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Food in Taipei September 27, 2011

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

When visiting Taipei, one must always think about food.  In fact when visiting any region, food is very important.  Coming from Canada, it isn’t as important to find a good restaurant or local food when travelling in North America as food tends to be very similar in each region.  When visiting Europe, we tend to think about food more so when visiting the continent versus England itself.  France is well known for its cheeses and Italy is well known for pasta.  Even each region of a country has its own specialties.  After moving to Japan, I slowly got into the food culture.  Japan is well known among Japanese people for being a place with various regional dishes.  Each city has its own local foods that have been around for either centuries or just a few decades.  Taiwan is well known for Xiao Long Bao, and beef noodle soup, among other foods.  It has always been important for me to try everything so I can get the full experience of any place I visit and food is definitely one of those things.

The most famous food to come from Taiwan is Xiao Long Bao.  Xiao Long Bao is a type of Chinese dumpling that is akin to the Cantonese dim sum dumplings.  It is meat, traditionally pork, wrapped in a dough wrapper.  It is steamed and served piping hot.  While Xiao Long Bao may have originated in Shanghai, it is still very famous in Taiwan and an integral part of their food culture.  When eating Xiao Long Bao, you have to be extremely careful as when you take a bite into it, the juices just squirt out burning the inside of your mouth if you aren’t careful.  The way I was taught to eat it “properly” is to pick it up by the top and dip it in vinegar.  Then place it in your spoon where you take a bite off the top.  The dumpling is wrapped in such a way that it is closed on the top and the top is the strongest part of the dumpling.  The top, where they seal the dumpling is where you take your first bite.  From the hole you just created, you can slurp out the soup created by the pork juices and fat.  Afterwards you can eat the rest of the Xiao Long Bao.  It doesn’t take much time but it ensures you don’t have a burnt mouth when you eat it.  Making the perfect Xiao Long Bao is very difficult and something I could never do.  The most famous shop in the world has to be Din Tai Fung.  It is one of the oldest in Taipei and touted as the best.  There are many branches but the top quality is said to be in their main branch on Xinyi Road.  It was a simple walk from my hotel to the main branch and even though we arrived around 3pm, there was still a line.  When you eat Xiao Long Bao often enough, you can tell the good from the bad.  The previous night we had Xiao Long Bao at another famous shop.  It was good but Din Tai Fung was much better.  The dough was pressed properly.  Thin enough so it wouldn’t interfere with the taste of the pork and thick enough so it wouldn’t break easily.  Of course they had other things on the menu but the Xiao Long Bao is the most famous.

The other famous food to eat, or rather drink, is Bubble Tea.  Bubble Tea is also known as Pearl Tea.  It is a drink that contains tapioca balls inside.  I had a few chances to try different varieties of Bubble Tea in Taiwan.  The first time was at one of the first, if not the first place to create Bubble Tea.  It was definitely a good experience.  Bubble Tea in Taiwan tends to be less sweet than Bubble Tea in Hong Kong as Taiwan uses milk and Hong Kong uses condensed milk.  Speaking to someone from Taiwan, they are very proud of Bubble Tea and find Hong Kong Bubble Tea to be too sweet and not good at all.  I disagree with the evaluation that it isn’t good, but rather I think it’s different.  Sometimes I’ll want a sweet Bubble Tea and sometimes I won’t.  I think it is all in a person’s preference.  I like both of them.  The simplicity of a milk tea with pearls and having it at the right sweetness is difficult.  Taiwan does a very good job with this and I could drink it almost daily.  Unfortunately having good ones can be a little difficult at times.  Finding a good shop can be difficult as I didn’t know if the main outdoor branches would sell good ones.  It doesn’t really matter as nothing really compared to the first one I had at one of the birth places of Bubble Tea.

Snow cones are another interesting food from Taiwan.  There is a somewhat famous shaved ice dessert that comes topped with syrup and fresh fruit.  I went to the best place in Taipei called FnB.  There was a long snaking line outside the shop and people jockeying for position to steal a table when it opened up.  We got lucky when we found a table but I ended up standing anyways.  The most typical version is a plain shaved ice with mangoes on top.  It is a delicious dessert and well worth the cost.  The ice is shaved fresh and they poured a little brown syrup on top of the ice.  On top of that they added mangoes with lots of juice and topped all of that with a scoop of mango sherbet.  They do have other fruit varieties including a mixed fruit that typically comes with mango, strawberry, and kiwi.  For a city like Taipei, the need for fresh desserts is a necessity due to the humidity.  There is one variation where they use ice milk rather than regular ice.  This is just as good but the flavour is slightly different.  It’s difficult to explain and something you can easily find out by trying it yourself.  The main difference between the milk ice and plain ice would have to be the texture.  Milk ice tends to be a little silky while plain ice has a bit of a crunch to it.  That’s not to say that the plain ice is hard as it was surprisingly very soft.

The night markets are one of the best places to find food.  It can be a little scary as it’s hard to decide what to eat.  They have everything you can imagine that comes deep fried.  One of the most common things to eat is the Chinese sausage.  You can get these in many places but the night markets are the easiest.  A Chinese sausage is not your typical European style.  They tend to be a little sweet and chewy.  It’s hard to explain but it is similar around China but different enough due to the local ingredients used.  It’s similar to asking someone to explain barbecue sauce.  You know it when you taste it and it tastes different in each region.  The other main food I had to try was the chou dofu, or stinky tofu.  It is a fermented tofu that is deep fried.  In the night market, they deep fry bite sized pieces of stinky tofu and put a bunch of pickled cabbage on top.  It’s similar to sauerkraut but in a Chinese style.  The smell of the stinky tofu wasn’t bad at first.  I enjoy the smell as it reminds me of night markets.  I’m not sure if I ate it before as my parents often give me food and tell me that its good but never tell me what it is.  As I smelt the stinky tofu, my feelings about eating it went up and down.  I went from wanting to enjoy it to getting scared as the smell went from pungent to gross to pungent again.  When I did eat it, the first few bites were fine and it was like normal deep fried tofu.  After my saliva started to engulf the tofu, the smells were released and I had a tough time swallowing it.  It went from having no smell to having a terrible smell in under a second.  While I found the smell to be terrible as I chewed the stinky tofu, it is a food that I could get used to.  It would take a while to get used to it but I’m sure I can.  It’s similar to natto in Japan yet the smell is very different.  I find the smell of natto to be unbearable yet the smell of stinky tofu is no problem, for the most part.  I don’t recommend buying it but if someone wants to try it, by all means give it a try.  A group of 8-10 people can share one order and everyone can get a bite.

Of course there are tons of other foods you can try but these are the main things that I ate.  You should try the beef noodle soup, tea, fried chicken, and so on.  It’s hard to keep things down to just one post and I could probably write a few more posts on the food alone.  I only went to Taiwan for 5 days and in that time I ate a lot of different things.  If you do go, you can satiate yourself for a good 3 days before things start to get repetitive.  Be sure to try as much as possible and be adventurous.

Food in Taiwan is part of a multi part series of my trip to Taiwan.  Please continue reading about  Taipei and Danshui, Taiwan.



Danshui, Taiwan September 20, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Danshui, Taiwan” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Hu

Danshui is a small resort town north of central Taipei.  It’s roughly 40 minutes north by train on the Danshui line.  It is pretty easy to get to Danshui but it does take a bit of time.  It’s a nice day trip to get out of the city and enjoy the coast.  Spending an entire trip in only Taipei itself can be a little daunting as city life can get a little stressful.  Danshui is the opposite.  It is a relatively tranquil area where life seems to slow down.  Danshui is known as a place for couples and it’s more famous at night.  It is also famous for being the hot spring town of Taipei.

The first area people will explore from Danshui station is the waterfront.  There is a long coastal road that is lined with various little shops.  As you walk from the station you will see the mouth of the river as it begins to open up to the sea.  The road is pretty small and only local traffic uses it.  There are several shops with various amusement park style games such as basketball.  The entire waterfront is not complete as they were doing construction in many areas.  My guess is that they are trying to create a walkway from the station all the way to the Fisherman’s Wharf which is about 3km away from the station.  About 500m from the station is a small ferry pier which has ferries taking people across the river to “Bali” or up the river to the Fisherman’s Wharf.  I suggest taking the ferry to go up but we decided to walk so we could see more things.

About a third of the way to the Fisherman’s Wharf is an old fort called Fort San Domingo.  It was constructed by the Dutch but from what I was reading, it was controlled mostly by the Portuguese.  I could easily be wrong as there was little information in English.  The actual fort itself was pretty interesting.  It is built on a small hill and the fortifications were simple.  The main fort was a simple castle like structure that housed a few rooms.  Within the complex, there were a few other buildings, constructed of brick.  You can freely walk around the complex and enter the various buildings.  There is a lot of information in English but very little was of interest to me.  It was mostly historical and from my memory, little explained the nature of each room we visited.  When I visited, they also had a special exhibition on Canada which was a little nostalgic for me.  I’m sure they switch the exhibitions from time to time.  It wasn’t a big exhibition but large enough to give people a glimpse into Canada.

The other area of interest is the Fisherman’s Wharf.  It is located roughly 3km north of the station and it is a long walk.  I would highly recommend taking either a bus, the passenger ferry, or to rent a bicycle.  The entire wharf area is a big tourist trap.  It is popular among couples as it is a very romantic setting.  In the daytime, families are more prevalent, as are tourists.  It is more famous at night due to the lights.  The focal point of Fisherman’s Wharf is the Valentine Bridge.  It is a pastel pink bridge that is lit up at night and reminiscent of many other standard bridges in Eastern Asia.  While it is just a pedestrian bridge, it is fairly large for a pedestrian bridge.  You will see dozens of couples taking pictures in the area.  There are even several restaurants and bars on the main floor of the wharf for people to enjoy themselves.  If the noise is too much for you, it isn’t hard to walk a minute away and see an empty area.  It is a remote area of Danshui so other than the main central areas, there aren’t many people.

I mentioned that Danshui is a famous hot spring area of Taipei.  There are several hot spring hotels where you can relax and enjoy the hot spring water in your own hotel room.  From what I saw, there aren’t many onsen like bath houses.  Instead, they have expensive resort hotels with beautiful rooms and private baths.  If you have the time, I think it is a great place to visit.  Unfortunately I didn’t visit the resort hotels, but a friend of mine did.  She said the water was great and she enjoyed multiple baths during her one night stay.  From the pictures of the hotel, I think it was a great location and if I get a second chance to visit, I will probably try to stay a night or two in Danshui.

Danshui, Taiwan is part of a multi part series of my trip to Taiwan.  Please continue reading about  Taipei and Food in Taiwan.


Taipei September 13, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Taipei” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-taipei

In June 2011, I embarked on what has become an annual adventure.  Every year, I head out with a couple friends and go on an adventure.  In 2009, I went to Hong Kong.  In 2010, I went to Shimane.  This year we decided to go to Taiwan.  It is a small island where, to be honest, I wasn’t very interested in visiting.  My family is originally from Hong Kong which meant that I grew up eating Cantonese food and hearing Cantonese wherever I went.  I love to eat Chinese food, but specifically Cantonese food.  I had no real images of Taiwan except for the image that it was a cross between China and Japan, culturally.  Little did I know that Taiwan was more Japanese than I could have expected.

Living in Japan means flying to Taipei is very easy.  I was able to fly directly from Haneda Airport to Songshan Airport.  Both airports are located in the downtown cores.  When leaving Tokyo, I could enjoy the view of Tokyo as we departed and on approach I could see Taipei 101.  It is a very convenient flight and one that makes visiting Taipei much easier.  When I researched Taipei, I learned about Taoyuan Airport which is similar to Narita Airport in Tokyo.  There are no direct trains to the Taoyuan Airport and I’d have to take a bus if I flew there.  I was relieved when I found out I could fly to Songshan and just take the train in.  Songshan airport itself is pretty simple.  There are only a few gates as most flights are designed for domestic travel only.  In fact, Songshan Airport is a little ghetto but they are undergoing renovations to improve the facilities a little.  Upon my arrival at Songshan Airport, I was greeted by a wall of heat and humidity.  It was a little difficult to survive as Tokyo was still in the process of heating up to summer temperatures and summer humidity.  The heat an humidity at this time made it a little difficult to get around but thankfully my hotel was located in a central location.  It was close to the electronics area and a short walk to an area near Daan Park with great food.

One of the first places I visited was Ximen.  It is a bustling commercial district with lots of trendy shops.  It is akin to walking around Shibuya in Tokyo.  Lots of young people walking around, but to my surprise there was a lot of Japanese shops.  Everywhere I walked there was a Japanese shop somewhere.  I couldn’t get past it.  I found a lot of famous Japanese shops but mostly Japanese restaurants.  It wasn’t all Japanese as I saw a lot of Taiwanese shops and restaurants too.  Being a commercial district, there was a large karaoke shop nearby where people gather to enjoy singing but from what I heard they enjoy the food a lot more.  Walking around Ximen will eventually bring you to the cinema district where you can enjoy movies at a relatively cheap rate.  Compared to Tokyo, the movies were dirt cheap.  On the other side of the commercial district was a red brick square.  I forget the name of the area but I found out that it was the gay area of Taipei.  It was supposed to be like going to Nichome in Shinjuku, but I found it to be just a simple bar area.  Since I visited the area on a weeknight, there were very few people there but the drinks were fairly priced and the atmosphere was relaxing.

The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, or CKS Memorial for short, is one of the few tourist areas that I visited in Taipei.  I spent a lot of time enjoying the food and seeing the city.  The CKS Memorial is a huge complex with 2 large halls, a huge gate, and the memorial itself.  All of this is nestled within a large park.  I never got the chance to visit every corner of this park but I did see all of the main points.  The two halls were not so special but unfortunately I only visited one of them.  The exteriors of the two halls were more interesting than the interiors.  I’m not too sure on the completion date of the halls but the interior of the hall I visited was very modern.  If I’m not mistaken, it also served as a theatre which made it less interesting for tourists.  The main gate is a famous point for tourists and can be difficult to get good photos depending on the time of day.  The main gate usually has tourists passing in and out of it at all times making it difficult to get the perfect shot.  Pictures can never put the size into scope.  It is much larger than any picture could have conveyed to me.  The memorial hall itself is where all the action is.  During the day, they open the doors and have a ceremonial changing of the guard every hour on the hour.  It is a slow 15 minute ceremony where the guards change from their platforms and show their ceremonial guns.  I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing the ceremony but I just happened to be there as they started.  I would recommend taking in the ceremony if you happen to be there during the ceremony.  The night view at the CKS Memorial is also very interesting.  I highly recommend bringing a tripod if you want to take pictures at night.  It is popular for young couples to just hang out and make out around the complex.  It can look romantic but there really isn’t enough privacy for couples.

Taipei 101 is currently the second tallest building in the world.  It is a popular area with many high end shops.  The building complex itself is not that great but the trip up to the top is a must for any typical tourist.  It is a little expensive but the trip up is very quick.  It takes less than a minute to get to the top thanks to the world’s second fastest elevators, conveniently built by Toshiba.  The view from the top is a typical observation deck view.  In reality, I find that when going to observation decks around the world, the view is very similar.  The vantage point is different but the appeal quickly goes away.  You get up there and look out the windows and within a few minutes you feel as if it isn’t special anymore.  Taipei 101 is not immune to that feeling but I don’t regret going up.  My only regret is that the outdoor observation deck was closed when I visited and I couldn’t go outside to the roof.  The observation deck can get very crowded at times and extremely noisy.  When I visited, I saw waves of tour groups go past listening to their guided tour devices.  I also happened to see a group of Chinese models visiting and doing a promotional photo shoot and video.  It was interesting but more annoying than anything.  There are 3 areas of the observation area.  The main area is where you can take pictures of the surrounding areas.  You can go upstairs to the 91st floor which has the outdoor observation deck.  Going down a floor takes you to the exit.  Before you leave you go through the Tuned Mass Damper which is the largest in the world.  It is designed to reduce swaying of the building during earthquakes and strong winds.  After a visit to the damper you must walk your way through a sales area that specializes in coral sculptures and jewelry.  It is your typical rich person money grab and I’m sure they do enough business to get by.

Of course this is just the surface of places to visit within Taipei.  It’s difficult to see and do everything in a few days but I’d say it’s sufficient to get a feel of the city.  Personally, I can’t see myself spending more than a few days in Taipei itself.  If I spent more time there, I’d have to get out a lot more and do a lot more outside the city.  If you plan to only visit the city, you’ll only need a few days at most.  After that things tend to get boring or repetitive.  This is especially true if you have visited other East Asian cities such as Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Taipei is part of a multi part series of my trip to Taiwan.  Please continue reading about Danshui, Taiwan and Food in Taiwan.


Tofu July 26, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tofu” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-tofu

Tofu can easily be considered one of Japan’s national foods.  While tofu isn’t originally from Japan, it has grown by leaps and bounds to become something unique.  Many people will look at tofu and think that it’s nothing special.  In China, tofu is something that is added to various sauces to make it more flavourful.  In Japan, the tofu has been created with such care and attention that it often doesn’t require a lot to make it taste good.  Many people who think tofu is nothing more than healthy filler tend to enjoy tofu a lot more when they visit Japan.  You cannot easily get the same quality of tofu in any other part of the world.  While in the simplest terms, tofu is nothing more than a cheese made from soy milk.  In reality, it is much more, and yet, completely different.  There is no one way to describe tofu, and there is no one way to see it.  It can come in various shapes and forms.  Depending on the type of tofu, it can either be soft or hard, deep fried, or steamed.  It’s up to your imagination to decide how to prepare or eat it.

In Japan, fresh tofu is by far the best.  A plain type of tofu is generally very soft.  It is so soft that it will melt in your mouth as you eat it.  You often need a spoon, or very good chopstick skills to eat it nicely.  Otherwise, you will end up shovelling it in pieces into your mouth.  Either way, it’s very delicious.  Tofu is often made in specific regions to utilize specific sources of water that can add new characteristics to the tofu.  The natural water contains various combinations of minerals which create subtle changes in the tofu’s taste and texture.  For most people, this won’t matter.  It’s difficult to taste the very subtle differences between different types of tofu unless you are a professional or grew up eating tofu every day.  One of the most common ways to see soft tofu in Japan is to have it served on a bamboo plate with a side of katsuoboshi (bonito flakes), green onion, grated ginger, and soy sauce.  It’s a very simple and lovely combination that enhances the natural flavours of the tofu.  You can find this sort of tofu in many restaurants.  It’s common in izakaya and many teishoku restaurants will serve this as part of their set meals.  It is also often eaten for breakfast as a quick and healthy meal.  If you feel adventurous enough to make it yourself, in Japan, it’s very easy.  Department stores often have the best tofu, grocery stores have a decent selection, and convenience stores have the basics.  Even the basics can taste better than tofu sold in America, which tends to be more Chinese.  Soft tofu also has small variations where they add black sesame, or other subtle things to change the characteristics of the tofu.  Sometimes you can get a spicy variety, but this will inevitably overpower the taste of the tofu.

One traditional way to eat tofu is to make Yuba Tofu.  It’s similar to bean curd in Chinese cuisine, yet extremely different.  Generally, Yuba is the coagulated tofu skin that forms as you heat and cool soy milk.  There isn’t much taste to this, and it’s mainly used in traditional Japanese cooking.  It’s easy to find in Kyoto and Nikko if you visit these places.  If you visit Kyoto, they traditionally serve it cooled on a plate.  It’s not for everyone as even many Japanese people don’t enjoy it as much as regular soft tofu.  If you are lucky enough to visit during the winter months, a visit to Nikko can provide a nice experience.  Some shops offer you the chance to eat fresh yuba.  Usually, yuba is made fresh everyday for restaurants, but in Nikko, some shops allow you to eat yuba from the “pot”.  Yuba is usually made inside a square wooden “pot”.  You are essentially given a long toothpick from which you are expected to skim the top of the simmering soy milk, pick up the yuba, and eat it.  I’m sure this will taste much better than eating it in Kyoto, but unfortunately, I haven’t had much experience with yuba.  I have eaten it in its cold form in Nikko, and it wasn’t as good as regular soft tofu.

Fried tofu is another method of enjoy tofu. Aburage, fried tofu, is a very common topping on Japanese soba.  It has a slight soy taste to it, and makes a good combination with soba or udon.  There is no need to add any meat or tempura as the abuage itself is more than enough.  Aburage itself is linked with foxes with legend stating that the god, whose image is a fox, loves to eat aburage.  How this started is unknown to me, but many of the dishes that use abuage have references to the fox.  Inarizushi is one such dish.  This is taking the fried tofu and wrapping it around a ball of rice making it into a piece of sushi.  It’s a delicious combination that is nearly limitless.  The basic style is to put plain rice inside the aburage, but you can easily add more to the rice.  Common rice mixtures include sesame seeds, burdock, and or mushrooms.  I would highly recommend trying inarizushi as it’s cheap and delicious.  It also makes for a quick, healthy, and cheap snack.

These are some of the more basic ways to eat tofu in Japan.  Of course, there are more ways that are inherent in Japanese cooking.  You will find various types of tofu within miso soup, nabe, and other soup dishes.  You can see it in Japanese-Chinese cooking.  It’s hard to go a day in Japan without eating tofu or at least seeing it on the menu.  Even if you don’t like tofu, I would still recommend trying it at least once while you are in Japan.  It’s just too good to pass up.

Tofu Videos:

Yuba Tofu:

Tofu Information:

Tofu: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tofu
Aburage: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aburaage
Yuba: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuba_%28food%29


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.


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


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