Tokyo, Japan FEB 28 2024

We had two sea days between Okinawa and Tokyo. Gus Antorcha, the President of the Holland America Line, joined the ship in Okinawa for a four day visit. He always joins the yearly Grand World Cruise to meet with the passengers and crew to see how things are going and plan future cruises. One afternoon he had a presentation for all the passengers. The theater was packed, including the balcony. The presentation began with an update on how Holland America is doing as a company. Evidently very well, including breaking several records for number of cruises booked in a day. Next he announced the itinerary for the 2026 Grand World Cruise. The future grand world itinerary is always announced two years in advance on the current Grand World Cruise. This gives current world cruise passengers first opportunity to book the cruise, securing their favorite cabins and dining room seating.

The President then spent over 90 minutes taking questions, comments and criticisms from anyone who wanted to talk. Many people began with compliments followed by “however…”. At one point he jokingly said next year he was going to wear a shirt with the word “however” on the front. We thought he was very patient and graciously listened to everyone. Some of the “howevers” made me want to roll my eyes. He had an assistant who took copious notes. Don’t know what will change, but it was important that people felt like they were heard.

During these two days at sea, the ocean was very rough with gale force winds and deep ocean swells, particularly on the second night. We have become quite used to the rough seas, but they were rough enough during the night to wake us up several times as the ship rolled, pitched and shuddered.  We could hear the wind constantly howling through the balcony door. I guess King Neptune really did turn us into “shellbacks” last month since we are not phased anymore by all this, and one or two seasick pills is all I need. 

We were up very early for the sail into the Tokyo Harbor. What a surprise we had when we stepped out on our balcony and saw Mt Fuji. It is an active volcano which last erupted 300 years ago. At 12,389 feet, it is the tallest mountain in Japan. We had read that it is usually clouded over, so we were surprised to see it. It is covered with snow five months of the year. It is one of Japan’s three holy mountains and is a treasured icon for the Japanese people.

Tokyo is the capital of Japan and the most populous city in the world with 14 million people. It has the second largest metropolitan economy in the world after New York. 

An isolated country, Japan is about the size of the state of California. About 10% of the world’s earthquakes occur in Japan, as well as many typhoons. Today, Japan has a shrinking population with many young people delaying marriage or choosing not to marry. The birth rate is only 1.6 children per family. The Japanese government is paying families with more children as an incentive. The shrinking population has led to a potential crisis with their pension system. Too many people living very long lives and not enough young people paying in. 

We booked an afternoon excursion that was somewhat disappointing. It was advertised as “Tokyo Landmarks”.  First sign of a problem was our guide, a petite Japanese lady with a soft voice. We could hear her on the bus when she was using a microphone but couldn’t hear her commentary at all off the bus. 

Our first stop was Meiji Jingu Shrine. Located within a 170 acre forest, it was quite a walk from the bus. The Shinto shrine is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken. The shrine was built in 1915 and destroyed during air raids during WW2. It was replaced in 1958.

To get to the shrine we walked through a Torii gate, one of eight on the property. These torii symbolize the place where it is believed the gods come down, separating our world from theirs.

Next our guide took us to a purification station where you are supposed to wash your hands and rinse your mouth. Our guide did this but did not insist we comply.

Visiting the shrine was frustrating. We walked up steps to the entrance but could not go inside and there was a stern guard to be sure no pictures were taken and everyone remained very quiet.

Our guide demonstrated the process of making an offering. You throw a coin in a box, bow low two times, clap your hands to get the attention of the gods, say a prayer and then do another deep bow. She then said we could do it. I think she was surprised when no one took her up on the offer.

Our second of three landmarks was Shibuya Crossing. It is said to be the busiest intersection in the world and is pictured in many movies and photos of Tokyo. During the busiest time of the day, it is estimated between 1,000 and 2,500 people cross the intersection coming from several directions at once, every TWO minutes. I thought we would get off the bus somewhere nearby and walk through the intersection to experience being part of a mass of humanity. No, instead, we stopped at a light and slowly rolled through the intersection as a bus load of people jockeyed to take pictures. Are you kidding me? That is it? That is how we experience one of the three major landmarks of the day?

Our third major landmark was the Zojo-Ji Buddhist Temple. The main gate, from 1622, is the oldest wooden building in Tokyo. The original temple, and more than 120 surrounding buildings, were destroyed by fire, natural disasters and air raids during WW2. The temple was rebuilt in 1974.

Bill was able to get pictures of the inside temple from a distance, away from the guard’s watchful eyes.

On the property are trees planted by President Ulysses Grant and President George H. W. Bush. We were surprised to learn Grant visited Japan.

Throughout the afternoon our guide talked about how superstitious the Japanese people are and about some of the Buddhist beliefs. They believe that certain numbers are unlucky, such as the numbers 33, 42, 61, 73 as well as several others. When you reach those ages, they believe you need special prayers to the gods to protect you. 

There was a large bell on the temple grounds. At the end of the year and to bring good luck in the new year, large crowds gather while a priest rings the bell 108 times. Buddhists believe there are 108 types of defilements or unclean thoughts. Ringing the bell drives those defilements from the body in the new year. They believe the greatest defilements are anger, greed and stupidity. Special prayers are said repeatedly during the year to rid you of those.

On the grounds are over 1,300 Jizo statues with red hats and bibs. These represent children, both living and dead. Parents place statues here and visit to pray for the safety and good health of their living children. Parents of children lost to death, miscarriage, stillborn or abortion also place statues here to pray for their lost children. Some have placed pinwheels for the children to play with and to bring the spirits. The guide said the children go to hell because they have not collected enough good deeds. Upon seeing the look of horror on many of our faces, she quickly said it is okay because the jizo spirits take the place of the children so they can cross the river to the other side.

Please understand I really know nothing about Buddhism and I am trying to write this from my memory of what the guide said. 

We then headed back to the ship. We did notice some interesting buildings and structures.



Plum Trees Bloom First

Bill noticed how the cars do not have bumpers. Some gas stations have the fuel pumps located in the overhead and the hoses are pulled down to the car.

Gas Station

Students With Backpacks Walking After School

The Tokyo Tower, a communications and observation tower, was built in 1958 and is the second tallest tower in Japan.

On our second day in Tokyo we rode the port’s free shuttle to a large mall. Along the way we passed the Statue of Liberty. The French loaned a Statue of Liberty to Japan from 1998 to 1999 as a symbol of friendship between France and Japan. When it came time to return it, the Japanese people wanted their own. The Japanese statue was created in 1999 with the permission of France and unveiled in 2000.  It is quite a bit smaller than our Statue of Liberty.

The Rainbow Bridge is another popular landmark. It is lit with white lights at night and has colored lights on special occasions.

We really liked the drink dispensers throughout Japan. If the drink had a blue line underneath, it was a cold drink. A red line meant it was a hot drink like coffee. Bill tested it out by getting a coffee. He said it was hot. Not super-hot but hot.

The captain announced in the evening that rough weather was expected tonight and tomorrow with gale force winds and rough seas. Nothing new there! But he added it might be too rough for us to dock at our next Japanese port, Omaezaki. If it is too rough for the pilot boat to come out to deliver a pilot to us, the port would be closed. 

Next up: Omaezaki? Yes or no? 

One note: With all the Japanese ports, we are a little behind in our blogs. Today, March 6, we are headed to China. We will be in Shanghai tomorrow. We have been told by our ship officials that the Chinese government will most likely block our tv satellite reception, some email accounts like Google, and all social media like Facebook. We may not be able to update the blog for a while. There may be a lapse between postings. We will be back! 

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