We concluded our stay at Kijitei Hoeiso pleasantly with a great breakfast and some good Japanese conversations with other guests. It really is amazing how great their hospitality is, simply whole orders of magnitude above any American establishment. If I ever return to Japan, I do intend to stay in another one, though perhaps at a different time of year. It is much chillier here then I anticipated.
So upon leaving the Ryokan we took a shuttle bus back to Hakone-yumoto station to catch a train to Odawara, which is the main hub for this portion of Japan. Its one of the smaller train stations among the hubs, roughly on par with Jamaica station in Queens, thourghly clean and much much nicer.
Trains in Japan serve a great purpose, much more so then even in New York. Frankly my Japanese standards, Americans know nothing about trains in big cities. If you ever get a chance, look up the train and subway maps for the Tokyo area, they are insane, but surprisingly very easy to navigate. Most of the trains in Japan are run by the JR, Japan Railways Group, and yes, it is true, you can set your watch by them. Basically think of the MTA in New York, on steroids with none of the corruption, and you get what JR is. They even offer the JR Rail Pass which allows me the ability to prepay a set amount and ride their trains for free. Natives are not allowed to use this pass, it is only for tourists for a set amount of time. I paid $500 for mine and it is good for two weeks.
But to get back to the main point, as you ride the train through Tokyo you will hardly see any cars on the road, especially in the city. Contrasts this with Manhattan where despite the mass transit infrastructure, people still insist on driving cars to and from work.
So from Odawara I was able to use my rail pass and take the train with Sam and Dave to Tokyo station. This station, as you would expect, is huge and remarkably busy, though it is not the busiest, that is Shinjuku. Here is a shot from within Tokyo terminal as we head for the Yamanote line (green). The Yamanote line is by far Tokyo’s busiest train line. Completed about 30yrs ago it encircles the entire district of Tokyo, it is also called “The Circle Line” by tourists. Our goal was to take this train from Tokyo terminal to Ueno station.
We had timed our trip to avoid the rush hour. Myself and Dave actually rode this line four years ago during rush hour just to see what its like; I almost got trampled, in other words, it was fun as hell.
Our reason for going to Ueno, was to catch the Joban line and head north to Mito, where Dave and Sam live and teach English in High School. Now, going this far north (2hrs) and given the stations I was seeing along the way, I had thought Mito would be a very small station in the middle of nowhere. I was quite wrong. As Sam explained to me, Mito is the capital of Ibaraki-ken (Ibaraki prefecture) and so is a very large town with everything you would expect, including a kick ass train station.
And as it turned out, Mito is a very large city (by American standards anyway). We immediately went to the post office which doubles as the nations largest bank. Its really weird, but their systems are a lot different then in America. Main reason for this was I have come to understand that Travelers Cheques are, in fact, totally useless in Japan, so I wanted to cash what I had left in and keep the yen. Honestly, people dont tend to mug each other, so the biggest risk is I would forget my purse somewhere. So after this we went off to Sam and Dave’s place. Its quite cozy.
They have two cats that were formally strays which Sam found and had nursed back to health: Ashes and Tuna. Very adorable cats who love playing, prolly the most social cats I have met. I have heard stories that there are a lot of stray cats in parts of Japan, and Mito seems to see this as well; we heard several stray cats outside during the night.
It is amazing how comfortable a futon can be, I have now slept in one three straight nights and I will sleep in them for at least the next week or so, unless I break down and go to a hotel. But I am looking forward to a tour of Mito tomorrow, i think it will be a great time and I am hoping I will get a chance to tour Dave’s school.
The big problems right now are the weather mostly, its been total crap, cloudy, rainy, and cold. Its not cold enough where my jacket isnt enough, but I was seriously hoping for some better weather, especially when I return to Tokyo next week to explore its various places for myself. I am also starting to consider doing laundry, I figure I can find a decent coin place in the area and chill there. The question is whether to do it Hikone or Mito.
I will say this, much as I like Japanese culture, the whole bath thing is very hard for me. I just am so used to my showers, its hard to really get into a groove. All in all, I am liking my trip so far, though the real challenge will start April 7, when I embark on a long solo train journey into the southern area of Japan, where hopefully it will be warmer, though Weather.com is not inspiring me.