A Train to Japan Chapter 1: Shitshitshitshit

Sunday, July 1 2012 at 00:47 (Trips)

So  around a year ago I had a thought: I wonder if one can take a train to Japan? I’ve always wanted to visit Japan, and planes and airports kind of suck. Apparently, you can – there are several trains that run from Moscow to either Vladivostok or Beijing, with the latter going by either a trans-Manchurian or trans-Mongolian route, and after that you can easily get a ferry across to Osaka or Kyoto. My mother said to me that if I were to not get my grades for my university choices, she would pay for a ticket for me on the trans-Mongolian train so that I could visit Japan (spoiler: I didn’t get my grades).

Fast forward about 11 months and everything is suddenly kind of shit. My dad had a fairly serious stroke about a month and a half ago which has had a serious impact on my life and the life of my family in general, generating a lot of stress, my university place which I figured was in the bag is suddenly not due to a miscalculation of marks and thus missing a a grade boundary by less than 1%, and I’ve also been stressing out about this stupid bloody trip I decided to go on.

I will just say right now that I am never doing this gods damned trip again. It’s been expensive, stressful (note how that word keeps popping up) and hugely complicated, and I’ve had to deal with it on top of everything else that’s being thrown at me right now. The first issue was establishing when I was actually going to go, which needed some kind of ‘anchor date’ to organise everything else around. One idea we had was for me to do some volunteer work in Japan for a few weeks after I arrived, so after some looking around and a few false starts I finally ended up on the MIEA (Mimasaka International Exchange Association) which annually brings in a selection of volunteers from around the world to come to a medium-sized town in Japan to do various bits of manual labour, work with kawaii Japanese schoolchildren etcetera. I get to stay with a host family which is pretty neato, since I’ll get to sample what the living experience is like for myself rather than just observing. It’s also two weeks of time to settle down with food and board for nothing, so no complaints there. After the volunteering I’ll have two weeks of time to myself before flying back to England because trains be buggered, planes are easier.

After that came booking the train tickets. This was actually fairly straightforward, though somewhat more expensive than I had assumed. First there was the main trans-Mongolian ticket from Moscow to Beijing, which is the most expensive train, covering the most distance and lasting seven days. Then there was the Eurostar to Brussels, Thalys to Cologne, overnight sleeper to Warsaw, then another overnight sleeper to Moscow. Finally came the ticket to London on the day of departure (that being tomorrow/today). I also need to book a train from Beijing to Shanghai so I can get a ferry, but due to the Chinese trains system I can’t book that one this far in advance.

After that it was visas. Screw visas. I hate visas. Especially for Belarus, a country in which I will spend a grand total of maybe two hours in the middle of the night that demands that I supply them with £100 and an extensive form for the pleasure. I left the visas somewhat late and so ended up paying more to have an express service in order to get my passport back in time. Making one visa application for most of these countries is complex, but trying to do four at once (Belarus/Russia/Mongolia/China) is just mean. Certain applications demand things like confirmed hotel bookings for every day you intend to spend in a country, complete details of all entry and exit travel and confirmation that you have more than £100 per day of your stay in your bank account by means of officially issued bank statements (with the most recent transaction within two weeks of the date of the statement issue). Needless to say it was a pain to sort out, though incredibly all my visas went through without being rejected/returned for tweaking.

All that was left to do after that was sorting out the final details and packing. I’ve spent the past few days packing, repacking, discarding around half my clothes and then attempting to pack again. I’ve also printed off about a million sheets covering contact details, metro maps, directions to hostels, as well as my bookings for various things. Here is everything laid out shortly before packing, with tickets in chronological order:

And after:

This bag weighs a damn ton. I’m going to die. I know I am. That doesn’t mean I’m ready for it, though.

Yeah, I’m scared shitless.



  1. Lins Chynoweth said,

    Ben you’ll love it – the organisational aspect is the worst part of the trip! I hope you’re keeping a blog when you’re out there as I’m looking forward to following your adventures!

  2. Caroline Mummery said,

    Hey Ben looking forward to seeing some more of your adventures. seems packing is one all by itself. Good Luck

  3. Chloé said,

    I’m so proud of you Ben – this trip sounds fan-friggin-tastic!
    Missing you xxx

  4. Elliot de Bondt said,

    You Bastard… You did go! Oh well… at least you could get me porn… right?

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