Fri 12 Jul – day 62 As I was stood outside the terminal building a man approached and asked if he could be of assistance and when I explained that I wanted to get to the station he helped me across the road and round to the left where a coach was waiting. It cost just 100 yen and as I had no change handed over a 2000 yen note; in the UK you would probably get a look of disgust, but here a bow and the driver handed me the ticket and my change. Lars, the Norwegian naval officer, was already on the bus and as he was also going to Hiroshima I had someone to talk for the first part of my Japanese rail odyssey.
The bus waited until everyone who wants to travel into the town was onboard and then set off. There were few taxis and it would be a long walk, but it took the bus less than 10 minutes to arrive at the station.
The ticket booth in the station was unmanned and the smartly dressed train driver handed Lars and I pieces of paper and said “Pay conductor”. We boarded the train and having arrived in Japan at 09:00hrs, to be on the 10:33hrs train to Yonago was not bad going. The journey took 43 minutes along the JR Sakai Line and we stopped at every station along the way; every time an official walked passed we offered them our pieces of paper and the reply was always the same – “Pay the conductor”.
Because of the time that I had already been travelling and my future plans Anne at John Allan Travel had arranged for Inside Japan, the company I used to book all my hotels and ferry tickets in the country (superb and I would recommend them to anyone), to have my Japan Rail (JR) Pass exchange vouchers along with all the other documentation waiting at my hotel in Hiroshima. This meant that I paid for the journey from Sakaiminato to Hiroshima in cash.
Lars and I arrived at Yonago at 11:16hrs and when we enquired about the train to Okayama the platform official took out his timetable and told us when the train would leave and from which platform (the one we were on thankfully), when it would arrive and where we should stand to enter an unreserved carriage. This was my introduction into the efficiency of the whole JR system and we also asked where we could get a ticket and got the same answer as before – “Pay the conductor”.
There was just a 10 minute wait between trains and when it arrived staff were on hand to assist an elderly lady to her seat in the first row of the compartment. There is plenty of room and the carriage was in 2 + 2 arrangement so we stowed our bags and sat on either side of the aisle.
From Yonago to Okayama we travelled on a ‘Limited Express’ which as the name implied only made stops at the major stations and was one level down from the Shinkansen (Bullet Train), but which actually means ‘The New Way’ in Japanese. The tracks ran through the valleys and tunnels of the central mountain range as we made our way from one side of the country to the other.
The train was clean and comfortable and the scenery in the mountains was superb. Small rice fields, traditional looking houses and rivers with fishermen in them, just like the Scottish Highlands, but here the trains were much better.
When the conductor finally arrived we handed over the pieces of paper we had been given in Sakaiminato and told him where we want to go, Hiroshima for both of us; he took all this in his stride whereas in the UK you would probably have been either arrested for travelling without a ticket, or had to pay a large fine. The ticket cost 8400 Yen, just over £58-00, for a through ticket in a non-reserved seat.
Once we left the mountains what can only be described as an urban sprawl began, but amongst all the houses are small rice fields with an intricate irrigation system in place.
At Okayama Lars helped the old lady leave the train and there were railway staff on hand to assist her further. We then hurried off as I had looked at the indicator board and we had just 8 minutes to change trains. When we reached the Shinkansen ticket barrier we each handed over the 3 tickets we had been given by the conductor to the ticket collector and were each given one back, then it was up the escalators just as the train was pulling in. As it was a Friday afternoon it is standing room only for the 40 minute trip to Hiroshima, but in what seemed like no time at all we had travelled the 162km.
As we had been stood by the door we were the first ones off and then had to move out of the way while got our bearings; having done so we joined the hordes of other passengers heading for the exit. Having said our goodbyes I went on the escalator to the 1st (ground) floor via the Shinkansen exit where I handed over my ticket and then over the local JR lines to finally reach the south exit. The bi-lingual signs made finding your way around very easy.