Thursday, September 3, 2015

Golden Week holidays - part 1

Golden Week is a Japanese term applied to a collection of four national holidays clustered together at the end of April and the beginning of May. Golden Week is one of Japan’s three busiest holiday seasons, besides New Year and Obon week. The national holidays that make up the Golden Week are April 29th (Showa Day), May 3rd (Constitution Memorial Day), May 4th (Greenery Day), and May 5th (Children’s Day). Because May 3rd was a Sunday this year, an additional compensatory day on May 6th was declared as a national holiday. My hubby’s office was closed on April 30th and May 1st also, so we got a total of 8 days holidays this year.

This year during the Golden Week holidays, hubby and I went to our home in Ichinomiya City of Aichi prefecture. We usually use flight for the travel as Akita and Aichi prefectures are very far apart and such long distance travel can be a bit tiring. However, this year due to the long Golden Week holidays, we traveled by train. Actually there was yet another reason for the train travel. Akita Shinkansen bullet train services were renewed from the previous E3 series to the new E6 series in 2013 and we wished to travel by the newly introduced train at least once. We went from Akita City to Tokyo by Akita Shinkansen bullet train and stayed overnight in Tokyo area. The next day we did some sightseeing around Tokyo area and then used another Shinkansen train to go to our Ichinomiya home. Overall it was fun.

Although we went to Ichinomiya by train, we returned to Akita by flight after the holidays. So on the morning of 29th April, hubby and I went to Akita Airport by our car and parked the car at a parking lot for a week. Inside the airport, we saw a huge statue of demon-like ogre character called Namahage put up at the entrance area. I clicked a photo along with the Namahage statue. Afterwards we took a bus and reached Akita City bus terminal located at the west exit of the JR Akita Railway Station. I noted that the bus terminal looked rather new and gorgeous. This bus terminal was reconstructed in 2013 and is made entirely from cedar wood harvested locally. The design of the terminal is supposed to act as a gateway to the city. The bus terminal was the recipient of Good Design Award of 2014. I liked the architecture of the bus terminal very much.
I am standing next to the statue of Namahage located at the entrance area inside Akita Airport

I am standing near Akita City bus terminal (right side)

The bus terminal is made entirely from cedar wood

We went inside Akita Railway Station from the west exit of the station located right across the bus terminal. We were eagerly looking forward to the travel by the new E6 series Akita Shinkansen bullet train. At this point, I will briefly write about Akita Shinkansen rail line and Komachi Shinkansen bullet train. Although people commonly use the term ‘Akita Shinkansen’ to describe the Shinkansen bullet train linking Akita City in Akita prefecture and Tokyo City, it is actually technically incorrect. Technically correct term for this Shinkansen bullet train is Komachi. Komachi is a high-speed Shinkansen service serving the Kanto and Tohoku regions, and links the two cities Akita and Tokyo. Komachi train service was named after a famous poet named Ono no Komachi from Akita area. This train service uses 7-car E6 series trains and is operated by the East Japan Railway Company (JR East) since March 1997. Komachi train travels an operating distance of 623.8 kilometers. Komachi train service runs on two high-speed rail lines, namely Akita Shinkansen and Tohoku Shinkansen. Akita Shinkansen is a mini-Shinkansen high-speed rail line linking Akita City and Morioka City in Iwate prefecture. This rail line opened in March 1997 and is owned by JR East. Akita Shinkansen operates on the Ou Main Line tracks for a distance of 51.7 kilometers from Akita City to Omagari City in Akita prefecture, and on Tazawako Line tracks for a distance of 75.6 kilometers from Omagari to Morioka City in Iwate prefecture. Akita Shinkansen line has a total length of 127.3 kilometers, has a standard track gauge of 1435 millimeters that was converted from narrow gauge, and has a maximum operating speed of 130 kilometers per hour. In fact, Komachi train (E6 series) service is the only Shinkansen bullet train service that runs on the Akita Shinkansen rail line. Komachi train service couples with E5 series Hayabusa train service at Morioka Station, and runs on Tohoku Shinkansen high-speed rail line between Morioka and Tokyo Station for a distance of 496.5 kilometers. Tohoku Shinkansen rail line is also owned by JR East, has a standard track gauge of 1435 millimeters, and has a maximum operating speed of 320 kilometers per hour.

We had already reserved two seats and bought tickets for Komachi Shinkansen bullet train a week prior to our travel. Our train was to leave at 12.20 pm. It was already 12.05 pm, and so we wished to go directly to the Shinkansen train platform inside Akita Railway Station. But we were told to wait outside the automated turnstile ticket gates. After about ten minutes, there was an announcement that Tohoku Shinkansen was temporarily suspended that day because of a power outage and a broken overhead power cable on the southbound track of the Tohoku Shinkansen line. The overhead cable snapped at 11.32 am near Koriyama Station in Fukushima prefecture, which severed the power transmission between Shin-Shirakawa Station and Fukushima Station in Fukushima prefecture. This led to many trains being cancelled or delayed along the Tohoku Shinkansen line as well as the connecting Akita and Yamagata Shinkansen lines. Our train was canceled and we had no idea how long it will be before the service restarted. So we just sat in the waiting room and watched some television program for an hour or so. We bought two Ekiben boxed meals for lunch and had the food while waiting. Such train cancellations and delays are so extremely rare in Japan that a local television crew came to Akita Railway Station to report about the situation. The television crew interviewed several travelers who were stranded at the station during the peak Golden Week holidays. Hubby was rather worried about our travel plans and so he went to ask the station staff about the latest situation. I saw that the television camera focused on him. Later I told hubby about it and told him that he might be in local television news that day. Sure enough, we saw the local news on the homepage of the television and saw hubby at three different places in the news clip. Unfortunately we could not see the local news clip on television itself as we had already left Akita. I was very excited to see hubby in the local news, and many friends and colleagues of Akita contacted us to tell us that they saw my hubby on television the entire day as it was repeatedly telecast. In a way, I was very happy that our train was canceled. I have made a video clip of a portion of the local news of that day. Anyway, in the evening we came to know that Tohoku Shinkansen was shut down for 4.5 hours and as a result 58 trains were canceled and 66 were delayed along the Tohoku, Akita, and Yamagata Shinkansen lines. 61000 travelers were affected by the delays, and we were one of them.
Huge crowd inside Akita Railway Station due to the cancellation or delay of several Komachi bullet trains along Akita Shinkansen line

Hubby and I waiting inside the station waiting room

I am having Ekiben boxed meal lunch while waiting at the station

A still from a video clip of local television news where hubby (red arrow) is seen discussing the latest situation about the resumption of Akita Shinkansen service with a station staff

A video clip of a portion of the local news regarding the cancellation and delay of several Komachi bullet trains along Akita Shinkansen line

At about 2 pm, we were informed by the station staff that Akita Shinkansen service will be restored at 3.30 pm. So we changed our tickets and went to the Shinkansen platform bound for Tokyo at about 3 pm. After about 15 minutes of waiting, we saw the Komachi Shinkansen train enter the platform. The new E6 series Komachi train has sleek design and looks really great. Now I will write briefly about the E6 series trains. As written earlier in this post, Komachi train service uses Shinkansen high-speed E6 series trains operated by JR East. The E6 series trains operate independently on Akita Shinkansen rail line from Akita City to Morioka City, and then in conjunction with E5 series Hayabusa train service on Tohoku Shinkansen rail line from Morioka to Tokyo. In March 2013, E6 series partially replaced the previous E3 series trains operating the Komachi train service. Then in March 2014, all the E3 series trains were replaced with E6 series. The E6 series trains are formed of seven cars, and the car bodies are made of aluminum alloy. The length of the train is 148.65 meters. The end cars are 23.07 meters long which includes the 13 meters long tapered nose. Such long noses reduce the aerodynamic pressure while entering tunnels at high speed and as well as dampens noise. The intermediate cars are 20.5 meters long. All the cars feature active suspension system with tilting up to 1.5 degrees to cut cabin vibration. The exterior styling of E6 series was overseen by Okuyama Kiyoyuki. The exterior of the train has elegant and bold look, and is designed to evoke images of demon-like ogre character Namahage and Kanto festival lanterns for which Akita prefecture is famous. The livery of the train consists of madder red (roof and upper area), Hiun white (side), and arrow silver (band-like side stripe). We loved the exterior design of the train very much and took several photos of the train. We noted that the seven cars of the train are named car 11 through car 17. Car 11 is the green (first class) car while all others cars are the standard class. All seats are reserved and no-smoking is allowed in all the cars. We entered inside car 15 of the train where our seats were located. While writing this post I remembered that we had clicked a photo of the new E6 series Komachi train from a nearby car parking lot back in May 2013.
Hubby standing next to E6 series Komachi train

I am standing next to E6 series Komachi train

The train has a sleek design and looks so cool

I am standing in front of the entrance of car 15 of the train

A 2013 photo of an E6 series Komachi train as viewed from a nearby car parking lot

We sat at our reserved seats after entering inside car 15 of the train. We loved the interior of the new E6 series trains. We noted that the seating in both standard as well as green cars is in the standard 2x2 arrangement, which is usual for mini-Shinkansen trains. The interior design of the train is supposed to reflect the concept of comfort, kindness, and ‘yours’. The new E6 series has several improved features as compared to the older E3 series train. Some of these features are full-color LED displays with travel information, AC power outlets, security cameras in vestibule areas, and larger restrooms to accommodate wheelchair users. The interior of the train looked sparkly new and the reclining seats were very comfortable with enough leg room. We were a bit hungry so we bought some sandwiches from a trolley cart that was regularly wheeled around by the train-staff. Such trolley carts selling various food items, snacks, cold drinks, hot coffee, and alcohol are really so convenient for the travelers. We had the sandwiches and clicked a few photos in the relaxed atmosphere inside the train. It was so cool and peaceful inside and soon we both dozed off. Because of the cancellations and initial delays of many Shinkansen trains, the railway timetable went haywire that day and our train made more than 10 unscheduled stoppages (some of them for almost 30 minutes) along the way. Needless to say, our train arrival at Tokyo kept getting delayed further and further. We finally reached Tokyo Railway Station at about 9 pm. It was a long, a bit tiring, but very exciting Shinkansen train travel for us.
Hubby having sandwiches inside the new E6 series Komachi train

Hubby and I sitting inside the train

From Tokyo Railway Station, we took a local train and went to Shinagawa Station where we stayed at a nearby hotel for the night. We checked in at the hotel and after keeping our baggage in the hotel room, we went out to have dinner somewhere nearby. Right in front of our hotel, we saw a street that is famous for various kinds of Ramen restaurants collectively called Mentatsu Shichininshu Shinatatsu Ramen. This collection of popular restaurants is Ramen food theme park that opened in November 2004, and is located in the underpass of the elevated Keikyu Shinagawa Station. Many Ramen experts from all around Japan are gathered here, and through their efforts and dedication, delicious bowls of Ramen are served. There are seven Ramen specialty restaurants and four bowl rice Donburi specialty restaurants at the food theme park though we noted that some of the restaurants were closed due to seismic reinforcement construction work going on at the station. We went to one of the restaurants and to order the food we purchased tickets from a ticket machine located inside the restaurant. Hubby ordered his favorite Shoyu Ramen and I ordered Shio Ramen. We tasted and enjoyed each others Ramen too. Both the bowls of Ramen were delicious and we were very satisfied. Later we returned to the hotel and retired for the night.
Mentatsu Shichininshu Shinatatsu Ramen restaurants located in the underpass of Keikyu Shinagawa Station as viewed to our left side

Hubby standing in front of a banner with ‘Mentatsu Shichininshu Shinatatsu Ramen’ written on it

The collection of Ramen restaurants as viewed to our right side

We walked down several steps and I am standing next to a few Ramen restaurants located towards the left side

A few more Ramen restaurants located towards the right side

Hubby’s dinner of Shoyu Ramen

My dinner of Shio Ramen

Hubby having delicious Shoyu Ramen

On the morning of 30th April, we went to the observation deck of Tokyo World Trade Center building. The building is a commercial skyscraper located in Hamamatsucho in Minato Ward of Tokyo. The 163-meter tall building was completed in 1970, and is one of Tokyo’s earliest skyscrapers. The building has 40 stories above ground and 3 stories below ground. Although the building is primarily used for office space, it also includes stores and restaurants. The building has a visitor observation deck located on the topmost 40th floor from where visitors can enjoy a 360 degree panoramic view of the city below. Because of the prime central location of the building, the observation deck offers interesting views of important buildings and landmarks of Tokyo area.

From Shinagawa Railway Station, we took a local train and in just 5 minutes we reached Hamamatsucho Station. At Hamamatsucho we walked for about 5 minutes and reached the World Trade Center building. For admission to the observation deck, we bought two tickets, each worth 620 Yen, from a vending machine located at the first floor of the building. Then we took a dedicated elevator to the 40th floor of the building where the observation deck is located. The deck is located at a height of 152 meters and is 200 meters in circumference. The deck has glass walls and has many seats so that visitors can relax and enjoy the views below.

First we went towards the west side of the observation deck. We saw the beautiful red colored Tokyo Tower right in front of us. It was interesting to see Zojoji Temple, Tokyo Tower, and Roppongi Hills in a nearly straight line. We could see many interesting landmarks and high rise buildings of Kanagawa, Roppongi, Shibuya, and Shinjuku wards in this direction. Next we went towards the northwest side of the deck from where we saw many skyscrapers in the direction of Urawa and Omiya cities. Atago Green Hills Mori Tower and Toranomon Hills Mori Tower buildings stand out prominently amongst the many high rise buildings.
Tokyo area as viewed from the west side of the observation deck of Tokyo World Trade Center building

Zojoji Temple (1), Tokyo Tower (2), and Roppongi Hills (3) seen in a nearly straight line

Hubby and Tokyo Tower

Enlarged view of Zojoji Temple

View towards the northwest where Atago Green Hills Mori Tower (1) and Toranomon Hills Mori Tower (2) buildings are prominently seen

Next we went towards the south side of the observation deck. This side facing Shinagawa ward is also having many high rise buildings. Looking down right below us, we saw a very interesting sight. Hamamatsucho Railway Station is located right below the World Trade Center building with many rail tracks along the north-south direction. So we saw many trains of Tokaido Shinkansen, Tokaido Main Line, Keihin Tohoku Line, and Yamanote Line passing and snaking their way along these rail tracks. One time we were fortunate enough to see all the four trains simultaneously, though travelling in different directions. We also saw Tokyo Monorail train, along an elevated rail line, that runs from Monorail Hamamatsucho Station through Haneda Airport. Though the monorail system has two train tracks with one beam per direction, there is only a single beam near the station. At the junction area, it was very interesting to see the single beam towards the station-side pivot from side to side and switch from one track line to the other depending on which beam track the monorail train was on. It was almost hypnotizing and we watched this switching at the junction area for almost 15 minutes.
Many rail tracks are seen while looking down from the south side of the observation deck. Two Tokyo Monorail trains (red arrows) are also seen on the elevated rail line.

Captured the moment when Tokaido Shinkansen (both directions), Tokaido Main Line, Keihin Tohoku Line, and Yamanote Line trains simultaneously passed along the rail tracks

Enlarged view of the upper photo showing Tokaido Shinkansen (1), Tokaido Main Line (2), Keihin Tohoku Line (3), and Yamanote Line (4) trains

A Tokaido Shinkansen train snaking its way through

The elevated rail line is for the Tokyo Monorail trains

At the junction area (red circle), the single beam towards the station-side (foreground) is switching from one track line to the other. A monorail train is also seen in the right side photo.

Next, we went towards the southeast side of the observation deck. From here we saw Tokyo Bay right in front of us. We could also see Odaiba district with Fuji Television headquarters building as well as Palette Town with Ferris wheel in the far background. Afterwards we walked up to the east side of the observation deck from where we saw Kyu Shiba Rikyu Gardens right below us. The lush green garden looked so peaceful and relaxing.
Tokyo Bay and Odaiba as viewed from the southeast side of the observation deck

Kyu Shiba Rikyu Gardens as viewed from the east side of the observation deck

The garden looks so peaceful

Hubby enjoying the views

Finally we walked up to the north side of the observation deck. We could see many interesting landmarks and high rise buildings of Shinbashi and Ginza districts in this direction. We saw Tokyo Skytree Tower far in the background. Looking down right below us, we again saw many rail tracks along the north-south direction and many trains of Yamanote Line, Keihin Tohoku Line, Tokaido Main Line, and Tokaido Shinkansen passing along the rail tracks. It was really addicting to see the trains pass by. Parallel to these rail tracks, we also saw the New Transit Yurikamome Line along an elevated concrete track. Although off the beaten path, we enjoyed the gorgeous scenery and wonderful landscape of Tokyo area from the observation deck of Tokyo World Trade Center building.
High rise buildings and many rail tracks as viewed from the north side of the observation deck

New Transit Yurikamome Line (1) and Tokyo Skytree Tower (2) are also seen

Enlarged view of Tokyo Skytree Tower

Afterwards we left the Tokyo World Trade Center building and returned to Shinagawa Railway Station at about 2 pm. We had late lunch at a restaurant named Luxe Dining Hapuna. The restaurant is located on the first floor of the main tower of Shinagawa Prince Hotel. The hotel is just two minutes walk from Shinagawa Station. The restaurant is a food entertainment resort which serves very healthy food. People can enjoy a leisurely meal of buffet lunch in the spacious calm interior of the restaurant.
Hubby posing while walking towards Luxe Dining Hapuna restaurant

Hubby standing near the entrance area of the restaurant

We entered the restaurant and a staff showed us to our table. We really liked the black-themed interior, the vaulted glass pyramid ceiling, and the spacious open dining layout of the restaurant. Lunch is buffet of gourmet food which costs 3500 Yen per person. There is an extensive selection of food with over sixty varieties of Japanese, Western, and Chinese dishes. There are four buffet stations including an open satellite kitchen where we can enjoy watching fresh food being prepared by gourmet chefs. We can begin our lunch at any of the four buffet stations. This all-you-can-eat buffet is really a food paradise.
Hubby standing inside Luxe Dining Hapuna restaurant

Beautiful interior of the restaurant as viewed to our left side

Spacious interior of the restaurant as viewed to our right side

The restaurant was very crowded but we loved the atmosphere. Since the choice of where to begin the buffet lunch was completely ours, we began our lunch with eye-catching cold crabs legs piled high at the Japanese cuisine buffet station. It was fun to watch hubby use crab scissors and pickers to break open the crab legs and take out the crab meat. We had the crab meat in a lemon flavored dipping sauce. The meat of crab legs was juicy, sweet, and delicious. We had plenty of such superb and exceptional crab meat. Next we had a non-stop selection of roast beef, pork, chicken Karaage, Soba, stir-fried vegetables, fried rice, cold salads, hot Miso and corn soups, bread, and many more items from various buffet stations. We ended our lunch with dessert of a variety of petit cakes and ice creams from the sweets showcase located near the entrance area. We also had hot coffee and cold drinks. It was almost 3.45 pm when we finished having our lunch. We had over-eaten but definitely enjoyed the scrumptious lunch feast at the restaurant. Buffet lunch at Luxe Dining Hapuna restaurant was a memorable and special experience for us.
Our lunch consisting of cold crab legs, pork meat, chicken Karaage, fried potatoes, stir-fried vegetables, salads, rice, bread, Soba, and hot soups

I am having lunch

Hubby having lunch

Hubby using hands to break open a crab leg

Hubby using scissors to break open the crab leg

Hubby enjoying the juicy meat of the crab leg

I am having the delicious crab meat

And the processes of breaking open the crab legs with hands or scissors, and eating the juicy meat continues

Hubby having dessert and hot coffee

After lunch, we took Tokaido Shinkansen train from Shinagawa Railway Station and went to Nagoya, and from there a local train to Ichinomiya City. We reached our home at about 9 pm. I will write about the rest of the Golden Week holidays in the next post.

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