Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How a 5 hour trip turned into 24

So my shrinksie-poo is in Sendai. That's the capital of Miyagi prefecture, the prefecture south of mine (Iwate) and pretty much the capital of the entire Northeast. It's about 300 km from here, but I make the trek because while I'm decent in Japanese and will be happy to do most things in my 5th language, I'd rather commune with my psychiatrist in English.

Anyhow, this results in me either taking a "cheap" train ride - a serious of 3 or 4 trains - that will last about 5 hours, or the expensive ride on the shinkanesen (bullet train), an hour and a half and about $40 US more expensive. And that's only one way. As I make the trip once a month, I choose to save money over saving time.Yesterday, the joke was on me.

Heading back yesterday, I take a 4.02pm train to Kogota, and promptly fall asleep. I mean, what else is there to do on 5 hours of train? I wake to find the train going slowly. Miyagi is one of rare places in Japan that isn't really that mountainous, so the winds just whip across it in Spring and Fall. We crawl into Matsushima station, and there, they break the news: we weren't going anywhere until the wind stopped.

I pull out my Kindle, and Matthew Quick's BOY21. (AMAZING, btw, how does he do this thing with mixing characters from extremely different backgrounds so well?) I read the entire book. And then I remember that last time I was stranded on a train in the middle of the night, I started The Hunger Games. And I begin to wonder if reading books in stranded trains makes them brilliant. And then I realise we've been sitting there for 4 hours! At that I get a little worried. I don't want to get stuck in Matsushima, an area that was almost flattened by the tsunami. What if there's a quake? (There are still quakes almost daily, mostly weak though.) Finally, the wind (and rain, which had also started up) chill out enough for us to crawl to Kogota. I realise that I'm not making it home. It's almost 10. This was only the first of my 4 train rides and my last train on the Dinkville Express is at 9.44, and 3 hours away in good conditions. I decided to hope to make it to my capital, Morioka.  

I start KNOCKED OUT BY MY NUNGA-NUNGAS by Louise Rennison (who I keep promising not to read in public, because I look crazy when I start shaking with laughter) in the waiting room. The Japan Rail (JR) guys say the train for Ichinoseki (my next stop) has not yet left Sendai (where I started). I figure if it took us 6 hours and some to get to Kogota, there's no way in ice cream heaven we were seeing a train that night. No worries. See, I'm the world's worst traveller. Crazy shizbipple always happens to me, and I can't do anything about it. I stopped worrying a long time ago. 

Eventually the JR guys gave up and put us all on a bus, with a driver who apparently has never driven to train stations before, because the people in the bus had to give him directions. I consider it my scenic tour of North Miyagi. I have one friend who lives in one of the towns, but I've only seen that one town. That's when I discover that there's nothing to see in North Miyagi.

We're only two stops out from Ichinoseki when I decide I should put all the crazy stuff that happend to me in a non-fiction book, because I could never write it as fiction. Who would believe it? Like that time they found a human toe on the train track and it got declared a crime scene and the train couldn't run. (Yeps, that happened.)  I'm sketching out the book in my mind, when the bus crosses an intersection. I think we were supposed to turn left, but what do I know? I've never been on these roads before. Then the road ends suddenly and we are, literally, in an empty rice field. It takes all my willpower not to laugh out loud.  It's 9 HOURS into a 95 MINUTE TRAIN ride, and I'm in a BUS in a RICE FIELD. A little too ridiculous to contemplate.

The driver backs out and we make it to Ichinoseki (nicknamed The Sexy) a little after one. I'm glad to finally be back in Iwate, if not in my own town. I figure it doesn't make sense checking into a hotel for 4 hours, so I wander around the station area, looking for a restaurant. They're all closing at 3, but that will give me 2 hours of shelter. The first restaurant is "Thousand Year Place" which makes me think all the food will spoiled. Nopes. The second is Ichinoseki Hormone. Hormone is guts. The national Saturday pasttime of Barbados is eating pudding and souse. Pudding is potato dipped in pig blood and stuffed in pig intestine. I have NEVER eaten it. I figure if I left Barbados not eating guts, why come to Japan and eat it? Nopes.
The next restaurant is called Ton-chan, "Little Pig." I wonder in, and buy some strips of the second most expensive beef in Japan, which happens to come from a few stops from The Sexy, in a town named Maesawa. Then I have me some horse strips. And an aloe drink. And a Dragon Fruit Sherbet, which is sooooo good that I think, as I swallow my first mouthful, it was worth 9 hours for this.
 Dragon Fruit Sherbet, also known as Ecstasy in Purple.

I read my Kindle and eat slowly. I don't want this meal to finish a second before 3 o' clock. Because at 3, it's out in the wind - the cold is not so bad, my house is probably colder.

The little old lady working in the restaurant asks me if I'm sight-seeing. I'm tempted to tell her, yes, I'm sight-seeing in The nothing-to-see Sexy at 2 am, but sarcasm gets totally lost in Japanese. So I tell her I'm stranded, thanks to wind-cancellations. At 3, when I pay, she stops me and declares that I am SLEEPING AT HERS! I try arguing, but it's no use arguing with a Japanese person whose trying to do you a favour. So, we walk to her place, and she's like, you go on, and sleep, I'll watch tv and wake you at 5. I try to insist that she sleep, because there's no way someone who worked from 5 pm to 3 am isn't ready to sleep, but she refuses, and shuts me in the bedroom. I amuse myself thinking how if this were any other country, she'd be an axe-murderer. I don't think I'll fall asleep, but then it's 5, and she's tapping me. She tells me I can sleep longer if I want to, the tv says it's still high winds. But I've put her out too much already, so I say no, get up, use the loo (yay for reading British books!) and head out. She insists on walking me out to show me the way, even though it's a straight shot, and I can see the tracks from her apartment. I thank her profusely, and she insists I come back and say hi sometime. I've never been to The Sexy before, but I'm defs going to try to go now!

 AJR train next to the Dinkville Express, properly known as IGR - Iwate Galaxy Railroad.

When I get to the station, it turns out the tv was right. No trains all morning. I explore the 4 shops in the station. I find a new type of bread from my town's bread company, and a folder with the 5 Iwate mascots - all bowls with different kinds of food in them. And I buy myself breakfast, and then lunch, and then Cherry Blossom Rice Cake gelato (soooo yum). And then take a nap. When I ask, the station attendant tells me it's not just the high-winds now, there's apparently a power cut between The Sexy and Morioka. I just go back to my nap. At 12.20, they finally get a train running.

Of course, when I finally pull into Morioka, it's during the Dinkville siesta - my private train line has almost 2 hours in the middle of the day where they just don't run any trains. I wander off to the bookstore, and buy a copy of Gregory Maguire's WICKED. I get tempted to watch a movie, but I don't want to push my luck. I return to the station in time for the next train. I get home at 4.23 pm. 
My 5 hour train trip, turned into 24 hours and 21 minutes, involved a bus in a rice field, dragon fruit sherbet, cherry blossom rice cake ice cream, Maesawa beef, 2 books in English , 1 in French (Les Miserables), and 1 in Spanish (Como Agua Para Chocolate), and crashing at an old lady I'd never seen before in my life. What can I say? When you're the self-affirmed world's worst traveller, there's never a dull moment.

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