Japan 5: Smitten in Carriage 4

Written by

Andrew Millar


January 5, 2008

I like train travel. It’s far better than a plane these days.

Firstly you don’t have to completely unpack everything and have it irradiated before boarding. I don’t get jet lag. There is more room so you can wander about a bit and stretch your legs. You get to see the country you’ve paid so much to transport yourself to, not just the westernised, standardised city bits. And in Japan, the level of service is the same, if not better. (For one thing you can buy a can of Asahi on a train, all internal flights in Japan are ‘dry’.)

But believe me when I say the level of service is the same, if not better.

We are greeted by a delightful young attendant on boarding the ‘Hokuto 8’ from Sapporo to Hakodate. It is the first leg of a 12 hour trip that would end 4 trains later in Shinjuku. Her name badge simply says M. Ochiai. Before the train had left the station, she has offered us knee blankets. (The Japanese like to sleep on public transport. In fact the guy in the next seat is already snoring loudly.) She has returned moments later with long cool refresher towels.

As the train leaves the station she introduced herself in along quite, soft speech, almost a whisper. It is almost like we are listening to her thoughts. The serene smile she has on her face tells me that she is not faking.

Next came the time to check our tickets. Which was followed by the offer of tea. “Hot-o?” “Hai, onegai shimass. Hot-o sencha, arrigato.” “Domo arrigato gozaimass.” “Domo, domo.”

But the most endearing thing of all is that each time she leaves the carriage she turns and bows to the sleeping passengers. It is a quiet serene bow with her eyes gently closing as her head slowly tilts forward and she bends gently from the waist.

I have to look up each time. It is the sweetest thing.

Now we are pulling into Hakodate and see reappears in full uniform and makes a long speech in Japanese the sense of which doesn’t need translation. Her face and smile say it all.

There is no equivalent anywhere else in the world.