Otaru – Sapporo – Hakodate – Shin Aomori – Omiya – Kanazawa: 1620 kilometres (1006 miles), 320 km/h (200 mph) at maximum speed, 12 hours, five trains including two shinkansens, two bento boxes and multiple snacks.
This sums up our rail journey from Otaru in Hokkaido island to Kanazawa on Japan’s central Honshu last summer. During this ride, we took countless photos taken out of the windows of green paddy fields, mountains, blue waters and tiny Japanese houses in the distance, as well as wefies in front of departure boards at train stations.
It was cool to ride from the northern end of Japan, across the Tsugaru Strait via Seikan Tunnel, the country’s longest underground tunnel, before emerging above ground and traversing halfway across the main island of Honshu.
This was my first time taking a long-distance train in Japan and it was fun to have had such a prolonged and immersive experience. People on the train were quiet and mindful to not disturb fellow travellers. Some brought their own bento boxes while others chose from the trolley when the food service lady came down the aisle, and empty food containers were carefully disposed of.
I was particularly impressed by the shinkansens. More so by the spaciousness, cleanliness and comfort of the interiors – which reminded me of business class sections on airplanes – than by the incredible speed at which they travelled. The toilets were automated, huge (well, bigger than the one in my place), brightly lit and remarkably clean.
While the surroundings were different each time we changed trains, the routine was similar:
– Check the departure board for the platform where the next train will arrive
– If time permits, stop by Family Mart / Lawson / 7-11 to buy water, sweets or onigiri
– If changing to a shinkansen, go through the boarding gate with JR Rail Pass and ticket for the next ride
– Take two wefies in front of the departure board, one showing the next destination in romanji characters, the second in hiragana and kanji
– Stand in line as train pulls up
– Locate seats, put away luggage and settle into the comfortable seats
– Unwrap onigiri or open bento box when hungry – and remember to say “itadakimasu”
– Read, write, doodle, take photos with phone, or sleep which I often ended up doing for the most part
In a previous post where I reviewed The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux, I wrote briefly about the joy of train travel.
I think rail travel is the most civilised way to travel. I find it superior to airplane travel – it is less stressful, obnoxious and intrusive, as well as more comfortable and leisurely while (often) providing an ever-changing view of the land around us.
What about you? Do you enjoy travelling by trains?