Saturday, May 19, 2012

Firefly of the Sea

Yesterday, Tetsu took me on another adventure. Our drives all turn out to be adventures because we never seem to know where we are going...

Tetsu announced last week that he had Saturday off and thought we should make good use of it by going somewhere. He mumbled about making an early morning start by leaving at 4:00 am. but the night before we were still watching TV at 10:00.

"Are we or are we not going to do something tomorrow? In which case I want to clean up the house tonight."

Tetsu was still hemming and hawing so I went to bed. (House untidy.)

The next morning at 5:00 Tetsu was raring to start the day (I'd glanced at the clock at 4:00, noticed he was still asleep and figured the day's plans had been put on hold.) Tetsu cleaned up the house while I took Choco for a walk and by 6:00 we were off and away.

But to where?

"Oh, south. Have you ever been to Harajuku? How about Sky Tree? Or Yokohama? There's a bridge that is interesting. We could go to Kamakura. Where do you want to go?"

All these names and I don't really know much about any of them so I don't know where I want to go and Tetsu knows perfectly well that if he hasn't taken me to any of these places then I've never been to them.

So we drove south... On back roads. After 5 hours of driving we still didn't seem to be getting to our destination (wherever that was) and my mood was spiraling. The streets were crowded, Tetsu kept throwing out new suggestions as to where we could go (he has that GPS now so he feels almighty and can go anywhere... if he could only remember the names of some of the places he's heard about.) I contented myself with reading the photography book I'd brought along. A sure formula for a headache... Reading while riding in a car, Japanese language, and the unfathomable digital workings of a camera....

But at lunchtime we stumbled upon the new outlet mall somewhere near Tokyo. Oh good. A chance to stretch our legs! The mall was beautiful but too much like Rodeo Drive with all the brand shops. A blouse on half price off for $200? No thank you. We got back on the road without any purchases.

BUT!!!!!! Look where we ended up!!!!!

This is called Umihotaru... Literally translated as "Firefly of the Sea." It is a man-made island in the center of the Tokyo Bay and is connected to land by a bridge on one side and a tunnel on the other. The distance across the bay is 14 kilometers, the bridge being about 5 kilometers and the tunnel being about 9.

The amazing thing about this bridge/island/tunnel is that the highway suddenly disappears in the middle of the bay... How is that possible? Why doesn't the sea water just lap into the tunnel? What happens when there is a typhoon? Isn't this the country of tidal waves? How could any architect conceive of a mid-sea tunnel?

Here we are driving over the last of the bridge and heading into the island. It actually looks like a large ship resting at the end of a long pier.

And this is the view from the top looking back towards the shore and over the bridge that we'd just crossed.

And this interesting object is part of the drill that was used to drill under the bay the last 9 kilometers. It was a bit of a thrill to stand next to this huge piece of machinery and think of how it had been put to work.

The bits are worn down in places and slightly rusting... Making it easier to imagine the massive job the drill performed.

Really a beautiful piece of machinery!

I'm getting carried away here.

I should have worn red or bright yellow or something. That is me down there on the left in the black.

And the hazy dot on the horizon I think is the end of the tunnel... Or maybe a special ventilation island for the tunnel.  In which case the tunnel end is further on.  The island just slips down into the sea and the highway comes up again at some far away point.

Even the island surface is artistic.

Umihotaru itself is 4 stories high and besides two floors for parking it has a lot of shops and restaurants. The nice thing about it is that once the parking is filled, that's all the people that are going to be on the island so the crowds weren't overwhelming. Of course to cross the bridge, visit the island and go through the tunnel to the other side of the bay runs about $35 a car but it was nice to sit on the deck with a cup of coffee and watch ships passing by and enjoy a short but very different vacation.

And here we go around the loop and back onto the highway heading under the island and under the depths of the sea...

It took about 15 minutes to make the rest of the trip through the tunnel.

I've lifted this picture off the Internet so that you can actually see how the road and island disappear into the sea. Not a picture I could have taken myself!

Our car took us other places in the late afternoon. I'll post those pictures later. We arrived back home around 9:00 at night (using the tollway) making it a long day of driving for Tetsu but he was ever so pleased with himself for discovering a place that excited me so much!

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