By seven o'clock the next morning, still buoyed by yesterday’s successful interview and meeting with Akira Suzuki, we had made the short walk from the hotel to the quay where the Ogasawara Maru was moored. Despite the cool morning air the sun was beginning to burn the tips of our noses. The sky was a deep blue and a slight haze hung over Tokyo Bay, bathing the futuristic skyscrapers and distant docks in a transparent azure mist, portending the humidity which we had already experienced the day before on our arrival. The Rainbow Bridge spanned the bay in a long ribbon of steel and cable. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes, like tiny specks of shinning colour sparkled in the early sunshine as they traversed from one side to the other in both directions.
The terminal was already full of people and queues had formed for embarkation. I went into the departure hall with the coupons I had been given by the agents who organised the trip and exchanged them for two tickets. Included with the tickets were two talons with numbers on them – 97 and 98. As yet I had no idea what they were for or what they related to because I was too preoccupied with the thought of what was ahead of us. I came out of the hall and handed Natasha her ticket and we took our places in one of the four queues which had formed behind metal signs or wooden boards (I can’t exactly remember which) with information and numbers written on them in Japanese. We stood around for about five minutes. Next to us in our queue were two European guys, other than us they were the only Europeans about to board. Natasha was starting to worry that maybe we weren’t in the right queue and said to me in Russian.
“Ask one of them if we’re in the right queue, they’re bound to speak English”
We were still finding our bearings after the long flight so I leaned over our luggage and in English asked one of them if it mattered which queue we were in.
“I don’t think so” was the answer in very good polite English but in an accent which I couldn’t quite make out. I had the impression he wasn’t particularly interested in engaging in a lengthy conversation with us but that is often normal when travelling and I sometimes feel like that myself. Years of travel in unusual settings has made me cautious and I tend to be careful with strangers in unknown surroundings. In Japan I didn’t feel like that however. There is no sensation of danger or aggression in Tokyo. The city is a thriving busy metropolis but unlike other large capital cities there is a feeling of calm and people quietly going about their own business.
By about eight o'clock the queues began to shuffle forward and up ahead I could see passengers entering the covered outbuilding which led out onto the quay. Once through the outbuilding we had our first glimpse of the vessel which was about to take us a thousand miles out into the ocean. It was a white medium sized ship in excellent condition. Not as big as I thought it would be but not a small vessel. The style was unlike the huge ferries which ply the English Channel or the Irish Sea between France and England and Ireland and England and which are like floating shopping centres.
This looked more of a straight forward working vessel. We moved on forward to the walkway which led up into the ship and in a few moments were being ushered by uniformed personnel through the various corridors towards the bow. Every so often there appeared another person in uniform who checked the numbered talons which we had with a smile, urging us on forward. As we walked through from one salon to another I began to notice one or two things. Firstly each salon was divided into two sections of raised podiums about six or seven inches off the ground and with a space for walking through the middle.
Rows of blankets and a brick like pillow at the head of each set of bedding were set out at close intervals with perhaps less than a foot separating them with numbered pieces of paper sitting on those which had not yet been claimed. At regular intervals small chrome dishes were set in between the rows of bedding and I wondered what they were for.
People were already settling down into their places and securing their baggage. I was momentarily distracted by this but soon waved Natasha forward so that we could quickly get to our cabin. We went past the toilets which were remarkably clean and well resourced, with washing and showering facilities in keeping with the overall condition of the vessel, which one could describe as immaculate. On the one hand this was extremely reassuring and on the other for some reason I had a feeling of disquiet and presentiment. But we carried on forward in search of our cabin until we came to the very end of the ship, the bow end and there was no where further to go. I looked at our talons, with the numbers number 97 and 98 printed on them and looked down at the bedding right in front of us and there on two empty places were the numbers 97 and 98 placed neatly on the blankets. I asked a Japanese sailor where the cabins were located and showed him the talons we had been given. “This is your place” he gave me to understand. We had been expecting to have a cabin. Thirty hours is long voyage on any ship and I thought I had booked a cabin for two. Natasha was in shock at the prospect of sleeping on the hard floor with a brick for a pillow and she made it quite clear that she had expected a cabin and wanted a cabin had no intention of camping down with fifty to a hundred strangers. I went off to the purser to try and get us a cabin. He explained that there were two classes; first class and second class and we had tickets for 2nd class. First class passengers had cabins. If I wanted to upgrade, it was some astronomical sum which I could afford but clearly had not built into my budget. I returned to Natasha who was standing dumbly in the same place I had left her and in the same pose of paralysis. I started to explain the situation but Natasha’s shock and disbelief was starting to turn to mild outrage when I told her how much it was going to cost. “I expected a cabin, why didn’t they explain to us in Moscow that we would have to sleep on the floor for thirty hours, I wanted a cabin”. We were very tired and had banked on having a comfortable cabin to sleep off our jet lag before starting to film on the island. Certainly we had been given to understand in Moscow that we would have a cabin to ourselves. Suddenly without warning, while we were debating what we should do, a voice form immediately behind us in Russian said.
“What are you getting so worked up for its only one night, why don’t you save that money and spend it on the island when you get there”.
It was like somebody had thrown a bucket of cold water around us, so unexpected was it to hear the Russian language break through the steam of our emotions. We turned round in dumbfounded belief to be confronted by the same person I had spoken to already in the queue, standing with a look as if to say “Are you stupid or something, everything is going to be OK, relax and enjoy yourself”.
We both felt completely foolish that someone had been listening to our conversation which we had thought was in private. We never imagined anybody around us would understand Russian. Here however, was a guy who by now, we understood, was Russian and giving us some good common sense down to earth Russian advice. Natasha and I looked at each other and laughed at how foolish we must have sounded and also how nice it was, especially for Natasha, from someone from home. This is often important for Russians but no less for me who at that time had been living in Moscow for around ten years. Marat introduced himself with a friendly grin and introduced his travelling companion a young Japanese guy, Ken, who was his assistant in the laboratory where he worked in Tokyo. They had decided to come to Ogasawara as it is considered by the Japanese to be a once in a life time journey.
After the initial introductions we flung our stuff onto the space by our places. It was obvious that we were all going to get on well. Marat was from Kazan and had worked in Tokyo for a year or so as a scientist. He was a tallish, solid looking young man about 30 years old with what had been closely cropped dark hair which had grown out somewhat, with mischievous smiling eyes and an equally mischievous grin. I could imagine how much pleasure he must have derived from eavesdropping on us and waiting to the last possible moment before revealing his identity. Ken was a much younger Japanese guy in his early twenties. His good natured and naive laugh betrayed an air of innocence and his genuine desire to get acquainted was enough to make us feel completely at ease. Added to this we were all together in the same place. It’s possible that the Japanese had arranged things this way to make us feel less estranged. Right next to us was another European guy who I thought was American. He put his stuff down and took out a lap top and went off somewhere. We hardly ever saw him on the whole voyage. Once settled we decided to go up on deck. I wanted to film our departure and everyone else wanted to get out into the sunshine. I was worried about leaving our possessions unattended but Marat and Ken assured us that nothing would happen to them and they were completely safe in Japan.
Up on deck the morning sun was warm and intense. Crowds had already gathered preparing for the departure of the Ogasawara Maru. Down below on the quay relatives and friends had come to see them off as if we were going on a three year cruise instead of just for a few days. All around us lay the vast cityscape of Tokyo and I began filming everything I could see, the crowds on board who were milling around and exploring the ship from one end to another or simply wandering around in the early morning sunshine or gazing at the buildings rising up into the clear blue sky or passing boats and vessels in the aquamarine of Tokyo Bay which shimmered in the intense heat. Already there was a festive mood on board as we waited for the ship to slip its moorings and begin its journey out to sea. It was only now that I began to understand the significance of what I had been planning for months. Up to now it seemed like a simple matter of organising things in the correct order so that I could film everything I needed. Now it became more obvious, that together with our meeting with Akira Suzuki the day before and the voyage we were about to undertake, something quite special was going to take place. As I moved about the Ogasawara Maru Ken followed me asking me at every step about the camera and what was the film I was making and when it was going to be released etc. I realised that I had acquired an unofficial camera assistant and his youthful enthusiasm put me in an excellent mood as in many ways it mirrored my own feelings. I was glad of the company and Ken was able to indicate and explain various points of interest which could be viewed from the deck of the ship.