day seven: ship’s position 42° North 140° East

We are about to let go of our mooring lines, thrust off the berth, and leave Muroran breakwater on a southeasterly course, leaving the Pacific Ocean and entering the East China Sea towards our next port of call, Vladivostok.
Before I get to the very interesting experience of co-mingling with the people of Japan, let me first jump off the high dive with a description of how freaking difficult it was to get off the ship this morning. It seems that the Japanese are practicing a quiet form of retaliation as a response to monetary policies and ongoing military personnel issues in Okinawa. It’s no secret that US military personnel like to have a wee drink now and then and hit on Japanese girls — particularly the teenaged ones near the base. This does not go over well with the Japanese citizenry who are bug-eyed and ballistic over this ongoing behavior. It is of such considerable tension between the occupying United States and still-occupied Japanese, that it somehow doesn’t warrant any reportage in our mainstream media.

Often what countries do are polite forms of pushback under the guise of security protocols, and the like. We remember watching country after country begin to discipline parts of their non–dominant populations after United States, under George Bush, declared a Global War on Terror and reached out to cudgel brown people of distasteful faiths the world over. It was as if the entire planet suddenly got permission to assault segments of its own populations which it was forced to endure or tolerate. Had Russia, for instance, simply hammered Chechnya before 9/11, it would have been considered state terror. But post-9/11, countries could simply act out and declare it national security, while simply following the lead of the world’s superpower–Dick Cheney. That superpower of the time had declared its God-given mission to expunge evildoers wherever they may hide. Since evildoer was never fully defined, we all knew “who and what” an evildoer was — voluptly demonstrated through nonstop video images of Muslim/Arabic dress and features. This translated most comfortably for Russians, even Chinese, who were keen on disciplining growing dissent populations.

The Japanese here, maintain beautiful manners, courteous bows, and the dignified interactions. But, what one must go through to step onto their soil with an American passport is second only to the Mexican wishing to tour the Arizona Grand Canyon. The entire ship of nearly 3000 passengers were forced to undergo an inspection by Japanese customs officials who boarded the ship and set up motion and heat detection gadgetry through which each of us was ordered to walk. Further, a fingerprint laser scanner was deployed, but not just on one index finger as is usual go to when routine, but both index fingers in a simultaneous laser scan. Not only did I imagine my fingerprints ending up in some massive databank (no doubt, to be shared by occupation agreement with US authorities) but the optical retina scan was an added bonus on the double-fingertip scanning machine.

The ship’s crew were more than happy to thrust scores of old geezers into the machinery, conspicuously clueless of the point of these machines. And I mean the crew of the ship being clueless; the oldsters already defeated by age and sapped of the vigors of recalcitrant energy. Could I have turned back? Could I have backed away from Japanese authorities who had boarded our ship, docked at their island? These are the conundrums of modern travel and the genius of railroading people through hallways into rooms. The Germans did it with great efficacy during World War II, finding that corralling humans like livestock, confuses and disempowers individuals.

We were all given provisional immigration passes with red stamps on special forms (see photo). Upon return, every single provisional form had to be returned to the Japanese government or the ship could not sail. Likewise, midnight the night before, the ships piddly and impotent dial-up Internet had to be turned off. The Japanese require total and complete control over all communications. My Blackberry, engaged with an international roaming plan does not work in any way on Japanese soil. It is a complete communications blackout if you are not Japanese or do not have foreign work permission papers in order to possess a local mobile phone. A ships insider suggested, off the record, that Web was turned off — not so much at the demand of Japanese authorities –but in an austerity measure by the cruise ship owners to avoid paying Internet access fees to Japan. Like all these austerity measures, they seem only to benefit a tiny few at the top while the rest of the people our perpetually screwed, blocked, and ripped off — while still forced to underwrite the larger infrastructure.

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