Monday, January 23, 2012

"Getting to Japan - 1959 and 2012"

I've been looking at the opening pages of "All the Best in Japan" by Sydney Clark (published by Sidgwick and Jackson Limited in 1959), and it's interesting to contemplate how much things have changed over the past half-century.

"The first question for all intending passengers to the Far East is how to get there. Now that we have entered the age of jet air travel, this does not present much difficulty. ....."

This was the period when jet travel began taking off, yet travel by ship was still very common. I often think how nice it must have been to travel by ocean liner if you had a private cabin and access to the better restaurants on board. Time to contemplate the great distance traveled and the transition from one culture to another. Airplanes are nice in their own way, but are too much like riding in an elevator - you get in, hold still for a bit, then the doors open and suddenly you're in a very different place. There's no proper sense of the distance traveled on the way.

"Having chosen the route it is then necessary to choose the airline. All the main airlines of the world connect London to Tokyo. B.O.A.C. schedules four flights weekly at present by Comet IV Karachi, Delhi, Calcutta, Rangoon, Bangkok, Singapore, and Hong Kong, to name every city covered by the various routes. The Hong Kong to Tokyo section increases to daily flights in conjunction with other airlines - and there are plans to introduce several new services to Japan and the Far East."

This was before direct flights to everywhere, so the planes made stops along the way - similar to ships visiting ports in a way (thus the name "air-port", come to think of it). It's also interesting to read of an airline scheduling four flights a week from London to Tokyo.

"Tokyo is now some 28 hours from London compared to 38 to 40 by previous schedules. Singapore and Hong Kong can be reached in 22 hours."

28 hours - down from 38 to 40 previously! Now it's down to something like 12 hours (depending on flight direction, winds, etc.).

"..... Winter is to be avoided in Japan, especially if you plan, as certainly you should, to make some stays in Japanese inns. Central heating is a rarity in therm and they'll be *cold*."

This is something I thought when I came here in the early eighties, but the idea of cold rooms doesn't bother me now. What suddenly seems strange to me, is how just as I have become used to cold rooms in the winter (basically you just leave your coat on inside), people have begun getting used to being warm all the time, and the locals seem to want everywhere to be warm (or what often feels rather hot)!

".... Japan, like Chile, is shaped something like a string bean or a pea pod, though is is not so tenuous as this sounds, being 170 miles wide at tis widest point. Its length from north-east to south-west is 1,300 miles...."

I've often heard multi-generation residents of Japan say how Japan isn't a very big country, but people don't seem to realize the uniqueness in how much distance there is from north to south, considering the total land area.

"..... This Company [United Netherlands Line] also advertises a reduction of 15 per cent in the sum of single fares for passengers making the round trip to Japan by the same ship, and during the ship's stay in Japanese ports, usually Kobe, Nagoya and Yokohama, the ship is their hotel at no extra cost."

That could be a fun way to travel! Basically cruise ship style - which would mean you wouldn't have to worry about luggage at all, since you'd have the same room throughout the trip.

"The company [NYK - Nippon Yusen Kaisha] also has a trans-Pacific liner that runs from Vancouver via Honolulu to Yokohama and Kobe. This is the luxury ship M.S. Hikawa Maru, 11,600 tons, carrying 80 first-class passengers and 69 third-class A or "Tourist Class". The accommodation in the first class is of considerable luxury, and the service is courteous and excellent. ....."

The Hikawa Maru! This ship still exists - permanently docked by a park in Yokohama. I've gone on-board several times and always find myself wishing I could pop back in a time machine and experience crossing the Pacific on this ship. (Naturally such daydreams include a first-class cabin, access to the first-class lounges, etc.) I have a few pictures of the external appearance of this ship here:

Incidentally, I bought the 1959 travel book in 2004 and wrote a little about it [here].

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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