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Narita to Tokyo April 13, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Narita to Tokyo” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kZ

Arriving at Narita Airport can be a daunting challenge.  Not only will you probably be tired, if you don’t speak Japanese, it can be a small challenge to find out how to get into the city itself.  Unless you are rich, taxis are not an option.  There are three main routes into Tokyo.  The first is the Airport Limousine.  The second is to take a train, which has two options.  The simplest has to be the Airport Limousine.  When you exit the arrivals gate, you can usually find the Airport Limousine counter on the main floor.  There are several locations in both terminals.  It’s as simple as saying which hotel you want to go to, or what station.  The Airport Limousine goes to many destinations throughout Tokyo and Yokohama.  It’s also the most convenient way to get to Haneda Airport.  Do note that due to traffic, all times are estimates.  You can be severely delayed if traffic is horrible.

The safest way to get into the city is to use one of two rail companies.  The most popular for tourists is to use the JR Lines.  Using the regular lines is not popular for JR.  It is expensive and slow.  You will more than likely have to change trains at least once, maybe up to three times depending on your destination.  The easiest route is to take the Narita Express.  In fact, they have recently released a new train that makes things more comfortable.  They offer secure locks for your luggage and plugs for your laptop in each row.  Unfortunately, these are not available at all times.  The main advantage of the Narita Express is the number of destinations.  You can go as far as Ofuna, Takao, and Omiya without getting out.  However, most trains will only run from Narita Airport to Yokohama or Ikebukuro.  These trains usually de-couple at Tokyo Station.  Don’t be too afraid of connecting trains if you are headed to Ikebukuro.  If the train only goes to Shinjuku, it’s very simple to change platforms and get to Ikebukuro faster than if you wait.  The Narita Express doesn’t run too often, so it’s best to take the first one you can get, unless you have too many bags.

The cheapest route to Tokyo is to take the Keisei lines.  Their rapid service takes roughly 71 minutes to get to Tokyo, and their Skyliner service takes about 51 minutes.  The Rapid service costs roughly 1000 yen, which makes this a budget travellers dream.  If you want a good balance between cost and comfort, the Skyliner is one of your best bets.  The biggest problem with the Keisei service is choice.  You have your choice of Nippori and Ueno as destinations.  If you are headed to a hostel in Asakusa, this line is perfect.  If you are headed to Shinjuku, this route may not be your ideal choice, but it is a cheaper alternative at relatively the same time.  It’s just not as convenient.  However, as of July 2010, the service will be upgraded and the time will be cut by 15 minutes making this a more popular route in the near future.  The new service will be called the “Sky Express”.  It will feature brand new trains with a new local service being introduced as well.

Regarding what to take and how to get there, that’s your choice.  By far, the cheapest is the Keisei lines.  The most convenient would be the Airport Limousine, if they offer service to your hotel.  The Narita Express offers a very competitive service, but it is a little expensive overall.  In terms of locals, unless your company is paying for it, most people will take the Keisei lines.

Information:

Narita Airport:  http://www.narita-airport.jp/en/
Airport Limousine:  http://www.limousinebus.co.jp/en/
Narita Express:  http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/nex/index.html
Keisei Skyliner:  http://www.keisei.co.jp/keisei/tetudou/keisei_us/top.html

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

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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。

Matsushima (Top 3 Views of Japan) September 2, 2008

Posted by Dru in Japan, Tohoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please head over there to read “Matsushima (Top 3 Views of Japan) along with the pictures.  The original will remain here for the time being.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-1I

On August 30, 2008, I went to Sendai and Matsushima to see one of the Top 3 Views of Japan.  The trip to Sendai is roughly 1.5 hours by Shinkansen.  If you are unlucky and can’t get the fastest train, it takes roughly 2 hours or so.  Beware that the JR East Shinkansen is fairly confusing the first time around.  You can easily take the wrong train if you aren’t careful.  However, it’s a lovely system with many destination points.  Getting to Matsushima from Sendai is also very easy, but be careful.  Trains tend to run twice an hour, so don’t go into the station too early or you’ll end up waiting 20-30 minutes like I did.

Matsushima is considered one of the Top 3 Views of Japan.  The bay contains hundreds of pine covered islands no bigger than a car.  It is not considered a top destination by most people, and probably shouldn’t be considered unless you have some extra time.  While the bay is considered one of the Top 3 Views, I was disappointed.  I must give one caveat, and that’s the fact that I didn’t go on a boat cruise of the islands.  I’d like to do that in the future someday to truly make a good decision, but as it stands, I can’t.  Visitng Matsushima requires about one day to see the major areas.  However, it can take two days to truly explore the area.  First, I headed out to Oshima.  This is a very small island that is probably skipped by most tourists.  I recommend it for the quiet atmosphere and the wonderful caves.  The caves themselves are amazing.  There are so many of them.  To be honest, the caves are more or less like an enclave.  Simple holes dug into the rocks.  Most of the Buddhist images inside them have deteriorated, but the area itself is still nice.  Up next, I headed to Godaido.  It’s a nice small island with a hall in the middle.  It’s a popular place for people to look around, but I found it to be less inspiring than a place to look at.  The last place I went to was Fukujima.  It’s connected by a long pedestrian bridge.  There is a toll to pay, but it’s worth it.  The island itself is small and easy to walk around within an hour.  Beware that the path starts off paved, but turns into a grassy mess.  Instead of having a nice hard path (which is buried), they covered the path in a spongy type grass.  Since the day I went was just after a heavy rain, the grass was waterlogged and I got a little dirty.  However, if you are careful, you will stay clean.  Before leaving, I decided to check out the Aquarium.  It’s very small, and not really worth the admission (700 Yen), but if you have some extra time, it’s nice to go there.  If you have a fascination with penguins, you’ll enjoy it.

I returned to Sendai and took a small rest after I checked in.  I then braved the cool slightly rainy night to look for Gyu-tan.  Cow/beef tongue.  No, it isn’t an entire tongue.  It’s thin slices of cow tongue that has been grilled.  It’s  actually very delicious, if not, tough.  It took a while, but I finally decided on one shop that was about 15-20 minutes from my hotel.  It was a small little izakaya that wasn’t friendly for non-Japanese speakers.  I struggled with the menu, but did have a nice selection of food.  I’d highly recommend the place if I could remember the name.  The staff was also very friendly.  I returned to my hotel for a traditional beer (I seem to always have a beer back at my hotel whenever I travel in Japan) and went to bed.  For my second day, I decided to move my train time up a couple hours.  My original plan was to leave after 8pm, but it was a little too long to spend in Sendai.  To be honest, other than the food, there isn’t much to do.  It’s like any other medium/small sized city in Japan.  I took a quick ride on the Sendai Loop Bus and stopped at Sendai Castle.  I don’t recommend this unless you want a nice view of the city itself.  The bus ride is nice, and the view at the castle is nice, however, the castle is not a castle.  Rather, it’s ruins of the original castle.  The only interesting thing, aside from the view of the city, is the statue of Date Masamune and a nice walk in the park.  Other than that, it’s just eating.

So, any tips when travelling to Sendai/Matsushima?  If you have lots of time, it’s a nice place to visit.  If you have a free weekend, it’s nice to visit.  Can you live there?  To be honest, I think so.  However, I can imagine getting tired of the place very quickly.  While the train can be expensive, Sendai itself is a fairly cheap place.  Spend your money right, take your time, as always, and you’ll have fun.  Go in Winter and enjoy a lot of good skiing, or so I’ve been told.

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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