Monday, June 23, 2008

Day 5 (Monday, June 2)

A word about Japan Rail Passes
If visiting Japan, one of the things you need to plan on getting is a Japan Rail (JR) Pass. Trains run everywhere in Japan and the JR system runs across the country. (There are a number of smaller railways and subways available, but those run within cities or between two nearby cities.) The pass is only available to non-residents. You pay for the ticket in the U.S. and exchange it for a pass after you reach Japan. (Yes, a plane would be quicker, but this was an opportunity to show our kids how big Japan is. For more details on the Japan Rail Pass, click here.)

Monday promised to be the day of the train. Mo, the boys, Mo’s Mom, and I were traveling, by train, to the northern island of Hokkaido. Our objective was Sapporo, the island’s largest city. (Please click here to be taken to a map.) We would have to catch four trains to make the journey.

One of our concerns was how the boys would handle it. They both love trains, especially Christopher. However, it was going to be a long day. They had their books, their toys, and, most importantly, their Gameboy and DS. Still, we didn't know how they would do on what would be a nearly a 15-hour journey. The length of time, though, was only part of it. We had another concern: food. We had brought some rolls and stuff with us to eat on the first leg of the trip. However, our layover times would be between 12-40 minutes. We had to buy lunch, dinner, snacks, and drinks, etc., prior to each train ride. We could buy food on the bullet train and other express trains we were taking; however, it was like buying food on a domestic airline flight, available but expensive. In addition, we had to find stuff the boys would like. In the train stations, we could buy various box lunches and these box lunches would be fine for the adults. Finding stuff for the kids, even for kids like ours who eat Japanese food all the time, was a concern.

After a short, early-morning subway ride, we caught a bullet train in Osaka at a little after 7:00 a.m. The train's destination was Tokyo. Below is a picture.

After a three-hour train ride, we had a 40-minute layover in Tokyo. This gave us sufficient time to acquire some nice box lunches and board our next train. The boys loved posing for pictures with the sleek trains in the background.

From Tokyo, we caught another bullet train to the northernmost destination of Hachinohe, on the northern part of Japan’s main island. This took another three hours. We had about 12 minutes here, buying snacks quickly on the platform before boarding the next train. We easily found juices and water for them to drink. Soft drinks were also available, but we didn't want the kids drinking too much of those.

The next train was an express to Hakodate on the island of Hokkaido. It would take just under three and half hours. (See map below.)

Looking at the map, you will see that part of the train ride is through water. The two islands are connected by the Seikan Tunnel , currently the longest underwater tunnel in the world. The total tunnel length is over 33 miles with nearly 15 miles under water. My boys were looking forward to this trip as they like tunnel, (particularly the noise made when a train passes through). However, the noise grated on them after so many miles and they were just glad to be out of it. The better part of the train ride is the scenic view of the Japanese coastline along the Pacific Ocean. My wife and I did our best to show them the views. They liked it, but preferred the mountain views on the other side of the train as the mountains were touching the clouds.

In Hakodate, we caught out last train, a three-and-half hour one, to the city of Sapporo. With it being after 5:00 and knowing we wouldn't arrive at our destination for several more hours, we knew the boys would get hungry again. Unfortunately, this station offered the least appetizing food menus, due to the lateness of the workday. We did find stuff the boys wanted and headed out. It was around 9:30 p.m. when we finally reached Sapporo. Luckily, our hotel was next door to the station as we were beat.

By the way, the boys did great!!

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