Japan, BONG (picture of strapping bare-chested chap striking a large gong).
We have culture shock. Two days sailing in a rusty tub over the Sea of Japan and we could be on another planet.
And this after all our fine words about how travelling slowly would cleverly allow us to bypass the sense of bewilderment brought on by sudden exposure to a new and very different place. You know, approaching a place slowly, witnessing the gradual changes as one travels through as one country or region gives way to another.
Sure, we experienced it in this manner all the way up to and into Russia. But not this time.
Rather, as we stepped onto the deck of the MV Rus and caught our first glimpse of the modest port of Fushiki we realised we had moored up in a place very different from that we had left.
The hot, humid air hit us in the face, torrential rain lashed down on the well-kept dockside. The streets were small, dark and empty except for the odd tiny van scuttling past.
And up above us, fluttering in the breeze, the flag of the rising sun, framed by a backdrop of blue, misty peaks.
Stepping off the boat, the people were immediately different. Gone is the pale and lardy Russian look; the 80-a-day, beer-swilling hubby and dyed-haired, micro-skirted wife. This skinny little Englishman is a giant in this land, squeezing my 10 ½s between train seats, cramming my enormous pack onto the luggage racks as immaculate businessmen and well-behaved school kids duck out the way.
And the service is different. In Vladivostok we spent a bewildering few hours trawling through customs and immigration, sucked into a scrum of liquored Russian tourists before being finally spewed out on the darkended dockside, apparently left to pick the guess the right ship to embark on.
A far cry from the hyper-efficient, ultra-polite world of Japanese officialdom we now find ourselves in, all laptops and bows. Blimey, even the newsreader on the television bows!
Perhaps this will be the only time we experience this culture shock, Japan is after all renowned as a rather insular and culturally isolated nation, happy to be adrift off the coast of Asia and its more boisterous neighbours.
Or perhaps we should steel ourselves for this every time we take a long boat trip, after all America should prove somewhat different from Hong Kong.
Either way, this is culture shock of a highly serendipitous nature. Lara couldn’t stop beeming, “at last - a civilised country!” Her Finnish genes were firing away and she danced for joy: goodbye Russia, hello nice neat, clean Japan.
But despite all these pleasant surprises I got the feeling that it wasn’t all going to be plain sailing. Lurking beneath the surface of this rigidly ordered and law-abiding society lies a complex web of manners and etiquette, a whole new protocol we have to fathom and follow.
Add to this of course a notoriously difficult language, particularly in its written form, which makes cyrillic seem a breeze.
As the monsoonal rains lashed across the harbous and we headed out into the streets we scanned the roadsigns for our next mode of transport.
The squiggles and squirls seemed all robots and rabbits to us. Anyone know the kanji for train station?