Field Report: Sendai (15 April 2013) – Part 1/3

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Where Diego finds life in a cemetery, sees bright colours on a mausoleum, and is rendered speechless by a cow’s tongue.

First part of three.

My penultimate day in Japan. The time has come for the last long-distance journey of this year’s trip – and my first foray into the Tōhoku region.

I arrived at Tōkyō Station bright and early – too early, in fact, for my hotel breakfast. No worries: a long-distance train trip in Japan just doesn’t seem complete without a proper ekiben meal (more on that later).

The shinkansen platforms were blissfully deserted that morning. I knew this wouldn’t last, so I soaked up every minute of the fleeting peace whilst watching for my train.

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Various shinkansen cars were waiting by the platforms in advance of the morning travel rush, which set the stage for a nice bit of trainspotting. This one looks like an E3 trainset, and judging by the livery it’s probably running on the Tsubasa service of the Yamagata Shinkansen.

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The next one’s an E2 series train. The car number near the door (“10”) gives it away as a Hayate service of the Tōhoku Shinkansen. If there had been just 8 cars it would have likely been an Asama train of the Nagano Shinkansen (which also uses E2 trains but in a shorter configuration).

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And here’s my ride: the Tōhoku Shinkansen’s slick new E5-series train, running on JR East’s super-express Hayabusa service between Tōkyō and Shin-Aomori. It’s only been a couple of years since this model started running, and it’s the first time I’ll actually set foot in one.

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The inside of the Green Car.

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Not bad, not bad at all. Normally this would be the highest available class of service, but the E5 series also features an extra-luxurious cabin known as the Gran Class, which offers first-class amenities at first-class prices. Needless to say, a peek through the windows was as far as I got into that part of the train.

Now for today’s route.

The journey to Sendai takes just over an hour and a half, which allows plenty of time for one of the most enjoyable customs associated with long-distance train travel in Japan: namely, the onboard meal, made possible by the ever-reliable ekiben. Available for purchase at train stations, convenience stores, and even from those little kiosks on railway platforms (usually alongside other portable staples like onigiri), these pre-packaged meals run the gamut from simple sandwiches to elaborately presented mini-banquets of meat, seafood, and rice in layered trays, sometimes featuring unique regional specialities and a rich profusion of sweet and savoury side dishes.

My choice for this trip was a simple bentō of beef served on a bed of rice, with a bottle of water and tinned heated onion soup (easily obtained from a hot drink-dispensing vending machine) on the side.

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Most JR shinkansen services (that I’ve ridden at any rate) have Green Car attendants who offer at least a moist towel – and sometimes a sweet – to passengers in the premium cabin. The Hayabusa service on the Tōhoku Shinkansen goes one better by providing a complimentary welcome drink of your choice, with several options offered from a menu card. I can’t recall what I selected on this occasion, but it was probably a cup of hot chocolate (or less likely coffee).

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Some long-distance trains also offer in-seat sales service where passengers can purchase food, beverages, and souvenirs from passing cart-pushing attendants. Feeling peckish for dessert, I shelled out some pocket change for a cup of vanilla ice cream (which turned out to be quite delicious – must look out for this brand again on my next visit).

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And if those options aren’t enough, check if your car has those vending machines that are all but unavoidable in Japan, even on moving transport (these will usually be located near the end of one or more cars, if the service you’re on has them). Man, I love Japanese trains.

In my next post, we’ll pay a visit to the family tomb of one of Japan’s most famous warlords.

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3 responses to “Field Report: Sendai (15 April 2013) – Part 1/3

  1. Another great blog post from Diego!

    I will be going to Sendai next month so I’m really looking forward to reading the next 2 parts of your trip. I am especially intrigued by your speechlessness over a cow’s tongue, that should be interesting! I’ve marked down a couple places to eat tongue when we’re in Sendai. Since we’re staying at the hotel that’s directly connected to Sendai Station we’ll probably eat at one on Gyutan Dori.
    That ekiben looked great, by the way! Believe it or not, I have yet to consume one during my travels in Japan. Will definitely have to pick one up on this upcoming trip.

    • Mm, an overnight stay – lucky you! You’re likely to see more of the city than I did, as I only spent a few hours there. I shall look forward to reading about your visit.

      Cheerio.

      • We’ll be spending 2 nights there but I’m not sure if we’ll see much more than you did. On one day, we’ll be going to Ishinomaki. Since it was one of the areas that was the hardest hit by the tsunami we want to eat a couple meals there and buy some souvenirs and do our very tiny part to help their economy. Then on the second day, we’ll be going to Aizu Wakamatsu. It’s a couple hours away so that will eat up most of that day. But as long as I get to see Zuihoden and the castle ruins and eat some beef tongue I’ll be happy! Loved reading your post on Sendai, by the way. Looking forward to Part 3.

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