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Sapporo Redux (2010) November 30, 2010

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Sapporo Redux (2010)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-wd

In a previous post, I mentioned that I went to the Japan Rally in September of 2010.  It was a great trip and I had a chance to visit a few new places in and around Sapporo.  Sapporo is one of my favourite cities in Japan.  In Sapporo, each season is extremely different.  In the winter, you have the snow festival where you can see huge snow sculptures along the main park, Odori Park, and ice sculptures in Susukino.  When you visit in the summer, Odori Park becomes one large beer garden where you can sit outside and enjoy several beers on a nice hot summer’s day.  You can also head out to Furano as a day trip and enjoy the beautiful fields of lavender.  On this trip, I obviously focused more on the Rally itself, but thankfully, there were a few things I wanted to try that I didn’t have a chance to do before.

The only new place that I visited was the Hitsujigaoka. Literally translated into “hill of sheep”, it’s a nice little getaway that is located next to Sapporo Dome.  To access the site, you have to take the Toho subway line to the final stop (Fukuzumi), followed by a short bus ride.  You also have to pay the entrance fee to access the main park area.  Walking is possible, but it’s very far from the station itself and not recommended.  The public access area is located at the top of the hill and there is only a small area for people to roam freely.  Unfortunately, when I visited, there were no sheep.  This could be due to the foot and mouth disease that afflicted the southern island of Kyushu earlier in the year, so they decided to protect the sheep from infection.  It could also be due to the season, but I’m not entirely sure as to why.  At the hill itself, there are only a few buildings of interest, and it only takes a few minutes to enjoy them.  One of the more spectacular buildings is the Hitsujigaoka Wedding Palace.  It’s a tall building that’s pure white inside and out and many weddings are held there.  If you are thinking that you’ll see a traditional Japanese wedding, you’ll be disappointed as the weddings here are almost always done in a western style.  I didn’t get a chance to go inside, but I did see a wedding and did get a chance to see the building itself.  Another building that is of interest is the Austrian House.  It’s an Austrian styled building that houses a souvenir shop and a small snack shop.  Inside, you can also get your palm read among other touristy things.  The last main building is the Sapporo Snow Festival Museum.  It’s a small building where they feature posters, photos, and miniature models of past snow sculptures.  There are also videos on how they run the snow festival every year.  Unfortunately, the video is in Japanese, and on a very old TV.

The main claim to fame for Hitsujigaoka is the statue of William S. Clark.  William S. Clark was an American Professor who moved to Japan for 8 months in 1886-1887.  His main goal was to set up and establish the Sapporo Agricultural College, now Hokkaido University.  He had a huge influence on Hokkaido and helped with its colonization.  His influence on this island was tremendous and he’s famous throughout Japan.  He even helped introduce Christianity to this area of Japan by creating an ethics class that utilized the Bible when the Bible was outlawed.  When he left Japan, he gave three parting words to the first class of Hokkaido University, “Boys, be ambitious”!  There are several variations added on this, but these three main words are what stuck.  Throughout Japan, many schools use this motto to help motivate their students, and it’s hard to find anyone who wouldn’t know what you meant if you said “boys be ambitious”.  At Hitsujigaoka, the statue of William S. Clark is prominently displayed with him pointing to the distance, probably to Hokkaido University, and the famous motto written under him.  It’s common for people to run up and just point in the same direction as William S. Clark’s statue for fun.  If you walk around a little more, you’ll also see another small monument that is dedicated to the Nippon Ham Fighters.  I believe it commemorates the move of the Nippon Ham Fighters from Tokyo to Hokkaido in 2004.  It’s a small, often overlooked monument that is probably not interesting to most foreign tourists.

Back at Fukuzumi Station, there is a short walk to reach Sapporo Dome.  Sapporo Dome is a very interesting area. While you may not need to go to watch a game, you can definitely go and enjoy the park behind the dome.  As you approach the dome from the station, you’ll see a very futuristic looking building.  There is a large observation platform that is easily viewable from the street.  You can enjoy a tour of the dome itself with a chance to actually walk on the baseball field, but I’m not too sure if that is possible.  Of course, both of these tours are paid services.  If you don’t want to spend money, walking past the front and approaching the park in the back is great.  It’s an amazing sight to see the football pitch sitting outside with the potential for it to be brought in for football games.  You can watch videos of this happening on their own website.  Even if you aren’t too interested in the football pitch, or the technology, the entire park has several modern art sculptures.  I couldn’t grasp the meaning of each sculpture, but it was a nice place to spend an hour or so.  You could also just lie on the grass and enjoy the nice weather, if you are lucky.

I may or may not have mentioned this in the past, but the food in Hokkaido is amazing.  If you enjoy eating, Hokkaido has everything you need to be stuffed.  Going to the Sapporo Beer Garden, you can enjoy Ghengis Khan, a type of barbecue, or a seafood buffet.  You can also head to Ramen Alley and get a nice bowl of corn butter, or seafood ramen.  Delicious is an understatement.  Recently, Soup Curry has become popular.  There are several shops located throughout Sapporo and all of them are delicious.  Keeping things traditional, you can still get seafood doburi all over the city, and being Hokkaido, chocolate, corn, and milk products are extremely popular.  When visiting Hokkaido, it’s a must to eat as much as you can.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much more for me to see in Sapporo, so I may not return for some time.  I have been there almost every year for the last 3 years and each time has been different.  The weather and season plays a huge part in how things look and feel.  The people are all the same, very relaxed. When visiting Sapporo, it’s best to just enjoy things and take it slow.  You’ll never know what you’ll discover just around the next corner.

This is an update on what is happening in Sapporo.  To read more about Sapporo, please continue to the original post on Sapporo.

Sapporo Information:

Hitsujigaoka (Japanese): http://www.hitsujigaoka.jp/amusements/fighters.html
Hitsujigaoka (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitsuji…servation_hill
William S. Clark (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_S._Clark

Sapporo Dome (English): http://www.sapporo-dome.co.jp/foreign/index-en.html
Sapporo Dome (Japanese): http://www.sapporo-dome.co.jp/index.html

Sapporo (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2163.html
Sapporo (Wikitravel): http://wikitravel.org/en/Sapporo
Sapporo (Official City Website): http://www.city.sapporo.jp/city/english/

Hokkaido (Official Tourism Website): http://en.visit-hokkaido.jp/

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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2010 Japan Rally October 5, 2010

Posted by Dru in Sports.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2010 Japan Rally” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-vz

September 2010 marked my third trip up to Hokkaido and my first ever trip to a World Rally Championship (WRC) race. It was the first time in two years that the championship held an event in Japan, and as with tradition, the race was held in Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island. I had no idea on what to expect and just went for the fun and the chance to be up close to some of the drivers and co-drivers. I was extremely surprised by how much I enjoyed the event. The event itself is staged over 4 days (Thursday to Sunday) with Thursday being a ceremonial start and super special, and Sunday being only half a day. As with most race events in Japan, there were the plethora of die hard fans in the area, but there were also a few of the casual fans as well.

If you have read my previous blog posts, I have been to both F1 and Moto GP races in Japan. WRC is a very different type of event. Whereas F1 and Moto GP consist of 3 days, the first day is for the die hard fans only, and for those looking to do some shopping. The second day is for the big fans to enjoy qualifying and of course, do more shopping. The Sunday is the day that all the action happens. For the WRC, everyday is an event. Racing started on Thursday with two special stages inside Sapporo Dome. Sapporo Dome is a large futuristic looking dome that is home to the Sapporo Consolade FC and the Nippon Ham Fighters (Baseball). The inside was set to the baseball configuration. When the time comes to convert to a football field, the football field is actually rolled into the stadium, rotated, and the seats adjusted to fit. For the WRC, they just removed the baseball field, opened the bay doors, and did most of the racing inside, with just a little outside. They held two stages within the dome itself on each day, for a total of 8 stages. On the other days, aside from Sunday, they also held service at the service park. Think of it as a pit lane for the cars, but with much more time.

To go any further without explaining WRC would be pointless. WRC, in its standard form, consists of 3 days of racing. Each day is split up into several stages. Each stage is a run on closed roads where the drivers are allowed to go as fast as possible. Once they finish the stage, they have to drive themselves to the next stage. At certain points of the day, they return to the service park, which is effectively a temporary garage. The cars drive in and the clock ticks down. They are given an allotted amount of time to fix the cars so that they are ready for the next set of stages. By the end of Sunday, they are quickly serviced and scrutineered. This is a basic rally. When I went to the rally, I went for two days. Rather than actually going to the rally itself on the first day in Hokkaido, I went to a small park that overlooks Sapporo Dome. I did get a chance to tour the outside of Sapporo Dome and enjoy the sights. If you do go to Sapporo for the rally, you don’t technically need a ticket to see the drivers, nor do you need a ticket watch the actual race. If you want to guarantee that you can see the drivers and the race from a good seat, you will have to pay for tickets.

The service park is where most people will want to go. While the Sapporo Dome stages are great, the majority of the fans will be at the service park waiting patiently for the drivers to enter. Depending on who is there, and at what time, you will have a good chance to get an autograph from your favourite driver. When I arrived on Sunday morning, I was surprised to see a car at the service park. It was Kimi Raikkonen. He unfortunately spun his car after misunderstanding a pace note read to him by his co-driver and beached it on the side. He couldn’t continue on his own, so he had to retire. When I arrived, he was still giving a small debrief to the crew and the crew had just started preparations to pack the car up and bring it back to Europe. For the die hard fans, they could just sit and watch him for hours as he relaxed and had a drink. It’s interesting to watch them relax as they really do look like a normal person. In fact, he reminded me of me when I was doing a track day in Vancouver several years ago.

The WRC, as I said, is very different to other motorsports. It’s a family sport, rather than an elitist sport. All of the drivers and co-drivers are friends, of course to different levels, and they are all very close to each other. In MotoGP, things are similar as the MotoGP riders are the father figures to the lower classes. In WRC, due to the small numbers of drivers and co-drivers, it’s easier for them to talk to each other, and it’s possible for them to bond. This is one of the main reasons the press says Kimi Raikkonen is happier in WRC and probably won’t be going back to F1 unless the money is truly that good. At the end of the rally, all of the drivers must drive through the ceremonial start/finish gate. Without doing so, they technically don’t finish the rally and would be listed as a DNF. For fans, this is a great opportunity to get up close. In F1, you are lucky to be close enough to see their faces as you are generally located across the track when they do the podium ceremony. In MotoGP, due to the crowds, they have to keep you 10 metres away, and the riders are a couple meters up on a platform. In WRC, you are no more than 5 metres away, at level, and the drivers can come really close to you. I was literally only 1 metre away from the drivers after the podium ceremony.

My most memorable experience is the fact that Petter Solberg finished second. He is one of the most recognizable faces in the WRC, at least to fans, and one of the most personable ones too. During the podium ceremony, he was the first to run at the crowd and throw some champagne on them. The other drivers and co-drivers soon followed suit and my side of the podium was getting into the champagne fight as well. I got a good amount of champagne dumped on me by Julien Ingrassia, the co-driver to Sebastien Ogier, the winner of the 2010 Rally Japan. After champagne is dumped on you, or sprayed if you are a driver, it’s not a great feeling. It is fun to do, but you feel very sticky afterwards. Thankfully, I didn’t get the full brunt of a shower as there wasn’t enough champagne to spray everyone. However, I did smell of champagne for the rest of the day. Afterwards, I hung out at the service park for about an hour. I quickly headed over to the Petter Solberg World Rally Team (PSWRT). Within minutes, Petter Solberg arrived and started signing autographs. I stayed my place and sure enough, he headed over. I was busy taking pictures, but my girlfriend was lucky enough to push her way forward to the fence. Needless to say, we got our program signed and it was a very happy moment for us. I came within feet of what I consider a great rally driver, and one of my motor sport heroes. I quickly got out of the mob as I felt I had enough and wanted to let others get a chance to get an autograph as well. I’d swear that Petter stayed for 20 minutes trying to sign as many things as possible. If you are a true fan, you’d be camped out in front of their tents waiting for them to arrive. If you do that, you’ll more than likely get an autograph or two.

In general, the WRC is an experience that I’ll always remember. It’s not for everyone, but if you do enjoy rally racing, you MUST go. If you are just an average race fan, it may not be so interesting, but it’s worth the trip. While the Rally Japan will not be the same as going to the French Rally, or anywhere else, it’s still something to see and do.

Rally Information:

WRC:  http://www.wrc.com

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。

Driving in Japan (2010) [Part I] September 21, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Driving in Japan (2010) [Part I]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tq

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while now, you know that I have had many trips in and around Japan, along with many road trips.  I have been taking road trips almost every year now on either a motorcycle or in a car.  In 2007, I took a trip to Hokkaido by motorcycle.  It was my first road trip, and a terrible one at that.  I was alone, cold and wet.  For my second trip, I rented a car for just a day and drove up to Nikko.  The route brought back a few memories of my trip to Sapporo, but with all the comforts of a car.  It was a pretty easy trip, but it taught me the pain of driving in the city, and trying to return to the city on a Sunday night.  One word can sum up that experience, traffic.  Last year, I had my epic adventure, and the last one on my bike.  I took a trip by ferry and rode my bike around Shikoku for two weeks.  It was a wonderful holiday that restored my faith in driving and riding in Japan.  It helped a lot that I went with a friend from Osaka.  Recently, June 2010, I embarked on my big road adventure of the year.  I headed to the San’in region, along with Hiroshima.  What follows is a recounting of what happened as we conquered the roads that lay ahead of us.

As many of you know by now, I have written about my adventures in San’in already.  I have talked about Tottori and Shimane.  My journey started with a flight from Tokyo to Tottori.  I left in the early morning and had time to spend an entire day in Tottori city.  I visited the Tottori Sand Dunes and that was pretty much it.  The actual adventure didn’t start until the next day.  We got up early again as we had a long day of driving ahead of us.  Thankfully, we had two drivers, one being myself, and the other being my friend from Osaka.  We rented a Mazda Axela, which is a Mazda 3 in North America.  It was a little big for what we needed, but we were expecting a total of 4 people in the car, but one person bailed as she booked the wrong tickets for the trip.  The car itself was big for what we needed.  We could have gotten a compact car instead of this one, but the added size made the trip very comfortable.  When we got the car we spent a few minutes fiddling with the GPS navigation system before we took off.  The GPS was easy for us to understand, but it would take at least 2 more days before it was easy to use.  If you ever rent a car in Japan, be sure to learn a little Japanese, or have a good understanding on how to guess the menu system.  It was difficult to use, but we all had various degrees of Japanese knowledge which helped us a lot.

Our first leg of day 1 was a trip along the coast.  We started with a short drive on the mainland to avoid the traffic and made good time.  We reached our junction, ignoring our GPS all the time.  We had our own route planned and the GPS was guiding us to the “best” route but not the most scenic.  Thankfully, we had enough knowledge of the road to navigate smoothly and soon enough we were pros at navigating.  When we hit the coast, we took our sweet time and stopped at a couple beaches. We got our feet wet and took many pictures.  It was a perfect start to the day.  Driving up and down the coast on the Sea of  Japan is amazing. I have heard from many motorcycle riders that the coast is amazing, and I would have to agree.  I would love to just rent a car, or even bring a bicycle to the area and just enjoy the trip.  I was told by a friend that taking the train is also spectacular, but I tend to get a little antsy on trains after a few hours.  At least with a train, I could drink alcohol and not worry about getting into too much trouble.

My friend from Osaka did the first leg of driving.  He handled the coast very well, which was pretty easy.  There weren’t too many turns and the signs were easy for us to read.  We had one tough section through a small town called Hawai.  The pronunciation is the same as Hawaii, and the town played with that name a lot.  Everywhere you went, you saw Hawaii signs and tourist attractions that were a little tongue in cheek with references to the beautiful island resort.  After the town, we switched drivers as my friend had bad experiences driving on small country side roads.  It was my first time to drive in a few months and over a year since I had last driven on the left side of the road.  It was a little shaky at first, but I got my road legs back very quickly.  Aside from getting used to the car, which happens with almost any new car I drive, things were easy.  We were quickly headed down the road that we chose, but we soon reached what looked like nothing more than an access road.  Being in the countryside of Tottori, some of the main highways between cities are more akin to an access road rather than a true road.  Unlike North American streets where designated highways must meet a certain criteria, in Japan, it just indicates the road.  Our first “moment” came as this access road was about 1.5 lanes wide and we came across a truck.  It was a big truck and a challenge.  I was facing the challenge of passing this oncoming truck with only a few centimetres on both sides of the car.  The truck driver was kind enough to stop on the side and let me do all the work, but considering his side had a wall, and mine a drop into a field, it wasn’t that bad.  Creeping slowly, I passed my first hurdle.  Little did I know, this would only be the beginning of our journey of the day.

The route we took to Daisen, our first real destination, was simple enough and only a few points of caution.  My map had a few warnings that the road we were about to embark upon was closed during the winter months due to the weather.  This didn’t worry me too much.  We had a nice car, supplies to keep us fed and hydrated, and lots of time.  By the time we reached the road, things changed very quickly.  The first challenge of a small countryside road was past, but we had another road that was also only 1.5 lanes wide.  Being the countryside, and having seen the last stretch of road, I thought that this would be a short stretch of narrow roads.  I was wrong.  We also had to contend with a few construction signs with which we had no idea what they meant.  After our trip, we reviewed photos of the signs, and the sign said that cars were not allowed in, but when we went, it had a sticker on top saying it was “cancelled”.  Essentially, we got lucky.  We ended up doing most of the trip up and around Daisen on the narrow style road.  I have had experience on these types of roads before in Canada.  In Victoria, there are a few nice places like this.  The road is narrow and the vegetation is abundant.  On this road, it was the same.  The overgrowth from the bushes and trees made it a challenge to drive.  Being a kinder driver, I took a little more time to get around, along with the fact that I was worried about oncoming traffic, whatever it may be.  We spent roughly an hour or so going up, down, and around the north side of the mountain in what was one of my toughest drives ever.  The road was immaculate, and the beauty of the forest was unrivalled.  If I had the chance to skip that area, I would probably say no.  It’s something that has to be seen and experienced.  Before long, we were at Daisen-ji and taking a long deserved break from the car.

Note:  This is part one of a two part series.  Please continue reading in Part II.
For further reading about the San’in region, please follow the links below:

Driving Information:

Chugoku Expressway (Wikipedia – English): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chugoku_Expressway

Chugoku Expressway (Wikipedia – Japanese): http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/中国自動車道

Izumo Orochi Loop (Wikipedia – Japanese): http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/奥出雲おろちループ

Drive Plaza (Information on Expressways in Japan including travel times – JAPANESE): http://www.driveplaza.com/

About Touring in Japan (English): http://www.e-wadachi.com/howto/map_e.html

How to Cycle Around Japan (This is for cycling, but it’s very useful for driving as well): http://www.e-wadachi.com/howto_e.html

Touring Mapple (Official – Japanese): http://touring.mapple.net/

Rental Car How To (Japan Guide) [Note: There are links to major car rental companies towards the bottom of the page]:http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2024.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。


Tokyo (Ebisu, Hiroo, and Daikanyama) March 30, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Ebisu, Hiroo, and Daikanyama)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-ebisu

Ebisu is a relatively famous area of Tokyo. It is next to Shibuya and close to Roppongi. It is known among locals as a hip place to eat lots of good food. The area is named after a famous Japanese beer, Yebisu. Both are pronounced the same. The true origin of Ebisu is from the name of one of the seven gods of fortune. He is mainly the god of fishermen and is always pictured with a fishing rod and fish. He is also the god of luck, working men, and the health of young children. Yebisu beer, itself, is also named after this god. Many people outside Japan don’t know of Yebisu beer as it’s not famous outside Japan. It is considered a major craft beer, and it’s priced that way as well. Yebisu beer is a very good beer, and highly recommended if you are in Japan.

While Ebisu itself is a fairly large district, there aren’t many things to see or do. Heading South of the station, along the Yebisu Skywalk, you will reach Ebisu Garden Place. It is a wonderful area that provides many photo opportunities. Mitsukoshi department store is the major tenant of the area, and there are many interesting shops. However, don’t expect anything different compared to other department stores in Tokyo. The main attraction has to be the Yebisu/Sapporo beer museum. Yebisu is actually owned by Sapporo Breweries, and this is the only beer museum within Tokyo itself. The tour itself isn’t spectacular. It’s a self guided walk in only Japanese. You don’t even see anyone brewing beer. The best part is the sampling. You can get relatively cheap beer (compared to a bar). The best is the tasting set, 4 small glasses of beer. If you want to try Yebisu beer, but don’t know which one is best, this is your best option. Try them all! Aside from Ebisu Garden Place, there isn’t much to see. Ebisu has nothing more to offer than a plethora of restaurants. Anything you want to eat can be found here. If you choose any direction from the station, you are bound to find several good restaurants.

East of Ebisu, you will reach Hiroo. I don’t advise walking there as there aren’t many signs and you are bound to be lost. Hiroo is a quaint little town that is very expensive to live in. Hiroo is home to several embassies, and with it comes many foreigners. It’s very akin to Roppongi, but without the seedy nature. Shopping is mainly restricted to small boutiques, and so is eating. It can be difficult to find a reasonably price meal.  The nice I would generally skip this area, but some people enjoy walking around various districts in Tokyo.  The plus side of walking in this area is that it is very quiet and peaceful.  There are also a few nice places to sit, relax, and have a nice cup of coffee.

Heading West of Ebisu, you’ll reach the fashionable district of Daikanyama. It’s a very easy walk, but like all areas of Ebisu, you will more than likely get lost looking for it. It’s a very hip area that has many young fashion brands. You are likely to find rare pieces of clothing and several high end shops at the same time. This area is famous for the rich and famous. They do a lot of shopping, and it’s your best chance to see them on their days off. However, if you don’t know any famous Japanese stars, you would probably walk right past them without knowing who they are. Daikanyama is also home to Evisu jeans. While they were founded in Osaka, they were also named after the same god, Ebisu, as the beer and the neighbourhood. It’s fitting that they have a shop or two located just outside Ebisu itself.

Depending on what you are looking for, and how long you are staying, Ebisu and the surrounding areas may be an interesting place to see. However, I don’t recommend it for everyone. If you are looking for something unique, Daikanyama is a good place to go. If you want good eats, Ebisu is great. If you are just looking for a place in Tokyo where the old meets new, Ebisu is good, at the moment. Beware that Ebisu is growing extremely fast, and all the old shops that gave it character are slowly being demolished for large new buildings.

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 – North Routes March 2, 2010

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Kanto, Tohoku.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Shinkansen – North Routes” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kJ

Heading north, rather than south, provides a very different experience using the Shinkansen.  Unlike the Tokaido/Sanyo/Kyushu Shinkansen, the lines heading north share a main trunk and branch off at various points.  There are three main lines, and two “mini-shinkansen” that start from Tokyo Station.  The longest line is the Tohoku line.  This line started at the same time as the Joetsu line, but the Tohoku line will become more important in the near future.  The Tohoku line currently runs from Tokyo all the way to Hachinohe.  By the end of 2010, this service will be extended to Aomori, which is the larger than Hachinohe.  Ultimately, the line will be extended further from Aomori to Hakodate, and then Sapporo.  Unfortunately, Hakodate won’t be open until 2015, projected, and Sapporo may not open until 2020.  It will be a long time, but when finished, it will cut the time from roughly 12 hours, to just under 4 hours for the most direct services.  This will severely affect air travel as it currently takes 3 hours for most people to reach Sapporo from Tokyo.

The Tohoku line is also connected to the Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen lines.  These services are slightly different compared to regular Shinkansen.  These lines use special trains that are narrower, and run at grade with various level crossings.  They are usually coupled with regular Tohoku trains, but branch out at their respective start points.  For this reason, it’s very important to know which train you are boarding.  It’s very easy to be on the wrong train from Tokyo Station, but the signs are usually clearly marked, and train staffs usually check tickets while the train is between stations.

The Joetsu Shinkansen is far simpler as there is only one line with no connections.  The complex part is that it shares the tracks with the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Omiya.  This is due to costs.  It’s very easy to see trains along the Tokyo portion of the line due to the volume of trains passing.  Recently, it has also become popular for hotels to create “train” suites.  These are rooms with views of the train tracks.  This is popular for “te-chans”, slang for train spotters in Japan.  You could also make it derogatory by saying “densha-otaku”, but that’s a different story.  It has also proved popular for young families with boys who love trains.  What better way to “take a trip” and not spend too much money.  As always, kids love boxes more than the toys that are inside them.  The Joetsu Shinkansen itself was built to service Niigata, but it also serves a small ski resort called Gala-Yuzawa.

A relatively less used, yet equally important Shinkansen line is the Nagano line.  This was built in time for the Nagano Olympics.  Currently, it shares over half of its line with both the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen lines.  There are relatively few trains that travel this section due to the limited service range.  It basically follows the Joetsu route from Tokyo to Takasaki, where it branches off on its own to Nagano.  There is a planned extension from Nagano to Kanazawa by 2015.  By this time, the line should be renamed to the Hokuriku Shinkansen, further extensions to Tsuruga Station has been planned and will be built.  The line will ultimately link up with Osaka someday in the future.  The main purpose of this line is to connect the major cities on the Sea of Japan side of Japan to the main cities of Japan.  Whether it will prove popular or profitable will remain to be seen.

All three main lines utilize the same trains, while the Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen use their own specialized trains, for reasons mentioned above.  The trains have a similar styling to the southern route trains.  They used to use similar naming methods as their southern route cousins, but now they use the prefix E before their designation.  Due to this naming convention, you can still ride the 200 series train, which is very similar to the 0 and 100 mentioned in my previous post.  The first “modern” train you can travel on is the E1, a wedge nosed, bi-level, Shinkansen.  In 1997, the E2, E3, and E4 were introduced.  The E2 is similar to a duck billed train, but it isn’t as strongly pronounced.  It’s also one of only two trains that have been exported, the other being the 700 series.  The E2 was exported to China for use on their high speed railway.  The E4 is a bi-level train, like the E1, but with a duck bill nose.  The E3 looks like most European high speed trains, but used only for the Yamagata and Akita lines.  By 2011, there will be a new rain, the E5 entering service.  This is expected to take the system into Sapporo when that line opens.  It will be the fastest train in the entire Shinkansen fleet.

The final impression of this fleet is that it’s great!  Coming from Canada where high speed rail is non-existent, this would go a long way to connecting any country.  Countries such as China have begun their own high speed networks.  President Obama has also pledged to start thinking, and possibly building it soon.  If done right, it can earn money and save a lot of fuel.  Connecting Vancouver to San Diego is a viable option, so is Toronto to Miami.  While we must never forget how we get the electricity to power trains, it’s still probably cleaner overall compared to planes.  Can they replace planes completely?  Conventionally, they cannot replace planes at the moment.  We’ll have to wait for maglev trains before that could happen, but even then we are limited to specific ranges.  If you do travel to Japan, do try to use the Shinkansen.  It’s a fun, if expensive, way to travel.  Be sure to buy a JR Pass if you are only visiting.  It’s worth the cost if you head from Tokyo to Kyoto, even for just a day.

This is the second part of two in the Shinkansen series.  To read more, continue to the Shinkansen – South 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 East:  http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/routemaps/shinkansen.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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