Sunday, March 26, 2006

Navigating the Trains, part IV

This was my fourth cross country trip in Japan. The first was when I first arrived in Japan (eons ago), then 10 days later I did it again while on my way to Saipan, then on New Year’s Eve I took an overnight train cross country.

You’d think I’d have it down pat by now. Not so much.

Everything went well until we boarded the train. I bought the tickets a few days ago at the station office. It was no problem. There is a direct limited express train between Takaoka and Nagoya and the service ends at Nagoya, so there was no danger of falling asleep and missing our stop. It all seemed super convenient.

Several different trains make the journey each day. We decided to take the 12:01 because it would get to Nagoya around 3 PM. That was late enough for us to be able to check into our hotel, but still early enough for us to go exploring Nagoya.

So like I’ve already mentioned, we threw our bags onto the train at 12:00 and waived goodbye to everyone as the train pulled out of the station at 12:01.

That is where the fun began.

We bought a non-reserved ticket, which limited our seating choices to two non-smoking cars and one smoking car. We boarded one of the non-smoking cars, but the only car with an open seat was the smoking car, so we had to drag our 8 bags through the non-smoking car to get to our seats in the smoking car.

I had to carry the bags through the train one at a time, so we were halfway to Kanazawa before we were settled and I could sit down. I managed to fit all but three of our bags in the overhead compartments. The other three wouldn’t fit, so I piled them up on the two seats behind us.

Cough, Cough, Smoking Section, Cough, Cough.

Things were fine, cough cough, for the first two hours of our trip. Things got interesting as we neared Maibara Station, which is a station where a lot of people disembark to connect to the Shinkansen (bullet train).

One of the conductors started asking the people seated near us if they owned the luggage that I had piled up on the seat behind us. We admitted that it was ours, but our lack of Japanese and his lack of English led to a very awkward situation.

He told us to wait a moment and then he walked off. When he returned, he spent about 5 minutes contemplating what to do, then finally rearranged the bags so that they only took up on seat. Then he told me to sit down next to them. A few minutes later, a Japanese man came along and took my seat next to Emily.
That was Embarrasing Moment #1. Embarassing Moment #2 happened when we pulled into Maibara Station.

The train pulled into the station, dropped off everybody that was connecting to the Shinkansen, then everybody on the train flipped there seats around to face the other direction, and we pulled out of the station heading in the same direction we had just come from.

I’ve noticed that most trains have seats that can swivel around to face either front or back, but I always assumed it was so that a group of four people could swivel around some of their chairs and face each other. I guess not. I guess they swivel because in Japan it is absolutely necessary to face in the direction that you are traveling. To do otherwise would shame your ancestors.

Emily and I did not know this. It took us a good five minutes to figure out that we had to swivel our chairs around. By then everybody on the train was already happily sitting, facing in the opposite direction, and waiting to see what the two gaijin would do.

Then Emily started to panic because we started moving in the direction we had just come.

Lord, give me strength.

So anyways, I have a feeling that embarrassing moment #2 might have caused embarrassing moment #3. We were pretty startled from the seat turning episode and we did it pretty hastily. In the ruckus, Emily managed to lose our train tickets.

I don’t know how it happened. One moment they were in her jacket pocket. Next moment they weren’t. We still haven’t found them.

I’m not really too sure when we noticed they were missing. I think it was when Emily asked me to look on the ticket to see when we arrived in Nagoya. I told her to look at the tickets herself, since they were in her pocket.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

This wouldn’t have been too big a deal if it hadn’t been for the ticket checker guy. Everyone knows about the ticket checker guy. You have to show him your tickets and then he stamps them.

Never mind that we had already showed our tickets to the ticket checker guy. That fact is inconsequential. All that mattered was that we didn’t have our tickets when he came around this time.

I was mortified.

I did my best to explain that we lost them, but I’m not sure if he believed us because he spent a good ten minutes shaming us in front of everyone on the train.

But as with all things, our shaming came to an end.

Getting off at Nagoya was thankfully easy because the service ended there. So instead of the customary 60 seconds to get off the train, we had about 90.

Getting through the ticket gates was easy. We just went to ticket window and told them that we lost our tickets. They asked us where we got on. I told them one station over. They only charged us a few hundred yen.

And that was my final train adventure in Japan.

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