Japan: Shinkansen (aka the Bullet Train)

One of the best things about visiting Japan is traveling on the Shinkansen (often known as the bullet train) around the country. It’s not particularly cheap but worth it as the train itself is just so cool. I got a bit carried away with pictures I took of the train – please excuse this geek from rattling on about it.

Spot the gaijin! Some bemused looking American tourists give us the infamous ‘gaijin eyeball’ treatment on the platform at Kyoto Station.

The sign and arrow at the top give us a clue that platform 11 might be the one to try for Tokyo.

Here it comes!

The Shinkansen (bullet train) really is as cool as you might think. They make the Intercity look like a Toblerone box on a roller skate.

This is the second fastest Shinkansen known as the Hikari. Our pass didn’t qualify us for the fastest one but the Hikari can manage 230mph which is not too sloppy I think you’ll agree.

All the Hikari trains have this symbol on the side. I’m not really sure why.

The Japanese like to book their seats before getting on the train. This means finding the correct carriage, row and seat. These trains are very long though, so it pays to be standing in the correct place on the platform before it pulls into the station.

Hikari is the name of the train and Shin Osaka station is the destination. All very simple really.

You can meet some interesting people on the Shinkansen. Most people like to sleep though and I wouldn’t advise waking people to introduce yourself.

This sure beats economy class! You get plenty of leg room and comfy seats on the Shinkansen. This picture also shows that they are just as clean on the inside as they are on the outside.


Japan: Tokyo – Futako-Shinichi (where?)

I think we have all been there. A mad panic at the end of the night to catch the last train or bus home. You always convince yourself there’s time for just one more beer and that time will miraculously begin to slow down allowing you to cross vast distances in a matter of seconds.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard I try I have failed to uncover any super human magical powers within my modest armoury of skills. Bending the top of my double-jointed thumb back 90 degrees (nearly) is the best I have managed to date.

Missing the last train can prove very costly indeed. Not least when you need to cross to the other side of Tokyo in 45 minutes or face being locked out of your hotel. Always ask what time the curfew is when you check in somewhere in Japan. We felt quite lucky when told we had to be back at 1.00am.

Still, my pal Will and myself were able to enjoy a smug grin as we boarded the very last packed Metro leaving Shibuya. We thought we could just about make it in time before the curfew. We had run our legs off to make it but as I reminded him, it was good training for Willo’s forthcoming 3km “marathon”.

Smugness quickly turned to denial, fear, and then acceptance. We had taken the wrong train in the wrong direction. We were on a JR (overground train) heading out of Town. Our excuse, which I will maintain to my dying day, was that as it was a JR train and not a Tokyo Metro train, the line was not marked on the Metro maps. To confuse matters more the JR and Metro lines share the same rolling stock. If I’m being totally honest though, with my hand on my heart, there is only one person to blame and that is Will. As you can see from the pictures, the realisation of his own stupidly careless faux pas is etched on every part of his face. I wasn’t too hard on him though consoling his bruised ego with a pat on the back and a “never mind”. Fortunately, tears were avoided this time.

After realising Will’s (sorry “our”) mistake we got off the train at the next station which was called Futako-Sinichi. It was obvious that their was little going on in this backwater, as everything seemed closed. We asked a passing couple of young lads if there was an onsen (Japanese bath) nearby. This would have been a cheap place to crash for the night. After having a sauna we could sleep on the floor. It was all closed up though.

The only bar in town seemed to be a snack bar. Far from being a place where you sample the latest variety of Twiglets (or Pocky) this is a bar where you pay to have ladies come and sit at your table and talk to you. It sounded seedy and is usually expensive, the latter point making it not an attractive proposition for me. The snack bar owner was extremely nice explaining that she catered for older clientele and that a bar around the corner called Potluck might be more to our liking.

Potluck or “sidepocket” as Will called it, was a small but perfectly formed little bar. Once we found out that closing time was 5am the biggest challenge was to stay awake until the morning when we could catch the first train home. This was achieved by shouting rather than talking and occasionally slapping each other in the face if one of us looked tired. Will seemed to look tired every couple of minutes. The regualrs at Sidepocket (sorry Potluck) barely seemed to notice as they probably dismissed us as another couple of crazy foreigners.

After several pints and some food we decided it was about time to leave as it was 5am, and the only people left awake in Tokyo wanted to go to bed themselves.

Back at Futako-Shinichi station the Japanese businessmen were lining up along the platfrom to go to work. Despite this being Golden Week everyone seems determined to leave for work as early as possible. One chap seemed to be attempting to sleep standing up and looked as though he might fall over at any moment.

6.00am and we look as fresh as daisies.

If you ever go to Tokyo don’t forget to check the giant panda in a glass box outside Ginza JR station. Willo got far too excited about the whole thing and I had to drag him away.

So many Japanese seem to sleep on their way to work. I wonder how they know when they have reached their stop?

I alerted some passing Japanese to this chaps plight and was told to just leave him to it.

Will demontrates the loudest shirt in the world bought for a mere 250 yen (about £1.25) while holding a pair of socks I bought for 100 yen (about 50p). 6.30am seems a good time to shop in this part of Tokyo.

I eventually got back to my hotel at about 7.00am. Will kept reminding me all the way home how this kind of event is “memorable”.


Japan: Tokyo – Fontaine Akasaka Capsule Hotel

This is a fairly well known Capsule Hotel in Tokyo which takes both male and female customers but on different floors. You can pay by the hour of for the whole night as suits. Girls Aloud stayed there a while ago but don’t ask me how I know that.

The Japanese are not keen on admitting anyone with large tattoos as this is associated with the Yakuza. Signs like these can be seen in many hotels.

My capsule – the dimensions are roughly 2 metres long x 1 metre high. The box in the top left is a TV.

I was on the upper level so I had to climb up to get into bed.

When we checked in we were the only people there. Later on the floor would be littered with drunk Japanese businessmen.

You keep all your stuff in a locker while you are sleeping in the capsule.

They give you everything in the bathroom including toothbrushes, shampoo, razors and deodorant.

This toilet has a heated seat and an electronic control panel which has a digital flush and multiple bidet control. I was in toilet heaven.

The control panel in my capsule. Heat and lighting as well as TV and radio bits – just like the Starship Enterprise.

I relax in my natty dressing gown after having an onsen. All around us were Japanese businessmen smoking cigars, eating ice creams or getting a massage.

Just about to go to sleep in the capsule.

There is only a curtain separating you from the outside world in this hotel so you hear what’s going on outside.

Overall I would say that staying in this capsule hotel was one of my favourite experiences of my holiday in Japan. If I could have I would have stayed there every night. Anyone thinking of going to Japan should stay in one.