jump to navigation

Shinkansen – North Routes March 2, 2010

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Kanto, Tohoku.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

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。

Motorcycle Adventure March 3, 2009

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Kanto, Tohoku, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Motorcycle Adventure” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-7H

This is Part VII, the final part, of a multi-part series chronicling my motorcycle adventure from Tokyo to Sapporo and back again.

Background:  In 2007, I had finally gotten my Japanese driver’s license and a motorcycle.  I had been an avid motorcycle rider in Canada before I came to Japan, so after 2 years of no riding, I finally bought a motorcycle and decided to go on a big adventure.  I went from Tokyo to Sapporo by motorcycle and ferry.  It was an adventure to say the least.

Leg 7 (Return home)

My last day of the trip was fairly uneventful.  I woke up early to the stress of a cold damp morning.  It was misting outside, but not too bad.  I thought I’d be okay.  I spent the better part of an hour looking for a bank in the morning before giving up and looking for a gas station that I could use.  In Tokyo, getting gas is very easy.  It’s almost always full service, however, when you are out in small towns, it’s very hard to find.  Using a self serve gas station in Japan is actually quite difficult.  You have to be able to read Japanese, and even then, you might have trouble understanding the instructions.  Unlike Canadian gas stations where you either pay with a credit card, or go inside to pay first, I have no idea how it works in Japan.  Sometimes they give you a card which is essentially a member’s card.  You use it to “login” to the pump and after you pay at the pump, you take the card to a money machine to get your change.  I’m not too sure if this is the same at every station, but it’s very confusing and hard to understand, at least for me and my limited Japanese.  Either way, I ended up taking a chance and jumping onto the Expressway.

On my return trip, I had nothing to do except “race” back home.  It started off with me wearing a long sleeve cotton shirt, a T-shirt, my jacket, and a neck warmer.  Every two hours, I had to take off at least one layer of clothing.  By the time I reached the Tokyo area, I was starting to sweat, so I changed from a cotton T-shirt to a sports shirt.  I couldn’t believe how different things can be, and how fast you can experience is on a motorcycle.  If I was in a car, I wouldn’t notice anything until I stopped and got out to rest.  I also noticed a noticeable jump in traffic as I got closer and closer to Tokyo.  Every hour or so, the number of cars would at least double.  In Hachinohe, I saw maybe one or two cars on the road with me.  By the time I reached Tokyo, it was bumper to bumper traffic and 6 lanes wide.  This day, I still got a little lost, but not too much.  I kept thinking my final turn would be much earlier, but I kept going and sooner or later I reached my destination.  Traffic was very heavy when I reached Tokyo and going between the cars saved me at least one hour.

My final impression of this visit is to never do it again, or at least be better prepared.  I truly enjoyed many aspects of this trip, but there were many other points that I hated.  It’s something that I had to do, and something that I recommend people to try.  Maybe not doing the same distances that I did, but to enjoy the open roads of Japan.  Getting to the back country is something that many people never see.  It’s a different way of life, and getting lost is a scary event, but it can make you stronger.  If you can understand Japanese, especially location kanji, you can always rent a navigator system, or bring your own from home.  It’s very useful, and a necessary thing for traveling by road in Japan.  I do recommend renting a car with navigation as they may provide the best one for you.  Knowing which lane to be in is very important as you could get into trouble if you don’t.  Just be safe and have fun.

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。

Hakodate and Hachinohe February 24, 2009

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Tohoku, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Hakodate and Hachinohe” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-7D

This is Part VI of a multi-part series chronicling my motorcycle adventure from Tokyo to Sapporo and back again.

Background:  In 2007, I had finally gotten my Japanese driver’s license and a motorcycle.  I had been an avid motorcycle rider in Canada before I came to Japan, so after 2 years of no riding, I finally bought a motorcycle and decided to go on a big adventure.  I went from Tokyo to Sapporo by motorcycle and ferry. It was an adventure to say the least.

Leg 6 (Hakodate and Hachinohe)

The last day in Hokkaido and the poor weather had returned.  I had a two day journey that would take me straight back into Tokyo.  I had only one morning to get from Sapporo to Hakodate, about 270 km.  While I normally wouldn’t consider this to be tough, I originally planned to take the low roads and enjoy the vast scenery that Hokkaido has to offer.  Instead, with my bike troubles in the back of my mind, I ended up racing in the very early morning from Sapporo all the way to Hakodate along the Hokkaido Expressway.  It was very cold in the morning, but at least it wasn’t raining.  By the time I reached the 1/3 mark, it started to rain again.  In Japan, they call me an ame-otoko, or rainman.  Whenever an ame-otoko travels, it rains wherever he goes.  I certainly felt like this was true for me.  The expressway itself is much better than the Tohoku Expressway.  There is a section just past Muroran where you start to enter a narrow section of the island.  It is a very windy place and there are many windmills making the scenery very picturesque.  On my way to Chitose, I mainly took the low roads.  I felt the sea, and saw a little of it, but I never really saw everything.  The highway is located a little ways up the mountain range and every so often, you can see the entire curve of the coast.  It was very beautiful, but unfortunately, I would have preferred to have a car at that moment.  I kept dreaming of a car with a rooftop and a strong heater.

Once I reached Hakodate, I had to find my way to the station and ferry terminal.  Because of my horrible sense of direction, I almost got lost, but I figured things out.  Hakodate really isn’t a bad place.  There is a nice little hill near the city centre that has a nice lookout, and the fish market is one of the best in Japan.  Do note that almost every major coastal city in Hokkaido has a “famous” fish market.  In order to warm up from the cold rain, I decided to get a nice hot bowl of ramen.  It did a great job of warming me up and I was ready for the ferry ride back to Honshu.  If you do have the chance, Hakodate would be a great place to spend a night and enjoy a lot of sightseeing.  I’m sure there are a lot of great places to see.  While Hakodate isn’t the ideal location, there is an underground train station in the Seikan Tunnel on the Aomori side.  The Seikan Tunnel is currently the longest undersea tunnel in the world and the deepest.  There are two stations within the tunnel itself that provides emergency access.  One of the stations doubles as a museum to the building of this tunnel.  There are three tours available everyday.  However, you can only choose one.  One starts in Hakodate and ends in Aomori.  One does the reverse, and one goes from Hakodate, to the station/museum, and back again.  If you are a trainspotter, this might be a lot of fun for you.  If you have a lot of free time, this might also be fun.

Crossing back to Oma was a little different this time.  I knew the crossing, and the seas were rougher than last time.  It was raining and I spent my time drying my clothes.  I wish I was better prepared for all the rain.  The next time I take a long trip, I’ll try to prepare a lot more.  Once in Oma, the sun blocked by the clouds but it wasn’t really raining.  I only had to deal with all the mist from the cars and such.  I made a quick trip from Oma to Hachinohe, which was my final destination of the day.  The trip was cold, wet, and dark.  I had a bit of an adventure about 30km from Hachinohe.  I missed a road sign, or it didn’t exist, and I went in the wrong direction for about 7 km.  I had to turn around and find my way in the middle of nowhere.  Thankfully there was no one around to help me, whatsoever.  To say the least, I was a little scared, but I was happy that I turned around instead of getting completely lost.  It wouldn’t be the last time I got lost either.  By the time I entered the city limits of Hachinohe, I got lost again.  I ended up wandering around the city for about 1 hour before I found the main station.  I found the station and had to decide on where to sleep for the night.  I found a place in the downtown area and headed for it.  Unfortunately, the sign for the hotel was so small, I missed it three times.  I ended up going to a convenience store and asking for help.  After about 10 minutes a very nice man decided to drive ahead of me and show me the way.  I was so happy for the help.  After checking in, I had a few hours to dry my clothes and enjoy the city.

Hachinohe itself isn’t as bad as my personal experience.  It has all the amenities that you could need and everything is centrally located within the city centre.  They were also preparing for the summer festival.  I could hear taiko drums beating for a good portion of the night.  Aside from the festivals, I doubt that there is anything to really do in Hachinohe.  I’d be better off going straight through Hachinohe, but unfortunately, I needed a place to sleep unless I rode all night to Tokyo.

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。

Tohoku Expressway and the Shimokita Peninsula January 5, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Tohoku, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tohoku Expressway and the Shimokita Peninsula” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-67

This is Part I of a multi-part series chronicling my motorcycle adventure from Tokyo to Sapporo and back again.

Background:  In 2007, I had finally gotten my Japanese driver’s license and a motorcycle.  I had been an avid motorcycle rider in Canada before I came to Japan, so after 2 years of no riding, I finally bought a motorcycle and decided to go on a big adventure.  I went from Tokyo to Sapporo by motorcycle and ferry.  It was an adventure to say the least.

Leg 1:  (Tokyo to Mutsu)

On a crisp June morning, I left Tokyo and headed for the Tohoku Expressway.  I would head north as far as I could go in a day.  I started by racing to the Tohoku Expressway which was about 30 minutes away in the city.  In Japan, each expressway is owned by a different company, rather than the government, so taking the regular roads in the city is cheaper and sometimes faster.  Within Tokyo, it can be faster to take the regular roads, but often it’s faster to take the Shuto Expressway (the only expressway in central Tokyo).  I saved a little money, but in general, once I got close to the Tohoku Expressway, traffic was backed up and my plan to save money and time went out the window.  I only saved money.

Once I was on the highway, it would be a short 9 hour trip to Hachinohe, about 700km.  I took many stops along the way.  Along the expressways in Japan, every 50 km or so, there is a Service Area or Parking/Pit Area (SA or PA).  These are very convenient.  They often have local foods during the day, gas stations, and sometimes kid parks and dog parks.  It’s a great way to stretch your legs and relax on long road trips.  Making use of these SAs and PAs are essential.  All expressways in Japan are private roads, and thus, you have to pay to use them.  Because of this, you cannot enter and exit any expressway without paying.  You can also save money if you travel farther in a day, or if you travel at certain times.  Because of this, I decided to go all the way from Tokyo to Hachinohe.  Hachinohe is actually one of two end points for the Tohoku Expressway.  The main branch goes to Aomori, the biggest city in the Northern region of Honshu, while a Hachinohe branch expressway runs to Hachinohe.  The Tohoku Expressway itself is not a very interesting expressway.  It’s pretty straight and boring. Once you are on the Hachinohe branch, things look nicer and more natural.  Being on a motorcycle, you will also experience the changes of traveling 700 km North of Tokyo.  Every 100 km felt like I lost about 2C.

Hahinohe was a nice little town, the first time I passed through.  It’s relatively small, but unfortunately, all of the roads are curved.  This made me disoriented and I always got lost.  It took about 20 minutes before I found a police station and got directions.  I wanted to head north to a small city called Mutsu, and the highway was impossible to find.  Once the police pointed me in the right direction, everything went smoothly.

Along the way, I stopped at a park near the town of Misawa.  Misawa is a very small town with absolutely nothing.  It’s mainly a town for the Japanese Self Defense Force and American military.  The park I visited was very little small, but I was able to see and enjoy the Pacific Ocean a little.  The park was completely devoid of life.  I took this opportunity to relax a little and to start enjoying my trip.  This was also my first encounter with Japan’s infamous “tetrapod”.  They are 4-8 legged concrete “jacks” that are placed in the water to absorb the force of the waves.  The purpose of them is to save the coast from eroding and protect any wharfs from typhoons and such.  While I feel this is necessary in some places, Japan seems to go overboard with them.  They are placed in the oddest places and excessively so.  Once I was finished with the park, I continued north in the Shimokita Peninsula.  It’s a very beautiful place.  There are many windmills collecting energy for the area.  It provides a very unique look at technology and nature trying to interact with each other.

By nightfall, I had reached the town of Mutsu.  It is a small city that few Japanese people even know of.  It’s a quaint little town, but in reality, there is nothing special about it.  The area is known for its sciences, but little else.  While I don’t really recommend this place, if you need a base to get out and about in the area, it’s a nice central place.  This was also the destination of leg one.  It took me one full day, and I was completely exhausted.

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。

%d bloggers like this: