The slow boat to Osaka, Japan

Trip Start Jun 30, 2010
Trip End Jun 01, 2011

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Su Zhou Hao Ferry

Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In our bid to avoid flying for as long as possible we travelled from China (Shanghai) to Japan (Osaka) by ferry and found ourselves boarding the Su Zhou Hao run by the Shanghai Ferry Company, as excited as little kids, late morning of the 20th July. The check in process was really straight forward and somehow we found ourselves first onboard, exploring the ship's lounges, canteen, bathing rooms, before anyone else had even got through the baggage checks. For our two nights on board, we shared our little cabin with Ryan and Josh, two lads from San Francisco who between them were fluent in Japanese, well versed in Manga and had practiced Sumo, all in all making us feel pretty inadequate!

On a hot deck, we watched the banks of the Shanghai's Huangpu River slip by, under bridges and out into a vast river basin where we joined the silt-laden waters of the Yangzi. It was awful to read in the daily newspaper onboard that 118 people had just been killed in Yangzi floods, 47 still missing, and flash floods and overtopping reservoirs had forced the evacuation of 30,000 people in Jiangxi Province. This all brought the floods of 1998 sharply to mind, when 4,150 people were killed and 18 million were forced to evacuate. Staggering statistics, and yet China continues to be bent on industrialising and damming its (and its neighbours) rivers!

The Yangzi's brown waters flowed well out into the East China Sea, but as the water became bluer so the swell increased, enough to turn some people pale. We watched the sunset, enjoyed the warm salty wind, and drank Asahi and Kirin beer on deck with a new friend, a lively Japanese businessman who gave us some interesting insights into our next destination and tested out English words on us; his latest word was 'incandescently' Wow!

Come morning we had crossed the East China Sea and were nearing Japan's islands. The wind was a Force 4 south-easterly, but the sea was smooth and deep blue. We saw a big brown turtle diving away from the ship's wake, flying fish and large sea-birds diving gannet-like after them. At 11:00-ish we saw our first islands, rugged green profiles, and a number dotted with large white rotating wind turbines. For the rest of the day we relaxed on deck, watching the Japanese islands, wildlife and shipping activity. During dinner we passed through a narrow channel between Kyushu and Honshu (mainland), under a bridge, navigating a strong tidal race and what definitely looked like a whirlpool. At sunset we watched the lights of distant towns and lighthouses pass by and chatted about our pending five-week stay in Japan. For the rest of the night we sailed north-east between Honshu and Shikoku, and at 5:00am we rose to watch a stunning sunrise, only fitting as today we were due to enter Japan, Land of the Rising Sun.

The whole ferry experience was a really good one. It's definitely one to be recommended and a big thanks to 'the man in seat 61'  for the suggestion! The staff, food, facilities and cabins were all great, but probably the best thing about this slow-boat style of travel was the enforced rest, the time to reflect and chat, and the time to prepare for the next leg of our journey, which would take us to Osaka and then onto Kyoto for a week, to experience historical Japan.
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