Another year, another conference. Four years ago I went to Kobe, Japan, with a side trip to Kyoto. This time the trip was more wide-ranging, from Tokyo to Sapporo in the north, to Tsu in the south. A conference, a workshop, and a couple of hours in Tokyo.
Since MJ’s shoulder would not let her drive, a good friend picked me up at 4:30AM to take me to the airport.
Security was no worse than usual and soon I was in the air flying southeast to Denver. In Denver there was a four-hour layover and then I flew back northwest, passing within a hundred miles of Spokane on the great circle route from Denver to Tokyo.
The immigration and Border Control process at Narita was very easy and then the rest of the procedure was pretty much as I thought it would be: up to the 4th floor to get my wireless repeater, over to the bank to change money, down to the basement to pick up my Japan Rail Pass, and since Japan Rail to Tokyo was broken because of the typhoon I had to take Kaesai railroad which was $24 but which was faster. About 40min from plane to train.
When I got to the station I went directly to Japan Rail ticketing for the shinkansen and found that I could not get my 6 a.m. train, but that I could get a 9:40 train out of Tokyo Station which was one stop south, the biggest and most complex railroad station in the country.
The weather in Tokyo, only be described as hellish. It was in the mid-to-upper 80s with a hundred percent humidity because of the recent typhoon and of course I was dressed for Spokane and a chilly airplane and very nearly died getting to the hotel.
The hotel was strangely built. Think of a standard multi-story motel with an external walkway to get you to the rooms, and then take that hotel and wrap it around in a square so that the walkways are facing in and build some building supports around them so that you would think you were in a building except that the center park was open to the sky and it did not feel like you were outside.
The room was very small — about the size of a double bed with enough room to sit on the side of the bed and rest your arms on the dressing table. It had nice HD TV, but they used the what appears to be the now-standard approach of having to stick your room card into a slot in order to get electricity. Which means that the air conditioner is not on unless you’re in the room so you can’t cool it down, and the plugs don’t work so you can’t plug in your electronics and leave them to charge while you go to dinner. The bed itself was okay but it was the pillows that were interesting — one side was like a multi-segmented rice bag as if they wanted to keep it up off the bed so that the whole pillow stayed cool.
Of course both that night’s reservation and one I had made to stay there when I came back down South was messed up but they very graciously offered to put me up for the night and make a another reservation for my Southern trip at standard room rates, not at the hotels.com rate.
I went out to get dinner and could not stand the heat so I went across the street to a Lawsons and bought a bento box, brought that back, and ate it in the room. Then I collapsed into bed about 8 o’clock and slept through until 6.
Up early and ate an $8 hotel breakfast which was mostly rice with little tablespoon size servings of garnishes like chopped daikon or pickled ginger.
The walk to Ueno station was relatively pleasant because it was only about 75 degrees at 8AM. The ride, one stop to Tokyo Station, was crowded, as Japanese trains tend to be during rush hour. I found the right platforms but the wrong track and if I hadn’t asked I would have seen my shinkansen disappear into the tall grass.
The shinkansen ride was pleasant but not as good as it might have been. They could only get me into standard reserved seat instead of the first-class seat the Japan Rail ticket authorize me to get, and in fact my seat was not even a standard JR/airline seat with the tray in front of you — it was one of a set of 6, 3 and 3 facing each other, and the other five occupants was a set of 5 middle school boys who sat down and linked their Gameboys and played Super Mario racer for 4 hrs.
I called my brother from the train because how often do you get a phone call from a shinkansen? We had a nice little talk until we hit the tunnel and were cut off it was the tunnel from northern Honshu to Southern Hokkaido and it’s like 33 miles long and even at 85 miles an hour you spend an awful lot of time underwater.
We changed trains at Shin-Hakodate station from the shinkansen to a local milk run that stopped at every other fishing village along the coast. Five years ago, Google Earth shows Shin-Hakodate as a wide spot in the tracks, and today it’s not much better. Surprising as a shinkansen terminal.
and then cut across the island next to a very pretty volcano, which I did not get to photograph, and finally arrived two hours later in Sapporo. There, a very nice JR lady who had studied in America in Los Angeles help me to get my suitcase and tickets for the trip back on the 28th.
It was getting late so I took a taxi to the hotel. It’s an obscure little hotel, and the driver got lost several times. He did manage to clip two bicyclists made a turn across traffic and a good time was had by all. It was getting dark by the time we finally found the hotel.
My hotel was a standard hippie dippie youth hostel crossed with a traditional Japanese inn. You left your shoes at the front door and there was almost no furniture in the rooms.
I had a standard six mat room with a six-mat antechamber. The room was designed for two. It had a bunk bed with a top bunk but the bottom bunk was a floor bed with a futon (a 1 inch thick cloth pad) plus a duvet and a couple of pillows. The furniture was one low Japanese style table and two Japanese style chairs. That is to say if you took a straight-back chair and sawed off the legs and let people put a cushion on it and sit on that, that was their concession to Western sensibilities.
The partition between the rooms was exactly 6ft high. I am 6ft one half inch tall in my stocking feet.
The place was full of youth and family groups and everybody cooked their own meals in the communal kitchen and hung out in the coming with dining room living room with a big TV. I spend most of my time either in the room or out and about.
Between sleeping on the floor and the summer heat (they have a window air conditioner in the room but it only worked in fan mode), I almost died. My back and hip bones never did recover for the rest of the trip.
This is Part 1 of 4. Here’s links to them all:
Part 1 Days 1 to 3
Part 2 Days 4 to 6
Part 3 Days 7 to 9
Part 4 Final Impressions