Thursday, 29 March 2012

Lonely Planet - out of touch, lazy, paternalism

In response to the Great East Japan Earthquake, we have removed coverage of the affected areas from this guidebook. However, we believe that travel in other parts of Tōhoku remains safe, with the caveat that you continue to stay informed on the latest developments.

This turned up on the Lonely Planet Thorntree this week, posted by Machiruda who used to live in Tokyo not long after I moved here.  The Lonely Planet guide book no longer includes Iwate, Miyagi or Fukushima!!!!!!!  What a disgrace.  
In the words of Derryn Hinch, "Shame, Shame, Shame".
So much for their pontifications about letting people decide where is safe to travel.  For the record most Iwate and Miyagi inland have never been unsafe for travel, both in terms of radiation and earthquake damage. Parts of Fukushima too are well outside the radiation exclusion zone.  Once the trains and highway were fixed -the highways within a couple of weeks, the Shinkansen within 6 weeks, the area became accessible again. 

The destruction on the coast has been phenomenal, but that doesn't mean it's unsafe to go there.  It's a lazy cop out not to try and find accurate information and to keep updating it.  The area excluded includes Sendai - one of Japan's biggest cities, the biggest city in Tohoku and stop off point for Matsushima and Yamadera,  Matsushima - traditionally said to be one of the 3 most beautiful views of Japan  and Hiraizumi which has just been made a World Heritage area.

Contrast this with JR East, who have done so well, not only  with trying to get infrastructure operational again but to get people visiting the region as tourists.  Admittedly their financial viability depends on profitable lines, but small local lines is not where they make their money.  People in Rikuzen Takata that I spoke to seemed resigned to the fact that a train line was unlikely to be rebuilt.  It seems that that plan is that they will be rebuilt, what additional precautions are being taken I am not sure.   Infrastructure is essential if the areas damaged by the tsunami are revive.

Well done JR East! Keep it up!

JR Promotion on signboards at railways now -
Iwate and the Sanriku Kaigan, featuring Iwaizumi,
Jodogahama and Miyako
A map with places to visit, and re-opening schedules for trains.

Local train lines of Tohoku

 At the best of times it has been difficult to get information in English on the local trainlines in Tohoku, and probably to be fair for the whole of Japan.  There is a distinct preference for providing information on the well travelled, more frequent and more profitable Shinkansen lines.  Since the earthquake it has been much worse - which lines are open, which are not, which are going to be repaired, which are being written off.
In Itoku supermarket in Takanosu the other day they were having an exhibition of photos from trainlines in the north of Tohoku. There was a big map of the local lines which was instructive.
The blue on the map show private / non JR lines.
The red lines on the map show lines that have not been reconstructed.
The black lines are the JR lines.
The situation continues to improve. The Hachinohe line was re-opened between Hachinohe and Kuji on 17 March.   Kit Kat are now selling packets of Kit Kats promoting the Sanriku rail lines. JR is promoting the coast as a destination again.   There is much to be done still, particularly at the human level, but in terms of infrastructure, JR is doing very well.
The map below is quite helpful for planning a seishun 18 kippu.
There will probably be another post to follow.

Local trains of Tohoku - this will need to be opened in a new tab to get the writing big enough.

A clean copy without my scribblings...

The trip back

Hachirogata, on the Odate side of Akita City. It used to be
Japan's second biggest lake but was reclaimed post war to
have space for rice farming. The government now pays farmers
not to farm.  The area is unusual for its scope of its flatness and the
straight lines that divide the rice fields. Both features have contributed
to making it Japan's centre for solar car trials. (though not their
The Japan Sea Coast from the train
Lots of towns have enormous public buildings - often local govt.
that are much more imposing than any other building in town.
I guess it's a contemporary Japanese equivalent to a
mediaeval church in a European village....
Not very crowded
The Uetsu sen follows along the coast with occasional inland
The Coast

The bus to replace the Rikuu sai sen going east from Sakata.
Apparently JR is not required to give seishun 18 ticket holders
alternative transport in the event that the trains aren't running. 
I am very glad though that they did.
There are quite a lot of windmills for power generation in the
area - that said I am not sure I would be impressed with living in
a "windy town" as Tachikawa has labelled itself.
Along the Mogami gawa from the bus - this part has been dammed.
Shinjo station - cold.
          After missing my connection due to the substitute bus, it was so
tempting to catch a Shinkansen from Shinjo... I restrained myself and
saved myself more than 12,000 yen.
Snow on the tracks always impresses me.

Travelling south from Shinjo
The long road home
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Friday, 23 March 2012

yamagata and beyond


More snow on the way to Shinjo

Construction of a new highway
Fashion I didn't really get
Shinjo and transfer to the Rikuu sai line
The countryside between Shinjo and Sakata is stunning.
Change at Sakata to the Uetsu line to Akita city
Chokkai san can kind of sort of be made out a bit if you try hard.
Akita city change for Odate.
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The way up - to yamagata

Pictures from the trip as far as Yamagata.  Taking photos from moving trains is tricky, in addition to the movement there is reflection from inside lights and the windows themselves are often not so clean.  At least on this trip condensation wasn't a problem on the windows.
Tochigi but barely out of Tokyo - Utsunomiya is about 100km north
The north of Tochigi
By this stage it's starting to look more like countryside -
the Pacific side doesn't get much snow. It still felt like winter and
there was little evidence in the browned winter landscape
 of the coming spring.
Southern Fukushima
I shudder to think how often the food in here would
be replaced.... frozen food fast food on the train platform. 
Snow capped mountains in Fukushima - it was feeling much colder
at Koriyama than at Kuroiso.  It always seems that there is a
big temperature drop between the north of Tochigi and the south
of Fukushima
Change trains to go inland through Yamagata
Just enough time to get an over priced, not particularly appetizing
bento.  I bought it thinking it was a sesame red bean ball in it...
alas it was pumpkin... lucky I like pumpkin. Sometimes bento
are a lucky dips.
The serious snow started almost as soon as the train left Fukushima.
It was snowing in Fukushima as I boarded the Yamagata / Ou line.
The Shinkansen uses the same lines here.
Stations are in sheds in many places - there is too much
snow to be reasonably cleaned away without the shed.
I missed the Yonezawa sign... Yamagata and change for a train to
Houses near Yamagata station
A signboard poking out from the snow