Out the Train Window

Out the Train Window

For most Americans, train travel is not a part of our lives, so we are not familiar with a situation where travel can be somewhat relaxing, vs. stressful, harried and unpleasant.   Let me count the ways that train travel in Japan is so dramatically different from either train or plane travel in the US.

Ease of Access: In Japan, train stations are centrally located, connected to subway and bus lines easily and are often centers of commerce and entertainment, with many restaurants, stores and information kiosks.   One proceeds directly to their train track upon arrival at the station and can actually stand directly in front of the spot where the door to their train car will open (clearly marked both above the spot and on the ground).   Contrast this with the experience on a recent trip in the Northeast, where one mills around the train station waiting for the exact platform for a train to be posted and then moves with the mob to try to get to the train through a small, one-man gate (and this was in New York City!).  I won’t even go into ease of access for airports…

Advance Reservations: In Japan, train seats can be reserved about a month in advance.  With reservation tickets in hand, you can relax and just be sure to be at the appointed spot on the platform at the correct time.   Airlines have long had advance seat assignments, but for the rail system, in many parts of the US, a “reservation” merely means you’ll be allowed on the train.  There are no seat assignments, no car assignments and generally you get to fight the mobs to try to get a seat on a train where you already have a “reservation”.   Trying to seat two people together is difficult, more than two is almost impossible unless you happen to be getting on the train at its origin.   And this is even for the “business class” seats!

Travel Experience: Japanese trains are frequent, on-time, very fast and easy to use.   It’s probably best not to compare airlines to this, nor the US rail system.

So the result is that in addition to having a great train system, one winds up with a great travel experience on the train in Japan.   It’s relaxing to settle in for a relaxing ride, some favorite music, a good read or to appreciate the views out the window:

Shikoku Rice Fields

Yamaguchi Bay

Special Express to Yufuin - Kyushu

Mt. Fuji from the Shinkansen

Mountain Views to Takayama

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