Japan lulled me into a false sense of security – I arrived at the airport and all signs were in Japanese and English – “Hey” I thought “finding my way round is going to be easy”. Once you get away from the airport things rapidly change, any English signs are few and far between and once away from Tokyo they are almost non-existent at least on the route I was taking.
This made the job of me negotiating myself around 3 train stations much fun. Now you would think that I would take the sensible option of enlisting the help of my trusty phrase book, but no I put my faith in the tried and tested method of brandishing bits of paper at people while gesticulating wildly and grinning like a maniac – suprise surprise once again this method did not let me down and I found myself on the Bullet Train bound for Hachinohe.
I was quite excited to find I was going to be getting the Bullet Train for one of my legs (the other is taking the slow train and I am sure will meet up with me somewhere on route). To be honest I found it slightly disappointing. First of all is the seating room – or lack of it). They have taken a space where you would normally fit in 4 seats across and wedged in another one. Now, if you have a bottom the size of Kylie Minogue this is all well and good – my somewhat ample bottom on the other hand was somewhat squashed – but only 3 hours to go I am sure it will be fine.
Next is the interesting jingle they play whenever an announcement is to be made. It is a variation on one of Bach`s Brandenburg Concertos- but played on one of those children’s keyboards (you know the ones – with all the multicoloured keys and only one octave of notes) and played by someone who, whilst may have heard of Bach, has never heard any of his music or seen the score. Now they play not just a couple of bars of this but 16 bars worth – every time an announcement is made – which is often.
Ok and now to my neighbour. He is a lovely gentleman – and ok so he has dubious oral hygiene – I can cope with that. The fact that he was very intent on plucking every single hair out of his nose by the time we reached Hachinohe was an interesting development. I must admit that while initially I found this disturbing after the 8th or 9th tug I was finding it somewhat amusing and after a few more mildly hysterical. It certainly helped to distract me from the fact that my feet were slowly losing their blood flow.
Ok Hachinohe reached safely – 10 minutes to find my train, more brandishing, arm flapping and grinning and safely on the train to Hakodate. Lovely seats – lots of bottom room, neighbours 3 delightful elderly ladies. They were a lot of fun – the youngest of them must have been 80. After much bowing, nodding and smiling I figured it was time for the phrase book to put in an appearance and conversation of sorts was struck up. They were all drinking a clear liquid which I took to be rice wine – when offered a glass I thought “well! When in Japan and all that”. Good God I now have a whole new appreciation as to how it feels to have the lining of your mouth stripped out.
At some point they relieved me of my phrase book – and bear in mind they were very elderly ladies – dived straight into the section on how to chat up potential partners and instigate sexual relations whilst in Japan – Now I class myself as somewhat open minded and not that easily embarrassed but this did it for me. These ladies were amazing and boy could they cackle.
The next few hours just whizzed by – I think my next chapter will be on the joys of Japanese toilets.
Last year I had the wonderful experience of travelling to Japan on my own. My hubby was working there for 3 months. Rather than fly direct to where he was (Hakodate on the island of Hokkiado) I decided it would be much more fun to get myself there on the train. I kept a journal as I was travelling and this is a summary of my first day.