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Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Time Event
Going Down, Down, Down
[Composed Tuesday, 11 September 2007; not posted until 14 September]

For a change, we did not have to get up before dawn and rush like mad to catch an early train to get where we were going today, as our destination was the Seikan Tunnel Tour, and our train to the tunnel station did not leave Aomori until 11:56. (Arrived 12:44) This gave us time for the first leisurely sit-down breakfast since, as I recall, the first full day we arrived in Japan, as we ate at the hotel's buffet breakfast. Fortified by all the eggs, sausage, fish, rice, and pasta we could eat, we set out to look around Aomori for a couple of hours before our train trip. Warning: photos lurk behind some of the cuts in this entry.

A bit of railroad reservation business was in order.Collapse )

A brief look around AomoriCollapse )

Finally we boarded our train and headed toward the tunnel. As we cleared the Aomori area, the land grew wilder and more forested. We made stops at some small rural stations and ducked in and out of several other tunnels before entering the Seikan Tunnel itself. Our train tickets had included a special endorsement to "go to car 2" and the conductor reinforced that when he checked them. Two other people in our car were heading for the tour – there were six other people (all Japanese – we were the only gaijin we saw for most of the day) who had booked today's tour. When the train stopped and we left the train, we understood why we all had to go to car 2. Tappi-Kaitei is actually one of two emergency stations for the tunnel, and it's only one car length long.

We were relieved that there were others on the tour besides us, because the guide spoke only Japanese. Lisa could follow about one word in twenty, which was much better than me. Mostly we followed along and took photos – lots of them in my case, as I find some 122 photos in my camera on this subject. No, I'm not going to inflict them all upon your, although I will put most of them up on Flickr if you want to see the raw footage.

Behind the scenes in the Seiun TunnelCollapse )

We returned to where the tour started, which led to the Money Shot: one of our fellow travelers took this photo of Lisa, Kuma Bear, and me standing at the lowest operating-and-open-to-the-public train station in the entire world, elevation approximately minus 140 meters. (The other emergency station is apparently slightly lower, but is not open at this time, on account of being used to stage tunnel-construction equipment.)

End of the TourCollapse )

Postscript: HakkodateCollapse )

On the return trip, we pored over train schedules for our trip tomorrow on the Cassiopeia sleeper train. Because it leaves Sapporo at 16:14 and the trip from Aomori is not the quickest, and because you have to change trains in Hakkodate (a five-minute cross-platform job, not a wander through a maze like Tokyo), we unfortunately have to be on a 7:30 AM train out of Aomori in order to get us to Sapporo with a little time to spare and look around the city briefly before we hop on to the sleeper.

The observant ones amongst you will have noticed that it probably would have been better if we had checked out of Aomori today, taken our bags with us, and stayed in Hakkodate or Sapporo tonight. This is true; however, the original hotel plans assumed that we wouldn't be able to get the high-end sleeper from Sapporo and instead would be taking the lower-end one from Aomori on Wednesday. Indeed, the entire Aomori stay was a near-last-minute plan caused by the suspension of the Twilight Express from Osaka due to the earthquake a few weeks back. So, when the JR agent at Narita Airport offered us the chance to get on the Cassiopeia, we took it without working out all of the permutations about how it would affect our hotel stays, other than shortening our Aomori stay by one night. Besides, we didn't figure out that the Tunnel Tour has an unavoidable three-hour additional delay built into it on account of having to go back and forth to Hakkodate in order to return to Aomori. Some things aren't documented in travel guides. Lisa said, "Don't think of this as a delay, but of additional value squeezed out of our JR rail passes."

We should be in bed already, but this was the night we had scheduled for doing laundry in the 24-hour coin laundry in the Hotel Sunroute. I've been composing this message off-line and working on setting up photos while Lisa worked on the laundry. Unfortunately for us, the driers here don't work that well, and we've been at it for almost three hours. Had we known this, we might have bit the bullet and did some laundry last night, I guess. No telling when we'll actually get to bed, but I get the impression that getting to sleep on the train tomorrow night will not be a problem.

Current Mood: pleased

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