Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Around Nagoya

Nagoya is the fourth largest city in Japan, I think, but for some reason it is to the Japanese like Wolverhampton to the English - a laughing stock. Haven't seen much of the city because I determined to go to Meiji-Mura - a museum of reconstructed buildings from the Meiji period in the late 19th century when Japan encouraged ideas from the West.

After I'd had a buffet breakfast on the Concierge Floor 36, it didn't take long to get to the station, because the hotel is built above the station complex, but the service I wanted is run by a private company, Meitetsu, who operate from a nearby separate, underground station. I had the ticket machine cracked in seconds so, flushed with success, I was soon on board a semi-fast electric train to Inuyama. Once again, I was up the front checking the route and observing the driving practices. One of the interesting techniques is that the drivers are taught to make a big thing out of certain tasks, like observing signals. With their white-gloved hands they point to the signal with a very histrionic gesture and, as far as I know, say something like "The Signal Is Green". This reinforcement technique is intended to prevent driver errors where the driver responds automatically and doesn't consciously register the situation. From my vantage point, I could see that we were doing 100km/hour most of the time. Then I noticed that the destination displays in the coach occasionally displayed the speed next to an animated electric multiple unit!

Nagoya is built on a large plain and the line North to Inuyama goes through busy suburbs so every few hundred yards, we passed another automatic barrier level crossing. The barriers are invariably long poles which can droop alarmingly - there are no skirts as we have on busier barrier crossings in England. But their busier crossings do seem to have a network of sensors to detect obstructions in the crossing area. Within half an hour, we pulled into Inuyama. I found a tourist information office where they speak a little English - not much - and got a town map and directions to the bus.

The bus arrived fairly quickly but, of course, the buses work differently. A young girl prompted me, but I didn't work it all out until my return trip. You get on at the middle door and, as you enter, pick up a ticket from a dispenser with the stage number printed on it. When you get off, the ticket is placed in a machine after scrutiny by the driver and you pay him the correct fare. Theres a 1000 Yen note change machine which dispenses coins so that you can make the right fare. 1000 Yen is about five pounds. On the way back, I spotted a custom flat-screen display facing the driver and passengers. It displays a table of all the possible fare stages and the fare payable from each stage to the current location of the bus. I don't know how it gets updated but its a nifty bit of kit, once you know it's there.

The bus set off through the town, passing a number of rice fields. In the distance, I could see the huge netted pylons of what I presume is a golf driving range. It appears that no self-respecting Japanese town can be without one of these, although I always think they look like some sort of inter-stellar radio transmitter. We then turned up into the hills and made a steep, twisting ascent which was a bit hair-raising. Part of the route was marked with transverse rumble strips which threatened to shake the bus apart. I was beginning to think I was on the wrong bus, when we pulled into a bus lay-by next to a series of gates and low buildings - we were there!

I bought a ticket to the museum and wandered in. A bus - modern, but built to look old - was waiting. Eventually, I risked it. The driver took us slowly along twisting roads between the various buildings, pausing to explain - in Japanese - what they were. After about ten minutes, we disembarked at the Northern-most point on the bus route, next to the original Imperial Hotel Reception from Tokyo - very art deco, as I should have expected. But, somehow, my steps took me to the Northern railway station where I found a Baldwin six-coupled tank engine at the head of three four-wheeled coaches. The guard was a cheerful soul with a little English. The fireman had quite good English, with a good English railway technical vocabulary. Of course, I had a trip with them. The run is only a few hundred yards long but there's a turntable and run round loop each end so the guard and fireman (who do the hooking on and off, engine turning and point operation)are quite fit, particularly since they do everything at the trot. This business of running I noticed was practised in New Zealand, as well, but it's discouraged in England.

Then I had a few hours of tramping through the hot sun to check out the almost 70 reconstructed buildings. The museum in in a delightful, wooded, hilly area next to a lake, so it's rather like a cross between Blists Hill Open Air Museum and Portmerion. A thoroughly charming place.

I tried out the Kyoto tram, had another couple of trips with my new friends on the steam train and then caught the bus back to Inuyama.

I walked to the Castle, a National Treasure and nothing like English castles although serving the same purpose. Very interesting. I then walked to a different railway station and made my way back to Nagoya, thoroughly tired but very pleased. I'm staying in the hotel this evening, but I'll try to do a little more exploration in the morning, before moving on again to Kyoto.

Pictures of Japan's modern railways
Pictures of Nagoya and Inuyama
Pictures of Meiji-Mura Museum
Meiji-Mura Steam Railway