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Monday, February 22, 2010

Four Islands in Fourteen Days...

So where do I begin?  Hello, my name is Regina. Do you remember me? I am actually the writer of this blog and I have been doing a terrible job keeping all of you updated on my travels! Many apologies! But many great stories to make up for it! I am back in Tokyo now so hopefully I can catch all of you up on my travels during my last two weeks of silence and will elaborate in more detail of my trip in separate entries.

So I bought a rail pass in Taiwan at the very last minute, thanks to the help of my friend Jen who called upon her travel agent to produce a rail pass for me within 24 hours!  It came with a $513.00 pricetag (Y46,100 list price with conversion from Yen - New Taiwan Dollar - US Dollar).  What I purchased was a 14 day free-pass to travel around the country on any JR line.  Naturally, I took advantage of the fact that it allowed me to go anywhere and ran with it.  I can proudly say that in two weeks, I went to all four major islands of Japan from North to South: Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku.

I traveled up north to see the Snow Festival which is something that I had wanted to do for years.  Spent 2 nights and 3 days in Sapporo with a few trips to the Hot Springs then took a night train down to Yamanashi-ken 山梨県 Yamanashi Prefecture to pay a quick visit to a good friend who was until recently working there as a professor in Psychology. She just recently landed a new job at a prestigious university - Aoyama Gakuin 青山学院 so she was getting ready to pack up, and say good-bye to the town that she called home for the last five years.  Since Eri had a lot of work to finish, I decided to walk around the town and keep myself busy.  Somehow I found myself at another onsen!

After spending a night in Yamanashi, took a 12 hour train ride down to Kyushu. I really wish they had night trains that went down to Kyushu!  I basically killed the entire day just trying to get down to the southern island, my home for two years.  Eri brought me to the train station early that morning where I took a train and then another train and then another...I took 5 trains that day!  Sakaori - Kofu - ShizuokaOkayama - Kokura - Oita - Saiki.  Okay, make that  6 trains!  I didn't get into Saiki until 12 hours later!

But all the train riding was worth it as I would be returning to the village that I called home for two years (2000-2002).  It had been almost 10 years since I first came here, not knowing a single soul and very resistant (or is the word resentful?) to the fact that I was being sent out to the countryside of Japan.  Little did I know that my two years here would leave a lasting impression that without any hesitation, I call this my home in Japan.  I often joke about returning here one day or buying up land so that I can come back to visit...we'll see if this ever happens.  I stayed in my old hometown of Naokawa which used to be called Naokawa Village but as of 5 years ago, was merged with the greater area known as Saiki City. I still hate calling it Saiki, as if we lost our identity, so you'll never hear me refer to my home as Saiki but still with much pride, Naokawa.

Since my rail pass was only valid for 14 days which I still feel was really only 13 days (started on February 4 and ended on February 17 - isn't that only 13? 4 + 13 = 17), I decided to maximize my pass.  This would require me to take a night train back.  However, since there were no night trains TO Kyushu, there were naturally no night trains FROM Kyushu.  There was however a night train from Shikoku which was the smaller island to the east.  On my way to Hokkaido, a fellow traveler had mentioned that they'd be going down to Shikoku to visit 道後温泉 Dogou Onsen and because I had never been, thought this would be a perfect time to come, on my rail pass...essentially, I had already paid my way there.

So I worked out that I would leave Naokawa on the FIRST train (there are only 3 trains in the day!) and make my way to Saiki and do almost the entire process back up to Tokyo but instead, at midway take a train from Okayama eastward to Shikoku.  I boarded the 6:51AM train in Naokawa and made it to Matsuyama at 3:20PM, over 8 hours of train.  It sucked that I had to say good-bye to everyone at such an early hour but this was the only way to maximize my rail pass and not have to worry about finding another place to sleep that night.

After taking a dip into my final (6th) onsen in 14 (or 13) days, I made my night train back to Tokyo.  Coming into Tokyo, whiteness everywhere! It was snowing in Tokyo!  This was the first time in a few years that Tokyo was getting snowed upon! How lucky I was! And to think that I almost never had a jacket! 

I covered a lot of area on my rail pass and the connections I made were priceless!  If you want to read more of my time in Hokkaido and Naokawa, please read my subsequent entries as I go in depth with what I did and what I ate...

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