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Archive for February, 2009

Dateline: November 19, 2008

Rail Rage

What an interesting term: Rail Rage. Thankfully, we weren’t in for the kind of experience that might immediately jump to mind. Rail Rage is what hirosan uses to describe a whirlwind tour of parts of Japan by way of multiple trains in a short period of time. They’re something he does for people that stop by to visit, and we were lucky enough to be on Kyushu when he had time to take us out.

Starting the Journey

Finally today we’d put to use all those tickets we’d purchased two days prior! It was raining when we ventured out of the hotel for our 6:29am train, so I got to pull out the umbrella for the first time. It stopped about a minute later…

When we got to the ticket desk in Hakata station, we surprised the attendants with all the tickets we had. As mentioned before, the station staff like to be prepared with all the pre-planning and contacting of stations ahead of time so they’re Inside the Tsubameready with the portable ramps and whatnot for when we arrive, and since we were doing a rail rage, there was suddenly a bunch to do. The one gentleman had initially asked if our first stop was where we were ending the trip, and I said no while passing him the rest of the tickets (for a total of 10). The look on his face was classic; poor guy.

Our first train this morning was a Tsubame. It was quite nice inside and there was boatloads of legroom, as I’d come to expect from trains in Japan. The interior had this great 1950’s retro look to it, too. My brother just about fit through a decorative wall partition* on the right side so first they tried loading him from the other door of the car, but that didn’t work as the entranceway on that end of the car was too narrow. I ended up moving him into his seat with a weird “hug” maneuver, which was good practice as we had to employ it several more times during the trip (and something I got stunned looks for from train attendants who offered to help me get my brother settled several days later when I just picked him up and deftly moved him to his seat with one arm).

hirosan had planned out the tickets so he’d join us two stations into the trip allowing him to avoid coming all the way down to Hakata station just to meet up. And speaking of trains, for quite some time we ran parallel to the new raised deck being constructed for a Shinkansen line due to open in two years time. There was even some photo dueling (here’s the reverse angle).

Out of Service

My Sony DSC-W80 point-and-shoot fell off the window ledge* — it was a surprisingly rough train ride, much more so than any thus far — and bounced hard off the lower ledge. I picked it up and physically it seemed fine; no scratches or new dings to be found. I was relieved, that is until I hit the power switch to make sure I hadn’t broken the internals of the LCD: nothing happened! It refused to turn on. I even quickly borrowed the battery from my brother’s new DSC-W300, which happens to use the same type of battery, to no avail. Nothing I did would cause it to turn on. After much frantic fiddling, I declared it dead at 7:25am JST on November 19, 2008. It had served me well since I got it on April 17, 2007, and yet it seemed like it was too early for it to need replacing.

I was particularly bummed* about this due to the fact I used my Sony for quick pictures where hauling out my Canon was too cumbersome or time consuming, and in low-light situations where I didn’t feel like configuring my Canon to get the best shot possible. All the night and low-light shots I took to date were with the Sony. Today was only about the mid-point of the trip, and suddenly my “primary” camera was in a coma. Boo-urns, says I.

Leg Two

We arrived at ShinYatsushiro station for the first switchover and walked across the platform into the next train which was already there waiting. The Kyushu Kyushu Shinkansen Tsubame 800Shinkansen Tsubame 800 was a swanky new train, again with tons of legroom, that runs at up to 270km/h and sits low on the tracks. And hey, another ferris wheel!

We travelled through a whole bunch of tunnels and there were lots of rolling hills to look at, still absolutely packed with trees. When the train stopped briefly at Shin-Minamata station, I noticed it looked similar to where we got on the train: sparse and clinical gray, but still somehow elegant due to its architecture. This section of the line sported large tube-like stations made of horizontal sections … well, they’re hard to describe and naturally I didn’t take any pictures of the others.

Our car’s attendant, Takemoto*, came in with a train-shaped board bearing the date (20/11/19, the 20 being the Japan Year), and offered to take a picture* for us. And when we got off at the end of the line, Takemoto offered to take a picture of us in front of the train* as well.

The Good Stuff (Legs Three & Four)

Now that we got to where we needed to be to start the real meat of the Rail Rage, we shed the high-speed Shinkansens for a small two-car train comprised of carriages that looked to be 60 years old.

Onto the Hayato No Kaze, an the older black train with a nice wood interior, including some bench seats facing out the windows with a big table in front.The Next Train I spent a lot of time on that bench*. To make things a little nicer, the sun had finally come out.

The train rolled along down by the ocean and we saw an active volcano (that wasn’t doing anything at the time). Along its journey, the train stopped at a number of small stations and everyone got out to take some pictures and roam around for a few minutes. The landscapes along the Hayato No Kaze’s line are fantastic and were a really nice change-up from all the city-dwelling we’d been doing.

We reached the end of the line at Yoshimatsu station where we waited for the next train, the Isaborou-Shinpei, which was basically a red version of the Hayato No Kaze. The differences were more than just the exterior paint, though. Engineer's SeatThe inside looked somewhat Victorian with high-back dark wood bench seats with dark green fabric. One of the neat features the train had was a camera mounted on the nose with a video feed being displayed inside the cars; this was especially cool when going through tunnels.

One of the interesting things about the route this train takes is the switchbacks it traverses. You get to one station and think it’s the end of the line, only to have the train double-back and take an adjacent track that lets it continue on its way up the mountain (that last picture was taken right here). The surroundings at the stations were still just as nice as they were on the Hayato No Kaze.

The Isaborou-Shinpei also stopped on the track at a large vista for some picture taking from inside the train, giving us a better idea of where it was taking us. Later on, it would stop at yet another viewpoint.

At some point during the ride, I handed hirosan my dead camera to look at. After a few moments of inspecting it, he hit the power button … and it turned on! It lives! Perhaps my declaration of death was premature. Sadly, this Death Knellwas a short-lived period of joy. I took a test picture (shown on the left) with the Sony and everything seemed ok. It died again when I hit the playback button to verify the photo was taken properly, so now the lens was stuck in its open and extended position … goody. Seemed to be a bad power connection as everything checked out when it was on. Until I could open it up and take a peek inside, it was “dead”. Over 31 months, it captured 5,623 frames for me.

The next stop for the train was Yatake station where we had our pictures taken in front of an old steam engine (with hats!*). Then another quick stop in Okoba — where I caught hirosan chatting up the staff — before making our way to the next transfer point.

Leg Five

We changed trains in Hitoyoshi to the Trans-Kyushu Limited Express. Go figure that, like before, it looked very close to the train from which we just disembarked. Lush Valley
It travelled through the bottom of a lush valley (and by through, I mean there was a lot of tunnels) that felt like being in the BC Interior.

Once we emerged from the valley, we hit a wide open area with tons of power lines heading up into the hills; more and more just kept coming as we rolled along. Plus, we caught back up to the future Shinkansen route.

The Rail Rage came to an end when got off at Kumumoto station. It was a tremendous amount of fun and we got to enjoy a a truly out-of-the-way experience. If you want to see 163 additional pictures from the Rail Rage, including my favourite picture taken of me*, you can head over to hirosan’s photoset.

Kumamoto

After much pondering*, I had a late lunch at Yoshinoya while my brother and hirosan hit up the MOS Burger next door. Sooooo tasty: ginger beef, coleslaw (which I used to mop up the rest of the sauce from the beef), rice, miso soup, and a little side of actual kimchi cabbage! I’m positively addicted to Nong Shim Kimchi (12 bowls for $8 at Costco!), so it was a treat to finally try real kimchi.

After eating, we got on the Kumamoto Castle Loop Bus to head up to … well, I’m sure you can tell by the name. The driver spent a fair amount of time trying to secure my brother in his wheelchair to great comedic effect. Part of my amusement came from the instructional images on the wall right beside Cornerhim that showed the right way to do it (yes, I’m a jerk for not pointing them out to him, but he’s the driver, he should know about them!). Really friendly fellow, though. Many things in Kumamoto are in Japanese, English, and Korean due to South Korea’s proximity to Kyushu, and that included the various brochures on the bus.

We arrived at the gate of Kumamoto Castle (first built in about 1588), but it was about to close as it has shorter hours from November through March. Still got to snap* some good pictures from the outside since the sun was starting to set*. Dejected, we rode the bus around the rest of the loop back to the station where we took a Tsubame Ariake back to Hakata. Another different train, another stylish interior. Dark gray, purple, and red. As mentioned before, since it was getting dark and my preferred method of shooting low-light was now useless, I have no pictures of it. hirosan does*, of course.

Back in Hakata

We ventured out to Yodobashi Camera Hakata (man do I wish we had some of their stores here at home) to pick up a replacement for my dead Sony. Since I was going to be there for a little over a week still, I didn’t want to miss out on all those shots (which make up a fairly big chunk of what I’d taken thus far). I found a suitable replacement that wasn’t too expensive: the Sony DSC-W170, which is a “model successor” to mine. Unfortunately, all Sony cameras sold in Japan only come with Japanese menus! All the other brands there had an option for English, but I didn’t like any of them. While using the camera in everyday situations doesn’t require English menuing, if I ever wanted to change any camera settings, I’d be fumbling around trying random selections until something happened. I decided to just suck it up and go without for the rest of the trip, relying solely on my Canon.

Since the plan was to head to Nagasaki tomorrow with hirosan, it was off to bed with us!


* these are hirosan’s pictures

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