Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Naoetsu

Of Interest: I have no idea
Lodging: yes, two hotels
Tourist Office: yes, outside
Restrooms: clean, both inside and outside the station
Accessibility: almost, but not quite. There are elevators to all tracks within the station, and an escalator leading out of the building
Int'l ATM: There is a post office on the road that lead straight away from the station

Naoetsu is on the edge of of a suburb of Joetsu City. It exists because apparently it is on the dividing line between JR East and JR West. There is not even a quickie Mart near the station. Thank God for vending machines.

The station itself is comfortable, nicely decorated with lots of places to sit.

The ride between Nagaoka and Naoetsu is pretty, most of the time the tracks hug the coast. Naoetsu is on the route to Toyama and Kanazawa. Local trains take two hours to get to Toyama while Express trains only take an hour because they only make one intermediate stop. Those express trains continue on to Kanazawa which is two hours away. Those express trains take a little less than two hours to come from Niigata City. Nagaoka, on the line to Niigata, is about an hour and a half away by local train.

The Joetsu Shinkansen is named after the city here, but it does not even come that close.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Nagaoka

Of Interest: multiple museums, downtown Nagaoka
Lodging: multiple, in all price ranges
Tourist Office: no, but maps of the town are available at the station
Int'l ATM: In the department store across the street
Internet Access: There is a single computer at the Int'l Center. Walk straight down the main street in front of the station to the Civic Center.
Accessibility: elevators at all train platforms

Nagaoka is a medium-sized city in the center of Niigata Prefecture. The city itself is inland, but a port village was incorporated into the municipal area in 2005.

The trains of the Joetsu Line head inland, most ending an hour and a half away at Echigo-Yuzawa station, a spa resort in the mountains, but some continue on into Gunma Prefecture. Both Echigo-Yuzawa and Nagaoka are also stops on the Joetsu Shinkansen. Naoetsu is also an hour and a half away, this time to the south.

There is no English on the signs in Nagaoka Station.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Niigata


Of Interest: shopping, walkable river
Lodging: yes, but cheaper downtown
Internet Access: free in the station from 11 to 7
Tourist Office: outside the station, city information only
There are good restrooms in the malls attached to the station.

The area around the station is a major shopping area. The Shinano River is a 10-15 minute walk away. Downtown Niigata is another 15-20 minutes by foot. Downtown is very nice with lots of covered sidewalks. One of the arcades leads to the oldest park in Japan. An arcade the opposite direction leads to a street of temples.

These kinds of arcades are common in towns along the inland sea that borders Honshu to the north and west. The arcades make walking possible as these are the wettest parts of Japan. In particular, Niigata Prefecture is known for heavy snowfalls.

If you are visiting, I recommend getting a hotel downtown as they are cheaper than the ones near the station.

Niigata is the terminal station for the Joetsu Shinkansen which takes two to two and a half hours to get here. There are also there are also four express trains daily to Kanazawa. Multiple trains travel within Niigata Prefecture. Shibata is 25 minutes north by local train. Most trains head south. Nagaoka, a major transfer point, is 25 minutes by Shinkansen and and hour and fifteen minutes by regular train. The trip to Yoshida is 45 minutes.

To head north out of Niigata, go to Niitsu and change trains.

Note: Some platforms only have signs in kana, the Japanese phonetic script.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sakamachi

Of Interest: walkable town, solar energy research (not open to the public)
Lodging: no
Tourist Office: no
Int'l ATM: on the road to the right just beyond the curve
Restrooms: not good
The station is handicapped accessible.

The war between strip mall and cozy downtown, between car and train culture is active in Sakamachi. The town has the potential to be a really cool place if the chain stores don't strangle it.

Sakamachi is a major train depot within Niigata Prefecture. Sakamachi is forty minutes from Niigata by limited express. The trip takes an hour by regular train and you have to change at Shibata. Trains to Yonezawa take two to two and a half hours.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Yonezawa

Of Interest: local beef
Lodging: ?
Tourist Office: yes, excellent but most of the pamphlets are in Japanese only

Yonezawa is a car-oriented town, and is not comfortable to walk around. There is historical park about thirty minutes from the station. It contains a history museum, a shinto shrine, and a local products store. There are a couple of restaurants serving local dishes here.

Yonezawa is famous for its local beef which is often served raw. It is good, but expensive. Yonezawa apples are also famous.

The city is two hours and fifteen minutes from Tokyo by Shinkansen. The Shinkansen takes thirty five minutes to get to Fukushima while the local trains take forty five minutes. Both trains use the same tracks; local trains take longer because they make more stops. You can also take a local train to the west coast at Sakamachi in Niigata Prefecture.

Friday, December 11, 2009

New address

This blog has a new web address at www.asiantrains.net. The blogspot address still works, though.

Google set up everything for me which makes me happy

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Kesennuma

Of Interest: not much
Lodging: one hotel
Tourist Office: yes
Restrooms: Clean with toilet paper and soap
Int'l ATM: There is post office a five to ten minute walk from the station

Kesennuma Station is in a suburban area of Kesunnuma City. As such very little is within walking distance. The city is known for commercial fishing and for seaside tourism. The harbor may be in walking distance for someone who likes long walks.

Two JR lines serve Kesennuma Station. The Kesennuma line, which starts here, follows the coast for most of its journey before heading inland to end at Kogota, Miyagi. Kesennuma is in the middle of the Ofunato Line which runs from Sakari, Ofunato, Iwate to Ichinoseki in Iwate. Both routes are scenic although the Ofunato line from Kesennuma is entirely inland.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rail Pass for the Klang Valley

If you are visiting Kuala Lumpur or any other locations in the Klang Valley, RM150 ($45) buys a month of trips all transit operated by owned KLRapid. This includes Kuala Lumpur's monorail, the Kelana Jaya and the Ampang light rail lines, and all RapidKL buses. Called the RapidPass Integrated, it is for sale at all light rail stations and at major bus hubs.

In the past few years, the government of Malaysia has been taking over transit in the Kuala Lumpur metro area. The private entities that developed ran transit and built the light rail lines, did a poor job making it difficult for people to depend on the transit system. The result was one of the lowest rates of transit use in Asia as well as severe traffic problems and pollution.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Good Post on the Kyushu Shinkansen

I don't know if any of you have read the Sleepy Tako's blog on Japanese culture, but he recently wrote a good post about the Kyushu Shinkansen and its pokemon.

Of course, I prefer the express trains. You can see more.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kuji - stub

Of Interest: Sanriku Railway
Lodging: yes

This small town in northern Iwate is the hub between the JR East's Hachinohe Line and the Sanriku Railway's tourist line.

If anyone has spent time in Kuji, it would be great if they could write something about this small town.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sanriku Railway Company

At some stations in Japan, you can see a picture of a train going over a gorge. That train is run by the Sanriku Railway Company The company runs two lines on single track that JR abandoned when it was privatized. The first runs from Kuji to Miyako, and the second from Sakari to Kamaishi, all in Iwate Prefecture. The company is still associated with JR, and JR passes will get you a deep discount on a one day pass. Train schedules are coordinated with the JR trains.

Most of the passengers are commuters, but there are a significant number of tourists and railfans on the north part of the northern line. We stopped three times on the part of the trip so that people could take pictures. Both routes are scenic. In fact, I kind of preferred the parts where we were actually moving.

The northern line trains are a single car with a restroom and a vending machine. The southern line runs multiple cars. A multi-car train runs over Sanriku's northern line on Sundays and holidays from April to October. The special trains are only 200 yen more than a regular train, but rail passes may not work on it.

Each station has a map with local attractions.

(This company may run one or two rush hour express trains from the southern part of their route to Sendai.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thailand to Laos by rail

Laos has a single train station at Thanaleng on a 15 minute line that links Thailand and Laos through a bridge over the Mekong River. It connects with overnight service to Bangkok. Currently, the train leaves Nongkhai, Thailand at 10:00 and 16:00 every day. (It is my understanding that the train will wait for the Bangkok train.) The train returns from Thanaleng at 10:45 and 17:00.

Thanaleng is close to Vientiane, but is not part of the city suburbs. It is between eleven and thirteen kilometers to the center of the capitol, depending on the source you consult. If you can, try to arrange transport from the station to Vientiane in advance. Otherwise, taxis and tuktuks are usually available. There are no services near Thanaleng Station.

According to The Man in Seat Sixty-One, you can get a visa for Laos at the train station, but according to a member of the Asia Loco Shed Yahoo group, visas for overseas train travelers are only available in Bangkok. You can get Laotian visas at the border if you take a train to a different city and then take the bus into Laos. (There are current timetables for all of Thailand at the Asia Loco Shed Yahoo group. Cook is not accurate, but English langualge timetables are available once you are actually in Thailand.)

It is my understanding that you can walk from Nongkhai to Thanaleng and from there to Vientiane, that the main barrier it distance, not the condition of the roads.

I encourage people to use trains as a means of transportation, but if you just want to take the train, you can go to the station in Laos and then come straight back.

Here is video of the trip:


(Note: This post is not based on personal experience.)

Hachinohe line

The Hachinohe line is set up for those environmentalists out there. Instead of air conditioning, this train has fans and open windows which is good because it was cold in northern Japan this summer. It is a beautiful ride, running through forests away from roads.

This two-hour long line runs from Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture to Kuji in Iwate Prefecture. It is mainly run by JR East, but the Japan Freight Company runs the line from Hon-Hachinohe to Hachinohe Station. The line runs every two to three hours. The Hachinohe line connects to the Shinkansen at Hachinohe.

(Today is a good day to publish this post. Someone came to my site today from a search for Hachinohe.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Beijing to Shanghai

by Vladimir Pariev

I made my trip on Chinese trains in the Spring of 2009. The building of the main train station in Beijing is large, grey coloured in a monumentalistic Soviet style of architecture. There is a spacious square near the railway station. It is not far from the city centre. Metro exit is located on the other side of the square from the railway station. There is also quite good and not expensive hotel across the square from the railway station. Despite the large spaces the main feature of big railway stations in China are crowds of people. Especiallyso the Beijing station, since it is in the capitol of China and many train lines go in all directions from Beijing.

I was on the trip together with my friend. Another Chinese friend bought us train tickets in advance. In China a passenger would need a ticket to enter the train station. Tickets themselves are bought in another building close by. There is a temporary storage room for the luggage, where one can keep bags for a small fee. After entering the station a passenger is supposed to wait for his train in a waiting hall. There are many waiting halls according to the categories of the trains. We took the overnight Z train to Nanjing. The waiting hall for Z trains has many seats, so we got a seating for our wait. Other halls for lower class trains has too few seating places, so they were crowded with thousands of people standing or sitting on the floor. There are many shops inside the railway station selling snacks and drinks.

About half an hour before train departure time, passengers are asked to proceed to the platform. Tickets are checked once again. Z trains have compartments with four soft sleeping berths each, two berths below and two berths above. Sheets, pillows, pillow cases, blankets,
towels are included. There is also hot water and a clean toilet in the train. Some light food is sold on the board the train. The train went from Beijing to Nanjing without making any
stops for 9 hours journey. Despite quite high speed (more than 120 km per hour) the train was pulled by a Diesel locomotive, which I saw at the head of the train.
In the morning we arrived at Nanjing station, which is also quite large. We needed to show our tickets at the exit from the railway station again. There is a separate exit door from the platforms,which leads directly to the street. Once having passed through this door, a passenger cannot reenter the station without having another ticket for another train. It is not possible just to stay for a while inside the station without intending to actually board a train. We took express D train to Shanghai. The train was electric, fast, going at the speed up to 250 kilometres per hour, but making five stops, and it took us about two hours to get to Shanghai.

Shanghai railway station is also large and more modern than the station in Beijing. It is crowded too and it uses the same system of tickets purchasing and waiting rooms as in Beijing. In front of the railway station there is a road busy with traffic, but people criss cross at all times. The exit from the metro station is located on the other side of this road. The building for selling tickets is in about 200 metres from the railway station building and there are some other buildings and a road in between. So, it is not easy to guess quickly, without reading Chinese, where they sell the train tickets. There are a number of hotels close to the station
and we stayed in one of them, which was quite good. We took another Z train from Shanghai back to Beijing. The train took 11 hours of non-stop travel in the night. The train had the same interior as the Z train from Beijing to Nanjing, clean and quite comfortable.

As a side note, all our neighbours inside the compartment (all together4 people on both Z train trips) were males. I do not know, if it isdue to rules for selling tickets, or whether some females initiallyhad tickets in our compartment but then exchange their berths with males from another compartment,or if it has happened by chance (with probability 1/16). This is different from Russian trains, where males and females are usually assigned sleeping places at random, in any compartments.

Purchasing train tickets in China is somewhat difficult to do in advance. The tickets are sold not earlier than 10 days before thedeparture of the train, except for Z trains, when the tickets can be purchased 20 days before the travel date. It is easy to buy tickets while in China, either at a ticket office close to a railway station or in some travel agency. As my Chinese friend told me, it is wise to buy a ticket 2-3 days before the long distance trip in usual times and one needs to reserve tickets 10 days in advance during peak travel times in China, like the Spring festival. Suburban tickets are always available right before departure, if a passenger is willing to stand in the train. If one wants to buy tickets before coming to China, the Internet travel agencies charge high fees for this. Fees amount to 50 per cent of the cost of the fare itself. I could not find any cheap English language travel agencies, which would sell train tickets in advance to me and resorted to asking Chinese friends in China to get the tickets.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Busan Ferry

Of Interest: downtown Busan, including the Busan Film Festival (October)
Lodging: not within sight, but if you walk to the main road there are some within 10 minutes. Ask at the tourist office
Tourist Office: yes. Also a good travel agency
Int'l ATM: There is a branch of the Busan Bank in the terminal
Restrooms: Clean and recently remodeled

I had a roundtrip ticket, but I missed the return date. I was STILL able to use the ticket. People often tell me that the plane is more expensive than the ferry, but discount ferry tickets are as little at 100,000. There regular tickets are good for six months and you don't even have to call if you miss your boat. (I suggest that people do call and cancel, or the company might change that policy.) They are almost the same price as a discount plane ticket which cannot be changed at all.

I took the Beetle/Mirejet high speed hydrofoil ferry that runs to Fukuoka. Kangsan Travel sells tickets and travel packages for this ferry.

There are also overnight ferries to Fukuoka, Shimonoseki, and Hiroshima. Most English speaking travel agencies do not sell tickets to these ferries, although there is a travel agent in the ferry terminal that does. If you can speak a little Korean, it is worth it to check out a regular Korean travel agency for tickets and ferry packages.

If you walk straightish along the road that leads away from the ferry terminal, you will run into a major thoroughfare. From there you have two choices. Turn left for one of Busan's downtown areas (there are more than one) or turn right for Busan Station and KTX trains. There is a subway station at the intersection. It is probably a good idea to get a map from the tourist office before you leave the ferry terminal.

The center of this downtown area is a semi-pedestrian shopping area.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Songtan (Pyeongtaek)

Of Interest - Osan Air Force Base, foreign restaurants, stores with foreign goods
Lodging - several hotels near the main gates of the air force base
Tourist Office - no
Nearest Int'l ATM - I would think there would be one nearby, but I don't where

Most people coming to my site from a google search are looking for Osan. While Osan is a nice little town, I don't think that is what they are looking for. I think they really want to go to Osan Air Force Base which is one subway stop to the south in Pyeongtaek.

To the west of the station is Osan Air Force Base. To the east is the town of Songtan.

The Air Force Base is a fifteen to twenty minute walk from the station. Follow the signs (in English). Between the station and the base are a wide variety of small shops and restaurants, many that serve foreigners, not just Americans. The last time I was there, I ate at a Pakistani restaurant that had an almost entirely Pakistani clientele.

The town of Songtan is a typical suburban town. The area is more modern looking and the buildings are generally bigger than those near the base.

Songtan is on line 1 of the Seoul subway, but I wouldn't go all the way from Seoul on the subway. Take the train to Pyeongtaek and then change. That is usually the quickest way whether you are coming from the north or south. Some trains do stop in Osan, but not many. The nearest KTX stop is at Cheonan-Asan. Go to Asan subway station to change for these trains if you are going to south to Daejeon, Daegu, or Busan. It will probably not save you time to take the KTX to Seoul. Asan is near the end of line 1, and not all subway trains go that far. Only trains that say they are going to Sinchang will go stop at Asan.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fighting Climate Change - a good thing

Here is a short essay on why fighting climate change can make us all happier based on examples from my own life.

In other words, here are the good things that have happened to me after I decided to only travel by public transportation, especially the train.

1. I met my first Korean friend the first time that I got off the train here.

2. I discovered a direction for my writing. (I do most of my writing on the train.)

3. I discovered a really interesting historic site with a fort that is over a thousand years and a building called a hanggyo. I was curious as to the meaning of "hanggyo" so I wrote is down. Later I read an essay where hanggyo were explained, and I remembered what they were. Which is good because the explanations on the tourist markers are wrong.

4. On a trip to visit my parents, I saw a canyon in the Rockies that is only accessible by train and river raft.

5. By randomly taking a bus from an old job, I found a lake that none of my co-workers knew about.

6. I am less sensitive to cold and heat.

7. Which led to me having a fantastic trip by train to the Grand Canyon. No air conditioning. In summer. Actually, perfect. (The Grand Canyon is not Phoenix, however.)

8. I was one of the only people who didn't complain about the heat on a group trip to Hawaii. (By the way Waikiki is a fake beach. There are much nicer beaches on just about every island.)

9. I will eventually think of something else. (See below and Netflix Origami.)

I want to give a shout out to the Sanyo Electric Railway for turning off the lights during the day. There was so much sun that I was getting sunburned with sunscreen on (and I do know to reapply). Also, to the train that had fans instead of air conditioning. Especially since the passengers could turn them off. Which they did. It was cold in northern Japan this summer. I was freezing and then I would get on the train and the air conditioning would be on.

Update: Here is someone who thinks that Americans don't think of bicycles as a form of transportation because they are too much fun. Fun in the Snow

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sintaein


Of Interest: downtown of a small town
Lodging: no
Tourist Office: no
Nearest ATM: Nong-hyeop Bank next to the station plaza (There is also a Nonghyeop grocery store.)
Computers in station: no

I went to Sintaein, and there was nothing special there. I had a great time. I didn't find any particular tourist sites, but I had a good lunch and a good walk. The town spreads from one side of the station, and the whole place is walkable. Most of the residents are older.

While I was wandering around, I found a street of traditional style houses, many of which had the same design on their roof end tiles. The design looked a lot the crests that were the symbols of the old samurai families in Japan. This is the first time that I have seen something like this in Korea. Further research is needed.

Sintaein is on the Yongsan - Gwangju/Mokpo line in Jeoneup-si.

Photo or photos will be added as soon as my computer problems are fixed.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hon-Hachinohe

Of Interest: cheap (but good) fruit, downtown Hachinohe
Hotels: yes, scattered. Good prices.
Tourist Office: no
Int'l ATM: There is a post office in the station

One of the meanings of "hon" is origin, and Hon-Hachinohe is the original Hachinohe Station. It serves downtown Hachinohe. The city is scattered so there is a lot outside of downtown including the current Hachinohe Station.

The area in front of city hall is used for community events. To get there exit the station to the north, then walk up the street that is slightly to the left of the exit. I attended part of the local summer festival, Sansha Taisai. There were food vendors from many local restaurants in front of the city hall with local performers entertaining us on a stage to one side. A big part of the festival is the floats that go to different shrines during the festival. There was a booth explaining how the floats are made. I got to make my own miniature float.

Next to the station, there was a store selling fresh fruit for really good prices. Cheaper even than in Korea. There is also a local products store in this station and at Hachinohe Station.

Only one JR East line serves Hon-Hachinohe Station, a local line that serves the Hachinohe area.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hachinohe

Of Interest: changing trains
Lodging: budget hotels
Tourist Office: yes, in the station
Computer Access: no
Int'l ATM: according to Wikipedia, the is a post office in the "Yuri" building. It is not easily visible.

This station was called Shiriuchi Station until 1971 when it was renamed, and the original Hachinohe station, which is actually in downtown Hachinohe, was renamed Hon-Hachinohe. Hachinohe station is in a small suburb on the edge of Hachinohe. There is not much else in the area besides the train station. Bring something to eat or head into Hachinohe itself.

There is a large tourist office in the station. It is a good source of information, and it is the only tourist office in Hachinohe. If you are going to Hachinohe itself, make sure you get all the information you need before you head out. The tourist office also has information about Misawa, the location of a US Air Force Base.

Hachinohe is the last stop on the Tohoku Shinkansen. It is currently the only shinkansen stop in Aomori, although that is scheduled to change in 2012 when the Hokkaido Shinkansen opens. JR East also operates three other lines through Hachinohe.

Aomori

Of Interest: downtown Aomori, ferry port
Lodging: multiple
Tourist Office: yes
Computer Access: in the tourist office
Int'l ATM: In a post office that is in a building to the right of the station. There is a sign, but you have to really look for it.

Aomori Station is on the edge of downtown. It is also right next to the ferry port which is attractively lit for a couple of hours each evening. The Aomori Prefectural Center for Tourism and Industry also has some pretty lights. The later is an interesting building; from the front it looks like a pyramid. (I don't have any pictures because the the lights turned off around the time that I got organized to take some.)

Aomori is famous for its Nebuta festival, and for a 5,000 year old prehistoric site, the Jomon Jiyukan. The Nebuta festival is within walking distance of the station. The festival is often listed as one of the three best in Japan. Many professional artists are commissioned to create floats for this festival. (I told I friend that I though it was very professionally done (which it is) and they said, "Hmm," like that was disappointing.)

In August there is a loop bus that goes to the Jomon prehistoric site as well as other tourist and cultural sites. Museums, historic buildings, and other things of interest to visitors are scattered throughout the city.

Local and intercity buses leave from the station plaza. JR East runs all the trains here. Aomori Station is the terminus for all lines. One line runs north into Hokkaido, one line runs east to Akita, and one line runs west to Hachinohe.

Aomori was the northern most stop on my July/August 2009 trip. After staying here one night during the Nebuta Festival, I started to head south.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Morioka

Of Interest: walkable river, walkable city
Tourist Office: yes
Lodging: yes

The map from the tourist office indicates barrier-free restrooms, but the train station is not barrier-free.

The map from the tourist office is very practical. Not only does it list all of the museums, historic buildings, and picturesque views in town, it also tells you which ones have bathrooms and the location of traditional restaurants by cuisine. All color-coded.

I wish the person who designed this map had designed the station. It is not the most practical building that I have ever been in.

In addition, two different loop buses leave from the station, one specifically for tourists.

For more information on Morioka, go to Japan Food Guru which focuses on Morioka. I guess the food must be really good. Luckily, it is not expensive.

Morioka Station is served by multiple train lines. It is the northern terminus of the JR East's Tohoku Main Line and both the Tohoku and Akita Shinkansens stop there. Three other JR East lines also stop here as does the Iwate Ginga Railway Line.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ichinoseki


Of Interest: surrounding area
Lodging: multiple
Tourist Office: a small window next to the station master
Int'l ATM: none near station
Computer Access: none

Ichinoseki City Hall is apparently within walking distance of the station, but the area around the station does not feel like a downtown, but more like an entertainment district. Most tourist come to the area to go hiking in the surrounding mountains.

Ichinoseki Station is a stop on the Tohoku Shinkansen and the Tohoku Main Line, both operated by JR East. Ichinoseki is about half an hour from Sendai and two hours from Tokyo by shinkansen. It takes about an hour and a half to get to Sendai by conventional trains.

Blog Action Day 2009

Climate change is the topic for this year's Blog Action Day (October 15).

What is Blog Action Day? "Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world's bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day on their own blogs with the aim of sparking discussion around an issue of global importance." Bloggers from previous years chose the topic, so if we all blog together this year, we can help choose the topic next year.

I have a topic for my other blog, but I still haven't decided what I should do for this one. Is anyone else blogging about this? If so, what are you going to write about? What would you like me to write about?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Kogota (Misato)

Of Interest: pleasant small town, changing trains
Lodging: No
Tourist Office: No
Int'l ATM: Kogota Post Office
Computer Access: none
Handicapped Accessible: Yes, fully
Bathrooms: Toilet paper, but no soap

Kogota Station is one of the best designed train stations that I have been in . It should be because this station is mainly a place to change trains. Kogota is a major transport hub for Miyagi Prefecture. It is a shopping and agricultural district of Misato, a small town in Miyagi Prefecture. There is a great deal of commuter housing in the area near the station.

As I was here during festival season, I got to watch a couple of dance performances at a local festival in a plaza across from the train station. This plaza is just up the main road from the station. The post office is also on this road.

The station is the terminus for three JR East lines. Kogota is twelve minutes from the nearest shinkansen stop in Furukawa by the Rikuu-tou line. Some of these trains continue on to Naruko-onsen which is about an hour away in the mountains to the east. The Kesennuma line takes about two hours and fifteen minutes to get to (surprise) Kesennuma to the north. The Minami-Sanriku line takes the same route, but because it has fewer stops, it takes an hour less. It also runs less often. The Ishinomaki line runs along the coast north to Onagawa. All of these lines run within the northern half of Miyagi Prefecture.

There are frequent trains to and from Sendai along JR's Tohoku Main Line. This line also goes to Ichinoseki, but trains are less frequent. Both cities are about forty-five minutes away.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sendai "City of Trees"


Of Interest: downtown, Chuo-dori Shopping Arcade
Lodging: multiple
Tourist Office: Yes, with lots of information
Computer Access: in the shopping arcade
Int'l ATM: Walk right from the station for 5-10 minutes to a 7-11.

Sendai is called the "City of Trees" because it is one of the greenest cities in Japan. It also one of the densest. These two things are not in conflict.

Sendai Station is downtown. Exit to the west and the second floor terrace turns into bridges that connect with nearby hotels and department stores. Go down to street level across from the station to find the Chuo-dori Shopping Arcade, a pedestrian street that extends from one end of downtown to the other. English language books can be found at Maruzen located on the same side of the street as the station.

The Loople Sendai bus also leaves from the West Exit area. Take this bus to get to Sendai's museums and area attractions, and to just see the city. A single ride is 25o yen while a full day costs 600 yen. Buses run from 9 to 4 all year round.

To me, it looks like local buses leave from the west side, while intercity buses leave from the east.

The Sendai Info Board is a website and magazine with information for foreign residents, some of which is valuable for visitors too. The magazine is available at the tourist office in the station.

Several JR East lines serve Sendai Station. The Senseki Line goes east to Sendai's suburbs and the ocean (including Matsushima), the Senzan Line goes west to the mountains and the city of Yamagata, the Tohoku Main Line runs north and south, and the Joban line runs south along the coast. The city also runs a single subway line and rail link to Sendai Airport. It takes about an hour and forty-five minutes to get to Tokyo by Shinkansen and about the same amount of time to go north to Hachinohe.

A two day pass for all buses trains in the Sendai area, including the subway, costs 2600 yen for two days. Both this pass and a Loople ticket can get you discounts at some tourist attractions.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Iwaki

Of Interest: downtown Iwaki
Lodging: yes, cheap
Tourist Office: yes
Int'l ATM: Turn left from the station and walk until you see a giant 7-11 sign. There is an international ATM in that store.

The city is old; it was founded during the Nara period more than 2000 years ago. There is an old onsen in the mountains in Iwaki county. The city itself has few buildings that are very old, but it has quite a few that are older twentieth century and the town has a quaint feel.

The movie Hula Girls is based on events in Iwaki, and you can feel the connection to Hawaii when you walk down the streets.

The station is right downtown. The city library, a performing arts center and the city art museum are a fifteen to twenty minute walk from the station. There is what looks like a traditional entertainment street to right of the station.

Iwaki City is near the coast. From Iwaki Station trains head north and south on the Joban Line and west to Koriyama on the East Ban'etsu Line, both run by JR East. The nearest shinkansen station is in Koriyama.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hitachi

Of Interest: industry, seaside
Lodging: yes, including budget hotels

Hitachi Station handles more freight than people. This is predictable for town that saw the birth of one of Japan's largest industrial giants. Hitachi's headquarters are currently in Tokyo, but the company was founded here in 1910.

The Station is within sight of the sea. I wouldn't get off the train just to visit this part of Japan's coast, but it is probably worth the effort for someone who is in town already.

Hitachi Station is served by a single JR East line. This section of the Joban line that runs within sight of the ocean.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mito


Of Interest: Kadokan Hall, downtown Mito, Sakura River, Kairakuen Park
Lodging: yes
Tourist Office: yes (good maps)
Int'l ATM: Post Office near the north exit

Mito is the capital of Ibaraki Prefecture. It is located beyond the edge of Tokyo's suburbs. The road that angles left from the North Exit leads to downtown. The tourist office has a good English language map. I recommend picking it up before leaving the station.

During the Edo period, Mito was ruled by a junior branch of the Tokugawa family. There are historical buildings scattered throughout the city. The city's most famous tourist attraction, Kairakuen Park, is one of the newest. This park, considered one of the three best in Japan, was originally built in 1841 by Tokugawa Nariaki. Of interest is its plum forest. To get there, leave the station by the South Exit, and then walk right along the Sakuragawa (Sakura River). The walk is especially beautiful in the spring when the trees that the river is named for are in bloom.

Kairakuen Park has its own train station during the prime plum viewing times in late February and March.

Plums are the city tree, and plum trees are also located on the Kadokan Hall grounds. This was a school for boys of the Tokugawa clan. It was built next to Mito castle which no longer exists. Kadokan Hall is a ten minute walk from the North Exit of the station. In different directions from that exit are the Toshogu Shrine and the Natto Display House. Natto is a specialty of Mito.

Three JR lines serve Mito station. The Joban line runs from Ueno, Tokyo to Sendai. It runs along the coast north of Mito, and takes about an hour and a half to get to Mito by Express train. The Suigun line also runs north, but inland. This line meets up with the shinkansen at Koriyama, Fukushima. The Mito line heads west to Oyama, Tochigi. The Kashima Rinkai Railway also runs a line south to Kashima, Ibaraki in the north Tokyo suburbs.

There is also a direct bus from Narita Airport. JR, Kanto Railway, and Ibaraki-Kotsu buses are run from the railway. The map available from the tourist center gives the location of most buses from the train station.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Okcheon

Of Interest: Fairly typical small Korean town
Lodging: no
Tourist Office: no
Nearest ATM: go left, then right to get to downtown

Okcheon is part suburb of Daejeon, part small town in North Chungcheon. It is twelve minutes from Daejeon Station by train, half an hour by local bus.

If this was a big city, I would say the station is downtown. However, because the place is so small, and it lacks big, straight roads, I have to say that Okcheon Station is more on the edge of town. To get to downtown, walk left than right for about fifteen minutes. It is not far, it is just not very clear how to get there.

At least two small rivers or streams run through town, and both have paths along their banks.

If you are interested in going into the surrounding mountains (hills), take the 607 bus. This a Daejeon city bus. It passes by a couple of trail heads. Look for signs and stop where hikers get on/off.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Keisei Electric Railway

Keisei Electric Railway operates trains and buses in Tokyo and Chiba. It's main line serves eastern Tokyo and several Chiba suburbs including Ichikawa and Funabashi and ends at Narita Airport. It's second most used line runs within Chiba. It also operates a variety of short lines. It uses standard gauge trains which distinguishes it from JR.

The Keisei group includes multiple subsidiaries that serve Ibaraki as well as Chiba and Tokyo. For the most part there is a subsidiary for each line. However, the Kanto Railway runs two lines and buses between Tokyo and Ibaraki while the Tsukuba Tsukuba Kanko Railway operates a cable car, a ropeway, hotels and restaurants on Mount Tsukuba. Subsidiary lines usually use old (diesel) or very new technology. Keisei will be the main operator of the Narita New Rapid Line which will have a top speed of 160km/h. That will make it the fastest third sector railway in the Tokyo area.

It also has extensive real estate holdings. Through its majority share in the Oriental Land Company, it manages Tokyo Disneyland, and it runs the Maihama Resort Line which serves the resort area.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Toride

Of Interest: one of Tokyo's bedroom communities
Lodging: no
Tourist Office: no
Lockers: small, medium, and large for only 100 yen
International ATM: In a 7-11 to the right of the station entrance

Toride is a transport hub for commuters going into Tokyo. It is only 40 minutes to Ueno Station by Joban line Express (JR East). The station is the terminus of the Joso line of the Kanto Railway (Keisei subsidiary).

The city of Toride has several train stations. It is hard to tell Toride Station is downtown or not. There is a small department store near the station, but few buildings of note.

Update: A couple of things have made me think about this city again. Someone told me that he used to live in Toride, and today I saw a request for articles about doing "special" things in "exotic" places. I really like to feel the "ordinariness" of things. Toride is very "ordinary", but it left a vivid impression on me.

Part of my challenge for this website is to express the experience of walking out of the station. Walking to end of the road that leads away from the station, walking back, seeing certain kinds of buildings near the station, seeing other (smaller) building further away, eating at the It0-yokado, going to the 7-11, very ordinary things.

Ito-yokado is like Target, and it is places like that that show you what a country is really like.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Moriya

Of Interest: a suburb of Tokyo
Lodging: one budget hotel
Tourist Office: no
International ATM: no
Lockers: small and medium
Handicapped Accessible: yes

Moriya is at the intersection of the Tsukuba Express and Joso Line of the Kanto Railway. Originally, Moriya was the intended terminus of what became the Tsukuba Express, but Ibaraki Prefecture lobbied to have line go all the way to Tsukuba.

The shops and restaurants in the station are the focal point of the immediate area, although there may be a mall in (far) walking distance.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hakata, Fukuoka

Of Interest: temples, Kushida shrine, Canal City Hakata
Lodging: multiple
Tourist Office: yes

Hakata Station is the main JR station for the city of Fukuoka. It is also a stop on the subway, but Nishitetsu trains do not stop here.

The tourist office has extensive materials in English both on the city and Fukuoka prefecture. From the station, you can walk to the oldest Shingon temple in Japan, Tochoji. Jotenji is nearby. It was built in 1242 and may have been the orginal home of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival. This festival is currently hosted by Kushida Shrine which is a little further away, maybe a twenty to thirty minute walk. Nearby is Canal City Hakata, the biggest mall in Fukuoka.

The Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival lasts for two weeks in July. Local businesses and associations build and display floats. At the end of the festival, each group carries its float in an early morning race. Each float has a different character which reflects the group of people who built it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

discount train tickets

Seshun 18 is available during school holdays. Only 11,500 yen buys five days of travel on all local and rapid trains. Travel does not need to be on consecutive days, and more than one person can use the pass. For example, five people can use one pass to travel one day.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tokyo Station


Of Interest: Imperial Palace park, Ginza shopping district
Lodging: yes, expensive
Tourist Office: no
International ATM: post office near station (exit to the west)

Tokyo Station serves JR East trains, JR Central shinkansen, and Marounichi subway trains. It was originally built in 1914 as a way to connect lines originating Shinbashi with lines originating at Ueno. It is currently the main shinkansen station in Japan. You can go almost anywhere in Japan from here. Maybe not anywhere in Tokyo.

The original facade is still intact on the Marunouchi (west) side. Go to the Marunouchi side to go to the Imperial Palace. On the way, you can stop by one of the best English language book stores in Japan. You can see the building where the store is located in the picture above. The building has a clock and almost looks like it curves.

The Yaesu side leads to the Ginza shopping district. The main shinkansen exit leads to this side.

Walk south from either side to find cheap eats.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Shinbashi, Tokyo


Lodging: Yes
Tourist Office: Yes, in the Yurikamome line station
Of Interest: shopping, original Shinbashi Station, downtown Tokyo
International ATM: see map for 7-11's

The area around Shinbashi Station is mostly offices. An office complex has been built around the original station building. (I recommend finding it. It is a nice little area.) However, Shinbashi is within walking distance of the Ginza shopping district and the Tokyo Station area.

JR trains, the Yurikamome line, Keihin Kyuko trains, and the Ginza subway all run through Shinbashi.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ebisu, Tokyo

Lodging: yes
Tourist Office: in old brewery complex
Of Interest: Original Yebisu Brewery museum, Yebisu Garden Place
Internet Access: in Yebisu Garden Place

Ebisu is a quiet neighborhood in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. The neighborhood was named for the beer that was brewed there. Today the brewery is a museum and is surrounded by a commercial development called Yebisu Garden Place. This area contains many restaurants, a luxury hotel, two museums, a department store, some small shops, offices, and even some residences. Sapporo Beer has its world headquarters here and owns the development. The company still brews Yebisu Beer, just not here.

Ebisu Station serves two lines of JR east and the Hibuya subway line.

Shibuya, Tokyo

Of Interest: shopping, entertainment district
Lodging: multiple
Tourist Office: Probably yes, but probably unfindable
International ATM: post office (check map in the station plaza)
Computer Access: multiple internet cafes with good prices
Accessible: No, lots of barriers, lots of stairs

Shibuya is the fourth busiest railway station in Japan and the single most confusing train station that I have ever been in. Almost every line has its own little station so you have to change stations to change trains. The Ginza line is inside Tokyu Department Store. Other changes require walking through a mall.

Shibuya Station is in the middle of Shibuya Ward's central commercial district. The area is very businesslike during the day, but at night it attracts young people from all over Tokyo. Because of the variety of people the area attracts, you can find almost any kind of leisure activity. Prices are very reasonable here. If you are looking to save money by staying overnight at an internet cafe, this is the place to do it.

JR East, Tokyu Corporation, and Keio Corporation serve Shibuya Station. JR trains all come to one set of tracks, but there are two different Tokyu station areas. (They want you to walk through their store and buy something.) Three subway lines also come here. Ginza comes into the third floor of the department store while the Hanzomon and Fukutoshin lines run underground. You can change between those two lines without going through a ticket gate.

Here is a review of a Shibuya area hotel, the Granbell Hotel, by Aki, one of my favorite bloggers. Another post on the same hotel has a nice picture of a typical Japanese breakfast. Yum.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Yurikamome Line


The Yurikamome line is an elevated train that serves the artificial island of Odaiba. It starts at Shimbashi Station, runs over the Rainbow Bridge to circle Odaiba before running back north to end at Toyosu Station to the north east. The train itself is a tourist attraction as well as a means of transportation.

In 1853, Egawa Hidetatsu built six artificial island fortresses in Tokyo Bay to defend the city (then called Edo). Daiba means cannon battery, giving the islands their name. The islands were expanded in the early 1990's. Construction of new land was halted in 1995 because the area was full of vacant lots and many of the companies attempting to develop the area were bankrupt. At least one of the original islands, No 6 Battery (Dai-Roku Daiba) was not joined up with others.

The first section of the Yurikamome line did not open until 1995, the year that Odaiba's construction stopped. Before that, the Rainbow Bridge was the islands only physical connection to the mainland.

Originally, zoning only permitted commercial buildings and housing. But in the second half of the 1990's, other kinds of development were allowed. Two beaches were developed (no swimming) along with a park, an artificial onsen, malls, movie theaters, restaurants, hotels, and other entertainment facilities. Today the island is a good example of successful mixed-use development.

The most recent addition is a life-sized statue of a Gundam.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Asakusa, Tokyo


Of Interest: Senso-ji temple, Sumidagawa River cruise, Asakusa shrine
Lodging: multiple, including many budget hotels and ryokan
Tourist Office: between the metro station and Senso-ji
Lockers available: small and medium

There are two Asakusa Stations. One serves the Ginza and the Toei Asakusa subway lines as well as the Tobu Isesaki line that heads out of Tokyo into Saitam, Tochigi, and Gunma Prefectures.

The second one is a stop on the Tsukuba Express. The Tsukuba station is fully accessible with small and medium lockers. It is also fully handicapped accessible. It is an attractive station with murals of the history of the area.

And Asakusa is a good area for history buffs. Asakusa was a village in ancient times that was absorbed into old Edo. Asakusa is Tokyo's oldest entertainment district and is a good place for traditional culture. Asakusa still has geisha houses and other forms of traditional culture.
The main tourist attraction is Senso-ji, Tokyo's oldest temple. Originally built in 645, the temple and its grounds were mostly destroyed during WWII. On the temple grounds is a tree that was almost killed by a bomb during the war. The tree regrew from the burned stump, and this symbolizes the reconstruction of the temple. Asakusa shinto shrine is next to the temple.

There are also museums in the area. Tepco Asakusa (Folk Museum) is near the Tsukuba line station.

To help people get around, there is a local loop bus.

There is an excellent blog post about Asakusa at the Tokyo Dreaming blog including pictures that express the feeling of the place.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Observations on Transport Quality

I have noticed that trains are popular in Japan, but that trains there are sometimes not very comfortable. Buses are heavily used in Korea, but many definitely are not comfortable.

I think that there are a couple of reasons for this.

First, a certain percentage of passengers use public transportation because they are environmentalists. These people will use gravitate towards the most common forms of public transportation.

But I don't think that is the most important reason.

When a form of transportation is not so popular, governments try to make it comfortable to attract people. Or at least justify operating it. So in Japan buses are comfortable even when they are slow and don't go where you need them to when. Aichi Prefecture's private trains are some of the most comfortable trains in Japan. Because buses don't fill in the gaps between the train lines very well, people realistically need cars. The area is relatively prosperous, so most can afford a car. So the trains have to constantly compete.

In Korea, bus ridership apparently will never drop below a certain level, no matter how awful the buses are. Trains are another matter. So trains are comfortable. (Unless they are overbooked.)

Odawara

Lodging: multiple
Tourist Office: Yes
Of Interest: castle, shinto shrine, museums

Odawara is a small town on the edge of greater Tokyo. It is important historically with significant settlements dating from Jomon times. It lost its importance in the 19th century when Yokohama took over as the most important city in Kanagawa.

The focal point of tourist interest is Odawara Castle park. Within the park are some original castle buildings, a reconstruction of Odawara Castle, three museums, Hotoku Ninomiya-jinja shrine, and a formal garden. In the surrounding area there are some small museums dedicated to traditional industry and small historical sites. Overall, Odawara is a good place to visit to learn about life 200 years ago.

Odawara is a major transit point for people going to the Hakone hot springs and Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Six different JR lines serve Odawara station.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Jeonju

Lodging: motels
Tourist Office: Yes
Of Interest: station is at the edge of town

Jeonju is mainly famous for its festivals, especially for its annual film festival. Unfortunately, Jeonju is not very accessible by train. The train station is not within walking distance of downtown, and trains only run about once an hour. They can sell out during festivals.

Until a couple of years ago there was a Jeollabuk-do commuter train that ran from Gunsan to Jeonju, but that has been discontinued. I am curious about what happened to the people who lived near the stations.

Jeonju is a good place to visit. The tourist office has lots of information about what to do in Jeonju and about how to get there as well as about the surrounding area. Besides festivals, Jeonju is rich in museums and artists. There is also a section of traditional houses that is near a Confucian shrine that was important during the Joseon period.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Kakegawa


Lodging: one somewhat expensive hotel
Tourist Office: near castle?
Of Interest: castle

Note: There are no clean restrooms near the castle.

Kakegawa is a small town of a little over 100,000 people. JR Tokaido Shinkansen, JR Tokaido Main Line, and Tenryu Hamanako trains all stop here.

Kakegawa castle is a small building set in an attractive park next to a small river about twenty minutes from the station. The castle was rebuilt in the 80's. To get there walk straight ahead away from the station. There are signs in both English and Japanese. According to those signs, there is a tourist office close to the castle, but I did not see when I walked by. I think it is one of the souvenir shows.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Norries - small trains in Cambodia

Here is a link to a video showing locals building a train network when their government won't.

Bamboo Railway - Cambodia

Now the government is upgrading the tracks to connect the country to Thailand and Vietnam, and there are questions as to whether those trains will serve Cambodia's ordinary people.



I hope the trains continue to serve the villages in the mountains. Those areas are unlikely to see much train service, and the villagers might not be able to afford the fares.

Linimo

The Linimo is a maglev (magnetic levitation) line in suburban Nagoya. It is operated by Aichi Rapid Transit Co. It runs from the Fujigaoka subway station in Nagoya to Yakusa, a station on the Aichi Loop Line, in Toyota. It was originally built to service Expo 2005.

The line is elevated so you get nice views of the area.

Honestly, I am not impressed by maglev technology. It is expensive and breaks down easily. I am also not a big fan of taking curves at high speeds.

With a top speed of 100 km/h, the Linimo is not particularly fast. Meitetsu trains reach 120, and these trains have more comfortable interiors.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Nagoya subway system

Nagoya has a subway system with six lines, including a short connector line, Kami Ida. It is operated by the City of Nagoya Transportation Bureau. Parts of the Higashiyama and Tsurmai lines are above ground, but most of the system is below ground.

Fares run from 200 to 320 yen. The Yurika is the systems prepaid card. There are both regular and daytime only (cheaper) cards. There are joint Yurika for use on both subway system and the Aonami or Meitetsu trains. There are also multiple ride tickets and one day passes of various kinds.

Most stations in the system are not handicapped accessible.

Lines are as follows:

Higashiyama (yellow) crosses the city from east to west. Transfers to JR Kansai and Kintetsu Nagoya trains going east are possible at Hatta Station. Transfers to the Linimo maglev are possible at Fujigaoka. Transfers to multiple JR trains are possible at Nagoya Station.

Meijo (purple) makes a circle around Nagoya. Transfers to JR lines are possible at Kaneyama and Ozone Stations. The Yutorito line is also accessible from Ozone.

Meiko (purple and white) connects to Meijo line to Nagoya port becoming the Meijo line at Kanayama Station.

Kami Ida (pink) connects the Meijo line to the Meitetsu Komaki line. It only has two stops, Heian-dori and Kami Ida.

Tsurumai (blue) runs northwest to southeast. It connects to the other end of the Meitetsu Komaki line at Kami Otai Station. Tsurumai connects to the Meitetsu Toyota line at its other at Akaike Station. Connections to the JR Chuo line is possible at Tsurumai.

Sakura-dori (red) is Nagoya's newest line. It parallels the Higashiyama through most of downtown before turning south at Imaike. It turns east at Sakura-honmachi and ends a couple of stops later. Transfers to many JR lines are possible at Nagoya Station. Building on an extension to the east should start this year. Stations have elevators at some exits.

The Nagoya subway connects to three short commuter lines that are included on the subway map, but which require separate tickets: Limino, Aonami, and Yutorito.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Shin-Yamaguchi

Lodging: budget hotels
Tourist Information Office: No
Of interest: good restaurant

Shin-Yamaguchi station is in suburban Yamaguchi. In other words, JR built a station in the middle of nowhere to save money. The second nicest things about the station area is some concrete with some water running through it.

The first most nicest thing is a really good restaurant. The best restaurant that I ate at during my trip. If I am in the area, I am going to go back. Even though I hate empty suburbs.

To get to the Green Park Mare, go right on the road in front of the station. The road will curve. The good restaurant is across from the McDonalds. I had the lunch special (heegawari?) for 880 yen. The Green Park Mare serves French influenced Japanese style lunches.

Like in that show, "Queen of Lunchtime Cuisine".

Monday, August 24, 2009

Kintetsu Railway

Kintetsu Railway operates both intercity and commuter rail services in the Kansai region. Kintetsu serves Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Yoshino, Ise, and Nagoya. Kintetsu's main Osaka station is located in Namba.

Kintetsu offers two rail passes, both of which can be purchased from within Japan. 3,500 yen buys five days of unlimited rides on all of Kintetsu's ordinary trains and on the Iga Tetsudo and three vouchers. 6,800 yen buys that and unlimited rides on Mie Kotsu buses and discount coupons to area attractions. These passes are bought once you are in Japan.

The Kansai Thru Pass can also be used on ordinary Kintetsu trains running within Kansai.

Meitetsu

Meitetsu trains serve Aichi Prefecture. Meitetsu also runs buses within the same area. It primarily serves to connect Nagoya with its suburbs as well as connecting that city with Gifu in Gifu Prefecture. Don't expect to see much countryside on most of their routes. Tourists are most likely to take a Meitetsu train to or from Central Japan International Airport (Centrair) which is south of Nagoya. Other major destinations include Inuyama and Toyota. Their eastern main line reconnects with the Tokkaido line at Toyohashi. In all Meitetsu runs between eight different lines.

Meitetsu trains have electronic displays that not only give destination information, but also display the train's speed. Top speeds are 120 km hour and trains rarely run slower than 70 km/hour. Meitetsu train cars look newer than those running in other parts of Japan, although they are probably just better maintained. The train I took looked the same as the Meitetsu trains that I took four years ago when I lived in Japan.

Their website also offers information about which stations are handicapped accessible. Click on the individual line that you want to take for this information. Most stations are not accessible, but at least the information is available. First class cars have accessible bathrooms.

Some trains supposedly require reservations, however you can always buy tickets from the conductor on the train without paying a fine. One day tickets are available, but I am not sure of the price at this time. Tickets are usually cheaper

Overall, they offer good commuter rail service.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nagoya

Lodging: multiple, mostly at the back entrance
Tourist Office:
Of Interest: ramen tour restaurants in the station, international center, downtown (20 mins.)
Tourist Office: in the center of the station
International ATM: post office to the left of the Sakura exit
Internet Access: international center

Nagoya station serves three different train companies, Meitetsu, Kintetsu, and JR Central. It is about a half hour walk to downtown Nagoya (Sakae). The shinkasen to Nagoya stops here. Three lines of Nagoya's subway system stop here.

Downtown Nagoya is about a twenty minute walk from the station walking straight down Sakura-dori after leaving the station by the Sakura (main) exit. The International Center is on the way. It has a good library with books, magazines and newspapers. The center also has information about Japanese classes and some local events. To get to both the International Center and downtown, take the Higashiyama (yellow) subway line.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Osaka/Umeda

Lodging: multiple
Tourist Office:?
Of Interest: downtown Osaka
Internet Access: On the second floor in of Osaka Station in an office services store
International ATM: Osaka's main post office is nearby

Osaka Station and Hanshin's Umeda Station are basically across the street from each other in downtown Osaka. Umeda subway station is here also. Higashi-Umeda and Nishi-Umeda subway stations are connected to Osaka station through underground passage ways.

I vsisited this area a couple of times when I lived in Japan, but I did not spend much time here during my most recent trip. I remember the main kabuki theater was within walking distance, and that people were very friendly and helpful.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sannomiya (Kobe)

Lodging: multiple

When I was going from Himeji to Osaka, I was confused as to when I was actually going through Kobe. Here is what I discovered later.

Many lines connecting Kobe to other parts of Kansai do no actually stop at a Kobe station. If you want to go to Kobe, and can't find a station with Kobe in the name, look or ask for Sannomiya. This stop is a major transfer point, and I believe it is downtown. I know that there are several hotels in the area, including a couple with decent prices.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sanyo Electric Railway

Sanyo Electric Railway company operates train lines within Hyogo Prefecture. With the Hanshin Electric Railway Company, Sanyo jointly operates an express service from Himeji to Osaka`s Umeda Station. As of August 2009, ticket cost 1,200 yen. All day tickets for Sanyo trains cost 1,400 yen. All day tickets for both Sanyo and Hanshin trains are 1,700. A three day ticket costs 50,000 yen.

The Himeji train station has escalator access to the rails, but no elevator. There is no English on the information boards.

Cars are subway style. They were the only ones that I encountered in Japan that did not have the fluorescent lights on during the day. Lovers of natural light, take note.

The Kansai Thru Pass works on some Sanyo trains.

Himeji

Lodging: multiple
Tourist Office: in the station building and next to the castle park
Of interest: Himeji Castle (world heritage site)
Internet Access: In the tourist office for 100 yen/15 minutes

Himeji is mainly known for its castle, a world heritage site. The entrance to the castle area is about 20 minutes walk from Himeji station through the downtown area. Expect to spend at least an hour going through the site.

Make sure you stop by one of the tourist offices. They have maps and information in English. Also, the videos they show are informative even if you don`t understand Japanese. The tourist office near the castle rents bikes, and the tourist office in the train station rents computer access. The computers in the station are good, but you have to stand.

Himeji City is the western most extent of the Sanyo Railway, a company with mulitple lines that serves a large part of Hyogo Prefecture and parts of Osaka. All day tickets are 1400 yen. The train from Himeji to downtown Osaka is around 1200 yen.

Himeji is a stop on the Sanyo Shinkansen. This train takes three hours to get to Tokyo going one way and two hours to get to Hakata going the other. Intermediate stops include Shin-Osaka (forty-five minutes) and Kyoto (an hour and a half) to the east and Hiroshima (one hour) to the east.

Of these destinations, ShinOsaka(one hour) and Kyoto (an hour and a half) can be reached by express train. In fact, the shinkansen takes the same amount of time to get to Kyoto as the express trains do. Express trains stop at both ShinOsaka and Osaka Stations. Regular trains only stop at Osaka Station and take about an hour and a half to get there.

Express trains head to Tottori Prefecture on the opposite coast, taking an hour and a half to get to Tottori City and two hours to get to Kurayoshi (Tottori).

Local trains make frequent twenty minute trips between Himeji and Aioi in western Hyogo Prefecture.

All trains are operated by JR West.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mijushima Rinkai Railway (Kurashiki, Okayama)


The Mijushima Rinkai Railway primarily transports freight between Mijushima Port and Kurashiki Station and within the Mijushima area. However, it operates one passenger line from the start of the port to the station. It is a one car train that mostly operates on an elevated track.

Mijushima Port is considered to be one of the best night time views in Japan. An elevated train is a pretty good way to see the sights.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Okayama

Of Interest: Okayama Castle, Korakuen Garden, downtown Okayama, museums
Lodging: multiple
Tourist Office: yes
Nearest international ATM: There is a post office straight down the street in front of the station.
Nearby Internet: Yes. There are two internet cafes across the street from the extreme left of the station area.
Other transit: Okayama Electric Tramway has a stop in front of the station.

Okayama is the capital of Okayama Prefecture, and the train takes you right downtown. It takes about fifteen minutes to walk to Okayama Castle. Just walk straight from the station. This street will take you through downtown Okayama. The castle is nicknamed the Crow Castle because of its distinctive black lacquer walls. Korakuen garden is next to the castle. If you don`t want to walk, you can take a tram to both places. Okayam Orient Museum and the Okayama Perfectural Museum of Art are both near the castle area.

Okayama is a Shinkansen stop. To the west, ShinOsaka is about an hour to the east while Tokyo is about four hours away. To east Hiroshima is between 45 minutes and and hour and a half away. Hakata, on the island of Kyushu, is at the end of the line. Bullet trains take between 100 and 200 minutes to get there. (The faster times are usually by Nozomi trains which do not accept rail passes.)

Local trains take between an hour and an hour and a half to get to the northern border of Okayama Prefecture at Tsuyama. Going east, trains end just inside Hyogo Prefecture. Local trains take about an hour to get to Aioi. Both local (55 minutes) and express trains (35 minutes) go to Kamigori to the north of Aioi. Going west local trains take an hour and a half to get to the middle of Hiroshima Prefecture at Itozaki Station in the city of Mihara.

If you are going to Shikoku by train from Kanto or Kansai, you are probably going to change trains here. Both local and express trains take an hour to get to Takamatsu, the capital of Kagawa Prefecture. Kochi, the capital of Kochi Prefecture, can only reached directly by limited espress trains which take two and a half hours.

Kurashiki


Lodging: multiple
Tourist Office: in the historic district, about twenty minutes walk from the station
Of Interest: Bikan Historic District, multiple museums

I was luck enough to arrive during the Kurashiki Tenryo Summer Festival. There was a parade of groups dancing down the main street, and street food in all directions. I also got to see the Bikan Historic District at night.

The Bikan Historic District is made up of houses and rice warehouses dating from the 17th century. Several have been converted into museums. The first houses are about a fifteen minute walk down the main street from the train station.

Kurashiki`s port is served by a local train company, the Miyushima Rinkai Railway. This company mainly hauls freight, but it does run one car for passengers on one of its lines. That car does fill up at times.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Shimonoseki


Of Interest:international ferry port, Kaikyo Yume Tower
Lodging: multiple
Tourist Information Office: In the ferry port.

Shimonoseki is an industrial ferry port that also hosts passenger ferries to Korea and China. It takes less than ten minutes to walk between the train station and the ferry port. Maps in multiple languages are available in the ferry port and there is large map on the street.

The area around the port and station is gritty and industial, but there is a decent sized park in walking distance. For a view of the surrounding area, go to Kaikyo Yume Tower, the highest observatory in western Japan.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sintanjin


Lodging: many motels
Tourist Office: No
Of Interest: eclectic area
Nearest bank: across the street from the station

There are more motels and other kinds of lodging near Sintanjin Station than I have seen anywhere else in Korea. No hotels though. The closer to the station they are, the less appealing they look.

The shops and restaurants in the area are extremely eclectic while still being basically Korean. For example, there is a snail restaurant. Now one of the kim bap chains specializes in a particular kind of snail soup so I don't think that eating snails is rare in Korea. But this is the first restaurant that I have seen that has more than one dish using the creatures. If you are looking for some specialty from another part of Korea, this is the place to go.

Sintanjin used to be its own little town before it was absorbed into Daejeon. Maybe that is why it is so eclectic. Maybe there is just a wide range of people for the local industries.

The area that I am talking about is in a series of roads that are parallel to the one that runs in front of the station. The most attractive motels are on the second road in.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Osan

Lodging: motels in every direction
Tourist Office: no, but there is a decent tourist map at the station
Of interest: downtown Osan
Nearest bank: Nonghyup is straight down the road in front of the station

I have been to Osan three times, but every time I forget my camera. So sorry no pictures. Hopefully, I will remember next time because Osan actually has some pretty interesting parts. (Although if you look at the crappy picture I took of Sintanjin, maybe that is not such a bad thing.)

Several historical sites are located in Osan. The closest to the station is a Confucian shrine, one of two major ones in Korea. Someone who is good at reading maps and has a good memory can walk there in less than 45 minutes. Other sites are further away, but Osan is small enough that a taxi ride shouldn't be too expensive.

I also climbed to the top of a hill that is close to the center of town.

Osan is a working class town with a large foreign population. (Foreign meaning non-Korean.) There is a Central Asian/Russian restaurant to the left of the station and something else to the right.

Osan station is mainly served by subways and commuter trains that follow the subway route. There are a couple of trains daily to Busan and a couple to Seoul.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Nonsan


Lodging: motels
Tourist Office: No
Of Interest: downtown Nonsan, large covered market

It is surprising how quiet Nonsan is considering that it is so near Daejeon. The main attraction is a multi street covered market that covers downtown. There are few chain stores in the town, probably because the market sells everything.

The motels don't look great, but they are right by the train station.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Jeongeup


Lodging: multiple motels
Tourist Office: Yes
Of interest: river walk, Jeongeupsa Park, Chungreolsa temple, Jeongeup Hyanggyo

The name Jeongeup comes from a Baekje era song, one of only five songs that survived to today. The country of Jeongeup is full of historical monuments. In the city itself there are two areas of interest.

Turning right when you leave the station will take you to a small river with paths along both banks. Go left to walk into the city, walk right to walk away. If you walk left along the river for about twenty-five minutes, you will come to Jeongeupsa Park which contains the Jeongeupsa Art Center.

Turn left when you leave the station and then right at the first major street will take you toward City Hall. Chungryeolsa and the Jeongeup Hyanggyo are behind the city hall. Hyanggyo were Joseon-era public elementary schools.

I didn't actually see any of the above. I walked along the river and then through the city instead. It is possible to walk from one end of the city to the other in less than an hour. There are not a lot of sidewalks, but drivers are very polite to pedestrians. I did find the town's central "pedestrian" area. Unlike most pedestrian areas, this one formally let cars drive down it. But there were actually less cars than on some other "pedestrian" areas in Korea because the road was curved like a river. It was also painted blue. There was a exhibition of traditional Korean painting along the road.

I had a hard time finding a restaurant to eat at, but once I did, I was very happy. I just went to a local kim bap place where I had excellent turnip green (yeol mu) bibimbap. One of the things that I like about Jeolla-do is that you can go to the simplest restaurant and eat better than at an expensive big city restaurant.

Pyeongtaek

Of interest: Train station mall is a good place to hang out
Lodging: several motels and a hotel
Tourist Office: No

Pyeongtaek has a new station that is more than a station. In the building are several restaurants, a department store and a CGV movie theater.

Current movie times are on Nate (in Korean). A listing of movie posters with their names and in English and Korean can be found on The Yeogiyo.

The US army is in the process of moving the Yongsan army base to the area. The new constuction is probably in anticipation of this move as well as being a response to economic growth in the area. The station is right downtown, and right next to both bus stations, so it is a convenient location for development.

The station exits are numbered because this is a subway station as well as a regular train station. The main exit is Exit 1. To get to downtown, walk straight ahead. Buses to Seoul leave from a terminal that is just to the right of the main station. A large collection of motels and one hotel are on that same road after the intercity bus terminal.

Exit 2 leads to a residential neighborhood.

The new station is a good place to go when the weather is bad. The prices are cheaper than in Seoul, and there are some restaurants that you don't usually see outside of the major cities. There is a hamburger place and several Japanese restaurants. You can decent white bread in the department store basement.

Pyeongtaek is about an hour from Seoul on mugungwha, saemaeul, and commuter trains. Going north you can choose between trains that go to Seoul or Yongsan stations. Trains go to all southern lines, that is to Busan, Gwangju, Yeosu, Mokpo, and all stations in between. The Janghang Line to Chungnam (Onyang, Hongseong, Seocheon, etc.) stops here. The commuter train takes this route, ending three stops of the main line at Sinchang. These trains stop at the Cheonan-Asan KTX station (listed as Asan Station for non-KTX trains). If you are going past Daejeon, it may be quicker to change trains to a KTX train here. Please check the link in the sidebar for current schedules.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Gyeryeong


Lodging: Not next to the station, but lots of motels in the town itself
Tourist Office: No
Of Interest: Town of Gyeryeong
Computers in station: No

The town of Gyeryeong is a suburb of Daejeon. It is a small group of apartments surrounded by mountains. There is a HomePlus and a wide variety of restaurants. The train station is a little to the north of the town. To get to lodging from the train station, take bus 202 from in front of the station parking lot.

The KTX trains go from here to Yongsan in Seoul and south to Gwangju and Mokpo.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Iksan

Lodging: No
Tourist Office: No
Of Interest: peach jam

Iksan is the point where the Jeolla and Janghang lines meet the Honam Line. The most interesting thing near the Iksan train station is the covered market. I went in the early evening when it radiated the color of sunset.

But what I remember most is peach jam. I have been looking for peach jam everywhere. I used to be able to find all kinds of good jam in the basement of the Galleria department store in Daejeon, but not anymore. The grocery stores have strawberry and grape which I don't like. The snooty bakery downtown has things like mangopassionfruit (alloneword). In Busan I found fig. (Note: the peach jam was gone the last time I was there.)

Iksan is about an hour and forty-five minutes from Yongsan (Seoul) and fifty minutes from Seo-Daejeon by KTX. Those times are three hours + for other trains to Yongsan and an hour+ for Daejeon. Going the other way, it takes an hour to go to Gwangju and an hour and a half to go to Mokpo by KTX. By Saemaeul or Mugungwha, it takes 75-90 minutes to Gwanju with a trip to Mokpo taking about two hours. There is also a line to Yeosu that is Saemaeul/Mugungwha only that takes two hours to get to Suncheon and two and a half to arrive in Yeosu.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Onyang-oncheon (Asan)

Lodging: Yes, walk to the left when leaving the station
Tourist Office: Yes, in the square in front of the station
Of Interest: Multiple spas based around the local hot springs, City Tour (really county tour, on weekends)
ATM: To get to the nearest station, walk straight out from the station
Computer in station: No

Oncheon is Korean for hot springs. Onyang oncheon is one of the more famous hot springs areas in Korea. It is also one of the hottest. The local hotels in the area all have hot springs in their basements. There is also a famous sauna near the train station. The train station and the hot springs are at the edges of Onyang's small downtown. There is a pedestrian area that starts one block north of the station.

The tourist office is in the plaza to the right of the train station. A tour of the Asan area leaves from this plaza on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The most significant stops are at the local folk museum and a confucian shrine which is partly dedicated to Yi Sun Shin, an admiral who is famous for repeatedly defeating the Japanese when they attempted to invade Korea between 1592 and 1598. He grew up in Asan. There are several monuments dedicated to him in the area as well as a yearly festival.

Onyang-Oncheon is on the Janghang Line that runs south from Seoul and then curves west at Cheonan to run through South Chungcheong Province to the coast then south to Gunsan, then east again to Iksan where it turns north to Daejeon (Seodaejeon Station). The line almost makes a circle around the Geum River. If you are going to Iksan or Daejeon, it is quicker to go to Cheonan-Asan (KTX) or Cheonan Stations (Saemaueul and Mugungwha) and change trains. Cheonan is fifteen minutes away, Pyeongtaek half an hour, and Suwon forty-five minutes. This trains stops at two locations within Seoul, Yeongdeungpo (an hour and fifteen minutes) and Yongsan (an hour and a half). These are most of the stops on this train. Korail assumes that people will take the metro within cities in Gyeonggi-do.

Going away from Seoul, Yesan is fifteen minutes away. From here there start to be significant differences between the time by mugungwha and samaeul as the mugunghwa stops at some of the smaller locations that are served by the metro closer to Seoul. Hongseong is half an hour by saemeul and forty-five minutes by mugunghwa. Trains to Daecheon take an hour to an hour an a half to get to that coastal town. Janghang used to be the end of the Janghang line, and it takes between an hour and a half and two hours to get there. Add fifteen minutes to that time to get to Gunsan.

Onyang-Oncheon is also on line 1 of the Seoul Metro. This line runs alongside the Janghang line from here to Yongsan Station. Sinchang, one stop away, is the end of the line and the location of Soon Chun Hyang University. (I used to work for them.)