Another view down the lines at Nagoya Station 名古屋駅 as the train approached.
Out of the rain and grey temporarily, arriving at the main station at Nagoya 名古屋, one of the country's largest cities. Off the Shinkansen 新幹線 and across a few tracks to wait for the Hida ひだ limited express and the lazy winding trip to the mountains.
Eating some Pocky ポッキー, probably, while watching the rain over the mountains.
The way the view of the landscape moves at this speed makes me wonder if the early-90s Sega developers that worked on Sonic got the idea for parallax background layers from trips taken on this line.
Trains on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen 東海道新幹線 travel at around 285-300 km/h, with the super express Nozomi のぞみ (“Wish”) making the fewest stops, the Hikari ひかり (“Light”) making a few more, and the Kodama こだま (“Echo”) stopping at all stations.
Here, a brief pause at Odawara Station 小田原駅 before continuing on. 10 minutes later, as the line heads south and then turns to the west, it's possible to get a great view of Mount Fuji 富士山, but the weather wasn't cooperating at the time.
It didn't take long for me to know, with certainty, that the Shinkansen 新幹線 is my favourite way to travel. Fast, smooth, comfortable, quiet, always on time and no need to check in or wait around. Just walk on.
Gliding away from the station, through the shifting, weaving view of power lines, train tracks and urban infrastructure as the rain flicked by. The city wet now, hazy and grey, but with sakura 桜 spilling out between buildings and over water channels like clouds of pink dust.
With the increasing speed the larger buildings moved by as if scale models, the view then flattening out into a consistent height. A moment later, already in the countryside and buildings nestled in the flat between hills, filling all available space. Tunnels, tunnels, tunnels.
Getting to Takayama 高山市, located in the alps of the Gifu Prefecture 岐阜県, meant the chance to make my first trip on one of Japan's famous Shinkansen 新幹線 bullet trains, followed by a winding journey up through the mountains on a local train.
For my time after Tokyo 東京 I'd planned an itinerary that would cover a few thousand kilometres, so before coming to Japan I purchased a Japan Rail Pass. The pass, available in standard or Green Car versions, grants unlimited usage of the JR network, including reserving seats in advance. I made use of the pass the previous night at Tokyo Station 東京駅 to book my trips for the day ahead, so it was just a matter of showing up.
Dragging my suitcase through the stations and the Yamanote Line 山手線 to Shinagawa Station 品川駅, I waited just a few minutes, taking the photo above, before boarding an N700 series express Hikari ひかり (Light) on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen 東海道新幹線 from Tokyo 東京 to Nogoya 名古屋.
On the train ride back, the scenery slowly transitioning from natural back to artificial, we chatted more about the city, our countries and more. A change at Ōmiya Station 大宮駅 and then on to the hive of Shinjuku Station 新宿駅 where we eventually parted ways, with Yoshida-san 吉田さん confident that I wouldn't get lost.
As I write this, it's recently become possible to tour other sections of the Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel 首都圏外郭放水路, like the turbine room and the top of the first shaft, although proficiency in Japanese is still a requirement. Perhaps I'll go back some day and check it out again, as the language barrier is less of a problem for me now than it was then: unbeknownst to me at the time, a few months later I'd meet the man who would become my husband, who also happens to speak Japanese. A lot has happened in the past few years.
Back to Shibuya 渋谷 and the hotel for a break, then across to Tokyu Hands 東急ハンズ again for another dig around and a bite to eat for lunch. After, on to the Yamanote Line 山手線 and north a couple of stops to explore more of the skyscraper district of Shinjuku 新宿 on foot. A popular place to visit is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building 東京都庁舎, due to the impressive views offered by the observation decks on the 45th floors of both towers, 200 metres up. It's also a gem of a building architecturally, with a look of constructive solid geometry. So that's where I went, and it was totally worth it: from the observation level the vastness of the city becomes apparent, filling everything below the horizon, an ocean of concrete dotted by islands of bushy dark green parkland flecked with white sakura 桜.
Back down at street level and into the station again, this time taking the Chūō Line Rapid 中央線快速 to Ochanomizu Station 御茶ノ水駅 and on to Akihabara Station 秋葉原駅, to find the Electric Town game store called Super Potato スーパーポテト. I'd obliviously walked past it previously, but prepared with a map screenshot it was easier to find this time around. If you played a lot of Atari 2600 and NES growing up, this is the place for you. Multiple levels filled to the door frames with everything to give you a dose of nostalgia and the excitement of seeing all those titles you'd read about as a kid but never got the chance to play. It's fantastic! The top level also has a small arcade, but the single open window is inadequate ventilation for the miasma of cigarette smoke, so I didn't stay up there too long.
After the retro fix it was just a few stops to Tokyo Station 東京駅, so despite the long day I ventured over to look around before looping back to Shibuya 渋谷 for a red meat feast at B & Loin, some more photos (including the above), then packed things up and called it a night. In the morning, I checked out and started the journey to Takayama 高山市.