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