Three days in Busan, then next stop Osaka. Moving fast! After my Jjimjilbang experience and Korean-hangover-recovery (ie. large quantities of Denmark Drinking Yogurt, my staple diet in Korea) I dragged my luggage to the Busan International Ferry Terminal to catch my ferry to Shiminoseki, Japan.
Why a ferry? It costs about $90 vs a $250 plane ticket, doesn’t involve silly security theatrics and includes overnight accommodation. There’s overnight ferries from Busan, Korea to various locations in Japan – Fukoka, Shiminoseki and direct to Osaka. Some cater more as romantic cruises and some are more utilitarian. I picked one of the latter and rocked up at the ferry terminal in my usual style: walk about 100m carrying my ridiculous bag, stop, change hands, repeat.
At the ferry terminal was another of the helpful elderly volunteers, who I did not let anywhere near my bag. He helpfully directed me to the wrong floor, so I dragged my bag up and down a large set of stairs before finding my check-in terminal right next to the door I’d walked in through. Checked in, parked my luggage in the enormous luggage-queue and walked around.
I quickly ended up back where I started. The terminal was tiny. Then I spotted another guy with a motorbike helmet and more importantly a GoPro attached to the top. A fellow biker! I wandered over and we had a chat, his name was Lee. We talked about motorbikes and travel plans: he lived in Korea, and was planning to do a three-day trip around the south of Japan on his brand-new BMW F800GS and very fancy Klim riding gear.
We went and said hello to his bike in the big empty cargo hold, then killed time before bed swapping motorbike travel stories. Lee shouted me cup noodles and I picked up some beer from the convenience store on the ship. Convenience stores in Korea and Japan sell beer, along with a large selection of cup noodles at around $1-2, and provide free hot water and use of microwaves to cook your lunch. You can live very cheaply this way, though you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. I have supplemented this diet with the local brand of drinking yogurt, which is generally delicious, though you do get some odd looks buying four cartons at a time.
Beds on my second-class ferry ticket consisted of an empty cabin with a raised insulated floor, shared with about 8-10 people. You get a pillow, fairly comfy sleeping mat, sheet and blanket. My friendly neighbour who turned out to be an aerospace engineer at Kawasaki (“I’m an actual rocket scientist”) said to punch him if he snored too loud.
Got up early to shoot some photos of the dawn and the Japanese coast from the top deck, then dragged my gear off the ferry, blew through Japanese immigration, confused the friendly Japanese customs process with my motorbike gear but lack of motorbike (“You have a Carnet de what? Where is your motorbike?”) and headed in the direction of the shinkasen (or bullet train) terminal. An older Japanese gentleman walked up behind me clapping loudly, wordlesslly picked up one handle of my bag and helped me carry it to the station. I bestowed endless thanks upon him.
The bullet train was a wonder of modern engineering. Two hours to cross 600km – one side of Japan to the other. I had received an email while waiting for the bullet train to leave that my Australian shipping company had finally found a customs agent in Osaka willing to take on my case (if only reluctantly) and I was admiring the mountainous Japanese scenery and beautiful windy roads through the train window, ready to spend an amazing three weeks exploring on my bike before hitting Russia.
As I sat there, the slightly odd wording of the email ran through my head: “If below is agreeable, please inform us the same in order to connect the cargo to Osaka.” Connect the cargo? Presumably this was some technical shipping term. Surely, surely they haven’t done something really stupid like hold the bike in Singapore, while they messed around failing to find a customs agent in Osaka?
In the train terminal in Osaka I pulled up some more WiFi and confirmed what I was beginning to suspect. My bike was still in Singapore, and was now booked on the next available ship on the 11th of May, to arrive in Osaka on the 23rd – more than three weeks late. The shipping company – whom I shall henceforth refer to as “the bunch of numpties” – had held it there for almost a month, while telling me the whole time it was on its way. I took a few deep breaths and wrote a very calm email back, asking if there was an earlier ship? There wasn’t. My ferry to Vladivostok, Russia leaves on the 31st May, so 90% of my time riding in Japan had been wiped out. Luckily, the delay isn’t going to impact on the time-sensitive parts of the trip (there’s only a small window in June/July when the roads in north-eastern Russia are dry enough to ride easily) or incur large costs. But it’s going to be tight.
In any case, I dragged all my stuff to the hostel and walked around trying to find some Yen to eat dinner with. Despite the banks and ATMs in Japan being fairly hostile towards foreign cards or any currency that isn’t Yen or US Dollars, the food here in Osaka is pretty amazing – takoyaki (little fried balls of chopped octopus) is my favourite Japanese food, and it turns out it’s the local speciality. I have eaten ridiculous amounts of takoyaki in the last three days.
After some rapid rescheduling, I’m going to book some buses and trains and do a bit of a tour of Japan, staying with friends. I’ll also get to visit Tokyo, which originally I’d ruled out as too hard to navigate on a motorbike, then Hokkaido before heading back to Osaka to meet the bike around the 25th. So, there’s some positives out of this cockup.
Counting down to the 23rd :)