Hikawa Maru and Marine day celebrations at Yokohama Harbor
On this Marine day we walked up the bridge to Hikawa Maru, a storied ship anchored at Yokoyama harbor. Ships lately have rather gone into the territory of stories that start with once upon a time. It is hard to believe how these ships were the main mode of connect between continents till not so long ago. People traveled with entire entourage for the long voyages. It was like a city with all walks of people having their own wares and services and stories to tell. It is very difficult to realize for kids without really being inside one. This is the reason we planned to visit Hikawa Maru, the luxury liner of yesteryears. We chose Marine day holiday to go.
Marine day holiday is to remember the importance of ocean in Japans life and culture. In the port city of Yokohama Marine day is celebrated with annual Hanabi festival named Sparkling twilight. So it presented a good occasion to visit Yokohama and its harborside the Yamashita park. Hikawa Maru is anchored at one end.
We got down at JR Yokohama station. From there boarded a steamer heading to Yamashita park. Could have taken a bus or train. But that would be just so quick, so modern dayish. It had to feel like a day from those days. So the steamer. We still did not know that the steamer ride on Marine day would offer us some really unique sights and experiences. Lets talk about that in a few minutes.
The steamer had an open deck and a separate glass covered AC sitting area. For a true feel chose the open deck. But it was hot,sultry, and we were city-bred tourists. So soon slunk back into the AC section.
Marine Day Demonstrations by Port Authority
With a hoot and a bell the steamer started. Soon the glass buildings were left behind. The harbor bridge came into view, then moved afar. Yokohama Cosmo park played hide and seek with its Ferris wheel coming ever so close. Before the onslaught of air transport this was the heaving breathing center of activities in the east Japan. Even now the series of cranes, the dockyards full of containers, and distant shadows of ships anchored pointed to the importance of marine transport. The port authority handles a tremendous amount of cargo, exports from and imports into Japan and adds to Japan economy. So the operational readiness of this harbor is vital, entirely managed by the port authority. That day for marine day port authorities held special demonstrations of such readiness for us common people.
As we approached the pier, we could see a demonstration going on. A fire fighting ship was shooting water, as if extinguishing fire. Through its eight hose pipes it belched out huge siphons of water and mist. The sprays were going up down swaying left to right, as if a powerful beast dancing creating a haze in its wake. We previously saw glimpses on TV how fire extinguishers work on burning container ships or oil rigs. But seeing it right in front was a different experience. That too from inside the steamer we got the closest view possible. And a few splashes too!
Then coast guard helicopters took to their wings, circling above. Next a flotilla of coast guard ships followed in. One after the other the ships sailed in close to the harbor, displaying a show of naval guard of honor.
Yamashita park was full of people coming for the marine day events. The park was decked up with a performance stage, eatery stalls, and flower arrangements. It was a special day for Yokohama, a city that boasted of a proud maritime history. Music, craft show, merry couple in kimono/yukata filled in the seaside.
But for us the attraction amongst all these was Hikawa Maru. The 12000 Tonne ocean liner that used to ferry the then richest of the rich across the Pacific. Before the 2nd world war, as industrial nations were increasingly competing for influence, large ocean liners were a statement of power and engineering prowess. In this environment Hikawa Maru was born, primed to uphold the prestige of Japan, the land of the rising sun.
It was docked in its own pier. A set of stairs and a bridge led to the 1st floor grand reception. A part of it is used now for ticket / souvenir dispensing. Past the ticket gate one enters the main hall. A movie introduces audience to various sections of the ship. And tells about the time in history the ship was built. One needs this to appreciate why this enormous iron beast was built in the first place, and the role it played in the corridors of world power. Kids got their own booklet to put stamps on as they moved between the decks. This was their own logbook. Everything was there to kindle the feeling of the time and place one walked into.
We headed out of the reception hall into a long passage. It took us through the dining hall, the social room, the reading room, the smoking room, the lounge area. Each richly decorated with polished wooden floors, having leather sofa sets as furniture and glass chandeliers hanging above. The interiors were done by a then famous French designer.
Walking past an open section in the corridor we entered the upper class cabin area. The cabins with beds, Almira, wash basin, draperies, writing table showed the grandiose lifestyle of these passengers. These were the richest of the rich of that time. Two stairs up one reached the captain’s chamber. The authority and prestige of the captain was supreme, conveyed through the series of room, guest rooms and in-room paraphernalia such as globes compass maps speedometer etc etc. Standing here the kids could start to relate to the stories of Titanic, captain Kid and others such.
One floor further up one reached the navigation room. Radar, telegraph machine, wind anemometer, the gyroscopes and the steering wheel made this room a super exploration room – a hub of whys what’s when and how’s. One had to try out the steering wheel, try hollering instructions through the speaking tube down to the engine room. After quite a while the little captain and big captain stepped out, satisfied. Yes there could not be just one captain with two siblings out there isnt it?
Next it was journey down into the hollow cavity of the ship where the giant engines once roared. A demo showed how combustion engines worked when a switch is pressed on. Not one but there were a series of engines in banks. Comparing such engines in a car with those on the ship, one could realize the enormity of the whole machine called ocean liner. Walking through the huge engine room it felt mysterious and too humongous. As if a Godzilla was there around us. We kind of rushed out. Out in the deck took a deep breath. The water below seemed so deep. Out here that giant engine was just a speck inside it.
Sea gulls sat in a queue on the iron chains. A swarm of Jellyfish were floating about. For us city folks we thought jelly fishes only appeared deep undersea, otherwise in aquariums. Seeing right next to us those outer worldly creatures was a new experience.
The ship parade was still in full swing. The sun moved over to the horizon. Yachts joined in the parade with colorful lights lining their sails. Orange glow covered the western sky. It colored Hikawa Maru in its orange-yellow tinge. Evening was setting in.
We walked along the seaside walkway. Ambled through manicured overhead garden, passed fountains with benches, finally loosened ourselves on the grass. The evening was slow, relaxing, with more and more people coming in filling up the park. Right on time the toot from Hokawa Maru signaled the beginning of Hanabi. A flurry of colors shot up lighting the dark sky in red blue yellow green and orange. It was a splendid day with a Sparkling night. And at one corner of it all Hikawa Maru stood en guard ready for one more glorious day.