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Thursday, August 11, 2016

CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE: Day #4: Tokyo to Osaka Using Japan Rail Pass

Tokyo, including Yokohama, is the largest metropolitan area in the world:

World's Largest Cities

RankCity / Urban AreaCountryPopulation
2Jakarta (Jabodetabek)Indonesia30539000
4Manila (Metro Manila)Philippines24123000
5    Seoul-Gyeongg-IncheonSouth Korea
There is a blank for Seoul, but the number should be 23.5 million.  New York is #9 with 20.6 million and Los Angles #18 with 15 million, same as my next stop, Bangkok.  San Francisco (all the way down to San Jose) is #60 with 6 million.  My other stop on this trip will be Sydney, #98 with 4 million.

There is a surprising vitality to Tokyo today.  The upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics seem to be stimulating the economy.  There is a lot more construction occurring than you would expect for a country approaching another bubble or worse, with the nuclear tragedy of Fukushima.  There are those who insist that the Chernobyl nuclear cataclysm was the determining factor towards the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The Abegeddon, compounding any metastability with an increase of the defense budget and assorted China-issues looms large.

Osaka means large hill and is the second largest Japanese metro area, with 19 million people.  With Kyoto and Kobe, the trio forms Kansai to rival Kanto (Tokyo region).  They are the same, but different.  While in Kanto people walk to the right and stand on the left, Kansai is just the opposite.  I get confused on escalators.  Kansai has okonomiyaki (kind of an pancake omelette) and Yakuza (Japanese Mafia).  They speak differently.  Tokyo is evil, while Osaka is interesting.  But the differences are overblown.

If you are contemplating a visit to Japan, are on your own, and want to see as much of the country as possible, then you should get a Japan Rail Pass.  You can only purchase this in your country, with certain restrictions:
  • There are two classes, and the seats/service do not differ much, although I always get the Green card:
    • Green:  superior-class (they now have a Grand Class which is not worth it, and cannot be linked to this program).
    • Ordinary
  • One week for an adult will cost 38,880 yen for Green and 29,110 yen for Ordinary.
  • You can go up to three weeks:  81,870 Y / 59,350 Y.
  • Children pay half the above cost.
  • Divide by 100 for U.S. dollars.
  • JUST THE FARE OF THE TOKYO TO SHIN-OSAKA GREEN CAR RIDE AMOUNTS TO ALMOST $200.  Adding my entire itinerary for this week, the cost should exceed $1000.
The bullet train, or Shinkansen, now goes up to Hokkaido, the north island.  However, the current stop is Hakodate, which still leaves you with a 3.5 hour train trip to Sapporo.  In addition, to this fast train, Japan Rail Pass allows you to catch any Japan Railway train, some ferries, and, even certain buses.

Note that Fukuoka in Kyushu is almost parallel with Tokyo, so for this segment, you travel East-West.  Tokyo to Sapporo is North-South and same for Tokyo to Kagoshima.

I don't know how I do this, but I screwed up again.  For one, they just created something called Mountain Day, a national holiday.  That is today, for August is the 8th month and the kanji looks like a mountain, while, and 11 looks like trees.  Japan now has 16 official holidays, they say, because people work too hard and need time off.  The UK, for example, only has eight.

Worse, this is Obon Season, when many Japanese go home to honor ancestors.  Ghosts, fire, dancing and food are featured.  Today is about the busiest train day of the year, and I had huge difficulty finding my way from Tokyo to Osaka at a desired time in a window seat for a view of Mount Fuji.  The next day from Osaka to Miyajima was also a problem.  However, after considerable effort by the train lady helping me, I was pretty much able to get to where I wanted.  One of the problems with the Japan Rail Pass is that you cannot catch the faster and more frequent Nozomi from Tokyo south.  There are other similar limitations here and there.

My most memorable Obon was Daimonji in Kyoto when a huge bonfire was lit in the hills:

That is a Chinese symbol signifying the return of departed ancestors to their spirit world (they had visited living families during this period).  Five fires will be lit in Kyoto beginning at 8PM on August 16 this year.

For breakfast I had an omelette, plus:

I notice just outside my window a diner and his dog.  Is this service or what?  The waiter actually brought a bowl for the dog's water (note the water bottle on the table).  What did the dog eat?  It was hand fed by the owner.

So today, I caught the bullet train from Tokyo to Shin Osaka Station.  The human traffic at Tokyo Station was suffocating.  If you fainted, you wouldn't fall because people are all around you.  To quote the literature:

The original Tōkaidō Shinkansen, connecting the largest cities of Tokyo and Osaka, is the world's busiest high-speed rail line. Carrying 151 million passengers per year (March 2008),[6] and at over 5 billion total passengers it has transported more passengers [7] than any other high-speed line in the world. The service on the line operates much larger trains and at higher frequency than most other high speed lines in the world. At peak times, the line carries up to thirteen trains per hour in each direction with sixteen cars each (1,323-seat capacity and occasionally additional standing passengers) with a minimum headway of three minutes between trains.

The Japanese Shinkansen system is safe, efficient and punctual.  How safe?  In more than half a century, not one person has been killed or injured in a train accident.  Amazing, considering the speed, earthquakes and terrorism.  In China 40 died in just one accident, similarly for Spain.

I somehow got to my track and saw the following:

There are three levels of shinkansen travel going West:  Kodama (stops at every stop), Hikari  (in between the other two) and Nozomi ( very few stops--not available for Japan Rail Pass holders).  I usually travel Hikari, but was lucky to get a Kodama seat.  But every stop means a four hour ride, compared to about half that for the Nozomi.

I had a seafood bento with sake:

It took two more subway trains to get me to the Sheraton Osaka.  Hint:  in addition to your Japan Rail Pass, you need something like a Suica card to use in subways.  At least the hotel was adjacent to a station:

The view from my room:

I noticed to things:  Kentucky Fried Chicken and Purple Eye.  So on the way to investigate the two, I saw a $160 set of mangos at Kintetsu:

Two mangos!!!  I wondered if Purple Eye was one of those love hotels, so I walked by:

Yup.  Across the street was a strange looking building (note the moon):

I noticed that this KFC served Asahi beer for around $4.  However, I got a larger volume of Premium Asahi Dry for $3 in the Kintetsu basement, and had a wonderful meal:

Note Purple Eye in the background.

Tomorrow, I need to wake up at 5AM to get to Shin Osaka Station for my train to Kagoshima, then to Miyazaki.


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