My First trip to Japan; Or how I almost missed my first Shinkansen ride.
(First written in the late 1990's)
I have been a long time Rapid Transit fan since I was a little boy growing up 10 block away from the Elevated F-Line in Brooklyn NY. I never thought at that time that I would ever see any transit system beyond my native Brooklyn. As a teenager I moved to the northern suburbs and experienced commuter trains. Somehow I got a job in the Semi-conductor industry and received a job transfer to Oregon as a Field Service Engineer. This job requires travel. With this job I have seen many different transit system of the US. So far my favorite place to visit is Japan. The intensity of rail service is a traction buffs dream come true!
My first trip to Japan was in December 1990. I had to go to Oita Prefecture on Kyushu. It is here that I first experienced Japan’s rails for the first time. I had a Sunday off, so 2 of my American co-workers and I decided to fly from Oita to Hiroshima, then take the trains back. We had made arrangements for a taxi to pick us up at a local train station at a certain time to bring us back to our hotel (we were out in the boondocks, but a 10-yard walk to the ocean.
We walked around Hiroshima. I would recommend everybody to stop at the war memorial and museum. It is very sobering, and would cause even the greatest warmonger to understand the importance of peace. Anyway, it was time to go to the train station so we could catch a Shinkansen to Kokura, from there we would transfer to a local train to our destination. We jumped on a streetcar to the train station. This was very brave because we did not have a clue if we were taking the right one or how much it cost. I have proven to myself that the Just Do It! Phrase does work. We arrived at Hiroshima Station without incident. The problem was the person who keep the time, mis-read the time of our train. We went up to the ticket window to purchase our tickets. The ticket clerk told us we had no time to purchase tickets; our train was scheduled to arrive in 2 minutes. He told us the track # and that we should RUN! Which we did. We ran through the wickets and down to the platform just as the train stopped. We jumped on board. The conductor told us to walk to the unreserved section, which we did and found seats for our journey south. I don’t remember much about the actual train ride except there were a lot of tunnels. When we arrived in Kokura we walked downstairs to the Fare Adjustment window to pay our fare from Hiroshima. We got on our local train and caught our taxi without incident!
I had two nights to spend in Tokyo on my return. I found out about a train that went to Narita Airport. Back in 1990 the JR Narita Express did not exist, but the Keisei Skyliner did. I went to Shinjuku Train station for the first time (I had taken the subway the previous day, but not seen the craziness of the main station. I had to ask a wicket (the automated turnstiles were not in place), how much to Ueno Station and which track, he was most helpful and guided me correctly. I took the Yamanote Line to Ueno. I then had to figure out how to get to the Keisei Ueno Station. While looking I found the JR Shop, which I enjoyed looking through (But seems to be gone now). I found the station and took the Skyliner to Narita. However at this time the station under the airport did not exist. The train stopped outside the airport (I think this is called Higashi-Narita now). We had to go through Security checkpoint in a CRAMPED and CROWDED building before being shoved in a bus for the short trip to the terminal.
I am glad now the Narita Airport stations now exist. I have since been on both the Narita Express and the Skyliner. Skyliner is much cheaper and less crowded then the Narita Express. True the Narita Express doe go into Tokyo and Shinjuku. I usually take the Narita Express into town and the Skyliner out of town. Or if I have a lot of time, and am feeling well I’ll take one of the Limited Expresses for a really cheap ride.
This article is only the first of a series I plan on writing on my trips to Japan. I have been to Japan on 10 different occasions over the past 9 years, and to Korea once. I have done some crazy weekend trips to ride a streetcar line or my favorite subways. I try to take photographs of my trips, but I tend to be a little timid in taking photos, so I don’t have as many as I should. However, I have posted photos of Japan’s trains on my website along with trains/transit from the US and now Europe.