Friday, April 22, 2011

Kareigawa Station train ride

The day after walking to Kareigawa station, I was thinking about that bus schedule I'd shot. While there were only 5 buses running per day (six if you count the one that doesn't start from the airport), the first one departs the airport at 10:37 AM and the first stop is Kareigawa station, 10 minutes later. That would easily shave an hour from my walk out and I'd be able to take the train from there to do some sightseeing. But, not having been able to find the train schedule, I didn't know know how long a wait I'd have, or how expensive the ride would be. (At least, from google maps I was able to see where the line ran and how many buildings are around each station.) At 10:15 I made my decision and ran to the airport. I arrived with plenty of time, bought my 200 yen ticket from the automated machines on the street, and waited. At 10:37 the bus pulled in at the stop and a few seconds later it was back on the road.

There are two primary routes - one that goes from the airport to Hayato, and a second that ends four stops short at Tachibanakami. So, the driver is essentially running from Hayato and back without a break in the middle, maybe 40 minutes each way (but only doing this 5 times a day). I got in to Kareigawa at 10:47 and walked down to the train station. There was an old woman dusting the seats in the waiting area, and on a whim I asked her where the train schedule is. She pointed to the wall above the door leading to the platform and I kicked myself for missing it. She asked which train I wanted, and I answered that it didn't matter, I'd take the first one. Turns out that it was the 10:56 heading north. I noticed that the trains ran hourly, and that two in each direction were in red, marked "one-man". When the 10:56 arrived, it was just a regular one-car commuter train, with the little ticket dispenser next to the door. I grabbed my ticket and got on.

There was only one other person on the train and he was fast asleep. The next stop was an onsen, and it was pretty much the only thing next to the station. The train runs through the hills, and occasionally passes through some moderately-long tunnels. Because of the trees lining the tracks, there's not always much to look at. Once in a while, there'd be a break and the landscape would open up on some rice paddies.

If you look at the light board above the conductor, you'll see that there are different lights that turn on. When you board the train, your ticket will have a number printed on it. In my case it was 23. Each station has its own number, and the farther you go, the bigger the second number becomes. That is, the lit numbers are the cost for getting off at the next station, based on where you got on. Because the first two stations were just small onsens, and the third stop looked promising with a bunch of old-looking apartment complexes about a mile out, I decided to get off at Oosumi-Yokogawa. Final cost was 230 yen. You pay the meter at the front of the train on the way out at the same time you drop the ticket into the coin box.

The Oosumi station is similar to Kareigawa, with half of the building set up as a museum display area, but it was locked up this time.

Cloth strawberries on the platform.

I do not know what this thing is, but there's a miniature model of it at Oosumi, and a full-sized, rusted version in Kareigawa. Technically, it looks like it's from a still.

In fact, there's a full-sized one in Oosumi, too. But it's just the spiral tube attached to a piece of wood, and seems to be a simple art piece now. I'm told that the sign at the bottom says that it was part of the track switching equipment.

I hate how pictures always seem to be in glass frames so that the flash ends up generating a huge amount of glare. This looks like a plain, badly drawn painting of the original Oosumi station building. Or, possibly some kind of shag carpet.

Actually, it's a piece of art made up of individually-painted toothpicks. This must have been a monster to put together.

The orange thing to the left of the entrance is an old-style post box.

There's a small park in front of the station. The sky looks overcast because there was a light drizzle all morning.

The main street running from the station is only about 6 blocks long, and is lined with ramshackle buildings, many of them shuttered. There are a few night clubs, a jazz bar, a shochu distributor, and a karaoke box.

Notice the logo - looks like the owner of the house is a fan of the Seibu Lions. I wonder what he thought when they switched logos in 2008.

Some buildings are more ramshackle than others. This one is right on the main street and no one seems to be interested in tearing it down.

End of the street, looking away from the station.

From the street, I noticed a tower, so I had to go investigate it. There's a small alley running to the right that turns into a short stairway leading up to a Buddhist temple. Right in the middle of the alley was a small septic tank cleaning truck. I squeezed past the truck and looked around the temple. I was the only one there at the time.

As I was turning around and preparing to squeeze past the truck again, the driver and the owner of the home being serviced came out. The driver packed up the truck and pulled out, while the owner, a very small, friendly old woman started up a conversation with me, initially about whether I was there to pay my respects to the temple. She spent a lot of time telling me about how, while this town doesn't really have anything interesting going on (I'd need to go one more station north for that) it's at least quiet and devoid of disasters. Except that some years before the temple had caught fire, and hence the majority of the buildings had to be rebuilt and were nice and new now.

(Statue next to the stairs leading to the main entrance.)

As mentioned above, two trains per day were marked on the schedule in red as being "one man", and the first of them was actually the next return train to Kareizawa, due to arrive at Oosumi at 11:45. It was getting close to that time and I had to beg my leave of the woman in order to get back to the station in time. When I did get there, I noticed something that I was completely unprepared for - there's two sets of tracks in Oosumi, and two platforms. The return train was already sitting at the opposite platform. Normally, this would mean running up some stairs to get to a crossover and then back down the other side again, but there's no crossover here. Instead, you need to follow the walkway at ground level at either end of the train. If the train was getting ready to pull out, I'd be running right in front of it. Luckily, I still had a couple of minutes. And, the "one man" was indeed the "romance train" from yesterday. On the other hand, ALL of the trains have "one man" marked on them, and the romance train has the conductor and 3 attendants walking the cars and selling snacks and bento boxes. So, I"m not sure what they think they mean by only calling the romance car the "one man".

There's no real food service in the rolling dining car. You can get the bento for 1000 yen, plus a drink, or bring your own food. When I was getting on the train, I looked for the number ticket dispenser, and there wasn't one. So, I asked the conductor where to get the ticket from, and he said "from me". I got on the train and sat down. After we started moving, the conductor came up and told me that Kareigawa station would be 530 yen (almost double the regular price). I gave him the money and he dispensed the ticket from a printer on his belt. On the way back, we skipped one of the onsen stops, and got to Kareigawa in about 10 minutes. Unlike the day before, the attendants didn't get off to take anyone's photo. So, I'm thinking that maybe there are occasional package tour groups, with prearranged photo ops, and that there weren't any such groups this time.

I went back up the stairs from the station to the parking lot. I'd gotten the schedule wrong, so the first bus to arrive was actually going the wrong way. I had to wait another 30 minutes for the correct bus, and that one turned out to be 5 minutes late. But 10 minutes later, I was back at the airport. End of adventure. No sunburn this time.

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