We had just a short amount of time to spend onshore in our port stop in Shimizu, Japan. Holland America Westerdam had a brief port stop there mainly for the views of Mount Fuji, which can be seen from the ship on clear days. Weather during our port stop was warm and partly cloudy. Not cloudy enough to obscure the mountain though, so we were graced with views of Mount Fuji.
The ship had a few excursions available and the port provided a free shuttle to the nearest train station. The dock is right in town so there are also things to see within walking distance of the ship. We’d had a couple port stops in Japan and not seen any traditional Japanese architecture yet so finding some sort of shrine or temple was our goal for this port.
One of the ship’s shore specialists said there were a couple small local shrines near the shuttle stop and suggested downloading an app called maps.me which works when you have no access to cell coverage or wifi. Of course wifi on the ship is not conducive to downloading, but we already had google maps and used that instead. The port advisor’s mapps.me app was in English, but we ran into a passenger who downloaded it in Japan and everything came up in Japanese on their phone.
The port had quite a few little canvas booths with things for sale as well as an information booth and for those who needed cell coverage and have plans not providing affordable coverage in foreign countries they even had sim card rentals. Not far from the port we saw an old British style red phone booth. We rarely ever see phone booths in America any more, at least not where we live, but we saw several of the red ones in Japan.
The person we talked to in the information booth did not have a map to the shrines near the shuttle stop that the ship’s shore advisor mentioned, but they did have one to several local shrines within walking distance of the ship, which was even better since walking straight from the ship means no worries about shuttle schedules.
The map was not all that clear and the first shrine we found was neither on the paper map nor listed on google maps. We turned on the road the paper map indicated for the red shrine and just happened to see something that looked old and wooden at the end of a very narrow alley.
We walked toward it and found some sort of unpainted church or temple with several structures built in old Japanese style and a graveyard with some pretty impressive statuary. This graveyard was large and associated with the temple, but we saw other random graveyards around the town that were much smaller – just a little plot between homes or other buildings. Their gravestones tend to be large and fancy.
Using google maps we then found the red shrine indicated on the paper map. It had a row of arches leading to it, lots of statues and pagodas, and an open view into the main building. This was probably the best of the shrines we found. It had a name in English on one of its signs which said Minowa Inari Shrine.
A couple other people from the ship came by while we were there, the first of quite a few passengers or crew we ran into around town. They had just come from a temple which was where we went next. This one was larger and yellow and did not have its name in English posted anywhere. It did have some sort of little shop with a poster in the window showing all of the ships coming to that port and when they were scheduled to be there, maybe 6 or 8 total for the year so it’s not an often visited port.
We could take pictures on the outside of this one, and there was an open door with a pathway leading into some other structures, but when passing through this door a little Japanese lady who spoke no English seemed to be saying we were not to go there, though she may have meant it wasn’t open yet or not to take pictures since she somewhat alternated between gestures that seemed to indicate go away and those that seemed more welcoming. Not knowing what she actually wanted we just went back out the door and ventured no farther into the temple grounds. On the opposite side of the driveway from the buildings next to some bushes in front of a graveyard it had a row of what we thought were Buddha statues wearing pink bibs. Those were not the only statues in bibs we saw in Japan. The most common color for them is red, which is apparently a color closely associated with several Shinto and Buddhist deities in Japan.
The most commonly found statues in bibs are actually called Ojizo-sama and are the guardians of children who died before their parents. Parents sometimes put bibs on them in hopes of gaining protection for their children in the other world. The next most often statue decorated with bibs or other red adornments is the Kitsune or fox where it is the color red rather than the bib itself that is of importance. According to old folklore red is the color of expelling demons and illness and a Kitsune usually means the shrine is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice, agriculture, general prosperity, and in older times was also the patron saint of swordsmiths and merchants. The Kitsune is the messenger for Inari and must not bring illness so the harvest is bountiful.
A lot of the ports in Japan have giant ferris wheels. We’d gone on the one in Yokohama the previous day and decided to try out the one in this port as well. You get great views of the area from the top of those giant ferris wheels. You don’t need a map to find them either. They tower above most of what’s around them so you just walk toward where you see them from the ship. The one in Shimizu was even closer to the port than the one in Yokohama.
This one was right next to the water. The one in Yokohama was bigger and surrounded by roller coasters. It also cost a bit more. The one in Shimizu was surrounded by tiny rides for tiny kids. These giant wheels move continuously at a very slow speed so people get in and out on the move. You go around once, which on this one takes 13 minutes. Definitely not a thrill ride, it’s all about the view. We could see Mount Fuji and the ship, but in opposite directions so we could take photos are of one or the other, but not both together. We also saw some swans at the edge of the shore, but they were gone when we got off the ride. From the top a trail was visible heading off parallel to shore, but not on the shoreline.
The ferris wheel was next to a plaza full of little shops and restaurants and both seemed to have something to do with a local soccer team as the mascot was both on the wheel and in the name of the plaza. We found a shop in there that sold all sorts of international things from Australian TimTam cookies to Canadian maple leaf cookies, and all sorts of wines and other things from around the world. Most of the shops (at least on the lower level where we went) seemed to be all about food whether ready to eat or packaged.
The restroom there had both western style and squat toilet options. All the restrooms we saw at the Japanese ports we went to either had western style toilets or both. Most had some sort of instructions on how to use the western toilets, which in Japan often had heated seats.
After looking around the shops a bit we decided to try out the trail we had seen from the ferris wheel. It had separate paths for bikes or walking and a sign saying it went 8k to Miho-No-Matsubara, which is a pine grove and a world heritage site where people go for the views of Mount Fuji. We were just in this port for a few hours and while we might have had time enough left to walk the 8k there, if we did so we would not have time enough to get back to the ship before it left port so we just walked a short distance down the trail and then turned back. In some areas it had separate trails for bikes and pedestrians.
Walking around Shimizu is quite interesting even when not in the vicinity of shrines or other sites because it really gives a good view into how average people there live. The roads are quite narrow, as are the available parking spots at most homes, which explains the preference for small cars and tiny trucks or vans that are no bigger than small cars. Even the construction machinery is miniature. As with anywhere some houses are nicer than others, though none of these had much yard space and whether apartments or single family homes they were all right next to their neighbors. The lots are very small so houses tend to have 2 or 3 stories. Some have a bit of greenery around them and a couple had fake dogs. Apparently Japanese people like fake things as we saw a lot of fake food in the little shopping malls. In Yokohama there was a small shop with nothing but fake food, which even included light switch plates that looked like toast with butter or jelly.
Like most of the other ports we visited in Japan, this one had random vending machines sitting outside along the streets. Most of them sell drinks, but some have ice cream or other things.
A bridge passed over a canal where one side was lined with houses and the other a cement wall painted with murals. Birds sat on a row of posts in the water next to the wall.
Some of the homes are quite cute. Some look brand new, others have seen better days, and a few even had touches of the old traditional Japanese architecture. We ran into a local at one of the ports who said that in Japan people were accustomed to not needing to lock doors, and that if you left something sitting out on a busy sidewalk all day it would still be there when you came back because people never bother other people’s homes or take their things. Sadly he also said that was starting to change now due to immigration.
On the way back we walked down a street that had a wall made to look as if a soccer balls were in different stages of passing through it. The sidewalk in that area had all sorts of different footprints in the paving.