been plenty of entertainment that we could understand, including two different comedians who only lost us when their jokes were too Aussie. An impressive number of staff who look like us shift quickly and easily between the two languages. Even some of the entertainers are multilingual. The juggler we watched last night had enough to worry about keeping all his balls, samurai swords, and shoes from the audience flying through the air, but he also kept up a rapid fire patter that bounced back and forth between the two groups. Impressive.

The Aussies are the predominant English speaking group, but we are surprised to learn that it has taken them just as long to get here as it did us. They had less time zones to overcome, but Japan is a long, long way from anywhere that English speakers live. Most of the Europeans we have met had stop overs as they made their way here. Our thirteen hour flight here was among the shorter ones we’ve heard about. Apparently there are some special final events in Aussie football which are broadcast on the big screen outside that usually shows “Movies Under the Stars.” Lots of ale drinking and cheering ensues whenever a match is aired.

When we cruise we like “Anytime Dining” rather than assigned sittings. This gives us a chance to meet new people every day and eat when day time activities are over. This was not a choice here and after a chat with the chef, we have the impression that his staff is overtaxed with providing the menu choices we prefer and also producing what the Japanese like to eat. Since the ration of Japanese/nonJapanese changes with every cruise, there is no set routine and it is hard to plan for. At dinner we are served very, very small portions and our wait staff keeps apologizing and encouraging us to order double. They said that these portions are what the Japanese prefer and after a day of overserving ourselves at the buffet, we like this light approach at the end of the day as well.

We enjoy seeing what the Japanese choose to eat and how they eat it. They love to have giant salads for breakfast and usually start out with chopsticks, but when they choose menu items from “our” side chopsticks just don’t make sense. You can pick up a large fish filet with chopsticks and rip a piece off with your teeth, but it just doesn't look very civilized - and the Japanese always look civilized. Inevitably they shift to silverware when they eat western food that isn’t already prepared in bite size pieces. I watched a lady tackle baked beans at breakfast today and she quickly shifted to a fork from her chop sticks as well. Every day I try a Japanese food item from the buffet. It’s risk free because if you don’t like it, there’s plenty more where that came from. So far I haven’t found anything that will become a regular for me. I like the fresh fish that’s often a part of sushi but the globby cold rice is bland and unappealing. When dipped in soy sauce, it soaks up too much and tastes overwhelmingly salty. I’ll keep trying.

One of the pool areas has been converted into sort of an onsen, a bath area where the folks luxuriate in the hot water sans clothes. Going into this area costs extra. We won’t be paying.

We read that Princess put on new toilets in the public areas of the ship to prepare for the Japanese market. You immediately know when you are sitting on one, because they are warm enough to toast your buns. Mounted on the wall is a touch screen with Japanese writing, icons and special translation signs for people like me. There are menu choices like bidet, massage and enema wash. No thanks!

Japanese ladies avoid the sun; tan is not beautiful to them. Even on the hot, humid days we spent in Taiwan, they wore black arm covers with their short sleeved shirts, white gloves and carried umbrellas. Wide brimmed hats with curtains hanging from the edges were also commonly seen. This makes getting a deck chair in the sun around the pool so easy for the bikini clad westerners.

Even though we generally choose cruises because of their itinerary, Princess has a great loyalty rewards scheme and we are enjoying getting laundry done for free and a package of free internet minutes that may or may not suffice for the length of the trip. Yesterday we went to a free wine tasting and cocktail party for those of us at the top of the heap and there was nary a Japanese to be seen. This sort of cruising is newly available to them and they haven’t had the opportunity to rack up the days at sea for the top awards. But now that Princess will have three ships that stop in some Japanese ports, they will have plenty of opportunities to catch up. And they will.

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