Tag Archives: Japan Rail Pass

Day 184 – Bulletproof

I think we are both a little bit in love.

Generally, as I have mentioned on occasions over the last 6 months, one of the few draw backs of travelling is the travelling.

That changed once we arrived in Japan.

Japanese rail travel is simply the most wondrous way to get from A to B we have ever experienced and we actually look forward to getting on the Shinkansen (new trunk line), or as we know it Bullet Train.  A name that the Japanese are surprised by as their trains are “peaceful”.

We like everything about it.

First of all they look amazing.  They are the E-Types of the train world with ridiculously long and sleek front ends, that despite the speeds they travel you sense is a little flashier than pure aerodynamics require.  They have a real “Wow” factor when you first see one pull into a station (or better still fly by on a pass-through on the centre of the three rails at each platform).

The drivers uniforms look like pilots and the people that ensure there is food and drink available look like cabin crew in very smart uniforms and treat you amazingly well, bowing every time they enter or exit the carriage.

Facilities are great, even in standard class, with leg room that would make a British 1st Class seats look away in shame and the bathrooms are something else.  Not only are they immaculately clean, with baby changing facilities & seat wipe dispensers as standard, they have infared sensors for everything; flushing the toilet or lowering and raising the seat is done with a Jedi sweep of the hand. We wouldn’t be surprised if the next generation of trains has a button to operate your bowels for you.

Then there is the service itself.  Swiss watch manufacturers probably set their timepieces by these beasts, the carriages line up with the exact spot on the platform that your ticket tells you to stand, the train stops at each station for less than 3 minutes, announcements are bilingual Japanese-English and the sense of speed as you blast your way through the Japanese countryside banking round turns at 320 km/h is exhilarating.

Even when you venture off the high speed network, the quality of service and facilities are still high and even the slower local engines look more interesting than a bus on rails type we get on UK local networks.

Today we make our last journey, from Kinosaki to Tokyo, and without doubt we can say we are going to miss you Japan Railways.  Particularly we suspect, when we board our train from London to Manchester on Monday evening and our seats haven’t been switched 180 degrees to ensure everyone faces the direction of travel and nobody bows at us.

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Day 173 – Eternal Flame

Making use of our Japan Rail passes we depart Hiroshima and head to the nearby island of Miyajima.  We take the advice of the guidebooks and websites and decide to stay a night rather than do the day trip option.

Our Japan Rail pass even gets us across the water on a ferry, though due to our bags (heavy) and the length of the trip (short) we do travel on the car deck!

Miyajima is relatively small but very popular with the Japanese as a tourist location, something we discovered when trying to find accommodation – we think we got the last room on the island!  On arrival it felt they we all huddled round the big draw of the island (at least based on the tourist board posters)…the Shinto Gate (more on this later).

We choose the temporarily avoid this and head to what the tourist board should really be focusing their marketing effort on……The World’s Largest Rice Spoon.  After this short (but obviously amazing) stop we make use of  wonderful weather to climb Mount Misen, a 500 metre peak that requires 90 minute of steps to reach.

Just before the summit, as well as a quite frankly overpriced vending machine that only makes money because you are thirsty after the climb, is a temple.  Within this temple is a cauldron.  Nothing too remarkable so far.  When, however, you find that this fire has burned continuously for over a millennium you start be a little bit impressed.

Lit nearly 1200 years ago, it was the flame that was used to light the peace flame in Hiroshima.  I wonder if the Bangles have been here on holiday?

Once you leave the temple you shortly get to the top where you can relish one of the “top three views in Japan” (ie third?), which makes the cardiovascular workout and £2.50 bottle of water all seem worthwhile before taking the easy option of the cable car back down.

As mentioned earlier, Miyajima is famous for its Shinto gate known as Itsukushima Shrine.  On arrival it was less than impressive due to the fact it was surrounded by 100s of tourists and it was low tide.  The thing that makes the shrine so famous is that as the tide comes in it is surrounded by the ocean and stands as an orange beacon in the waves.

Our heeded travel advice meant that as the tide came in, the day tourists left for the last ferry and we were left in relative peace to observe the gate as the sun set and the sea rose.

The only downside of the lack of tourists is the almost complete lack of evening food options, but fortunately we find one before it closes and partake of the local delicacy of oysters before it’s time for bed.

Day 169 – Don’t let the sun go down

As we have said before the only down side of travelling is travelling.  Today is a case in point as we leave our hostel at about 7:00am (missing out on a fairly decent breakfast) and get to our hotel in Osaka at about 3:00pm even though it was only an hour and forty minute flight.

There are reasons for this linked to using public transport at either end, stopping to sort out our Japan Rail passes and grabbing some lunch on the way, but it illustrates that a day getting from one location to another can be a bit tiresome.

However the worst day travelling is better than the best day in the office and the day is not a complete loss and a quick shower later and we step out in the Land of the Rising Sun with a short amount of beautiful spring daylight remaining.

Niki and her moderate vertigo are always delighted when the Lonely Planet lists a tall building as one of cities highlights, but as always she is willing to put up with it for me so we head off to the Umeda Sky Building.  Glimpsing the glass escalators that link between the top of the two towers and reading that the viewing platform is a 360 degree outside terrace my wife practically jumped for joy.

Our timing is perfect and we get to see the sun set over the city with a number of other tourists and have a cheesy photograph taken on the love seat – a bit of a local tradition for couples.  On top of the tower we bump into Malcolm, an Irishman we met on the plane, and head out for dinner and few drinks together in the neon craziness that is nighttime Japan.

Day 164 – Ray of Light

A fairly onerous journey of overnight, normal and subway trains eventually deposits us in the centre  of Hong Kong, that since 1997 is back in Chinese control after being leased by the British.  That said it is still radically different to the mainland China we have spent the last 3 weeks travelling around and everyone, the Chinese included, have to go through a border control process.

Hong Kong is a wonderful city, but having spent 3 days here in October 2012 there was not a great deal that we hadn’t already seen before and therefore decided that we would use the short amount of time we had available more productively and get our Japan Rail Pass…..or I should say we tried to be productive.

The legacy of British rule not only includes driving on the ‘correct’ side of the road, having weirdly familiar road signs and a general rule-following approach, it also stretches a list of public holidays that still means most offices shut on Good Friday.  The rail pass will have to wait until South Korea.

One of the things we didn’t manage to include last time was the Hong Kong Symphony of Light show, apparently the longest consistently running light and music show in the world.  Arriving on at the waterfront just before 8pm finds the banks packed with tour groups and tourists patiently waiting for the show to begin.

A cheesy recorded compare introduces the buildings that will take part and they each flash their respective lights in turn before a rousing (but fairly quiet) piece of classical music starts up over the PA system and the lights and lasers shine across the water in time with the music for around 15 minutes.  I think ourselves and the rest of our group were a little underwhelmed by it all and happily departed for food and beer before a trek around the legendary night markets.

Maybe the Temple Street night markets are not what they once were, or we have just seen so many night markets over the last three months that we are a bit bored of them, but stall after stall selling the same mix of tacky tourist souvenirs and fakes of whatever is the current ‘thing’ fails to inspire.