Riding the Yufuin No Mori

For Scott’s birthday we took the day off and traveled to a nearby hotspring town, Yufuin, in Oita Prefecture. While Yufuin was lovely, full of quaint shops, natural hot springs baths, and delicious food, the highlight of the day for us was taking the train.

Yufuin no Mori, meaning Yufuin’s forest, is a luxury train that travels from Fukuoka to Yufuin and back 4 times a day. At the time we had no idea it was a special train, but knew that it took about half the time as the local, and cost only $10 more.

It quickly became apparent that this was no ordinary limited express. The interior of the train was covered in wood, and the area in between the carriages were large open spaces, and the seats were wide and comfy. After departing, an attendant came around with props to take pictures of tourists, on their own camera. Whenever we passed a scenic area, announcements were made in English and Japanese and the train slowed down as we passed.

This week is Tanabata – or festivals of the stars. Legend has it that there are two star lovers who are separated by the milky way and can only meet once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th month. People all over Japan make wishes for clear weather so the stars can meet, and also wishes for themselves. They write these down and hang them on trees. The train ladies were happy to explain this tradition and help us to fill out our own wish and hang it at the station.

Because it was Scott’s birthday, they gave him a free drink and a little card, and on the way back, the girls counted 27 candies into a cup and presented it to us as we left the train.

Being extremely visible minorities here, along with Japan’s tradition of amazing customer service, has meant that we received special treatment a lot. It’s a strange feeling, to be so easily picked out as different.  A little unnerving, but people have been nothing but extraordinarily kind to us here, and I am going to miss interacting with Japanese people a lot.

 

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Train Madness in China

 

Here’s a tip. Don’t ride the train in China on a national holiday.

We decided to take the train to Datong on May 2nd, the day after the national holiday. However, since May 1st fell on a Sunday, everyone had May 2nd off. Used to the efficiency and general awesomeness of Japanese trains, we arrived at the station twenty minutes early, full of confidence. From there, chaos ensued.

Chinese train stations have security check points, a factor we did not count on. No matter, still plenty of time. We entered the station and split up looking for food for the 6 hour journey, with vague plans to meet on the platform. This is where things really got crazy. Three of us grabbed McDonald’s and headed to the platform, which we had guessed was 7, since that was the only number on the board listing our train. Turns out our train left from platform 9. Figuring our travel companions would work it out, we headed to 9.

Upon our arrival with 5 minutes before departure, a hassled looking attendant looked at us in shock and gestured ‘run! run!’ We ran the length of the train until arriving at our car where we were shocked to see there was no room for us to get on. The attendant kept gesturing for us to board, but there were people standing in the entrance way and more people beyond them. We squished our way on, gigantic backpacks and all, as the attendant pushed on more people behind us.

This picture was taken after about a third of the people left the train.

We were on, but had no hope of reaching our seats. As I resigned myself to standing for 6 hours, several people tried to push past me. Inspired by their bravery I followed, stepping on peoples toes, hitting people with my backpack, and literally being lifted off my feet by the sea of people. At one point I was standing on someones seat to get around a man with a gigantic feed bag. Just as I was starting to have hope that I would one day reach my seat at the end of the compartment I noticed a ruckus ahead of me. Someone was actually trying to get the food cart through this mess. At this point I couldn’t do anything but laugh.

Crazy Food Cart Lady

About 40 minutes after boarding the train we reached our seats, where we kicked some unhappy Chinese people out and settled in. In my attempt to free some space I put my smaller backpack on the shelf above us, at which time my water bottle fell out, which hit the coke I had so recently secured a small space for on the shared table, which spilled all over a child’s homework. Luckily, he forgave me, and spent the rest of the train trip trying out his English and showing me magic tricks.

Scott and Alicia, sweaty, tired and relieved to have found our seats

So, if you take the train on a national holiday, learn from our mistakes and show up early. Our friends missed the train all together and had to catch the next one in. Luckily we had a happy reunion with them at the Yungang Caves!

 

 

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Mojiko

Mojiko, the last railway stop on Kyushu, used to be a major international trading port. As a result it is full of beautiful old neo-renaissance buildings, such as this railway station, built in 1914.

 

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Cute Boy on the Train

Takeshi rides the JR

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