September 13th, 2007

Bullet Train

On the Night Train, Part 4

The mystery of the backward-facing train is solved. Although it's not a published stop in the public timetable, this train does stop at Aomori. As we slowly made our way into Aomori station, I could see a specially-painted electric locomotive waiting on a side track. We stopped at the platform, and a few minutes later, that locomotive tied on to the "Tokyo" end of the train, the locomotive that had pulled us from Hakkodate cut off, and we pulled out of the stub end station heading for Tokyo, this time pointed the direction that the train diagram says we should be facing. It was all done very efficiently.

Despite the still-oppressive heat inside the compartment, we turned in to get some sleep, bidding farewell to Aomori for the final time.
Manga Kevin

On the Night Train, Part 5

[On board the JR Cassiopeia overnight sleeper from Sapporo to Tokyo Ueno, posted 14 September]

I woke up after what felt like one of the best nights of sleep I've had since I arrived. Thanks to having brought a two-prong extension cord with us, I was still able to use my CPAP on the train by running a line into the toilet compartment, where there is a single outlet. Lisa, however, didn't like the heat at all and woke up at 0400 and went down to the mini-lounge, where it was cooler, for a while before coming back and sleeping some more. While she dozed, I retrieved my luggage from the toilet compartment (the only place in our berth where there was sufficient room to put it while my bed was deployed) and slowly began to pull myself together.

The robes they provided us here, unlike the other hotels, are (barely) just big enough to cover me without leaving an embarrassing gap. This is good, because I need it when I go down to take my shower at 0730.

My neck has been hurting for much of this trip. I've concluded that this is because I am 190 cm tall, but a lot of the doors on trains are only about 185, as is the ceiling in this compartment. I've spent too much of the trip hunched over to avoid hitting my head, not always successfully.
Bullet Train

On the Night Train, Part 6

[On board the JR Cassiopeia overnight sleeper from Sapporo to Tokyo Ueno, posted 14 September]

I padded down to the shower compartment in car 10 for my 0730 appointment and undertook to use the equipment. The shower consists of two small sub-compartments: an entry area where you can dry off and use the blow dryer on your hair and where the shower card goes, and the inner shower compartment itself. The outer compartment has hooks on which you can hang a bag of clothes and a towel. You have to bring your own towels, wash clothes, and soap and shampoo. The compartment is small, and as I'm big, it was a tight fit.

The shower use card is good for six minutes of water, but fortunately the timer doesn't run when you turn the water off. When you insert the card into the slot, it puts 6:00 on the timer. There is a temperature dial (in Celsius, of course; I set it to about 40) and buttons to start and stop the water. When you start the water, the time starts counting down; when you push the stop button, the water stops, but so does the timer. That's not a problem to me, because Lisa's trailer has such a small hot-water tank that we have to use the shower there in the same way, turning the water off except when rinsing. Six minutes of water is more than enough to shampoo, wash, and shave under those conditions. I had more than a minute left at the end, and I ran the water clear to the end.

The instructions (provided on a separate English handout when they sold me the card) warn you that if you unlock the outer door, you dump any remaining time and can't get it back. I assume this is to keep cheapskates from time-sharing the shower unit.

Drying off proved to be a challenge. I had brought a couple of small towels with me, but the atmosphere in the compartment was so humid that they didn't do me much good. I did the best I could, and wrapped myself back up in my robe and quickly made my way back to our room, where it was slightly drier and easier for me to finish drying and dressing.

Lisa had returned the compartment to its daytime configuration while I was gone, which gives more room to move around. After dressing, I checked out the dining car. Although nominally open until 8:30, when I looked in at 8:20, they looked like they were closing, so we decided we'd skip trying to have breakfast on board. And a brief look down into the super-A cars showed that Car 2, compartment 2 appeared to have been taken after all, so maybe someone joined at Hakkodate. Besides, car 2 reeked of smoke, and I expect our enjoyment of the extra space would have been hampered considerably by the headaches we get from cigarette smoke.

Our room came with a single breakfast drink coupon, unlike the somewhat comparable Amtrak Coast Starlight, which includes all the coffee, tea, and orange juice you can drink. So we bought additional coffee and tea, and Lisa bought a bento box off the tea-trolley, and we made a light breakfast in our compartment as we rolled over the "classic" lines toward Tokyo. The sleeper runs over the classic network, not the Shinkansen, so we can say we've collected two different routes between Tokyo and northern Japan. We looked out over the semi-rural countryside north of the Tokyo metro area and reflected on this sleeper trip. I compared it to the Coast Starlight above, and I think they two make a good study. The compartments on the Cass are bigger and more luxurious than the Starlight in all classes, but I think the amenities on the Amtrak train are better, and I preferred having the meals included in the cost rather than being nickled-and-dimed along the way on the Japanese train. Having the lounge-observation car missing from our consist in Japan was really annoying, too.

I can't really say that the Starlight or Cass is a "better" sleeper train in any objective fashion; both are good in different ways, and given the chance, I'd ride either of them again. I do wish that it had been easier to make a reservation on the Japanese train.

Shortly after 9 AM, our train rolled into the terminal at Tokyo Ueno, and we piled out onto the platform, where we joined the other people who were taking pictures of the train. Someday I may even have a chance to annotate and post the photos we took, as well, but after the experience of the Seikan Tunnel photos, I don't think I can devote another two hours on this trip to setting up photos.
Kreegah Bundalo


Made it to the hotel in Tokyo. Lots to write about, but we just got in to the hotel and we are tired and hungry, so the train stories need to wait for later.