To get into Taiwan you must have proof that you will be leaving Taiwan. The Arimura Sangyo company is the only company that runs ferries between Taiwan and Japan. But the Arimura Sangyo company’s offices are in Taiwan and Japan, and their website is in Japanese, and they don’t take credit cards, and they certainly don’t speak English. You will not get your ferry tickets until you arrive in Taiwan. So we buy two tickets to Okinawa on China Airlines. It’s an hour and a half flight. Mister Chen requests a Halal meal.
To get into Japan you must have proof that you will be leaving Japan. The Shanghai Ferry company has a web page with limited English. They do not accept credit cards, but will confirm your reservation over email and allow you to pay before boarding at the ferry terminal in Osaka. The Shanghai Ferry Company does not accept bookings more than two months in advance.
At Arimura Sangyo’s office in Taipei we hand over our confirmation from the Shanghai Ferry Company and they photocopy our passports and say they will call us when our paperwork has gone through. We don’t have a phone. They say to come back in two days. Four days later we are back, we have passed inspection and we pay for our tickets in cash. The ferry leaves at 10:00pm from Keelung, a port city on the northen tip of Taiwan. The man at the ferry office tells us to get to Keelung’s Passenger Terminal between 7:00 and 9:00pm. Don’t believe him.
Trains from Taipei to Keelung leave several times an hour, and tickets need not be (and cannot be) purchased in advance. Shiny plastic benches line the walls of the train cars for minimum seating and maximum standing. At Keelung the map the man at the ferry company gave you will take you from the train station, over the highway and along the port to the International Ferry Terminal. Up the escalators and across the large empty expanse of waiting room is the ticket window. It’s 7:30, and the woman at the window exchanges our tickets for boarding passes and tells to catch the shuttle bus to the ferry in the parking lot. The bus leaves at 8:00.
The ship’s cafeteria, gift shop and vending machines only accept Yen. A 500ml can of Premium Kirin or Asahi is ¥300 from a vending machine if you can find a vending machine that is operational. On the deck is an empty hot tub, and inside is a small arcade. The cheapest tickets lead us to a clean, narrow, windowless room facing a television set. Against the walls are three bunk beds and a bathroom. There is a reading light above where the hard rectangular pillow has been placed on each bed. Heavy curtains hang at the walls and can be pulled completely around each bunk, leaving you in your own private pillow fort, or snow castle, or whatever you called the wombs you built and rebuilt in your childhood.
A middle aged lady comes in from next door and turns on our television. It’s a kung fu soap opera in Taiwanese. The lady returns with her mother, and parks her on a lower bunk and leaves her watching our television through the poor reception.
In the morning we are given customs forms. Fill these out completely. When the ferry reaches Naha we follow everyone else to the carpeted ballroom, clutching our customs form and passport and leaving our bags against the wall. We don’t yet know where we’l be staying in Okinawa, so we leave that part of the form blank. But I believe it was Mister Chen’s decision to leave the Occupation field blank that led customs to call in the Coast Guard.
The Japanese Coast Guard questions Mister Chen for about fifteen minutes in the carpeted ballroom. A man in the white uniform of the ferry’s officers brings us the name of a hotel on a piece of paper. He tells us this is where we will stay. He makes it clear that this is not optional. The Coast Guard releases us to customs, where our three bags – two backpacks and a tote bag with a picture of a duck on it – are put through X-ray machines on a conveyer belt and then opened up and searched by more men in uniforms. Another bus takes us alone outside the port by about a block to what we assume is the hotel we were told to stay at. We hand our slip of paper to the ladies at the front desk. They have no idea what we are talking about.
ONE WAY TICKET COACH CLASS $403.12
REFUND $393.12 (MINUS EXPEDIA’S $10.00 PROCESSING FEE)
TAIWAN RAILWAYS TO KEELUNG
ONE WAY TICKET 48NTD (ABOUT $1.46US)
DEPARTS TAICHUNG, TAIWAN SEVERAL TIMES AN HOUR
ARRIVES KEELUNG, TAIWAN ABOUT TWENTY MINUTES LATER
ARIMURA SANGYO (A-LINE) CRUISE FERRY HIRYU
ONE WAY TICKET SECOND CLASS 4200NTD (ABOUT $127.51US)
DEPARTS KEELUNG, TAIWAN EVERY OTHER WEEK 10:00PM
ARRIVES NAHA, JAPAN NEXT DAY 3:00PM