Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Japan/SoKor Day 11: Train journey to Hiroshima

December 21, 2009
Japan Trip Day 11: Train journey to Hiroshima

And now... to cross the country in 8 hours! Today was a heck of a journey, 3 Shinkansen high-speed trains, going alllllll the way from Morioka in Iwate-ken, south west to Hiroshima. This is where my (over)planning paid off, again. :) It was quite a ways to get from Nagano up here just to leave again in the morning and spend the rest of the day on the train - but that was definitely my intention, and it worked out suuuuper well. Since Japan is so awesomely organized, a long train journey is never really a schlep at all, it's amazing, relaxing and insanely fun. If you're organized in advance and know where the heck you're going, then you can just sit back and relax and enjoy the journey rather than worrying if you're going the right direction or if you're gonna end up in Sapporo by mistake. The Japan Rail pass doesn't directly include any overnights, and so today was planned to be my longest day of day-train travel. After the busy bustling of the last few days, I was keen to chill out for a bit and rest my poor tired legs. :)

I left Morioka early this morning, said bye to the proprietress and the tiny dog. "Next time!", the Grandma said. "I will see the dog larger!" I responded, and she laughed. Uh oh... 8:20am?! Too much socializing! I realized I was cutting it close for the early train, so I hustled somethin' fierce, doing some sort of fancy shuffle on the snow to the train station. The map of the Ryokan said it was an "8 minute walk" - but apparently all those years of trying to catch a school bus in Canada in -30 degree weather made the short trip back to Morioka Stn with my 3,000 lbs of backpacking equipment a pretty simple feat. 8 minutes walk?! Pshhhaah. How 'bout a "5 minute shuffle!!" I got there safely with all my crap and only about 300 students stared wide-eyed at the crazy foreigner as I made my way to the station with my mountain of backpacking gear.

This was a small station so the Shinkansen had reserved seats only. I grabbed one quickly, asked "Prat-form?" ("i.e. Which platform number?") and raced through the gate with all my stuff. Since Japan is absurdly organized, I could have easily missed this train and waited only 1 hour for the next one... but with 8 hrs of train riding ahead of me, I wanted to get to Hiroshima at a reasonable time. There was no time for breakfast, so I just ate the left-over Morinaga Hi-Chew candy (love that stuff) in my backpack, and bought a "Hotteh Cohii!" on the train. I was soooo tired last night from all the constant exploring and excitement, so today was a good day just to chill out, catch up on writing postcards on the train, stare out the window, and just relax with some music and reading.

Holy moly, these Shinkansen trains are frickin' fast. Most of them today were 250 km/h!! The three train journeys of the day were:

  • Morioka->Tokyo (3hr 15 min)
  • Tokyo->Shin-Osaka (3 hr)
  • Shin-Osaka->Hiroshima (1 hr 20 min)
With transfer time the total train travel hours today was about 8 hours! When I got to Tokyo Stn, I noticed one of those hilarious Japanese curry "ticket restaurants" where you select the food you want based on a photo, put money into a vending machine and press the button for the dish you want, and then you go inside and give the waitress your ticket. I studied the menu for a near 5 minutes, there was no English on it and everyone was very busy and in a rush so I didn't want to ask a random commuter which one had no pork in it :) There was a thing that looked like Chicken Katsu but I had no idea, it could easily have been pork. To keep it simple I just got the Vegetarian Curry and it was fantastic.

When I arrived in Hiroshima, I got onto the subway traincar to the hostel, excited to get there and meet some people after a nice relaxing day of not running around. Then... on the way to the hostel out of the left side of the train, I saw the A-Bomb Dome on the way. This is the site of the Atomic Bomb explosion, which crushed the concrete in this building to rubble, but left a haunting twisted metal dome standing. This has become the main site for the Hiroshima memorial. I had expected it would be "stark against the skyline", and man, no kidding. It was really quite haunting to see it, even from a distance. It is one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Hiroshima, as my boss at work had told me it was one of the most powerful memorials he'd seen in the entire world. It looked very intense, and I am keen to spend some more time there tomorrow. An exciting and powerful image in my mind was already forming of Hiroshima, and the resilient Japanese spirit - I couldn't help but notice the modern skyline of Hiroshima, all the business people quickly hopping on and off the subway train, people on their Nintendo DSi's, texting in Japanese on their cell phones... and in the background the image of the A-Bomb Dome. It was really quite encouraging and awe-inspiring to see so many people just living their lives, as usual, in Hiroshima. The town was bustling with activity, nightlife, people young and old running around and shopping for fancy handbags and suits and going out for dinner. It was really quite beautiful to see a city rebuilt, to see a place that was devastated about 65 years ago so ALIVE and BUSY. It really made an impression on me.

I arrived at the hostel, and was immediately greeted by an American Physics teacher who works in Hong Kong. Then I met some Aussies and a dude from Tassie, and a girl who was dressed up sooo hipstery that she could have easily been from the Mission District in San Francisco. We collected a few peeps in the hostel and took off to go get some Okonomiyaki! I was really psyched to try it, and I'd heard it was a specialty in Hiroshima. It's sortof like a big pancake/latke with udon noodles, thick sauce and egg in it. I got mine with no pork, that was awesome they could do that for me! (Lots of pork on the menus lately, eh?!) It was really good and huge and filling.

Then... a "beer taste test!" We went to the 7-11 and grabbed a few local beers. We then tried them all in a few rounds (from tiny Japanese green tea cups, of course), and then voted for the best ones. :) That was fun and it was cool to get to know the rest of the people hanging out in the hostel living room.

During our beer taste testing extravaganza, the 2 Michigan girls who sat at the table near us at dinner came in to hang out... and they were the coolest. Marissa and Alyssa were just as awesome as the fact that their names rhymed with each other. They were sooo cool and I loved their story: traveling and learning Japanese, and on exchange for several months from the US. It was so funny, I thought they were Canadian instantly. They had VERY Canadian-y accents, and it turns out they are from Michigan... i.e. like 3 hours from where I grew up. We all chatted a bunch and at one point Marissa said she "Loved Monsters Inc", and then she drew a Autodesk Sketchbook pic of Mike Wazowski on my iPod. OMG, best friends already. :)

It was a great party, we all hung out for ages and learned a bunch about each others cultures and countries. Dirk from Germany and Nadine from Austria were awesome, the Australians were totally crazy (as Aussies tend to be), there was even a dude from Tassie who was extra crazy (as expected). The American folks were cool and the "Canadians" were the best, even though they kept claiming they weren't actually from Canada (I still don't believe it). The 2 -issa's were studying Japanese so I enhanced my Japanese language skill by asking them how I could best say "Deez Nuts" - apparently "Cono Natsu" is about the best I can hope for without losing too much in translation :) Anyhoo, we all chatted 'till like 2:30am and then I was uber tired, so off to sleep to prepare for another big day of adventure tomorrow.

View as I leave Morioka

A variety of Hayao Miyazaki film-based postcards that I wrote to friends back home

At one of my longer train station stops, I finally tried out one of the vending machine ticket restaurants

Tasty Japanese curry, ready in like 12 seconds

Triangle-wedge convenience store salmon nigiri, mango candy, random "hotteh cohii"

Cool roofs on houses along the way

LOVE the roofs

Oh, hello Fuji-SAN?!?!?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SERIOUSLY THIS WAS SO AWESOME. I was just sitting there on the Shinkansen going south from Tokyo, past Nagoya area... and out of nowhere... a PERFECT view of Mt. Fuji!!!!!!!! I LAUNCHED out of my seat with my SLR, ran to the window, and snapped like 150 photos.

Beautiful clouds along the way

More snow and cool farmhouses again

Out for dinner with a dude from US and from Australia

Trying some hot local sake

Switched to the 50mm lens to be fancy

My first time trying Okonomiyaki! As Wikipedia says, it is a "Japanese-style savoury pancake", sortof. It had egg, udon noodles, cabbage, and other tasty veggies. They usually make it with Bacon or Pork so I got to practice my "Butanike iie, kudesai" (my attempt at "no pork, please!") As the eye can plainly see, it was FRIGGIN DELICIOUS.

The dude from the US had the grand idea that rather than buying a beer each at the convenience store, we should buy one of EACH KIND, and try them ALL, taste-test style. This is me after the first teacup, I didn't last long. haha.

Oh, you crazy people from Tasmania

Dirk taking photos of our beer taste testing session

AMAZING hostel!! Made a bunch of new friends in like 12 seconds. Really awesome people, I loved this place.

And... a passed out Australian

The "Canadians" Marissa and Alyssa :) In my humble Canadian opinion: if you're this damn awesome, fun as hell to hang out with, and from "just over the border" in the great state of Michigan... then you're actually just a Canadian in disguise. :)

More blurry party photos


Germany, Australia, Canada, USA well-represented

Rockin' out - playing some DMB, presumably

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