Trainspotting, or Around the World in 0.41 days

I now have a JR rail pass for Kyushu.

12 hours. 848.5 kilometres. 4 trains. Approximately 15,000yen worth of travel.

In England there’s a hobby of watching trains (or other forms of transport) and collecting their serial numbers. It’s called trainspotting. It’s symbol is the anorak wearing nerds. Recently a few English citizens got arrested in Greece and have been sentenced for spying because they were cataloging military aircraft serial numbers, that was their holiday. (Cataloging the serial numbers, not getting caught for spying.)

The joy of a JR pass is that, once activated you get unlimited travel for the time it covers. As a celebration of getting my 7 day Kyushu (the island I’m on) pass activated I went and did something really, really stupid. I caught the first limited express train (the expensive ones) I could find. It was 10:05am. Well, I sort of planned to do what I did, but it started very quickly. I wanted to make sure I got value for money with my rail pass. I wanted to go on a long trip. I ended up circumnavigating Kyushu, which actually was the plan. And it actually worked out quite well. The changes between trains wasn’t more than 1/2 hour, most changes didn’t require changing platforms, and they are really, really stylish trains.

The first train started to roll up, I saw the hostesses stand in a line and give a long, ritual bow as it arrived. So, that’ll be a photo opportunity I won’t miss next time. I sat down and finally worked out how the read the timetable book everyone had (except me, until today) and realised how easy it all is. They have different types of trains for different routes/lines. So, from Fukuoka/Hakata (the top) I caught the Tsubame to Nishi-Kagoshima (at the bottom) in three hours. The Tsubame looks like it could transform into a fighting robotic monster from it’s sharp lines and metalic colour. It was the Tsubame number 7 on the Kagoshima line. Once I had these worked out, it was a breeze. After a 1/2 hour wait, next was a Kirishima number 10 on the Kagoshima line from Nishi-Kagoshima to Miyazaki. I had a 4 minute wait for the Nichirin number 12 (The Red Express) on the Nippo line from Miyazaki to Oita. Finally I had the very stylish Sonic number 52 from Oita back to Hakata, also on the Nippo line. I ended up back at the start at 10pm.

The Sonic was the newest style of train what I could tell. It and the Tsubame had auto opening doors between carriages, reminiscent of Star Trek. Nice clean interior, very Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Arthur Dent’s ideal space ship.) The Sonic also had leather seats and a timber floor. Both were like the interior of an aircraft, but with more space. The other two were a bit older, but very comfortable. Much better than the local, rapid and special rapid I had been catching all over Japan so far. As much as I enjoyed those, this is traveling in style.

I want to try and catch each different type of train, and from the timetable it looks like there are about 9 different ones. Since I already have 4 ticked off (and I really mean ticked off, my time table now has marks against the ones I’ve caught,) there aren’t that many left. But I got confused, because on the Nichirin (The Red Express) which is very distinctive, I saw another train, labelled as a Nichirin, and in the time table as a Nichirin, but looking nothing like the one I was in. So maybe there are sub-breeds of trains. More research is obviously needed, and much more travel. They seem to alternate models based on departure time, direction and so on.

Down the east coast of Kyushu JR are building a Shinkansen track. The tracks for these are completely separate, smooth fast tracks. On the west side of Kyushu I noticed an old track for some distance, which the person next to me (he had very good English but forgetful, but that’s another story) said was a test track for the magnetic train, which uses high powered magnets to lift the train and thus have no friction when travelling. They go very, very fast (+400Kms/hour).

And so here I am, on a Saturday night, at an Internet Cafe writing up my 12 hours of train travel.

Where’s my anorak?

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