Sunday, October 5, 2014

Outrunning A Typhoon On The Shinkansen

5 October 2014

This really is our train!  I ran to the front for a photo while we were waiting on the platform until the train was approved for the trip, or cleaned, or whatever it is they do.

We left Tokyo on the Shinkansen train.  This is the high speed bullet train (300+ km/hr!!! - that's about 180 mph!!!) that seems to be a specialty of Japan and a few European countries (think the TGV trains of France).  This is the Concorde Jet of trains.  And it looks like it - an ultra-streamlined white train, the engine with a nose-cone worthy of blasting through the stratosphere to explore the far reaches of outer space.  It really is an amazing train. 

Plus this year is the 50th anniversary of the Shinkansen, so it was special to be able to ride this super-smooth train from Tokyo to Kyoto.  (And Dad's hat was very happy to be riding on this cool train too!)

We didn't take the express train, which is a bit pricy.  We saved almost 40% on the price of the express ticket by taking the Komada train, the non-express but still high speed train.  It took 3.75 hours instead of 2.75 hours, because we made stops at the larger towns and cities along the route.  But with that savings, we splurged on the "green car," meaning we had larger seats of only two across, with a bit more room.  (Not quite first class, but close.)  

So I'd definitely suggest that travellers in Japan ask about the non-express Shinkansen, and save a little money.  (They also gave us a voucher for a bottled drink at any of the kiosks in the station, so we each grabbed a bottle of water.  Which was great, since there isn't any food service on this train.  We had sandwiches, snacks, our water - other passengers had drinks and bento boxes or other takeaway from all the vendors at the station.  So just remember, no food available but you are saving money.)

Over rivers and bridges, through hills and dales and valleys and tunnels, we stopped in familiar names like Yokohama, and Shin-Fuji (I think that means a town close to Mount Fuji, who was hiding behind the shroud of clouds that rolled in ahead of Typhoon Phanfone).  We stopped at towns with unfamiliar names, and no, we can't remember most of them.  But there were interesting towns with temples, or bamboo forests, or innovative highrise buildings.  An unexpected lake with islands, floating reeds or fish traps, a few boats, all looking so tranquil and scenic, without even trying.

And in between all the towns, there were field and fields and rows and rows of rice, and tea, and all kinds of fruits and vegetables.  Greenhouses galore.  Patchwork quilts of greens and browns and sage and beige and the occasional blue or pink.  Sewn together with hedges of green.  

Rice fields with people working in the fields planting or harvesting, sometimes burning the dried stalks after the rice had been harvested.  

Terraced hillsides with stepped gardens of more rice, more tea, more green growing in this lush landscape.

The hills and mountains create a spine along the center of Honshu, this main island of Japan, where the largest cities are located and much of the population resides.  So we saw row after row of hill and mountain fading into the distance.  But no Fuji, no Ontake, no major mountains.  There was too much cloud cover, and too much rain in the distance to see very far.

We also passed other Shinkansen trains going in the opposite direction, just a blur of white and they rushed passed, onward back to Tokyo or cities further east.

Then suddenly we were in Kyoto, and climbed off the train with our luggage in tow.  We're staying in a little apartment we found on AirBNB, right in the heart of Kyoto.  Got a taxi, found our place, found our hostess, and settled in.

It looks like Phanfone finally has turned - for a while there, it looked as if she (he?) was heading straight for Osaka and Kyoto.  Now, it appears she is turning and will sideswipe us, and most likely hit Tokyo.  Hopefully not make landfall there, hopefully another sideswipe of the city.  But all we can do is wait and see.

Up next:  Our first day in Kyoto.

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