Catching the Shinkansen bullet trains in Japan

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Shinkansen (bullet train)An early start is never easy on holiday… unless you’re about to travel on the world famous Shinkansen (Bullet train). The trainspotter in anybody will soon become apparent when you step onto a platform full of the most amazing high speed trains you’ve ever seen. I swear they get their styling from Japanese cartoons. They look fast even when they’re sat still at the station. They leave dead on time, every time and there’s one along every few seconds. There’s even double decker shinkansen trains these days that look as though they can’t wait to be speeding out of the station and shooting along at 180mph.

Japan 2006We left Tokyo at 8:56am on the dot. Our train, like all trains in Japan it seems, have sets of seats that can be turned round to face which ever way the train is going. On the shinkansens they are automatic. The train is always cleaned before you get on at it’s starting destination and the seats set in the right direction. They may not be the fastest trains in the world any more but boy do they shift it. You’re soon doing incredible speeds before you’ve even left the urban sprawl of Tokyo. Once you’re further out into the countryside they just keep on accellerating. It feels like a plane hurtling down the runway but never taking off. You’re waiting for that moment the wheels leave the ground but it never happens. The world outside becomes a blur.

Japan 2006

3 hours later and it’s time to board a much slower train for another 3 or so hour journey from Hanachoe to Hakodate. Unfortunately we couldn’t reserve seats on this train as it was all booked up so we had to stand for the first few stops before jumping in some seats as soon as somebody stood up. The two second rule applies to trains in Japan it seems.

At Hakodate we changed again for yet another 3 or so hour journey that ended in Sapporo. Thankfully we had green car reservations (first class) for this leg of our mammoth journey and it was much appreciated. The service in Japan is better than any in the world. Always friendly, always helpful, even if they can’t speak a word of english, always bowing. The ladies with food trollies bow to everyone before they leave your carriage. It’s all so polite but never feels superficial. Something lacking back home, in fact lacking in most countries.

Japan 2006Sapporo! we made it, found our hotel easily. It seems the love of the english language doesn’t stretch quite so far up north. In fact the use of the english language in the whole of japan is quite strange. They use it as if it were a fashion statement. Often having english on adverts without japanese translations. As if all japanese have to learn some english just to get what the advert is about. On the flip side, as with our current hotel, there’s a menu for something called “Ladies special day”. Except that’s the only english on the entire page. The rest is indecipherable to us. Once again the “point and choose” technique of selecting food is put into practice and so far has yet to dissapoint.

Japan 2006

This evening’s meal was in the hotel. A traditional 8 course meal, lots of vegetables with weird names you never even knew existed. Oh and i swear i had Dolphin or possibly Shark for lunch, although it may have been some kind of pickle. Who knows! Frankly if it tastes good, i don’t care!