By Mark Kavanagh
In early 1996, I was sent to Japan to visit two customers in two very
different parts of Japan. The first customer is near Kagoshima on Kyushu.
The second customer is near Nagaoka in Niigata Prefecture, northeast of
Tokyo. Everything had to be done in less than 1 week. It was a whirlwind
I arrived at Narita airport in the evening after a 10 hour flight from
Seattle. I needed to go to the Haneda Airport Hotel on the other side of
Tokyo to spend the night. Most normal people would have taken one of the
airport limousine buses. Since I am a railfan, the trains were my only
I took the JR Narita Express train to Tokyo Station. The train was
crowded and overheated. I was thankful when I got out at Tokyo! The Narita
Express stops on the underground level of the stations. I had to lug my
luggage up the many levels to the Yamanote (Tokyo loop line) southbound
platform. I rode the train 3 stops to Hamamatsucho Station. I paid my fare
difference and looked for the monorail to Haneda Airport. This, as it
turned out, was not easy to find. After walking around for a few minutes I
finally found it. I figured out the fare and took the next train to the
airport. This was a great ride, I just wish it was daylight. I was
impressed with the subway monorail stations. I grew up thinking that all
monorails had to be elevated! Soon we arrived at Haneda’s new terminal
station. What a beautiful building, it sure beats the old terminal that I
remember from 1990! I was able to find the courtesy van to my hotel. I
had dinner with a co-worker and then went to my room to sleep. I figure
that the trains took about 30~45 minutes longer then the bus, unless there
was really bad traffic. But that is the life of a railfan!
The next morning we boarded a Boeing 747-400 for the 2-hour flight to
Kagoshima. I have never seen such a big plane for such a short flight, but
it was full! After two nights in a wonderful hotel down there (The Kyocera),
it was time to return on another 747 to Haneda. We rode the monorail back
to Hamamatsucho, followed by the Yamanote line to Tokyo Station. We hailed
a taxi to our hotel near the Imperial Palace Grounds.
The following morning we hailed a taxi back to Tokyo Station to board a
Joetsu Line, Shinkansen to Nagaoka. It was a 200-class train. It is a 1.5
to 2 hour trip to Nagaoka. There are a lot of tunnels on this line as the
line passes through ski country. Every time we entered a tunnel I noticed
that the bulkhead of the train would nearly pinch my finger if I had it
between my armrest and the bulkhead. Once we arrived at Nagaoka, another
taxi was hailed to take us to the customer for the rest of the day. Our
hotel was a 1-minute walk to the Nagaoka Train station, the New Otani.
Nagaoka is a great little bustling city.
The following day, after visiting the customer again, it was time to
head back to Tokyo. Our Japanese liaison had his own car and needed to
drive back to Chiba. He offered to drive us back to Shinjuku. I would have
preferred to take the train, but my co-worker wanted to take the car. It
was a LONG ride back to Tokyo. It took about 5 hours with a dinner break.
The train would have been faster, and maybe even been cheaper. We took a
toll highways all the way into Tokyo, and I understand that tolls are not
cheap. We stopped in a rest area for dinner. It was kind of weird. I felt
like I was on the New Jersey Turnpike. This rest area was laid out the
same and had a Denny’s type restaurant. The food was OK and there was a
nice food and gift shop next door to look at. We finally got to our hotel
(Shinjuku Hyatt) at about 11:30 PM.
The next morning I got up early to ride the subways of Tokyo. I did not
have much time. I had to take the ~1:00 PM Narita Express back to the
airport for my outbound departure. I stood at my favorite place to watch
trains, the road overpass overlooking the south throat to Shinjuku station
for about 30 minutes before boarding my train.
This is just one of the many trips I have taken to the Land of the
Rising Sun. More stories will follow...
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