September 27th, 2009 by Jeff

We are now almost three weeks into our travels throughout Japan. We really have enjoyed all of our travels in this amazing country. I have especially enjoyed traveling on the bullet trains. They are very comfortable and convenient.

As far comfort was concerned the trains were great. Unlike plane travel, it is no problem to get up and move around the “cabin” or car at any time. This made the 3+ hour trips we took quite nice. Also, Phoebe loved the fact that on the bullet trains each row of seats could be spun around to face the row behind it. This allowed us to sit and chat or hang out together during our longer trips.

With respect to convenience, Kate purchased a 21-day rail pass that is available to foreign tourists and this allowed us onto all but the newest, top end trains. It wasn’t inexpensive at ~$550 each for myself, Kate, and Tessa (unfortunately even 12 year olds count as adults and there is no getting around it – believe me Kate tried), and ~$350 for Phoebe. This rail pass was great in getting us to where we wanted to go (with the minor exception of the last segment of our journey to Mt. Fuji). In order to get tickets, we just went to the reservation counter showed the passes and received reserved seating on the bullet trains. On the local trains we didn’t need to purchase tickets at all (since there is no reserved seating), we just showed our passes and were ushered through the gates to the train. During our time in Japan we traveled from Narita Airport outside of Tokyo to Nagoya and then on to Takayama in the Japanese Alps. We then made our way over to Mt. Fuji, then back towards Tokyo to stay in Yokahama with our wonderful, extremely generous host and friend Megue and her family. (I could go on and on about how wonderful, generous and over the top these people were to us, but I think Kate has already done so. So I will just add that they could not have been nicer and that we hope to be able to reciprocate the hospitality we were shown to them and their family members in the future.) From Yokahama we travelled to Hiroshima and then back to Kyoto and finally Osaka.

Having done most of our major traveling on planes, we did have to make some adjustments to our traveling “style” that we really didn’t think too much about until we were going from train to train. Most notably would be know ahead of time exactly when our stop was coming and getting all of our stuff together before we actually got to our stop. On the first train we took, we did a mad scramble to get all on our backpacks on and to grab our other bags in order to get off the train before the doors closed and it moved on to the next station. Having learned that lesson quickly, I am happy to report that we didn’t miss a stop (or have to do any backtracking) during our train travels in Japan. (We’ll see if we can keep that status in place when we get to China and the rest of the countries were we plan on a lot of train travel).

Having now had this experience with a great train system, I will definitely get behind President Obama and his plans to implement high speed rail in the U.S. We were able to travel over 1,200 miles very efficiently and quickly, moving from city center to city center. Adding this capacity to our national infrastructure certainly would add jobs to the economy and, in turn, would only improve our transportation sector and make things more efficient. It also would be much better for the environment in the long run and would help to reduce our dependence on oil. The only downside I can see is probably some displacement of people along the routes that would need to be established.

I have read that the trains are good in the rest of Asia. If they are close to what we experience here in Japan, I think things will be just fine in our travels.



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