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Kyoto – Maruyama Park May 10, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kansai, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Kyoto – Maruyama Park” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-EK

 

One of my favourite memories of Kyoto is on my first trip to Kyoto. I walked along the entire east side of Kyoto from Kyoto Station all the way to Ginkakuji. For anyone who has ever visited Kyoto and looked at that area, they probably won’t believe me when I say I walked all of that and walked almost all the way back to Kyoto Station as well. I didn’t have any real idea as to what each area was about, and my Japanese was no where near good enough to navigate around town smoothly. Now, I wouldn’t do it again, but it was an experience that I don’t regret doing and I would do it all over again if I had to. Walking around Kyoto was a great experience that allowed me to see a lot of Kyoto, although I don’t necessarily remember everything. One of the best memories I had on that walkabout was my visit to Maruyama Park and heading up a nearby mountain to a small shrine.

Maruyama Park is a small park that is either left off the guide books or barely mentioned. It is famous at one time of the year, the cherry blossom season. Most of the park is covered in cherry trees making this the place to be during the cherry blossom season. It is difficult to find a place, or so I’ve been told, to sit and enjoy the cherry blossoms. When I visited, I was about 1-2 weeks too early to enjoy the cherry blossoms. One or two trees had buds on them, but that was about it. The park itself is quite easy to navigate and without much foliage to enjoy I finished walking the park in about 15 minutes. I enjoyed the small pond of water that flowed through much of the park and found it interesting to see piles of neatly folded blue tarps near the trees. Little did I know that when the cherry trees started to blossom, the park workers would unfold these blue tarps and create a space for people to sit and enjoy the cherry blossoms. At night, much of the park would be lit up and hundreds, if not thousands of people would be there to enjoy the cherry blossoms, the company of each other, and of course the beer and alcohol.

The main reason I enjoyed this park wasn’t so much the park itself. It was the small mountain and “secret” shrine that I found above the park. If you head to east through the park, you will start to head up a small steep hill. You will then find a small shrine in the corner of the park. I believe it was the north east corner of the park. From there, you will find a small path that starts to lead into the woods and up the mountain. I remember it as being near a set of washrooms, but I don’t know how helpful that would be for someone looking for the path. I headed up the path with a friend of mine not knowing what we would find. Little did I know, we would have one of the best adventures of the entire trip. It wasn’t an easy walk as we were walking up a small mountain. I was surprised to see small altars, or graves along the path. I believe they were altars. There were several small Buddhist statues on each one and they have been there for years, if not decades. The faces of many of the statues had been worn off by the rain and wind. There were altars at nearly every corner of the dirt path. It took a while before we made it to the top and we considered turning back a couple of times. The one good thing was that we didn’t give up. We continued until we reached a small garden/temple at the top. This temple was really nice but I was surprised to find that we had to pay to enter and see Kyoto from a viewing platform. We decided not to pay and just relaxed at the top for a bit before heading back down the way we came. We had the options to take a small road down from the temple but we had no idea where it went, so the prudent thing was to head back the way we came. I do regret that we didn’t enter the temple, but the memory of hiking up that small mountain will remain in my mind forever.

As I mentioned, we walked all the way from Kyoto station to Ginkakuji. It was a full day walk from 9 am till 9 pm. We had a tough time, physically, going around and seeing everything. When you are on a budget of $0, you’d be surprised at how willing you are to just walk around. Renting a bicycle would have been better but at the same time it wouldn’t. Walking allows you to just take your time and wander around to wherever you want to go. Many times, I prefer to just choose an area and just walk in one direction and wander in a direction that interests me. On this trip, I was lucky enough to see a couple of geisha/maiko around a pagoda as well, but whether they were true maiko or not, I had no idea. In Kyoto, it is fairly common to see “fake” maiko. These are tourists who get dressed up in a costume shop and spend a few hours walking around as a “geisha” or “maiko”. You never really know who is a true maiko or not, but if I had been on a bus or riding a bicycle, I wouldn’t have been able to discover such amazing things. I highly recommend this walking tour, but do be aware that it isn’t easy and requires a full day to do it.

Maruyama Park Information:

Maruyama Park (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maruyama_Park
Maruyama Park (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3925.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Kobe April 26, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kansai, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Kobe” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-kobe

 

Kobe is a quaint suburban city that is akin to the relationship of Yokohama to Tokyo.  It is a major city in the Kansai region and less than an hour away from Osaka.  It is steeped in history but appears to suffer a little in the sense that they are always trying to step out of Osaka’s shadow.  Realistically, Kobe is a city that could never rival Osaka.  It is no different than asking a suburban city to be more popular than the nearby big brother.  Kyoto and Nara have a similar relationship.  Everyone talks about Kyoto and how great it is, yet many people overlook Nara.  They are both very similar and yet they are also very different at the same time.  Kobe and Osaka are similar in this respect.  Osaka has grown into a very modern large city that appears to be leaving all of its history in the past.  Kobe however seems to be embracing their past and expanding with the future.

There is no better way to experience the past of Kobe than to explore the Kitano area.  This is a small area that houses various old consulates.  It is situated on at the bottom of a hill near Shin-Kobe station.  Walking around the small streets in this area can make you feel as if you stepped back in time a little to when the Europeans were settling in the area and doing a lot of trade.  Today, the small streets can be a little dangerous as affluent Japanese drivers zoom past you in their Mercedes Benz cars.  The old European style homes can be visited for a fee in some cases, but the exteriors are very quaint.  It has a very relaxing nature that makes you wish there was a nice coffee shop with a terrace so you can enjoy some afternoon tea in the sun.  Kobe also feels a bit like a wedding capital of Japan.  I cannot confirm this but the number of wedding chapels I saw in Kobe was astonishing.  The Kitano area is no exception.  There are several wedding chapels and halls in the area that will help you hold a traditional western wedding.  The Kitano area is also a great starting point to do some hiking in the mountains that border Kobe.  The views from the mountains are considered to be some of the best in Japan as evidenced by Mt. Rokko.  Away from the Kitano area is a ropeway that brings you up to the top of Mt. Rokko which is reported to be one of the top 3 night views of Japan; the other two being in Nagasaki and Hakodate.  Unfortunately on my trip I didn’t get a chance to visit the mountain peak.

Central Kobe can be described as an area around Sannomiya Station.  While Kobe Station is not located in this area, Sannomiya is the heart of Kobe.  All around Sannomiya you will find various department stores.  Almost all train lines in and around Kobe run through Sannomiya.  All of the major department stores are represented in this area as well as a large and long shopping arcade that runs from Sannomiya out to the western suburbs.  It is also the centre of all drinking to be done in Kobe.  It can be difficult to get around with so many people in the area but it is a wonderfully busy place.  At the main intersection, you can see all kinds of people.  I would liken it to Shibuya Crossing or the east side of Shinjuku.  You can see various musicians playing their music and trying break into the industry.  You can also see various people looking for donations to various charities.  Flower road is also a famous street that passes through Sannomiya.  Flower road is a road that stretches from Shin-Kobe Station all the way to the harbour.  It is a nice wide road that is lined with various flower boxes and statues.  The statues can be a bit surprising for a country such as Japan since most of the statues depict naked women.  Most people ignore them but for me it was a surprise.  They aren’t in any sexual positions but for such a conservative country, I was nonetheless surprised.  Towards the end of Sannomiya is Kobe’s Chinatown.  Officially called Nankinmachi (after Nanjing), it is your typical Chinatown.  I actually enjoyed this one the most out of the 3 main Chinatown areas in Japan.  Yokohama is the largest but it is also too busy and doesn’t feel real.  Nagasaki is too small and it doesn’t feel as welcoming as Kobe.  Nankinmachi is very open and very friendly.  You will see many buskers selling various foods as well as many restaurants lining the area.  You can’t go around the area without filling your stomach and the smells will keep you there.

The port area is the last place I visited in Kobe.  It is a wide area that has a lot of reminders of the past Great Hanshin Earthquake.  On one end you have Mosaic and Harbourland.  Mosaic is a modern shopping complex that is similar to the shopping complexes in Odaiba.  It is an open air area with many small shops alongside some brand name shops.  It is a place for couples to go and enjoy a date.  It is teaming with young couples but on weekdays when everyone is working or at school, it can feel a bit like a ghost town.  Harbourland is adjacent to Mosaic.  It is a small urban amusement park where you can ride various amusement rides such as small roller coasters and Ferris Wheels.  Across from this area is Meriken Park.  This is a large open park that houses the Kobe Maritime Museum, the Kawasaki Good Times World, and the Kobe Port Tower.  The museum and Good Times World are in the same building and showcase the history of the Port of Kobe as well as showcasing the technology of Kawasaki.  Kobe Port Tower is an icon of Kobe.  It is a tall red tower that looks similar to a baton.  It is usually lit up at night but on my visit to Kobe they turned off the exterior lighting in order to conserve energy.  The park itself is also used for Christmas light displays each year.  While the museum and tower are interesting, the earthquake memorial is more fascinating.  At the memorial you can read about the effects of the Great Hanshin Earthquake as well as see a small section of the port that was destroyed and left as is after the quake.  It was a little ironic that I would visit this section as I was taking a spontaneous vacation to escape the aftershocks from the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake.  If being on solid land is starting to get boring you can also take a boat cruise that leaves from a section between Meriken Park and Mosaic.  The ships embark on cruises that take you around Kobe harbour, the Akashi Bridge, or even to Kobe Airport where you can watch the planes land.  One of the ships has been designed to look like a gaudy pirate ship that came straight out of a Chinese “Disneyland”.  It looked cheap and a bit fake looking.  It looked like a lot of fun for kids but for most adults it was probably something we wouldn’t care much for.

If you head east of Meriken Park you will walk along a highway where you’ll be able to see a bit more of the earthquake history.  Minatonomori Park is located in an evacuation centre that is literally nestled between elevated highways.  It is a large open park that is popular for doing sports.  There is a skate park for inline skaters as well as skateboarders.  You can find a small hockey rink, no ice of course, as well as tennis courts and a small soccer pitch.  There is a large field for you to just relax as well.  Inside the park is a small monument where an old clock is preserved.  It marks the moment that the earthquake struck.  It is somewhat sombre but the activities in the park keep the atmosphere light.  Across the way is another park that has yet another monument to the great earthquake.  This monument is more hopeful as there is an eternal flame that was lit with flames gathered from all neighbourhoods that were affected by the earthquake.  It is a very interesting concept and something that should be repeated in the future.  For those who have even more time, heading south of this region on the Port Liner will take you to Port Island.  On Port Island, you can enjoy various cultural activities.  There are several different museums to visit however the cost to access the area may make people think twice.  I didn’t get a chance to visit Port Island but I’d like to try on a future trip to Kobe.

Overall, Kobe is a wonderful city to visit.  There isn’t a lot to do but if you take your time and just relax, you will have a lot of fun.  It isn’t a city where you can rush and enjoy everything.  While it can be visited in a day to get a general feel of the area, I do recommend a couple days to just enjoy everything.  For an average tourist, however, I doubt it would be very interesting.  For residents of Japan it’s a wonderful place to get away from the big city and yet keep all of the conveniences of a big city.

Kobe Information

Official Tourism Website:  http://www.feel-kobe.jp/_en/
Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2159.html
Wikitravel:  http://wikitravel.org/en/Kobe

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Kyoto – Kinkakugi & Ginkakuji March 8, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kansai, Travel.
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Author’s  Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Kyoto & Ginkakuji” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Df

Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji are two of the most famous temples in Kyoto.  When people talk about the most amazing thing they saw, they almost always talk about their visit to Kinkakuji.  Ginkakuji is usually not very important, when compared to Kinkakuji, however it is hard to mention one without the other.  Both are visited, daily, by hundreds if not thousands of people.  Both have a long history, however Ginkakuji was built after Kinkakuji and its final intended look has been debated for centuries.

Kinkakuji was originally built in 1398 and had been rebuilt only once in 1955 due to arson.  When approaching the temple, you are flanked by various tourist shops, but these tend to be less intrusive compared to the historical Kiyomizudera.  The shops around Kinkakuji tend to be very subdued.  This could partly be due to the fact that the route I used to enter the temple grounds had a large parking lot on one side.  Upon entry into Kinkakuji, you are immediately presented with the main attraction, the golden pavilion.  Kinkakuji literally translates into the “Golden Pavillion” and this pavilion doesn’t disappoint.  It is built on one side of a lagoon and the entrance is on the opposing side.  You will immediately walk to a small area on the side of the lagoon where everyone will be taking photos.  On weekdays, you will more than likely see school children getting a tour of the temple grounds and “learning” about the historical importance of Kinkakuji.  For most people, they will be distracted by the sheer beauty of the pavilion itself.  Personally, I think it can be a little gaudy, especially in pictures, but when you see it in person, you will get very different perspective.  The golden pavilion is very picturesque and it’s easy to get good pictures, even when it’s raining.  The pavilion literally shines at all times, however a bright, beautiful, sunny day would be much better.

Once you have finished the main attraction, a romp through the temple grounds behind the golden pavilion is a must.  In fact, you have no choice as the exit is located on the other side of the temple grounds.  You must head up a small hill behind the golden pavilion.  This is where things change, either for the better or for the worse.  In my personal experience, things only got worse, but I did make the most of the adventure.  There are only a few things to see and do, but if it is your first time in Japan, it will be very interesting nonetheless.  There is a small area behind the pavilion with statues where you can throw coins for good luck.  It is a small section but unfortunately I couldn’t find any good information on exactly what you must do to get good luck.  There is also a famous tea house and a power spot located near the exit.  It’s difficult to describe the location but there is a seat where if you sit down, you will get good luck.  Both the tea house and power spot are located in the same location.  The tea house itself  I’m not exactly sure why or how but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Kinkakuji excels the most because they have the golden pavilion.  Ginkakuji, translated into the “Silver Pavilion” excels at everything else.  There is a path leading to Ginkakuji called “Philosopher’s Walk”.  This is a cherry tree lined canal that stretches from Nanzenji to Ginkakuji.  It is said to have inspired a famous Japanese philosopher as he contemplated life’s daily problems.  When I visited, late February, it was anything but a philosophically enlightening path.  It was a small path between homes with a small canal.  The trees looked dead as it was still winter and the cherry blossoms had yet to bloom, or even begin budding.  The path itself was just a typical gravel path and there was more garbage in the canal than I would have preferred to see.  I spent a lot of time mocking the actual path, wondering why it was ever included in guide books.  From my experience it was unimaginable to think of this path as enlightening until a few years after my visit.  A few years after my visit to Ginkakuji, I had the opportunity to see pictures of this path and the temple during the cherry blossom season and during the summer.  I was surprised to see the path was lined with cherry trees that covered the entire canal and it was a very beautiful place.  It is something that I would like to see again if I ever get the chance as I’m sure that timing a visit to be outside of winter would be necessary to understand the reasoning behind the name of this path.

Ginkakuji itself is also amazing.  As I mentioned, Kinkakuji was all about the golden pavilion, but Ginkakuji is not about the silver pavilion at all.  The pavilion was originally covered in a black lacquer that made it look silver during a full moon.  The silver look was either from the moonlight or the waters from the gardens next to the pavilion.  I have read conflicting reports on which one is true, however I’d imagine that both are actually true.  The actual temple grounds are more interesting than the pavilion.  The sand garden is the centre piece of the entire temple grounds.  There is a large sand garden located near the entrance with a large conical shaped mound.  The mound is called the “Moon Viewing Platform” and it is amazing at how perfect it looks.  The design within the regular garden itself is also amazing and surprisingly tranquil.  It has been a while since I had visited Ginkakuji so I can’t remember everything in great detail.  I mostly remember my feelings and my emotions.  I had just finished a very long hike during the day travelling from Kyoto Station all the way, including a side trip up a mountain and back down, on foot.  It was literally a day hike through Kyoto and not something I would do again.  It is, however, something that I wouldn’t trade in the world as the experience was unique and memorable.  I was very tired when I entered Ginkakuji, but the tranquility of the temple and the beauty of the gardens helped invigorate me and I had the energy to return back to the station, again on foot.

Both Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji are temples that should be visited.  If you have to make a choice, I’d go with Kinkakuji due to the beauty of the pavilion itself.  I would rather go to Ginkakuji if you were looking for something spiritual and uplifting.  They both excel at different things and both are historically important.  My memories of visiting both will never completely fade away and I will always have the emotions that I felt when I visited them.

Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji Information:

Kinkakuji (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinkakuji

Kinkakuji (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3908.html

Philosopher’s Path (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3906.html

Ginkakuji (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginkaku-ji

Ginkakuji (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3907.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Kyoto – Kiyomizudera February 8, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kansai, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Kyoto – Kiyomizudera” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-BV

Kiyomizudera is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto. Of course, to be one of the most famous temples in Kyoto doesn’t mean as much as it does in Tokyo as there are so many famous temples in Kyoto . This one is of special importance due to its history and the fact that it is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list for Kyoto. The temple itself is located on a mountainside with spectacular views of the surrounding area. It is almost always listed on travel guides as a must see temple and I would highly recommend it.

The first step to visiting this temple is to actually reach the temple. The easiest way to get there is to take a bus. From the bus stop, you still have to hike nearly 1km to get to the main entrance of the temple complex. This can be a difficult hike for those who have never exercised in their life, but when visiting Japan, it’s always safe to assume that you will be doing a lot of walking. The main street and bus stop is located at the very bottom of the hill yet the entire hike up is still enjoyable. After one or two blocks, you start to see all of the typical tourist shops that would line a major street towards any tourist attraction.  Due to the popularity and history of Kiyiomisudera, many of these shops have been around for decades, if not centuries. You will be able to see various shops selling locally made arts and crafts and dozens of food shops. All of the shops sell regional items and they shouldn’t be missed. If you are looking for a full meal, you may want to skip this area as the costs can be high, but if you are looking for cookies, crackers, or something in that range, you can’t really go wrong buying things here. On almost any day you visit, you will be fighting a steady stream of people heading both up and down the hill. If you go on a weekday, there is a high chance you will see hundreds of school kids making their way up and down, whereas if you are going on the weekend, you will see just about anyone. This can be a challenge if you are pressed for time and it only gets worse as you get closer to the top. Once you reach the temple entrance will you get some room to move around freely.

Upon entering the shrine, after paying the entrance fee, you have a short walk past various buildings till you reach the main hall. In terms of a private tour, most people make a B-line to the main hall as it is the main reason people visit Kiyomizudera.  In reality, there are lots of things to see along the way if you are patient enough and if it’s your first visit to a temple.  For those who have visited many other temples around Japan, there aren’t many unique features in this area, but there are a few. The main hall is located 13 metres above the ground near the exit and has beautiful views of the surrounding area. Inside the hall itself is a large open space that is designed in a very classical Japanese Buddhist style. It’s difficult to explain but it’s something that must be experience and seen by oneself. The entire hall is not open to the public but a fairly large area is. The main attraction has to be the outer walk/stage which is where you can enjoy the beautiful views. In the spring, you can enjoy the wonderful cherry blossoms and in the autumn, the autumn foliage is a wonderful sight. You can enjoy all of these at night as well as the temple regularly installs lighting so that the views can be enjoyed nearly 24 hours a day. Of course the temple is closed at night, but during certain times of the year, they open later so people can enjoy the beauty of the forest below.  On my own personal visit, it was pouring down which added a unique feature of allowing me to see how the water ducts work at clearing water from the roof.  Seeing a torrent of water stream down from the corner of the roof was amazing but you need a lot of rain to do that.

There is a small shrine located just behind the main hall itself and is part of the main self guided tour. There are steps that lead up to the Jishu shrine. This is a “love” shrine where you can pray that you will find your one true love. There are two stones set 18 metres apart. If you can find your way between the two stones without looking, you will find love on your own. If you need help, you will need someone to help you find your true love. On the various English websites that I have visited, they mention that you only have to do this one way, however on the Japanese inscription, I believe they said you have to return to the rock you started from. I’m not entirely sure but it doesn’t hurt to do it. The more interesting part of this shrine is the fact that they have a large statue of a rabbit/hare. The old story is that Okuninushi, the god whom the shrine is dedicaqted to, wanted to marry a beautiful princess and was on his way to court her, but a hare stopped him and asked for help. He was with his brothers who also wanted to court the princess but they didn’t offer good advice. Since Okuninushi helped the hare and the hare happened to be a god, the hare said he would be the one who would be able to marry the princess. The story goes on from there, but it is not relevant to enjoy the shrine. Needless to say, the hare itself is a bit scary and nothing a young child would enjoy.

The temple grounds themselves are large and I didn’t get to see everything. I took the main tour as that was all the time I had to see. There is one last point of interest within the temple grounds itself. This is the Otowa Waterfalls. There are three streams of water that fall from above and you are given a ladle with a long handle. The streams of water represent wisdom, health, and longevity. If you drink from the proper stream, you will increase one of those three traits. It is a custom to drink from one or two of the three, at the most, as drinking from all three is considered greedy and can create misfortune instead. It is common to see very long lines outside of this attraction and you will have to wait anywhere from 10-30 minutes just to reach the streams. For some people, this is well worth the wait, but I’m pretty impatient when it comes to lines and decided to skip it. I don’t feel I need to improve anything specifically, but if you want to have a little fun it is enjoyable and free with admission to the temple grounds.

The temple grounds were a big surprise for me. When I visited, it was raining pretty hard at first which made things a little difficult to get around. Nevertheless it was beautiful and a place that I recommend, even with the hundreds of people walking around. It’s difficult to get a good picture of the area and I recommend patience. If you expect to feel relaxed with a sense of enlightenment, you might be disappointed as there are generally too many people to make this peaceful. However, the views and intricate detail of this typical temple is well worth the visit. There is a good reason all of the guide books include it as a must see destination when visiting Kyoto.

Kyoto – Kiyomizudera is part of a Kyoto series.  Please follow the links below to read more about Kyoto:

Kiyomizudera Information:

Kiyomizudera (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiyomizu-dera
Kiyomizudera (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3901.html
Okuninushi (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%8Ckuninushi

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Shinkansen – South Routes February 23, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Chugoku, Japan, Kansai, Kanto, Kyushu.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Shinkansen – South Routes” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kH

Travelling by train in Japan is one of the easiest, yet most complex things to do.  It is a must for anyone who visits Japan. Going to Tokyo, or even Osaka, you are generally better off using the trains.  Travelling by car can take a lot more time.  While the most used trains are in Tokyo, the most famous train line is the Shinkansen.  This is Japan’s high speed rail line, which happens to also be the first high speed rail line in the world.  It was opened before the Tokyo Olympics, and has been expanding ever since.  The most famous image of the Shinkansen has to be that of the 0 series.  These were the original trains that have only recently been retired.  As of December 2008, these trains were taken out of service.  All of the other trains have remained, but each year, several of the older trains have been retired.

The first Shinkansen line was the Tokaido line.  This is the most famous line as it helps tourists head from Tokyo all the way to Kyoto, and for business travellers as it connects Tokyo with Nagoya and Osaka.  While all of the trains are called “Super Express”, this moniker can be confusing.  The Shinkansen is a super express, relative to regular train services.  When taking the Shinkansen, it’s very important to know which train you are taking.  A Nozomi, Hikari, and Kodama are all very different.  When using the JR Pass, the Nozomi is off limits.  If you do take this train, you might end up paying for the full fare regardless.  This is due to the sheer numbers of people using these trains.  Thankfully, the Hikari is still pretty quick with only a few extra stops, compared to the Nozomi.  The only downside is that travelling to Hiroshima and Hakata, in Fukuoka, is a little difficult.

The second Shinkansen line is the Sanyo line.  This is essentially an extension of the Tokaido line.  This allowed the line to connect Fukuoka, in Kyushu, to Tokyo.  Unfortunately, the trains can take around 8 hours to connect both cities making it impractical for most travellers.  Flying is still the best, but Hiroshima can be better than flying, due to airport locations.  When travelling along the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen, there are several trains you could use.  The oldest currently being used is the 100 series.  This is styled like the 0 series.  These trains only travel along the Sanyo portion for Kodama (local) services.  It stops at every station, so the chance of riding this is pretty low for the average traveller.  The 300 series is the next oldest of the trains.  This series was fairly popular, but as I am writing this, they are slowly being phased out.  Currently, they are used for Kodama and Hikari services, with an occasional Nozomi.  This was the first Shinkansen that utilized a wedge style nose, rather than a “bullet” style nose.

In Japan, one of the most famous Shinkansen has to be the 500 series.  It is the most unique Shinkansen for its styling.  These trains have a sharp pointed nose, grey and purple colouring, and resemble a fighter jet, rather than an airplane or train.  Prior Shinkansen were made to resemble airliners.  The 500, while striking, was not very popular with customers.  It was very fast, but it was like a Ferrari.  It was relatively small inside, due to the tube like shape of the body.  The windows were smaller, it was darker inside, and a little noisy as each car had its own engine.  Few of these trains were made, but it’s still a popular train for train spotters.  The recent designs along these lines are the 700 series.  The 700 was the first duckbill styled Shinkansen.  The N700 is an evolution of the 700 series with more emphasis on comfort.  The N700 is also the first Shinkansen to be all non-smoking.  They do have smoking rooms.  In the older trains, there are smoking cars.  Entry into these cars is only for smokers.  Anyone else would be forced to leave, not by the train staff, but by the amount of smoke inside the car.  You can literally see a thick haze of smoke, and you can smell it in the adjacent car.  The N700 is quickly entering service and will be the main workhorse of these lines.  While the windows are a bit smaller than the 700, there is wifi access, for a fee, and two prong outlets in each row.  They are definitely thinking about their businessmen.

Connecting to the Sanyo Shinkansen is the Kyushu Shinkansen.  Currently, this Shinkansen line is under construction, with the southern portion complete.  This will link Hakata with Kagoshima, a city in the south of Kyushu.  At this moment, the line is running from Kagoshima to a point roughly half way to Hakata, the end of the line.  By the spring of 2011, this line is expected to be completed with through service to Osaka starting.  This line uses the 800 series of trains, which abandoned the duckbill style of the 700 series.  These trains have a more European styling, and the interior is said to be nicer than other Shinkansen trains.  When the line is completed, N700 trains will be used as well.  This will make it very easy to reach Kagoshima for most travellers.

This is the first part of two in the Shinkansen Series.  Please continue on to read more about the Shinkansen – North Routes.

Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinkansen
Japan Guide (Great page for a snapshot of major services): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2018.html
Japan Railways (Lots of information on what to do in Japan):  http://www.japanrail.com/
Japan Railways (Shinkansen Page):  http://www.japanrail.com/index.php?page=JR-Shinkansen-bullet-train
JR Central (Note:  Lots of information on operations and reliability):  http://english.jr-central.co.jp/about/index.html
JR West (Note: This page is not very interesting):  http://www.westjr.co.jp/english/travel/
JR Kyushu (Note:  Great pictures of their trains):  http://www.jrkyushu.co.jp/english/tsubame_top.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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