20 Apr 2012

In the Footsteps of the Dutch Sailors - Part 1

(Written by Lo Liebregts; translated and annotated by Hans van Wuijckhuise)

Maybe a weird name for an account about a Walking Tour in Japan ? Perhaps on the first sight but in the days to come, it will be cleared.

Now it is April 10 2012. Early in the morning we arrive at Beijing International Airport. We already have our boarding cards for an Air China flight to Fukuoka in Japan. But we do not know the gate number. Because we also can not find our flight number on the announcement boards, we ask the transfer desk. With a pen a gate number is written, later it turns out to be not the right one; and we must proceed to a ‘Special Line’ of the immigration counters.

When it is our turn to be cleared for entering China, we are told to fill out an entrance card. On the desk opposite the immigration counters we only find entrance card with an exit card attached to it so we fill that part also and join the queue again. The official takes the card, scans the passport, types almost the whole passport into his computer and finally stamps a visa on which entrance and exit day are the same.

Now we try to locate the gate number written on the boarding card; when we are close to it, we discover our flight has two gates assigned to it and both are different from the written number. All we can do is wait at one of the gates for boarding a plane bound for Fukuoka, Japan, with a one hour intermediate stop in Dalian, China. On boarding time nothing happens. So we ask at the desk, but the girl behind the desk speaks only a little English. But with some good listening and a telephone call, we understand our fight is delayed one hour because of the weather in Dalian, another city in China notorious for smog. We also get a lunchbox and with a hand sign we are requested to sit down in the waiting area.

When the new boarding time is there, again nothing happens and some passengers walk around despondently. Suddenly the girl at the desk makes an announcement in Chinese and starts to move around nervously. We have already noticed our gate is a ‘remote gate’ from which no direct boarding is possible but instead requires bus transfer to the plane. After the ground stewardess has managed to arrange two buses with drivers, everything speeds up. As soon as the pilot has received a ‘Go’, he is up in the sky. Also after touch down in Dalian, he tries to keep up speed in the whole operation and it felt as if he almost missed a turn. At the gate everybody has to leave the plane. On entering the terminal building, the passengers to Fukuoka, like us, receive a special transfer card and are diverted directly to the departure gate. At the immigration exit desk I have a small problem. My second given name is written with a ‘ç’ and the official can not type that character into his computer. I do not know for sure but maybe last years visa for China in my passport, has helped to clear the way and after a few minutes, we can continue to the boarding gate. The further flight to Fukuoka is uneventful.

On arrival in Fukuoka, the delay is reduced to only half an hour. Now follows the long queue for the Japanese immigration. On board we already have received and filled out the arrival cards. Unfortunately not enough cards in the English language were available, so I filled out a Japanese one; doing so you have to compare the questions carefully whether they are equivalent with the ones on the English version or not. The card was accepted without further notice.

After clearing immigration by the crew desk, if these special desks have no clients, waiting  passengers can be send to them, continue to the luggage conveyor. Our luggage is already off loaded and lies waiting for us. Lo immediately sees the two plastic distance bushings of his ‘Wheely’ are missing; so he has to mount the wheels without them. The ‘Wheely’ is a back pack on wheels which is dragged like a pulka (Sami sledge). After also fixing the buries, he can drag the ‘Wheely’ to the Customs. We know they can ask the weirdest questions but mainly they want to know the purpose of the visit to Japan. I am first and try to explain what we are going to do, my story is accepted. Lo follows, just says ‘for me the same’ and only has to give in his card.

Next to the free shuttle bus who brings us from the International Terminal to the Domestic Terminal building. There walk a short distance to the subway station and after only a quarter of an hour we get off at Gion station. On leaving the elevator on ground level, the passengers in front of us block the way, their problem is it is raining. No problem for us because the entrance of our hotel is only twenty metres away. It is a Toyoko Inn hotel, a name which will appear more times in the next five weeks. Our room is a business twin with en-suite toilet and shower and two LAN-cable connections. We are a bit tiered and go to sleep early.

Wednesday April 11. Today’s main items are both the completion of the previous part of our journey and the final preparations for the oncoming part. Several things we want to arrange today. While we are having breakfast, we look outside; it is raining.

Rain in Hakata Gion (Fukuoka)

After breakfast, we start with the administration. Around noon it is dry and we go for lunch. Lo is fond of shrimps and knows McDonald’s in Japan offers ‘ebi-burger’ (shrimp burger). I am not so fond of seafood, so my choice is a ‘teriyaki-burger’. After lunch we continue our search for the desired items.

The first one is a LAN-hub. We want to prevail alternate access on Internet because only one LAN-cable per room is available. Not that difficult; we buy an eight port hub for less than 1000 Yen, a bit less than 10 Euros.

The next mission is the fixing of the Wheely. The pieces of plastic tube mend to keep the wheels free of the frame, have gone missing during the last flight and must be replaced. First measure the circumference of the axle over which the bushings must be drawn, than calculate the diameter of the axle, we find about 12.7 mm. Now find a Do It Yourself or better, a plumber or other craftsman.
An improvised distance bushing for the Wheely

In the centre of a city like Fukuoka, finding a night store or a restaurant is not difficult, but a repair shop or something like that, is. First we pass a service station where they can do small car repairs and change tyres; enough tools but no repair materials useful to us. We continue searching and in a side street spot a little van with opened rear hatch and some piping material inside. We go for it and find a plumber fixing a drain. While he is busy we examine the contents of his van and determine a piece of plastic tubing of approximately the desired diameter. We wait until the man has finished his job and then we ask him if he speaks English. With his fingers he makes the Japanese sign for ‘a little’; that might be just enough. With some sign language and simple technical English words, we establish the tube we saw has indeed an inside diameter of 13 mm and we ask for two pieces of about forty mm’s length. The plumber measures and cuts the two wanted pieces. On our question about the cost, he only laughs; we thank him and say ‘Good bye’. Back in our Toyoko Inn, we cut the pieces to length with a Swiss knife and the Wheely is ready for use again.

The remainder of the day is spend on preparations and administration. Some mails can keep you busy for hours and now we have free internet, we use it extensively.

It is Thursday morning April 12. Today we have to do several things. Tomorrow we do not want to travel with dirty laundry so we are going to wash. We also want to reduce the weight and the volume of our luggage by sending items we possibly not do need before Hirado, by courier to Hirado. In principle that is possible from our hotel; but first we have to pack the items and then fill out the transport form in Japanese. Also the recipient in Hirado has to be informed, we are sending a box to them and arriving ourselves eighteen days later. Just something to be arranged. Luckily we are not for the first time in Japan and we more or less know how to arrange these things. 

 Just fill out the form and the package is en route

The package is en route but the laundry is not running that fast. The dryer is a condensation dryer and that requires a lot of time. So we have to wait for the dryer before we can go into town to do our shopping’s. Getting money out of the wall is less easy than in Europe. Most ATM’s do not accept foreign Banc cards. No problem. Every Post Office is equipped with at least one ATM that does accept our cards; just watch for the right logos on the machine.

In the mean time our laundry is dry and we go wandering around. We land in ‘Canal City’ shopping centre. On a stage in the middle an apparently popular group can be met by very excited girls and pictures taken with their idols. We look at the whole scene from an appropriate distance. We continue our stroll and via two to expensive department stores, reach our target for this afternoon, the HardRock Café. We enjoy two ‘happy hour’ beers and a simple meal until it is time to go to the airport to pick up Jacques who is arriving directly from the Netherlands.

In between, in Japan almost every community has its own design of manhole cover. Not the small ones next to the gutter but the big circular ones in the road. Sometimes the show the bird, the flower and the tree associated with the place, sometimes they show events of the history. We will try to make a picture of them in every town or city. Here the cover of Fukuoka-Hakata.

 Manhole cover of Fukuoka-Hakata

With the subway we go to the domestic terminal of the airport and from there by shuttle bus to the International terminal. On the big boards in the arrival hall we see his plane has landed as the first one of three flights so we do not have to wait long before we meet Jacques. After the greeting we return to the hotel,have a drink and soon it is time to go to our berth

Friday April 13. We are out of early and at seven we have breakfast. Yesterday evening we have already packed most of our belongings and after breakfast Lo brings down his Wheely. Waiting for Jacques and me, he goes out the have a breath of fresh air. It is nice weather and when he wants to make some pictures, he perceives his camera is missing; he goes back to his room but can not find it.

When we are al downstairs with our luggage, we leave for the railway station. At the station, I queue for the ticket desk and buy three tickets. They are a bit more expensive then we had found on internet; soon we notice I have paid a supplement for the Limited Express instead of buying tickets for the Local (train). That means we can have a different travelling schedule with a faster train. Just wait.

The result is we are almost two hours earlier in Usuki than planned. Now we can meet our Japanese friend and fellow walker Masaji-san at the landing stage of the ferry from Shikoku; he is very surprised indeed.

His knowledge of the English language is minimal and he has to get used to it for a while. He is a director heart and soul so he starts organising immediately. At first we have to go the city hall for a short greeting with the mayor, then the meeting continues. After some time we realise this meeting is a kind of briefing for tomorrow’s ceremony.

Then we are transferred to another location nearby. According our information it is about the establishment of Japanese - Netherlands Friendship and Cultural Institution. We attend a lecture by Mrs. Trooster, deputy ambassador of the Netherlands in Japan, about the historic relations between Japan and the Netherlands. After the lecture, together with about fifty Japanese, we are invited to go to building opposite the street for a diner with the founders and invitees of the new Institution. After a formal start with speeches, the diner develops into a very nice evening with fine Japanese food and enough drinks ranging from imported Heineken beer to hot sake. According Asian custom the diner ends around nine o’clock. Although it is only eight hundred metres walking we are brought back to our hotel by car.

This day has finished. Probably the beginning of a sequence of joyful meetings.

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