Saturday, January 18, 2014

Subway systems and a couple of extras

Our second day in Tokyo did not start all that well. We had done well navigating the Tokyo subway system coming in from the airport and then getting to the bus terminal where the Mt. Fuji tour started. On day 2, we were going to the Skytree, which has replaced Tokyo Tower as the communications tower and tallest structure in Tokyo. We did not realize that Tokyo has multiple subway operators and passes on one system are not valid on another. We had bought a Tokyo Metro one-day pass. We went to the station we had used the previous two days as it was a straight shot to the Skytree on that line. 

Wrong! We couldn't get into that system with our passes. I then remembered that we had another station right next to the hotel. Looking at the subway map, it looked as if the Ginza line went through it. The Ginza line also went to the Skytree. I proudly led the way there. But there weren't any directions to the Ginza line. We asked a very nice gentleman who was walking in. He tried to explain the situation to us but we didn't understand him. So he just said "Follow me" and took us to the information booth. The polite attendant there told us that this station didn't service the Ginza line and gave us directions to get to Ginza station, where we could get the train we wanted. We could have gone directly there! But we had to learn the hard way that just because a line goes through a station on the map, it doesn't mean you can get that line there. That is an artifact of map drawing.

The locals use a transit card that just deducts the fare as you use the subway, regardless of which operator runs that subway line. But it wasn't worth it for us to get one of those for the two days we were there. This transit card can be used in many cities, which makes it even more useful.

Third time was the charm for our visit to Skytree. We enjoyed the Skytree and the lovely refreshing ginger lemonade we got after. We found people in Tokyo to be very helpful and many understood English. The directions on the subway system are all available in English. Announcements are also made in English.

We also used the subway system in Kyoto. Kyoto has a very simple system. Kyoto is laid out like Xi'an, which was called Chang'an when the Japanese Imperial capital (Kyoto) used it as a model. The subways in both places are just a cross. They don't cover the entire city and buses need to be used to get where you want to go.

We wanted to go to Nara on our first day in Kyoto. Nara has some beautiful temples. I asked the hotel's front desk clerk to help us figure out when and where to get the train to Nara. He very carefully explained to us that if we took the 9:21 am subway train, it would go directly to Nara. I took his instructions and went back to my room to search the internet for this mysterious subway train that would take us all the way to another city. I couldn't find anything that told me it was possible. Anyway, as it worked out, we got to the subway station a little before 9:21 am. I thought we'd wait and see what happened. Lo and behold, the next train said it was going to Nara. So we got on it - we had already bought tickets to Nara - and it went there! A-m-a-z-i-n-g.

Life on the way back was not so smooth. I figured out how to buy tickets back to Kyoto with the help of the station attendant. The train we took turned out to be run by another private operator. Occasionally their trains go through the subway system. We were told we would have to change to the subway at a specific station, which was fine. However, our train stopped before that and everyone got out. We just followed because we had no idea what was going on. The other passengers got on a train on the opposite platform and so did we. My impression was that there was something wrong with the train. But then there was another announcement and all the Kyoto passengers from our train got off. So did we. We lined up on the platform on the same side as our original train and waited. And waited a bit more. A train came by but it didn't stop, so we didn't get on. Then another one came and stopped and the doors opened. I asked a railway attendant if this would go to Kyoto and he said yes. So we got on.

We did get back to Kyoto but not to the subway system. Since this was a private operator, it went to their train station, which was not the same train station as the Japan Rail (JR) train station where we arrived from Tokyo. Hmm... what to do? We figured out the way to the subway but then suddenly we couldn't find any more directions. This has happened to me before. It means a sign is missing or I missed a sign. I was about to go back looking for the last sign when I spotted a tourist information center. A-ha! They could tell me where the subway station was. [By the way, the private operator refunded the subway ticket money for us with no questions asked as we left their station].

I went in and showed the lady where our hotel was and asked her how to get to the subway station. She explained that we couldn't get there from here. There had been an accident on the subway line and that was why we had all the confusion of ending up in another station. She showed me how to take a bus to near the hotel. But I am a bit suspicious of buses because it isn't easy to figure out where to get off. They have too many stops. So we decided just to take a cab back to the hotel. For three of us, in many cases a cab was no more expensive, and sometimes less expensive than 3 subway tickets.

The next day, we went out with a local friend, who explained that there are many rail systems in Japan owned and run by private operators. Kyoto has a couple of subway lines that fall into this category. We took one of them the next day along with buses. Our friend also introduced us to the concept of buying bus tickets in bulk - 20 at a time - so you can just hand one to the bus driver instead of paying him cash. Convenience stores and newspaper vendors sell them in Kyoto. Way to make the public transit easier and faster to use!

We also extensively used the subway in Seoul. Seoul also has subways run by different companies but all of them use the same tickets and passes. We didn't get a pass because we couldn't buy them in the machines. We bought single journey tickets. In Seoul, these tickets have a 500 won deposit. After you are done using them, you go to a machine and turn in the ticket to get your deposit back. The reason for this is the type of ticket used.
The Japanese subway systems use small card tickets that are cheap to produce. You feed them into the ticket machine and it either spits it back out if it is still valid, or eats it if it is used up. In Shanghai and Beijing, the tickets are cards with a chip in them. The single use tickets are also retained by the machine after they are used up. They are reused again and again. Subway passes require an additional cost of 20 RMB above what you actually put on the pass for use. These passes can be used without feeding them into the machine. I keep mine in my wallet and just lay the wallet on the reader. You don't even have to take it out of the wallet.

The Seoul tickets are like my subway pass. You just lay them on the reader. So they have a deposit on them as they are expensive to produce. And the machines don't have a slot to feed the card in. The deposit ensures that you turn the card back for reuse. I thought it was a good idea.

I am fascinated by the different subway systems in different countries and how they work. I hope you also find this sort of information interesting. I am going to do some more posts like this that are on a theme that goes across the entire trip.

I went on a short trip to Singapore this week. My only visits outside of work and the hotel were in the evening and night. This is the river in the evening on our way to dinner.
Night view on the way back from dinner.
Going up in the elevator in my hotel, which was very futuristic.
Views out the window of my room.

And lastly, another FO. I needed to knit a cap for an upcoming business trip to a VERY COLD PLACE. I don't own a cap so I had to make one. I used some leftover Alpaca Sox from the infamous brioche lace scarf and finished it today.
The pattern is Sixty Cables with a different top. I decided to do a 6-point decrease instead of the drastic decreaes in the original pattern which caused gathering at the top.
Back to plotting my next travel knitting project. The cap served very well on the way to and from Singapore.

1 comment:

Stitchmistress said...

You look very warm. Enjoy the hat and Viagante!