Tag Archives: Japan Rail Travel

Losing My Serenity

Day 22 in Japan.  Today I would leave Koyasan for Tokyo, from whence my nine-year-old nephew Charlie and I would travel to Shimoda.  Charlie is the nom de plume he has chosen.  His real name is Japanese.

As I finished my last fabulous breakfast at the monastery, Mick and Mary, the Aussies, stopped by my dining room and asked, “How ya goin’?”

I began to blab out all the thoughts I’d had about the Japanese approach to war remembrance, in particular the memorial to some action in Malaysia which possibly involved a forced march of Australian troops but which was spun in the cemetery as a neutral action.

Mick and Mary weren’t interested.  “We’re just here for the food,” Mick said, somewhat jokingly.  They invited me to come and see their accommodations, and I accepted.  They had a separate little house, basically.  It was similar in style to my humble room but it had an en suite bathroom with its own soaking tub.  So you can live large in a monastery if you’ve got the dosh.

The first bus out of Koyasan left at 8:11.  I stuffed my suitcase into the dumbwaiter, then nearly slid down the steep stairs to meet it on the ground floor.  “Thank god I’ll never have to hike these treacherous stairs again,” I thought.  Then I realized I’d forgotten my coins in the room so I had to go up and down one more time for the road.

It was raining, a hard steady downpour.  I was the first person at the bus stop but soon was surrounded by tourists from Spain, France, the UK, North America, and Australia.  They bunched together to avoid the rain, with me at the center so that when the bus arrived I was the last to get on.

An American or Canadian woman asked me to not sit in the last empty seat because, she explained, “My husband has long legs and needs an extra seat.”

“That’s not my problem,” I said as I took the seat.  So much for mountaintop serenity.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had slept all night without any Restless Legs symptoms, something that only occurs about twice a year.  As the day progressed I noted the difference between energy from a good night’s sleep and nervous energy from adrenaline.  The first type ebbs away slowly, while the second drains like a sieve and makes you more tired than ever.  Today I would be so very grateful for the good energy that comes from sleep.

From the Koyasan bus station I took the cable car down the mountain, then the train onward.  In Osaka, I got off at the wrong station.  Five people gave me five different answers about what to do next.  I was confused, panicked, and tearful.

Then I stopped and thought—if I can get to Kyoto, I can get to Tokyo.  Just do the next indicated thing.

I got to Kyoto, where I finally used the fabulous bag shipping service that every guide book promotes.  It cost $17 to have my bag shipped to Shimoda, so I wouldn’t have to lug it to Tokyo and then to Shimoda, all while herding my nephew.  Fantastic.

I felt elation when I was finally on a Shinkansen for Tokyo.  An aged British man dressed in all black like a heavy metal rocker snored loudly in the seat across from me, while his much younger Asian wife entertained their children.  I wondered what she saw in him, with his pot belly and long, thin, grey hair framing a bald spot.  Maybe it was true love.

As we passed through Yokohama I thought about my dad, who had spent time here on shore leave while serving in the US Navy.  Did I have a half sibling here?  Probably I would find out eventually, if Ancestry.com becomes the rage in Japan that it is in the US.

In Tokyo I became confused again. I had traveled on a bus, a cable car, and six trains. I finally found my seventh and final train.  Google had mapped this trip at four hours but I arrived at Omiya station at 5pm—nine hours after leaving Koyasan.

Toward the End

Today I am writing from a microscopic hotel room in Tokyo near the fish market.  My original plan for this—Charlie’s and my last 24 hours in Japan—was to visit some kind of far-out experiential art museum nearby and to check out the fish market.

But once again, it took us so long to get here … only three trains this time, but we got turned around at one station and missed a train, and at the last station the attendant insisted I owed an additional Y 60,000, which is about $60.  This was on top of about $60 I’d already paid.  I tried to understand why, but he couldn’t explain in English and a line was forming behind us, so I just forked over the cash and made a beeline for the exit.

The only consolation is knowing that Japanese people have a reputation for being scrupulously honest, so my assumption is that I screwed up somehow.  Another consolation is that, if that’s how expensive rail travel is here without a Japan Rail Pass, then my JR Pass paid for itself many times over.  Too bad it expired two days ago.

It was a stressful four-hour journey today for other reasons.  Charlie bought a large stuffed dolphin at the Shimoda aquarium and there was no room for it in his bag.  So he carried it in a big plastic bag along with his stuffed baby seal.  This was in addition to his backpack which contains his epipens, allergy medication, skin ointment, sunscreen, and myriad other over the counter medications.  He also had to pull a roller bag behind him, and it’s like a black hole—tiny but extremely heavy because it’s loaded with Japanese books.

I was busy hauling my own case and also wearing a backpack with my laptop inside.

At one station, I wanted Charlie to talk to the station attendant in Japanese, but he was feeling shy.  I huffed, “Fine!”  We got on the next train and it turned out to be going in the right direction, but I felt terrible.

I apologized.  “You’re only nine.  You shouldn’t have to be responsible for doing all the talking.”  He shrugged.

Even though people are very nice and helpful and the train system is quite efficient and clear, it’s still extremely complex.  Here’s Charlie holding up the schedule for the train from Shimoda, one small city.

None of the apps I downloaded were helpful.  Google lies.  Today, it directed me to a Tesla dealership instead of to the hotel.  It will likely be my only visit to a Tesla dealership.  One of the salesmen walked us outside and gave us very good directions to the hotel, which was a 10-minute walk away.

Vince will pick me up at the airport tomorrow, and my brother will pick up Charlie.  I’ll be staying with Vince and his family for four nights because the Chinese couple who rented my place while I’m gone won’t be out until Wednesday.  Vince has informed me that I’ll be on babysitting duty, which is fine.  The girls and I will go to the municipal pool and I’ll take in the sunlight that’s so vital to transiting 14 hours backwards.

What will change in my life due to this trip?  Something always does.

I will eat more Japanese style.  That is, I will try to pay more attention to the presentation of my food, instead of just scooping up a hunk of brown hotdish into a large bowl.  I would have loved to buy a collection of little porcelain and lacquerware bowls, but I had no room for it.  I will take a look in my local thrift store and see what I can find.

But at the same time I’d like to capture some of the Japanese esthetic of simplicity of décor.  I’m not sure how.  Every wall of my place is covered with art, and I am coming home with two more pieces.

As with almost every trip I take, I come back with an increased awareness that I love to be in nature.  Again, I’m not sure how to “actionize” this, but it’s a good reminder of where I’d like to be headed.