Emperors & Empires Cruise on the Oceania Nautica
3/10/15 to 3/26/15

Due to the length of the review, it is in seven parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of each page. 

Page 1  - Pre-Cruise in Beijing
Page 2  - Pre-Cruise continued; Embarkation and Ship
Page 3 - Ship Continued;  Ports of Call: Tianjin, China; Dalian, China
Page 4 - Ports of Call:  Seoul, South Korea; Shanghai, China
Page 5 - Ports of Call:  Shanghai, China continued; Ishigaki, Japan;  Okinawa, Japan; Kyoto (Kobe), Japan
Page 6 - Ports of Call:  Osaka (Kobe), Japan; Nagoya, Japan
Page 7 - Ports of Call:  Tokyo, Japan

Osaka (Kobe) – Day 2
It was going to be a cooler day for our tour of Osaka, the low 50’s; but it was starting out pretty clear.  Aki surprised us by bringing her personal van for the tour rather than having us take public transportation as we planned for.  Since she knew that Carol and Doug were coming, she thought it would be easier for them in her van; which it certainly was.  That was so sweet and thoughtful of her and quite unexpected.  On the way out of the port area, we passed by a large whale sculpture just outside the Kobe Aquarium that is on the port grounds.

While we were driving to Osaka, I couldn’t get over how clean the highways were.  There was no trash on them.  Carol commented that there was no graffiti anywhere either.  I don’t know how Japan does it; but it must do with the people’s respectful personalities.  They take pride in what they do and it shows.

While driving in Osaka, we passed by a large building with no windows.  Aki said that it is a parking lot.  Cars are driven into the first floor and then moved by elevators to be put into a slot.  They are apparently quite automated.  People can’t leave their cars on the streets and many homes don’t have garages or driveways, so they have to go somewhere.

Our first destination was the lovely Osaka Castle.  The original castle was completed in 1597; but it has been restored several times.  Walking up to it, it definitely has the wow factor.  It is such a gorgeous building.

The castle is five stories on the outside and eight on the inside, since it is built on a stone foundation for defensive reasons.

   

   

We bought our tickets and then inquired about where there was an elevator for Carol and Doug.  The castle employee saw that they had tickets and she told them that there was no charge for handicapped visitors.  She took their tickets and brought back the refunds.  How nice is that?  She then showed us how to get to the elevator.  There was one elevator that brought us up to an open area outside the castle and another one inside the castle.

The elevator operators were bending over backwards to help us.  They were just so nice.  We were most lucky that we were able to take the elevators, since most people have to take the stairs up the eight flights.  The outdoor viewing was a narrow path going around the entire castle.  It did get crowded at times.  The viewing area was surrounded by a chicken wire fence enclosure with a wide opening to look through.  The enclosure did effect the view; but it was still quite nice.

   

I also enjoyed being able to view the large golden fish ornaments and other decorations from a close distance.  It added to the panoramic views.

   

I checked out the view from all angles.  It was interesting to look down at a roof from above for a change.

From the eighth floor I walked down to the lower floors to see the different museum exhibits.

   

When I got down to the bottom floor, a couple of girls had rented some traditional outfits from the concession area so they could get photos in front of a picture of the castle.

After we left the castle, we took more photos of the beautiful castle exterior and Aki offered to take one of Carol and me.

   

As we were walking toward the exit Aki pointed out a lovely pond.  It looked like a great photo opp.

She told us that she had a better place to take photos from.  And boy did she!  I was surprised that no one else was there.  I guess everyone else just left too quickly.  I was glad that Aki knew about it.

Just outside the main castle grounds was a deep dry moat. 

After we got back in the van to head to our next destination, Aki drove by the deep outer wet moat surrounding the grounds.  I had to have photos, so she let me out so I could take some.  It was an impressive wall moat combination.  It would definitely stop me from even considering breaking in.

We then drove over to the Shinksekai area.  Aki found a parking spot close by.  I was surprised to see how the parking worked in some lots in Japan.  When we backed into the spot, a metal bar raised up to keep the car in the spot until we returned and paid the fee.  After paying, the metal bar lowered and you could drive off.  Rather clever.

As we walked to the main Shinsekai streets, we couldn’t miss seeing the Tsūtenkaku Tower.  This was to be the Eiffel Tower of the area, which was developed during the early 1900’s.  Shinsekai means “New World”.  It was divided into two parts with Paris being the model for the northern part and New York as the southern. 

   

A Coney Island type amusement park called Luna Park, was in the southern section.  It closed in 1923, but the amusement park atmosphere continues in this very popular shopping and entertainment area. 

   

The place was optical overload.  There were just so many things that captured our attention.  But it was a fun place to walk around and take it in.

   

   

Looking down at the street I saw a man-hole cover decorated with an image of the Osaka Castle.  Aki said most cities have their own designs.  I would have to pay attention for them in our next ports.

Luna park enshrined a Japanese God, Billiken.  It actually originated in the United States. Billiken was a symbol of Americana and was worshipped as “The God of Things as They Ought to Be.”  The statues are everywhere and in different attire.  People rub the bottom of Billiken’s feet for luck.

   

   

Aki picked out an outstanding restaurant for lunch.  We weren’t sure what we were getting into from the outside; but we were pleasantly surprised.

   

Each table had its own gas grill on it, where many of the items would be cooked in front of us. 

   

Aki chose several items for us and our culinary event of the day began.  The main item for the day, which was the restaurant’s specialty was Okonomiyaki.   This is a definition of it that I found online at http://okonomiyakiworld.com.  It’s a traditional Japanese food that is sometimes called "Japanese Pancake" or "Japanese Pizza".  It's a savory dish that is a bit more like an omelet or frittata than a pancake and it's made with okonomiyaki flour, eggs, cabbage, pork (bacon), shrimp or other seafood, and topped with a variety of condiments like sweet sauce (Okonomi Sauce), mayonnaise, dried seaweed and dried fish flakes.  It does sound kind of strange, but it sure looked good at the other tables we saw having it when we were getting seated.

A cook came by with a bowl of chopped cabbage, pork, flour and egg.  He flipped the bowl over onto the grill, thus forming a round mound of ingredients on the grill.  It would take about 15 minutes, during which time, he came back to turn it over.

   

While we were waiting for the Okonomiyaki to cook, he brought out some vegetables and a delicious dish that looked kind of like a flat burrito.  It tasted nothing like a burrito.

   

After about 8 minutes, he came back to turn the Okonomiyaki over and put out a noodle dish.  Thank goodness we had some other delicious things to eat while we were watching and smelling the tempting dish cook to perfection. Aki added some seaweed powder to the noodles.  The noodles were so tasty.

A little while later, the cook came to put some mayonnaise type stuff on top followed by some Okonomi Sauce.  Aki again put some seaweed powder on top and we were ready to dig in.  Wow!  It was so good.  Margery and Gale had eaten Okonomiyaki before where they live in California; but they said it didn’t compare to how good this was.

   

If I lived in Osaka, I would frequent this restaurant.  I will now have to look for Japanese restaurants in Palm Beach County that might serve Okonomiyaki.

After lunch we headed back to the van to drive to our last stop of the day.  One thing we noticed when we were in Okinawa was that the Japanese drive on the left side of the road rather than the right, as I had assumed they would.  They were never a part of Great Britain, but they drove like them.  It is an interesting subject to look into; but I won’t go into the long explanation here.  It is worth your Googling the answer.

We were going to visit the Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum.  At one time the museum building was a sake brewery; but the production was moved across the street.  At the start of the tour there was a short video telling about the history of the company and a little about sake manufacturing.  We then started our walk around the first floor where there were exhibits of the methods and equipment used to make sake.  We would stop to watch a brief video describing each step in the process, which explained the area of the exhibit that we were standing in.

   

   

We went up to the second floor to continue the tour.

   

It was a very interesting museum and did an excellent job of explaining how labor intensive the process used to be.  Obviously it has been mechanized; but it is still quite an involved process.  I liked the packaging for the large containers of sake.  We would see them again later in the cruise.

There was also an area that had some objects related to sake and how it was served.

   

At the end of the tour we were allowed to sample some of the sakes and rice wines that the company made.  The sake was much better than what I had previously tried many years ago.  The rice wines were quite good and even Carol liked them; and she isn’t a wine drinker.      The store also had other products made from rice such as beauty products.

   

It had been a more interesting place than I had expected.  On the way back to the ship, I got a kick out of a sign on the highway that was apologizing for construction work ahead.  In the polite ways of the Japanese, the image of the head of the man on the sign would bow repeatedly.  We had been very touched at how sweet, polite and respectful the Japanese people were.  This sign reinforced it.  During our visit to Japan, I was also surprised that when we would come up to a toll booth to pay a toll, the attendant would thank the driver and bow to them.  We really liked Japan.

Not far from the port in Kobe, we went through an area that was devastated during a major earthquake in 1995.  The highways in the below photo totally collapsed during the earthquake.  The death toll was over 6,400 people from the earthquake.  Kobe had certainly recovered well over the last 20 years. 

When Aki dropped us off at the ship, we thanked her for two wonderful days.  She really did an outstanding job of showing us the tourist attractions and culture of the area.

In the port area was a nice pavilion and some interesting looking exhibits from a company that is on the premises.  We started to go over to look more closely at the exhibits and go to a small shopping area near it; but saw that it would take longer than we had before we needed to be on the ship for sailaway.

   

When I went out on the promenade deck to see if we were getting ready for sailaway, a band was playing music for us.  It was really good.  When they would stop, they would wave to us; as would other people that were watching us leave.  It was quite touching how generous the people of Kobe had been with their resources to welcome us and say good bye.      

   

As we moved away from the dock, I took some more photos of the lovely port area.

   

As we were leaving port I saw three tug boats accompanying a small submarine into port.  Now that isn’t a normal sight to see.  It was flying a Japanese flag, which was comforting; and the crew was out on deck.

   

I guess it was coming in for repairs.  It did make for an interesting departure from a port that we had enjoyed immensely for two days.

 

Nagoya, Japan -  
As we approached the port of Nagoya, once again there was a large Ferris wheel close to it.  They must be very popular in Japan.  The port was a very modern looking area with some interesting looking structures. 

   

The aquarium had several unusually shaped buildings.  It would probably be worth visiting if we had been in port longer than our 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM schedule allowed. 

 

Once again as we arrived in port we were being treated to a drum show.  It was different from the other one but quite good.  I was surprised that they were out there, since it was quite cold in the lower 40’s with wind.  We would only get into the low 50’s for the day; but the sun would make it feel warmer.  We also had some young ladies in traditional dress welcoming us to the city as we got off the ship.

   

Since there aren’t many tourist attraction I was interested in, in this city of over 2 million people, I had decided not to do any tours.  I was just planning to do something on my own.  A couple weeks before the cruise, I decided to join a tour that Judy from our Cruise Critic roll call had set up with eight other people.  I knew that Carol had no desire to do a tour there, so I joined the group.  Our tour guide was Phillip Beech (desk@japanvisitor.com).  He was from England and was quite knowledgeable of the area and history.  He had also brought along a friend with him named John, who was quite a pleasant fellow that assisted him with our large group. 


John                           Phillip

As we left the area heading for the subway to take us to Nagoya Castle, we passed by a statue of two dogs that had been a part of the first Japanese Antarctic expedition.

In the subway station Phillip and John helped us to purchase the tickets and we were on our way for the 35 minute ride to the castle.  When we arrived I was impressed with the beautiful grounds and moat.

   

The small white flowers were so thick on the plants branches.  Carol tells me that the plant is called spirea.

We also had plum blossoms blooming.  They were quite pretty.  They were a good substitute for the cherry blossoms that hadn’t popped out fully yet.  I did hope that we would get to see some before the end of the cruise.

   

We got our first glimpse of Nagoya Castle in the background.

While walking toward the castle, I came across a manhole cover for the Nagoya area. 

We came to a building built on a wall surrounded by a dry moat.  It was one of several turrets in the complex.

Continuing our walk, we came to a statue of a samurai who directed the construction of the stone walls of the towers.  It was placed on the stone that he supposedly issued commands from.

   

We came to another turret at another corner of the wall.  They were much larger than what I would expect for turrets; but they were impressive.  Most of the turrets were not destroyed in the war and they are considered national treasures.

When we went inside the wall, the first building we would go into was the Nagoya Castle Hommaru Palace.  It was completely destroyed during the war.  The reconstruction was recently completed and opened for visitors.  There is still some renovation work ongoing, but what we saw look complete.  The exterior was of a different style with quite a pleasing look to it.

   

The palace was the residence for the lord of the province; and like other palaces we had seen in Japan, the interior had a very modern look to it.  But when we entered some of the rooms, we could tell that this palace was special.  The paintings and decorations were just gorgeous.

   

   

   

After putting our shoes back on and leaving the palace, we headed to the main castle.  After just having been at the Osaka Castle, Nagoya Castle was kind of a letdown.  The two golden dolphins on the top of the castle were its most notable feature.  Nagoya is known for them.  We would see many gold dolphin reproductions in the stores.

   

   

As with the Osaka Castle, there was an observation deck on the top floor, which was the fifth floor.  Unlike Osaka Castle, there was no path on the outside of the building.  Instead the floor had windows around the outside walls and shops in the middle of the floor.  It was a nice view of the grounds and area.

   

We had been able to take the elevator to the fifth floor, so we walked down the steps to see the museum pieces on each level.  There were a lot of stairs.

There were some models of the castle; as well as an old photo showing what the castle that was completed in 1612 looked like in 1931, before it was destroyed in the war.  The current castle was reconstructed in 1957.

   

There were numerous other exhibits in the museum including battle gear and swords. 

   

   

After walking around each of the floors, I walked outside to wait for the rest of the group at our assigned meeting place.  While waiting I spotted a snack shop that had something that I had been seeing people eating at several of the ports we had been to, green tea ice cream.  It was a bit cool for ice cream, but I figured that this might be the only time I would have a chance to try it.  It was pretty good, but once was enough.  It wouldn’t be my favorite flavor.

It was lunch time and Phillip was trying to pick a place for us to eat.  He recommended a place that was about a 15 minute walk away; but several in the group didn’t want to go that far, so we started walking around the park.  The grounds were quite pretty, especially with so many trees starting to bloom.

   

   

We went by a tea house on the grounds, but that wouldn’t be a good lunch place.

Phillip stopped to show us a dry pond on the castle grounds.  The area was kind of nice, but I prefer water in ponds.

Across from the pond was a university building with a restaurant on the first floor.  Phillip had asked some people at the castle about it and they said it was good, so we went in.  At this point, everyone was starving and they would eat anything.

John recommended that I get the spicy noodle soup, since I told him I enjoyed spicy food.  It wasn’t that spicy, but it sure was good.  I also got a couple of pork cutlets with miso sauce.  They were also quite good.

   

After lunch Phillip discussed with Judy about what we would do next.  The original plan was to go to a museum or some gardens.  Unfortunately there wasn’t that much time left, since we had spent a long time in the castle.  Phillip recommended that we go to the Futaba Museum, which is where a famous geisha used to live.  We would have preferred going to a garden; but with the colder weather and time being a factor, Phillip thought the museum would be better.  Oh well, I had never been to a geisha’s house, so it was fine with me.  With our group of 11, we would have to get three taxis.  I got in the first taxi along with John and another couple.  The taxi driver didn’t know where the particular museum was, so Phillip had to show him on a map.  When we got to the house, it was quite attractive from the outside.

We walked in, paid the entrance fee, took off our shoes and started looking around.  There were some pretty stained glass windows and the interior was nicely decorated.  There was also a video to watch about the history of the house.  It was played in several languages and by the time it got to English, I was upstairs and missed it.

   

   

I went upstairs to see what was there and it was OK, but I sure wouldn’t put this museum on an American tourist’s itinerary.  There was no information about the furnishings or displays that were written in English, so it was kind of a waste of time.

   

I went back downstairs and sat in a chair waiting for the English version of the video to come on.  We were surprised that no one else had shown up yet and were kind of getting concerned.  We had probably been there around 20 minutes, when they finally arrived.  Apparently they had difficulty getting two more cabs; and those drivers also had never heard of the museum.  That was a good sign that it probably wasn’t a place we needed to visit.   While the rest of the group was being underwhelmed by the museum, I walked around outside and enjoyed the beautiful plum blossom trees.  The museum wasn’t that great, but the landscaping in the neighborhood was.

   

Phillip arranged to have 3 taxis pick us up to get back to the subway and the ship.  This time they all showed up promptly.  When we got back to the ship, I understood why the golden dolphin statues were in the small park area near the dock.

As usual before sailaway, I went to the promenade deck to see if we would be leaving on time.  Once again we were going to be entertained.  There were six girls in traditional outfits standing near the ship waving at the passengers.  Then they started to sing and dance around for us.  They were having a great time, but most of us were really cold with the low temperatures and strong winds.  I didn’t know how the girls were tolerating the cold.  I sure hope they had long underwear under their clothes.  I have included a short video of part of their performance.  You can hear the wind and see how much it was blowing.  Those girls were real troopers for performing in that weather.

   

When they were finished, each of the girls gave their name and thanked us for visiting their city and wished us safe travels.  They were just so sweet and sincere.  Just lovely people.  The passengers loved them.

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