Category Archives: transportation

Taking the Highway Bus in Japan

Inside Willer Express Theater Bus
Trains in Japan are excellent but pricy, especially long distance ones. If you are lucky enough to stay in the country for more than one month, travelling by bus is the cheapest option to explore the country. Also, as fewer overnight train services are offered, buses become the only way to travel at night (unless you have a rental car, of course).

I used both trains and busses during a three-month trip to Japan, visiting three great festivals in Northern Tohoku (Aomori Neputa Matsuri, Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri, Akita Kanto Matsuri) and the cities Osaka and Takayama. For Tohoku and Osaka, I used the Japan Bus Pass by highway bus company Willer Express.

Neputa Matsuri  Aomori

The Bus Pass is Willer’s equivalent to the Japan Rail Pass but is more flexible. You can travel either three or five days of your choice within two months from purchase. It’s exclusive to short term tourists of Japan i.e. if you are a resident of Japan, you can not buy the pass. Reservations have to be made beforehand and if you plan to do a round trip on the same day, one of the buses has to be a daytime bus. You can cancel a reservation up until a day before and make a new one.

Willer Express offers a variety of buses and the pass is valid on all except the premium ones. I used the theater and relax bus. Read the rest of this entry

Turning NEX train seats

NEX

One of the great features of many Japanese trains is that the seats always face the driving direction. Personally I’m fine sitting in the opposite direction because I’m usually sleeping anyway. Some trains turn the seats automatically after they’ve reached their final stop, in others it’s done manually. I recorded this video of the NEX, JR East’s airport train. You can see how easy it is, but don’t worry, they won’t turn accidentally.

Even if you don’t care whether the seats turn, levitate or give you a back massage, there is something nice about this train feature: Since the seats have to be able to turn, there needs to be enough space for them – which gives you enough space for your legs when you sit down 🙂

NEX train

From Hakodate to Sendai by train – going underground

Super Hakucho
The Shinkansen bullet-train is one of the trademarks of Japan, yet, there’s no Shinkansen on Hokkaido. Routes have been proposed as early as the 70’s but it wasn’t until 2005, when construction was finally started. In 2015 the first part will be finished, connecting Shin-Aomori (and Tokyo) to Shin-Hakodate. Currently you have to change trains at Shin-Aomori.

Fortunately, train connections are already advanced enough to offer express trains. So I took the Super Hakucho from Hakodate to Shin-Aomori and changed there to the Tohoku Shinkansen for Sendai. The green hakucho train almost looks as if it has a mouth, doesn’t it?

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Hokkaido and the main island of Japan, Honshu, are connected by a 54 km long tunnel which is 240 meter deep at its deepest point. JR Hokkaido seemed to have the train fan in mind, when they made the info graphic. When riding the train, it just feels like a long tunnel, nothing special at all. Read the rest of this entry

Hakodate’s Tram


Hakodate’s public transport consists of tram lines and busses. For tourists, the tram is probably the most useful with the three most important stops being Jujigai (Mount Hakodate, Motomachi, Red Brick Warehouses), Hakodate Station and Goryokaku Koen Mae (Fort Goryokaku) all used by both tram lines.

When entering the tram, there is a small machine which prints out little sheets of paper with a number on it. This is important when you leave the tram, as the fare will depend on the distance travelled. If you want to buy a day pass (600 Yen) however, you just need to tell the driver that you want to buy a one day pass. Next time just show this pass to the driver.

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The day pass is interesting, as it also has a foldable map inside. There was not much incentive to use it however. Maybe next time, when I have more time to get lost. Read the rest of this entry

Sapporo Station

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JR Sapporo Station is a central transportation hub in Sapporo and the station itself is connected to multiple shopping malls. Two of the subway lines (Toho and Namboku) also stop there.

One of the shopping areas is the Stellar Place Center which was decorated for christmas and wished everyone a “very xmas”. The JR Tower has an observation deck which is higher than the one of the TV tower. But after having already been to the TV tower, I didn’t feel like paying again.

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The regional JR transportation card is the Kitaca which is similar to the Suica in Tokyo. You charge the card and can then use the local transportation more conveniently. I think the Kitaca animal is cute, but it looks like it loves to jump at you from behind! I thought about getting the card just because of the animal but in Sapporo I wouldn’t use it much anyway. The subway is more convenient and for visitors, the day pass for the subway (800 Yen on weekdays, 1000 Yen for subway+bus) is a better deal. I did use my JR Rail Pass at the JR busses, when I went to the Historical Village.

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Talking about cute stuff, Kiddy Land has a small shop at the station as well. They used to have a big store at Tokyo’s Omotesando Street. The Sapporo store featured lots of “girly bears” – but really, most of Kiddy Land’s toys can be considered girly. Read the rest of this entry

Ferry between Busan and Fukuoka

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Fukuoka is closer to Busan than to Tokyo and my plan for the school holiday was to combine a trip to Busan with one in Fukuoka. When I stayed at the Zen Backpacker hostel, I told the owner that I plan to go to Fukuoka. He then asked me if I had a ticket. Since the online reservation system still showed many free seats, I told him that I’ll buy it at the port. Then he made a call and found out that there were only two seats left. Oops.

When I arrived at the Busan International Ferry Terminal, it didn’t look that crowded. Similar to a plane, you need to be at least there one hour before departure for the check-in. There may be additional taxes on both ferry terminals for fuel and whatever fees the creative people in Japan and Korea can think of. While there is supposedly a weight limit for you baggage, I’ve never seen them putting anyone’s luggage on a scale. In fact, they don’t even have a scale at both terminals. You just carry your luggage onto the ship.
Ferry Busan Fukuoka  02 Read the rest of this entry

[Korea] PET flower pots at Yeongdeungpo-gu Office station

Plant in PET bottle
Something I saw at Yeongdeungpo-gu Office station (line 2+5) when I was waiting for the train. I always like it when people create different things out of PET bottles. In Paris they made a Christmas tree, in Seoul they created these flower pots. I haven’t seen them at any other station.

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The Korean Maglev

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I know I shouldn’t write this as a German, since politics and industry are so incompetent when it comes to building a Transrapid line. And also society, while “happy” to pay billions for a new autobahn is handing in lots of complaints when it comes to a new technology that has some advantages over the old.

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It doesn’t look like Korean magnetic levitation train is in a better condition, though: There is a track in Daejeon but the train seemed to gather dust for a long time. It probably was active during the Expo.

Read the rest of this entry

Wuppertal Schwebebahn

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Wuppertal is connection to the other cities in the Rhine area, but also has its own transportation system the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn. The Schwebebahn is a suspension railway, the trains arrive and leave at elevated stations. The tracks follows the Wupper river most of the time.

The Schwebebahn is the oldest elevated railway in the world yet looks modern. Visitors who expect classic trains will be disappointed. Although Wuppertal has museums and a zoo the train is considered by many to be the main attraction.
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There are other suspension railways in Germany but are used as either a replacement for a cable car (Dresden Schwebebahn) or only serve few stations (H-Bahn in Düsseldorf).

This year I decided not to stay at the Mac trade show for hours, but to travel afterwards. My choice was Wuppertal given its proximity to Cologne (30 to 45 minutes by regional train). The train didn’t feel like a piece of history to me but I always wanted to ride this very special train. For the locals it’s just a regular train.

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