This is the train herald of the "Super Hakucho" express from Hachinohe to Hammodate on Hokkaido, running by way of Aomori and the Seikan Tunnel. The driver of this train sits in a little pod above the main roof line, and thus the door at the front of the train (which has a window) becomes a "railfan perch" where you can look straight out the front of the train.
This train had a small first class "green car" section, where we sat. They booked us into Row 1, which would have been good if I'd wanted to plug in my computer -- row 1 has power outlets -- but is otherwise not so good because the visibility is limited and we wanted to watch the scenery.
Aomori, which used to be the end of the line and where you caught the ferry for Hokkaido until they built the Seikan Tunnel, is a stub-end station, which means the trains head into the station and then reverse direction out toward the tunnel and points further north.
Here I'm standing on the platform at Aomori gawking at what had been the trailing car of the train (where our first class section was) and would shortly become the leading car of the train once the driver changed ends. You can't see it in this picture, but the driver was actually up in that little bubble over the rear door by the time Lisa this photo.
We got to Aomori between 6 and 7 PM and walked the four blocks to our hotel, the JAL City Aomori. Lisa got us checked in by use of her Japanese alone. I had to sign and provide my passport information and nod when Lisa said to do so, but otherwise it was all her work. The only question was "one room or two?" and Lisa reassured them that I was her husband.
The room here is about as small as the one at the Granvia Osaka, although Lisa says the bathtub is nicer. And instead of the heretofore ubiquitous hot-water heater for tea and other hot drinks, this hotel has a little electric burner and a small two-cup pot for heating water. This is not nearly as nice or as convenient as the ones at our previous stops.
After the first part of moving in, we had to go to the front desk to find out how to connect to the internet. Instead of a wireless connection to which they give me the password, they instead issued me (after I signed incomprehensible papers for it) a wireless device that I then plugged into my ethernet port. This appears to be a hardware-coded wireless receiver. It works, however, and as some of you will have read, I dumped what I'd written on the Shinkansen ride into LJ before Lisa and I went out for another errand: laundry search.
We need to do laundry one more time to have clean clothes for our final week in Japan. We asked at the hotel's front desk, and they quickly pointed us to a location only a block away, which turned out to be in the basement of the Hotel Sunroute. However, unlike some hotels' coin laundries (and it says "Coin Laundry" in kana on the sign outside), this one appears to be open to the public 24 hours/day. We weren't up to doing laundry tonight, but were heartened to know that unlike our last laundry trip, it won't require two 1000-yen cab fares to a seedy-looking side street next to a run-down public bath to do it.
Having satisfied ourselves of these basics, we set out to find dinner. This is when we found a problem. Aomori is a nice enough looking town, but it appears to mostly close around 8 or 9 PM, aside from some karaoke bars and suchlike. The restaurants that looked like they had food we'd be interested in eating were closed, and those that were open didn't look appetizing to us, except possibly the Italian place, and Lisa didn't want to each Italian food yet again during this Japan trip.
After around and hour or so wandering the streets of downtown Aomori, we gave up and went into one of the dozen or so (at least so it seemed) kanbeni (convenience stores; 7-Eleven, Lawson Station, Family Mart, and the like) that are all over the area. Here we bought several half-liter containers of milk -- liter containers are more economical but won't fit into the available space in the mini-bar's refrigerator -- instant ramen noodles, and hot food from the store's counter, including pork buns and mystery sausage on a stick. This did at least allow us to go back to the hotel and eat our Japanese junk food in peace. I sat at the room's desk near my computer, while Lisa carved out some space on the floor nearby, mainly because there was no other vacant space in the room where she could sit and eat -- I told you this place was small.
Anyway, while we've been sort of economizing on breakfasts with eat-and-run bread brought the night before, tomorrow is an exception, and not just because every place was closed before we went shopping. Our train for the tunnel tour doesn't leave until after 11 AM, and the hotel here appears to serve an attractive-looking breakfast buffet for only JPY1300, which is reasonable -- much more so that the JPY2900 the Intercontinental Yokohama was charging. So tomorrow we sleep in a little bit and hit the buffet before walking down to the station and confirming that our tickets are properly set up for the tunnel tour.