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Sunday, April 7, 2013

MUGA Day#14: Tokyo to Osaka


One overriding parameter in the planning of My Ultimate Global Adventure (MUGA) was minimization of stress.  So this morning, I awoke to a brilliant view of Mount Fuji, but with the following headlines:

TEPCO finds second pit leaking in Fukushima
South Korea says it's set for anything (my next stop after Japan is Seoul)
Concerns grow over the avian-flu strain spreading China (my stop after Korea)

At least there is nothing happening in Frankfurt, Germany, which comes after Beijing.

Japan trains are noted for their punctualness.  Except, it  turns out, for high winds.  Yesterday, my hotel determined that my best shot at viewing a cherry blossom peak was Hitachi in Ibaraki.  My other option was to take a Shinkansen to Fukuoka and hire a cab to drive me as close as possible to the nuclear cataclysm.  Well, as that could have stressful, I caught the Super Hitachi (left), which was supposed to get there in an hour an a half.  Super??  This was the slowest train I've ever taken, moving most of the time at maybe 10 MPH.  Even worse than Amtrak.  I'm sure announcements were made along the way, but I don't understand Japanese.  So two hours into my journey, and not even close to Hitachi, I finally inquired.  High winds forced the train to move only very slowly.  So at Mito, I jumped off to try to take me back to Tokyo.  Easier said than done, but five hours later I did make it back.  I saw no cherry blossoms.  The only concession was that the Shinkansens were also affected by the winds.

For the future traveler here is a beginning Japan Rail Pass Guide to the Shinkansen (bullet train)  There are 1500 miles of tracks and the fastest train goes up to 200 miles per hour.  If you think this is quick, test runs have gone up to 275 MPH, and the world record for their experimental maglev was 361 MPH.

First, you need to obtain this pass BEFORE you get to Japan.  Here are further details.  Today, for me:

1.  There are three speeds, and here are their times and frequency/hour from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka:
     Nozomi 2.5 hours (5)
     Hikari    3 hours    (2)
     Kodama  4 hours   (2)
     This is an anachronism that should be changed, but the pass does NOT allow you to use Nozomi.

2.  At the Tokyo Station, if you want a better bento to consume on the train, you must go one floor down to a more elaborate food court.  Note the prices.

3.  No big deal because you will most likely get a reserved seat, but if the train is to be crowded, people begin to stand in line at what is supposed to be the entrance.  Next to it is kind of the exit of the next car.  No one stands there.  So that is where you enter.

However, there are different details depending on where you come from and where you want to go.  Any train with a Max is a doubledecker.  In some segments, be careful where you sit because half the train goes in a different direction at some point after departure.

So here arrived my Shinkansen:


My $40 bento set:


Best I've ever had on a train.  Soon after leaving Tokyo Station, you could already see Mount Fuji.  This was the first time I've ever notice MF on a train in Tokyo.  Half an hour into the ride:


By the way, that photo at the top was not taken from my hotel room, but from just about here.  The view, however, is not always so picturesque:


I guess there were no winds, for the train arrived at Shin-Osaka in exactly 3 hours.  Many Shinkansen stations are new (meaning of "shin") and were built outside the city.  The Japan Rail Pass cannot be used for subways and metros.  What does work well is something called a Suica card, which works everywhere, including for JR trains.  The Hibiki is here because my hotel allows me two of these per day.

The Osaka St. Regis has become my favorite hotel in Japan.  The service is over the top and accommodations grand.  Except for one bump at check in.  I added a second day to my stay here, and they indicated, sorry, but on Day 1 you were provided, appropriately enough for this day, the Mount Fuji Suite, but, the room was taken in advance for Day 2, so you need to move to still a pretty good room, but must pay an additional $400 if you wish to remain a second night in the suite.  Note the additional.  Also, what kind of logic is this?  Think about it.  So I said, nah, give me the not so terrific but still good room so I don't need to move.  But then I thought, all I had was a small wheely with not much of anything, so I took this incredible suite for one night.  Here are two views of the room from each end:


And you don't even see the bathroom, which is fabulous.  I noted this:


I can't imagine a 27-floor fire escape ladder:


I live on the 27th floor in Honolulu.  Maybe I'd better look into this.

Tonight, dinner at Kahala, which is written and pronounced Kahara here.

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