Sunday, February 24, 2002

Star Princess

In Osaka for a Seicho-No-Ie Public Lecture, I greeted the morning on the 48th floor of a hotel there. I opened the curtains and the sweeping view of Osaka Bay appeared hazy due to the clouds that had spread out across the sky. I remembered that the weather report on TV the night before mentioned that, while it would be cloudy in the morning hours, it would clear up in the afternoon. I freshened up, changed my clothes and went out for breakfast. After eating, I came back to my room, glanced through the morning paper, and checked to make sure that the presentation I would be giving using my laptop was all in order. While doing all this, I happened to look up and saw that the clouds that had covered the sky had broken, and a soft ray of light shone down on the harbor and the rest of the city. In the middle of this, partially hidden in the shadow of a bridge, I saw a large white passenger ship anchored in the harbor. Comparing it to the buildings and bridge nearby, I could tell that it was quite a large ship. It's unusual to come across such a large passenger ship.

As a young newspaper reporter in Yokohama, it used to excite me when these passenger liners would come into the harbor. In those days, I used to belong to the "Yokohama Maritime Affairs Reporters Club" which was located on the first floor of the Yokohama Customs office. We dealt with the various events that developed in the port of Yokohama and surrounding areas, and this club was a "hangout" for us reporters. This club was nicknamed, "Umikura (Ocean Club)", and, in reporting on customs-related events, we'd write on the import of unusual items or unmask contraband. And, in the Third Division of the Maritime Safety Headquarters, which is under the umbrella of the Maritime Safety Agency, we would write about shipwrecks and other accidents at sea or about refugee boats that would drift ashore. We would also receive lists of incoming and outgoing ships from the Yokohama Port Authority that patrols and takes care of the port of Yokohama, and write about them.

Since there weren't that many ocean-going passenger ships that would come in during those days, when one did, the harbor would come alive with activity, with the Yokohama City Fire Department Band giving a welcome performance at the port on Large Pier, and Miss Yokohama giving a floral presentation to the captain of the ship. When that happened, we reporters, pretending to be "on assignment" would board and enjoy the gorgeous atmosphere of the ship. Being able to take a peek at the inside of the largest and foremost passenger ships of those days, the Queen Elizabeth II (QE2, 67,140 tons) and the Canberra was a true "emolument." And, when the Ministry of Transport fleet of training sailboats would reach shore, and carry out their sailing drills all at once, the harbor and surrounding areas would be jammed with people.

In the morning, immediately before the Public Lecture, when I saw the cruise liner, all those memories came back to me, and I thought it would be a nice idea to go to the harbor and take a look at the ship following the lecture. But, in order to do so, the ship would have to remain in port until evening. I had my assistant look into that, and we found out that, fortunately, the ship would be there until that night. We found out that the ship was the "Star Princess." I couldn't recall ever having heard that name, but I guess that's understandable since it's been more than 20 years since I was a "Ocean Club Reporter."

After the Public Lecture, I asked the driver to park the car on the opposite side of where the ship was docked. It was right by Universal Studios Japan. Despite that, compared to the commotion and excitement of the times when a cruise liner would come into Yokohama Harbor, I was amazed to see that there were unbelievably few people around. It was where ferries from the opposite shore arrive and depart, and, when the ferry boats did arrive, there were several dozens of people going in and out. These people would look up at the gorgeous ship and ready their cameras. Not wanting to get in the way of their picture-taking, I climbed up on a fence that was a little higher up and began sketching. I couldn't help but be even more surprised at the tremendous size of the ship.

The Star Princess is a huge 10,900 ton, 951 foot long, 201 foot wide, amenity-filled passenger ship which made her inaugural debut in February of this year. To make it easier to understand, it's taller than the Statue of Liberty, and longer than three football fields placed side by side. It has 16 decks so that makes it as high as a 16-story building, and it has 1,300 cabins that can accommodate 2,600 people. The crew in and of itself numbers 1,150. P&O, the owners of the Star Princess, have other ships which are also named "Princess": "Grand Princess", "Golden Princess", "Ocean Princess", etc. for a total of 12 ships. Together, they are called the "Princess Fleet." The Star Princess is a sister ship to Grand Princess, and is the largest in the fleet. This was the maiden voyage for the ship. She left Singapore on February 13th, and went on to Thailand on the 15th, Hong Kong on the 19th, Taiwan on the 20th, and Okinawa on the 21st, arriving in Osaka on the 23rd. After this, she is scheduled to go on to the United States, be in Hawaii on March 2-3, and reach its final destination, Los Angeles, on the 8th. I don't know how many Japanese citizens can go on that kind of cruise, but, as I left Osaka behind, I couldn't help but think, "Man certainly has made something really unbelievable."

- MT

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