Dateline: November 17, 2008
Travel day! Checkout was at 10 am but our train didn’t leave until 1:11 pm (we sure planned that one well!) so we had some to kill. We wandered down to Nagoya Station and found a place in the shade on the second floor balcony of the JR Towers where some of the light show stuff happens. Later on we moved inside to the Shinkansen waiting area.
While up on the platform waiting for our train, we chatted with a lady from Sweden who was with a big group of folks. She had been working with assistive devices for 35 years so she and my brother had a discussion for a bit about things ranging from all the wheelchairs Sweden exports to what it’s like getting around in Japan.
The Ride to Hakata
Traveling from Nagoya to Hakata takes you a good half-way across the country, and involves crossing between the islands of Honshu and Kyushu. The trip took us past the Solar Ark again, and my brother got video and a good picture (the fact I was facing backwards led to me not getting anything as by the time we realized it was there, I didn’t have time to get my camera out of my pocket). The video capture came from pointing the high-def camera out the window and letting it record for a while in order to get some “traveling footage”.
We also went past a few Shinkansen yards with many trains lined up side by side, like so.
This leg of our train travels marked the first time we had to transfer trains with all the luggage, which we did at Shin-Kobe. The small image on the left is the train from the first half of the trip, a Hikari Super Express. The small image on the right is what we transfered onto, a Rail Star Hikari Super Express. They’re the same train — a 700 Series Shinkansen — but they have different paint jobs are are owned by separate branches of Japan Railways; the former is from JR Central while the latter is from JR West, thus making Shin-Kobe a figurative handover point. We weren’t able to get the private cabin in the second train when we booked the tickets, but this had some benefits. For one, we got beverage service for the first time on a Shinkansen, which is similar to what you get on airplanes.
The neat thing about Shin-Kobe is it’s a station between two tunnels and at the base of a hill full of trees. There’s also a gondola going up the side of that hill, though we aren’t sure where it goes.
There were lots of tree-covered hills along the route which are incredibly densely-packed. We went through numerous tunnels, as well, including one that took us between the two islands. Nestled in between the lush greenery were towns on the ocean and the occasional massive refinery installations.
Hakata is a ward of Fukuoka, home of hirosan. As part of the trip planning, hirosan had offered to book our hotels during the stay in Hakata because he knows the area well. He got us a room in the Nishitetsu Inn which is right beside Hakata Station (bonus!). This place was gorgeous. The surprising thing was that while this was by far the fanciest hotel we would stay at while in Japan, it was the second cheapest!
An interesting thing about the hotel is the main lobby is on the second floor. This is because the first floor is a large public bath. Because the escalators from the main entrance to the lobby are single-person width, we were at first concerned my brother wouldn’t be able to get in! That is, until we noticed the wheelchair access door off to the side. The sign beside the door, a frosted glass sliding door, instructed us to hit the buzzer which would alert staff at the front desk who would open the door only after checking us out on the closed-circuit cameras mounted on either side of the door. We had to do this each time on the way out too.
There were more chip-and-PIN credit card terminals at the hotel, like at Gohan Dining in Nagoya. It’s a good thing I received my replacement credit card with chip-and-PIN less than a week before the trip. Nishitetsu uses the card key to turn on the power in the room, though the hotel in Nagoya only used the long plastic fob which, if you remember, I managed to simulate with a toothbrush.
We met up with hirosan in the lobby that evening, and one of the first things I said to him was “We’re finally here to visit you!”. We’d hung out with him on multiple occasions during his trips to Canada, and we even had him over for Easter Dinner at our parents’ back in March. After comparing gadgets, we were off!
Dinner was had at MOS Burger while we planned for the next few days’ activities. There would be a “rail rage” on Thursday; Nagasaki on Friday. I tried a spicy burger topped with chili and a strip-beef burger with a “bun” made of rice.
We then went to book the tickets for the upcoming rail rage. hirosan handed over the planning sheet, seen in the photo on the right, which was way easier than trying to explain it all. We received some raised eyebrows from the ticketing staff, but I guess that’s to be expected as we were picking up 16 tickets, after all. We also got day pass tickets for the Green Bus which is what we’d spend our time doing tomorrow while hirosan was at work.
Having had our fill of MOS burger goodness and acquiring all necessary tickets, the three of us headed up to the hotel room to finish planning stuff for the rail rage and dole out the tickets accordingly. We gave Ryo his presents: some candies and syrup from Summerland Sweets which I picked up this past summer.