Friday, April 14
We awoke on Friday morning to the sound of commuter trains
arriving and departing Osaka Station. Fortunately, the windows of
the hotel were admirably soundproofed. Our hotel breakfast in Osaka
wasn't quite as extravagant as Kyoto and the odor of cigarette smoke
hung thick in the air. As a result, we had a rather quick meal and
got an early start on our day.
Our short walk to the station gave us enough above-ground exposure
to discover that a hazy sun had already started to take the chill
out of the air. This time of year, the forecast of rain for the
following day usually meant that this one would be warm.
|Even though it is somewhat slower
than the Nozomi, the Hikari RailStar is the newest and
most efficient member JR West's bullet train fleet.
We hopped on a local for the short ride to Shin Osaka (New Osaka)
Station, where we would pick up the shinkansen for Nagoya. As huge
as Osaka Station is, it is not on the Shinkansen line. Waiting for
our garden-variety Hikari shinkansen, I got a very brief
look at a super-sleek Nozomi express, the fastest of the bullet
trains, hurtling through the station after slowing to well over
a hundred miles per hour. It's dramatic entrance (and equally dramatic
exit) was preceded by a warning announcement and a the pulsing alarm
of a loud buzzer that lasted for a long, fifteen seconds followed
by a brief but ominous silence. Like a jet aircraft approaching
at a very high speed, the Nozomi makes very little noise until it
is right on top of you. Then, there was the sound of a sustained,
muffled explosion lasting for the four or five five seconds it took
for the train to pass through the station.
Nagoya is a major industrial city a little over 100 miles north
of Osaka. It's a fairly quick trip on the shinkansen. We bought
a light snack and some canned drinks on the platform to supplement
our breakfast. Soon, our train arrived and we were enjoying the
quiet, airline-smooth ride of one of the most comfortable forms
of transportation in the world. In a few moments, we were out of
the city and the train accelerated to full speed. Even though I
had ridden the bullet train before, it is still impossible for me
to get used to how quickly the scenery passes. It is like watching
a movie playing too fast to be real. The foreground is a complete
blur and the background passes more quickly than it should. Our
one stop was in Kyoto Station and then we proceeded directly to
Nagoya has a long tradition of being a major manufacturing center
and is the home of any number of world-class corporations, including
Noritake, the makers of some of the finest porcelain available anywhere
in the world. It's intricate patterns and delicate designs grace
the tables of Japan's imperial family and five-star hotels on several
continents. My wife is a collector of antique Noritake, so a tour
of the factory was high on our agenda of things to do.
|My wife at the home of her beloved Nippon porcelain.
The tour actually takes place in the company's Welcome Center,
a mini-factory specially set up to show visitors the unique manufacturing
process. A small group of us were provided with an English-speaking
guide, a perky young lady who just transferred from another department
and was enthusiastically (and perhaps, a touch nervously) giving
her first tour. The techniques we were shown were fascinating, even
to someone with only a passing interest in porcelain and the result
of over a century's refinement. I was particularly impressed by
the artists responsible for hand painting the custom designed pieces.
One was working on a large vase featuring hand-painted portraits
of the customer's pet (a corgi, I believe). Working from a handful
of amateurish snapshots, he was in the process of creating a virtual
museum piece. A creation like this would require up to six months
and command something close to a six-figure price.
The Noritake Company dominates the entire Japanese ceramics industry
and fine porcelain is only a small part of their product line. I
was surprised to learn that Toto was also under their corporate
umbrella. They manufacture the sleek and super-sophisticated bathroom
fixtures that enjoy a near-monopoly in the country.
Shortly after noon, we were on our way back to Nagoya station for
a quick lunch before the trip back to Osaka. I was still amazed
by how the shinkansen compresses time and distance. In America,
this would have been a tiring day trip, rather than an enjoyable
morning outing. We had many more plans for the afternoon and evening
which would have been impossible without this wonderful railway.
Before settling in for a short nap, my wife called her sister from
the train to update her on our schedule. It didn't occur to me until
I was married that one of the drawbacks of being an only child is
not having any nieces or nephews. Happily, when I got married, I
inherited two of each and the most wonderful ones I could ever hope
for. We had barely made it back to our hotel room before we heard
the enthusiastic knocking of some little knuckles on our door. I
was greeted by shouts of "Oji-san!" (uncle).
Ric gets a tour of Osaka