From my hotel, I take a taxi ($10) to the Shin-Osaka station. Waiting for a taxi, a pair of young women pass by on their own journey. Curiously they are pushing luggage on wheels and carrying stuffed teddy bear backpacks. College kids, I assume. Many Japanese use these rolling luggage cases.
Shin-Osaka Station is celebrating its 40th Anniversary, built for the Shinkansen, although the station appears new, modern and well planned. Large areas for people to move around. Designated waiting rooms with seats, even on this very busy travel day. In contrast, the other downtown Osaka Station is much like Paris Metro, with long corridors connecting tracks, many small shops and little breathing room.
A little anxious, I must connect on wifi, buy lunch, and find my train. I have about an hour do do all of this. I am supposed to meet my traveling companion today in Tokyo and need to make arrangements. I cannot find a good wifi connection and it’s frustrating. I give up on wifi and head to the large market for some more onigiri.
At these large shops in Shin-Osaka station, it is crowded. It is a holiday travel day. The Japanese form orderly lines, even stretching out of the store. However, the Japanese seem oblivious to the enormous backpack I wear, and expect me to yield. Except, there is no where for me to yeild to, a step in any direction will knock over a display. I wonder if its because i am gaijin. I see no one else wearing a backpack, many people pushing their luggage on wheels. A combination of unfamiliarity with backpacks and giajin status.
At the checkout, i ask the clerk about Wifi– he says free wifi asoko des pointing to the JR WIFI spot i failed at. Jr West asks for code… so, I ask the clerk if I need to buy a code. His reply, wakarimasen, he doesn’t understand. I am satisfied with my food purchase and head towards the gate. As I move through the station, checking wifi at each cafe my precious time ticks off, until finally the jackpot STARBUCKS the universal wifihotspot.
The Japanese make a quite long, yet quiet orderly line to order their cafe latte, I login just long enough to send a message to my travel companion, Yiyi, with my new schedule. We make a connection and have a plan. Yiyi speaks four languages, has lived in Japan for seven years. Through the miracle of social media, we made a connection months ago. Our mutual interest in travel makes this adventure a bonus for both of us.
On the Shinkansen
Relieved, I board the train. My first ride on a Shinkansen. In almost no time we are in Kyoto… Like the Eastern Seaboard of the US between DC And Boston, there was an urban landscape and buildings the entire way. Unlike the Eastern Seaboard, here, there are beautiful mountains behind the urban sprawl. Beautiful mountains everywhere, some tall enough to be snow covered.
The train is Shizuka 静か (Quiet) . Nobody is yakking on the phone. Its like that everywhere but restaurants. The Japanese are very polite, read, sleep, eat, enjoy the view. In contrast, forget about that in the USA. Ghetto blasters, families talking all the time. No quiet on the trains in the US. The announcements remind me to keep my phone in silent mode and “refrain” from speaking on the phone.
The train leans into curves. Even though we are going 200 mph there is no sensation of speed and no lateral acceleration. Only when looking out the window… At times it appears the houses are built on a plane that isn’t level… As if the houses were not constructed plumb. Its disorienting.
Next to me, two travelers from Spain, we are only gaijin on the car… In the same row. It cant be a coincidence…? Is this row is reserved for gaijin. Fortunately I speak spanish and their english is good. We enjoy a good conversation. They are headed to a ryokan near Fuji-san.
A cute girl in a stylish uniform pushes a cart down the aisle. I buy an overpriced cup of coffee to chat her up. She speaks english. I ask how she’s doing she tells me she is hungry. 🙂 None of the service people have an attitude except that of providing exceptional service. Even — and especially to, it seems — gaijin. Something wholly missing in the culture in the United States.
The spanish guys show me an excellent phrase book Dilo Con El Dedo Japonese para Viajar meaning “say it with your finger” its very well done book… I should pick up the english version. Unfortunately, I later find out it is only available in spanish.
My Spanish companion asks me what i dis when I was young… Look at the backpack i am carrying I think. I am still young. 🙂
The train pauses exactly 90 seconds at the stop, long enough for passengers to board and disembark. In almost no time, we are in Tokyo.
My instructions are to take the Chou Line to Musashi-Sakai. Tokyo Station is enormous, yet, I have no problem finding Chou Line and boarding with my JR Pass. However, it is quite a hike through the station. Everywhere, Japanese walk briskly through the station. No one is wasting time. Plentiful signs announce to-the-minute departures at each track.
I am remarkably impressed with the efficiency, the orderly use, and the pleasant nature of the transportation facilities in Japan.
Boarding the Chou Line, it’s another 30 minutes to Musashi-Sakai, and a short taxi ride later I am greeting my traveling companion.