Traveling in Micronesia

Copyright (c) 2002, Glenn Story

Saturday, September 28, 1985:  Kamakura

I  am  writing  this from my room in  the  Kaihinso  Ryokon.   We
arrived here yesterday from Tokyo.  This is the start of a month-
long  journey  that  will eventually take us back to  the  United
States after living here in Japan for almost two years.

We  traveled  here from Tokyo by local train;   it  took  only  a
little over an hour.

We  took  the Yokosuka line from Shimbashi Station  in  Tokyo  to
Kamakura  Station and then a narrow-guage train from  there,  two
short  stops,  to  Uigahara.   This latter train is marked  as  a
street  car on one of my maps.  But since it doesn’t run  on  the
street,  and since it is several cars long, I consider it to be a
regular  “densha”  or  electric train.   It is smaller  than  the
ordinary  train,  owing to the narrow guage.   And it runs  on  a
single pair of rails, serving both directions, unlike most Japan
ese trains that use two sets of tracks for opposite directions.

We  have  had cloudy skys continuously  and  rain  intermittently
since we got here.  In some cases such weather adds a subdued and
softened mood which seems very Japanese.  In this case, it merely
makes things gloomy.

We  went out yesterday afternoon to see if we are as close to the
ocean as the map makes it appear.   We are.  After having seen so
many  Japanese  beaches on TV that were packed to  standing-room-
only  capacity,  it seemed strange to see this large sandy  beach
that  was  almost deserted.   But then it was bad  weather  on  a
weekday.   More significant,  it is now past the end of the beach
season.  It is much more rare in Japan for people to go traveling
“out of season”–Japanese like to do things on schedule.

The beach was peaceful and Elizabeth got to play in the sand.

Today we went to see the “Dai Butsu” or “Big Buddha”.   It is one
of the most famous attractions in Kamakura, and we were surprised
to learn, it is within walking distance of our ryokan.

From there we tried to follow a trail on one of our maps.  But it
wasn’t clearly marked,  and we got lost.   After wandering down a
long  residential road that followed the floor of a small valley,
we  eventually  ended  up  at  a  train  station.   This  got  us
reoriented and we decided to take the train to Kamakura  Station.
From  there we walked to Hachimon Shrine.   There is a long  road
leading  to the entrance to this shrine,  punctuated with several
large  torii  along the way.   This road  starts  practically  at
Kamakura Station and dominates the downtown area.

After  we  visited Hachimon Shrine we started toward  some  other
shrines, but it began to rain so we came back to our ryokan.

A  ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn.   (The name derives from
“ryoko”  which  means travel.)  Our room is eight mats  in  size.
This is the traditional Japanese way of measuring a room.   A mat
refers  to  a tatami mat.   Tatami are made from rice  straw  and
other  materials  and  are always of a uniform  size  and  shape:
about 1 x 2 meters.   This uniformity allows the mats to be  made
in  a  shop  and  then  brought to where they  are  going  to  be
installed, predating the western concept of interchangeable parts
by hundreds of years.

Right  now there is a low black table in the center of the  room.
At the moment my daughter has stacked cushions and other  objects
around it to make a play house.  It is a house of odd proportions
since  she has to crawl on her belly to get in and out,  and must
lie prostrate while inside.

Later the maid will bring the afternoon tea, which will be served
at this table, as was breakfast this morning.

After tea,  we will change from our western clothes to a Japanese
style yukata and go down the hall to take a bath.   Then we  will
return to our room to have dinner, at that same long low table.

The  table dominates the room.   In fact it is the only piece  of
furniture in the room except for the cushions and chairs-without-
legs in which we sit at the table.

But at night the table is easily and swiftly moved out of the way
and  futons–foam  pads  and colorful quilts–are placed  on  the
floor.

The  room  in  a ryokan is elegant in  its  simplicity–like  all
things Japanese.   It is so different from a western hotel  room,
and so typically Japanese.   That is why we have arranged to stay
in ryokans almost exclusively through our travels.

Monday,  September 30:   Today is our last day in Kamakura.   The
weather has not been very good while we’ve been here.   It rained
so hard yesterday that I was afraid my camera would be damaged.

For  me  the  highlight of our visit to Kamakura was  our  visit,
yesterday,  to Engaku-ji temple, a large Zen temple in the north
eastern  part  of Kamakura.   When I say “large” I  am  referring
mostly to the size of the grounds.  We wandered  for hours around
through gardens, bamboo groves, and past many different styles of
buildings.

The Japanese have a word,  “shizuka,” which can be translated  as
“quiet”  or “peaceful”.   It has a deeper connotation however  of
being a place that instills tranquility in the visitor.  Such are
the temples of Kamakura, and especially Engaku-ji.  While we were
there, there was a light mist of rain falling, which added to the
peacefulness of the place.

We  spent the rest of the morning visiting additional temples  in
Kita Kamakura area.   Many of the temples in this area are of the
Zen sect of Buddhism.   (This can be determined by the more asym-
metric  layout of the building.)  It may well be said that it  is
from this area of Kita Kamakura that Zen was exported to America.
It was here that D.  Suzuki lived. He wrote extensively about Zen
in English.   He in turn is quoted by Alan Watts, who popularized
Zen for a wider American audience.

Today  we planned to visit Enoshima,  a small island connected to
Honshu by a short bridge.   Then we planned to visit Yokohama  on
our way back to Tokyo.

On  the way to Enoshima,  we stopped at Hase temple near our ryo-
kan.   My  daughter  particularly  liked  this  temple:   it  had
thousands (really!) of tiny figures;  some of them had toys, many
of  them pinwheels.   They were placed there by people hoping  to
have children or thankful for the ones they have.  There was also
a large impressive statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.  There
was a small cave under the temple that had various statues carved
in stone and illuminated by candlelight.

At last we made our way to Enoshima by train, followed by a short
walk.

Enoshima is,  essentially, a small mountain peak, sticking out of
the  sea.   We  were spared the climb to the top by a  series  of
escalators.   At the top we got an excellent view of Sagami  Bay;
in the distance,  Isu Penninsula,  and,  faintly, O-shima.  There
were several “kiddie” rides at the top,  which Elizabeth enjoyed,
and an observation tower.

Then  we  walked  down a narrow street,  with stairs  in  several
places,  to a small shrine commemorating Yoritomo, the first sho-
gun, who made his residence in Kamakura.

Continuing  down  the narrow street,  which became steeper as  we
went,  we came down to the fairly flat rocky area just above  the
ocean.  And here we could see the caves of Benten, which unfortu-
nately  are no longer open to the public.   I’ll have to rely  on
the  flowery description of Lafcadio Hearn,  who visited here  in
the  late 1800s shortly after Japan was opened to the  West.   (I
have  read several of Hearn’s writings;   I became interested  in
him  from  watching a somewhat romanticised dramatization of  his
life on Japanese television.)

Enoshima  was  more  interesting than I had  expected,  with  its
combination of historical and religious sites and scenic  beauty.
It  was  also farther from our ryokan than I had thought.   As  a
consequence  it was mid afternoon by the time we got back to  our
ryokan. So we decided to skip Yokohama, and instead went straight
back to Tokyo.

As we were walking to dinner in the Roppongi district of Tokyo, I
gazed  at the glitter of the neon lights and I reflected  on  the
contrast  between  the big-city life of Tokyo and the  small-town
rusticness of Kamakura.

Tuesday,  October  1:   Today we began a five-day tour which will
wander through rural Japan and end up in Kyoto.   This morning we
drove through farmland:   grapes, apples, peaches, and of course,
rice.

Rice  is  grown almost everywhere that one finds  agriculture  in
Japan.  Not only is it the staple of the Japanese diet, but it is
subsidized  by  the government,  and therefore guaranteed  to  be
profitable.   But,  even  if the subsidies ended,  I believe rice
growing would still dominate Japanese farming.   Rice growing, as
much  as rice eating,  is inherent in the Japanese way  of  life.
(My  dictionary shows four different words for rice–and I’m sure
there are others.   Moreover,  one of them, “gohan” is often used
to mean “meal”.   These are indications of the importance of rice
to the Japanese.)

In spring and early summer,  it is easy to spot the rice  fields,
since  they  are flooded with water with the young  green  shoots
sticking out.   But this time of year,  the plants are mature and
fill the fields with golden plants maybe a foot or two tall,  and
the water of the paddies is not visible.

In  the evening we stayed in Matsumoto.   We were fortunate to be
there during a festival at the local shrine.  In many ways it was
similar  to festivals we had seen in Tokyo.   There were a  large
number  of  stalls set up on the narrow streets  approaching  the
shrine.   At these stalls, men were selling toys, food, and other
trinkets.   It  was  crowded with people milling  around,  mostly
waiting for the evening’s big event, a fireworks display over the
adjoining river.

Friday,  October 4:  I am sitting on a rock in a small park while
my  daughter is  playing.   Most of our group is off  looking  at
surrounding museums and a large beautiful Japanese garden.  There
is a group of Japanese kids playing here.   Most of them are  too
shy to approach me, except one, who occasionally comes up to show
me the bugs he has caught.

It has been two days since I’ve had time to write  anything.   On
Wednesday  we  stayed in a particularly nice ryokan in the  small
town  of Takayama,  which means “high mountain”,  an  appropriate
name, since it is surrounded by mountains.

Last night we stayed in Kanagawa,  a larger and more modern city.
But  even here there is a much more evident Japanese look to  the
city–a greater number of traditional-style buildings.

These  past  two  days have been spent  traveling  through  rural
Japan;   through  mountains  and  farms.   I feel  I’m  seeing  a
traditional part of Japan I’ve never seen before.  I’m tempted to
say  “the  real Japan”,  but not only is that a  cliche,  but  it
somehow denies the reality of Tokyo.  It is however true that the
part of Japan we have been traveling through has retained more of
the traditional ways of the old Japan.   That is because it is  a
rural  farming  area,  and such areas seem to change more  slowly
than  do the big cities.   There is also more of the  traditional
Japanese architecture here.

We  have  seen  a  section of Takayama that  has  been  carefully
maintained  to look the same as it did during the Edo  period,  a
hundred  or more years ago.   We have also visited an even  older
village  where  all the buildings have thatched  roofs.   All  of
these, of course, have been deliberately preserved for historical
purposes.   But many of the ordinary buildings have a more tradi-
tional look,  with unpainted wood,  darkened with age,  and  tile
roofs.   The reason so many of these buildings exist here and not
in Tokyo,  we are told,  is that these smaller farming towns were
not bombed during World War II.  But an additional reason is that
many older buildings in Tokyo are being torn down to make way for
high-rise  chrome-and-glass buildings.   We’ve seen this  in  the
neighborhood we lived in, where a charming little neighborhood of
narrow winding roads and family-run fish shops,  vegetable stores
and  laundries  was  torn down to make way for  the  “ARK  Hills”
development: towering hotels and office buildings.  When Lafcadio
Hearn  wrote about Japan at the end of the 19th Century,  he  de-
cried the westernization and modernization of Japan.   Well, it’s
still  going on today.   But traditional Japan continues to exist
in  rural areas such as those we are visiting,  and also  in  the
hearts of the people in both the country and the city.

Saturday, October 5:  Today was the last day of the group tour we
have been participating in.  Today we only made one stop. But for
me,  it  was  the  highlight  of  the  tour:   the  Eiheijii  Zen
monastery.   The  buildings of this monastery had a kind of grace
and  power that only Buddhist temples can have.   But this  place
was  so large with so many buildings all interconnected!   It  is
situated  in  a beautiful forested mountain area which must  more
than  compensate for the strict,  plain regimen that the  shaved-
headed,  black-robed  young monks must follow.   It  was  raining
while we were there.   There are many places that a rainy day can
spoil.   There  are  a  few places that the rain seems  to  be  a
natural part of.  Eiheijii is one of the latter.  The rain seemed
to  add to the tranquility of the place,  and seemed to make  the
buildings  blend more with the natural setting in which they  are
located.

I am writing this from our ryokan,  the Fujita,  in Kyoto.   From
where  I sit I can look out my window and see the Kamo River flow
by.   This  ryokan  is located on my favorite  street  in  Kyoto,
Kyomachi,  a  lovely  little lane,  lined with willow trees  with
small inns and shops on one side and a small canal on the other.

Now  I  must stop writing since the maid has just come  into  our
room with dinner.

Sunday,  October  6:   We spent the morning today walking  around
that portion of Kyoto near our ryokan.   We began by crossing the
Kamo River.  Then we entered the Gion section which was once  the
geisha quarter.   This area, more than any other section of Kyoto
retains the quaint flavor of old Japan.  The buildings are almost
all of unpainted wood construction with sliding doors and a small
inner entry area.

Every time I come to Kyoto I fall in love with it  again.   There
is a feeling of peacefulness here that is hard to describe.  Both
in the narrow back streets and in shrines and temples.  And there
are shrines and temples everywhere.  We must have seen a dozen on
our walk this morning.  We visited several, each with a different
character.

We  were looking for a particular restaurant for lunch.   All  we
knew  about  it  was the name and that it is  near  a  particular
temple.   We also had a photograph.   The advertisement said they
served  yakitori  (chicken and other meat and  vegetables  cooked
over  a  smoking  wood  fire on  small  skewers).   We  had  some
difficulty finding the temple, but then it was quite easy to find
the  restaurant.   The young women who greeted us  looked  rather
uncomfortable  to  be confronting gaijin (foreigners) and  seemed
visibly relieved when I spoke to them in Japanese.  It turned out
they  didn’t have the time to prepare yakitori for us today.   We
had a vegetarian lunch,  the main course of which was tofu  (fer-
mented  soybean  curd), boiled  in a small iron pot at our  table
with a few vegetables for seasoning.

Normally  I  don’t  care  for  vegetarian  fare,   and  I   don’t
particularly  like the bland taste of tofu.   But this was  quite
good,   due  primarily  to  the  tasty  shoyu  (soy-sauce)  based
seasoning.

In  the early afternoon my daughter and I went to the  Kyoto  Zoo
while  my  wife  went  shopping in the  local  department  store.
Neither were particularly Japanese,  but my daughter enjoyed  the
zoo, as all children do.

I’ve  been  writing  this from the small  veranda  in  our  room,
overlooking the river.   It is typical for ryokan rooms to have a
small veranda next to the window.  This usually has a small table
and  one  or  two western-style chairs (which  is  why  I’m  here
instead of in the adjoining tatami room where I would have to sit
on the floor.)  Actually when I started,  the veranda and  tatami
room were effectively one continuous space.   But now my wife has
closed the shoji screens to transform the space into two separate
rooms, a typical feature of Japanese architecture.

Now I’m going to take a bath before dinner–the appropriate  time
for  bathing  by Japanese standards.   (The first time I came  to
Kyoto,  the maid lectured me for not bathing until after dinner.)
Many ryokans have a public bath,  but this one is too small, so I
will  bathe in our room.   But it will still be in  the  Japanese
style–soaping down and rinsing outside the tub, and then getting
in  the hot water to soak and relax.   How can I continue writing
with such delights awaiting me!?

Monday,  October  7:   Today was our last day in Kyoto.   In  the
morning  we visited two gardens:   one was at the  Ginkakuji,  or
silver  pavilion–a  Buddhist  temple.   The other was  at  Heien
Shrine.  In Kyoto, Shinto shrines are far outnumbered by Buddhist
temples.   But Heien Shrine in particular is especially large and
well-known.   I had visited the shrine on my first trip to Kyoto,
but  the  garden there is both larger and more beautiful  than  I
realized.   It contains several very large ponds filled with lily
pads and koi (carp).

I’m very conscious of sounds on this trip,  since I’m using a new
video  camera which records sound as well as pictures.   I  found
the sounds in the gardens of Heien Shrine to be very incongruous.
Visually the gardens are very peaceful and tranquil,  whereas the
sound  is  dominated by the noise of city  traffic,  particularly
trucks,  buses,  and motorcycles. For the Heien Shrine is located
in  central downtown Kyoto and surrounded by busy major  streets.
(The same is not true for the first garden we visited at Ginkaku-
ji,  since the latter is on the edge of town,  in the  foothills.
This  fact  also  gives it a more natural feel since it  is  sur-
rounded by natural woods.)

In  the afternoon we took our second (and last) organized tour on
our  itinerary.   This was a half-day trip,  the purpose of which
was to travel down the rapids of the Hozu River.

To  get  to  the starting point we traveled by train  from  Kyoto
Station to the town of Kameoka.   The train was diesel  powered–
the  first  non-electric train I’ve ridden in Japan.   The  train
ride  itself was interesting–travelling through the same  scenic
mountain area we would later travel by boat.

I’m  sure anyone who has done white-water rafting  on  California
rivers  would consider today’s ride rather tame,  but it had some
exciting  moments–and  the scenery was  beautiful:   first  farm
land,  then bamboo–the densest, tallest growth I have seen; then
through  a steep valley lined with trees,  so deep that I’m  sure
it only gets direct sunlight for two or three hours a day.

As we reached the end, my daughter began to complain that she was
hungry (a not uncommon complaint).  I pointed out that we were in
the middle of the woods and there were no stores  about.   Before
long, to everyone’s surprise, another boat appeared, pulled along
side and attached itself to our boat,  and began to sell hot sake
(rice wine), roast ika (squid), tako (octapus) and other Japanese
snacks, as well as a few western snacks, such as potato chips.  I
was  too impressed with the ingeniousness of their enterprise  to
be  offended by the commercialism of a natural area.   I was also
amused  by the subtle “kick-back” given to the operators  of  our
boat.   Our  boat  was  propelled by one man rowing  and  another
polling.   The boat carrying snacks used an outboard motor.  Once
the  two boats were secured together,  our boatmen could  take  a
break (and join in the sake drinking).

Tuesday,  October 8:   We are now in Takamatsu (“tall pine”), the
principal city on the island of Shikoku.  Shikoku is the smallest
of  the  four main islands that make up Japan (the  others  being
Hokkaido,  Honshu,  and Kyushu).   We have been living on Honshu,
and  so  far on this trip we have been traveling on that  island.
On previous trips we visited the northern island of Hokkaido  and
the  southern island of Kyushu.   But this is our first visit  to
Shikoku.  So far it is somewhat of a disappointment.  But that is
probably inevitable after Kyoto.   I suppose it would be a little
like  visiting  Baltimore after spending time in Washington  D.C.

The  trip from Kyoto to Takamatsu was interesting.  We first went
from Kyoto to Okayama by shinkansen (bullet train).   From  there
we  went by local train to Uno,  and from there by ferry  through
the  Inland  Sea–the waters that separate Shikoku  from  Honshu.
Actually  we were supposed to take a hovercraft,  but we took the
regular ferry instead.  When we reached Takamatsu the JNR (Japan
ese  National  Railway),  which runs  both  boats,  refunded  the
difference in fare.

Thursday,  October  10:   It is now early morning.   We got  back
rather late yesterday,  so I didn’t have any time to work on this
journal.   We went by train to Kotohira.   The first thing we saw
there was the Kanamaruza,  the oldest still-existent kabuki thea-
ter in Japan,  built in 1836.  We had some difficulty finding it.
We  weren’t  sure we had found it even when we arrived  since  we
couldn’t  see any kanji (Japanese writing) that matched what  was
on our map.   And besides it looked deserted, with a chain across
the  entrance  to the yard.   But then a man came out and when  I
asked,  he said it was the right place.  It turned out he was the
proprietor/tour-guide/ticket-taker.   He  charged us 300 yen  for
the three of us and took us on a tour of the theater.

His enthusiastic descriptions were given in Japanese,  so I  only
understood  part of what he said.   But I am quite interested  in
kabuki and am therefore familiar with the layout of modern kabuki
theaters such as Kabukiza or the National Theater in Tokyo.

The  most  obvious difference here is the  lack  of  electricity.
Modern  kabuki theaters use stage lighting which is basically the
same  as in western theaters.   This theater now also uses  elec-
tricity,  but  in  such a way as to mimic the candles  and  lamps
originally employed.

The other important use of electricity in modern kabuki  theaters
has no analog in conventional western theater: there is a lift on
the  stage  used to raise and lower actors,  and even  pieces  of
scenery.   There  is  a smaller lift for similar purpose  on  the
hanamichi  (the  stage extension on stage right that runs  to  he
back of the house).   Moreover there is a large revolving portion
of  the stage.   All of these are present in the Kanamaruza,  but
they are all muscle-powered.   Our guide let us rotate the circu
lar part of the stage.

We  went back-stage and through the dressing rooms.   It was very
exciting  to me to see such a detailed view of a kabuki  theater,
and especially such an old one.

There was one feature which may be missing from modern  theaters:
a  Japanese bath,  heated by lighting a wood fire directly  under
the tub.

After we left Kanamaruza,  we went to Kotohiragu, a Shinto shrine
built  on  the hill above the town of Kotohira.   We  climbed  an
amazing  number of steps–over 800,  according to  the  brochure.
And  we were rewarded with a wonderful view.   We didn’t know how
high we had climbed until we reached the top.   The first part of
the  climb,  before  one  reaches  the  gate  marking  the  outer
precincts of the shrine–365 steps up–the climb is surrounded by
shops  selling  religious objects,  toys,  and  other  souvenirs.
(Such  shops are commonly found leading to shrines and  temples.)
After  the gate the steps leading up (and up) to the main  shrine
and  other buildings is surrounded by trees.   The panorama  from
the top was impressive,  but much more impressive was the  shrine
itself–the  size  and artistic quality of the buildings  of  the
shrine, and the beautiful way they fit in with the natural beauty
around it.

In the afternoon we went by a different train to Zentsuji,  where
we visited the temple of the same name.   It was nice but nothing
special.

Friday,  October 11:   I am writing this from the waiting room of
the  Takamatsu airport.   Once again I have gotten behind  in  my
writing.   Yesterday  we  went by boat to Shodoshima–one of  the
small  islands near Shikoku.   There we were at the mercy of  the
local  bus company for transportation.   It was described in  our
brochure as “very good” but we found the service to be infrequent
(usually  two hours between buses) and often long waits at trans-
fer points.   Nevertheless we saw a beautiful gorge through which
we  traveled by ropeway (overhead cable car).   And we visited  a
monkey  park–an  area with over 700 wild monkeys.   They may  be
wild but they aren’t timid,  and we were soon surrounded by  hun
dreds of them.

Saturday,  October 12:   We have now arrived in Okinawa, after an
absence  of fifteen years.   (We had lived in Okinawa for a  year
while  I  was in the army.)  We got here via  two  airplanes:   a
twin-engine  turbo-prop from Takamatsu to Osaka,  and then a  big
747  from there to Naha,  Okinawa.   When we arrived I  was  very
excited  to  be  seeing  our old home again  after  such  a  long
absence.

Of  course  lots of things have changed,  but so far nothing  too
unexpected.

When  we lived here,  Okinawa was under American  administration,
which  meant,  among other things,  that cars drove on the right.
Now,  under Japanese rule,  they drive on the left.   (This is my
first experience at driving on the left:   I never drove in Tokyo
or  other parts of Japan before,  but here he have rented a  car.
There are several fairly remote places I want to visit.)

The  other  change  here is the  growth:   new  buildings,  etc.,
spurred not only by the passage of time,  but also by the world’s
fair (Expo ’75) that was held here ten years ago.

We  are staying in a hotel that was probably built for  the  Expo
’75.  Our room is a mix between western style with twin beds, and
tatami with futons.   The hotel has its own private beach, and in
general is quite nice.

..Read down to here for overly long sentences

Sunday,  October 13:   Yesterday we went to visit the site of the
Expo  ’75.   In the intervening years it has gone to seed–flower
seeds that is.  The whole area is filled with an amazing  variety
of  brightly colored flowers.   Only Okinawa’s warm damp  climate
could  sustain such a fantastic array of flowers.   I’m sure  the
site  is  much more beautiful now than at the time of  the  Expo.

After  we left the Expo site we drove up to the north end of  the
island,  and  then around and down the east coast.   I had  tried
unsuccessfully  to make this trip when I was living here but  the
road at that time was too bad and too poorly marked.   After get-
ting  my car stuck in the mud and ruts several times I  gave  up.
Now the road is all paved, and an easy drive.

Sunday,  October 14:   Today we went back to visit the area where
we used to live.   It looked the same,  yet different.   The army
base  where  I used to work is now a marine camp.   We  even  ate
lunch  at the A&W root beer drive-in where we used to eat.   Then
we  visited  a restored village demonstrating what life was  like
“in the old days”.
.pa
Tuesday, October 16: Yesterday we returned from Okinawa to Tokyo.
Today we left Japan.   It’s hard to believe that after two years,
we  have finally left it behind.   We are now on our way to Truk,
with intermediate stops in Saipan and Guam.  Our travels in Japan
were for sight-seeing. Our travels in Truk and Pohnipei (our next
stop) are mostly for lie-on-the-beach vacation, or in my case for
scuba diving.

Evening:   We  have now arrived in Truk.   The airport,  and  the
island  in  general  are more primitive  than  I  imagined.   For
example  they just backed a pickup truck to a long low table  and
unloaded baggage–no revolving conveyers.   The terminal building
is  so small I had trouble spotting it when we got off the plane.
Mind you,  I’m not complaining:   I find it fascinating to  visit
places  like this.

Anyway,  the  hotel is fairly nice:   we have an  air-conditioned
room  and  the restaurant seems decent.   [After staying  at  the
Village in Pohnipei,  the hotel and restaurant in Truk won’t seem
so great.]

It would appear that almost everyone here is here to  dive.   But
there  is  no  obvious way to set up diving trips.   So  I  asked
at the front desk and he called someone on the phone,  and  after
talking  with  him for a few minutes in the  local  language,  he
passed  the phone to me.   I set up for his “boy”  (probably  the
owner’s  son)  to meet me at the hotel tomorrow at “8 or  8:30”–
time doesn’t seem terribly important here.

It  is  so  dark  here that I cannot tell  any  details  of  what
surrounds  our  hotel.   All I an make out are  some  palm  trees
around  us.   (We saw coconut palms and banana trees on the  road
from the airport.)

Wednesday,  October 16:   Today I went diving.   I ended up going
with  a group of Americans from Guam.   I found out when I got to
the  dock that they don’t supply lunch,  as I had thought,  so  I
ended up with no lunch.

In the morning we dived down to the wreck of the Shinkoku Maru, a
Japanese tanker sunk by an American air raid in 1944.

Truk  used to be the largest Japanese naval base in the  Pacific,
protected  from  both the weather and sea attack by  the  40-mile
diameter  coral  atoll that surrounds it.   But the  atoll is  no
defense against air attack,  and the Americans,  in a wave of air
raids,  turned the Japanese naval base into an undersea junkyard,
with  some  60 ships on the bottom.   For the marine  life  here,
these ships have been a real boon.   Coral,  and many other kinds
of  marine life cannot grow in sand such as what is found on  the
floor  of lagoons like Truk.   Now, the sunk ships and  airplanes
form a substrate upon which coral and other marine life can grow.
Thus,  diving here among these wrecks presents two equally fasci-
nating  subjects  for  divers to  observe  and  photograph:   the
remains of the sunken ships and the amazingly abundant life  that
is now growing on them.

In  the afternoon we dove on the Heien Maru.   This ship is lying
on its side.   The side of the hull which now faces up is free of
coral but there are a few strange growths here and  there.   How-
ever  it is clear enough that I could easily see the name of  the
ship on the bow, written in both Roman characters and kanji.

When  I  swam  down the now nearly-vertical top  deck,  I  saw  a
profusion  of life:   hard and soft  corals,  tube  sponges,  and
myriads  of fish feeding on the coral.   At one point I spotted a
shark  about five feet long swimming around thirty feet away.   A
more  pervasive,  although minor,  danger are jellyfish.   I  saw
hundreds  of  them while snorkeling between dives.   They  are  a
lovely  shade of pink,  and so graceful as they undulate  through
the water,  but they sting when their tendrils touch  you.   (Our
guide  got  stung  on one of the dives:   he wasn’t  wearing  any
covering on his arms, and brushed up against one while we were on
the surface preparing to descend;   he cursed, rubbed his arm and
went  back to work–so the sting isn’t too bad.

Another danger I’m told is here, although I haven’t seen any, are
poisonous lion fish.

We came back early from our second dive in order to be ready  for
a night dive.   But the wind came up and the sea became rough, so
the boat operator doesn’t want to go out.  There are some shallow
places  which  could  be treacherous to boats on  rough  seas  at
night.

Friday,  October 18:   Yesterday we made two more wreck dives, to
the  Rippo  Maru  in  the morning and the Fujikawa  Maru  in  the
afternoon.   There  were just three of  us:   myself,  one  other
American,  and  the  native guide.   I liked this much more  than
going  with  the group–I could follow the guide  around  and  he
showed  us lots of interesting things on the sunken  ships:   old
sake  bottles,  a  Japanese-style bathroom,  and even some  human
bones.

This  morning  I  made one more dive with the guy  I  dived  with
yesterday.   (I found out he lives only a few miles from where  I
live  in  California,  so  we exchanged  addresses.   He  has  an
underwater camera, and took several pictures of me, which he said
he would give me–I can hardly wait to see them!)

After the one dive we went back to the hotel to let the other guy
off,  and pick up two new people.  It was too soon for me to make
a second dive, so I stayed on the boat while the other two made a
dive.   We  then went to the island of Deblon (one of the islands
in  the  Truk lagoon).   Deblon seemed more  primitive  than  the
island we’re staying on (which is called Moen).  We saw only dirt
roads,  and no electricity.   Children run around naked under the
coconut trees,  and every family seems to own a few  chickens,  a
pig,  and  a dog.   (We asked our diving guide if he owned a pig,
and he said “of course” as if to add, “doesn’t everyone?”)

After lunch we went to the Hencho Maru.

Saturday,  October 19:  We are now sitting in what passes for the
Truk airport.  It consists of one check-in counter, which is in a
small  shed.   The “waiting room” is outside with a few  concrete
benches  and a wooden roof.   The roof keeps the sun off and  the
lack  of walls lets the sea breeze through.   It looks strange to
our  “civilized”  eyes–but it makes sense in this  hot  tropical
climate.

In  about an hour the plane will be here to take us to  Pohnipei.

Someone is playing the local radio station–a Christian  station.
The  schools on the island are also run by various  churches.   I
saw  Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses.   Thus,  the
missionaries  are still here in Micronesia.   (So far as I  know,
none of them has been eaten lately.)

Evening:   We are now in the Village Hotel in Pohnipei.  Truk was
your typical pacific island, with coconut palms and banana trees.
Pohnipei,  is your typical jungle,  with dense undergrowth, vines
on most trees,  plants with huge leaves,  etc.   I understand  it
rains  400  inches  a  year on  some  parts  of  Pohnipei,  which
certainly qualifies it as a rain forest.

The airport is similar to that in Truk:  small, primitive, mostly
outdoors.   We  were met by someone from the hotel and began  the
drive on a good asphalt road.  The buildings along the way looked
less primitive than those in Truk.  The gas station, for example,
actually has pumps.  (The gas station in Truk, in contrast, was a
tin-roofed shack,  indistinguishable from the other shacks around
it, except for a hand-lettered sign:  “Gas Sta. — No Smoking”.)

After a while we left the paved road and continued up a poor dirt
road.  Then  we reached a narrow one-lane dirt road marked with a
sign, “Village Hotel”.  After a short climb we arrived.  It looks
for all the world like its namesake:  what we saw was a series of
grass huts.   We are now staying in one of those huts.   Outside,
the  walls are made of wood and the windows have no  glass,  only
screens.   Inside, there is a comfortable rattan couch and chair,
a modern bathroom with hot and cold running water, and two double
beds–waterbeds no less!

The  main building is reached by walking down a path through  the
jungle.   That building is longer than ours of course,  and  also
more open.   There one finds the check-in desk, a bar and restau-
rant.   These  are covered by a wooden roof,  but are open to the
breezes.   One  can eat dinner while being cooled by the tropical
winds  and while enjoying a breathtaking view looking  down  onto
the  sea some distance below;   beyond that,  other islands,  and
beyond that, the sun setting through the towering cumulous clouds
one  finds around Pacific islands.   The food was superb.   I had
sashimi  made  from  locally caught  fish,  and  sweet  and  sour
chicken.  Delicious!

Now  we’re back in our room.   It has started raining very  hard;
the  sound  is  so loud on our grass roof that I can’t  hear  the
conversation a few feet away between my wife and daughter.

Tomorrow,  I am told, there will be no diving–it’s Sunday.  So I
plan to explore the many paths leading in various directions.

Monday,  October 21:  Yesterday we explored around the hotel, and
otherwise did nothing.  It was great.

Today I went diving–in the rain.   We went out to the reef.  The
coral  was  spectacular  and there were lots  of  colorful  fish.
Between dives,  we went to one of the small outlying islands.  We
found a World War II Japanese seaplane base.  The hanger had been
hit by two U.S.  bombs, and all that remains today is the twisted
wreckage  of  the frame.   It is almost completely hidden by  the
growth of vegetation.

After  lunch  we made another reef dive,  this time on a  channel
opening in the reef.  The boat went to the outside of the opening
and  let us off.   We then floated on the current caused  by  the
incoming  tide.   It  was  like  riding on one  of  those  moving
sidewalks they have at airports,  only three  dimensional.   When
the  current  stopped  we  looked up,  and there  was  our  boat,
anchored and waiting for us at the inner end of the channel.

If we weren’t wet already,  the pouring rain would have  drenched
us coming in.

The  rain really doesn’t spoil the diving–out on the reef  there
is  no mud to run off and lower visibility.   The cloudiness cuts
down on the colors (although that’s hard to believe,  considering
how  colorful the marine life was today)!  But it also  keeps  us
from being “cooked”  by the sun while in the boat.

If the weather is poor again tomorrow, I plan to go diving again.
However, if it’s sunny, I plan to go on a tour of the island.

Tuesday,  October  22:   We did indeed take the boat tour  today.
First we went to a small islet in the lagoon.   I went snorkeling
and  my daughter swam around with me.   Then we anchored our boat
on  the main island and hiked inland to a  spectacular  waterfall
where we swam and ate lunch.  Then back to the boat which took us
to  the  ruins of Nan Madol,  an ancient city of unknown  origin,
constructed  of immense stones and containing a number of canals.
Between poking around the ruins and hiking through the jungle  to
the waterfall we felt like real explorers.

Thursday,  October  24:   We are now on our way from Pohnipei  to
Honolulu.   Since  we will only spend on a day there (to break up
the flight), our trip is now all but over.

Yesterday  at breakfast we were told that the Pohnipein  Cultural
Center  would  be putting on one of their  irregularly  scheduled
shows.   So I ended up going to that instead of diving.  The show
consisted of native singing and dancing (yes!  naked native danc-
ing  girls!)  and sampling the local  recreational  drug,  called
sakao:    it looks like mucus and tastes like mud;  it makes your
lips  tingle.   They  also  demonstrated how they can  make  fire
without  matches.   Originally they wanted to charge me  $100  to
video tape the show, since the only video equipment they had seen
before  was professional equipment from Japanese television  sta-
tions.   The  guy from the hotel argued first in English and then
in Japanese and talked them out of it.   I never figured out  why
“It’s  home  video” didn’t convince them,  but “Home video  desu”
did.   Anyway, they finally said “daijobu”.  (Japanese fluency is
very  common here,  since this island was under Japanese  control
for  several years from World War I through the end of World  War
II.)

Since  I  missed going diving in the daytime.   I arranged to  go
night diving.   It was spectacular.   And it was amazing how  the
guide  could  navigate  through shallow water of  the  lagoon  at
night, using only a diving light for illumination.

Today  I  couldn’t go diving because I’m flying  tonight.  So  my
daughter  and I went out snorkeling.   In the morning we joined a
couple from Hong Kong who were taking the same tour we had  taken
two days ago.   The hotel loaned my daughter a child’s swim  mask
and  she and I swam around the boat looking down at all the  fish
and coral.   She was thrilled.   In the afternoon they dropped us
on  a  small island and took the other couple off to the rest  of
the tour.   Meanwhile we waded out into a small sandy  bay.   The
water  was  even warmer than usual–downright hot.   At first  we
didn’t see much life underwater,  except an incredible number  of
sea slugs.  When we got out to deeper water (about 10 feet) I saw
several  large  manta  rays.   There was one who appeared  to  be
asleep on the bottom that was about 8 feet long.

So  now  we’re  enroute to Honolulu–the end of one of  the  most
exciting trips I have ever made.

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