Days 9-11: Ferry to Vladivostok

We’ve completed the ferry trip from Sakaiminota, Japan to Vladivostok, and I think we all now have a better appreciation for some of what the original 1908 racers must have felt during their ocean voyages with their cars from Tsuruga to Vladivostok. The ferry ride was very interesting, but we’re ready to get moving again!

On Saturday, since we couldn’t board the ferry until late afternoon, we spent the morning visiting the Mizuki District in Sakaiminota, which features dozens of anime monster statues and other related artwork. Here’s an example of one of the statues we saw:

Anime monster in Japan

Anime monster in Japan (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

I caught my thumb in the door of the taxi on the drive over, which necessitated the application of this nifty Hello Kitty bandage that acted as a sort of ice pack to keep the swelling down:

Hello Kitty bandage for thumb

Hello Kitty bandage for thumb (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After our last excellent Japanese lunch at a family-owned restaurant near our hotel, we headed to the ferry terminal for the DBS Cruise Ferry that would take us and the cars to Vladivostok via Donghae, Korea. Here’s a picture of the ferry:

Our ferry from Japan to Vladivostok

Our ferry from Japan to Vladivostok (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

And here’s what the cars looked like after they were loaded on the ferry:


Cars loaded on the ferry

Cars loaded on the ferry (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The room we shared on the boat is pictured below; the room holds eight, but only the four of us were in there, giving us a bit of extra room. It was also nice that no one had to crawl into an upper bunk!


Our bunks on the ferry

John with our bunks on the ferry (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The food on the ferry was excellent! We ate both buffet meals in a dining room (mostly Korean food at the bargain prices of $10 for dinner and $7 for lunch). We also had some ala carte meals and beer in a bar on a lower deck:


Bar/café on ferry

Bar/café on ferry (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Most of the people heading from Japan to Korea were very fit Koreans who had been visiting Japan on either a biking trip (complete with bicycles) or on a combined hiking and shopping trip. Hiking and shopping — my two favorite sports combined into one trip; it sounded like heaven to me!

We got off to a bit of a late start on Saturday evening because the ramp for loading the cars wasn’t working right, but we arrived on schedule in Korea Sunday morning, about 9 a.m. We got off the ferry and stretched our legs for a couple of hours before reboarding. The rather sedate, mostly middle-aged fitness freaks from the previous day had been replaced by a younger, more boisterous Russian crowd carrying armloads of bags and boxes from a Korean shopping spree!

Luke made some Russian friends on the ferry; one of them is Ilya Kupryashkin, a university professor in Vladivosktok. He’s on the left in the photo below:

New Russian friends from the ferry

New Russian friends from the ferry (Luke Rizzuto photo)

After another evening on the ferry (with more delicious cuisine and beer), we arrived in Vladivostok about 3pm on Monday. Here’s the ferry terminal at Vladivostok — it’s even more impressive inside:


Ferry terminal in Vladivostok

Ferry terminal in Vladivostok (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

It took us about another hour to get off the ferry, but after that we breezed through immigration, customs, and changing dollars to rubles. Our guide, Svetlana Sen, and the local Mir point of contact, Veronika Bogach, met us after we cleared immigration and customs and, after some additional paperwork for the cars, Svetlana took us to our hotel, which turned out to be only a few hundred meters from the ferry.

And what a beautiful hotel this is! It’s the Hotel Hyundai, considered by many to be the nicest hotel in Vladivostok, and I would agree. Here’s the view of Golden Horn Bay from my room on the 9th floor:

View from the 9th floor of Hotel Hyundai in Vladivostok

View from the 9th floor of Hotel Hyundai in Vladivostok (Eileen Bjorkman photo)


Tonight we had an outstanding meal at Palau Fish, a restaurant recommended by Svetlana that was a very close walk from the hotel.

Tomorrow we’re planning a walking tour of the waterfront and then around 3pm we’ll go with Svetlana to get the cars through customs, although Svetlana will be the one doing all the work!

Day 8: Tsuruga to Sakaiminato

Today we had a great drive through the mountains from Tsuruga to Sakaiminato, a port city that is the gateway to Vladivostok for us.

We encountered many tunnels and construction sites on the way up. The longest tunnel was 4.1 km (about 2.5 miles)! I love the barriers at construction sites (they use cats too):


Elephants in a construction area

Elephants in a construction area (Eileen BJorkman photo)

First we took a back road to the town of Obama, where we sped past the Obama Rope Company:


Obama Rope Company in Obama, Japan

Obama Rope Company in Obama, Japan (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We took a lunch break at the Kasai Service Area and added gas to the Roadster. The Shell station wouldn’t accept John’s Visa or my Master Card — we hope this isn’t an omen of things to come!


Luke adding fuel at Kasai Service Area

Luke adding fuel at Kasai Service Area (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Finally, we stopped at a rest area where we had views of Mount Daisen, which sits inside a national park and is a rival to Mount Fuji, as you can see from this photo.

Rest stop with views of Mount Daisen

Rest stop with views of Mount Daisen (Eileen Bjorkman photo)


Tomorrow we’ll be buying provisions for our 1.5 day ferry ride to Vladivostok. I’m not sure if we’ll have WiFi on the ferry, so I may be offline until Monday evening (late Sunday back in the US).

Day 7: A Watch in Tsuruga

Today we visited a museum in Tsuruga devoted to a part of history we hadn’t heard before.


Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum

Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The man on the left in the picture above, Chiune Sugihara, was responsible for saving the lives of about 6,000 Jewish people during World War II. When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, many Polish Jews fled to Lithuania, where they were safe until Stalin began arresting them and sending them to Siberia.

On July 18, 1940, hoping for safe passage to Japan, many Jewish people gathered at the Japanese Consulate in Lithuania; however, very few of them met the current requirements to obtain a Japanese visa. Mr. Sugihara decided to ignore the rules and began issuing as many visas as he could and he stamped 2,000 passports before the consulate closed. Because a visa allowed all family members to travel, he was able to save about 6,000 Jews altogether.

Many of the Jewish families crossed Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad and then took a boat from Vladivostok to Tsuruga, where Japanese families welcomed them until they could continue their journey, primarily to the United States and Australia. To raise money, most of the refugees sold their watches and jewelry to the Watanabe Watch Store in Tsuruga. The Watanabe family kept the watch below as a keepsake; the watch is now in the Port of Humanity Museum in Tsuruga.


The watch in the Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum

The watch in the Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

In addition to the Tsuruga Museum, there is a memorial to Chiune Sugihara in Boston, Massachusetts. He died in 1986 at the age of 86.

After lunch, John had to troubleshoot the brake lights in the 1928 Roadster — Leo and I had noticed during yesterday’s drive that they weren’t working. It turned out to be just a fuse this time — an easy fix once John located a spare. Now all we have to do is finish our laundry and we’ll be ready to tackle the ferry to Valdivostok!

Looking for a spare fuse

Looking for a spare fuse (Eileen Bjorkman photo)


Luke and John with the Newly Repaired Roadster at the Route Inn in Tsuruga

Luke and John with the newly repaired roadster at the Route Inn in Tsuruga (Eileen Bjorkman photo)