Monday, March 02, 2009

Train Travel


I am truly, truly starting to loathe train travel in Japan. Minus the glorious benefits reaped from visiting those I like best, I've decided that the Shinkansen sucks.

Between my parents' trip in August and my visits with Jono, I have traveled this great island from one literal end to the other (and have bloody seen enough!!). During this past week it came to a head when I climbed on the Shinkansen for the fourth time in almost as many days. FOUR times! And during these recent trips, I began to reflect on how much one learns from so much train travel. I mean, so much money and time spent on a train must be worth something, right?

Fun fact: The Shinkansen, and every other train in this country, ALWAYS arrive EXACTLY when they mean to. No matter the length of trip or the kilometers traveled, the train will arrive and depart to the minute that it is supposed to. In fact, in a year, the timetable of the Shinkansen will typically shift by about :36. And that's in seconds, not minutes.

Unfortunate fact: There are no discounts for Shinkansen passengers who are residents of Japan. None. For each weekend I visit Jono, I spend the Yen equivalent of $450. To go to Tokyo and back runs a mere $220. And a trip to Kyoto, which is only a 35 minute ride, I pay $100 return. For fun, I recently (ok, earlier today) added up the amount of money I have (or will pay) to have ridden (ride) the Shinkansen between last August and the end of this month and came up with the US equivalent of $3000. Funny enough, that is nearly the same cost as my car, which could take me to the same places for a lot less.

Silver lining: for that amount of money, I guess you could say I travel quickly. The Shinkansen is the world's fastest train. It travels at speeds so high (210 km/h or 124mph) that it virtually floats on its rails. To travel to Aomori where Jono lives, I travel 997km (619m - the same distance as you would travel from Des Moines to the border of Texas) in less than 6 hours.

Train slang: 'I'm coming into Nags eki on the 4:15 Shin from Tokes. Wanna meet for some Yamachan's?'(I'll be arriving into Nagoya on the 4:15 train from Tokyo. Wanna grab chicken for dinner?)

My own personal twist: Recently, I have become proud of my ability (obsession?) to time (to the minute, of course) how long certain aspects of traveling on the Shinkansen take. For example, I know, for a fact, that I can drive from my house (4 minutes) or school (6 minutes) to the train station and get on for a (18 minute express or 24 minute local) ride to Sakae, take a (3-5 minutes depending on the line) detour for a coffee at Starbucks, catch the Subway (for a 4 minute train ride) to Nagoya Station, walk (for 6 minutes, 8 in heels or with heavy luggage) up the stairs to the Shinkansen lines, pick up Cinnamon Melts at McDonalds (3 minutes) and be on the train in less than an hour's time from when I started. I know that trains leave from Tokyo to Nagoya every 20 minutes, that the ride is exactly 101 minutes, and that t around minute 80, I get a view of Mount Fuji (again). Every 23 minutes I am offered tea and sweets by the 'stewardess', and I have found out that, if I close my eyes and pretend I am sleeping, that when the ticket guy comes around after minute 36 to punch my ticket, he'll leave me alone (which isn't necessary, but, since I want to be difficult and don't feel like proving that I am in the right seat, is fun to do). I also know that carying a weekend bag, a computer, a purse, skis, ski boots, and ski gear, all at the same time, will cost you more than one puff on an inhaler at the top of the 26th step at Nagoya station's Shinkansen platform...

2 comments:

Carmen said...

I'm so glad I found your blog!! I have read this post, plus a bunch of older ones on teaching, kids and Iowa...I would love so much to sit down with you, drink some beers, gobble some nachos and discuss the finer aspects of living OCONUS. :-) Your train stories made me laugh so much, because MY experience of LOTS of train travel, in England and Europe was soooo different...never, ever on time...

mary said...

that train looks exactly like the one in Lost in Translation, which Mark and I watched last weekend. I kept cracking up thinking about you living in Japan and what it must be like for you...I was not laughing at you, I promise...
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