Traveling by train is definitely an easy, clean, convenient and very reliable way to go. The biggest plus, of course, is seeing the scenery along the way, the small towns and villages, and the people traveling with you.
The stations are very well organized with entry points and the platforms well displayed in Japanese and English – not to say we didn’t sometimes get confused! Buying tickets from the machines is easy with an English option. Best of all are all the markings on the platforms indicating where to stand, which queue to get in, and the direction of the queue. Lines are not to be crossed! not that anyone says anything!
From cruise ports we caught JR express and regular trains to visit some of the sights. Most of these local trains are used by school kids in their navy or black uniforms with their backpacks and ubiquitous smart phones. It is fun to watch them giggle, debate, flirt and interact with one another. Also commuters and others traveling locally.
We caught a Shinkansen (bullet) train from Toyko to Toyama which was quite a thrill and difficult to believe that we were traveling at almost 200mph. The Hida Express from Toyama to Tokayama took us up and through the mountains at a much more sedate pace.
From Takayama back to Toyama we took a couple of local trains which stopped at every station, but gave us the opportunity to see people’s back yards, their gardens, the scenery. The scenery was beautiful, even on a rainy morning where the mountain tops were bathed with clouds and fog hung in the valleys. Even though the architecture is different, from the very beginning Japan has reminded me very much of Germany or Switzerland. Nothing seems to go to waste; land is not wasted by growing grass. Where there is a patch of soil, it is planted with either vegetables, rice or flowers (more of the former). Shrubs and trees are pruned and formed. Garden implements are neatly stacked beside the house, firewood is neatly stacked, and washing dries on lines. Also the people – the women, especially, dress very fashionably and smartly, and in the cities, the uniform for men is slim-legged dark suits. There is NO trash laying around ANYWHERE! and it is also very difficult to find a trash receptacle. One carries it. Even though there are many eateries, most people seem to sit and eat their food, rather than walking around drinking and eating as one sees in the U.S.
And then there are the toilets! Spotless – everywhere! Warm seats, bidets, you name it! These are on one of the Shinkansens.
…and the cleaning squad who bow to the Shinkansen as it arrives, and to the passengers when they get off the train after cleaning it.
We took the Thunderbird express from Toyama to Kanazawa, the Shinkansen Tsurugi from Kanazawa to Kyoto, and the Shinkansen Hikari (“light”) from Kyoto back to Shinagawa (Tokyo). Because we hadn’t had enough train travel, and because I didn’t buy the very first fans I saw, we jumped a local train from Shinagawa back to Kamakura to find the little shop selling the best fans I saw during our time in Japan!