The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy are moving towards Book 7, which as yet has no working title. What it does have is a glimmer of history, and that history takes place in Kagoshima, a large city on the southern tip of Kyushu.
It's possible to island-hop from Kagoshima through the Ryukyu Islands (now part of Japan as Okinawa Prefecture) to Taiwan, to Shanghai, and just about anyplace else in Southeast Asia. Brisk trade quickly established itself and grew. When Ieyasu interdicted foreigners, it was somehow understood that this only applied to Imperialist Western foreigners and "normal" trade with the "normal" neighbors continued, though it was a little under-the-table.
Even today, it's possible to ferry all over the place. And I plan to do exactly that. But the first thing I had to do was get to Kagoshima and check it out for Book 7.
I couldn't find a ferry that approached Kagoshima from the north. Japan has lovely and wonderful trains, certainly, and, yes, there are (yawn) planes. But there is plenty of domestic shipping and there is a ferry that runs from Tokyo to Kitakyushu, on the north end of Kyushu. This is the general area in which The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy live.
Mostly the domestic ferries on this route haul cargo in the form of trailers that get attached to trucks and form Big Rigs that traverse the highways. It's more efficient to load those trailers with trucks at one port, move them by ship, and off-load them at a second harbor. Sometimes the trucks need to go with the trailers. Sometimes people want to move their personal vehicles. Sometimes people just want to move themselves. That means there is passenger service.
You're not allowed to stay in your Big Rig, RV, van or car. People bringing vehicles because they are moving or have plans involving their motorcycles or vans at the other end of the voyage often like to transport them by ferry. Faster, cheaper, and, hey, boat ride!
There are second-class cabins rather like floating capsule hotels. These are pretty nice.
It's much nicer than your basic sailboat quarter berth. This cabin is for women only all the time and is right next to the midships ladies' room. There are 8 berths. A number of similar cabins can be for men or women, depending on need. For whatever reason, there were not many passengers. Going down there were three other women. Going back, I was all alone. There are also cabins for two or four humans, some with pet facilities. Yes, there is an on-deck pet area. If you don't bring your own cabin-mates you might get a Random Roommate. The idea of paying extra to get a private cabin does not occur in Japan. I have had a Capsule Cabin before and like my little bit of private space. Everybody's quiet and well behaved. Tomfoolery is saved for the public lounge areas.
This ferry doesn't have a restaurant. What it has is a huge number of microwave ovens, chopsticks, napkins, condiments, a tea machine and a large number of gigantic vending machines. People with large vehicles bring coolers of food. Everybody else forages.
These are treasures. These are mikans -- tangerines, to you -- peeled and frozen, available for purchase from the vending machine. Give them a few minutes to that -- don't dare stick these in a microwave -- and they are splendidly delicious.
Because these are cargo vessels not really planning on passengers, they leave late in the day. Even at this time of year, we only had maybe an hour of daylight after departing. Night one it was nasty and blowing. These are from night two, after the storm had passed.
During night one, it stormed. The sea is off the beam and it can get pretty rocky. They close the observation deck at night and when the weather's stormy, but they also closed the Grand Baths part of this trip due to the bad weather.
While there is a room of arcade games, plenty of liquor in the machines, and lounge spaces one can frequent with TVs and windows, the Grand Baths, one for women and one for men, are a great source of entertainment. Sure, there are laundry facilities (the motorcyclists and campers love this feature) and there is a shower room, everybody wants to use the ofuro
. It's a classic Japanese spa with half-height showers where you sit and scrub -- they have soap and shampoo, but you need to bring your own towels. They do sell them in a handy vending machine if you forget, of course.
The winner is the long tub, with windows overlooking the ocean, with half still and half whirlpool basins in which to sit and soak. People take more than one bath. In fact, they seem to take as many as they can justify, and sometimes you'll see towels hanging by berths to dry just about everywhere you look. This is NICE.
It's no secret that I like being at sea. I can watch the ocean endlessly and enjoy little ports. This is the midway port on Shikoku Island, when all the car people ran below decks to get whatever else they needed from their vehicles, and trucks, cars, motorcycles and so on got off and on. It's a lovely area, with lumber mills in sight of the docks, leading one to suspect that's the principle industry.
Again, because these boats are cargo ships first and foremost, they not only leave late, they get in very early. However, you get the sunrise.
And at this time of year, that's about 4 AM. Wonderful, though, as you can see. This is the observation deck, reopened since the weather had cleared.
Then from the ferry port, one journeys to the closest train station and from there to the bigger train station. There, I discovered that my planned route was not possible due to a seriously ferocious storm that dropped nearly a meter on Kyushu. It was the end of that we went through on our first night out. You know it's a bad storm when Japanese trains shut down! I couldn't make a planned stop and take a slow but scenic road. But the nice train people got me all the way down the island in less than two hours at what must have been very high speeds, and almost all underground!
I was there at last, in Kagoshima. In the Shimadzu domain (that's their crest) figuring out a way to amuse myself until I could check into my hotel. Look at the lovely little bonsai garden! This is a World Heritage Site, and that's where I went next.