Ura-Nihon Detour

Four hours of Sabae

After landing at Kansai Gaidai International Airport, I knew that the day would be fraught with peril. Due to issues mentioned in the previous post, I had a limited window of opportunity to visit Sabae before returning to the shinkansen tracks and continuing towards Tokyo.

I handed in my voucher at the airport Japan Railways office to get the actual rail pass, which is unconveniently large for any normal pocket. It was significantly smaller two years ago when Joona had one so why they changed it I have no idea. The cardboard parts protruding from between my passport just get destroyed in my pocket.

Using the rail pass makes you feel very special when traveling, because it robs you of the ability to ever use normal train gates again like ordinary folk. Instead, I now have to take the small alley reserved mainly for people who have inquiries about the most mundane issues, get the attention of a clerk who then proceeds to quickly glance at the thing I’m waving (not a euphemism) and lets me pass without actually checking anything. I’m confident I could show him a Mother’s Day card and I would have no problem traveling the country. But I digress.

Sabae station view

The view from Sabae station

I arrived in Sabae after a couple of hours on different trains (KIX Express to Shin-Osaka – Kodama Shinkansen to Maibara – JR Hokuriku Line to Sabae) and Shingo came to meet me at the station with his little brother. We went for lunch at a nearby place he recommended and I chose to try a typical Sabae dish, Echizen soba. In all its simpleness the dish consisted of cold soba noodles with bonito flakes on top, a daikon-based dipping sauce and a small variety of tempura sides (crayfish, onion, zucchini). My first taste of Japan in a long time. First taste besides the beer I just had to buy earlier at the station anyway. It’s part of the shinkansen experience, and I refuse to be culturally blind.

Despite my previous 18 months of experience in mainland Japan, prior to going to Sabae I had never been in a private car before (Okinawa stories had one, though). With this kind of luxury at hand, we drove to allegedly ”the only thing to see in Sabae”, the Megane Museum i.e. the museum of eyeglasses. Sabae has a long history of eyeglasses manufacturing, and Shingo’s grandfather was one of the pioneers in the trade. Besides an interesting look into the history of Japanese eyeglasses, the museum also offered a refreshing introduction to the latest Engrish.

Eyeglasses Engrish

Well, I never!

The museum was of modest size, so we still had time to spend before my self-imposed time limit of catching the 16:45 train back to Maibara. By sheer luck there was a matsuri ongoing in the city where normally ”nothing happens”, so it was time for some festivities. We downed cans of Asahi Dry and nibbled on some fried squid tentacles (gesoage) and yakitori before visiting the Sabae Zoo to see the famous red pandas of Sabae. The red panda is a ubiquitous city mascot despite the animal having nothing to do with the region. But then again, Finland has the lion, so I probably shouldn’t say anything.

Gesoage and beer

Festival food

We returned to the station for a parting photo and quick coffee, and back I was on the train. Staying awake until Tokyo proved to be very difficult at this point. I drifted in and out of sleep until I finally reached Shinagawa station and contacted Basti, who had kindly offered to let me stay at his place in Tokyo. We went for a quick beer (or 4 as it turned out) at a nearby Izakaya before going home. I spent the next 12 hours in a deep coma.

-Antti

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