Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Shinkansen and a trip to Hiroshima

My in-laws are visiting, and since my father-in-law is a big history buff, we decided that Hiroshima would be a perfect place to take them during their visit to Japan. This would be our first time ever riding the Shinkansen (bullet train), and though it can be expensive, I HIGHLY recommend it as the best way to travel if you have a long distance to go. Typically, a trip from Zushi to Hiroshima would be 12 hours (at the very least!). We took the Shinkansen and made it in only four. 

I booked our tickets through the travel office on our military base, but you can also buy Shinkansen tickets the day of your travel - right there at the station - and if you are a foreigner visiting Japan for a short period of time, you are probably eligible to buy a JR Rail Pass which includes travel on JR trains, including the expensive shinkansen, for a discounted price. The JR Rail Pass has to be ordered in advance, however, so keep that in mind if you're thinking of getting one. 

Another important thing to note is that children under 6 years of age can ride the shinkansen for free - yes, FOR FREE - but the catch is that you're not guaranteed a seat for them. Since our children are 5 and 4 (and our oldest is 5 for only another three months), we decided to take advantage of this and save ourselves about $600 in tickets. 

Our train was scheduled to leave from Shinagawa station at 6:57am, so we caught the 5:45am train from Zushi. We arrived in Shinagawa at 6:36am, and had just enough time to get a few breakfast snacks and make it to the platform. And I mean we BARELY made it. If you are also leaving from Shinagawa and have never been on the shinkansen before, I recommend getting some food from the convenience stores and vendors located outside the shinkansen gate. Once you use your ticket to pass through, there will be a very limited selection of things to take. We ended up with some chocolate and maple waffles, orange juice, and water. There will be a food cart brought through your train car every now and then, but all I saw was snack food available. 

The train car itself was very nice - much better than any airplane I've been on. We stowed our luggage (we packed a small carry-on, a large backpack, and one small bag) on the racks above our seats and there was double the leg room you'd see on a plane. I saw some people with larger bags just putting them in front of their legs. And remember how we took a chance on the girls having seats? Well, the train was full, so they spent about an hour riding on the floor by our feet, before one sat in-between myself and my mother-in-law, and another sat on her lap. A little over half-way through our trip, the train emptied out a bit (there were other stops along the way to Hiroshima) and we were able to spread out and give everyone a seat. I totally think it was worth it for the kids to ride free. 

We were scheduled to arrive in Hiroshima at 10:55am, and we pulled in at 10:55 on the dot. Trains in Japan run like clockwork.

The first thing we did was to drop our luggage at our hotel. We are staying at the Hotel Granvia, which is conveniently connected to the train station. We have two rooms, each with two large twin beds, and we also discovered that each room has a rollaway bed tucked under one of the twins. 

After dropping off our luggage, we were off to find some lunch. There were several restaurants and convenience stores located in the station, so we just stayed there. After eating lunch, we walked under the station through a passage tunnel and up to the streetcar station on the other side. I had read about streetcar passes and this is what we decided to use while here. We bought 2-day passes that give us unlimited access to the streetcars (both in Hiroshima and Miyajima), as well as the Miyajima ferry and ropeway for only 2,000 yen (and kids under 7 are FREE!). That's roughly $20/adult. Definitely a better deal than buying all those tickets individually. 

Our first sight-seeing adventure was the Peace Park, including the A-Bomb Dome and Peace Memorial Museum. (I'll be writing about that soon!) It's been a busy day, but a great day, and now we're looking forward to relaxing in our hotel room and having a nice dinner before we crash for the night. Tomorrow, we're going to tackle Miyajima.

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