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An Immediate Difference

I never seem to catch on to my own actions until they’re in the distant past. Even now, I’m still in denial – more like ignorance – of my situation. I have given up my residency in Japan… I am on a ferry to China… soon I will be making my way to Thailand…

The fact that I’ve been living on a diet of no breakfast foods, Subway sandwiches, soft cream, and ramen dinners certainly doesn’t help my health, nor did lugging suitcases through untold back alleys of Osaka.

I thought I was prepared to accept that Japan is not the world, to be a wanderer again, with no thoughts other than what dreams may come tomorrow, but, with even my first exposure to something non-Japanese, I hesitated… paused, wondered if such a thing was possible.

The Shanghai Ferry (Su Zhou Hai) operates between Osaka’s International Ferry Terminal and the city of Shanghai, China (上海). Taking just over two days to complete a tranasiatic voyage, this boat is probably the most leisurely, cheapest, and most adventurous way to travel from Japan. Similar ferries operate to/from Korea, but I don’t believe they quite measure up to the Shanghai Ferry:

– Table tennis available until 10 PM
– Two choices of restaurants offering Chinese, Japanese, and western dishes
A Japanese bath
– A lounge area perfect for kicking back and playing cards… as long as you don’t happen to have several loud Chinese women cardplayers on board
– Your choice of a group sleeping area, shared bedrooms, or private cabins
– A small karaoke bar
– Did I mention the ofuro

Quite a nice array of amenities. From Osaka, you’ll travel inland between Honshu and Shikoku, passing the straight of Shimonoseki in the early hours of the 2nd day at sea.

IF you choose to return by the same means, you’ll get a good view of Ioujima, Tanegashima, and Yakushima before heading north.

It’s worth pointing out that although you will be travelling to China, only Japanese yen is accepted on board. This was a source of confusion for me, as I assumed the ferry company was operated by Japanese staff – not so…

It was nearing that time of the day when my stomach would begin its ritual growling and, if it had hands, would continue to slap sense into me and point in the direction of the nearest slophouse. Being not a slave to hunger, I chose to carefully gather myself and walk as dignified as possible into the onboard restaurant.

No response.

I ordered the sweet and sour pork with a glass of sweet tea and a bowl of rice.

No reaction.

My food was delivered with a surprising “clunk” as the tray felt the wood veneer adjust to its presence.


No “irrashaimase” (welcome!)
No “arigatou gozaimasu” (thank you!)
Not even a word.

No greetings. No response to every action I took. No smile. No girly laugh at my Japanese. No bows. “No respect, I tell ya.”

I have to admit, I was pretty taken aback; I had read all these stories on people living in Japan and returning home to RCS (reverse culture shock), but I didn’t think it would find me in international waters. I may not have received an energetic greeting and bow when I briefly visited home, but at least there was some kind of reaction to my presence.

Two years in Japan. Two years of training myself to utter “sumimasen” or “gomen” instinctively. Twenty four months of clean air, pachinko parlors, box architecture, clean streets, and trains that don’t know the meaning of “late”. 730 days of rice, sashimi, sushi, yakitori, kani, tako, yakiniku, etamame, ocha, and ramen. 17520 hours of building language skills used in only one country on this planet we call Earth. 1051200 minutes of Prussian uniforms, cram schools, club, working “overtime”, salarymen, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Suntory, and Toyoko Inns. 63072000 seconds of living life, learning about a new culture, and discovering we aren’t so different after all.

I guess I’ll just have to live in every last place on Earth, then shoot for the moon. Knowledge is power, my friends.