Day 6–The Wings

Once more, with feeling: Yesterday’s post now has photos.

There are several restaurants near my hotel in Uguisudani, and every day I tended to think “well, if I can’t find anywhere I want to eat, I can always go back to the hotel”. I never did, in the end…

Today’s probably going to be a fairly short post. I rode a train. The end.

But seriously though, today I checked out of my hotel in Uguisudani and headed for my next hotel in Yamagata. Yamagata City is the capital and largest city in Yamagata Prefecture, a part of the Tohoku Region (the north-eastern part of Honshu). Tohoku is best known in Australia these days for being the site of the Great East Japan Earthquake, though that affected only the eastern prefectures in the region, whereas Yamagata is in the west. With a population of about 250,000, the city just a little bit more populous than Taito Ward, the ward of Toyko containing Uguisudani, but those people are spread over an area thirty-eight times larger, so it sure ain’t nearly as packed here.

But first, had breakfast and cleaned out my room. Remembered on the way out to take a photo of the view from my window. Here it is – spectacular, innit?

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On the way to the station, I took another photo of the tree in the park near my hotel. Here’s a comparison of all four photos I took, one from each of my mornings in Uguisudani. You can see how close I came to missing the autumn colours. At least for this tree, in any case.

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So hopped onto the train to Ueno Station, where I got a ticket for the shinkansen to Yamagata. The shinkansen lines in Ueno are underground, and boy are they a loooong way underground.

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Specifically, my train is the Tsubasa, the only train that runs on the Yamagata Shinkansen. Strictly speaking, the Yamagata Shinkansen is a mini-shinkansen. It runs from Tokyo Station attached to a Tohoku Shinkansen Yamabiko train bound for Sendai. At Fukushima Station, the two trains part ways, and the Tsubasa continues on the regular Ou Main Line tracks to Yamagata, sharing the tracks with the regular service trains (which is what makes it a mini-shinkansen). It’s my first ride on a shinkansen heading north instead of west, but it’s just as comfy. Not quite so fast, averaging a “mere” 150km/hr over the whole trip.

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Sat enjoying the view and attempting to take the occasional photo. After we left Fukushima and passed through a tunnel, snow appeared by the side of the tracks. Snow! Like, carpeting the whole ground – though only in the shade, and a little too close to the train to photograph clearly. Still, it does mean that just maybe I might see some snow up close here in Yamagata.

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I also had lunch on the train, an ekiben from the trolley lady. An ekiben is a bento box bought at a station (“eki” means “station”), and the station in this case is Yonezawa, a city famous in Japan for its beef (along with Matsuzaka, and of course Kobe) – and please note I’m not trying to say that the trolley lady got off the train in Yonezawa as we passed through and bought it for me, but rather that’s where they were brought onto the train. I got a beef bento, naturally, and one of those magical self-heating ones. You pull a string, and some magical chemicals under the food get mixed, and make everything nice and hot. Nice and tasty, too.

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One more thing, it kinda says something about the ubiquity of Toyoko Inns that pretty much every time we pulled into a station, I saw one out of my window. That’s one reason I like them so much. =)

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Arrived in Yamagata bang on time, as expected. It’s cold here – we’re up in the mountains, and further north, so while I was getting temperatures in the five-to-twelve range in Tokyo (and am expecting to get for the rest of the trip), here we’re talking more like minus five,  to about eight. This is where I brought all the layers for.

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I am, of course, staying in a Toyoko Inn here again, and again just a short walk from the staion. I was a little early to check in, so I left my luggage at the hotel and went for a stroll to the nearest Seven-Eleven to get me some more cash – it’s about a kilometre away, so by the time I got back, it was the perfect time to check in. Had a bit of a conversation with the staff – they were astonished that Santa Claus is basically the same in Australia even though we have no snow at Christmas time.

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Everything at this hotel is pretty much the same as all of them, but there are some small differences. Firstly, my hotel at Uguisudani used my Toyoko Inn Member card as both the room key and the light-turning-on thing, but this hotel has a physical key to open the room, and the keyring turns on the lights – that’s also how it was for all of our hotels on our last trip, but I think they’re hoping to change them all over to the member card system instead. Also, it’s more of a typical room arrangement with the door opening to a straight hall with the bathroom on the side. I’m also on the seventh floor here (as opposed to the second in Uguisudani), so there’s a little bit more of a view.

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Sat in the room for a while going through yesterday’s photos (with the TV turned to the kids’ programming for a bit of passive Japanese practice), then I went out to get some dinner. I intending to go find a restaurant somewhere, but I got distracted by checking out the supermarket across the road, and wound up buying some instant yakisoba instead. It’s a pretty impressive supermarket there’s even a relaxation space. Sadly, I seem to have neglected to take a photo of the yakisoba before I took the wrapper off. The kettle provided is a little anaemic, so it took a while to boil. It was most tasty, though – along with a can of hot chocolate from the vending machines in the hotel. One thing I’ve noticed is that at least the hot cans here have some very thick walls – it takes a lot of strength just to bend the walls a bit. Haven’t tried a cold can to compare.

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Flicked on the TV over dinner, and just caught the end of an episode of VS Arashi. Bit of a shame I missed the rest of it, I would have liked to watch. I’ll have to see what I’m doing at 7pm next Thursday. It used to air subtitled in Australia on SBS, but I haven’t seen it in a while.

In any case, time for bed now. Early night for a change. =)

Today’s photo count: Three-oh-three.

Today’s pedometer count: 8566 steps, or 5.8km.

Today’s goshuin count: Not a one

Today’s stamp count: Four – for some reason, Ueno had another three stamps inside the gate, which I’d not noticed before (though the ink pad was getting a bit old, so they’re rather faint). Also, Yamagata Station.

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