Some trains of thought

It’s been a while since we published our last train post. You must think that we’ve lost some of our fascination for Tokyo’s public transportation system, that we’re now used to everything and therefore have stopped wondering.
Well, actually we are pretty used to taking trains in Tokyo and around Japan now; we’ve even experienced our first ride on a Shinkansen! In fact, I fear that we’re too used to how smoothly everything runs here so that our first few train journeys outside Japan will be utterly terrifying. We might even find ourselves missing the warmth that we always feel when we enter a seemingly full train, wondering how the many people who are standing in line behind us are possibly going to fit – until they do, pushing their way in, moving us from our standing space right at the open door all the way to a standing (non-)space with just one or two people between us and the opposite door. In those cases we used to feel a bit uncomfortable. Now, however, we are grateful for the removal of the need to hold on to the handles that, in this area of the train, are far too high up for us to comfortably grab anyway.
Those packed-train-situations make us feel a certain closeness (eheheh) to the usually so distant and anonymous residents of this metropolis and some sort of safety knowing that, in the case of a sudden hard brake, we won’t fall over. Yes, we are weird like that.

Leaving train duck

Because there’s no way I’m taking a photo of the duck in a packed train (I doubt that that would even be physically possible) I attached yet another one of those wonderful duck-poses-at-the-train-station-in-front-of-a-train-photos!
As you might have figured out by the increasingly longer time spans between posts, we’ve gotten rather lazy (and there’s just sooooo much that we want to do before we leave) so that this post has become a rather long one (because my laziness forbids me  to even try and edit it down to a more acceptable length):

Two trains to be exact

① Now that we know how important it is to check every detail of the train journey plan, our train journeys have become much more comfortable. However, we we still don’t trust our journey planner 100% because there can always be delays, especially due to bad weather, accidents or during the rush hour (that seems to take up at least a fourth of the day). With that tiny speck of wariness in the back of our heads, the duck and I do, unfortunately, tend to bring ourselves into one or the other situation of being those foreigners.
One day, for example, we had boarded our train as normal, got off at the right stop (go us!) and then, even though the plan told us that we’d have plenty of time, when we saw a train that seemed to be going in our direction on the opposite side of the platform, thinking that we had learned from our previous mistakes, we briskly entered it (like all good foreigners), assuming that it might be one of those rare slightly late ones. We sat down, right next to the open door (suspicious…) and kept sitting there for another seven minutes, just as the planner had told us. I couldn’t believe that, after all this checking times making sure we’re at the right stop, we forgot that this was the terminal station (yes, we’d, in fact, been to this station before). How can we ever successfully learn Japanese if we have to remember all those train things?
Well, this actually happened within our first few months in Tokyo. But, to my shame, I have to admit that, from time to time, just after having briskly entered a standing train, I do find myself remembering that we are at the terminal and that we have been through all this before.

In line at the station - this time there's no to rush onto...

② Now let’s get to uncovering a (non-)mystery that I mentioned a looooong time ago, in one of my earliest OMG how did I become a train geek posts, a mystery that I foolishly declared the duck and my second case (before we would assemble the Shinjuku City Pals for a full day of non-stop puzzle solving, which, by contrast, in our books, does qualify as an actual set of cases), a mystery with a solution so obvious that it shouldn’t even be called a mystery: trains that the planner says are more expensive even though you don’t change providers and the route is exactly the same.
Well, as those among you who know even the tiniest bit about taking trains in Japan have probably already guessed that I was writing about Limited Express trains. One example is the Red Arrow from Seibu Railway, a limited express train that only stops five times on a 90+km journey from Ikebukuro to Seibu-Chichibu. For those kinds of trains, on top of paying the base fare when you enter and exit the stations, you also have to buy an extra voucher at the platform, similar to a Green Car (first class) ticket. Different from the Green Cars that you can find on many express JR trains that connect Tokyo to the prefectures surrounding it, those Limited Express trains require a ticket no matter what car you get on, basically because the whole train is considered first class (there’s so much more to know about Green Cars and Limited Express trains, but our stingy butts are the wrong ones to ask about that). So, the next time you check your train journey planner and see that there is an incredibly convenient and fast route from your current location to your destination, make sure to also check the fare and whether paying for a reserved seat is optional. Otherwise you’ll find yourself standing on the platform longingly staring at the Limited Express train right in front of you that would bring you home in 20 minutes, knowing that you’ll be traveling for at least another 40.

Happy Party Train!!

Bonus: Because you can never be sure what kind of situation you’ll find yourself in and how busy the train will be (sometimes when the train is pretty full but not yet packed and you’re the sad soul that has to stand right in the center of the door area without anything but dear life to hold onto hoping that you will not start a big chain reaction of stumbling people if the train jolts or stops abruptly) it is good to bring at least two types of material: something to read, watch or write (like a weird blog entry on trains) and something to listen to (like Welcome to Night Vale or the wonderful Wandering Bard podcast). That way you will never be bored and can distract yourself from the terror that you feel deep inside. Of course you can always use your packed-train journeys for trying to figure out what you’ll have for dinner or relive the moment of train-related stupidity from the previous morning, no matter where you sit or stand on the train.

(Non-)case closed.

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