This is one of a series of blogs which describe my trip to Japan in April 2012. To see earlier blogs in the series, click on “Japan Odyssey” in the Tag Cloud.
Half-way through our holiday we travel from Tokyo to Kyoto on the renowned the bullet train. Our luggage had been sent ahead the previous day — there is no room, or more especially, boarding time for messing around with luggage on the Shinkansen ! After our first day encounter with the super efficiency of Japanese Railways ( See the blog by clicking on the Archive dated April 5 2012 ) we did not dare be late for the train. So we set off to Shinagawa station at 9.30am to catch the 11.56 am train — Hakari Express116 coach 12 seats 6A and 6C — with Mr J.R.’s instructions still ringing in our ears from 5 days before. There was no-way we were going to let him down by missing the train.
The station is vast and the Shinkensen has it’s own set of platforms. So we start by heading for the Information Office, for some easy turn-left, turn-right, up-the-escalator, turn-right, turn-left directions. I think we got lost after the second turn-right, still we retraced our steps and they seemed pleased to see us at the Information Office again 🙂 Next time we listen more carefully and do exactly as we were told. Then we arrive at the ticket barrier and remembering Mr JR’s instructions, ” men are better than machines”, we don’t use the ticket machines.
In spite of our muddled wanderings, the station is organised, spotlessly clean and well provided with food shops offering a huge variety of boxed take-away suchi snacks. The newsagents are full of manga comics and sudoku puzzles, but no English newspapers. Nearer the platform, each coach has it’s own waiting room including a Starbucks and a row of computer terminals.
The platform has clear signs —- all in Japanese. Once again they are sparkle- clean, to the point where you can sit on the floor without getting your coat dirty. This young mother wth her baby had no problem finding a space to sit, although seats might be a good inovation for old men with dogy western knees.
Trains arrive and depart every few minutes from each platform. A few minutes before your train is due to arrive — but not too soon in case you get swept off to Okinawa — you line up in a little marked box. The train stops exactly at your marked carriage point. All the train doors open automatically. A quick ‘squirt’ of passengers spill from Coach 12, then with a short intake of breath the train ‘sucks’ on-board the line-up of new passengers in the box marked 12, which includes me and Tom. A guards whistle and off we go, in less than two minutes, —-but it didn’t feel rushed.
The carriage is five seats wide with a larger than UK style central aisle. So the trains must be wider than the UK. All the seats are reserved in advance. Soon up to 200 miles an hour, we speed through lots of tunnels and built up areas, almost all the way from Tokyo to Kyoto. Small two storey detached houses interspersed with office blocks and industry. A flat plain, bordered on one side with a range of heavily forested mountains, the coast line is never far away on the other side. Certainly you get the sense that this is a nation squeezed into a very small island. Building space is in short supply.
Add the jam-packed trains and crowded Tokyo streets, and just maybe you can begin understand the masks ???????
Sony, Panasonic, Suzuki, Toshiba, Nikon, Mitsubishi – flash by the window like railway ticker tape. Global Japanese names dotted about in relatively small factories and office buildings.
First stop after an hour at Tokyo Hashi. At the sound of a “bing bong”, a few people get up and put on their coats, all are standing in the aisle when the train arrives. All off in a 20 second ‘squirt’. All new passengers on in another 20 second ‘suck’. Train leaves in one minute 40 seconds.
Quarter of an hour later, next stop Nagoya. Another one minute 40 second stop.
One unusual thing is that every member of the train staff, from the coffee lady to the ticket collector, as they walk through the carriage , stop as they exit the coach, turn around to face the passengers and bow their head – even if no one is looking.
Our final stop, all passengers due to get off are already in the aisle again. No rocking about on this train, or abrupt stops. After an announcement in excellent English, Tom and I are duely ‘squirted off’ at Kyoto.