30th Anniversary Alaska Hokkaido Japan Japanese Palmer Saroma trains travel

Palmerites Visit Saroma

I always encourage my friends to visit.  I like having visitors and I think it’s even more important to do so here in such a small town.  Nik, my predecessor, told me that he never got many visitors to Saroma.  This left me less than optimistic about friends visiting me, here in this far-flung remnant of empire, this village isolated from all but the rare fishing boat or mining expedition, where humans struggle against nature’s cruel chorus, their pitiful dwellings windswept and beaten from a hundred angry winters and their meager chattel at the mercy of gaunt, desperate vermin – a forsaken crag of hubris built upon the very precipice of earthly existence, unto which only the forlorn souls of broken men venture forth.

Wait, I think I’m talking about Russia, a little further north.

Saroma is actually quite accessible, with well-maintained roads, punctual trains and affordable air connections.  It’s still a little far away from happenin’ Tokyo and hip Sapporo, and that’s why I consider myself lucky to have received numerous drop-ins over the 19 months I have lived here: Hannah and Yoshi; Ilkka and Petri; Natsuko; Remmington; Jon; Roxy and Daisy, and two weeks ago, Mike and Alissa.

I’ve known Mike and Alissa for about as long as I’ve been able to sentiently know other beings.  Alissa and I were consistent and reliable line leaders in Mrs. Butler’s 2nd grade class at Swanson Elementary.  Mike and I created several award-winning high school video masterpieces.

Japan trains

Goodbye to the 500-Series

There was sad news for Japanese railfans the other day.  On Sunday the much loved pointy nose 500-series bullet trains were retired from their “Nozomi” superexpress service to be replaced by newer, faster N700-series trains.


500 series bullet train. (Image: Wikimedia commons creative commons license)

The 500-series were adored by many for their futuristic, sleek design, even winning several prestigious design awards.  They were the first passenger trains in the world to operate at 300 kph (186 mph) when they went into service in 1997.  However, they were very expensive to build, and only nine sets were made.  A few years ago the faster N700 series trains began to come into service.  They operate at the same top speed of 300 kph but are able to maintain higher cornering speeds thanks to tilt-technology, shaving five minutes off the trip from Tokyo to Osaka.

Don’t worry, though.  Japan Railways aren’t scrapping these beautiful machines.  They will go into slower “Kodama” service between Shin-Osaka and Hakata, stopping at all stations instead of making the Tokyo-Shin-Osaka run in one blazing nonstop.

What I find most fascinating about the retirement of these trains is the intensity of the fan interest surrounding it.  Railfans exist everywhere, but the nostalgic fever exhibited for this train was amazing.   Over 1,500 fans showed up to send off the last departing 500-series Nozomi service from Tokyo station yesterday, as this Mainichi Daily News article shows.  Can you imagined thousands of people crowding an Amtrak station to bid farewell to the Acela?  I can’t.  The Japanese simply love their trains, and for good reason.

Lastly, take a look at some great YouTube video of this cool train in action.  It’s beautiful!

Japan Sapporo trains

Dovetails in Sapporo

I’ve been to Sapporo three or four or five times, depending on how you want to count visits.  It’s a hard place to avoid when coming to Hokkaido.  I know the station area well enough, and the layout of the city in general.  But I’ve always been a poor, solitary traveler, with no guide and no money to blow.  Well not this time!  Last week, the Hokkaido Midyear Conference for Assistant Language Teachers took place in Sapporo on December 1st and 2nd.  I took the train in early on Friday evening, and spent the weekend and into the week spending money frivolously and enjoying myself.