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Monday, April 4, 2011

THE ALMOST $250 MISTAKE

Well, today was to be my big travel day:  five trains over 16 hours to get me from Tokyo to Sapporo.  The regular Shinkansen system is awaiting re-building of the track system, so I had to get there through Niigata and Akita.  I caught the 6:08 Niigata Shinkansen, easily transferred to the Akita connection and had an hour wait there.  We went through several snowstorms.  Here is the Niigata region:

Ten minutes before boarding the train to Aomori, I saw that it was there, so walked over and entered, but realized I was in the same one that brought me here, which was headed back to Niigata.  In those ten seconds, the door closed and I was whisked off in the wrong direction.  I checked with the conductor, and she said get off at the next stop and catch the local commuter back to Akita and change your tickets.  Half an hour later was the first stop, and I had to wait 25 minutes in the freezing cold.  This commuter stops at every station and waits.  By the time I got to Akita, it was too late to make it to Sapporo tonight.

So, I told the ticket agent, get me to Aomori and, tomorrow, to Sapporo.  Apparently, just getting to Aomori is a problem, so after a while, he found a way for me to catch another commuter, then transfer in Odate to Aomori, but this commuter was leaving in three minutes.  So I rushed off  and saw the train there, but the doors were already closed.  However, someone behind me pressed a button and I also got on.  

My first inclination after seeing those stations we stopped at was that, wait a minute, these are the same ones, and I was heading back to Niigata again.  But, no, the names of those towns just seem alike.  At one point I dosed off, woke up and noticed I was the only one on the train. However, there was a second car with people, and I wondered if I should get into that one.  I didn't, but wondered why in the last twenty stops no one got on the train.  If no one was going to Odate, why was I?  This was like a dream sequence...but was real.

The connection time to the next train was only 7 minutes, so I was getting anxious when the train arrived in Odate two minutes late.  However, the door to my car on the next train was only 10 yards away on the same platform.  Four hours late I had my bento with Akita sake and Kirin beer:


There was more snow and the sun was setting when I arrived in Aomori.

Then a final command decision.  This train stops through Shin Aomori first, then ends at Aomori.  Where should I get off?  I asked the conductor, and the decision was Aomori.  We get there and it occurred to me as I was leaving the train that I had not yet postponed my hotel stay at the JR Nikko Sapporo, and this had to me done by 6PM.  It was now 6:12PM.  So I rushed off to the information desk and two really nice and helpful ladies--Ms. Fujita and Takabayashi--at the tourist desk, called the Nikko and arranged for this delay, then made a reservation for me at the Toyoko Inn across the street.  They thus saved me $250.

Actually, I've alway wanted to stay at this hotel, for it is a relatively new high tech chain, close by the major train stations, features free breakfast and internet, and only costs around $60/night.  The room is very functional and well thought out, with a HD flat screen TV and hot plate plus refrigerator.  A few yards away was a Family Mart where I bought a can of Asahi beer for $2.50 (the shelves, by the way, were half empty), and Yoshinoya, where I took out their super deluxe (raw egg and green onions) beef sukiyaki over rice bowl for $4, and had both in my room.  One of my more satisfying meals of this trip.

Now, if I don't forget to board the right train tomorrow at 9:38AM, I should be able to get to Sapporo by 4PM.  All in all, really, not a bad mistake.

As stressful as my trip North has been, this is absolutely nothing compared to the plight of the people of Tohoku just south of me.  Best as I can figure out, though, not much new is happening except that TEPCO has not yet plugged the leak and a Russian anti-nuclear "expert" indicated that Fukushima was worse than Chernobyl.

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