genki_rocket: (TUNGGG!)
I remember learning about Japanese bullet trains in some social studies class or another in school. The ultra-fast trains that zipped passengers here and there in seconds - or so I thought in my head. Also in my head was the idea that they were everywhere - available with every other mode of transporation that big cities like Tokyo had to offer.

However, when I got here to Japan, I realized that I was lucky to even find more than one bus line in my town. In Kumamoto, we don't even have subways. To be fair, though, it's because Kumamoto has some of, if not the freshest underground spring water in Japan. For this reason, I guess it's pretty difficult to build a subway.

Luckily for me, shortly after I got here, the Kyushu Shinkansen opened up all the way down to Kagoshima (the southernmost prefecture). This means that the line is opened all the way from Tokyo (maybe further north, I don't know) to Kyushu! To celebrate, Kumamoto unveiled our Shinkansen mascot, Kumamon.

He won first place in a mascot contest throughout Japan, but I'll save that for another entry.

Anyway, I first rode the Shinkansen when I made my way up to Kyoto and Osaka for winter break in 2010. I was absolutely blown away. Being on a Shinkansen is like riding in a plane that never takes off.

The stations themselves are so clean and everything just runs like clockwork. As I was waiting for a train once, I saw a family of four waiting by the large barriers they have next to the tracks. After taking a picture for them, the trill of the announcement sounded overhead and the conductor announced that a train was passing through and to please be careful.

Not long after the announcement, an ivory blur whizzed past at incredible speed. One of the small children jumped up and down excitedly and the other cheered and laughed on his dad's shoulders. I thought it was just as cool as they did. Even now, I still see Shinkansen/train enthusiasts of all ages snapping pictures of the sleek trains as they expertly pull into the station.

Inside the Shinkansen, the seats are luxurious and comfortable. The interior is immaculately clean and spacious. What surprised me the most, though, is that there are no seatbelts. If there were to ever be a crash, I think we'd all be fucked maybe they didn't bother with them? I don't know.

The customer service of the people who work at JR (Japan Rail) Kyushu is intense. I'm always so surprised at customer service here in general, but the Shinkansen cranks it up a notch. People are waiting outside the trains when they pull into the station to clean it immediately after the passengers disembark. The conductors inside stroll up and down each car professionally in their smart suits, white gloves and funny hats. Before they exit through the automatic sliding door that separates each car, they turn around and give a professional, deep bow to everyone.

Sometimes there will be attendants waiting outside as the Shinkansen leaves. As the train departs, they'll give a deep bow and - I thought this was incredible - they don't stop bowing until the train is completely out of the station.

Overall, the Shinkansen is an awesome way to travel. I feel super posh flying across Kyushu at speeds of I-don't-know-how-fast. The normal train from my city to Kumamoto City takes about 35 minutes. If you ride the Shinkansen between the two, it takes eight minutes. Let me repeat that: EIGHT minutes! It's not the cheapest way to travel and I only take it when I go to Fukuoka...but I feel like I should definitely use it as much as I can while I still have the opportunity to do so!

**Kyushu People! There's a discount called "Bikkuri Tsubame" that let's you go from Kumamoto to Hakata for 5500 yen! That's half what it normally costs! If it's from Kumamoto, there have to be other ones available in other locations! Check it out, it's a great deal! AND you get a 1500 coupon to use at Hakata Station's Amyu Plaza for ANYTHING you want to spend it on! This is half the price of a normal ticket PLUS the awesome coupon!

^^ it still boggles my mind!

So yeah, fuckin' Shinkansen, man!


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Genki Rocket

July 2012

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