Thursday, May 28, 2009

Where I'm Getting Religiously Tolerant in Poland

Poland is a very interesting country. But not as interesting as some western media would like you to believe. In many ways, Poland is a perfectly ordinary place full of perfectly ordinary people who do plenty of perfectly ordinary things, and by that I don't mean stealing cars in Germany. They go to work on most days, but not on weekends, and go to church on most days too, including weekends.

Yes, that church bit… If you believe what you hear in the West, Poland is a very religious country. And not just any religious country, but a Christian country, and not just any old Christian, but Catholic, of the Roman persuasion. Just like the pope, and incidentally, it just so happens that the previous pope was actually Polish. Needless, to say, the good people of Poland are very proud of this fact and worship JPII accordingly.

You might have heard that there are statues of JPII on every corner (not true, if anything, it's more like every third intersection, or so) and massive churches everywhere (again, not true, the churches are massive, but there’s also plenty of small ones, and not everywhere, because there is a stretch of road between Gdansk and Kartuzy with no church for about 20 kms) and religion lessons in schools and prayers and all that (no opinion here, since I tend to avoid schools and prayers in general). And oh yeah, the rumors that the country is actually run by some crazy priest who rides around in a Bentley (again not true, he has a Maybach and a helicopter).

Add to that the supposed rabid anti-semitism and stories of Poles who during WW2 almost joyously assisted the Nazis in pitchforking their Jewish neighbors, and the image of Poland is closer to that of a catholic theocracy gone mad than of a perfectly ordinary European country. It's the “Iran” of Europe where there’s no religious tolerance or freedom and where even thinking of the Koran or Torah can get you burned at the stake by the mohair berets.

Well, after weeks of extensive research, I’m pleased to say that this is all utter rubbish. There’s more religious tolerance in Poland than in all Bible-belt states combined. The problem might be that this tolerance in Poland is really subtle, and the statues of JPII are not.

In general, people here don’t seem to be paying that much attention to the holy books you read, as long as you read something. Even “The Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” would do, it’s even appropriately Bible-like massive and heavy.

And when it comes to religious texts from other non-Christian denominations, they’re also readily available.

Koran torah kiosk

This is not a fancy bookstore, but a street kiosk where you can buy pretty much anything you might suddenly require, from bus tickets and cigarettes to the Incredible Hulk action figures and sanitary pads. And yes, even a copy of the Koran. Or the Torah. Your choice. There was also a stack of illustrated Bibles tucked discreetly in one corner.

The next day I went by and there was no more Torah. The kiosk lady said someone bought it, and added that the Torah was a popular selling item. And the Koran? She waved her hand. Asked if she read either of them, she replied “Jesusmaryandjoseph woman, I haven’t even read the Bible, all this religion stuff printed in such small print, who has the eyes to read it? And besides, I saw the movie, that DaVinci fella got it right, I tell you. You want religion, you watch that movie.”

On my way to the train station I ran into a couple of Mormon missionaries who wanted to share with me their good news. We stopped to chat (because I don’t mind, I will chat with just about anyone - I’m an equal opportunity asshole) and right behind us the movie theater advertised “Angels and Demons”.
I had a very strange feeling that the kiosk lady has already seen a pirated version of this one, too.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Glorious 25th of May

Some celebrate Towel Day today and others – Lilac Day. I’m in the second camp. I proudly wore my lilac ribbon today and donated money to one of the Alzheimer’s organizations (yes, honey, I did).

And to celebrate The Glorious 25th of May I also registered myself for DWCON 2010 (yes, honey, I did). So it looks like I finally have the best possible excuse ever to visit the UK next year. Birmingham to be exact.

“Truth, justice, freedom, reasonably priced love, and a hard-boiled egg!”
Only now the tyrant is Alzheimers!

Image (CC license) courtesy of Jaz'

PS> If you want to know more about The Glorious 25th of May, read "Night Watch" by Terry Pratchett.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Kashubian Adidase

I’m on my third day of Dermelan treatment, which means my face looks hideous. Do you remember that scene in "Mission Impossible" when Tom Cruise peels a latex mask off his face? Well, that’s how it is with me now, except that I’m peeling off my own skin, not movie makeup.

But the fact that I look like a leper wasn’t enough to make me stay at home today. I went to Kartuzy to visit the Kashubian Museum (Muzeum Kaszubskie), my peeling skin, purple face and all.

Museum in kartuzy

You see, my heritage is apparently part Kashubian and part Galician. So now you should know why I suffer from a major case of itchy feet. Because while both of those regions are known for many things (like being piss poor back in the olden days), they are probably most famous for mass emigration (which I suppose went hand in hand with being piss poor). Untold hordes of people left Galicia and went looking for a better life elsewhere. And untold hordes of people left Kashubia, too. It’s a miracle that there are still Kashubians left in Poland at all. But anyway, that goes a long way towards explaining why I feel the need to run around the globe looking for a better life myself. It’s not my fault. I was born that way. It’s genetic.

The Museum was cool. Very cool, actually. I learned how to say “shoes” in Kashubian – “adidase”. LOL! I bought a Kashubian flag (well, not really, because the “official” flag is a very fierce looking black and yellow combination) and a fridge magnet. Both of them are going with me to Japan to REPRESENT!


What surprised me was just how crowded the museum was. There were people from all corners of the world there, speaking English, German, Dutch and a couple of other languages I didn’t recognize. And I think we all came to the same conclusion – that it was a really nice museum. Actually, I can even say that it’s one of the best small town museums I’ve seen, and I’ve seen plenty, trust me.

Because I’m a total ignoramus, I had no clue that the name “Kartuzy” comes from the Carthusian Order (Le Grande Chartreuse). And those are monks. Catholic monks, to be exact. It’s amazing how it all makes sense once someone points it out to you. But if you’re like me and know exactly nothing about Catholic monks, you need to hear more to get the whole picture. And the whole picture looks more or less like this:

There was once a bunch of those Carthusian monks who schlepped all the way from France to this place (it wasn’t known as Kartuzy back then) and built themselves a church. Or rather, a charterhouse, as their monasteries are known. That was back in 1380 or so. Their church was mighty fine and from all accounts those monks were decent fellas, too. A bit obsessed with death, but maybe that’s what made them decent. You think I’m joking about this death thing? I’m dead (no pun intended) serious. The roof of their church looks like a coffin lid. And instead of “Hello brother so-and-so, how are you today?” or whatever it is that monks say to greet each other, these guys used to say “Memento mori” which is Latin for “Remember, you will die.” What a joyous bunch those Carthusians were! So full of life, wow…

Kartuzy church 2

Anyway, the church is still there, and the roof still looks like a coffin lid. I went inside and, needless to say, there was a mass in progress. This is just one of those things that happen to me in Poland – I can enter any church, anywhere in Poland, at any time and there will be a mass going on inside. I tell you, this is one religious country.


This time, it wasn’t just any old, boring mass – it turned out I crashed a full-blown “here comes the bride” church wedding. And the bride didn’t even look pregnant. What a disappointment.

Kartuzy is an interesting place. It has a dual personality of sorts – Kashubian and Polish. It’s officially bilingual – the Kashubian language has been finally recognized as a language of its own, and after years (if not centuries) of sometimes forced polonization, now it’s part of the school curriculum in this region. There’s even a lady at the University of Gdansk who wrote her entire master thesis in Kashubian. How cool is that?

Kartesci powiot

I like the fact that this language is no longer considered inferior and that the good people of Kashubia proudly display their ethnic and linguistic heritage. Even the road signs are bilingual.

And even you’ve learned at least one word of Kashubian already. Adidase! LOL!


I was really curious and looked up the origin of the Adidas (company) name. They claim that "Adidas" is a combination of the first (Adolf) and last (Dessler) names of the company's founder. So it just so happens that a company named "Adidas" got its start by making sports shoes and that the word "adidase" means "shoes" in the Kashubian language? What an amazing coincidence... Yeah, right...

Anyway, Kartuzy was a very agreeable place and in a very near future (like tomorrow, if the weather's nice) I'm hoping to visit other important Kashubian places.


Two handsome Kashubian men out on the town.

At first I had a sudden flashback to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, but then noticed that these guys weren't dressed in black. This was Kartuzy, and not Amish country after all.

Friday, May 22, 2009

SAS Customer Service - It's Improving

Breaking with my long-standing tradition of complaining about airlines, today I’m pleased to announce I have something nice to say. About Scandinavian Airlines. (Yes, the world must be coming to an end…)

You see, when you live in Sweden for any period of time, sooner or later you will be forced to take an SAS flight. Whether you like it or not. I didn’t like, but there was no choice. Or rather, SAS was the only available choice. Needless to say, it was also an expensive choice and because I’m pathetically cheap, whenever possible I tended to avoid them.

But then, I had to fly to Tokyo in March, and because I was in Gdansk at that time, my options were somewhat limited – Lufthansa, SAS and a bizarre combination involving LOT, Aeroflot and something else. Whatever. SAS turned out to be the cheapest. Well, kind of the cheapest. You see, when you looked at their Swedish site, the flights were quite pricey. Ditto on their Polish site. But then I had the brilliant idea of searching for exactly the same itinerary on their American site. And wouldn’t you know it? I saved myself almost 300 bucks that way.

Still, there was a slight screw up along the way, because the person who ultimately made my reservation flipped my first and last names (gave last instead of first and vice versa). When I called the SAS Customer Service in Poland I was told I would have to pay 100 euro for “changing” my name to its proper order. WTF??? I decided not to pay (duh!) and take my chances (after all, it was MY name anyway). But because of this problem, my frequent flyer miles/points for this trip couldn’t be credited to my account automatically since the system did not recognize me as me.

OK, fine, I was told I would have to fill out a missing points form and send it in. OK fine again, I included my boarding passes, e-ticket, and a letter explaining what happened. And nothing. Nada. Silence. No points to be seen.

Yesterday I received my Eurobonus (SAS frequent flyer program) statement and still – zero points. I called the airline to see what was going on, and needless to say, they had absolutely no clue what I was talking about. Almost made me believe I never flew SAS to begin with.

So, because I was bored and had absolutely nothing better to do (well, I had plenty of things to do, I was just practicing avoidance), I emailed Scandinavian Airlines and told them what I thought. Hint – those were not happy thoughts.

I was in a foul mood and needed to bitch, and so I bitched about everything I thought was wrong with SAS, life, universe, and well… everything. I clicked “send” and immediately forgot about it. Because seriously, nobody ever reads those emails anyway. At least nobody ever does at Finnair.

But I’ll be damned, somebody at SAS did read it. The Eurobonus boss for Poland called me today to apologize. An actual live person got on the phone to explain the situation, to tell me that he took care of the problems I listed (well, most of them anyway, he couldn't do much for my life, universe and everything), and asked me to “please consider flying SAS again.”

Well, I didn’t tell him that since I’m still stuck in Gdansk I don’t have much choice, really. It’s either Scandinavian, or Lufthansa, or LOT Polish Airlines. And wouldn’t you know it, they’re all part of the same bloody Star Alliance loyalty program.

I’m a dedicated Sky Team member. I liked my Sky Team airlines (except KLM, which I'm sure will get its very own level of hell in the fullness of times), even when they were bad (except KLM, because there's bad, and then there's KLM). But I’m also cheap and from where I’m at it would cost me a lot more to fly on a Sky Team flight. Because unfortunately, I’m in a Star Alliance country now.

Sas plane

PS. Just found SAS on Twitter and Facebook. Dang, they’re really trying to get on with the program.

OK SAS, I know you're reading this, because you've googled my name and found this blog. Next time I want an upgrade to first class. And eat kosher food. Vegetarian kosher food. And get a foot massage. And sit next to Arash, OK? Or the lead singer from Sahara Hotnights. You think you can do that?

But failing that, I'd settle for a flying pony. :)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Weekend in Poznan

I didn’t know much about Poznań, no scratch that, I didn’t know ANYTHING at all about Poznań, other than it was a town somewhere in Poland. So it was with great excitement that I got my fat butt (yes, it’s fat, I’ve gained 3 kilos during my time here in Poland) on a train to Poznań last Friday. The excitement was great indeed, because not only was I going to see a new place, which is always fun, but also I was going to meet a new person, which is not always fun. Yes, I was going to a place I’d never been before to meet a girl I’d known only from internet forums. Fortunately, the girl turned out to be a girl IRL, too, and not some psycho with whips and chains and a dungeon in the basement. Though these days you just never know… So, kids, don’t do as I do, because I do stupid things. A lot.

The train ride was all excitement, adventure and really wild things. It was a “rapid” train that took more than 5 hours to travel the distance of 313 kilometers. I sat my fat butt in what I thought was a non-smoking car, which very quickly filled up with cigarette smoke. Apparently, the “no smoking” sign was merely a loose suggestion. The conductor came around, checked the tickets and then stood in the isle, smoking.

Poznań (Posen for those of you who prefer the German version) is a lovely town. It has the most magnificent shopping mall – Stary Browar (Old Brewery). And it’s not just the mall, the whole town is full of high-end shops. The good people of Poznań must be loaded.

After visiting the mall (well, it was raining) we walked around the old town (pretty). We saw the sites (well, not really, it was the Museum Night and there were hordes of people everywhere). And we went to dinner - restaurant “Pod Koziolkami” (annoying flash site that takes a couple of centuries to load, at least on my computer) – good local Polish food full of oceans fat and mountains of bacon, but check your bill carefully, they added a dish we didn’t order to ours, which I only realized two days later when I was emptying my purse and saw the receipt.

That evening we watched the Eurovision final (Arash came in third, woot woot!) and that was it.

Definitely, I’d like to return there for a longer visit. It’s an interesting place. They have an artificial lake called “Malta” over there. I could say “Oh, I’m going to Malta for the weekend” and then take a stinky  train to Poznań.

Church in poznan 2
We went inside this church and there was a mass in progress, which only confirmed my suspicion - I can enter any Catholic church anywhere in Poland at any given time and there will be a mass in progress going on inside. Either they have them around the clock 24/7, or this is just my kind of luck.

Bar proletaryat

A bit of communist nostalgia over here. This is a funky bar/cafe. Unfortunately, we were greeted by stench and swirling clouds of cigarette smoke when we opened the door.

Rynek in poznan 1
These old houses are just too cute. Very different from what I saw in Gdansk.

Bzwbk in poznan
And a splendid example of post-war socialist architecture.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

China - It's Chinastic*

Book I’m not a fan of China.
There, I’ve said it.

This country just rubs me the wrong way. And since it’s a huge country with a huge population, when it rubs it really burns. So, no wonder that whenever China is being mentioned, I begin to foam at the mouth like a rabid skunk. As a preventive measure, because no one likes a woman who’s spitting venom and pissing cement (and foaming at the mouth like a rabid skunk) at the very mention of China, I try to avoid the subject in general and the country in particular. I draw the line at kung pao chicken, though. It’s yummy.

So it was with certain trepidation that I agreed to read “Lost on Planet China - One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation” by J. Maarten Troost (Broadway Books).

J. Maarten Troost had the foresight and good sense to write about other topics before he took on China, and he can thank the cannibals and their sex lives for the fact that I decided to read what he had to say about the Middle Kingdom.

And he had a lot to say, indeed. Fortunately, he said it in a fun, easy to absorb way without insulting anybody’s intelligence (apart from a few million Chinese), so reading it (even though it was about China) wasn’t as painful as I had expected.

OK, so what’s this book about? China, duh!

But seriously, Mr. Troost goes to China to see it for himself. And what does he see? Environmental pollution of apocalyptic proportions, people who think that rules and common sense don’t apply to them, mountains of rubble, mounds of trash and loogies, ever present greed and loogies, Ferrari dealerships, pimps, fakes and body parts of endangered species. And yes, loogies.

But there are warm and fuzzy all over moments in the book, too. Granted, it’s hard to write about China’s minorities and Tibet without getting all touchy-feely, but luckily, Mr. Troost balances it out with his “brick through a window” kind of subtle tactfulness. Or is it tactful subtleness? Either way, he does it. And he does it good.

This is the kind of book about China that I could have written myself. If I could write books, that is. It doesn’t mince words and the words ain’t all pretty. Apart from the bits about Harbin, Dali, Tibet and a few other places with names too hard to spell.

But speaking of not pretty… I’m gonna bitch about the ending.
Listen, Mr. Troost. You bitched about the absurd ending of “Angels and Demons” in chapter 18 of your book (page 311, 6th line from the bottom, and yes, I have OCD, OK?) and then YOU have the balls to end YOUR book like THAT? WTF???

You said it yourself – “It works or fails by how it ends.” And reading the last sentences of “Lost on Planet China” I felt the same way you’d felt when you finished “The Da Vinci Code” (page 311, 2nd line from the bottom). Except instead of lightly soiled, I actually felt kinda glad. Why? That it was you, and not me, prancing around that mind-boggingly (insert your adjective of choice here) country. 

PS. FYI, I have absolutely nothing against the people of China in general, I just have issues with some of their government policies. But those are my issues and I’m free to have them, because, boy ain’t I lucky, I live outside of China.

I like Chinese food, as long as it doesn’t involve cats and dogs and endangered species, anything else is fair game, or rather, fair meat on a stick.

And I love Hong Kong. I had a crush on this really cool Cantonese guy once, he had long hair, looked like a Cantopop star (Ekin Cheng eat your heart out!) and was totally hot… But that’s a whole another story. Some other time, maybe... My husband reads this blog, you know.

*) The title of this post was shamelessly swiped from the book itself. Page 210, 9th line from the bottom. Thank you!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Eurovision 2009 Hissy Fit

I am not very happy today. I just realized that the first Eurovision semi-final (taking place tomorrow) is not shown in Poland. Not live, not later, not at all. Well, them Polish TV honchos apparently think that since that horrid Polish song is not being performed tomorrow, then there’s no need to broadcast the program. Heck, THAT would be the reason TO broadcast the program.

But anyway… I heard once that a country that competes in the Eurovision song contest agrees to a live broadcast of the WHOLE program (all bits leading up to the final and the final itself) and that it’s actually required if that country wants to compete the following year.

Oh well, Poland has better things to show on TV than the first semi-final, namely “Heroes” re-runs.

I guess I’ll watch the Eurovision song contest on the internet then. Viva live streaming!

(And I hope that their dumb Polish song will lose on Saturday. Let’s see, who is going to give it 12 or 10 points? Ireland and the UK? LOL!)

PS. And to those Russian morons from Krasnodar who google blogs for "Eurovision" and then leave comments with a link pretending to be a live broadcast, but in reality-p*rny videos of Russian chicks - you are lame. Really lame. And stupid. But that goes without saying...

Sheesh, I must be PMSing today. Or something.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Fountain of Neptune in Gdansk

I like fountains. But not the tacky, choreographed ones spewing out hectoliters of water for no apparent reason other than the owners showing off they can afford it, like the Bellagio in Las Vegas. I’m more of a Manneken Pis kind of girl. And I'm pretty sure there’s a joke in there somewhere, but I’m not quite sure where.
But yeah, show me a statue of a naked guy (or an almost naked guy, because a strategically positioned fig leaf is OK too, or an almost guy, because the little pisser in Brussels is more of an overgrown toddler variety) discharging vast amounts of liquid and I’ll be happily amusing myself for hours. Snapping pictures, of course. What did you think, huh?

And that brings us to the most famous fountain in Gdansk (or rather Gdańsk, as they spell it over here), if not in all of Poland. The Neptune on Długi Targ Street. I always get confused whether it’s Długi Targ Street or Długa Street, those names are too similar for my liking. And it IS confusing, because I just looked it up on the map, and Długa actually morphs into Długi Targ.

Anyway, back to the fountain. The legend goes that the good merchants of Gdansk traveled a bit, sold stuff here and there, and apparently liked what they saw in the distant lands, especially in Italy. And they decided they wanted to have their own statue of a naked man brandishing a pitchfork, I mean a trident. Inspired by the fountains of the Sea God in Florence and in Bologna, they erected their own. You know, just to show the world what a classy and up with the times place Gdansk was.

They put something together and plopped it in the middle of the street (or a donkey tract, not sure if they had proper streets back then) in 1550, give or take a year. But a few years later, it wasn’t fancy enough for their liking anymore. So the good merchants of Gdansk hired a bunch of Flemish guys to create something with more flair and bigger private parts (judging by the size of their cover). Fortunately, one of the Flemish guys happened to be Abraham van den Block (or was it Blocke? different sources give different spellings), a rather famous sculptor back then.

Actually, there was a whole family of very artistic van den Blocks, who by some magnificent coincidence, decided to settle in Gdansk. And they were not the only ones. Hordes of Dutch and Germans moved to Gdansk back in those olden, golden days. It was a very trendy place full of very trendy people. I’m not surprised they wanted to have their own trendy Neptune fountain. Another famous guy with a vaguely foreign name – Jan Roggen, a very talented ironworker, added the gate and the city coat of arms. Anyway, in 1633, the new and improved Neptune was turned on and started bringing forth streams of cold water.

But as with all new toys, after a while they become old toys and the poor Neptune was no exception. By 1759, it was rotten and nasty, and probably would have crumbled to nothing, if not for a bored dude named Jan Karol Stender. He not only had a lot of time, but also a lot of money, and so he used both to return the fountain to its former glory. In the process, he upgraded the ornaments making them more rococo. Because, you know, you can never have enough rococo. Right? (At least that's what my very fabulous French hair dresser used to say).

Neptune 1

Anyway, all was well until right before the war, from what I heard from really old people, the fountain was viciously vandalized in 1935. Or was it 1936? Not sure. The person telling me the story in heavily accented German wasn’t sure herself. She used to live in Gdansk as a child and left with her family for Germany right before WW2 started. Or was it soon after WW2 started? She wasn't sure either.

I ran into her on Długi Targ, or rather, she being a half-blind, old lady, bumped into me, made me drop my camera and instead of apologizing cursed me out in Bavarian. I cursed her out in Hochdeutsch and  we had no choice but to start talking. She was on a package trip with her old lady care home group from whatever Bavarian village it is that she lives in now. And as it usually happens with old ladies, she was simply delighted to have someone listen to her stories. Or, if not listen, then at least pretend to listen to her stories, because let's face it, Bavarian is not my first choice of a foreign language.

What happened to the fountain after the war? The lady wasn’t so sure, so I looked it up on the internet. It was restored, or rather - reconstructed, because from what I understood, not much was left of it after the war, and returned to its current place in front of that pretty white building on July 22, 1954. And it’s been there ever since doing what fountains normally do. Sometimes even wearing a scarf during colder weather.

And that’s the story of the fountain of Neptune, which is THE symbol of Gdansk as far as I'm concerned, as told to me by an old monk who lives on some mountaintop somewhere, I mean an old lady who lives in a care home in Germany somewhere, which is practically the same thing.

Neptune 3

PS. And my Sony Alpha? Survived the fall, but had to go to a camera hospital for some TLC. I'm picking it up next week.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

This Is What Happens When You Visit Mashiko...

I’m still in Poland, my projects for work are completed, and I am oh-so-ready to go home. However, it won’t happen for at least a few more weeks.

The upside of being in Europe in May is I’ll get to watch the Eurovision Song Contest. Live. This should more than make up for a lack of chou creams, Pockys, my favorite ice tea and Calbee chips.

In the meantime, my dear husband is having all sorts of good, wholesome fun back home. He went to Mashiko for some sort of a pottery event, looked around, liked what he saw, and the next thing I know, he’s making his own pottery!

For those who don’t know, Mashiko is famous for its pottery called Mashikoyaki (益子焼). The tradition of pottery making there dates back to the ancient days of the Jomon period. That’s old. And not just any plain old, but like really, really old.

However, the modern Mashikoyaki style is not that prehistoric, it was created around the mid 1800’s when some dude discovered that the local clay was just simply perfect for pottery-making.

Anyway, that was then, and this is now:

Post boxes 2
Big and clunky and terribly overpriced, if you want to know my opinion.

Mashiko market
Plates, bowls, dishes and who-knows-what else.

Moss heads
Because Chia Pets are like so 1990s. Now, it's Moss Heads where it's at. Everybody needs one.

Post boxes
Those Mashiko potters really have a thing mailboxes, don't they now?

And this is what Mr. Trouble made after only one day of playing with clay. He's a talented beast, I have to admit.

So, this is what happens when you visit Mashiko. You may end up making your own vases and plates. Consider yourself warned.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Hashima Island aka Gunkanjima aka Battleship Island Open to Tourists

I know it’s old news, but I thought I’d add it here anyway. It seems that plenty of people are interested.

Yes, the rumors are true. As of April 22, 2009 Hashima Island, aka Gunkanjima, aka Battleship Island is open to tourists.

While special permits are no longer necessary, visiting the island is still neither easy nor convenient. And certainly not cheap. A round trip boat ride from Nagasaki with only one hour on the island (landing subject to weather and sea conditions) costs 4300 yen per person. At least that’s what my husband says. He did the calling and asking, because we’re planning a trip to Gunkanjima as soon as I’m back in Japan.

But if you’re as determined to get there as we are, how do you arrange a trip? Simply call Yamasa Kaiun boat company at 095-822-5002 and book yourself a passage.

From what I understand, if you don’t speak Japanese, you can ask the Nagasaki Tourist Office to help you. They may roll their eyes when you’re not looking and think “another whiney gaijin…” and “I hate this stupid job” but since this is Japan, they won’t complain out loud and should be able to assist you in making the appropriate arrangements.

PS. OK, after all this time of thinking about it and after finally managing to weasel some time off from work, we're going to Gunkanjima on October 11th. Full report will be coming up.