Seeing Japan from the slow train – part 7: Takayama to Shinagawa

There are three main ways to get from Takayama to Tokyo on the local trains: backtrack to the north along the route I had previously travelled, backtrack part of the way and then take another valley to the east and approach Tokyo from the west, or head out of the mountains to the south and follow the Pacific coast. While the eastward departure offered the most scenic option, it also had very limited service with tight connections, so I opted to go south instead.

10:24 was the last departure from Takayama that could get me back to Tokyo on the local trains without having to spend another night on the way, and that was the one I took. I had no need to be back in Tokyo that night, and I knew that once I got out of the mountains there were more frequent trains that would enable me to stop off along the way, so I left Takayama with the full intent of stopping off a couple of times and if I found something interesting with accommodations I could spend the night if I desired.

The route from Takayama to Minoota started off with a very scenic crossing from the winter landscape of the Sea of Japan side of the island to the spring landscape of the Pacific side as it descended alongside a river with rapids fed from the snowmelt above. As the ride progressed it changed from forest villages with trackside sawmills to tea bushes, rice fields and orchards where the valley widened out. Eventually the rural scenery had to come to an end, more or less just as the train pulled into Minoota, to be replaced by urban and suburban vistas.

Minoota was my first train change of the day and also came at just the right time for a lunch stop. I didn’t have time to stray too far from the station and was hoping that there was a bakery or café of same nature nearby, so I was very pleasantly surprised to step off the train and find a man selling something edible from a tray. Several other people headed straight for him, so I figured I might as well and under the wrapping found a reasonable lunch of chicken, mushrooms, and vegetables with rice and a pickled cherry. While waiting on the platform I noticed there was a pretty cold breeze, and for once I was happy to wait for the transfer in the platform waiting area rather than explore the station.

A short local led from Minoota to Gifu. There might have been some interesting scenery along the way, but the glare from the sun bothered someone trying to use their e-reader and they pulled the shade down. At Gifu I transferred to a rapid service local to Toyohashi, a section remarkable for the stark contrast of riding through the flat urban sprawl of Nagoya compared to the mountains of the previous days before leaving the city behind for the semi-rural coastal plain outside.

Toyohashi was where my route joined the Tokaido line, which has frequent service all the way in to Tokyo and was the main place I had planned on having a look around and possibly spending the night at. By this point the cold breeze had turned into a cold wind and all I could see around the station was city, so I decided I might as well carry on and see what else came up on down the line. The next section was a short local to Hamamatsu, where I had just enough time to find a restroom before needing to board my connection to Atami.

Boarding the train to Atami was a shock. Up until that point the trains had been getting nicer each section, from the usual segmented bench seating of the 2 car locals through the mountains to rows of coach style seating from Gifu on, but when I boarded at Hamamatsu I found myself back on a subway-style bench along the wall seating… for a train I would be on for nearly 3 hours. It was also the early part of the afternoon rush hour, and although I had not figured there would be a huge rush hour from any town along the route, I had neglected to think about the combined effect of smaller rush hours all along the route. Although this train went through some of the most scenic sections of the Tokaido line route, I spent it in cramped conditions with my view out the windows blocked for the majority of the ride by people standing n front of me. At least I had a seat…

After eventually arriving at Atami after dark and after one of the least enjoyable 3 hours I have spent on a train, I was simply ready to be home, and as luck would have it transferred onto a “special rapid” express. The Atami to Tokyo train is essentially my local route (and one I have taken several times before), so with darkness outside and an hour and a half of approach to Tokyo to go, I gave up trying to identify the stations as they passed by and cat-napped my way to Shinagawa and home.

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