Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Shirahama: a little bit of Australia in Japan, Part 1

Following the Japanese government call for more money to be spent traveling within the country, I decided that today it would be fun to spend some time in the sun, digging my toes into the fine white sand of a good beach, and set off to meet some friends I met recently at a lindy hop event in Osaka.

My destination was Shirahama. The place, as the name in Japanese suggests ("white beach") is known for its fine white sand. (What they only mention on the footnote, however, is that much of the current sand is imported from Australia.) It's in the Wakayama district, south of Osaka, and therefore a good 3 hours of train riding away from where I'm staying in Shiga. That meant getting up very early to get there in time to enjoy the day. Most fortunately, the sun still shows up for work at a very, very early hour in the morning around here. Nothing like the daft pre-4am sunrises we got in Hokkaido in August, but still early enough that the day was well along its usual routine by the time I biked off to the train station at 6:45.

Since it's a national holiday, the express commuter train I boarded towards Osaka was understandably on the empty side, with a few bleary eyed riders reading a book, plugged into a music player, or just simply passed out. In Osaka, however, I boarded a limited express train towards Shirahama (tip: "limited" express is faster than express... the "limited" does not refer to the train's speed OR the extra money the train company feels entitled to charge for riding those trains). Around here, you can be sure you're taking a special train when it has a name and number. I was waiting for "Ocean Arrow #5". Since I bought tickets at the last minute, I only had unreserved seat tickets (these special trains usually have a few reserved seat wagons and a few unreserved seat wagons). The catch is that an "unreserved seat ticket" only guarantees that they'll let you be in the unreserved seat wagon on the train (general laws of physics and biology permiting). It most definitely does not guarantee a seat.

Turns out I wasn't the only one to think Shirohama might be cool for the day, so I got to stand for a good hour and a half in the train, an honor I shared with what felt like at least 40 or 50 other people just in that one wagon. Not packed by Japanese standards (packed=so crowded that everyone is wedged in to the point where it's physically impossible to fall, tip, sit, turn, etc), but definitely cozy. Fortunately Shirahama wasn't the only destination, so I did eventually manage to grab a seat and catch a good 30 minutes of sleep before the little jingle came on over the loudspeakers and a chipper conductor announced we were arriving in Shirohama.

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