Travel and Transport

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The equipment on our United flight from San Francisco to Osaka was a Boeing 777, and I realized later that our seats had been in the Economy Plus section. Although, as can be seen from the diagram at left, these seats are a far cry from First or even Business Class, they still offered advantages over Economy. They seemed to me more roomy than the usual airline seat, but this may have been a result of being crowded in with mostly family (I was between Barney and Matthew, Tom and Joan and the others were behind us). The photo below shows a view from about where we were in the plane; I was in seat 23E.

One of the differences between Economy Plus and Economy was in the projection screen. As seen in this photo, the screens in Economy Plus were mounted on the seatbacks. In Economy, the (smaller) screens were mounted on the right armrest. The seatback-mounted screens could be tilted vertically for the best view but, like most LCD screens, had a very narrow horizontal range, so that neighbors’ screens appeared blank. The great advantage to the individual screens was the choice of available movies—at least half a dozen different ones running in almost continuous repetition. Another option was a display of the progress of the flight, showing position, air speed, ground speed, etc. This, combined with the audio channel that monitored the cockpit radio transmissions, was occasionally interesting.

This was my first long international flight, and everything about it was novel, but I was especially impressed by the amount and quantity of food served (not to mention complimentary cocktails). Matthew availed himself of every opportunity to secure alcohol, saying it was to ensure that he got some sleep during the flight. I guess I was too excited to sleep, which was probably just as well: by the time we got to our hotel and got our luggage, it was time for bed (Osaka time), and being exhausted didn’t hurt.

Our flight home was on an ordinary 747, which by comparison seemed very cramped; it didn’t help that the stranger in the aisle seat alienated the flight attendants at the outset (by talking through their safety announcements), resulting in poor service for our row throughout the flight.

Travel within Japan was mostly on foot or by charter bus, but we did have occasion to try out several forms of public transportation.


As mentioned elsewhere, as part of our convention goodie package, we got passes, valid during the convention period (May 23–26), on JR-WEST rail lines and the Surutto Kansai bus and subway network in Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe. Though I dont think we fully realized it at the time, these passes were especially useful to Japanese convention-goers living or staying in outlying areas since transportation was free for them from all over the Kansai area (including Kyoto and Kobe).

For all intents and purposes, there was no real difference between the subway and the train inside Osaka except for their routes. Our first experience with either was returning from Universal Studios via the JR-WEST Yumesaki and Osaka Loop lines. As detailed elsewhere, we were rather slow to figure out that the subway or train was much more efficient than the convention buses for getting to the Osaka Dome. On the last day of the convention, however, emboldened by our adventure the night before, we again took the Osaka Loop Line to the dome for the final plenary session; on our return, we found that the subway station was more convenient, so we rode the subway back from the dome to the hotel. Although this required a change of trains (between the Yotsubashi and Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi lines), we found it more convenient at both ends and took the subway again both ways when we returned to the Dome that evening for the Closing Feature.

Readers who routinely use subways and commuter trains will no doubt find the above discussion amusing, but for country bumpkins whose small-town life provides little access to public transportation of any kind, it was a novel and exhilarating experience. Deciphering the subway maps (even though they were labeled in romaji as well as kanji) was a bit of a challenge, but the electronic sign boards in the stations and the trains themselves were very easy to follow. PA announcements were also, if I recall correctly, made in English as well as Japanese.

These were the passes supplied as part of our convention gift package.

This photo (taken by Jeff on our return from Universal Studios) shows the interior of a JR-WEST train. The three heads in the lower right corner are Joan (probably), me, and Barney.

In this photo, we insert our passes in the gate at the train station. The four people in the foreground of the photo (left to right) are me, Barney, Joan, and Tom.

After leaving Osaka, we spent most of our free time exploring on foot, but we did ride a subway one more time in Yokohama. Glenn had strongly encouraged us to try out the “glittering new” Minato Mirai line, which had debuted in February. “It only runs six stations,” he wrote, “but each station is different and quite attractive, buried deep beneath the swampy land on which the town is built.” Eventually we did ride this line downtown to Yokohama (Shibuya) Station. This was our first experience with actually purchasing subway tickets, and of course that was an adventure in itself, though (as Glenn had assured us) quite straightforward once we selected English as the language of the vending machine.

As can be seen from the photo at left, the walls of the Motomachi-Chukagai station are decorated with old photos and drawings applied directly to the tile. We found the station a little confusing because it stretches underground for several blocks, with access to the surface at several points, one of which was much closer to our hotel than the others.

Another interesting feature of the station was the repetition of the ubiquitous Perry Landing painting in a mural interspersed with strips of mirror. The photos at left show the effect approaching the mural from an angle and viewing it straight on (with the corridor reflected).


Japan Guide has good general information on Japanese trains. We rode these trains both within Osaka (see above) and from Osaka to Hiroshima and Hiroshima to Kyoto.

Our trip to Hiroshima on the Tokaido Shinkansen line was our first experience with the so-called “bullet train.” Although our train was one of the Nozomi line, stopping only once or twice (not at every station), we didn’t get the full shinkansen experience because noise-abatement regulations prevent the train from achieving its top speed on the route we were traveling. Even so, the train was noticeably faster and smoother than any U.S. train we’d ever ridden. Our group traveled in a green (first-class) car and I believe had it to ourselves.

This was not our train; in fact, I think it was going in the opposite direction, but this is what a typical shinkansen looked like. One arrives about every ten minutes.

At one time I thought I knew what this departure board said, but now I can’t figure it out. As luck would have it, both my digital and my film picture show the Japanese display (the sign also showed English at times, as seen in this example from Kyoto Station). Under magnification, the clock at the left side of the previous picture says 7:41, so I imagine ours must have been the 8:01 train.

After our day in Hiroshima, we again boarded a shinkansen for our trip to Kyoto. As described elsewhere, we actually took two trains this time. The new Kyoto station building, opened in 1997, is a modern landmark, but we did not see it since the Shinkansen arrives on the south side of the station, and all we saw was platforms and a parking lot where a bus collected us.

We did later explore the station building and the Porta Mall complex in front of it. Jeff took this photo that illustrates the modernity of the station building and also shows the bus terminal in front. Although the city seems to be very proud of this new station, it is also somewhat controversial; evidently there are those who think it is inconsistent with Kyoto’s emphasis on tradition and historic preservation.

The inside of the station is equally impressive, as shown in these photos:
It is a giant shopping mall attached to the station.

Extending beneath the bus terminal and railway station is a large underground mall, Porta Mall (I thought perhaps Porta was the name for the city bus transportation service, but it seems not to be, though there is doubtless a connection to “transportation,” as there is a Porta underground mall near the railway station in Yokohama as well).

Our next train ride was to Hakone. This picture (not mine) shows a shinkansen leaving the Kyoto station for Hakone. This is a good illustration of the more utilitarian side of the station. We actually took the train just to Mishima, where we were met by chartered buses.

This photo shows the interior of the train to Mishima (shown on the tray table is Barney’s bento lunch). This would be our last train ride, as we rode chartered buses from Hakone to Tokyo.