Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Polly's Japan Trip Journal

One of the exciting part of my trip in Japan travelling is being able to get around through public transportation and relax while getting from point A to point B, if you time everything correctly.   I enjoyed the freedom to go places without always overly concerned with driving distances.  I basically rode the train back to my hotel in IKEBUKURO, and start my daily trip from there as a base.   Sometimes I wished I had stayed over night at different places, but with my low budget and not so organized trip plan, it worked out quite well.

These are the photos of  the various bullet trains "SHINKANSEN" I rode.  Except for the very first one in Blue - NOZOMI.  You have to pay extra on top of Japan Rail Pass you purchased.  Since I spotted many native Japanese taking pictures of it, it must be 'SUBARASHII" and faster than any other existing ones.   Each Shinkansen travels at such a high speed that I experience ear pops and feeling of throat being pulled back to my stomach. 
 

These are really amazingly built.  When it left the station, if you were not paying attention, you would not know that it had already left the station.  It runs so smooth.   I can't wait to ride the Maglev train, one of this days.




 Depending on where you are going, bullet trains in this instance are 'coupled'.  I was going to AKITA from Tokyo.  The train separated at a point and hot pink bullet train took me to AKITA and the other one left for AOMORI prefecture.
The train ride challenge I had was to learn to read the schedule and know which stations and which deck to ride the train.  Luckily Japanese got these mass transportation systems all figured out.  ... Of course, that's how I got around to places 55 years ago just the same, but so much better than back than.  Everywhere there are information in Japanese and English.
 

 

 

Even though the train route maps look intimidating, once you know which color is your 'line', you can easily navigate to 'everywhere' in Japan through public transportation.... something that likely I could never experience... in my lifetime here in the US??   They are still arguing about the high speed train construction plan in California!  So backward !@#%!
 

 I enjoyed the country side views and taking photos from the trains.  Amazingly my iPhone S4 took quite clear shots from the bullet train's window.

 Specialized Rice is grown here.
They are growing AKITA's OBAKO mai (rice).
 

 

 Four hours of train ride showed me many wonderful views of country sides with rice fields grown proudly by different prefectures.
 

 I did not see very many vegetable farms beside rice fields from the train ride, however.

 

Passing through villages' train stations.  Small but each one announcing proudly of their specialties.
 

 Lumber yard
 

 

 


 

 

 

 


 

 

Passing through another village - proud of their natural spring bath.
 

First group of open field lined with Solar panels -- found in countryside along railroad
 

The good old fashion way. 
Wow!  my iPhone S4 takes a really good picture from this bullet train running right now at 75 miles/hr.
Now at 125 miles/hr...
 In Japan, the trains stations I've been to or pass by are all non-smoking in the public.  Smokers must smoke in side the enclosed 'Smoke' room.
I think this is a Great Idea! 


 Interesting..  Blue and Yellow sign... what retails end with "xxxA"....
 Passing another train.  
 Getting closer to city.  The train is running faster and faster.


 These are "Mobile" garage. 
 Train yard.
 And yes, if you do not want to struggle to ride in "Sardine" train ride at the busiest commute time, go to the rear train section where the "Pink" deck is.  This is a special section for Women only during the commute "hours".   However, some men are not restricted.
As a "JR" pass holder, you can visit the GREEN Windows offices located at most of the train stations wherever the SHINKANSEN - the bullet trains travels to.   At the Green "MIDORI" windows offices, you reserve seats on particular SHINKANSEN you will be riding to your destination.  Make travel plans.   How to connect to local trains or bus to get to destinations.
 

It is very impressive that the train stations are maintained so clean with so much travellers each day.
 At 5 am, the train stations are quite empty.
 

* Train stations are not 24x7
 At 5:30 am...
 Morning commute at 5... am.
 

 Commute at 6 am
 

 


 Around 6 pm
 You need to wear a good walking shoes.  And there are also Elevator exits and Escalator in most of the train stations. And remember to walk to your LEFT.  If you hold Japan Rail Pass, you enter and exit through "JR" windows at every stations.
 
Every train stations is setup like a "shopping malls".  There are restaurants, snack bars, retailers, mini groceries, ... metropolis of its own.
Commuters are checking out for their favorite BENTO in a hurry before boarding the train - usually to board the bullet train - Shinkansen for the long distance travel.
AKITA train station is like a shopping mall.  Very cool! and Convenient -  Shop till you drop and take the train home right there.
 

 

Can California's high speed train stations beat that in  the coming years?  How is our train stations today in California compared to Japan's.   How is our Railroad tracks compared to any other country's?
My trip to natural spring bath to AOMORI, AKITA for TOHOKU ROKKON Matsuri, hiking up TAKAO SAN, visiting my hometown, attending 16th Kendo World Championship, and visiting my classmates... the trip was a wonderful birthday present for myself.
Do you like Japanese Ramen?   They got "Raumen" Museum in Shin-YOKOHAMA.
I "Thought " what a Fatty pork.   "I made a mistake in ordering this!"   But it turned out to be the best Ramen I have ever tasted!!  The soup was sooo HOOOT! that when you dunked the meat slices in it, the soup rendered the fat and softened the meat!  Wow!  More pics here:  https://picasaweb.google.com/PASTRYDAVINCI/SHINKANSENTripToSHINYokohama
Ramen #2... I am so fuuuulll!   I don't think I can taste test the other 6 Ramens.
 

Famous hot natural springs at AOMORI
Here is pic of the SUKAYU-ONSEN I enjoyed for an hour.   47'C - Very Hot!
  

Trip to TAKAO ZAN - TAKAO Mountain, in Takao.
Takao Mountain is located so very conveniently that as you step out of the TAKAO train station, the hiking trail starts right at the footsteps.  
I wanted to eat these SANFUKU DANGO so much but I was sooo full from the Ramen Museum that I could only enjoy it far by taking the pictures. 
TENGUN Statue at the TAKAO train station.
TAKAO ZAN TRAIN STATION.
TAKAOZAN Japanese Monkies
Sweet pastries.  TENGUN YAKI is the specialty of TAKAO ZAN.
TENGUN YAKI is freshly made at this pastry shop
I wished I bought a dozen to bring back home!  I only had two.  And I ate them as my dinner. 
To my surprise, our home town train station remained with same facade, except the wooden entrances and ticket agents have been upgraded with electronic gate entrance. 
 The same swing at the playground of the school where we spent many hours of high trapeze act playing with friends.
 Our neighbor who was in TATAMI business (making Japanese hay flooring) is doing some other business.  The trellis with wisteria tree where we spent many hours practicing annual Obon dances has made way for paved road. 
 
The HONDA Ya San - Honda auto shop is now but small shop for small parts for repair.  

 My old home neighborhood.  Our old house is gone and is now two story home.  Our wonderful garden is gone and only 6 feet of the yard is left. Where our big pomegranate tree was in the corner is now growing tiny plants
Our old home was on the left and the one to the right used to be our friend's home with beautiful Japanese garden and pond with Koi.   It's no more.  All were made in wood 50 years ago. Seem to have lost the personality with the new face lift.  
 Our railroad crossing section view toward my home's old street.  The corner business is still doing the same business after 50 years.  Many businesses here remained the same even after 50 years. - TOFU Yasan, Bakery, Ramen shop, candy stores...
Our family friend's business still stands selling noodles after 50 years.   Our neighborhood TOFU YA SAN.
 
The general store is no more, but this cigarette is in the same spot after 50 years.  The bakery is beautified and enlarged.

 

I remember I had trouble crossing the railroad track on my way to kindergarten. I had dashed out of the on coming train before... even though the gate was down.  It scared the cross guard a few times, and I got scolded for it.
 The playground where we grew up.
 My kindergarten has a new face.  Wooden structure is gone.
Upgraded kindergarten playground compared to mine 50 years ago.
I actually dreaded crossing that railroad cross even though there is safety gate and cross guard monitoring.
It's a day before the 16th World Kendo Championship, May 29, 2015.   Need to check out the Nippon Budokan so I don't get lost tomorrow.  
Found it.... after walking up 6 flights of stairs, well 4 flight.... to emerge from underground train station to street levels.  (They had escalator, but today, it was broken!!#$)
 

Opening day of 16th World Kendo Championship.  May 29, 2015.  All kenshi are warming up at the practice tent.  Weather is good and so is every attendees' spirit. 
 

  



Here is me and our Sacramento Kendo Dojo's team jacket.  We travelled far to get here.
USA TEAM!
 


 

 

 

Japan vs Hungary; USA vs Korea
 

The Final - Japan vs Korea.

Special Six Prefecture Festival held in AKITA - TOHOKU ROKKON MATSURI
 


These men are trying to hoist up a bamboo structure that is about 20 feet high with about 40 lanterns hanging.  This is AKITA's skill specialty.  Men would hoist the lantern ladder onto their shoulder, chest, forehead, etc. to show off their skill, balance, strenghth, and AKITA spirit.



The is me trying the balancing act with the mini-size.
 


 
 

Wow! Make Way for The Giant Size!!

 Grilled Beef.
 ROKKON MASCOT





Fun trips always end too soon, but it's time to wrap up and head back home.   On the last day before heading for the airport, I strolled through IKEBUKURO's famous Sunshine City.  It's a Mega size Shopping Mall.  It's like Milpitas Great Mall, except it's constructed upward instead of wide.   Once you are in there, some of the stores make you think that you are in Valley Fair, San Jose, California.   Then when you see all those plastic Food displays in the show case, you realized that you are in Japan. In fact, they have a KAPPABASHI district dedicated to plastic food models that you can buy, if you wish.  I wished I had more time in Japan, I would have gone to check it out.



Love these Plastic Food Display!!  I wished I have that many stomachs to enjoy, but... pictures are just as good.



 Gottcha!   this is real.   My last dinner I had a night before at the train station.
This is a plastic fried rice!
 Plastic Noodle.... naaa, I am just kidding, these are real.  But compare them to the plastic food display a few pictures before.
 SAYONARA!!!  Time to go home!  Narita Express - NEX
 Narita Airport



Finally Home!   Time to get ready for .... Work!!!

Until next time!

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