Sunday, December 31, 2006

About Ferries in Northern Japan

Every New Years my wife, son and I go to Hokkaido from Iwate. Usually this entails driving from Morioka to Hachinohe (about 2 hours) and then taking a 6 hour ferry from Hachinohe in Aomori to a city called Tomakomai. We then drive from Tomakomai to my wife’s hometown, Kuriyama. We always take our car to Hokkaido.
This year, because of bad weather our ferry from Hachinohe on December 28 was cancelled. So we decided to take the ferry from Aomori City (about 2 and a half hours by car) to Hakodate (about 3 and a half hours) and then drive from Hakodate to Kuriyama (4 hours). We made a reservation for December 28 and it seemed as if the ferries were running. On December 27 we received a phone call saying that the days ferries for that day had been cancelled because of bad weather so they were canceling all reservations for December 28. Instead, we could show up to the ferry terminal on December 28 and take a number. When our number was called we could go on the ferry. They predicted that there would be a bout 100 cars ahead of us ( a ferry could take about 50 cars). Because the weather was scheduled to get worse we decided to leave on the 28th before the weather got really bad. We got to the ferry terminal at about 6:40 AM on December 28 leaving our house at 4:00 AM. We were told that there were 110 cars ahead of us and that we would not be able to board the ferry until after noon. My wife and I estimated that we would be able to board a ferry between 3 – 5PM. The ferry parking lot was full and there were trucks parked on the street. There were also a lot of people sleeping in their cars as they had probably been waiting for a ferry from the previous day. Most passengers on the ferry our truck drivers carrying goods from the main Island to Hokkaido and vice versa. The ferry terminal reeked of cigarette smoke as many of the truck drivers were drinking and smoking. Everywhere we went there seemed to be cigarette ashes and ash trays. Outside, most of the hundreds of cars and trucks had their engines running so the people inside could keep warm. So the air outside the ferry terminal wreaked of automobile emissions while the inside of the terminal smelled like a bar. This was no place for a 2 year old to hand out so my wife and I went sightseeing around Aomori city.
We went to a beautiful hot spring (onsen) at a hotel called Jogakura (城ヶ倉) in Hakkouda Mountain (八甲田山). My son and I went into the bath together. The hot spring had an outdoor batch and my son and I sat in the bath with me staring at the snow covered trees and falling snow and my son playing in the bath. It was one of the most serene and peaceful moments I had experienced in years. Unfortunately, the clock was ticking and we decided to go back to the terminal to check on the ferry. We arrived at the terminal at about 1PM. There were no fewer cars, people were still partying in the ferry terminal, and it seemed that few numbers had been called since we departed for the mountains. So, we decided to go into Aomori City and eat lunch. For lunch we went to a big shopping mall. In the restaurant, the waitresses were very impolite, my son was crying and refusing to eat, and everyone around us was smoking. It seems like there are a lot of smokers in Aomori city. We saw a grandmother and a mother with her infant daughter enter the restaurant. They sat down and then the grandmother and mother lit their cigarettes up. The food was not so good either. It was a pretty lousy lunch but my son cheered up and ate so the lunch ended well. The shopping center also had a children’s play space where my son could entertain himself.
We got back to the ferry terminal at about 3:30 PM. Few numbers had been called and some of the truck drivers were starting to get a little restless. In the span of 20 minutes there were two outbursts directed towards the ferry ticket clerks. While the truck drivers insulted them, the ticket clerks bowed their heads and said “moushiwake arimasen” which translates roughly to “How can you ever forgive us.”
I took my son on a 30 minute walk and we observed to boats and the trucks. I put him on my shoulders and ran along the edge of the dock. My lungs started to burn a little and realized that it probably was the result of the exhaust coming from all the trucks (please see the picture). My son saw a ferry docked and insisted that we go on. I had to explain to him that it was not our turn. I do not think he understood the specific reason but he accepted the fact that we could not go on the ferry for a while.
We spent the next two hours hanging out in our car and going into the ferry terminal to see if their were any other developments. At about 5:30 PM we drive to a super market to buy dinner. When we got back to the ferry terminal at 6PM I realized that out number had been called and our ferry was boarding. I drove the car to the ferry as fast as I could and we were the second to last car to board. Once we were on the ferry, the voyage was fairly pleasant. We were in the economy cabin which consists of a carpeted floor and some pillows. Every passenger stakes their own territory and then tries to sleep. We staked our own territory, my wife and son slept, and I read in peace. It was very nice. The ferry arrived at Hakodate at about 10PM and then we arrived at Kuriyama at about 3AM. Altogether, it was a 23 hour trip. That is about as long as it takes us to go to Boston. The moral of the trip was that if you can avoid waiting at a ferry terminal do so.


Anonymous said...

Dear Teacher,

I recently started a CELTA (teacher training) course. Your blog has alot of useful tips!

However, I was wondering if you may write a sentence or two regarding your first teaching day on my Online Celta Diary at;

Your support, experience and input would be highly appreciated.

Best Regards

Kansaiyaccha said...

Hey Jimbo...
Can you shoot me an email...I wanna ask a few questions...
ryanknight76AT hotmail DOT com