Friday, 30 August 2019

Train to Hiroshima

It looks like being a stressful day. What with us having no seat reservations for the train. And the weather forecast is – scorchio.

We start off with a taxi to Tokyo station, where we’ll be picking up our first shinkansen. It’s hotter than hell again. Don’t know why I mention that. It’s been dead hot 100% of the time.

It’s not immediately clear which shinkansen we need to take. They’re all named and colour-coded, but that doesn’t tell you where they’re going. So I go to the JR travel centre for confirmation. We need platform 14.

Luckily there’s an air-conditioned waiting room on the platform to save Andrew’s life. He’s looking very pale, sweaty and close to collapse again. The nice man at the JR desk also told me that the first five carriages have the unreserved seats.

Alexie’s head almost knocks into some of the signs above the platform. The kids have to be so careful not to bash their heads into things. This country isn’t designed for people over 2 metres tall. I have to be careful, too and I’m under 2 metres.

I head off for some provisions. Drinks, really.

“Don’t take too long, Dad. Our train will be here soon.”

“I need beer.”

“Don’t you always.” Andrew, beer-slurper extraordinaire, can talk.

I love the Japanese. Even in a dead busy station kiosk they're friendly and patient with a foreign idiot fiddling with change. Which is what I’m doing. For a good reason.

In our first couple of days here before flying to Seoul, I accumulated a scary amount of Japanese change. I must have had 40 euros or more in coins. I’ve made it my mission to work my way through it. Hence fiddling with the coins at the checkout. I’m getting better at spotting the higher value coins in my wallet. Which is helping.

We see our train come in – it starts here – and shuffle out onto the platform. It’s already pretty crowded.

This being Japan, they have queues for the train doors. Properly arranged, with a staff member holding up a sign saying "end of line". When I can’t be arsed to squeeze along the platform any more,  we join the back of a queue.

Our choice of queue is a good one. We get on pretty quickly and all find seats, though not next to each other. The aisles are full of people standing.

I’m sitting next to a 50-something Japanese bloke who spends the whole of the journey reading manga. At least he’s quiet enough.

Some people to my left are getting stuck into bento boxes. The food looks – and smells – dead good. Why didn’t I pick one of those up in the station? I know, I had two whinging kids dragging at my heels.

The train is gradually emptying out as we progress. After a couple of hours, no-one is standing. Much more relaxing without the aisle clogged with people. Me and the kids are also able to move closer together.

“This hasn’t been so bad after all.” I remark to the kids, “I’d feared much worse.”

“We were just lucky, Dad.” Go on. Kill my buzz again. Andrew is so cynical. I guess that’s what you get for studying politics and belonging to a club named Machiavelli.

The shinkansen service is incredible. We have 19 minutes between our trains. While we’re waiting four other shinkansen stop on our platform. The train service is in general is dead well organised, the stations well signed and the staff really helpful. And I can be a real negative twat. Just ask Dolores.

“That’s slightly worrying.” I say to the kids as we’re waiting, pointing at the staff in white gloves pushing people onto the train. “Not a good sign at all.”

Though  it is cool to see train pushers in action. So many people work on the railways here, each group with its own uniform. A bit like the 19th-century in Britain. Then in other ways the railways are hyper-modern.

Our new train is mobbed. We can barely push our way in. We’re probably lucky to get on at all. Even the passenger-pushers couldn’t cram everyone onto some of the earlier trains.

I’m still quite close to the door. With all my luggage around me, it’s not exactly a comfortable standing position. And one of the wheels on my trolley bag seems to have collapsed. Great. I’m also trying not to rub my sweaty body up against the woman jammed in next to me.

Luckily after a couple of stops someone next to where I’m standing gets off and I grab their seat. The kids have to stand all the way. It’s OK for them. They still have strong, young legs. Unlike me. But it is only 80 minutes and air conditioned.

A walk through Hiroshima station and Andrew is looking like shit again. He recovers in the air-conditioned waiting room while we work out how to get to the hotel. Which turns out to be just 500 metres from the station. It says much about Japanese taxi drivers that one was happy to drive us somewhere he could point out from where we were standing.

Our hotel is right on the river. And wonderfully air conditioned, which is a big plus. The rooms are pretty big, too, compared to Tokyo. They have a wonderful view of the river and the skyline. Hard to imagine the terrible history of the city.

In the distance a suburb tumbles down a gorge like a glacier. A magical view. I’m warming to the city already.

“There’s a convenience store just around the corner.” Alexei remarks, helpfully.

“Let’s go on down. And hope they have whisky.”

“Dad, you know they always have whisky in those shops. That cheap Suntory stuff you drink.”

“That’s not cheap whisky. It’s competitively-priced whisky. Big difference.”

“Cheapest and strongest. That’s you, Dad.”

“I suppose you’ll be wanting some Strong Zero, Andrew?”

“Four cans, please.” He can’t be feeling that bad.

We don’t stray in the evening. We watch the sun set, the sky darken and the buildings prickle up with lights.

“It’s lovely, isn’t it, kids?”

“You always say that after a few whiskies. No matter how shit anything is.”

“I guess it’s time for bed, then, Zebedee?”

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