Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Japan 2011 Day 4 (June 30) part 2: To Mizumaki by Shinkansen

After our early waking-up & breakfast, we packed everything up, checked the room carefully for anything forgotten, & headed for the front desk for help getting a taxi to Tokyo Station. The hotel staff were absolutely lovely & Charlie & I agreed that we’d go back to the South Century Tower Hotel again in a heartbeat (next trip, anyone?). There was a taxi waiting by the street entrance & all of our luggage actually fit! We chatted a bit with the taxi driver, about heading to see friends on Kyushu, on the ~ 40 minute trip. Tokyo Station appears to us to be in a constant state of renovation & the taxi driver agreed with our observation. After he dropped us off, we consulted a map & found our way to the waiting room near our gate for the Hikari (means shining) Shinkansen (bullet train) to Shin-Osaka, where we’d change trains for Kyushu. 
We had about 40 minutes till our train, so Brendan & I went to find eki-ben, the famous train lunch boxes that I’ve been dreaming about for weeks. Charlie isn’t as fond of them, so he’d gotten some lunch food at Takashimaya the evening before. We found a kiosk selling them & each picked one out, with the idea that Brendan would eat anything that looked good to him & then I’d eat the rest :) Then we bought drinks & I spotted the weekly Jump manga comic at the same kiosk, so I grabbed it. Brendan caught up on the latest Naruto while we waited for our train to arrive.
Then we headed up to the track & to board the train. It was a long train for this leg of the trip, at least 14 cars long. We found our seats & deposited our luggage in the back where there’s a space. We were close to the front of the car, all together in a row of 3 seats, which was nice. What wasn’t so nice was the small of latrine that drifted in through the doorway. Sigh. Once the train got going & the door remained (mostly) closed it got better, but I was pretty nauseous after a while & I’m not sure how Brendan’s sensitive nose coped with it (he chewed a lot of minty gum, which must have helped). One wonderful thing about the shinkansen is the roominess of the seats & loads of leg room. There are tables just like on an airplane, so it’s easy to eat or play cards. Charlie & Brendan spent a lot of time playing Magic the Gathering & I looked out the window & tried to catch pictures of interesting things.
Like all the tambo- rice fields everywhere, around homes, around businesses, with electric towers running right through them.

 And it was interesting how the landscape changed as we went south.
We changed trains after about 3 hours in Shin-Osaka. It was a great relief to get off the smelly train. The smaller Sakura Shinkansen was much more comfortable, with cushier seats & no nasty smell (!), although the seats were 2 by 2, so I sat behind the guys by the window & Brendan & I passed our eki-ben over the seat to each other when we finally recovered enough to eat. About 3 hours later we were at Kokura, where our friend Tomoko was meeting us for the final leg of the trip. We’d called her from the train to let her know when we’d be there, which was quite an experience in itself- I had a calling card that’s used in public phones in Japan left from our last trip & we found the phone a few cars away from ours. It was rattly & loud, but the call went through just fine & I was able to speak to Nobuko-san, Tomoko’s mom, in Japanese with no problem to explain when we’d be there. Tomoko was at the station when we got there & it was so lovely to see her! She came to visit for New Years, but that had been nearly 6 months ago. She led us to the final train, a local to Mizumaki which took another half an hour. Then we found a taxi outside the station for a 10 minute trip to her mom’s house.
It was very nostalgic to see Nobukosan after 4 years. She couldn’t believe how much Brendan had grown. The best part was, as I’d hoped, I could really talk to her. She was really happy too!! We sat around & talked & had cold drinks, & then Tomoko’s nephew Dai-chan came over (he lives right next door) & so Charlie got the Uno cards out & a couple of hands were played before he went home for dinner. Then Nobuko-san put together some temaki sushi for dinner. Oishii! She had fresh shiso leaves from her garden on top of the nori wrapper & it added an herby deliciousness to the hand-rolled sushi. We all chatted together right through dinner & it wasn’t until Brendan started to fade, around 7:30 pm, that we remembered that we’d been up at 4:00 am! So out came the futons & sheets & pillows, & Brendan got his jammies on, & even though Tomoko was worried that we’d disturb his rest, he slept hard tight through the continued chatting. Charlie went to bed around 8:30 & I had a shower & then followed suit. It was very nostalgic to snuggle into our futons in Nobukosan’s living room, just as we’d done 4 years ago. There’s an air conditioner in there (as well as in the dining room & the spare room where our luggage is stashed) so it made the heat much easier to bear. Because it is hot & humid right now in Mizumaki, the “Carolinas” of Japan :)

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