Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

On the Night Train, Part 1

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

We got back to the station and found the platform for the Cassiopeia with plenty of time to spare. Too much time in some ways. Again, we're accustomed to American practice, where you need to be there early and where it takes a long time to get anything done. In Sapporo, they don’t have time to have this train occupy valuable platform space. When we got to platform 4 about twenty minutes before our 1612 departure time, there was another train sitting there. It pulled out at 1558 and a few minutes later our train pulled into the station, spending not much more time in the platform than a Caltrain commuter train at Millbrae loading passengers before we headed off toward Hakkodate.

The train set is very clever. In order to fit compartments into the narrow rail gauge (but generous loading gauge), they are double-decker, with one compartment over each of the trucks and two stacked one over the other between the trucks. Our compartment in car 9 is number 24, meaning compartment 4, level 2. A small flight of stairs climbs up to our room while another goes down to our downstairs neighbors. We share a "landing" with compartment 23 next door. Each compartment has an individually lockable door. You lock the door when you leave by typing a four-digit number of your choice, which you need to key again to get back into your room. Compartments run down one side of the car, with the aisle running down the other. Some cars (ours is one of them) have a small vending machine and a tiny two-person lounge area. Two other cars have a shower, for which you have to make a reservation (30 minute block, six minutes hot water) and pay an extra fee. (I think it was around JPY300, but it was loaded in with other things and thus I did not pay close attention.) Lisa decided to pass on the on-board shower experience.

The compartments are considered "A," but not the highest level of "A" which is the special A class cars up in cars 1 and 2. Our compartment is roughly equivalent in size and configuration to an oversize version of an Amtrak roomette, although we do have an integral toilet/sink compartment. The cars have a video display showing our progress over the line one channel. Other channels show Japanese TV programs or play Japanese music, but this does not interest us much. There are volume controls for the on-board announcements (which you can silence completely if you like), and set the lights at high, low, off, or floor lights only, which means we can look out into the night if we like, and we do.

In many ways, these sleepers are as spacious as the ScotRail sleeper that Lisa and I took from Glasgow to London two years ago, despite the Japanese trains running on narrow gauge tracks. One way in which the compartment matches that I wish it did not is that it is stiflingly hot, and we cannot figure any way to set the controls to make it significantly cooler in here. We can at least get air to flow through a vent, but it's never very cool, and Lisa hasn't been able to puzzle any meaning out of the Japanese controls. Oh, what I'd give for a hopper window to let the cooler outside air into this car!
Tags: cassiopeia, japan, sleeper, trains, travel
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