Friday, January 13, 2006

Cruising the 99 Islands of the East

On a pirate ship! Her name be tha Pearl Queen and a mighty fine ship be she………moving right along. 2 weeks ago my good friend Jeff and his wife graciously extended me the offer of accompanying them up to Sasebo city to some sight seeing and shopping, I gladly accepted. Sasebo city is located in the top quarter of Nagasaki prefecture. It is relatively easy to find Sasebo city as it is the largest city in its surrounding area; it is about a 1 to 1 1/2 hour drive from Fukuoka. Sasebo is very much America central- it is home to a U.S Navy base of around 5000 people (don’t quote me on precise numbers). Sasebo is also home to Japan’s longest shopping arcade, a 2km stretch of cafes, clothes, jewellery, books, toys and other interesting novelties. Now that you’re familiar with Sasebo’s most famous icons, let’s get started.

Jeff and his wife picked me up from my house at 9am on a chilly Friday morning to embark on our 1 hour journey to Sasebo. First stop in Sasebo was the 99 Islands tour- hehe yes I did cruise on a pirate ship. Sasebo has a group of Islands called the 99 Islands. These Islands range in size from a large rock jutting out of the water to large Islands big enough for a few houses. 99 Islands is also home to one of Sasebo’s most lucrative exports, pearl cultivation- hence the name of my ship, the Pearl Queen. The tour took about an hour as the ship took many twists and turns through narrow spaces between the Islands, many of the larger Islands are heavily covered in trees and undergrowth- almost untouched by humans, almost. If it were not for bad weather conditions back in 1945 you all probably would have heard of Sasebo, the atomic that devastated the city of Nagasaki was originally intended for Sasebo city. Sasebo was one of Japan’s largest submarine and warship manufacturing depots in WW2 (Sasebo has one of the safest natural harbours in Japan) and had many military watch posts scattered along its coastline, some of these hidden in the 99 Islands. If any of you ever take the tour see if you can spot any of these tiny, military installation ruins hidden among the trees and undergrowth, it makes for a bit of fun.

The tour came to an end and we headed for the arcade to do some shopping, I went straight to the anime store (as an ambassador for Japanese pop culture anime comes with the territory) and managed to find a few interesting items- the owner even threw in some presents for free! After an hour of hectic shopping (most of you probably don’t realize how Japan’s longest shopping arcade is!) it was time for food….lots of food. We decided we wanted Chinese and quickly made our way towards one of Sasebo’s famous Chinese restaurants called Tenshin….. (I forgot the rest of the name, sorry) simply known to the locals of Sasebo as “BIG Chinese”. This restaurant had some incredible food and the biggest Chinese dumplings you have ever seen! People line up to buy these freshly made dumplings in take home packs like the residents of Sydney, Australia line up to buy Crispy Crème donuts (that is a long line!). We took our time finishing our hearty feast of fried rice, dumplings, spring rolls and other tasty Chinese treats and when we next looked at our watches it was time to leave for home. We crammed into the car feeling full, worn out and ready for a nap- as I have said many a time before, it was a good day.