Travelogue | Trains | Video | Tips | Memories
Between the 20th March to 11th April 2004, I took my third trip to Japan. Because we were able to get free plane tickets using Qantas Frequent Flyer points, we decided that we could afford to pay for accommodation and stay an extra week. This page is a recollection of the various aspects of those 23 days, particularly from a rail enthusiast's viewpoint. You can read about the various activities that we did, see a list of all the trains used, and get some handy hints if you are planning to go yourself.
Click on any of the underlined text to see a relevant photo. Photos again were taken with my Olympus digital camera, except this time I decided to use a higher picture resolution (after a publisher wanted to use a photo from the second trip as a book cover, and then told me the quality was not good enough!!!). This time around 1,570 photos were taken !!!
*** NB *** I have decided to put the text up first, and add the pictures next - with over 1,500 to choose from, it will take a while to choose and edit the ones I want.
This time, we left on the weekend, so we had plenty of time to get ready. Although the plane was not due to leave until 10:15pm, we had heard that there was work being done on the railway line, so we left a little earlier than normally would have been necessary - just as well, as you will see !!! So we left Quakers Hill station at 4:15pm, went two stations and had to get out at Blacktown. There we waited for a while, and nobody seemed to know what was going on. Eventually a train came along that was going toward the city, so we got on. It went as far as Lidcombe and stopped again. After lugging two heavy suitcases from one platform to another, we found that the trains were only running as far as Strathfield. Apparently, other than the line work, we found out later that there had also been a problem which has brought down the overhead wires, so there were no trains going to the city at all. So at Strathfield, we caught a taxi to the airport. Eventually we arrived at the international terminal at 6:30pm, a trip that should not have taken more than about an hour !!! Luckily there were no long queues and we had time to check in and then do some duty free gift shopping (always a hard choice). The plane ended up taking off 1/2 hour late as well, but this time we had a choice of two good, recent, Japanese-oriented movies - both of which we had already seen at the theatre. So I ended up watching 'Lost in Translation' and my wife watched 'The Last Samurai'.
The plane made up time, so we only arrived 5 minutes late. As far as I can work out, if they can go faster to make up for lost time, why don't they just fly as fast as possible all the time, and get to the destination as soon as possible ??? :-) Anyway, no problems with baggage or customs, so we were out very quickly. First we went to find a parcel forwarding company, so that some of the souvenirs we bought could be sent directly to Akiko's father's address. Then we went and got our Japan Rail passes, booked some reserved seat Shinkansen tickets, and had a look at the book/magazine stands. Once we got on the Narita Express, we were surprised to see that the seat layouts had changed and there were no more sets of 4 sets facing a table, which meant there was not much leg room, or space to put hand luggage. At Tokyo station, we went straight to the Tokaido Shinkansen platform to get on our train, Hikari #307, a 300 series, to Nishi-Akashi. It was interesting to see all the 700 sets with 'Ambitious Japan' logos on them. At Nishi-Akashi, as small station after Kobe, we put out bags in a locker, and headed off down the street to find a model shop, Hashimoto Racing, I had discovered on the internet. As their map was not very clear, we were wandering around aimlessly, until by chance I spotted a 'Tamiya' sign. The shop was just under a very small house in a back street, so probably only locals would know about it. Also because it was mainly a radio-control and racing car shop, they had many railway items that were out of stock everywhere else I had been looking, so I was able to get things long out of stock everywhere else, like the MicroAce 215 series Shonan Liner & Keikyu 1000 series sets, amongst others. The owner was kind enough not to charge consumption tax, and to also ship the stuff for free to Akiko's father's address. After that, we went back to the station, and got on Kodama #665, a 0 series in the new colour scheme, for the trip to Fukuyama. We left our luggage in a locker and caught a 115 series local train to Higashi-Fukuyama. There we were looking for another model shop, Genki Hogarakadou, but we knew it was a distance from the station, and we couldn't find any buses. Eventually we decided to use a taxi, but initially the driver could not find the place either - that's how Japanese addresses are !!! This shop has a lot of second-hand items, so it took quite a while to look around and I also had some second-hand items to leave there. The owner was happy to forward our purchases too, and also to drive us back to Fukuyama station. From there it was a short trip on Hikari Railstar #373 to Hiroshima, where we were staying for 2 nights at the Grand Intelligent Hotel. While the lobby area was reasonably grand, it didn't seem overly intelligent !!! By this stage it was raining, but we braved the elements to head out and get something to eat. We found a nice izakaya restaurant. Afterwards, I decided to go back to the station to look for a model shop I had heard was inside the station. I eventually found it, and made a note of the opening times, so I could go back and check it out the next day.
Today we had planned to visit the famous island of Miyajima, and when we got up, it was still raining :-( We walked to Hiroshima station, and caught a local JR train to Miyajima-guchi. From there it is a short walk to the ferry terminal, and if you take the JR ferry, it is free using the Japan Rail Pass. The trip across to the island only takes 10 minutes, and as you approach the island, you can see the famous floating torii gate (which isn't floating if you go during low tide, so we made sure we planned the trip to be during the high tide). There wasn't too many people on the ferry, so it wasn't crowded as we walked around and looked at the many souvenir shops (many not open yet) and temples. Like Nara, there are also many deer wandering around, but most of them were sheltering under trees. We found one shop that was selling freshly baked momiji manjyu cakes, and we could not stop at one !!! The floating temple was very interesting, and it is a shame that it has been damaged in the late 2004 typhoons. There was one museum that had many historical items, including old samurai armour. By the time we were about to leave, it had stopped raining and was clearing up, so we were able to get a better view and photos of the torii gate. After the ferry ride back to the mainland, we caught the Hiroden tram back to the city, and for the first part, the tracks are separate from the road, and the driver seemed to go like a madman !!! About halfway, the tracks go back to the middle of the road, and the pace slowed down. There are many different types of trams here, including some interesting articulated sets. We got off the tram at the Peace Park stop, and were right at the site of the famous atomic bomb dome. This is the preserved remains of one of the few buildings that was not completely flattened near the epicentre of the 1945 atomic bombing. As you walk to the Memorial Museum, you pass many statues and monuments, including the memorial for the young girl Sadako, who died of cancer and tried to make 10,000 paper cranes. There is also an underground research centre where you can read accounts from survivors and hear of their experiences. Inside the museum itself, there are model reconstructions of what the city looked like before and after, as well as relics of items showing the incredible damage that was caused in a split second. I was not surprised to see a very large proportion of non-Japanese people visiting, and if you travel to Hiroshima it is a MUST to visit - you will find your visit very emotional and sobering. From there is was back to the hotel to get ready for dinner, and we had found, on the internet, a whole building full of okonomiyaki shops, called Okonomiyaki-miura (Okononimyaki Village). This delicious Japanese food is a bit like a pizza, and a bit like a pancake and a bit like an omelette, and you can choose what type of toppings you want on top of the base, which is usually a batter mixture mixed with shredded cabbage. It is assembled and cooked on a hotplate right in front of you. The building had 3-4 floors full of these shops, each in room with space of for about 10 people maximum, all calling out of your patronage as you look around. We finally decided on one that was decorated with lots of green frogs (the Japanese word for frog also means 'return').
We backed our bags and left the hotel, and were now off to the island of Kyushu for 4 days. First we caught the Hikari Railstar #343 to Hakata, and after so many trips with long tunnels, it was hardly noticeable going through the Kanmon tunnel. From Hakata, we took the subway to Gion, and walked the short distance to our accommodation, a tradition ryokan - Kashima Honkan . We were able to leave our bags there, and then go back to the subway to travel to Tenjin. From there we transferred to the Nishi-tetsu Omuta line to travel from Nishitetsu-Fukuoka to Nishitetsu-Futsukaichi. I think this railway has some of the ugliest rolling stock in Japan !! At Nishitetsu-Futsukaichi, we had to wait for a short time to change for Dazaifu, on a short branch line. This area is a very old historical one, with many temples and shrines. We found an old building with a very nice small Japanese garden. Lunch was had seated outdoors, and we had a very nice 'sweet' sake. Walking back to the station, there are the usual many souvenir shops, and we found one that had dozens of different kinds of various unusual flavoured coated nuts, with free samples to taste, so of course we ended up buying quite a few. Once back at Tenjin, it was shopping time, and while I looked in a Kinokuniya book shop, my wife went to the Daiei & Vivre department stores. I managed to buy a T-shirt with funny Japanese English on it, and then we looked for a phone box to check out the location of a hobby shop I wanted to visit. When we found a hobby shop, and I bought some items, suddenly we realised that we did not have the bags of items we had bought at the bookshop and department stores. It seems we had forgotten about them and left them at the phone box. A quick dash back there found nothing !!! So we managed to find a policeman walking around, and he directed us to the nearest koban (police box). There they had not heard or seen anything either, and suggested that we report the incident to the central police headquarters, which was not too far away. Once we got there and told them the story and described the items, it was not very long after that someone came in with our stuff. So it seems all the stories about Japanese honesty and lost goods are true !!! We had planned to visit the Fukuoka tower and see the view, but we had now wasted time, and decided to just find a famous chocolate shop that we had seen advertised. The location had been changed, but we managed to track it down, and it was the most amazing shop, half full of cakes and the other half chocolates. Once again, much money was exchanged for goods !!! Hakata is famous for it's night food carts, selling lots of different type of delicacies, and we saw them stored during the day, however at night we decided to visit the Canal City shopping centre, which was hosting a 'Ramen Stadium'. This was a whole floor set up with shops selling different kinds of ramen noodle dishes from places all over Japan, so there was a wide selection to choose from. We also looked at CD's in the HMV store there. Back at the ryokan, it was time to try out their communal bathroom, and I was glad to say that no-one else was using it at the time.
We went to Hakata station early, so I could see the various colourful types of trains JR Kyushu runs, before our trip to Kagoshima via Kumamoto. I was able to take many photos. We were planning to take the new Kyushu Shinkansen, which had only just commenced operation on the 13th. As the line is not finished all the way to Kagoshima from Hakata, you have to take the 'Relay Tsubame' connecting service to Shin-Yatsushiro. This is a modified 787 Tsubame train, and is very nice and modern inside. We got off at Kumamoto for the tram ride to visit Kumamoto castle, one of the few left in Japan that has not been rebuilt. As you walk up the winding fortified approaches, suddenly you turn a corner and there it is - a lot larger than you expect. Inside has been made a museum that you follow from the bottom to the top floor, with displays and models of the area's history. A fine view of the city can be seen from the top floor. Back at the station , we caught the next 'Relay Tsubame' to Shin-Yatsushiro, and you are taken on a temporary line right up to the Shinkansen station, so you only have to walk across the platform to the waiting 800 series Tsubame. This is a very unusual train compared to other Shinkansen trains, with sculptured wooden seat frames, bamboo window curtains, and rope curtains on the washrooms !!! The trip to Kagoshima-Chuo is quite short (around 43minutes) and most of it is in tunnels. We left our bags in a locker and then caught a City-View bus, and first stopped off at the Meiji Restoration museum. Unfortunately for me, there were not many displays captioned in English, although the animated historical floor show, with lights, sound and puppets was entertaining. This bus service is good, as it travels in a circle visiting all the tourist places, and you can get on or off whenever you like. After the museum, we caught the bus to the Shinoyama lookout, which gives you a good view of the city and across to the Sakurajima active volcano. From there we travelled to Sengen-enmae, to see the historical Shoko Shu Sei Kan site. Here you can walk amongst lovely Japanese and Western style gardens, and visit many old types of buildings, as well as the usual souvenir shops !!! There is also a museum of historical relics to see, and a shop selling only cat-related souvenirs. I was lucky to get the last 800 Shinkansen souvenir key rings, for friends back home. From there we caught the bus back to Nishi-Kagoshima station, to collect our bags and post some heavy magazines back home from the nearby Post Office. While my wife did that, I was able to take many photos of the interesting and varied tram fleet. Then we took the tram to the Sun Hotel, which was near the main shopping area. That evening, we went looking for a small restaurant that Akiko have found on a web page, and we had printed out a discount voucher for. We found it at the top of a small building, and as well as enjoying a nice meal and drink, won a Kirin beer mobile phone alert flasher in some sort of promotion. The shop had a sign on the door (which I should have taken a photo of) saying they were open from 6pm to 25pm !!!
After checking out and storing our bags, we walked the few blocks to the ferry terminal for our trip across to see Sakurajima. There we walked to the visitor's centre, which has some fine interactive displays about the history of the volcano, with light, sound and smoke !!! Then we walked around the shore area on a specially constructed walkway to the Karasujima lookout, where you could see the massive deposits of lava from the 1910 eruption, and look back and see the smoke still coming from the top of the mountain. After getting the ferry back to the mainland, we caught the tram back to the main station. Here there was hundreds of posters entered in a competition for the new Tsubame Shinkansen, and I managed to get a commemerative can (with a top and cap like a bottle) of Coke. Our train was the multicoloured Kirishima (a 3 car 485 set) to Miyazaki, where we changed to the Nichirin 783 train to Oita. Along the way could be seen the remnants of an overhead monorail test track. At Oita we got on the Sonic 883 (with colourful seats and Mickey Mouse headrests) to Kokura, where we were staying for the night at the Station Hotel. Aptly named, it was right on top of the station, with a good view of the tracks below. There is also a Monorail here that starts right inside the building. We went for a walk in the evening and visited a Book-off store, and ate at Mosburger.
I got up really early (6am) to catch the first run of the Kitakyushu Monorail to the end of the line at Kikugaoka and back, in time to get the Hikari Railstar #348 to Hiroshima. Here we changed to Kodama #634, a 4 car set, to go to the next station, Higashi-Hiroshima, where I planned about an hour to take photos and video of the trains passing this small station at full speed. While we were there, my wife started to feel ill, but I was OK. We then got on a 6 car set, Kodama #635 back to Hiroshima, to catch the Hikari Railstar #354 to Himeji. About this time, I also started to feel ill, and we both had to make trips to the bathroom to be sick. The problem was compounded because we had seats in a filthy smoking car, because there were no others available when we booked. Take my advice, and use the toilet, not the wash basin, however I was sitting on the toilet at the time, and had no choice !!! The only thing that we can attribute this too was that we both had a chicken burger at Mosburger the previous night. We felt a bit better after that, but decided that we would continue to our accommodation in Osaka, rather than stop at Himeji as planned to see Himeji Castle. From Osaka, we took the Loop line to Morinomiya, and after a little confused walking around, found the Hotel we were staying at. As we were earlier than expected, the room was not ready, so we had to rest in the foyer for half an hour. The hotel was right next to the Osaka Loop line, so you could see all the trains passing by out of the window. I was surprised to see many different trains other than just the orange Loop line 103 sets. After that we rested for a while in the room, until later in the afternoon when we had an appointment at a nearby train shop, Awaza Railcraft. I say appointment, because they were actually doing renovations at the time and were not officially open. We took the Chuo subway line just a couple of stops to the shop, and they had lots of nice stuff, some of which I had ordered, and more extra things that I bought as well. Most of the items the owner was willing to ship on ahead of us to Yamagata. In the evening, we saw a nice izakaya restaurant that gave us a discount ticket, so we planned to return the next night.
Because my wife wanted to rest some more, I started the day alone, by taking the Loop line to Shin-Imamiya, to change to the private Nankai line. From there I went to Suminoe, where I figured I could get photos and video of lots of express trains passing through, including the incredible Rapi:t airport express. There was also a large group of noisy schoolgirls, who kept trying to race each train as it came into the platform. From there, I went back to Shin-Imamiya, and took the Loop line back to Osaka, walked to the nearby Umeda station to the Hankyu Takarazuka line and caught an express to Hotarugaike. There I changed to the Osaka Monorail for the trip to Kadomashi. I met my wife there, and we took the Keihan Honsen express to Kayashima and then swapped to a local train for Chushojima, where we took a local train to Keihan-Uji. From here is a short walk, down the usual souvenir shop lined streets, to the famous Byodo-in temple (it is on the 50yen coin). Unfortunately there were renovations being done, and we could not see inside, however the outside was still magnificent, especially when reflected across the lake. There is also a large modern historical museum there. We had lunch at a nice little local restaurant, run by two old ladies, and then walked back to the JR station. It was further than we thought, and we started off in the wrong direction at first. From there we took the train on the Kyoto-Nara line to Nara, and changed to the Yamatoji line to Horyuji. It looked further than we first expected, so rather than walking, we caught a bus to the famous Horyuji temple precinct. Walking up the long entrance path, we caught site of the pagoda and other buildings that are seen in many travel photos. We were lucky to be offered the services of an English speaking Japanese guide, a retired gentlemen who did this on a voluntary basis. We were able to see inside the buildings with the aide of his torch. A nearby hall had relics of famous statues and other items that were some 2000 years old. From there we caught the bus back to the station, and the train back to Osaka. We had originally planned to go to Oji and Ikoma and ride the cable cars there, but decided to skip it and have a rest again. We did go to the nearby Greenmax shop, and then come back and manage to pack up some cartons in the tiny hotel room, and take then to a Post Office to send them home. In the evening, we had a nice meal at the local izakaya restaurant we found the previous day. Here is also close to Osaka castle, which is lit up at night - unfortunately we did not have time to visit it.
Today we planned to do the Hiei-zan 'loop' quest, going up one side and back the other way. Thanks to Bob Tomasko & Dick Harris for their advice planning this day. We took the Loop line back to Osaka, and changed to the Thunderbird service to Kyoto. I found out later when I looked at the photos, that is was a new 683 set, not the 681 Thunderbird. At Kyoto, we put our bags in a locker, marveled at the fact there was a platform 0, and saw the ChizuKyuko HOT7000 train, and transferred to the Nara line for Tofukuji. Here we changed to the Keihan Honsen to Demachiyanagi, where the Eizan Tetsudo starts. This is a small scenic line that winds it's way up the mountains, and is spectacular in autumn. After the short trip to Yase-hieizan-guchi, we walked to the bottom station of the Keifuku cable car. This is a 9 minute ride that takes you far up the mountain, and spring was a good time, as you could see more of the view through the tree's bare branches. From there you continue further up the mountain on the Hieizan Ropeway to Hiei-Sancho. At this point there was still snow on some parts of the ground. We then walked along a mountain trail for some 30 minutes to the ??? temple area. From here is another cable car back down to Sakamoto, and you get a good view of Lake Biwa on the way down. 15 minutes walk takes you to the Keihan Ishikawa line station for the fast trip in a small 2 car set to Hama-Ohtsu. There we changed to the Keishin line for the trip to Yamashina, and from there on JR back to Kyoto. We were happy to have a rest on Hikari #276 for the completion of our day travelling to Tokyo, and our 2 night stay (at half price) at the Shinagwa Prince Hotel. On the way, we stopped off at Shizuoka to visit a well known hobby shop, Rainbow Ten.
After such a tiring day, we managed to get up later than planned. As we were getting the room on about the 30th floor at half price, it was OK, but other than the fantastic view of Shinagawa station and yards, I wouldn't say it is good value. Today I was planning an Enoshima 'quest', to do research for my next layout. Because of the lateness, I had to drop some items from the planned schedule, like some riding on Keikyu and the Kanazawa Seaside line. Anyway, I went down to Fujisawa on the Tokaido line, planning to change there to the Enoden. Somehow I got confused and when exiting the JR station ended up inside the Odakyu station there, and then couldn't get out because I didn't have a ticket. Fortunately, one of the young barrier attendants spoke enough English to direct me to the right place without charge. You actually have to leave the station and go thru a department store (Odakyu) to get to the Enoden station. First I rode on the line both directions, taking video, then walked as far as the tunnel taking photos. At Kamakura I looked at the gift shop, and bought some nice postcards. From there I used the Yokosuka line to Yokohama, and then Keikyu to Tsurumi, and walked the short distance to the ex-Greenmax shop, Little Tokyo. As always, they had a lot of interesting items. After that, I went back to Shinagawa on the high speed Keikyu Express, which is always an exciting ride !!! My wife and I then went on the Asakusa subway to Higashi-Ginza, and visited the Tenshodo store there. From there we used the Ginza subway from Ginza to Mitsukoshimae and changed to the Hanzomon subway for Mitsukoshimae to Jimbocho. Here we visited the Shosen Grande bookshop, which has a whole half a floor of train books, magazines, DVD's etc. I bought a swag of items, and they were kind enough to ship them to Yamagata for free. Then we went back to Shinagawa via the Mita subway to Mita and then the Asakusa subway. For dinner we went to the famous Anna Millers, where the female waitresses have very short uniforms.
After such a tiring couple of days, and staying in such a nice hotel, we managed to sleep in for 3 hours !!! So once again, the days planned schedule was shot to pieces - we had planned to visit an unusual building, and then travel to Sawara (past Narita), as well as ride on the Chiba monorail. First, we took our bags to the nearby Toyoko Inn, our usual place, and were we were staying for the rest of the week in Tokyo. Because there were few good connections to get to Sawara, that had to be dropped, so we went to Akihabara and changed to the Sobu line to go to Shin-Koiwa. There we caught a bus, and after about 15 minutes rides, walked the 4-5 blocks to the site of the 'NC Building' I wanted to see. Imagine my disappointment when we couldn't find it - it had been demolished recently, and a nursing home built on the site. The building's manager showed us some information and photos of the previous one, and said a lot of people from all over the world came there expecting to see it. So we walked back to get the bus - luckily see went past a nice little park with cherry blossoms out in full. From Shin-Koiwa, we went to Tsuga and first took the Monorail to the end station, Chishirodai, and then back again to the other end at Chiba. We then took the Keiyo line as far as Minami-funabashi, where my wife continued on the Tokyo and back to the Hotel, and I changed to the Musashino line to Matsuda. Here I spent around an hour taking photos and video of Joban line trains. By this stage it was very cold and raining. After that, I took the Joban line to Nippori and looked at one model shop called Wamu (mostly HO), and found another store to be closed. From there it was down to Akihabara to meet my wife in LAOX and an acquaintance from the internet, David Kondo. We looked there, went to Tam Tam, the LAOX Asobit store that was closing down, and a second hand shop in a side street. We then had something to eat at Beckers, before going back to the Hotel.
I had planned to visit Kawagoe and ride on various Seibu lines and the Toden, but again the planned schedule was scrapped. So I left for Shibuya, to take photos of unusual buildings again. Humax, Fuji40, Spline. Then it was back to Akihabara to meet my wife and return a DVD I had bought as a duplicate. Then we went to Ueno to meet an old friend of hers for lunch at a traditional Japanese restaurant. Driving there and parking the car was quite an experience. They stayed to chat, and I walked back to Nippori, and visited the shop that was closed the previous day, Milestone. Good selection of items, but very smoky !!! From there I took the Yamanote line to Komagome where there is a level crossing. It is a very busy location, and there was another photographer there. You can also see the Yamanote freight line, with the Shonan Shinjuku line trains, and I saw a new Yamanote line E231 set being delivered. From there I went to Shinjuku, and looked around the Kabukicho area, tried to avoid inadvertently taking photos of yakuza while looking for the Nibankan building. I then managed to find the Sakura-ya hobby shop, bought heaps of things, and then took the Oedo subway to visit the Kato Hobby Centre. By this stage, it was quite late, so I took the Oedo line and JR back to the Hotel, and we went to TGIF (Thanks God It's Friday) for dinner.
This evening we had arranged to meet Akiko's friend for dinner, but we had the day planned to visit the scenic Hakone region. First we went to Odawara on the Shinkansen, and from there you transfer to the main station where you can change to the Hakone-Tozan line. This is a standard gauge line that winds it's way up the mountain, using several switchback and very sharp curves. Also here is a Toy Museum, with lots of interesting olden wooden and tinplate Japanese toys, as well as some model trains. At the end of the line, you change to a cable car, which takes you up higher and higher, and eventually you reach the beginning of a series of ropeways that take you over the top of the the mountain, and down to the lake on the other side. Here you board a cruise boat that looks like a pirate ship, or a huge swan or something else mythical, and this takes you to the other end of the lake. Here we looked in the usual souvenir shops and also a re-creation of the checkpoint stations they used to use on this part of the old Tokaido highway route. There is a section of road that follows this route, which you can walk along. First if is fairly level, with large trees on each side, but then it starts to wind it's way up the mountain, and is very steep and rocky. We followed this for about an hour, until it crossed the normal road where we could wait for a bus to take up back to Hakone. it is amazing to ride on the buses that sometimes wind along very twisty roads and narrow streets. From Hakone we caught the train back to Odawara, and then the Shinkansen to Tokyo. Here we changed to the Tohoku Shinkansen for the quick trip to Omiya. It's great having the Japan Rail Pass and being able to take the Bullet train for fast 'suburban' trips !!! At Omiya we changed to the Keihin Tohoku to Urawa, and then wandered the streets until we found the apartment block where Akiko's friend lives. It was a JR community area, as her husband works for JR. We had a nice meal, and could see the train lines out the window. Eventually we went back to the station and took the Keihin Tohoku line back to Shinagawa.
We had seen on the previous nights TV news, about a collapsed house nearby, so we went to Osaki, and walked to the location. The house had fallen down an embankment because of excavations below - luckily no-one was in it at the time !!! From there we went to Shinjuku, and found that we couldn't even get down to the the platform because there was so many people queued on the platform. We never did find out what had caused the holdup, and eventually continued on the Chuo line to Iidabashi to look at the old Kagurazaka area. We stopped at Starbucks and had a nice green tea coffee, and looked at the cherry blossoms along the Kanda river. Found the new location and looked in the Norimono book shop and bought some stuff. Then we went to Akihabara and visited the dept store train shop. In the evening, I took videos of Shinagawa and Keikyu from the new buildings across from the station. Then we went to a pizza restaurant near the station - the food was terrible and the service as bad. The 'pizza' was a very thin crust with so few toppings that you could hardly see them, and the price was outrageous for what you got. Also where we were sitting, the waiters kept bumping my chair as they walked past, so we complained, and the manager came and bowed and apologised and offered us free this and that and come back again for a discount, etc etc, but we told him we didn't want anything thing for free, except to get out of there and we wouldn't be coming back thank you !!!
We took the Shinkansen to Tokyo (it's great being able to get to Tokyo in 8 minutes!!!) and then Omiya. Bags were put in a locker, and then we went looking for another strange building I had seen on a previous trip. Some locals were not exactly sure how far away it was, so we got on the New Shuttle train, and headed off. Then we saw it as we cleared the Omiya station building, and it was not far from the station. So we got off at the first stop, decided to lunch at a Skylark restaurant, and look inside a project house, and walked back towards Omiya. Eventually the building came into view, and we found an apartment building were you could climb up the outside stairs to get a better view from the roof. Then we continued on to Yamagata using Tsubasa #???.
Today was our nephew Yuto's birthday, and he received a huge Gundam robot kit, that had hundred of parts to assemble. I think it will take him until his next birthday to complete it !!! We took the car with Akiko's sister to Koriyama, to the Abukumadou caves that you can visit and climb through. It was raining and we drove to a place near Koriyama to look at some caves. In there was a special passage that you had to crawl through and nearly get stuck in. Then we went into Koriyama to the huge tower building next to the station that has a SpacePark on the top floors. Here you could see interactive demonstrations, see a planetarium display and lots of other things. They also had a large model railway display, showing the area over a period of times with the appropriate age buildings. In a small booth, you could drive a train via video using realistic controls, and I managed to crash one of them !!! Then we drove back to Yamagata.
We took the Senzan line to Yamadera with Yuto who was on school holidays. This famous area (the name means 'mountain temple') has a series of temples winding their way up the mountainside, and it is said there are 1,000 steps to get to the top !!! Once we arrived at Yamadera station, it was a short walk to the beginning of the 'trek'. Most of the steps are not steep, and there are some flatter areas, but everywhere there are small shrines on paths off to the side, and other things to see, so you do not have to keep walking continuously. Yuto decided he would verify the number of steps by counting each one, but did it in English, so that slowed things down !!! Near the top there is a building like a balcony, hanging out far over the edge of a cliff, and you get a magnificent view of the town far below in the valley. But you would wonder how strong the wood in this structure is after hundreds of years !!! Once we got to the top, of course there were vending machines so we could get a refreshing drink. Because it was mid-week, and early in the morning, there were not too many people around. Of course going down was easier and quicker than going up - it took us 30 minutes compared to 3 hours. By this stage it was lunch time, so we found a nice place to eat nearby. Then we took the train back to Yamagata and on the way home, stopped off at the excellent Shibata Models hobby shop, to buy some tools for Yuto to use with his Gundam kit. That night we were treated to a meal at a Gyoza restaurant. Afterwards we watched one of those crazy Japanese game shows on TV, where contestants had to navigate an obstacle course and perform ridiculous feats of strength (and embarrassment!!!).
Once again we took Yuto on a trip, this time to Matsushima, said to be one the three most beautiful places in Japan. To get there, we took the Senzan line to Sendai, and we saw some monkeys running along the track at one place. Then at Sendai, we changed to the Senseki line, which uses refurbished ex-Yamanote line 205 cars, and starts underground not far from, but connected to, Sendai station. The trip is very scenic - first you travel through the outer suburbs, then it becomes rural, then you get a view along the coast. We got off at Shiogama, and walked to the nearby pier to find a cruise boat. There was a couple there, but no people around, but someone came out of one of the boats, and asked us if we were wanting to go on a cruise. They were willing to take just us 3 people for the whole trip !!! As we left the harbour, hundreds of seaguls were flying along behind the boat, and when a crew member offered to sell us some chips, we knew the reason why. The birds will come up and take the food right out of your hand !!! Eventually they gave up and we were alone again. The trip was on a very nice clear day, and you could see the hundreds of islands very clearly - it was a wonderful trip. Once we got to Matsushima, we had lunch in a nice restaurant overlooking the bay, and then went for a walk around the area - of course it was full of mainly restaurants or souvenir shops. Then we saw a sign to the Matsushima Orgel Museum, so we went there, and were amazed by the large collection of restored music boxes, automatic pianos, and other mechanical musical instruments that played music like a full orchestra. If you have any musical interest at all, it is a fantastic place. After that, we walked back to the station via a temple area, which also had shrines cut back into the rocks, and also included a monument to railway employees who had lost their life. There is also a mini-seaworld park, which has a small monorail ride in it. The train took us back to Sendai, we looked around in Yodabashi Kamera (one of the county's largest electrical stores), I bought a 512Mb USB memory stick, at prices a lot less than in Australia, and we bought a Gameboy game for Yuto's birthday. Then it was back to Yamagata again.
Akiko's sister had to go back to Sendai to work, and get Yuto ready to start school again, so she took us in the car, and dropped us off at a large shopping centre that has a large Kinikuniya bookshop in it. I was looking for the large scale Chizu street directories, which have the best detail in them, as well as all the railway station names in Hiragana. We had rung in advance, and they had 3 of the 4 I wanted to get (full Tokyo 23-ku, Saitama, Kanagawa & Chiba). We also got a few other items. From there, we caught the Sendai subway back to the main station, and then took the Senzan line back to Yamagata. Didn't do much else except pack some parcels and take then to the PO by bicycle in the rain - that was fun !!! Had home-made okonomiyaki for dinner.
I left Yamagata early to go to Sendai on the Senzan line. First I went to Tsubasa models, which is trains only and where they have a good range of Japanese HO on display. After that I walked to Sendai Models, and found they were closed for their day off (should have checked first). So then I went to the tiny ABE shop, and had some lunch at McDonalds. If you ever have a couple of spare hours in Sendai, these shops are worth a visit, and within easy walking distance from the station. Then I went to the station to wait for Hayate #10 for the fast ride to Tokyo. As I was taking photos of the E2 set arriving, behind me the JR East inspection Shinkansen set 'East i' snuck in behind me and I missed a good photo opportunity. I had a good 4 1/2 hours in Tokyo, so I got out at Ueno, and took the Ginza subway to Suehirocho, where you get out and are right at the Tam Tam store a little north of Akihabara. Got some stuff there, and then walked down to a second hand shop called Pochi, that we had discovered previously. They had a lot of interesting items there, as well as things like separate Tomy buses, and Bandai houses. Then I went to the closing down LAOX Asobit City, but it was virtually empty of train stuff, so lastly it was off to the 'real' LAOX store, which seemed to have changed layout to accommodate stock from the other store. With many bags under my arm, it was back to Tokyo to catch Tsubasa #123 to Yamagata.
I had a day planned to go riding on the local Yamagata Railway, which runs from Arato to Akayu, and also the JR Aterazawa line, which runs from Yamagata to Aterazawa, but this did not eventuate. So today was just spent relaxing, packing boxes to get ready for posting, and doing nothing in particular. I did spend some time walking around the back streets (more like lanes) taking photos of residential buildings. I was amused to see trucks on the streets with model names like the 'Fighter' and 'Super Dolphin' !!! I also want back to Shibata Models by bicycle, to get some last minute purchases.
First we packed out bags, and also finished all the parcels of items we did not want to take back with us - this included 2 boxes of books, magazines, and other papers etc, each over 15kg !!! So we took these to the PO and as usual had a hard time getting the staff to price the items correctly. Eventually we had to say our goodbyes and catch the Tsubasa #110 from Yamagata to Fukushima and then the Max Yamabiko #110 from Fukushima to Tokyo. We changed at Fukushima so that you get a better view from the top deck of the E4 set. To do this though, you have to make sure your seats are at the end of each train close to the coupler, and make a mad dash when the train stops, because they have already coupled up at Fukushima by the time the doors open. Once we got to Tokyo, we had some extra time planned to go to the huge Yaesu bookshop that is a little way from the eastern side of the station. So we lugged our suitcases with us to there, and browsed around for a while. I managed to get the other Chizu map book I wanted. You do not want to carry these around with you all the time, and they are too heavy to post, so it is best to get them on the last day and take them in your luggage. From Tokyo, it was down the many floors of escalators with all our bags to the Narita Express platforms and back to the airport. A western couple were there trying to work out how they could get on the train, because they had been rushed and not had the chance to buy their seat tickets. Once we checked our bags in at the airport, we had time to do some last minute shopping of books, sake, and gifts.
Arrived at Sydney right on time at 7:05am, and in contrast to the trip to the airport, we were home by just after 9am !!!
Being able to go for 3 weeks this time made a lot of difference, as we were glad to be able to visit more places further from Tokyo. Spring was mostly lovely weather, but it was a gamble trying to see the cherry blossoms. As the move from south to north as the weather gets warmer, you may have to adjust your schedule to see them at the best time, because they are only out for a short week or so. This time, for various reasons, a lot of the planning I had done did not eventuate, but some of these trips can be added to the schedule for the next visit. But sometimes half the fun is planning the trip, rather than doing it !!!
Train Schedule (still under construction)
This table lists the actual journeys taken on various trains and other means of transportation, mainly using the Japan Rail Pass, but also a Passnet card. You can find out more information about these on the Tokyo Area Rail Network page. For a 3 week pass costing ¥57,100, I managed to rack up well over ¥140,100 worth of travel, so it is certainly worth getting and using as much as possible.
|Date||Day||From||To||Train / Line||Train Type||Reason|
Video (still under construction)
Here is a table containing a summary of the 10+ hours of video footage I took during this trip. I am planning to convert all of this to MPG files, and then load a selection to this page so it will be available for everyone to view. If you want to see a particular segment, please ask ...
Tips & Hints (still under construction)
Memories and unusual observations (still under construction)
(Please note that these are my personal
observations and comparisons may relate to situations or practices here in
Last updated 17/03/2005
All contents © 2005 - Doug Coster