Peter and Stephen had planned to try some of the cruise’s optional excursions, but once they arrived opted to explore and wander independently, as did I. To prepare, I fired up 9 Monsters, Japan’s most popular gay app. It’s a little wacky, like Grindr meets Pokemon: each user is labeled as a certain kind of creature/type: “Lovely Dog.” “Athlete Kong,” “Muscle Wolf,” and depending on what kind of guy they like and how many matches are made, level up in their respective category. That madness aside, 9 Monsters is ultra-functional thanks to instant language translation when messaging. I was able to communicate easily with Japanese folks who spoke/typed not a word of English, and received quite a bit of local scoop in the ports.
Some highlights from those days included Leandro Erlich’s “The Swimming Pool” installation in Kanazawa at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (1-2-1 Hirosaka. Tel: +81-076-220-2800. www.kanazawa21.jp). Indeed, many art lovers made visits to this energetic city, which also has a really cool sake brewery, just to interact with the Pool, which gives the illusion of being either underwater or seeing people beneath the surface, depending on whether you’re viewing it from within the interior or outdoors exterior. A small group of Japanese school kids visiting the museum decided to approach me and conduct an impromptu Q&A to practice their English.
At first seeming like a sleepy, small port town with population of about 36,000, Sakaiminato proved quite unique, as its main strip is lined with bronze statues of characters from its iconic manga (comic book) creator, Shigeru Mizuke. I was familiar with his work, representing a mix of historical and personal war recollections (his Hitler biography is superb) and whimsical supernatural tales about Japan’s spirit monsters, aka yokai.
And pretty much every Japanese port was blessed with a fresh fish market, where one could savor just prepared sushi, sashimi, and even uni from the shell. In Aomori, one storefront specialized in whale, which upset many people.
Meanwhile, in Busan, a local gay friend took me for my first dinner of local specialty gopchang, aka intestine barbecue. It ain’t pretty when they bring out the raw, bloated sections of innards, but once grilled and seared at your table, it’s admittedly quite delicious.
As for the cherry blossoms? My cynical suspicions were correct, and the cherry blossom trees surrounding Hakodate’s stunningly designed Goryokaku Pentagonal Fort Tower and park (it’s well worth the stop regardless) were barely beginning to bud. I felt pathetic, desperately snapping photos of the tiny little flowering clusters. Was I really this thirsty for sakura? However, Japan held a surprise for me in Aomori, where, finally, fully flowering cherry blossoms proved a bonus.
Arigato, Diamond Princess!