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Running around like a headless chicken, Part1...

Adventures with a rail pass.

Travel in Japan is expensive. The Shinkansen, whilst quick, is not cheap, and rural travel can be even worse Km for km. Some lovely people (thanks guys!) had carefully arranged for me to have a 3week JR pass, costing some 57000yen (about 300gbp - but when a return Tokyo-Hakata is 47000, big savings), and as such, i intended to take full advantage.

I had a few daft things i wanted to do, and a list of places i wanted to visit, as well as cunning research as to which night trains i could use for free, and other perks of the pass. It might be madcap tourism at its worst, but i was going to get the full possible value out of the pass. What followed actually even involved some planning. Thats how important it was.

As such, i kind of ran around like a headless chicken for 3 weeks.

Some journeys are a simple matter of getting from A to B, whilst others are as much for the journey as the arrival. My departure from Hakodate was both. The train from Hokkaido to Honshu runs through the Seikan tunnel, at 54km the worlds longest tunnel. ALmost laughably, this 17year project had been part of the grand design of Shinkansen lines in Japan and started in the boom. It was going to be the key link between Tokyo and Sapporo, but they overspent so badly on the tunnel that they didn`t have enough money to actually build the links at either end. As such, it will be close to another 15 years, and 35 after opening, before the Shinkansen link is completed. At one time, they considered - seriously - turning the tunnel into the worlds lartgest mushroom farm, before eventually deciding to lay standard Japanese narrow guage tracks through it to link it to the main network. It is at best, underused. A twin track tunnel, we didn`t pass a train in the other direction the entire journey or for a good while at either side. Perhaps half a mushroom farm would have been worth it.


After arriving in Hachinohe, i finally got my first ride on the Shinkansen, better known in the west as the Bullet train. Translating as New Trunk Line, the Shinkansen is one of the oldest high speed train services in the world, and along with the French TGV, at the forefront of technolgy. Built at standard guage instead of the normal Japanese narrower guage, it is almost entirely segregated from normal traffic, and now runs at over 300kmh. A bewildering array of names, styles and stopping patterns (there are "local" trains as well), the network is slowly expanding out, and will eventually reach all the main cities in Japan, although due to the sheer nature of the geography, the number of tunnels required means that it isn`t being built on the cheap. In fairness though, despite the Japanese being smaller people, they are incredibly roomy (even for gaijin people), well designed and comfortable, whilst as per the Swiss system, spookily reliable and ontime. This is definitely not run under British Rail Standard time...

I headed first to Tazawa-ko, Japans deepest lake, for a relax andwander, then Kakunodate, famous for its samurai houses. It only occured to me after I got there that a house is essentially just a house, regardless of who lived there, and unless the houses had been built in the shape of a samurai, possihbly wouldn`t be quite as spectatcular as i`d hoped...



Tazawa-ko station dragon, Samurai house in Kakunodate and Buddha statue

From there I headed to Akita, and then down to Tokyo, before bouncing back out to Nagano, home of the 1998 Winter Olympics, (prettily situated, but more of a winter town) to see the Zenko Ji temple, and then onwards to Niigata, for no other reason than i`d often pondered what it was like, and the fact that it was the essentially unlikely recipient of the second Shinkansen line, due to the fact that the PM at the time decided he wanted to be able to get home quickly...


The Zenkoji temple in Nagano and the Bandai Bridge in Niigata

In the rest of the 3 weeks, i did a little business in Nagoya, spent a day people watching in Osaka and taking in the sheer mayhem of the place on a Sunday (great fun), continuing my trend of crashing random peoples birthday parties by heading out to celebrate a friend of the great second timne hosts Kent & Amanda. Spent some time in Kobe - which i really liked for an unknown reason - to see the recovery from the earthquake...


Kobe, with reminders of the devasting 1995 earthquake which cost 6000lives, and the rejuvanted bay area

... and finally got to see the island of Miyajima, which i had missed out the first time due to the Hiroshima typhoon. It was absolutely worth the effort. The Island is home to the Itsukushima Shrine and Tori, which make up one of Japans "big 3" views (everything in Japan is rated for one reason or another). The Tori is built in the bay, which means that with the tide out, it looks like the shrine is floating.

Not quite as floating as it would be if the tide was in...


Of course, being a mountain, i had to climb it. It was a wonderful day, and as nobody else actually bothered to climb it properly, i had the entire ascent through a forest and rocky outcrops all to myself, which was wonderful. Admittedly, the two routes i had wanted to climb had both been washed out and were closed due to the said typhoon, but it was great nether the less. If anybody can explain why I have started getting so into climbing mountains, please feel free. Use of wet fish to be slapped across the face is welcome as well.

The view from the top was fantastic, with Honshu, and the bay/mountains in a long arc on one side, right around to Hiroshima, and the Inland sea, and any number of it`s small islets out the otherside. If I would have had more time, I would have stayed there for hours just gazing. But time I was short on, and i`m ashamed to admit that I cheated and took the cable car back down. Actually, it was just as well that I did, because the top cable car station was somewhere I hadn`t previously passed, and I wouldn`t have bothered unless short on time. And thus I saw monkeys. IU`ve never actually seen wild monkeys before, so to see so many of them just running around and jumping/screaching at each other (and the odd tourist) was great for me to see, although there was at least one or two somewhat confused deer amongst them, who obviously weren`t entirely convinced that they weren`t monkeys themselves...


View from the cable car on the way down, and this kind of ascent on the second of two seperate cable car rides needed to reach the summit (or bottom) is probably why nobody else actually bothered to climb it by foot...

And just for the sake of it, pics of two of my favourite random bits from Miyajima...


... the shrine of tinned oranges, and, bottom, Japanese tourism at it`s very finest! Just this one sign more or less tells you everything you need to know about Japanese tourism, and probably half explains the whole Europe in 10 days group trips which are so wildly popular amongst Japanese.

The second part of my headless chicken* impression follows shortly, but in the meantime, that`ll do.

((*and because i know at least a few of you will think it, my headless chicken impression does not mean that I have birdflu....))

Posted by Gelli 04:26 Archived in Japan

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Gelli, why climb it? Because it is THERE.
As always, you have brought a smile to my face, Thank you Gelli for taking me along on your journey ;)

by Cupcake

A zen riddle: how little does one have to run to reach the ropeway station in 7 minutes?

by GregW

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