Train, Bullet Train, Taxi, Ferry, Bus (but not bicycle yet)
So over the weekend, I think Yuki and I pretty much covered all the bases on transportation.
Let me start by telling you about how we got to Sado, and then a little bit about getting around the island.
Yuki (who, thank god, did all the bookings for this trip) booked us bullet train tickets for 7am out of Tokyo station. That involved getting up around 5am, bleary eyed-ly finding my way to the station and across to Tokyo. All would have gone well, except Yuki texted me half way to say she had forgotten her concert tickets at home (and they weren’t cheap) and was in a panic about what to do. Go back and miss the bullet train (and thus ferry) or bite buying a second set of tickets. I was so fuddled by the confusion that I got off at Kanda (aka, the wrong station). But that was easily remedied and off we went to the Shinkansen.
While Yuki texted and called people trying to sort out the forgotten tickets, I ate what I call “a 1989 train breakfast” (can coffee and chocolate almonds)–the breakfast I ate almost everyday in Grade 11 on my way to school. I seem to remember one fellow student’s daily train breakfast involved Dunkin Donuts and a mickey of vodka. 20 years later I should know better as clearly this wasn’t a healthy choice, but there wasn’t a lot at the station in the morning, and I fell victim to old habits in my state of half awaked-ness.
From the Shinkansen we had a terrible view. I mean outright criminal as we were on the lower lever of a double decker car which sunk us down to platform level. Most of the way there we could only see the cement wall at the edge of the tracks, and my fantasy of watching the city slip into a bucolic bliss of green rice fields was dashed.
We then transferred to the Hokuhoku line to go the rest of the way to Naoetsu. A quick taxi ride and we were at the ferry port. You know, I must have been on a Japanese ferry before, but I have no recollection of it. This one was an interesting hybrid of the car ferry to say, Nanaimo, and, well, Japan. Yes, that should be obvious, I know.
Instead of booking seats, one books sleeping bays, despite the fact that it’s a lunch time ferry crossing. We were in first class on the way there and enjoyed a nice nap. On the one hand I liked the comfort of sleeping, on the other, I would have liked to sit up and watch the view.
And there was no egg breakfast (what I consider to be standard ferry fare) to be had, just curry rice in styrofoam bowls which didn’t appeal at the time.
At the other end we pulled into Oki and at first it was a little hard to get a sense of where we were–it just seemed like a random port with a bus stop.
So we had a diet coke (once again, highschool food) and waited for our bus. Our bus came 10 minutes early but this didn’t seem to phase the driver at all, and before schedule we were on our way. He actually tried to talk us out of taking the bus because he thought we should already be at the festival and not wasting our time checking in to the minshuku.
The bus schedule was pretty scarce, so it turned out we really just had time to drop our bags and head back out or be stuck up at the hostel all afternoon away from the action.
Pretty nice bus stop huh?
But this time the bus was late, and then a woman from the museum right behind the bus stop offered us a ride down to town. Island people are so great!
All told, it took us from about 630 am to 1pm to get to our hotel. That’s a fair chunk of time, but not very much of it was stressful. The ferry ride was lovely, as was the bullet train, and the cab entertaining.
The ferry ride home was a whole different trip as the taiko drummers (more about that soon) came to see us off, and there was streamers etc. It was beautiful and lovely and truly an experience to be had.
On the way back, we had 18nen kippu, which are these cheap books of 5 all day tickets that let you ride any non supplemental fee express for 24 hours. Really, we should have had a better plan for moving around on the way back, but we were pretty focused on Sado itself. We made (ok, I. I made) an error and got on the wrong train at Naoetsu which was a paid express, and this caused some trouble but in the end they let us off without paying. If we hadn’t made that mistake though, it would have taken us even longer than the almost 12 hour trip back (but we did stop for dinner in Takasaki). The original plan was to find our way back leisurely and stop in some small towns and look around. This plan however overlooked two important facts. 1) we were already well worn out and had had lots of small town on the island and 2) trains to small towns are irregular, so getting off means at least a 2 hour wait or more in many places. Clearly we need to plan that kind of ride to make it work.