In Japan, there are two option to travel cheap: night buses and local trains. I’ve talked about my disappointing experience with the night bus option before, so this time I decided to leave Fukuoka by local train and return by night bus (instead of arriving exhausted at my destination).
I left the share house in the late morning of 7 May and embarked on my journey to Kyoto from Sasabaru station at 12:13. In Hakata station, 11 minutes later, I hoped on the Kagoshima line to Kokura station. A bit less than an hour later, I found myself waiting for a train that would bring me to Shimonoseki station, the first stop on the main island. I waited for another quarter of an hour for the Sanyo line for Iwakuni and got off at Asa station.
Here, the trouble started. All of us have heard of how Japanese trains are never ever late, right? Well, I can tell you, it’s not true. Usually train are not even half a minute late, but IF they are late, you can count on a huge delay. In Belgium, trains often have a delay of 5 to 10 minutes, but not often do we have to wait for more than 30 minutes (in that case, there’s usually a bus replacing the train service for the part of the line that’s causing the delays).
I got off at Asa station -which, I must tell you, is in the middle of nowhere, so information screens or English information were not to be seen- and, while going to the platform for my next train, I heard announcements about my train… At first I thought it was nothing, but as the announcements kept being repeated, I listened carefully to the creaky speakers. I saw other people on the platform turn their attention to the speakers as well, shake their heads, and finally sit down on the ground, so I knew something was wrong. As I heard the same message over and over again, the contents became clearer; my train wouldn’t arrive within the next hour. So I followed the other travellers’ reaction, and sat down near the clock, the speakers and the ticket window (the most strategic spot for a foreigner with not the best hearing ability, don’t you think?). Luckily, I brought a new Agatha Christie book (not sure which one it was, but it was probably one involving a murder on a train… how suitable) and so I read, looked up whenever an announcement was made, checked the clock every 2 minutes, and so an hour passed.
After an hour, the information coming through the speakers still confused me, so I decided to get up and ask the station staff when the train would finally arrive. I showed asked them for more info on the train I needed, and they quickly responded that the train would arrive in about half an hour. I sat down at my strategic spot again, and not a minute later, the other station staff tapped my shoulder and handed me a paper with the train info. That’s Japanese service for you! I didn’t even ask for that. As I still needed to transfer to yet another train, I told him I actually needed to get to Hagi, so he disappeared and came back with a new paper showing the time for the connection to Hagi as well. So kind!
At last, the JR Mine line for Senzaki arrived and we could board… We thought. The two-car train had to be split and then we all had to get on through one door. All these people, gathered in the course of 2 hours, had to get in that one car! This is what Japan calls the ワンマン (wan man = one man); a train with just one car and also only one train employee functioning as both the driver and the conductor. I remember the wan man car being really cute (with cute mascots promoting local tourism), but after waiting for nearly 2 hours, I didn’t feel like taking a picture and just wanted to get on the train. 😉
Oh, right, you might want to know what this whole delay was caused by? Well, one of those waiting shelters on a platform had caught on fire and burnt down, so until they could guarantee safety, not a train could pass. I eventually saw the burnt-down shelter with my own eyes (and only then realized the full meaning of the announcements).
Long story short: by the time I finally arrived at Hagi, it was getting dark and I had only an hour or so to walk around.