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Edinburgh – Tokyo

Caviar in Amazar

I re-edited this post to enter The Daily Telegraph’s “Just Back” competition. It subsequently became selected in the best monthly blog feature at Lonely Planet.I woke with a jolt to the bright daylight streaming through my frozen compartment window on the train bound for Vladivostok. Outside there are snow-covered trees illuminated by the low winter sun as far as the eye can see. As I head down the carriage to make a cup of coffee I pass a Russian boy travelling with his mother. He smiles at me and tells me in perfect English “it’s a beautiful forest”. It’s probably […]

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Have a Cigar

I’m nearly at the end of my third Trans-Siberian adventure. I have completed another chilly 15000 km, making over 49000 km since I embarked on my goal to become a Trans-Siberian explorer and train travel writer in 2012. This time I made the journey on just eight trains, covering ten time zones seven countries and 135 degrees around the globe. Of course within that is the Trans-Sib train 002 from Moscow to Vladivostok – still the longest single train journey in the world covering 9288 km and seven time zones. You might think that this post title is a fairly […]

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Blade Runner

Tokyo is so much more “Blade Runner” than most other Asian cities. In my neighbourhood of Shinjuku you can be seemingly in the 22nd century one minute, but turn down a small side street, and feel like Ridley Scott has just started filming his latest sequel in a dingy noodle bar. My first foray into Shinjuku nightlife proved slightly confusing. I wanted to find some bars in a district called “Golden Gion”, but which ever way I walked around the blocks I ended back up in the Tokyo equivalent of Soho, albeit possibly a bit safer but much much weirder. […]

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Finding Fugu

If you are not familar with “Fugu”, it’s the Japanese for blowfish or puffer fish. To describe it as poisonous is a massive understatement. Chefs need a licence to serve it in Japan and they are trained for two years to learn how to correctly remove the deadly bits. Some deliberately leave just a trace of the toxin in the dish so that your lips tingle when you eat it! Wikipedia suggests that its poison is 1200 times stronger than cyanide and close to Sarin or VX gas in the way it paralyses your central nervous system. You can’t buy […]

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Lost in Translation

My first duties on arrival in Tokyo were unplanned. It turns out that they are filming some sort of Japanese “Apprentice” type show at my hotel. My role is that of the checking in Western guest. I’m reminded of how Bill Murray is directed by the fictitious Japanese director in “Lost in Translation”, so I decide to follow his lead and play my part “with intensity”.. I didn’t take any fee for this role, but on the advice of my friend George Lucas, I have retained all the merchandising rights in case the “Toad-San” action figure takes off in Japan.. I have […]

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The Tokaido Shinkansen

The Tokaido Shinkansen is currently the busiest and fastest single high speed rail line in the world, serving the cities of Tokyo and Osaka. To me it’s nothing short of a public transport miracle. The “normal speed” is 320 kph, but speeds of up to 443 kph have been recorded. The trains are pressure sealed and run on 25000 volts DC. As they have their own tracks, last year the average delay per train across the year was.. 36 seconds! You probably know that these days the word “Shinkansen” is used to generically describe a number of different types of […]

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You Only Live Twice

I have plans to do lots of cultural things during my three day stay in Kyoto. Sadly what turned out was that my weak and feeble body could not hack the punishment I have been giving it over recent days. I therefore spent most of it (1) in a heavenly bed (2) under a heavenly hot shower (3) drinking icy beer in a heavenly hotel bar. I seem to have crossed that fine line, and it takes 48 hours to get my body fully fit for operations again. For the first day I can’t stop groaning with amazement every time […]

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The Hikari Super Express

Okayama is a busy station and smells of noodles. It immediately gives me a “Blade Runner” feeling. It’s a big place, and it takes me a few minutes to work it all out. I have 46 minutes here, and already have a reservation, so no need to panic. Time for some iced coffee and ibuprofen as I’m a bit dazed after the last train. The Shinkansen has its own dedicated “terminal” on top of the regular station, and I’m soon on the right platform. As this is a terminus, the train arrives on the platform more than 20 minutes before […]

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The Yakumo Limited Express

On arrival at Yonanga I need to find the “Yakumo 14 Limited Express” train to Okayama. I have 16 minutes to do this. The snag is that a very nice and helpful platform guard insists on taking me into the station ticket office to make a reservation. I already know this isn’t possible as the train is fully booked, and there is a queue. The clock is ticking. In conjunction with the booking clerk we confirm what I know, but also find out the platform and number of the unreserved carriage. You really can’t fault their willingness to help a […]

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The Manga Train

It’s just a 40 minute journey on my first train of the day to Yonanga, the nearest grown up railway station. The Manga train, or “Kitano Family Train” as it is officially known, departs about once every hour. It takes me there in some style, that is as long as you like manga art. Inside the train the station announcements are pre recorded by Japanese children and sound very cute. The conductor walks up and down saying good morning to every passenger personally.   The train is covered in manga art throughout. Each carriage is different, and mine seems to […]

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