January 31st is a big deal in Japan. Everyone (and I mean everyone) heads out to the most prestigious shrines in their area so they can receive a New Year’s blessing and buy their fortune. Being the compulsive over-achiever that I am, I decided to go all out to ring in 2010. By “all-out,” I’m not talking small scale stuff like “buy fireworks, party hearty, and count down from 10 louder than everyone else.” I mean more like a “5 day train trip through 3 of Japan’s 4 major islands to ring in the New Year at the largest wooden building on Earth.” And that sort of “all out” is exactly what I did.
In case you aren’t comprehensively familiar with the political geography of southern Japan, I’ve whipped up a quick map of the trip in Photoshop (right). Starting in Fukuoka prefecture I took a train then a ferry to Shikoku Island and then more trains to Matsuyama. The following day was again spent on the rails through beautiful Shikoku island and onward to Kyoto. I toured for one very busy afternoon in Kyoto and then went to Nara Park (one of my top recommended spots in all Japan to tour) for the New Year festivities. After a day of recovery back in Kyoto, it was a 14 hour slow-train ride home to Fukuoka.
The whole journey was done using the special seasonal rail pass called Seishun Juhachi Kippu (literally: The Youthful 18 Ticket). For only 115 US dollars, riders get 5 days of unlimited access to the trains. The days do not have to be consecutive. The only stipulation is that the deal only grants access to slow and rapid trains, not express or the bullet trains. If you’re routing during any of the major Japanese school holidays (Spring, Summer, or Winter) I highly recommend you look into this bargain. Any station can sell it to you.
With that brief overview laid out, I’m going to let the pictures do the talking for the rest of today’s post as well as the next two days. It was an extremely enjoyable trip, but only because I really like riding on trains.