Quite a lot happened during my last few months in Japan. In fact, so much happened that I didn’t have time to blog even one word of it – but as usual I kept some notes with the intent of going back and writing about all of it, eventually.
What follows are those notes, details filled in as best as I can remember and photos added where possible.
Just before moving back to the US after my first year in Japan, Dean offered me an opportunity to accompany him on an archaeological survey of some ancient burial chambers in Miyazaki Prefecture. It was a great experience, one which I’d hoped to be able to repeat many times over. But unfortunately, because his work has gradually shifted away from on-site surveys and towards development of his GPR imaging software, visits to Japan have grown few and far between and the opportunity never popped up again. Until this December. As chance would have it, he was handed another contract for a survey just two short weeks before my scheduled flight from Japan back to the US – and once again invited me to come along. Awesome.
But time was tight. Very tight. In order to justify the expense of transporting me almost to Japan’s southernmost tip, I’d have to arrive no later than 8am on December 1st. And there I was, sitting in a half-furnished apartment, luggage not yet packed, with a long list of errands to run on the evening of November 28th.
Long story short: I managed to dump all my luggage in Peder’s new monthly mansion by around 1am and patch the last scratch in my apartment’s flooring by 7:30am – exactly two hours before the realtor was scheduled to inspect it. Then it was a quick ride to my (ex-)office to fill out some final “I Quit” paperwork, the bank to send as much of my savings as possible overseas, and a brisk walk to the trainstation to begin my journey.
And there I was, once again. Back on the road with my tennis shoes and my huge backpack, for the first time in what felt like ages.
My first challenge would be the always risky business of activating my JR Railpass. A Railpass is essentially a week-long nation-wide “all-you-can-ride” train ticket, including bullet trains. It costs even less than a normal round-trip ticket to Miyazaki would’ve cost, so not only would using it save Dean some cash on transportation, but it would give me a few extra days of unlimited travel as well. The catch is that it’s only available to TOURISTS. It can only be purchased outside the country, and to activate it you need to show your passport with tourist visa to a JR employee on the first day of use. Obtaining the voucher proves to be little challenge – I just have a family member buy it overseas and fedex it to me. Exchanging it without a tourist stamp, on the other hand, can be tricky. Here’s my technique:
1) Dress like a dorky tourist
2) Put a map in my pocket and hang a camera around my neck
3) Wear a huge backpacker’s backpack
4) Rush into the ticket office like I’m in a huge hurry and about to miss my train
5) Don’t speak a word of Japanese
6) Act surprised when asked for my passport, and fumble around before producing a photocopy of the face-page only
7) If rejected, act freaked out about missing my train in a scary and unknown foreign country. If still rejected, proceed to the next-nearest JR Pass office. Return to step 4.
In the past, I’ve always been lucky and gotten a friendly employee on the first or second try, someone willing to stamp my railpass with just a passport photocopy. But this time I wasn’t so lucky. I got rejected once at Kyoto station office #1. And then office #2. So I took the normal Hankyu train to Osaka and tried there. Rejection. Time was running short, and it was already the 30th – if I couldn’t make it to Miyazaki tonight the whole thing would’ve been for nothing, and I’d end up having to eat the cost of the ticket myself. My last hope: Kobe.
Bright & shiny JR Pass in hand, I hopped on the first bullet train to Kyushu.