Technically this starts at Day -1. After the flight from Sydney to Taiwan, I stay for the night at the family’s place in Taoyuan, drops off extra luggage and sees to some errands. The next morning I catch a taxi back to the airport.
My plan was to have no checked-in luggage to make it quicker to clear customs at Kansai. The stupid departure customs decided that my tripod, that can easily fit inside my backpack, poses a danger and must be checked in…….. had to go back out to the airline counter then back in again through customs.
Having headed out before 6 and delayed by the pedantic self-serving customs, my growling stomach is finally sated and breakfast is served at the free airport lounge provided by my credit card.
JAL is the choice this time, they had the best times with early departure and late returns (other than Jetstar, but I am NOT going there).
I had been quite worried that now with checked-in luggage I won’t be able to make my 1st choice of train. Thankfully the Kansai customs is extremely quick and I cleared it under 30min (highly impressive, can’t ever expect this kind of efficiency in Taiwan or Sydney).
The JR terminal is in another building next to the Airport terminal, connected with a skyway.
Before I can catch a train though, I must exchange my JR Rail Pass voucher into the actual Pass.
In and out, crappy Japanese + English + mediocre but adequate English from the counter guy, I get my ticket!
I also book seats for all 3 trains to Matsue. The Haruka Express to Shin-Osaka, then the Shinkansen to Okayma, then finally the Yakumo to Matsue. All of them the earliest choice on my page long list of “potential connections plans A, B, C, D”
45min later I arrive at Shin-Osaka.
As I step off the Haruka and immediately surrounded by hurried passengers squeezing through crowded platforms, it is only now I truly feel that tingling of being in Japan
Transfer time is 50min. How I wish JR Pass allowed use of the Nozomi 🙁 Japan have very well organized train networks and they connect seamlessly… except I cannot use their intended connection.
As I take a tour of the station and the underground shopping arcade it struck me. There’s no reason for me to get to Matsue as early as possible (even the earliest arrival puts me there at 6:30pm). I may as well spend some extra time at the next transfer Okayama, familiarize myself with the station layout and most importantly, locate the lockers so I know where to go when I return later in the trip.
A quick visit to the JR office and I exchanges the Yakumo ticket for the next one. This gives me 1 hour and 20min at Okayama instead of just 20min, plenty of time to tour the station and buy eki-ben for dinner at a leisurely pace.
The Sakura train was being cleaned when I got to the platform and I wandered in clueless before quickly realizing something was amiss and hurried got back out.
The trip to Okayama takes 45min, but actually felt much quicker as I was lost in the landscape outside the window. It is surprising how different it looks to the area around Tokyo. I cannot quite put my hands on the difference, but it certain felt more… Taiwan-like. Perhaps it is the climate and vegetation, or the way the houses are fashioned. Whatever the reason, it felt more chaotic and more aged.
The size of Okayama station shocked me. While it is no Shinjuku, it is still massive. A wing of eateries and various other food stalls, a wing of trendy labels like Muji, bookstores and fashions, then a huge underground arcade at the front. For what is a 2nd line city with population of 700k, and it already puts anything in Taiwan and Sydney to shame. Granted, Okayama is one of the most important connecting junctions west of Osaka, situated halfway to Hiroshima it is a crossroad between east and west San’yo, and the gateway to San’in and Shikoku.
Picking my first eki-ben took a long time. There was so many choices (and fairly expensive ones too).
The Yakumo is a tilt train that starts from Okayama to Matsue and onward to Izumo, at a frequency of 1 per hour with a few extras sprinkled. Winds through the mountains separating San’in and San’yo.
The train is surprisingly full, with another guy sitting next to me. Reserved seats will assign one person to a pair of seats unless there are no more pairs left (at least that is what I observed throughout the trip).
I tried to stay awake after dinner, but fell asleep after some time. By the time I woke up again the train has already exited the mountains and is nearing Houki-Daisen.
The train arrives in Matsue at 7:45pm, the station is sparsely occupied and I fuzzily navigates the narrow streets toward City Hotel Matsue.
The friendly hotel staff has been expecting me and greeted me warmly when I entered. One thing that’s definitely different is how nice the guy is, like genuinely nice, and patiently introduced the hotel and amenities while we conversed with my broken Japanese. People in Tokyo doesn’t have the kind of patience for me to explain that while I can’t understand spoken Japanese very well, I can read Japanese just fine.
First day of the trip. All travel, but already there was plenty experienced.