Form Wednesday evening until Sunday morning I was on a trip to Hokkaido (the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands) with the main goal of visiting the Snow Festival (雪祭り/”yuki matsuri”) in Sapporo. Obviously Sapporo is a few hundred kilometers north of Sendai, so the first question is how to get there. We decided to go by ferry, which is probably the cheapest way. “We” refers to a group of eight exchange students including myself. I’m not sure if the others would be happy if I tell all the world who they are, suffice to say we were an international group with a slight European majority. 😉
Taiheiyo Ferry connects Sendai to Tomakomai on Hokkaido (they also go to Nagoya, but that doesn’t matter now). Of course I have been on ships before, but never on high sea or even overnight, so I was a bit exited when we arrived at Sendai port. We had reserved tickets in advance, so getting them was just exchanging a form with our names for the actual tickets with cabin and bed number printed on them. After that we had to wait a little until boarding time, which wasn’t very long. Through the boarding bridge (similar to those at an airport) getting on board was very simple. We could see trucks driving on board from the windows, and the name of our ship: いしかり (Ishikari).
The first thing to do on board was to go to our cabin and drop of the baggage. We had booked second class, which is the cheapest and means a futon and blanket in a shared room. I got the futon next to the window in an eight “bed” cabin, the three next to me by others from our group. We didn’t all book at the same time, so the other four were in another cabin. Probably noteworthy is the fact that “shared cabin” also means “mixed cabin”, so we had something that looked a bit like a wardrobe but was actually a changing room.
After checking the cabin, I wanted to get on deck and take a look around. Looking around and down over the harbor made the size of the ship all the more obvious (192.5 meters long, 27 meters wide). It was already dark, but I could watch the ferry being loaded and the tugboat getting ready. Three people at the quay were waving and shouting to their friend who was standing at the railing.
I stayed outside until after the ship started to move, which was a majestic feeling. Quite different from a starting airplane, but fundamentally the same: Powerful engines coming to life and moving a giant vehicle. The trip itself was relaxing, we were sitting around, talking, playing cards, eating ice cream and wandering around. A very special experience was going outside during the night: we were on the high seas, the wind was strong and it was cloudy, so everything outside the range of the ship’s lights was pitch black. One of the girls said “It’s like looking into a black hole.” Later we saw another ship’s lights in the distance.
In the morning I found a surprise on my cell phone: a partially received mail! The ferry website mentions that there will be no cell phone signal most of the time and if any it’ll probably be weak. The mail was from about half past eight on the previous evening, but it didn’t reach me until some time in the night, and even then only the first few sentences. I felt really “away”. 😉 During my morning walk I managed to get a signal while standing on the highest deck and download the rest – it was the last time I got cell phone coverage before we approached our destination. The weather in the morning was sunny with just a few clouds, great for photos!
After we arrived at Tomakomai we had to wait a while for the bus to Sapporo, and I used the opportunity to walk around the harbor and take pictures of the いしかり being unloaded. The bus trip itself was just a regular bus trip (duh!), but we could already see a lot of snowy landscape. More about what happened after our arrival later…