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Published: December 17th 2006
The wideview Hida JR train
This sleek number took us up the mountians to Takayama. The big windows were a treat as we crossed and recrossed the rivers.
And you thought you didn't like trains - well you need to explore Japan by rail and you will be amazed!
We discovered the ultimate method of travel - Japan Rail of course using economical JR passes available only to foreign tourists and that have to be purchased before leaving Australia. For under $500 Australian dollars each of us had unlimited travel on all but the very fastest Nozomi trains on all JR train tracks.
Thanks to Col-san, our train buff, the 14 day rail pass took us over thousands of kilometres of Honshu. The Shinkansen ('bullet trains') crisscross the country on their special tracks at break neck speeds (nothing slower that 200km an hour thanks). Our passes were also valid on local JR trains around cities and the JR Miyajima ferry.
They are sleek, streamlined, comfortable, spotlessly clean and unbelievably punctual. Their comfort is akin to business class air travel. The staff who push the food and beverage trolleys, cleaners, ticket collectors and above all, those who ensure the trains arrive and leave on time are unfailingly courteous and proud of the system.
We couldn't help notice the contrasts between Japanese and Australian trains.
Every train was different and for long distance travel these seats were tops.
quite taken with the white gloved staff who pointed towards the trains as they arrived and left as well as the drivers and assistants who again pointed at every sign and location as the trains sped by. It was quite a spectacle, but very impressive.
In 14 days, we experienced only one late train but the platform indicator clearly stated it was 3 minutes late. That was so unusual; we had to record it on our cameras!
It was a pleasure reclining in these luxurious conditions next to panoramic windows. Col made it even more special through his timetabling expertise and seat reservations. We'll do it again one day.
A wise decision was made to base ourselves in Kyoto, the former capital, to enable us to see in some detail the rich, often untouched culture, architecture and history of this amazing city. It was also an excellent base from which to speed all over the island via our JR passes. Whilst Col and Lyn were off exploring Miho Museum we spent a day traveling to Hiroshima, a sobering and memorable experience and the island of Miyajima, an island in the Seto Sea and one of Japan’s most
You could stand behind the driver and enjoy the scenery as it flashed past
Another side trip took place when we all went by train to Himeji Castle and then on to Kurashiki, a picturesque area along a willow lined canal where the old town has largely preserved its original character.
We had travelled along the main transport arteries from Tokyo to Kyoto and Hiroshima, along the endless chain of cities and suburbs of neat grey two storied houses, each with its own TV aerial! Always in the distance were the green hills and snow capped mountains, venerated by the Japanese and home to small villages, national parks and temples.
At last after leaving Kyoto we visited one of the most remote and holy of those mountains - Mt Koya - the birthplace of Esoteric Buddhism in Japan in 880AD. Visitors to the town of Koyasan can have an unforgettable stay at one of the 100 temple lodgings, sleep on tatami mats, eat vegetarian food served by the monks and pray at the temple shrine at 6am when, in our case, the temperature was hovering at around 0 degrees!
Our Wakayama Interpreter service guides were three local men of about our age and interests - kayaking, skiing, pottery and
Or you could...
sleep the time away in comfort!
minding grandchildren etc. They walked us through the towering cedar forests dotted with wooden temples, some white, some orange, and through the cemetery where the devout have been buried since the 9th century. They and many others like them in Japan give of their time freely to walk and talk with foreign tourists in Kyoto, Nara, and elsewhere to explain and help others understand their culture - and to practice their own English!
The Buddhist prayer service, in the dark temple where lanterns lit up the golden interior, the chanting monks and the heady smell of incense is a lasting memory of an older Japan.
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