Monday, January 9, 2017

KKs Vacay: Of All the Places to Meet a Surfer 10/26/16

Tokyo to Hakata

We had booked a bullet train from Tokyo to Hakata in Kyuushuu at 630 AM. We have to transfer at Shin-Osaka station and get on another bullet train to make it to Hakata by noon.

Our mom had scheduled us to stop by her home town of Yahata for a couple hours since "we have a few hours to spare," but we were not visiting her home town. We had to be in Hakata and be at my dad's friend, Mr. Harada, Thank You banquet for his company by 1630. However our mom thought her plan was feasible, we were not going to Yahata.

We grab our medium sized trunks and backpack and head out into the cold Tokyo morning. We check out of our hotel room, and schedule a limousine bus for our departure date nine days in advance from this hotel to Narita airport. I inquire if I can cancel our hotel reservation for the last days of our trip since our Auntie was adamant about us staying with her. They replied that since the reservation was made through a third-party site, we have to cancel it through the third-party site.

We make our way across the street to Shinagawa station. There is a hefty crowd walking with us towards the station. Hard to believe these people do this commute every day, this early, with precision, without hesitation. We get on the escalator, and the rule in Japan is to stand on the left side and walk up on the right side. We hug the shoulder on the left side, as busy businessmen and businesswomen scurry past us up the escalator.
Pops posing in front of the bullet train as it comes in to Shinagawa

I tell my dad to keep his JR Rail Pass out. He is unable to walk and unzip his backpack at the same time. He manages to find his Rail Pass once we are at the check point. I wait for him to produce the Rail Pass to the Ekisho-san, the train ticket manager. Once he produces it, we walk through the office, only to ask which way we should be going. He examines our bullet train tickets, and tell us that we have to actually go to a different station around the corner. So, we thank him, exit, and make our way down the long station and make it to the right station.

We wait for our train, and I buy a drink from the vending machine. I miss these vending machines in Japan, since they are everywhere. Any time at all, if you need a cold, refreshing drink, or a warm, cozy coffee, you can find a vending machine located along the streets of Japan. The train station is no exception, and I buy a drink full of electrolytes called Pocari Sweat. Yes, the naming sucks, but it is exactly what I need to make our trek down south for six hours in a bullet train.

Our bullet train arrives, and we find our seats. We are seated behind each other. Businessmen,  businesswomen, students and travelers sprinkle the seats. Some go back to sleep. Others read a book. The man next to me flips open his laptop and starts working on complicated looking graphs and reports.

I keep to myself and put my headphones on. I re-read certain parts of Peculiar Children. After I finish my favorite parts, I take out my notepad and start to write.

After an hour or so, the man on my right closes his laptop. The man on the left of me stares blankly out the window. The man on the right opens his iPhone, and starts looking at his instagram. I peak over his screen and see that he follows a lot of surf accounts. The latest news is that John John Florence had won the World Title.

"Do you surf?" I ask him.

"Why yes, do you surf too?" he asks me.

And from there we talk about surf for a good half an hour.

"I'm usually on the North Shore this time of year, but I'm here to accompany my dad to his 50th High School Reunion. So, I'm missing the North Shore winter for the first time in five years," I explain to him.

"Oh! I was there last year around December."

"Really? We must have missed each other. Where are you from?"

"Kanagawa," he says.

"Oh, do you know a famous surfer named Wakita? Takayuki Wakita. He is super famous on the North Shore."

"Yes! I actually was helping him at the store he works at in Haleiwa!" he exclaims.

"NO WAY! I surf with his wife and kids almost every winter at Velzyland. They are so nice and fun to be with!"

"Really? Wow small world isn't it?" he says, astonished.

We exchange information and he shows me some photos of where he lives. "Next time when a typhoon comes, you have to surf with us! It will be fun!" he tells me.

"Ok, that is a deal!" I tell him, handing him my business card.

He exits the bullet train as I wave bye to him.

"You always make friends wherever you go," my dad says, smiling.

"Who would have thought that I would meet someone that surfs that knows the same people I know?"

While I was talking with my neighbor, Mr. Watanabe,  my dad was asking the bullet train Chief of different ways to get to Hakata. Initially we couldn't get reserved seats on our next train, but the bullet train was slower at arriving at Hakata station by two and a half hours. The Chief informed us that if we take a different bullet train fifteen minutes earlier, we could arrive in Hakata by 1230. We decided to take that route instead.

Mr. Watanabe shows me on his iPhone where he lives and where he surfs. "Please come to surf with me in Japan next time!" he said enthusiastically. "We can bike down there easily from my house. You must come." I agree to surf with him in Japan the next time I am here, and a typhoon lines up in our forecast. Where he surfs, in Kanagawa, there are only good waves when there is a typhoon approaching. We also talk about family life and work life, but the most memorable was to talk to him about surfing.
Breakfast in a bullet train is gourmet af

He takes the next exit as he has to make it to the office. "See you again!" he says.

"See you in Hawaii! Or in Kanagawa!" I say to him.

He smiles and bows as he exits.

Our stop in Shin-Osaka is the next stop. The bullet train is like a plane that never takes off. One sees the far mountains passing by steadily, while the closer scenery blur within seconds. When another bullet train comes from the other way, there is a momentary vortex WHOOSH as the wind resistance of both bullet trains collide with each other. Then, the bullet train passes, and it is back to green scenery for kilometers.

As we arrive in Shin-Osaka, we get ready to run to the next train stop. Because we do not have reserved seats, we have to essentially be first in line to get a seat. If not, we are stuck standing in the bullet train for another two and a half hours.

The train stops, and everyone gets out in an orderly manner. However once people are off the train, the rush begins. Some people walk slowly, as they are in no rush. Others, like us, start walking quickly to the stairs. There are stairs going down, while the escalator only goes up. We carry our luggage in our arms as we watch our steps going down the stairs. We make it to the bottom, then rush to Station 5, once again carrying our luggage up the stairs, not using the escalators, and finding the line for unreserved trains. What is great about Japan is that the bullet trains stop exactly at the indicated stops, and each train line, whether it be Nozomi (the highest end, fastest bullet train) or Hikari (the 'low-end" bullet train) has the same designated reserved and unreserved car trains. So, we line up at the unreserved car for our train line. And as sure as clockwork, the bullet train arrives on time, and stops exactly where indicated. Not even a centimeter out of place. The people inside the train first get off, and then we start to board the train.

There are several train conductors all along the various entrances, and they all have to give the "clear" signal in order to close the gates and bullet train doors. Yes, there are actually sliding gates to protect people from getting too close to the bullet train. 

My dad and I find seats, and make our way towards Hakata, where his childhood friend is waiting.

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