Expect the unexpected when travelling with teenagers
The Japanese Shinkansen is fast. They traverse across the Japanese countryside at lightning speed! 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 two of my lads (Mr 18 and Mr 13) and I were staying for six nights for a snow adventure.
As we step off 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. At the same time, my eldest turns to me and says, “I think I’ve left mine on the train too.”
Not having the time to say what I felt, I said to them “you’ll have to be quick!”
My two sons race back onto the Shinkansen train, to retrieve whatever it was they “think” they’ve left behind. I watch from the platform as Mr 13 races to the train door, only to have it slide shut with a quiet “shhhssh” sound with him still on the inside. I watch in disbelief as the Shinkansen speeds away, efficiently and quickly as Shinkansens are built to do with my lads onboard.
I quickly mouth to Mr 13, “get off at the next stop.”
Probably a useless gesture as Shinkansens move to full speed quickly, I was no doubt a dot in the distance, a lone mother mouthing a useless last-minute plea to her child.
A solitary figure, standing surrounded by too many bags – it was almost comical – except I wasn’t laughing.
Instead, a sinking feeling overwhelmed me, here I was a single mum, separated from her kids in a foreign country.
Do what you have to
I shuffled/dragged/lifted all the pieces of luggage to the lifts. We’d met another Australian family (from Melbourne) at the Tokyo station. They were at the lifts waiting 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?”
There was a sympathetic chorus of “oh no” as they entered the opening lift doors. I watched the lift doors shut, leaving me behind (again.)
“Oh yes,” I muttered to myself, wondering what my next move would be.
All I can say is thank goodness for Japan, their efficiency and their desire to help. After dragging the luggage downstairs and over to the station office, I met the train conductor, who took one look at the amount of luggage I was grappling with and possibly thought something was amiss. I advised him in English that my kids were still on the train which just left. Pointing to the excessive number of bags I had to back-up my story. 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 and said, “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.
With little choice, I settled into the empty waiting room on the platform. A lone traveller with many 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 5 pm, to join them for a Japanese bar-b-q dinner booked for 6 pm.
I advised my friends, “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 18.55pm. Another 45 minute wait!
The 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. While waiting for the train to return them to Iiyama they played in the snow making the most of their slight change in plans. Kids – they don’t worry as parents do!
“Great,” I thought as we travelled by bus to Nozawa in the dark unable to see the gorgeous countryside. When the bus stopped at Nozawa, we made a quick choice of where to get off, hoping we chose the right part of town closest to our lodge. The roads were snow covered and we had no idea of the town’s layout. Miraculously Mr 18 managed to read the map and we negotiated our way to our Kirakuso Lodge. It was 8 pm by this stage. Kudos to Mr 18 for not getting us lost. Once checked in with our welcoming Japanese hosts, we trudged up the road to where our friends were staying at Lodge Nagano. There were numerous pit-stops on the way as my excited two jumped into the banks of powder on the side of the road (this was their first time back in the snow in four years.) Yes, it was fun but I’d had enough drama for one afternoon. I was intent on catching up with my friends and relaxing.
As we walked inside Lodge Nagano we were greeted by a roar of laughter. Handing me a welcoming red wine, my friends (jokingly) admonished my boys for their actions.
“How could you put your mum through such an ordeal?”
It felt good to finally have a little support, but most of all to see friendly faces from Brisbane. It was all quite relaxing until my lads piped up saying they were hungry. Of course, nothing would be open at this time of night for a feed!
A couple of lodge employees – including the lovely Bonnie – (who happens to be the girlfriend of an old work colleague – small world right!?) kindly allowed us to raid the kitchen supplies. Peanut paste on toast our very un-Japanese meal for our first night in Nozawa!
Day one in Japan – already proving to be an interesting adventure!