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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。

The Great Motorcycle Adventure – Part II (Wrap Up) September 1, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “The Great Motorcycle Adventure – Part II (Wrap Up)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-eP

By now, you have finished reading about Shikoku and you know what to expect if you visit Shikoku.  In this post, I’m going to be a little greedy and talk about my adventure, personally.

Preparing for this adventure was a chore in itself.  There are a million things to do, and a million things to plan.  I purposefully left everything till the last few weeks, but kept a basic plan in my head.  I never even had a good idea of how long I’d like to stay in each area until a week before leaving.  In fact, I never even locked my plans on how to get to Shikoku until the last second, literally.  I decided to take the ferry, roughly two nights before I left, and didn’t even reserve a spot until the day I left.  There are two main reasons why I chose to take the ferry.  The first, I didn’t feel like riding for 8 hours on the expressway, getting lost, looking for gas, and generally being bored on my own.  The main reason I took the ferry was that a friend of mine was also heading to Shikoku at the same time.  Instead of driving, or riding a motorcycle, he and a friend of his decided to ride their bicycles from Kochi to Matsuyama.  It was also a great adventure, and I felt honoured to be starting our journey together.  In fact, we almost didn’t even start together.  They barely made it onto the ferry as they were late arriving at the terminal.  On the ferry, I also met a German man who was on a trip to Kyushu.  It takes roughly two days to reach Kyushu, but we had a great time drinking, eating, and talking.  I believe I made the right decision.

My friend, John, has his own podcast.  You can view it here:  http://weblish.net/
Please subscribe to his main Weblish Podcast (Episode 40 a~f) to see his own documentary of his trip in Shikoku.

Upon riding down the ramp at Tokushima, I had to wait roughly 20 minutes for my friend to arrive.  He had to get gas, and he also got lost looking for the terminal.  I was getting antsy to get out as it was a beautiful day and I was hoping to head up to Naruto for the whirlpools.  As we were looking for the hotel, we had a little accident.  My friend dropped his motorcycle.  This was our only bad luck, in terms of riding.  It took us about 30 minutes to find the hotel, but when we did, we were just happy to be in Shikoku.  My friend, however, had no energy and needed to get off the bike for the day.  This would actually be the mood of the entire trip.  Ride a little, and then relax for the afternoon and night.  We toured Tokushima before going to bed.  The hotel was great, and I wish I could have gone back.  The owner had a big Ducati in the garage, free motorcycle parking, and free wifi in our room.  What more could we ask for?  He even gave us a little advice when we left for our trip.  Unfortunately, when we returned to Tokushima, the hotel was fully booked.

Riding down route 55 was excellent.  It was our first full day, and like any other adventure, we got lost.  The first time we got lost was when the road just stopped.  They were still building a bypass.  Thankfully, we needed the break anyways and it was relatively easy to get back on route.  We got to see pretty much everything I wanted to see, in terms of sights.  We saw a dam, the beach, and the cape.  It was a beautiful road and I wish I could go back again, someday.  I’m not finished with Muroto.  I only wish I had an extra 10 hours to enjoy some of the sights that we passed, especially the beaches.

Kochi was our first rest day.  Since we don’t ride much, it was a good opportunity to keep our batteries full.  We had a great time walking around and seeing all of the people.  My only regret is not bringing flip flops to walk around in.  It was only the third day and my feet were already starting to hurt from walking in motorcycle boots.  This was also the day that we decided to not use our motorcycles aside from getting from A to B, as we didn’t want to look for parking, and risk getting lost.  It is way too easy to get lost, especially without a navigation system.  We did have a map, but it was for the entire region, so it wasn’t detailed enough for us, wherever we went.  If I lived in the area, I would definitely want to explore the area a lot more.

Our next leg of the trip took us from Kochi to Ozu.  We had a tough time finding a hotel as we were in the middle of Golden Week.  We were lucky to find a room in a town we wanted to stay in.  We thought about taking route 56 all the way to the second cape, but thought we had better skip it as we took too much time taking route 55.  We also started our adventure on the expressway for the first time.  I can’t tell you how much time you can save if you take the expressway.  People go much faster, and there are very few cars.  It’s expensive overall, but well worth it, even for short distances.  We cut through the middle of the cape to reach Uwajima.  We had several plans for the day as we didn’t know how long it would take us to reach Ozu.  We decided that taking a junction to Uwajima, first, and then heading north to Ozu would be better as we had a lot of time.  We got lost in Uwajima, but that was to be expected.  We were more lost when we were in Ozu.  We saw a beautiful European style castle or palace on the side of the mountain, but we didn’t have time to go looking for it.  We both thoroughly enjoyed Ozu.  It was the kind of small town Japan that you can only dream of.  It wasn’t very small, but small enough that you can walk everywhere.  The town had a train running through every hour or so, the shops closed very early, and there really wasn’t a lot to do except enjoy the scenery.  It was extremely peaceful.

Our final touring leg was to head out to Misaki and then head to Matsuyama.  This was probably the biggest disappointment of the trip for me.  Misaki turned out to be nothing special.  It was a nice challenge, but the area wasn’t that beautiful.  It could have been all the clouds, but I’m not too sure.  I enjoyed the coast from Ozu to Matsuyama, and loved the beach at Futami.  I hope to return someday and just spend a few hours relaxing.  We spent a little too much time there, and we were very anxious about Matsuyama.  Being the height of Golden Week, we had no place to stay, and we might have to find an internet café or something.  Thankfully, we found the Matsuyama Guest House, with an excellent host.  We met many great people and had the time of our lives.  I can’t say how greatful I was for staying there.  My only problem was the two men we shared a room with.  They were Americans who were hiking along the 88 temple route.  Matsuyama was their last stop before returning to Tokyo for work.  I can’t describe the stench that they and their clothes produced, but needless to say, I didn’t sleep well.  I got up early the next morning and went for a walk on my own to collect my thoughts.  It was about the time that my friend and I were starting to feel a strain on our relationship.  There is only so much two people can do together before they start to get upset at each other.  They can be the best friends in the world, but unless you live with them for a long time, it can be difficult.  Matsuyama itself was a great place, but not a place that I would want to visit again.  I came, I saw, I left.  I wish I went to the Dogo Onsen, and I would love to visit the Dogo Brewery again, but in reality, there isn’t much for me to see or do anymore.

After Matsuyama, we had to decide whether to risk heading to Takamatsu, with a chance of showers, or stay another day in Matsuyama.  We decided to risk it as the chances were low.  We weren’t so lucky this day.  We had a small shower on the expressway, and another one when we got in to Takamatsu city itself.  It took us a little while to find our way to the hotel, but overall, everything was fine.  We had a free computer in the hotel, and they even covered our bikes so it wouldn’t get too dirty from the rain.  The hotel was run by an older couple, like a family business, but it was part of a small franchise.  We were thinking of heading to Kotohira before getting to Takamatsu, but we changed our plans when we saw the weather forecast for the day, and also when we thought about parking.  We also made our first big mistake of the day.  We tried to take a train, but misread the timetable.  Instead of having an extra train on holidays, it said there was NO train on the holidays.  We had to wait at the station for over one hour.  We could have walked back, but in our motorcycle boots, probably not.  We also didn’t know about bicycle rentals, which would have helped us a lot, but that’s for our next trip.

We used Takamatsu as our base for three nights.  We spent a day in Kotohira and a day in Naoshima.  There isn’t much to say or add as my previous posts describe it much better.  My only regret was that it was raining so much in Naoshima that I didn’t get a chance to ride a bicycle on the island.  I will definitely have to return for that adventure.  At the time, I didn’t know about an island called Shodoshima.  It is another famous island that is close to Naoshima.  It is famous for being the olive capital of Japan, and known for a replica 88 temple pilgrimage.  Thankfully, I can also reach this island from Okayama, which is a place I’m considering to visit.  Okayama is famous for its black castle.  It was built to rival Himeji castle.  It would make a nice long weekend trip, if I get a chance.  If I do return to Takamatsu I will definitely have to enjoy the delicious Udon, but for now, I’ll be content with the udon in Tokyo.  Takamatsu is no longer on my list of places to visit.

Upon returning to Tokushima, I finally got to see one of the main things I wanted to see since I started planning my trip.  The Naruto Whirlpools are famous in Japan and I had to see them.  I was a little sad that we didn’t see them when we arrived, but I was still very happy to see them at the end of the trip.  By this time, my friend and I had nothing to really talk about, and we were basically trying to plan the end.  He ended up leaving a day early so he could be with his girlfriend and also go to a food festival in Osaka that was held once every four years, or something like that.  I couldn’t blame him at all.  I would have done the same.  My only problem was that the ferry I wanted to take was fully booked and I didn’t know if I could go home the next day or not.  The day that he left Shikoku, I had a full day to myself and my thoughts in Tokushima.  The city itself is very boring unless you get out.  I didn’t want to do that as I was tired from the travelling and really wanted to go home.  I ended up just walking back and forth in town until my feet gave up.  I had to change hotels as well because the one I stayed in was fully booked that night.  Needless to say, I had a restless night.

The morning of my potential departure from Shikoku was an early one.  I arrived at the ferry terminal very early, about 1 hour before they even opened.  I was the only idiot there that early.  I got my ticket to wait and didn’t even know if I could get on or not.  About one hour before we could board, one of the staff said I had a place, but I couldn’t understand him well enough.  Thankfully, I met a very nice old man, who reminded me of Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid (“Best Kid” in Japan).  He was kind enough to help me, just a little.  We did have a nice conversation before boarding the ferry.  The ferry ride home was the same as when I went to Shikoku.  The only difference was that I had my own bunk, and there wasn’t a “restaurant”.  Instead, they only had vending machine food.  It was still good enough.  I ate and drank all day and night until it was time to sleep.  I can’t tell you how different it was to sleep in a bunk versus the floor of a tatami room.  The only problem was that the curtains of the bunk kept all the air in, and I woke up suffocating in my own carbon dioxide.  Arriving in Tokyo, I was greeted by the fresh morning air; it was about 6 am.  I had a nice short ride home where I put my things away and could finally say “tadaima” (I’m home).

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。

Ozu to Matsuyama July 7, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Ozu to Matsuyama” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-cI

Ozu is a short ride from the coast of Shikoku.  From route 56, I would recommend heading up route 24 in Ozu to reach the coast.  It is a very nice flowing road that generally follows the river.  Upon reaching the coast, I had two options; head west to a peninsula that runs along the Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean, or head east towards Matsuyama.  I had a full day ahead of me, so I decided to head west.  Going west along route 378 and then route 197 will take you into the city of Ikata and then the port town of Misaki.  Route 197 is a “Melody Line” that winds its way along the peninsula, cutting through the mountains.  There are a couple of highway stations that offer very nice views of the Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean.  Other than that, there is nothing very special about this road.  Looking at the coast, there is an interesting road that winds its way around the mountains instead of cutting through them.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to enjoy this.  The main thing to see is a major wind farm.  It is very hard to miss all the large windmills that generate a lot of power for the region.  It does offer a couple of photo opportunities if you are interested.  Once you reach the town of Misaki, you will realize how little there is to do.  It is a fishing town that is used mainly to ferry people from Shikoku to Kyushu.  On clear days, you can easily see Kyushu.  If you have the time, you can also venture a little further to the tip of the peninsula, which has a large lighthouse.  I didn’t bother to go, but I doubt it is very interesting.

Upon returning, I would highly recommend the drive up the coast.  To do this, you head the same way you started.  You will see many small towns dotting the coast as you drive towards Matsuyama.  There are various places to stop, let the children out, and play in a playground.  However, it isn’t until you get to Futami, that there is anything to do.  Futami has a famous beach where people from Matsuyama can enjoy as a daytrip.  It is a very small beach artificial beach, but it is still beautiful.  Unfortunately, it is lined with tetrapods to protect the sand from being washed out.  This beach has a lot of things to see and do.  The first thing you will notice is a large structure located in the middle of the beach.  There is also a wedding arch that is usually standing.  They try to promote beach weddings in Japan.  Unfortunately, when I arrived, the wind knocked down the arch leaving a small mess.  The buildings at the beach offer the usual souvenirs, but they also offer a couple works of art.  The first is the Moai, mini replica statues of the Moai men from Easter Island.  It is a very small piece of art that is easily missed.  Most people tend to look out towards the beach and the Inland Sea, rather than the buildings.  The other main piece of art is a replica of Stonehenge.  This is located on the roof of the building, and very few people head up there.  It is a very strange piece of art, but worth a quick look.  The main thing to do is to just relax and enjoy the beach as much as you can.  Bring a lunch, or wait in line for some of the barbequed food and your afternoon will be set.

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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