Sunday, April 17, 2011

The train journey

The very first time I sat in a bullet train was in January 1999, from Tokyo to Utsunomiya city (Tochigi prefecture), the place that was to be my (second) home for the next one year. My first ever ride in one of the fastest, and most luxuriously comfortable trains in the world... I do want to mention here that the train arrived and departed from the station dot on time, precise to the minute.

The very first thing I noticed (or felt) was the silence. Not a noise - pin drop silence. One of the things foreigners realize when traveling in trains in Japan is that nobody talks. At least most of them. It felt as if the bullet train was also trained to do just that - trained to obey the "manner" that most of the Japanese so diligently follow throughout their lives.

The other thing I noticed was that despite the chart-topping speed of almost 250-300Kms/hour, it was a surprisingly smooth ride. I did not have to hold on to my glass of water or my "bento" while eating. They stayed right where I put them on my table and did not move an inch.

Buying a "Bento" is an integral part of the "pre-boarding ritual" for most of the travelers. It involves the careful selection and buying of a bento at the station, accompanied by bottled tea for the journey ahead. The selection of "bentos" at train stations is amazing, and the boxes are almost a piece of art – ranging from the very simple to the more elaborate ones - the “character bento” (kyaraben, kyara=character, ben =bento) decorated to look like popular Japanese cartoon characters or “picture bento” decorated to look like people, animals, plants or places.
I am not particularly fond of Japanese food even after all these years but the thought of buying a bento and boarding the Shinkansen never fails to excite me even now.

After a journey that lasted for about 50 minutes, we arrived at the Utsonomiya station, tired and weary eyed, with not a trace of energy left in us after the long plane and then the train journey, desperately in need for some sleep. But our school had other plans and it was only a start of a long long day. At least that is how it felt that day...

'True to the notion of the journey being more important than the destination, travelling by bullet train that day was one of my most memorable experiences.'

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1 comment:

  1. Regarding food, I empathise as my 5 years in Malaysia failed to impress me about the food. I did, however, learn humility-that my food might be as "new" and, therefore, sometimes, as much of a shock as another's cuisine.
    One major fact is, I have noticed, for Indians, our having a significant number of vegetarians as opposed to the numbers in other countries.