August 18th, 2007

Wig Wag

No Room on the Train

Gingerly poking my way around the (Japanese-only) web site for the Cassiopeia overnight train, I found a page on the site that appears to be the sleeper availability. If I'm interpreting it correctly, there are no rooms available on the train for the September 12 departure from Sapporo, and darn few on any trains at all. This is not that surprising. Fingers crossed that there will be a compartment available on one of the other three less luxurious trains.

I continue to find it frustrating that I could have made a commitment for a "sleeper" months ago, except that the system requires you to appear in person at a JR booking office in Japan to reserve the room, and even then you can't reserve more than thirty days in advance. No online booking; not even telephone booking. And the trains appear to be sold out the moment they become available. Amazing. It makes Amtrak, which will allow you to book a room about eleven months in advance, look space-age and high-tech.
Manga Kevin

Getting There is Nearly All of the Fun

I do appreciate advice from people who have figured out more about travel in Japan than me, particularly if they have hands-on experience with a system whose documentation is sometimes a little, er, inscrutable. But anyone who offers advice that amounts to "why don't you fly" has completely missed the point of traveling for the experience.

If the only way to get up to the north of Japan was by flying there, we'd go someplace else. We bought a pair of 21-day first-class rail passes, and intend to travel by train as much as we possibly can on them. And we enjoy traveling by train, whereas airline flights are tortures to be endured. My wife seriously considered and priced booking a passenger berth on a container ship rather than having to submit herself to the doubtful pleasures of transpacific air travel, even in business class. (Lisa, I should point out, doesn't dislike flying; she at one time logged something like 120 hours of flight time studying for a pilot's license. She detests airports, along with "security theatre" and the modern commercial air travel "experience.")

I don't fly places because I want to fly; I do so because I don't have enough time to get there by other means. If I could afford the extra day of travel time each way, I'd take the Coast Starlight, delays and all, between the Bay Area and Oregon, instead of flying.
Conrunner Kevin

Calm Before the Storm

I took it as easy as I could today. A wrong-number phone call woke me up too early this morning, and after dealing with e-mail and such, I went out and got a small amount of groceries. (I don't want to stock up now, not with the house to stand empty for a month.) Then I walked the 2 km or so down to the barber shop and got my hair cut. Walking back, I impulsively stopped by a local pizza house and dropped $2 into a pinball machine. That kept me busy for about 2 1/2 hours; that machine is actually set too easy, I think.

Around 4:30 or so, I found myself feeling very tired, and there was no particular reason to fight that feeling, so I fell asleep listening to the Giants baseball game, waking up as the post-game show was ending, so I missed the Giants eking out a win.

My bedroom is full of luggage, as I've been packing things that I can pack now so I don't forget them, and as I try to decide what I have to taken and what is just "nice to have." Mind you, I think we'll end up repacking again when I get to Mehama, as one of my bags is planned to be joint between Lisa and me.

I've been reading Japan by Rail, the new edition of which turned up last week (just in time!) and contemplating practical matters such as "will there be large-size luggage storage lockers in Hiroshima" (My main piece of luggage is 32 x 20 x 12 inches, too large to fit in the medium lockers.) (The answer appears to be "yes," by the way.) All of the guides warn about the difficulty of carrying luggage aboard Japanese trains. We're hoping that traveling first class and trying to steer clear of peak-hour travel will make for a bit more room for us. We'd use the luggage-delivery services, but it doesn't seem worthwhile to do so if, as it appears, your bag arrives the day after you do. I'd still have to carry my CPAP, toiletries, a day's change of clothing, and my computer with me, and that would be pretty cumbersome by itself. Better, I guess, to take my chances with finding luggage space on the train.