|Next morning we say goodbye to everyone again and head back to the port. We initially head out to the balcony overlooking the port, the ship is still there which is good but the bike is still on the quayside which is not so good. A visit to the office confirms that there are further delays and that we should be boarding at 12 oclock. We head back to the balcony and spot a gaggle of bikers and head over to say hello. We have been told by a Japanese contact that there is a Japanese overlander on the same boat and its pretty obvious he is with them, we say hello almost simultanously.
His name is Mitsuko (Mit for short) and he has been living in Russia for a year or so, he is heading back to Japan to catch up with friends. He speaks good English and is likeable so we have a good chat, in the samea groupa isa guy who is obviously from Italia. We instantly take to Enrico who is travelling the world by bicycle, we compare notes and discover he has come through Russia and Mongolia so we have loads to talk about which is good as we later discover that we are in the same quarters on the ship. 12 oclock turns into 4 oclock but eventually we board. Mit has booked a cabin but we are in economy with Enrico, once we get settled in we realise the boat is really empty. I dont know how many people she can hold but I suspect its somewhere around the 1000 mark, there are 24 passengers on the entire boat which is really nice, if it was full it would be hell with striplighting. The choice of cheap accomadation was economy A or B we went for A which looked like a room with 6 bunks in a row, what you don’t realise is that economy A and B are one big room all together the bunks are in the centre back to back and economy B is sleeping on a thin foam mattress on the floors all around the outside of the bunks.The hold is also empty, unusually you are allowed down to the car decks once you are sailing and our two bikes are the only cargo on an otherwise empty vessel. Our best guess is that there is not much demand in Japan for Russian goods but there is a big demand in Russia for Japanese cars so it might go out empty but it certainly comes back full. This is confirmed by two nice Russian guys Karen meets while she is wandering around the ship. They beckoned her over to share their lunch and have some village water (their home brewed vodka)
Later she came and got me to introduce everyone and we spend a very convivial couple of hours sharing lunch and village water. Arthur and Vladimir used to travel to Japan every month to buy used or accident damaged cars to sell in Russia. The lack of ferry has forced them to buy cars via the internet but now the boat is running again they are back. They obviously enjoy their trips to Japan and have a flat in Toyama as a base, they are full of praise for Japans road network and infrastructure a far cry from home. The crossing is about 36 hours and we divide our time between these guys, Enrico, Mit and sleeping. When we finally dock at 6pm the next day the bike customs guys have gone home and we are invited to spend an extra night on board so we can deal with the formalities in the morning an offer which we gratefully accept. Before we can relax though we have to be processed by immigration and customs who come onto the boat. We are mustered in the canteen and sit in amazement as a small army of customs and immigration officers board, they nearly outnumber us and are all dressed in smart uniforms and hard hats. Quite a few wear surgical masks over their mouths and noses which looks very strange and we have to try not to snigger, we are all videoed interviewed and photographed also we have our fingerprints taken and our passports stamped and scanned. All this is done individually although we can hear Enrico’s interview round the corner. “Where are you staying in Japan ?” I donta know where I stay, I travel witha my bicycle, again we have to supress our giggles as the Japanese take it all very seriously.
Later on its our turn and we too have to give an address which of course we don’t have “Fushiki city with wife/husband” seems to satisfy them and we are stamped into Japan.
Once this is completed we are sent back to our berths so customs can come round and check our personal belongings. We have deliberately been running down our fresh supplies and food as we think they might confiscate anything fresh or unsealed. We bought a goodie bag of the remaining fresh food on the boat with us and I am eating some dried fruit when the first customs officers come in. I have to quickly turn round and pass Karen half a dried pear to hide so my first words are not muffled by a mouthfull of dried fruit. In the event they didn’t seem to give a monkeys about this but our dry bags are given a fairly good search. Next I accompany one of the customs officers down to the hold so they can check the motorcycle. He asks to look in the front box and the other dry bag but stops short of going in the panniers and topbox as he can see how long it will take to search the entire motorcycle. Customs finished we buy a tub of dried noodles from the shop and a couple of beers from a vending machine before the staff disapear. Mit joins us and we have noodles for dinner sat on the cushions in economy B, afterwards Mit retires to his cabin and Enrico and I grab another beer. We all get comfy and teach Enrico how to play blackjack which turns into a really good hard fought and fun game. We go to bed at about 11 oclock ready to do battle with bike customs tomorrow. We are both exited about being let loose in Japan which seems like another significant step in our journey.