The following is a trip report for a journey I took in July, 2012.
Whilst staying in Tokyo, we were summoned by a Family Friend to visit his home at Yokohama. Following his detailed instructions and itinerary, we boarded a Keikyu line Rapid service at Asakusa station and travelled south for about 90 minutes, before meeting up at Yokohama station. As soon as was polite (perhaps even a little before), I made my apologies and left the Family Friend (I didn’t particularly want a day of very rigidly scheduled sightseeing).
Before I escaped, the Family Friend had given me detailed instructions of where I should go, and which trains I should catch. I decided he must know better than I (being a local), and not having any other firm plans, I decided to (loosely) follow his advice. He insisted on seeing me to my first train, and tried to show me where to buy a ticket. I explained that my rail pass was my ticket and I didn’t need to pay any extra. On the platform, I lined up where the green car would stop. The Family Friend scolded me and said “no-no, this car need special ticket-a”. I explained that my pass covered green class too; he was very surprised, as a green class ticket is usually around double the price of an ordinary ticket (although the green class rail pass is only 25% more expensive than an ordinary pass).
I took the interurban service as directed, heading south on the Tōkaidō Main Line through the sprawling megalopolis that encompasses Tokyo, Kawasaki, Yokohama and beyond. The service was a “Rapid” train, stopping at very few stations before I arrived at Kōzu, where the family friend had instructed me to change trains. I found that the next train I was to catch (running along a branch line) did not depart for about 45 minutes, so I went for a walk around the town. I could smell the beach, and sure enough, only 2 blocks from the station was a beach… of sorts. The beach was mostly made up of small, smooth grey rocks. Closer to the water, the rocks had been crushed into a sort of fine gravel that wasn’t quite sand. The beach was dirty, littered with flotsam from the bay (wood, plastic bags and the odd tyre). Despite the disappointing state of the beach, there were people fishing, walking and even a group having a picnic.
After the walk on the beach, I made my way back to the station, where I found my train to Gotemba; a little 2 car 313 series EMU. The bulkhead wall at the front of the train was glass, allowing passengers to look in to the Driver’s cab and see through the windscreen. As we departed, it was fascinating watching the Driver complete his safety rituals; pointing at signals, timetables, fault lights and whatever else he could see. The big surprise came at the next stop (a little unstaffed station), where the Driver opened part of the glass partition and collected fares! I don’t know how the timetable allowed for this, but the train departed at precisely the right time at each station.
The little train wound its way through the mountains and through tunnels on the little single line, pausing at halts in villages and towns. Occasionally we waited for a train running in the opposite direction, and were even overtaken by a sleek, blue express train run by another company (with no-one on board). I should have been able to see Mt Fuji from the train, but that day Fuji-san was hiding in the clouds and did not do me the honour of showing himself.
We arrived in the mountain city of Gotemba where the train terminated. Outside the station, there was a preserved steam locomotive on static display, but unfortunately all of the information around the locomotive was in Japanese, so I never did learn its full story. The city must have had a strong connection to the railway, the storm water drain covers in the city streets are engraved with a picture of the same locomotive.
After spending about two hours walking the orderly, clean streets of Gotemba, I boarded another little local service, onward through the mountains and back to the Tōkaidō Main Line at Numazu. From Numazu I took a local service south along the Tōkaidō Main Line. The local (all stations) train was not in any sort of hurry as it meandered around the coast, pausing at each little halt and allowing itself to be overtaken by every other train. I spent about 90 minutes on it without getting very far, so I left the train at Hamamatsu and boarded the first northbound Shinkansen. I was surprised at how far south I had actually come, as even at high speed it took over an hour back to Yokohama.
The Shinkansen line does not serve Yokohama station, but stops at Shin-Yokohama station (“shin” meaning new). I had to make my way from Shin-Yokohama to Yokohama to meet with the Family Friend and my travelling companion (who did not have the same train-hopping excuse as I did to escape the Family Friend’s rigidly organised sightseeing).
On the JR Yokohama line, a drama was unfolding; trains were late (yes – a Japanese train was late!) and out of order. The 18:38 arrived at 18:44, before the 18:31. The 18:31 was 12 minutes late and delayed the 18:43… station staff were nervously pacing the platform, passengers were anxiously looking at their watches the; Japanese efficiency was crashing down. The 18:31, which had caused all of the problems turned out to be an ancient “Rapid” Liner service from Ito to Yokohama. It stopped and no one got on. Not knowing why, I decided to follow the herd, and wait for the next.
I boarded a local Yokohama Line train towards Yokohama. At the station before Yokohama, there was a lengthy announcement in Japanese and almost everyone got off. I remained on with a handful of others and about 30 seconds later the train departed… in the opposite direction! I got off at the next stop and looked at the map; apparently the Yokohama line doesn’t actually serve Yokohama station, so I went one stop back and changed trains. From the map, I deduced that I had to catch a Keihin-Tōhoku Line train for one stop to Yokohama.
This time I made it to Yokohama and saw the same ancient liner service that had caused the late running trains at Shin-Yokohama. I realised that if I had caught that Liner service (that no one else boarded) from Shin-Yokohama, it would have taken me straight to Yokohama. The reason no one else had boarded it was that it was a more expensive train to catch due to it’s “limited express” status (no difference to me travelling on a rail pass).
Whilst waiting at Yokohama I visited the ticket office and reserved seats for my next day’s journey (Shin-Aomori & Akita by Shinkansen and Tsugaru) before meeting up with the Family Friend. He ushered us on to a “Rapid” Keikyu line train which was about to depart towards Tokyo. This train was being run using a 1970s vintage 800 series EMU, very different from the more modern 600 series which had brought us that morning.
Once we were underway, I realised that the train we were on would was bound for Haneda, and would branch off before reaching our stop of Asakusa. After studying the Japanese map for about 10 minutes, I worked out that we needed to change at Shinegawa. Fortunately, a Local service for Asakusa was only 3 minutes behind and we were soon heading in the right direction.