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Saturday, April 23, 2005

Bullet! (APR-23)

Today, I reminisced about my first day (first night actually) here in
Japan. I'll tell you why later.

It was a little unfortunate that I was not able to book the morning flight
from Manila then, which means I would have arrived here before 3pm, and I
would have gotten on the direct bus from Narita airport upto the Hon-Atsugi
train station by 6pm. But it was unfortunate that, I got the afternoon
flight, it got delayed, and there was no direct bus anymore, except to
Shinjuku which was in Tokyo, and from there my adventure began! And in
Shinjuku, I was just trying to follow the signs while pulling and dragging
around my big maleta, my heavy backpack, and my laptop bag. I had to
immediately board the train, and so on.

Anyway, I remember that on that evening a very nice Japanese man
voluntarily helped me out and gave me instructions, in English pa. Oh how
very helpful the Japanese are, and I thought that incident was
one-in-a-thousand, but after 7 full days here, I have realized it is quite
a fact. Of course, if they can't help, they can't, but so far, it has not
been a problem. Today, I was at the same station, and boarding almost the
very same train!

At the Hon-Atsugi station, I remembered just going out into the downtown
area at a little past midnight, not knowing where I was really, which
direction was north, and not knowing yet by face who was picking me up. A
friend of mine, Rad, gave me a Japanese phone card for this trip, but I had
trouble using it as the instructions were in Japanese (fast
Japanese!) Fortunately, I had some coins so I was able to call
Koizumi-san, and so she found me with the big maleta at a telephone
booth. Oh how memorable that telephone booth is! I think I took a picture
of it, and it's posted at http://ronjie.tripod.com/nihon2005misc . Today,
I again saw that telephone booth for the second time in broad daylight,
shimmering in the warm sun. Haha, reminiscing daw ba talaga!

On that night I immediately recalled that it was right-hand drive here
(compared to left-hand drive in the Philippines and in the United States),
because as I was about to board Koizumi-san's car I noticed it was the
driver's side!

On that night, I asked Koizumi-san that we drop by somewhere to get dinner,
and she suggested 7-Eleven, and 7-Eleven it was. And I noticed that there
is another 7-Eleven closer to the apartment where I'm staying right
now! And now, I notice that there are much more 7-Elevens around, as well
as AM/PM, Lawson, etc. All convenience stores. Immediately I wondered why
there aren't as much 7-Eleven type stores in Manila--ah, but we have lots
of sari-sari stores. One store near our Manila home, the Dela Rosa Bakery,
most probably because a nearby convenience store has opened the market for
late night consumers, has since operated a 24-hour store of its own to get
a share of the market. By the way, I saw a MINI-STOP convenience store
here today! I thought that was just the Gokongwei's convenience store
chain in the Philippines. Apparently, Mini-Stop is global!

And now to today...

Today, I took a train to Shinjuku, and then after realizing that it was a
local train (meaning it will stop at every station), I transferred trains
for an express train. Upon arriving at Shinjuku station, I went out, saw a
tiny little glimpse of metropolitan Tokyo, and then I got a ticket again
using the automated ticket machine (which has a button to convert the
Japanese instructions into English) and went to the Tokyo station. From
the Tokyo station...

I took a bullet train to Utsunomiya! I was headed for Nikko!

Now how did that happen? My original plan really was to go to Yokohama and
Kamakura this Saturday, which are both in the same prefecture/province as
Atsugi. But one of my bosses (who lived here in Japan for around 12 years)
suggested that I should visit try to visit Nikko because there might still
be some cherry blossoms there, because they seem to blossom late than is
forecasted for this year. I wanted to see the cherry blossoms! Actually,
I decided I should go to Nikko just this morning. Why?

Last night, I went home at around 9pm, but I forgot to get a guide from the
internet on how to go to, and where to go to in Nikko. So I went pa to the
university this morning (got there before 9am) to download and print, and
to study the route. Anyway, I finished up at the university quite late
already -- around 925am, and I went na to the Hon-Atsugi station. I
thought that, wait a minute, Yokohama and Kamakura are just nearby, I could
easily visit those places anytime, so why not Nikko? ...Because it's too
far, it's too expensive and... But for the chance to see cherry
blossoms? I changed my mind!

I got to Nikko at around 320pm na, though...

Well how did that happen? Well first of all, upon arriving at Shinjuku I
still had to find out how to get to Tokyo. Yeah, I know I should take the
JR Chuo line but again there's the Rapid Express, Express, Local
train... What the!? The JR (Japan Rail) train system seems to have
different fares for Rapid Express, etc, compared with the Odakyu system
(which I take from Shinjuku to Hon-Atsugi). So, as Giang-san (and future
Giang-sensei) said, you try and try until you get it right! So I took a
chance, boarded a train, and didn't have any problem at all. (As
Pillai-san would always say, "No problem... No problem.")

Now I'm thinking, while it might be confusing for first timers, it's
actually a convenient thing to have these Express kind of trains. Then I
thought, isn't that not beneficial to the train company because.. I dunno,
some people could get lost and they could be just going in and out of
trains? Then again, I thought actually it's better for them also, because
the faster you can transport the passengers, the better. Plus, you could
separate those who are going to farther distances from those who are going
to just a few stations ahead. Thus, hindi ganon kasik-sik sa mga stations,
sa mga trains, etc. Well, mga naiisip ko lang yan, I don't really know.

Ok, so I took some time at Shinjuku station. I also took sometime at Tokyo
station trying to find out how to get on a Shinkansen, their "Super
Express" train, their "bullet train." If I remember correctly, I got on
the Shinkansen past 1230pm na yata! Actually, I ate a sandwich muna kasi
because I was so hungry na! So far, here's how it went:

815 leave apartment. 840-925 university. 925 to ~950 university to
Hon-Atsugi. ~1000 to ~1050 to Shinjuku. ~1200 at Tokyo. 1200-1230
sandwich and cold green tea for lunch. 1230 to 130 bullet train to
Utsunomiya. 130-140 I tried to figure out how to get to Nikko. It turns
out that the train just left at around 135pm, and the next train was at 230
pa! Because it was a Saturday I think, there's no 200 train. Oh
well... 40 minutes to wait... I got milk and another sandwich for my
lunch part 2. Finally, I got to Nikko at 320pm na nga. Shocks!

Oh well, all is good.

I saw the Mini-Stop actually during my train ride from Utsunomiya to Nikko.

The bullet train wasn't what I expected but... Fortunately, I got on a
double-decker bullet train. Unfortunately, I was seated at the lower deck,
for which the view was obstructed by walls on both sides of the rail of the
train!

On my way home, it was a single-level bullet train. Unfortunately, it was
night time already! Mega- =( !!!

I expected that the bullet train would be much faster. It is quite fast
compared with, say the MRT or LRT in Manila, or the other trains here
(which are similar in nature to our MRT and LRT trains.) But I thought
wala ka na talaga makikita. This was what I felt from the inside. But at
the Shinkansen station, a bullet train passed by, and boy was it fast
nga! I mean, for something so big and long, and staying on the ground, to
move that fast -- that's very fast! A 1.6L car could go faster than the
bullet train, but, look Ma! No hands! Between Tokyo and Utsunomiya, we
only made three stops for a ~45 minute ride. =)

The trip from Utsunomiya to Nikko was kinda slow, it took around 40+
minutes being a local train. But, after seeing very urbanized Tokyo and
even Atsugi, ah, here was a welcome break. Lots of trees (looking like
forests actually), lots of mountain views (there are views of mountains
from here in Atsugi but I think they're inhabited already), and then no
buildings taller than 3 stories... mostly 2 level residential homes,
mostly Japanese in architecture... Actually, downtown Utsunomiya looked
very much like a prosperous city, looking from the train station. But upon
leaving the station, the view drastically change from urban to
country! It's like changing channels on the radio!

Oh and I saw some cherry blossoms, but only in pockets (maybe one blooming
out of how many lined up, some have bloomed much earlier). But I saw them
nonetheless.

From the JR station pa lang in Nikko, old school na kagad ang dating, yung
station pa lang. Except for the quite significant amount of tourists
walking the main road of Nikko, this could have well been a "wild, wild
west" kind of town that has survived through to the 21st century. But ah,
there are old Japanese buildings and houses here which are very interesting.

I learned from the guide I downloaded that there are very important shrines
in Nikko, like the Toshogu Shrine, etc. Also, a 40 to 50 minute bus ride
from Nikko is Lake Chuzenji, and the nearby Kegon Falls. I wanted to visit
all of those places.

The guide said that the walk from the JR Nikko station to the bus stop
closest to the Toshogu Shrine would take about 20 minutes, and that the bus
would take about 10 minutes. It took me 25 minutes--it was kind of uphill,
plus my shoelaces kept untying itself. (On my way back, it took me 23
minutes, this was downhill, and I got stopped by a pedestrian traffic light
and I tied my shoelaces once.)

So I got to the bus stop closest to the Toshogu Shrine---actually it was a
bust stop closer to a famous Japanese landmark as well: the Shinkyo
Bridge. It is an sacred old Japanese bridge, which was recently restored
(or recreated?). It's quite nice. 100 Yen to cross it. No thanks, a view
from the adjacent modern steel-girder bridge is enough!

I then went to the big complex that enclosed the Shrines - the "Nikko World
Heritage Park." Oh just check out the pictures. Nag-donate na naman ako
sa mga Hapon--1300 Yen to go around the Toshogu Shrine. Check out the
pictures na lang. I could have almost gone without it, but... Nah, it's
worth it na din. Check out the pictures na lang! =)

There, I went up quite a number of stair steps! Because probably it was
cold, I got quite winded at the top, and my hips hurt on the way back
down! May nakasalubong akong matandang Kano, gusto ko sanang sabihin,
"Good luck sa'yo, Tatang!" Truly, going there, you wouldn't expect it was
that difficult. That walk up the steep stairs was going to the tomb of one
of the more prominent emperors/shoguns, Ieyasu.

Check out the pictures! I also took some videos. If this link is not
working yet, try again tomorrow! http://ronjie.tripod.com/nihon2005nikko

Ang campaign slogan pala ng city of Nikko is: "Nikko is Nippon." Nippon =
Nihon = Japan.

Maybe around 5pm, I decided not to go na to Lake Chuzenji, dahil 40 minutes
at least pa yon by bus! So 40 minutes to get back! If I spent just 40
minutes there, that'd be another 2 hours and I could have been home by
midnight na! So I went on my way back na. I got home almost 10pm na. I
got my dinner at 7-Eleven na lang, and microwaved it at home. Also bought
some sushi kasi hindi nakakabusog ang isang "meal" dito from
outside... Which is the same in the Philippines.

Hay... If a picture says a thousand words, a visit or an actual experience
or basically being there and seeing it all for yourself - you'll be
speechless. So for now, check out the pictures na lang. =)