[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.