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Armed with my JR Pass and travel instructions from Hyperdia, my journey to the faraway winter wonderland of Hokkaido begun early in the morning. Taking a 0611 train from Nippori to Ueno, I arrived in Ueno early enough to be notified that the Shinkansen Hayate 11 train that departs at 0634 was reserved only. I proceeded to the ticket office, flashed my JR Pass and an uncomfortable smile, and the ticketing personel gave me a ticket printing in English.
Ueno to Shin-Aomori
Boarding the train when it arrives (it leaves punctually at the stipulated time), I dumped by stuff onto an empty seat on the relatively empty train. During the ride, I was somewhat conscious that someone would want a place next to me, which was rudely occupied by my backpack. But no such things happened. In fact, the only thing that disturbed me was the occasional pushcart of snacks. IQ84 and NCIS on my iPad got me through the 3 hours and 27 minutes fairly quickly.
Shin-Aomori to Hakodate
Arriving at Shin-Aomori station, I had to make a quick transfer (10 mins). Following the signs, it was easy enough to board the Ltd. Exp Super Hakucho 11 headed for Hakodate. The ride was pretty similar to the Shinkansen, with pushcarts and undisturbed reading. I must have finished a third of the book in the past 5 hours.
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Hakodate to Oshamambe
The transfer at Hakodate was the trickiest. The train towards Oshamambe was already on the adjacent track, and I had to react fast, skidding across the severely iced platform to locate the non-reserve carriages. After confirming with a fellow passenger that it goes to Oshamambe, I boarded. I had to stand the entire 71 minutes to Oshamambe. NCIS made it bearable but a reservation of seat would have made it comfortable. Wedged in a small space between the doorway of the only two non-reserved carriage was not at all good experience.
Oshamambe to Kutchan
Arriving at Oshamambe at 1341, I was ready for some lunch as there was a 50 minute interval in between rides. But I was instead greeted by a desolate town with no shops in sight. The kombini in the station opened only at about 1415. The toilet was outside the station and bringing three bags to the toilet in the freezing cold was not the best feeling in the world. The one-carriage train arrived at about 1420, and thank God it was pretty empty.