I love the fact that Japan has a special category of trains called joyful trains.
I took the Resort Shirakami train from Aomori to Akita, which I’d reserved in Sapporo. I was lucky to get a seat since there are only about 130 places. It’s one of the few trains for which you must reserve a seat even if you have a JR Pass, as I did.
My train had a beautiful wooden interior. It also had a small shop, which was unstaffed. You were supposed to help yourself and pay for anything you bought!
The train is slow because it stops everywhere on its coastal route. The driver also slows down when there are scenic views even when there is no station.
At one point we stopped at a station, and everyone got out. I wondered why the station was so popular. But then I saw that people had left their luggage on board! I asked another passenger (using Google Translate) what was going on, and she replied that the stop was to take photos! We spent quite a bit of time on the beach, so I asked the same woman when we were supposed to get back on the train. She said the train driver would blow his horn!
Apart from the photo-opportunities, we were entertained by two people singing on the train. The journey took five hours.
My original plan was to stay in Akita for one day. However, it’s popular with young revellers, especially during the weekend. The young women who helped me with booking trains at Sapporo station were especially excited about Akita and wholeheartedly recommended it to me. However, by the time I’d tried to book accommodation in Akita, everything was fully booked except for one extremely expensive hotel. My stop after Akita was going to be Kakunodate. Therefore, I booked a train from Akita to Kakunodate. Since I had a train pass, I could do a daytrip to Akita if I had time.
The connecting Shinkansen train was nine minutes after arriving at Akita. Normally, I wouldn’t leave such a short amount of time between two trains, especially when the first train is due to take five hours. I’m used to there being some delays. However, in Japan, trains run on time; and my joyful train reached Akita exactly on time. I was able to find the Shinkansen’s platform with time to spare. I later learnt that train drivers are penalised for arriving late or early!
The 45-minute train journey to Kakunodate went quickly.
This was the one of the few times that I had arrived at a place after sunset. I usually arrive during the daytime because navigation is easier and it’s usually safer (although in Japan the lack of safety is not generally an issue). To get to the guesthouse, Google Maps directed me along some dark roads. Visibility was so low at times that I had to use my phone’s torch. At one point, someone parked her car and I’m sure she kept the front car lights on longer than she needed to just to help me see where I was going. As I was walking, I did see a route that went along the main roads. The guesthouse owner later confirmed that was the better path.
As I was talking to the owner, another guest popped out of her room and joined the conversation. She was German — and a huge fan of Japan. She’d been here eight times!