On the Tohoku shinkansen

Double-decker shinkansen. After so many trips to Japan, this is my first time seeing a double-decker shinkansen. So fun. Get the upper level seats and you can see the world whizz by. Get the lower level seats and you see concrete. Or end up like me feeling dizzy watching the same beige blur go by.

Getting on the shinkansen is the best way of realising – I’m actually back in Japan! The adventure starts on the platform when you choose your bento sets at the eki-ben stands. The colour and variety make quick decisions very difficult. There are also seasonal sets which are packaged to fit the season.

Just make sure to time it right and not miss your train since the trains leave right on the dot and will not wait for you while you queue to get your drink.

I had to keep a close eye on the clock as I dashed to the vending machine for my drink.

My bento set costs 1000yen and looks like this:

And unwrapped, tastes as good as it looks:

Unfortunately for me, I had a seat on the lower level and right in between two strangers. After a while, the unrelenting greyness of concrete whizzing by at top speed left me feeling queasy so I took refuge in an empty window seat at the upper deck. The shinkansen route is often not the most scenic of train routes. Despite that, there is a charm to the endless patches of green field and tiny Lego houses dotting the landscape.

Here’s the first of many rice fields I saw:

On the Tohoku shinkansen, we would pass within the 100km of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant for a short stretch. Obviously no one felt anything but I did wonder, looking at the vast farmlands stretching out – what’s going to happen to these guys who live and work here for all their lives? Whatever radiation exposure we would get as transient travelers would be minimal and fleeting . But what about those who can’t or won’t leave? What happens to them and their livelihood? What’s going to happen to all that rice? It would not be the last time I would ask myself this question in the course of this trip.

At Sendai, the lovely ladies from the Tohoku Prefectural Govt were there to greet us – complete with banner too!

And so it began – my summer trip to Tohoku. Now on to Matsushima Bay and its thousand pine-clad islets.

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