Bullet train to Kumamoto

After an overnight stay in Osaka Japan, I’m up early to travel to Kumamoto on the Shin-Osaka to Kagoshima-Chuo bulletin train. The ticket (with reserved seating) for a seven day rail pass was purchased at Shin-Osaka station the night before. The 9.30am train was fully booked so we’ve elected to catch an earlier train.

I’m excited. This is my first trip to Japan. Tokyo and the stories of bustling crowds always seemed so daunting, so I’m on my way to Kumamoto prefecture, first stop Kumamoto city (with a more manageable population of just 730,000) attracted by food, culture and history (Kumamoto is a net exporter of food and is also the location of the Last Samurai battle. More on that to come as the trip unfolds). The bullet train trip however, is really day one of my trip, and as it turns out is a wonderful introduction into the unfamiliar world of Japanese culture.

Queues stand behind the carriage numbers that are painted on the platforms. As we step onto the train in an orderly fashion my excitement increases. The journey really has begun.

We’ve missed breakfast with the early start so the snack trolley provides the first meal of the day: a morning set – sandwich (crusts removed, container with disposable hand towel) with coffee.

When a guard comes into the carriage to check our tickets, he first moves to the front end of our carriage, bows slowly and deeply, and sincerely and politely announces that he will be checking tickets. The real surprise is after he has swept the length of the carriage, he returns to the front, and once again bows, slowly and sincerely, and thanks us for allowing us to have checked them. Later as he walks through the carriage (no longer for the purpose of checking tickets) he once again bows, this time at each end of the carriage. Through the glass of the doors, I can see the polite procedure is repeated in the next carriage.

On the other side of the aisle, I can see the photos on the pages, of the newspaper that the man is reading. Baseball. Then comes my next shift of culture. He turns the page and I notice very different types of photos: bondage, hazily disguised fellatio, and a photo of a girl in bra and panties (with her hands over her face.) From bows to bondage: is this a land of contradictions?

Although I speak just a few words of Japanese (words that we all know – like arigato and konichiwa) I’m easily able to manouvre my way around the bullet train. Japanese attention to detail means there are clear visual instructions using symbols on the back of the seat showing what is situated in the adjacent carriages. Next door, carriage #3 has toilets, a separate handwashing area (I’m learning more about Japanese attention to hygeine at every bathroom I use) and even a smoking room.

For the third time, the passenger at the window seat beside me is replaced by another. This man, well dressed in a grey pinstripe suit is reading a thick soft cover magazine. It’s a comic.



Tags: , , , , ,

Comments for this article

10 Responses to “Bullet train to Kumamoto”

  1. Marc Bester says:
    November 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    The train system is such an experience. I love their respect and attention to detail, and the food at the shinkansen stations is great. I love the set meals !

    • Rebecca Varidel
      Rebecca Varidel says:
      November 18, 2012 at 12:55 am

      thanks Marc. I’ve been up in Gokanosho in the Kumamoto mountains. back to Osaka tomorrow. it’s been fabulous – just fabulous!

  2. Catherine Bedson says:
    November 14, 2012 at 9:25 am

    Hi Rebecca, this is bringing back memories of my trip to Japan last year. We arrived in Osaka then bullet trained it around Japan. Interesting country, not one I’m sure us Australians will ever fully understand! Enjoy your trip you’ll love Japan!

    • Rebecca Varidel
      Rebecca Varidel says:
      November 18, 2012 at 12:58 am

      Konichiwa Catherine. Yes I wish I had travelled here sooner. Have been thoroughly entranced by the culture, history, food and people of Kumamoto prefecture. Back to Osaka tomorrow.

  3. Cindy Low says:
    November 18, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Wow! It looks like you are off to a great adventure! It is always exciting to discover a country you haven’t been to before. Have fun, look forward to more of your upcoming posts. I haven’t been to Japan myself but would like to do so one day. But for now, I will enjoy it vicariously through your journey! :-)

    • Rebecca Varidel
      Rebecca Varidel says:
      November 18, 2012 at 7:26 pm

      Thanks Cindy. I’ve been out of internet access in the beautiful Kumamoto mountain area Gokanosho where less than 100 Australians travel every year. The roads only opened up into the mountains around 45 years ago. Just arrived in Osaka. And, yes, there are more posts to come.

  4. Christine @ Cooking Crusade says:
    November 27, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Oh Japan – my fave country of all time! I love how polite everyone is there – the kind of thing that is almost unseen in Sydney, let alone in public transport these days!

  5. Eha says:
    December 10, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    It seems the bullet train has not changed an iota since I regularly used it in the 1960s-70s, both food and courtesy-wise :) ! Clearly remember taking my two daughters, aged about 6 & 8 from Tokyo > Osaka. The rest of the carriage was full of uniformed schoolgirls, 9-12 or so, on a school excursion. So fascinated with how my two little blondes looked, they stood neatly in a row, autograph books in hand, bowed to each and asked for a signature :D ! By the time my two ‘little stars’ had completed the whole class, bowing back to each [copycats!!], the trip was over!! Hilarious: language was not needed!

  6. Jackie McMillan
    Miss Dissent says:
    February 7, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Beautifully written, funny I like your travel writing better than your food writing. I want to read more about this trip!

    • Rebecca Varidel
      Rebecca Varidel says:
      February 11, 2013 at 5:13 pm

      yes more stories on the trip to Japan will come (at some stage.. ) thanks Jackie

Leave a Reply