Tokyo train theory…

  Based on my experience using trains in Tokyo, people are doing one three things:

  • Use their phone
  • Read printed material
  • Falling/is asleep

Based on visual monitoring, I believe 6 out of every 7 people are using their phones. The remaining one is either reading a book (yes folks people are still reading printed material), or partially both.  You can see this from the above picture when looking at the seven people sitting on the bench seat.  Always amazed at how people can quickly wake up and get off at a stamp.

The only time this figure of reading printed material changes is when the train is at literally crush capacity, the books are put away.  Surprisingly a few people still manage to maintain reading their phones.  The need to hang on while the train in motion no longer applies as you are packed in like sardines, to everyone.  

And phone of choice…? Appears to be a smart phone.  Too hard to distinguish between different brands, as there are so many. Although I acknowledge to seeing a rather large number of flip phones – ah technology.

What not to do while in transit

Maglev Evidence, originally uploaded by kdt.

We could not help ourselves, or to be precise I couldn’t. In Shanghai international transit passengers need to collect all bags and then go through customs and immigration. Which of-course with a dual entry visa means we were free to roam the streets of Shanghai for an hour or two.

I had done my research and new that there was a very convenient baggage deposit service. We dumped our bags and headed towards the worlds highest viewing platform and the 100th floor of the World Financial Centre in Shanghai.

We didn’t have too much time so we caught the fastest land transport in the world, the Maglev Demonstration Project and as the picture shows, we got up to the 431 km/h… But it still left for a very tight schedule. Helen in her full librarian voice demanded of the customer service officers to let us bypass the “experience” and go straight to the top. After some consultation with their leaders through their two way communication system we were quickly ushered to the lift.

The views through the murky stuff were still pretty impressive. I’ve uploaded a few photos to Flickr.

For most of the holiday the heart racing for fear of missing a connection was mostly absent. But this little journey did create a little race. You’re meant to be at checkin 2 hours before hand. We got there just after 1:30 hours before hand. It was sort of a blessing because there was no line! But it also meant that the bag checkers were bored. So our bag of goodies was subject to examination.

Helen had to explain the Mr Brush, the balded headed plastic icon with a brush mohawk for cleaning keyboards. I had to explain a few special bike bells and my super groovy new lightweight bike locks… I can see how those items looked suspicious on the x-ray machine. But we were let go after amusing the inspection man for a few minutes. By this time were moving towards the departure gate. Helen must have looked suspicious because her handbag was searched and she created much amusement with the staff by showing the lomo digitial camera!!

Ahhh… to think we could have just had a rest!

Hokkaido Road Trip

For those of you wondering where exactly we drove in Hokkaido, I have prepared a google map which shows fairly well where we went. I’ve embedded it below.

Sapporo is a really friendly town. A kind man, a volunteer guide at the Clock Tower, showed us around and explained some of Sapporo’s history. He lived in Adelaide for a while to practice English. We had lunch in a local “cafeteria” which had amazingly good and cheap food. He provided us with some tips. We really appreciated his generosity.

We were hoping to take the overnight train from Tokyo to Sapporo. But unfortunately it was impossible to book a berth. Apparently it is very popular for Obon. Instead we flew with JAL, it was very very easy to book over the internet and it offers J Class for a small premium. J Class is excellent it is like business class and has made it very difficult for me to fly in economy class. There is actually space for my legs and the seats are comfortable. It convinces me that economy class is a conspiracy to create the “value” proposition for premium economy and business class. Anyway, my only bit of conspiracy theory for the trip.

We picked up our car in Sapporo it was a Toyota bB. You’ve seen photos already. Its a mini wagon and super practical. It survived with its 1.3 litre engine and automatic gearbox quite well in the hills and on the expressways. It demonstrates that most Australian cars are well over-specced and as a result over priced. We rented through the Toyota Rent-a-Car service and in particular the English website of Toyota Sapporo. The site is very good and the service was perfect.

We drove along the expressway to Asahikawa. The expressway (maximum speed 100, which no one follows) is much faster than the main roads (maximum speed 60 even in the country). It is also much more expensive. It cost us more than $30 for a trip of around 100km. But the pain soon wore off as we woofed down our Ramen, we went through the fields and town of Biei. To arrive at Furano for our first night. Natalux is a hotel that has been refurbished by a fashionable Tokyo designer. Pretty schmick for Furano and a bit more expensive. But enitirely enjoyable.

Next stop was Lake Shikotsu and the Lakeside Villa Suimekakui. I had a lot of hot baths that night and the next morning. The food was nothing short of outstanding and the trout from the lake will probably stay in my mind for the rest of my life. For a foreign tourist, particularly couples, the idea of separating and going to an onsen with the a large crowd isn’t to appealing. The Lakeside Villa Suimekakui has an in-room bath, plus access to two other fine baths on a private reservation basis. They were all great. If you want the best food, French and Japanese, and a great Onsen experience then this is place for you and in the scheme of things to costs is justifiable. I’d love to go back.

When I was booking, I tried to compensate for the fact that we spent a bit the night before by being a bit cheaper a Lake Toya. We had a basic 8 tatami mat (quite big) room in a hotel hidden behind the main hotels on lake front. It was cheap though and had a good Japanese breakfast. If you are thinking about choosing which lake to stay at Lake Shikotsu is the one it is beautiful, while Toya has ugly buildings upsetting the landscape. Lake Shikotsu is smaller and more focussed on good food. While Toya’s fireworks and volcanic eruption sites are good, I’d recommending visiting the sites on the way through.

From here we drove to Hakodate and following some guidance from Hokkaido website drove to Oshamabe for a bento that the area specalises in. The town is a practical fishing village, nothing really to see, but the crab based bento from the little restaurant across the road from the station and I assume also available is a bento from the station a rice dish with a crab topping is worth the diversion.

Hakodate is (after you get through the outer suburbs and the working port) a gorgeous small city with plenty of things to do. A great fish market, good restaurants and easy to get around city, by foot, car or public transport. I’d like more time there.

I’ve put together a slideshow for you. So far I’ve uploaded twenty or so. Hopefully in the next day or two, I will get a chance to upload the rest. Remember to press the big triangle to get it to play.
(p.s. We’re sitting in a cafe in Kyoto after one of our best Japanese dinners yet. Included seeing our fish killed and eating almost everything including head and skeleton.)

Tower in Biel

Tower in Biel, originally uploaded by Helen K.

While driving round Hakkaido, we made a brief stop in a town called Biel.

While there isn’t a lot to see, there is a tower to go up and look at the view. The tower is attached to the local government office. There were no queues, signs, or tickets to purchase.

While the view was okay, I do not recommend local Council’s in SA use this method for attracting tourists.

Challenge achieved!

Club / coffee, originally uploaded by Helen K.

Before we left on holiday a friend set us a challenge to locate and have a drink at a trendy bar, called Office, above the Gaienmae train station in Tokyo. What else would we do on our last night in Tokyo, but visit!

We got off the right station, located the building, and climbed the stairs to the 4th floor. However it was closed for the Obon festival. Thankfully, the owners also run the bar on the first and second floor called Sign. It is a very cool place, with lounge music, good food and drink. I enjoyed a fruit tart and two glasses of plum wine with a rock (ball of ice big enough for the glass) and a fruit tart, and Kym had a burger and a couple of beers. It was a great challenge, and we enjoyed the ambiance and view – Thanks!

Next time you’re in Tokyo, I suggest you try it… or the Office on the fourth floor, so you can let us know what it is like!

Nameless Knight on the Town.

IMG_6145, originally uploaded by kdt.

Glimpsed in Hakodate at the Mt Hakodate observatory. He took a ride up the ropeway and was mobbed by an adoring crowd. Don’t forget to register your vote for his name.

Apparently the night lights of Hakodate from Mt Hakodate are one of the worlds great night views, alongside Hong Kong. It certainly was impressive.

Ueno Station

Ueno Station, originally uploaded by kdt.

One for the Gunzels. A night time photo of Ueno Station. There are a lot of Gunzels in Japan and they have very very expensive cameras. We took a ride out on the line past the Disney Resort and there were hordes of Gunzels.

Advising…. no one present

Advising…. no one present, originally uploaded by Helen K.

This was the last amusing sign we spotted in China. I realise I’ve commented on a lot of odd signs in China, but I really do think they are great. To me they represent their use of the English language (difficult at the best of times). I was sadden to read in a guide book here, that with the Olympics in Beijing last year, and the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010, there is a group of people checking signage to ensure signs are appropriate, and no or little occurrences of “Chinglish” in sight.

Signs like this are rare (Airport in Shanghai)… and therefore need to be shared with everyone. I was disappointed no one was there advising.


Ordinary…, originally uploaded by Helen K.

While it would of been cheaper and faster to catch a taxi to the airport in Shanghai… we caught the taxi to the Maglev station (very fast high speed train). Ah, that is what holiday experiences are all about.

We bought a ticket for the “ordinary section”, given the ride was only 7 minutes. Kym mentioned to me prior it was 15 minutes long and the top speed was 400km per hour. However, that speed is only done between 9am and 10:30am…. I feel cheated as it only did 302km per hour. Not even enough time to get comfortable on the train!