After the earthquake hit, I was told by some people that I should probably get the hell out of Japan. There really wasn’t any danger from radiation where I was, but the general consensus was I should end my time in Japan early and go to Korea.
So that’s what I eventually did, and I was (and still am) really disappointed that I didn’t get to see as much of the country as I would’ve liked.
However, instead of leaving right away I decided to get in a sneaky day of snowboarding in at Hakuba in the Nagano prefecture (長野県).
This was a couple days after the earthquake and the subways were back to almost normal.
I decided to take the Highway Bus to Hakuba. This is like the Japanese equivalent to Greyhound.
Here’s an example of a ticket, which I booked at a Lawson (convenience store). I had to get some help from the store clerk because here wasn’t any English language option. I actually never used this ticket because I decided against taking the Highway Bus back to Tokyo.
I had a handy map to find the bus station at Shinjuku station:
I was able to find the bus and get going. I got a little mixed up on my way from the subway station to the bus station so I got there only about 2 minutes before the bus was meant to leave. The bus is a pretty standard, comfortable, coach bus:
The ride to Hakuba took around 4 1/2 hours, it was quite picturesque and left and arrived right on time. Here’s a picture of the mountains that I took:
I spent 2 nights in Hakuba and snowboarded for a day. Hakuba was quite dead at this point, apparently everybody had gone home due to the earthquake. The lift lines were empty!
I then decided I guess I’d better leave Japan for Korea. My original plan was to head back into Tokyo by bus and take a Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) down to Fukuoka where I already had a spot reserved on the JR Beetle ferry to Busan, Korea. But one of the workers at the hostel told me that that was a pretty bad idea, and that I should actually go by plane from Nagoya. He even proved to me that it was cheaper than taking the train to Fukuoka.
But I wasn’t really into that. I was in Japan and I was going to take the bullet train dammit! He thought I was crazy but helped me sort out my journey using hyperdia.com, which is an extremely useful website.
I’ve redone the journey on hyperdia.com now, and this is what it looked like:
It was definitely helpful having a Japanese person help me out. The journey from Hakuba to Fukuoka was going to take me all day.
First step was to take a train on the JR Oito line (大糸線) from Hakuba (actually Kamishiro station (神城駅)) to Matsumoto (松本市).
This was an interesting journey, I left in the early morning and the train was full of students and commuters. I felt like one of them for a few minutes!
Here’s the train:
Borrowed from Wikimedia Commons
I couldn’t buy tickets for my entire journey at the small, local station so I just bought the ticket for the first section of my journey to Matsumoto here (this will come up later). Here is where I started:
I don’t remember what it cost, but it wasn’t very much.
It is a small train, and was a little older and obviously not as frequent as the subways in Tokyo. The Japanese countryside scenery was beautiful and there were mountains and farms were all around.
Matsumoto station (the terminus station of the Oito line) is a pretty big station and has three major lines to exchange to. At Matsumoto I had to take the Shinano line (limited express) with a destination of Nagoya (名古屋市) where I could transfer to a Shinkansen to Fukuoka.
Borrowed from Wikimedia commons.
Unlike in that journey that you see above, my journey had a transfer time of only about 4 minutes between when the Oito line arrives, and the Shinano line leaves. My Japanese friend at the hostel assured me that was enough time to make it. But, at the station I got confused, I was pretty sure that I had to buy a ticket for my next journey (and it was expensive) but I wasn’t sure if I was meant to do that on the train itself or at a ticket windows somewhere. I couldn’t find a ticket window or machine so I wandered over to the right platform. I started to ask an attendant, and this was our conversation:
“I need a ticket to Nagoya.”
“Nagoya? YES GET ON THIS TRAIN”
Me: “Oh… um OK?”
“GO! HURRY, TRAIN IS LEAVING”
So I did… without a ticket. I was so flustered that I would miss the train I didn’t know what to do. The next part of the journey on board the Shinano train was not enjoyable for me, even though the scenery was quite beautiful, as can be seen in this youtube video:
I was pretty sure I could buy a ticket on board, but what if I couldn’t? What if I got arrested or fined or something? Then what would I do?
For that entire journey no train attendants even spoke to me at all. I made it to Nagoya without paying! Whoops. I really didn’t mean to…
Once in Nagoya however, I got into a sticky situation. To transfer to the Tokaido Shinkansen (東海道新幹線) you need to go out through some turnstiles. To get out of the turnstiles you need to have a ticket. I bought a ticket for my next journey at one of the machines (it was expensive) figuring that might let me go through.
Then I tried to go through the turnstile. To go out of the turnstile you need at least one ticket from your previous journey. Of course it wouldn’t let me out! So my only option was to talk to the guy at the window. I explained:
“I need to go out. But no ticket”
“You need to use your ticket!”
“The problem is, I don’t have a ticket…”
“NO you need a ticket!”
“Yeah… I don’t have one.”
Now he was very confused, the system had obviously failed. Three Japanese guys were talking to each other for like 5 or 10 minutes trying to figure out what to do. I guess they just couldn’t figure out how someone could be so stupid as to not have a ticket. How did this stupid gaijin even get here? Finally he was able somehow transform the ticket from my journey from Kamishiro to Matsumoto and my new ticket from Nagoya to Hakata staition in Fukuoka into one ticket, which I still have:
I stayed in Nagoya only for about an hour before I was whisked off to Fukuoka on board the Nozomi Shinkansen which goes up to 300 km/hr! This train gets you from Nagoya to Fukuoka in only about 3 1/2 hours while travelling over 750 km.
The Shinkansen was by far the nicest train that I took in Japan. The seats are large, with tons of leg room This was good, because I had my bag and it was a bit of a pain in the ass to have it sitting on the floor in front of me. These kind of trains aren’t great for having a lot of baggage.
Borrowed from Wikimedia commons
The train ride was so cool. Although you’re travelling at 300 km/hr you hardly notice it. It feels a lot more like a plane ride than a train ride.
Borrowed from Wikimedia commons
Again, didn’t take very many pictures of the ride, but I snapped this one of the station sign at Hiroshima (広島市):
And this video of cities whizzing by:
My ferry to Busan left the next day, so I stayed just one night in Fukuoka. I stayed walking distance to Hakata station, where you can take a bus to get to the JR Beetle ferry terminal:
The fare was just ¥220. These are the instructions from the JR website (In English):
There are no English signs or announcements on the bus.The route number and destination of the bus are shown on the front, door-side, and back. Take a numbered ticket from the machine at the door when you get on the bus. When you get off, the exit is at the front. Check the fare against the board installed in the front, referring to the number on your ticket. Coins are preferable as you pay the bus fare. Be careful in case you only have bills. Most buses do not give change from the fare boxes. Make sure not to put a bill directly into the fare box. If you do so, you will not receive change back. The bus driver doesn’t have change, either. If you don’t have smaller coins, then insert a 1,000 yen bill or a 500 yen coin into the moneychanger situated next to the fare box, and pay the exact amount of fare into the box along with your ticket. A 5,000 yen bill and a 10,000 yen bill cannot be exchanged. Make sure you have coins or 1,000 yen bills before getting on the bus.
Borrowed from yokanavi.com
I arrived a few minutes before my ferry left, and got on! The ride took about 3 1/2 hours. It was quite comfortable, but a little rocky. Someone had gotten sick in the bathroom which was quite unpleasant. The thing was fast as hell though. WAY faster than BC Ferries here in Vancouver.
Here is a nice shot of Fukuoka from the sea as I leave Japan!
So from Kamishiro Station all the way to Busan my trip on public transportation was as follows:
Local Train – Limited Express Train – High Speed Train (Shinkansen) ¥12,600
Local Bus ¥220
For a grand total of ¥25,820 which was worth about $235 CAD in 2011.
Thanks for reading!