Expect the unexpected when travelling with teenagers
Those Japanese shinkansens are fast. Really fast! One of my boys clocked it at 220km/hour using an app on his phone. And they run to a clockwork tight schedule. They pull up at the station, passengers alight and the shinkansens move off with perfectly timed, quiet precision. They wait for no-one, as we discovered on our recent trip to Japan.
We were travelling from Tokyo station to Iiyama station in the north – a 90 minute shinkansen journey (four hours by car). Iiyama is the small-town stop, a connecting shuttle bus takes you to Nozowa Onsen snow resort, where my two lads (18 and 13 years) and I were staying for six nights for a snow adventure.
As we step off the the train with luggage in tow, my youngest turns to me and asks, “have you got my mobile phone?”
“No,” I reply. “You have it don’t you?”
His face tells me he doesn’t and then my eldest turns to me and says exactly the same thing, “I think I’ve left mine on the train too.”
Not having the time to say what I felt, I said “you’ll have to be quick!”
My two sons race back onto the Shinkansen train, to retrieve whatever it was they left behind. I watched as Mr 13yo raced to the train door, only to have it slide shut with a quiet “shhhssh” sound with him still inside. I watched in disbelief as the Shinkansen sped away, efficiently and quickly as shinkansens are built to do with my lads onboard. I mouthed to the 13yo “get off at the next stop.” Probably a useless gesture as these trains move to full speed so quickly, I was no doubt a dot in the distance as I made my last minute plea to my child.
Standing at the station with all of the luggage – it was almost comical – except I wasn’t laughing.
Do what you have to
I shuffled/dragged all the luggage, including my 18 year’s old’s computer bag and overnight bag to the lifts. We’d met another Australian family (from Melbourne) at the Tokyo station. They were at the lifts to descend to the exit below. I said to them, “what do you do when you get off the train but your kids stay on?” I was greeted by a sympathetic chorus of “oh no” as they entered the lift. The lift doors shut, leaving me on my own. “Oh yes,” I muttered to myself, wondering what my next move would be, standing on an empty platform surrounded by too many bags for one person!
All I can say is thank goodness for Japan, their efficiency and their desire to help. I met the train conductor downstairs advising him in English that my kids were still on the train which just left – pointing to the ridiculous number of bags I had. Despite him speaking little English and my lack of Japanese, he understood and turned to his colleague to explain the situation. Given the way she looked at me, I don’t think this kind of scenario occurred regularly. I showed them the boy’s passports so they knew who to look for.
They both disappeared behind a wall in the office. It was only a few minutes before the conductor came back to say, “Fraser and James?”
I nodded greatly relieved they had at least made contact with them.
“They will get off at the next stop and wait for the train back to Iiyama,” the railway conductor informed me.
“Only one problem,” he said smiling (almost apologetically I thought.) He pointed at the large neon sign announcing the next train was at 18:09. Another two and a half hour’s away. Apparently not all shinkansen trains stop at Iiyama station.
So with little choice, I settled into the empty waiting room on the platform. A lone traveller with a few bags! Comfortable seats, warmth, wifi and a power point under my chair to re-energise my almost drained phone meant I could comfortably pass a few hours. This included messaging our friends at Nozawa who were waiting for our arrival at 5pm, to join them for a Japanese bar-b-q dinner booked dinner at 6pm. I had to advise, “due to unfortunate circumstances beyond my control, we would not be making it for dinner!”
To make matters worse, because the boys were not going to be back until 18.09, the next shuttle bus to Nozawa was at 6.55pm. Another 45 minute wait!
Train arrives on time
At precisely 18:09 the Shinkansen pulled into Iiyama station and two slightly sheepish boys alighted. Big hugs from mum and a reprimand – “hand your phones to me please – no arguments!”
Apparently they had the best time at the other station, playing in the snow making the most of their slight change in plans.
“Great,” I thought as we travelled by bus to Nozawa in the dark unable to see the gorgeous countryside. Arriving in Nozawa, the roads were snow covered and we had no idea of the layout of the town. Miraculously Mr 18yo managed to read the town map and we negotiated our way to our Kirakuso Lodge. It was 8pm by this stage. Kudos to Mr 18yo for getting us to our lodge without major detours. Once checked in with our welcoming Japanese hosts, we trudged up the road to our friend’s Lodge Negano. Many pit-stops on the way as my excited two jumped into the banks of powder on the side of the road – have to remember this was their first time back in snow in four years. It was special, but I just wanted to catch up with my friends and relax.
My friends laughed when finally we walked in the door. Handing me a welcoming red wine, they admonished my boys for their actions. It felt good to finally get a little support and see some friendly faces from Brisbane. It was all quite funny until my lads piped up saying they were hungry. Of course nothing was open at this time of night for a feed. So the workers at Lodge Negano – including the lovely Bonnie – (who co-incidentally is the girlfriend of an old work colleague) kindly allowed us to raid the kitchen supplies. Peanut paste on toast our meal for our first night in Nozawa!
Day one in Japan – already an interesting adventure!