Nerdtour 2012: End of the line…

Well, that’s it for the trip, back home in Alexandria, in my newly remodeled apartment. Feeling major post-trip letdown, dealing with a new sore throat and my body telling me it’s 12 hours later than it is, and trying to figure out where to put stuff in my apartment that won’t fit anymore. I did manage to find where they put my car keys, and made it to the grocery store at 3:00 AM, plus retrieved all my mail (including the “Vote for Me!” flyers, heh).

I’ll have other posts from the Nerdtour, but chronologically these were the last few pictures I took on the trip. More to come as I work through the other 12,000 pictures!

The last day in Japan was spent wasting time riding the rails, since there was about 7 hours between checkout time at the hotel and check-in time at the airport. I suggested to John we take a quick trip down to Chiba city, which is about half-way between Tokyo and Narita, so we could use up a day on the 4 day JR East Pass we each had, and maybe see some last sights.

Narita Station

Such perfect weather to brighten one’s spirits. Narita station in the rain…

Narita station platform, with one lone person, in the rain

Narita station platform number 1

Naturally, it was rainy and cold, but the train ride was uneventful, and we pulled into Chiba proper, at the JR station downtown. Chiba, like Tokyo has a monorail system, but unlike Tokyo this one is suspended from the rail, and goes much further. It took a bit to find the actual station, but when I did, I was impressed by its beauty and functionality, as well as its little quirks!

Chiba station area, with buildings and artwork

The main plaza outside the Chiba station.

station location map with guide to local buildings

There are maps to local places all over Tokyo and other cities, mainly because they don’t name or number the majority of streets, so you need to know where the local landmarks are. I noticed there are a lot of places in stations where you can go to donate blood, as noted here at the top of the photo.

Chiba city skyline

Yes, it was this gloomy under the station looking out at Chiba city…

escalator and stairs at Chiba Monorail station

At the station, you have your choice of stairs or escalator, but look closely at the stairs…

stairway with illustrations on the risers

… you can find out just how many calories you can burn by taking the steps! They even have helpful, supportive cartoon characters to urge you on!

The monorail itself only runs two cars at a time, suspended from tracks about 50 feet in the air. The stations are also up in the air, naturally, and are located at many important and popular places in town, such as City Hall and the Sports Center. On the way to Chiba, I noted that one of the stops on the JR line also had a monorail stop, in the town called Tsuga. So, I figured if we took the monorail to one end, in Chiba-minato, we could take it back out to Tsuga and catch the JR train back to Narita, while seeing a lot of Chiba in the process.

monorail cars

There goes the monorail…

monorail car

… out over the city …

monorail cars

… with no visible means of support! ^__^

downtown with buildings and railroad yard

Downtown Chiba in the rain, with railroad tracks…

rain-soaked trees with autumn foliage

Even in the rain, a bit of fall color…

vividly painted monorail cars

Aw, puppy! An ad painted on the sides of the monorail cars in Chiba….

I figured Chiba-minato, down by the docks and near the port, would be somewhat picturesque, despite the weather. What I didn’t know until we got there was that the annual Chiba Ekiden was going on, which ran on the street directly below the Chiba-minato station! In Japan an Ekiden is basically a relay race combined with a marathon, where teams of runners take turns following a 46 kilometer marathon, broken up into segments. The course has certain segments for women as well as men, so that you enter as a co-ed team to race. We were at about the half-way mark of the second mens’ segment, where it looked like there were only a handful of teams, since I only saw about a dozen men running under the station. I managed to exercise my Japanese to find out what was going on, by asking one of the staff who had blocked off the side streets. Communication!

hundreds of bicycles parked at the station

Japan is a big bicycle culture, as well as a train culture, and all stations have a large area to park bikes…

signs on the station wall at Chiba-minato

Monorail and JR lines. Technically I could have ridden the JR line all the way back to Etchujima, near Monzennakacho!

many overpasses, above an empty street

Chiba-minato station…

rain-soaked pigeon atop a roof

“Hey, I’m a bird, I have to be out in this mess, what’s your excuse, human?”

empty street

Waiting for the Ekiden runners…

runner in marathon

The Chiba Ekiden passes by

runner in marathon

Ekiden race participant

Once the race had passed by, they quickly and efficiently re-opened the street to traffic, and I figured I’d wander around the station area for a bit, looking for quirky and interesting things. Didn’t really have much chance, since time was passing, but I did manage to catch some local “wildlife” as well as a neat shuttle bus!

unusual shuttle bus design, faux 1930's style

Pretty interesting design, kind of 30’s style. For no other reason than they can, and it makes it stand out!

unusual shuttle bus design, mock-30's styling

O Japan, that has such quirkiness in it! I really like the style they added to this plain shuttle bus design!

chapel or meeting area in Chiba-minato

Wasn’t sure if this was an actual church or not, but it’s possible.

information kiosk with golden birds sculpture

Sure, you could have a plain information map, but why not touch it up with a bit of class, throw on a golden sculpture of birds taking off!

Once we finished taking the few photos, it was time to catch the monorail out to Tsuga. We managed to ride the cars that had won the “Good Design Award” for 2012. They were definitely stylish, and apparently could be run automated, but we had a driver on this one. The trip back to Tsuga was fairly quick, even given all the stops, and we caught the train in Tsuga back to Narita.

award-winning monorail car

Winner, 2012 “Good Design Award”. It shows…

scene of the town from Monorail

There are definite advantages to building a suspended (or otherwise elevated) train, since the only real footprint of ground use is the area taken up by the pillars.

Chiba area from the monorail

Rainy Chiba, from the monorail, a view out the cockpit up front…

entrance to Tsuga monorail station

Coming in to a monorail station can be a bit unnerving, but also kind of exciting, in a “sci-fi movie” kind of way…

Tsuga near the train station

Wonderful downtown Tsuga, in the rain…

Tsuga monorail station

The Monorail station at Tsuga

monorail shrine

They put up little shrines just about everywhere, for various local gods…

Getting back to the hotel in Narita to pick up our luggage, I started getting a bit concerned about how long it would take to get back to the airport. Finding out that we had just missed the airport shuttle from the hotel, John and I used our 21st Century technology to find out the next train from Narita to the airport. It turned out we had about 8 minutes to get to the station, fortunately the hotel was only a 4 minute walk away! We made it to the platform with minutes to spare, got to the airport about 3 hours before the plane was scheduled to leave, and spent that last time wandering the airport.

The flight back from Japan was… eventful. But I’ll have more on that in another post.

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