Posts Tagged With: Travel Pass

Riding The Shinkansen

Awesome train pulling into the station in TokyoThe number one benefit of purchasing the seven day Japan Rail Pass (that we mentioned earlier) is that it has allowed us to ride all of the JR trains including the famed Shinkansen (pronounced like “Wisconsin”) AKA the bullet train. Talk about a wonderful, lightning fast way to trek through Japan! We knew it would be a speedy ride, but Sweet Sassy Molassy! That train is fast! Amtrak’s Acela service crawls in comparison.

A sensational, practical, relaxing and enjoyable way to travel, the Shinkansen rail network spans the islands of Japan from tip to toe providing the fastest, smoothest and among the most comfortable train ride that I have ever enjoyed. Shinkansen service is near legend in Japan and it’s easy to see why. These trains are a technology and transportation achievement that should have other countries drooling.

Brooke checking out the departure time for our trainThe Shinkansen trains themselves have a fierce and futuristic look – even though the trains have been around for years and years. Their signature look embodies speed. Each sleek car is white with a signature single blue line that streaks down the center of the outside. These aerodynamically shaped trains are also considerably longer than most other trains I’ve seen with some running up to sixteen cars. Each train can hold over 1,500 passengers; when they pull in the station they seem to keep going and going. The interior is equally as nice: comfortable quiet cars, and reclining seats. They are very clean trains with attentive in-seat service from an ever-bowing crew. In that regard, we’re starting to expect nothing less from the Japanese! And there are just so many Shinkansen are on the schedule running each day! The frequency is surprising: wait ten minutes in a station and you might see a half dozen Shinkansens zoom through. It’s a little thrilling each time one roars into the station.

Long Cars

But above all else, it is simply a wonderful way to see the country. Sit back, tilt the chair a bit, and gaze through the oversized window. And these suckers are fast and getting faster. Each generation of engines are apparently a touch speedier than the previous. Speeds of up to 180-200 MPH makes looking out the window a little challenging. Traveling at this new speed, closer objects are hard to focus on before they are out of sight. We rode the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto and then Kyoto to Hiroshima and finally back to Tokyo. It would have been great if we had just a smidge more time to head north, but that’s becoming our mantra lately: If only we had a bit more time!

Top notch servicecBut buyer beware – these Shinkansen tickets can be expensive! That handy-dandy Japan Rail pass included our fees, but we estimate our three train tickets could have cost upwards of $500 each. The costs seem justifiable when you start to add up all of the infrastructure that must have been required here. Riding the line on elevated tracks (no ground level track-crossings here), curves on a very small grade, and through endless tunnels & bridges, it breaks my four-function brain calculator to add up what the infrastructure demands must have been. And it looks like it is paying off- most trains we rode on were sold out and it seems to be the preferred method of travel through the country. Who needs airports when a Shinkansen stop is likely a short jaunt from your home! Hmmm…I wonder if there is a Shinkansen route that will take us to the top of Mt. Fuji tomorrow? Man, what a cool ride.

-Phil

Yes please!

Zooming into Kyoto

 

Categories: Destinations, Japan, Tokyo, Trains, Transportation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Day(ton) One

Our trip is underway as we wake up in Hawthorne, Los Angeles at a hotel near the airport! We left the Mid-west yesterday with all of our gear for the next four months by our side. We made a final farewell phone call to our parents before we disconnect our cell phone service from our respective carriers later today. Soon, our iphones become regular ole WiFi devices. Now, we are double checking that we didn’t forget anything and re-discovering where we’ve packed everything. To our delight, we have tons of room left to spare. And our travel clothes are amazingly comfortable. Plus, not to brag, but I think we look pretty sharp.

Welcome to Dayton

Dayton International Airport

First two flights down and we’re hoping everything can be this easy. We showed up at the Dayton airport yesterday, thanked Orville and Wilbur for their aviation contributions, and boarded two seamless, enjoyable Delta flights heading west. But this part is easy. This part is fun and familiar. This part is almost predictable. Brooke and I are quite adept at riding in planes across the country. We’ve had some practice. It’s all relatively simple travel when you have GPS guiding you to the hotel, signs that are clearly marked, friendly  counter agents that speak English and Good Morning America on in the background while you enjoy a continental breakfast. The real thrill begins when we land in Auckland, turn to look at each other and say, “Now what?” followed by “What the hell time is it?” (And then “Where can Phil go to get that haircut he’s been putting off for three weeks?”)

Four Months of Travels in two suitcases each

Four Months of Travels in two suitcases each

We woke up this morning in the first of many, many hotel rooms. Everything was comfortable enough but the shower only gets a B-. I’m sure we’ll have better as we go and I’m sure we’ll have worse. With money now only in spend mode moving forward, we’ve  started watching our budget: Grabbing some plastic spoons and bananas from breakfast for the road, getting shaving cream from the clerk and gulping down cheap, bad coffee. On our to do list for today: Enjoy a day in L.A.and then head to the airport around 8:00 PM for a 14 hour flight!

-Phil

Our plane from MSP to LAX

Our plane from MSP to LAX

Our first travel obstacle!
Our first travel obstacle!

Categories: Flights, LA, New Zealand, Packing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Looking ahead to Japan

Yet another question we are asked frequently is, “Which stop are you most looking forward to on your trip?” Certainly hard to choose just one stop since we love each stop we’ve chosen. However, we would have to say that Japan is the country that holds the most intrigue.

We think that the ten days we will spend in Japan are truly going to be like visiting nowhere else. And we really know very little about the country, culture and people which only makes it more exciting.  I had one friend tell me that leaving your chopsticks stuck in rice during a meal is incredibly bad social etiquette and another tell me that most of Tokyo is like Times Square times ten.  But that’s about it.

We’ve relied on others to give us some tips. Our friend, wordsmith and long-time Japan resident Dax Oliver offered us some sensational insight on places outside of Tokyo to explore. Dax lived in the Tokyo area for about eight years in the 00’s working and exploring the country, so we’ve decided he’s probably a better source for info than watching “Lost in Translation” yet again (where the only thing we learned is that for relaxing times, to make it Suntory Whiskey time.)

I’m assuming that you’re already planning to hit places like Mt. Fuji, the Imperial Palace, and the National Museum, so they’re not listed here. These are a bit more off the beaten path. I recommend looking up these locations on Google Street View too, because most Japanese streets have no names. Really. That U2 song was actually about finding an address in Tokyo.

I’ve only been to Kyoto once, so I can’t give you many recommendations there, but it’s definitely worth a few days. Don’t go to Osaka –there’s nothing to do there if you’re a traveler. There’s also nothing really in Nagoya or Yokohama either.

If you have time, Hiroshima is worth a day to see everything about the nuclear bomb. It’ll really drive home the horror of nuclear weapons. On a nearby island in the Inland Sea is also one of Japan’s three official “Best Scenic Landscapes”. I don’t know if I’d say that, but the Inland Sea (a stretch of ocean between the major islands of Honshu and Shikoku) can be very pretty. Hiroshima also has good oysters.

Himeji Castle is worth a half-day, since it’s one of the only original castles left in Japan (at least the materials are original – the castle was taken apart and put back together in the 1950s). It’s also the most beautiful castle in the country, which is why it wasn’t burned down after the Meiji Restoration. Himeji is on the bullet train line.

If you want to eat something weird that you can’t normally get in the States, my most practical suggestion is natto – fermented soy beans. I love it and the best way for you to try it is the breakfast menu at Yoshinoya restaurants (they’re all over the city).  It’s only served in the morning, though. I was also partial to raw horse meat, so try it if you can find it, but it’s very rare in Tokyo (no pun intended).

More from Dax and more on Japan tomorrow!

Categories: Doccuments, Japan, Rail, Tokyo, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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