Faster than a speed­ing bul­let

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

There are Strauss waltzes play­ing over the public ad­dress sys­tem and an­nounce­ments are in Ja­panese, English and Man­darin with merry jin­gle-jan­gles of bells as rail­way sta­tions are ap­proached. This means a lot of taped talk­ing as stops are fre­quent on the Kin­tetsu rail route be­tween Nagoya and Kashiko­jima.

Wel­come aboard the Ise Shima Liner, a train with the feel of a hol­i­day on wheels as it rat­tles at a stately clip south to­wards the Ise Shima penin­sula, home to forested walks, sa­cred shrines, lovely beaches and boat-filled bays. The con­duc­tor, as is the way in Ja­pan, bows deeply be­fore en­ter­ing a car­riage and apol­o­gises for his in­tru­sions. The fe­male an­nouncer do­ing the English commentary tells us the name of the next sta­tion, the one be­yond, and the of­fi­cial rail­way num­bers of all. As every syl­la­ble is pro­nounced in the Ja­panese lan­guage and diph­thongs are un­heard of, her enun­ci­a­tion is pre­cise, with an al­most Welsh lilt to close her sen­tences. All pretty mes­meris­ing, re­ally, af­ter my overnight flight from Aus­tralia.

The ur­ban sprawl of Nagoya gives way to conur­ba­tions of flat-fronted houses with up­turned tem­ple-like eaves and pots of bon­sai on steps and ledges. Soon the train is cur­tained with green as we pass close to stands of firs and ferny glades. Moun­tains are smudged blue against the hori­zon and wild grass grows be­tween the tracks. Some sta­tions, such as Shima Shim­mei, have but one cen­tral plat­form and no in­fra­struc­ture. Toba is a busy, grand en­try point to at­trac­tions in­clud­ing a pop­u­lar aquar­ium and Miki­moto Is­land, which cel­e­brates all things to do with cul­tured pearls. Many set­tle­ments take the pre­fix of shima, mean­ing is­land, and ex­cite­ment grows among fel­low pas­sen­gers as we near the end of the line. Most are wear­ing sun­hats and have brought bun­dles of food to pass around and flasks of green tea. I grate­fully ac­cept a sand­wich from a lad of about eight who, pressed by his mother, asks me, “Who are you?” See­ing my puz­zled look, he blushes madly and tries again. “How are you?” I rely that I am very well in­deed, ari­gato goza­imasu.

It is a slow but re­lax­ing jour­ney and one that is at odds with my other train trips in Ja­pan last month. From Tokyo to Nagoya and Ky­oto and re­turn I am zipped by a se­ries of sleek, rocket-nosed Hikari Shinkansen, which is not the fastest of the bul­let train ser­vices, but goes at the light­ning pace of 270km/h. The later gen­er­a­tion of No­zomi Shinkansen whoosh along at up to 320km/h and have hel­met-like heads, like Star Wars stormtroop­ers. Shinkansen con­nect the is­lands of Ja­pan, in­clud­ing by sea bridges and, since 2016, via the Seikan un­der­wa­ter tun­nel from the north tip of Hon­shu to Hako­date in Hokkaido.

Mean­time, tests on the new gen­er­a­tion of Chuo Shinkansen mag­netic lev­i­ta­tion trains sched­uled to run on Ja­panese rail­ways by 2027 sug­gest speeds of about 505km/h, the world’s fastest. The jour­ney be­tween Tokyo and Nagoya would take only about 40 min­utes, less than half the present time. Crikey, hold on to your pic­nic boxes and hol­i­day hats.

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