Friday, June 21, 2013

Bullet Train and Tokyo Hotel

We were duly warned – hotel rooms in Tokyo are small. As with homes on real estate websites, the hotel room looked much bigger in the picture. It looked as if there were three beds in the picture. In our room, though, there were two beds and a futon. Yes, I can grasp the concept that the futon will turn into a bed, but there were only two PJs, two pairs of slippers, and two towels. At 11 PM with two tired family members, we just squeezed. When I asked this morning, the man at the front desk said “so sorry.” I just wanted a note in our record for Tuesday night when we check in again (probably super late) so we don’t have to call the front desk to have the room made up.

Our hotel is 25 stories high, with a restaurant on the top floor. Our room was on the 23rd floor. I can see squeezing all of us and our luggage into the elevator will be a challenge.

When we checked out this morning, we left two suitcases behind and put everything we’ll need for the next four days in one suitcase. What are the chances we actually packed what we need? Yeah, I’m willing to bet we left something important behind since we packed in such a rush. (Turns out the only thing I missed were my running clothes because I bumped into a local race, that I was too late to register for anyway. Not bad!)

We had over an hour left after checking out until we were meeting our friends Masumi and Hiroko. Toting the one suitcase and our carry-on entertainment packs, we walked around the Shinjuku section of Tokyo. In that hour we managed to buy a pencil sharpener for Ashley (she is doing a lot of drawing on this trip), a lens cap attachment for my camera (the camera I bought last week did not come with a strap for the lens cap and I’m afraid of losing it), and chocolate croissants for breakfast (it is vacation after all).

We met up with Masumi at the train station on time. Whew! We didn’t get lost. From the Shinjuku Station we took a train to the Tokyo Station. At the Tokyo Station we caught a bullet train to Osaka. The one thing we have gathered from this experience is that we are going to get so lost next week when it is up to me to navigate the station. Yes, most stations have the phonetic spelling of the stops in letters I understand, but there are just so many lines and so many stations and so many people – most of whom know where they are going.

We were a few minutes early for our train. When the train arrives in the station the passengers disembark. Then the cleaning crew pops on the train in their pristine pink (for women) and turquoise (for men) uniforms and clean all 16 cars. They turn each row (about 20) around so they are facing the direction of travel. They use a carpet sweeper, pick up trash and replace all of the head rest papers. Then the next group of travelers hop on the train to their reserved seats. Very organized. This all takes place in less than 20 minutes. The Japanese are notorious for having trains that run exactly on time. This all runs like clockwork.

Don and I were most impressed by the uniforms. The agents wear the same uniform, including gloves. The women look like stewardesses out of the 1950s.

The seats feel like an airplane with the tray table in front of us and arm rests between us. The seating arrangement is seats A, B, and C together, then the aisle, and seats 4 and 5. There is an amazing amount of leg room. I wish airplanes were this spacious. There is a charging station in each section of seats.

Two and a half hours later we should arrive in Osaka. Other than hearing about the Osaka Castle, and being told they keep right instead of left (which will make me feel less confused) on escalators, I don’t know much about the city. On the one hand, I should use this time to read the tour book (there is no free wifi on the train, you have to subscribe to the local internet provider, and Comcast was not on the list); on the other hand, a typhoon is in the forecast with a 90% chance of rain and possible flooding, so I don’t know how much we will actually see. From what we’ve heard, this is supposed to be a bad one with another one coming up right behind it.  We’ll see what happens.

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