About JohnBellBooks

John Bell was born in Kavieng, New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. Now retired, he and wife Carol call Airlie Beach, North Queensland, Australia home. John’s early years were spent New Guinea, and from there he has lived in Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia, Europe and S.E. Asia and, with Carol, has travelled widely both nationally and internationally. His life has been as varied and as challenging as some of his characters: having grown Macadamias, run cattle, been a restaurateur, wildlife park owner, property developer, storage operator, senior public servant, practising solicitor, Justice of the Peace and tax agent, as well as growing tropical fruit commercially. In his earlier years he worked as a paper boy, a surveyor's chainman, brushed scrub, worked in a timber mill, was a prelim. boy in the old Brisbane Stadium, cut cane both burnt and plants, picked tobacco and picked fruit along the Murray River! During the heady early ‘70s he became a part-owner/manager of ships, both charter and tramp, working from Europe and around the S.W. Pacific into Kieta, Bougainville on a regular basis, and Amamapare in West Irian. A keen sailor, water skier, pilot and spear fisherman, he completed National Service in the Royal Australian Navy. Naturally, he has a great affinity with, and an inherent love of the ocean and its reefs, boating of any kind, his wife, family and good friends. John was first published in an Australian magazine as a short story writer when in his twenties. However, it’s only now in his retirement that he can truly enjoy and pursue his dream.

Sayonara to the Land of the Sakura

From Niigata we catch the bullet to Tokyo, passing snow clad mountains and many tiny farms.

Big improvement weather wise from our inward journey. The elegant old Tokyo Station is visible from our hotel, so we can’t get lost here. Can we?

We lashed out to hire a guide for 6 hours. A lovely young mother of two, Yuka speaks perfect English, knows her city, and we have a whirlwind of alleys, fish market, subways and an old park.

 

 

 

In the middle of a major metropolis, the park struggles to compete with some of the more regional ones we’ve seen, but still manages to produce cherry blossoms and carefully manicured eye-scapes.

In an open area, hundreds of plastic markers are being laid out to control queues expected for the afternoon brief baby panda viewing. Poor panda, patient patrons.

Nothing to her, Yuko walks deceptively quickly, and I wonder how she can take such long steps. We go through the very old and soon to be relocated fish markets, the biggest in Japan, where motorized trolleys driven by formula-1 drivers hurtle around the congested walkways.

Authentic sushi for lunch – every item delicious.

Then through a maze of narrow streets and old buildings. Everything clean and neat. So many people.

Left to our own devices the next day we succeed in getting lost, but delightfully so, in the centre of this busy city. Navigation technique…let’s  go this way, that way, every way, look at it all, then when weary grab a cab home.

Tomorrow it’s back to Oz, and we’ll  see how Cyclone Iris treated us.

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Sakura of Kanazawa!

Wow. Wow. And more wow! These cherry blossoms keep coming.

They say this is a bumper year for flowers, and as we’ve travelled north we seem to be following the peak of the short lived blooming.

Truly Sakura! The cherry trees here are densely flowering and stunning.

 

 

 

Smell-free Omi Cho  fish markets with huge quantities of quality seafood.

How can the oceans provide so much, so continuously?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lacquer ware, Kutani style pottery, silk kimonos and gold leaf workmanship. Even gold on ice-cream and in drinks.

 

 

Kenruoken 11.4 hectares of beautiful and unmistakeable Japanese design, the tea house was operating anout the time Captain Cook discovered (blundered into) Australia.

 

 

 

 

A bit of a side trip to the geisha district with its old wooden buildings, then a flag waving goodbye to beautiful Kanazawa.

 

 

 

 

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A Crane in Kyoto?

The 8th century capital of Japan continues our cherry blossom overload. The short lived petals are beginning to fall, in delicate pink-tinged white showers.

We check out the Golden Pavilion, Kinkajuji Temple, a Zen temple and world heritage site. It’s Easter, holiday time and we learn the meaning of mass tourism. Sardines in a school of seemingly millions. The temple, covered in gold leaf is crowned by a golden rooster, dates from the 14th century.

 

We wrongly identify a large heron reflected in the mirror-like lake. It wasn’t  a crane after all. Eventually the sheer numbers of people get to him, and he flaps ponderously away.

 

Along with the seething hordes, we walk and gawk at the huge bamboo forest, before visiting the 1603 built Nijo Castle.

This ancient and sprawling cypress building oozes power, the strength of the Tokugawa clan.

 

Incongruously, we come across a concours d’elegance…half a dozen beautiful Alfa Romeos in a courtyard, with movie cameras filming models promoting the beautiful vehicles.

Sorry sir I didn’t see the red rope that we climbed over to see the cars!

 

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The Dramatically Rugged Beauty of the Oki Islands

A bit cooler today, with a cold 20 knots coming in off the Sea of Japan, we anchor off this dramatically featured island. Nearly 200 rugged islands make up this archipelago, which was designated a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2014.

 

People have lived here over 30,000 years and during the Stone Age its obsidian rock was traded all around Japan.

We transfer to a local boat to sail around the steeply dramatic west coast of Nishinoshima Island. We get through a canal and out to the west coast, but Neptune flexes his muscle and we are forced to turn back to calmer water.

On the pier a couple are selling postcards and stamps, and a wooden over water building houses an origami shop dominated by an ancient stringed instrument, hauntingly played by a kimono clad lady.

 

Outside, Carol samples a local oyster. Huge! It took three bites. She followed with a dried smoked and spiced sardine of some sort.

However, she survives, and the Zodiac returns us to our floating home.

 

 

 

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Hagi … Cherry Blossom Capital, Japan

Back out of the Inland Sea and into the Sea of Japan that has the decided it’s  been too kind for us.

I have spent all my life on, and in, the water … in boats from 12 feet to an aircraft carrier, and I’m  seasick for the first time ever. Damn, it was such a nice breakfast, too.

Quickly recovering, we arrive at Hagi. Now I’m  no travel agent, however put this place on your bucket list for when the cherry blossoms are blooming.

Apparently this is the best flowering for many years and we are here right at the peak of it.

Words cannot do these flowers justice, so I’ll  let the trees themselves do the talking in pictures, other than to say – visit Shuzuki Park, Hagi Castle, with between five and six hundred trees in full bloom.

We visit, too, the Samurai quarter, where Japan’s ancient revolution began.

But my mind can’t  go past the ‘chelly brossoms‘.

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HIROSHIMA

An evocative name in 20th century history.

The first atomic bomb obliterated this city. August 1945 changed the world, and wiped out thousands upon thousands of people in a few seconds. The blast, the enormous heat and destructive shock waves was a turning point in man’s history on this planet.

The Peace Park provides a sombre reminder, the museum details the orgy of destruction, while everything is hoping for a future without nuclear weapons.

An admirable  wish, shared by millions the world over, but seeming more unlikely by the day as more nations acquire the technology, and men with no thought for history – when will they ever learn – poise their fingers over nuclear buttons.

Buttons that can summon weapons hundreds of times more powerful that the two that finally halted the carnage of the Pacific war.

This blue white sign, in origami cranes, means “peace”

 

 

Sombre. That’s  the feeling Hiroshima left with me.

Yet the cherry blossoms still burst forth every spring for their 7 to 10 day life, while young families putter along their river in curious circular outboard powered boats. The word “boat” doesn’t seem to fit these strange craft.

By the way, pronunciation is optional. The Japanese alternatively use it with the accent on the “o” or on the “i”.

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Magnificent Miyajima (Itsukushima)

Still in the Inland Sea, we anchor off the tiny island of Miyajima, population about 15,000.29893621_754637861401186_86831860_o

A bit like Airlie Beach, the approaches are shallow so we Zodiac into a sandy beach at high tide, and walk along the foreshore.

Around a little headland we are presented with an absolutely beautiful little town, cherry blossoms blazing.

Its main feature is an open winding wooden structure built over the water (at high tide) used for functions, weddings, and just wandering around.

A traditional wedding is under way as we walk around.

At low tide fresh water bubbles up through the exposed sand, forming small ponds.

The gate leads to the Itsukushima shrine, so we climb up to this old structure and its incredibly detailed gardens.

The buildings are reminiscent of Bhuddist shrines in Tibet, and prayer wheels form central handrails to the stone steps.

Known as The Shrine Island, Miyajima boasts one of the three most beautiful views of Japan, the floating Tori Gate, dating back to the 6th century.

Built of camphor wood from huge trees, it presents a maintenance problem because every old camphor tree in Japan that’s  big enough for the job is separately heritage listed.

 

And the cherry blossoms…