Tamaden and home

My final day in Japan. I don’t want to waste it, but I also need to give myself time to relax before the flight. Potential rail destinations from Rinkutown are limited and I don’t feel like going back to Osaka. So I return to the first day in Japan, ride one stop to Hineno and catch a train down in the direction of Wakayama.

At Wakayama I change trains for the private Wakayama Electric Railway. Except most people don’t know it as that anymore.

In 2006 the line, under threat of declining patronage, faced closure. The station master of the Kishi terminus, Koyama Toshiko, made a stray cat “Tama” the new station master. Tama became a celebrity, attracting visitors from across Japan and the world. Although the original Tama has now passed, the railway continues to appoint new feline replacements and the train line has been dubbed Tamaden.

The railway celebrates Tama with a couple of trains featuring specially designed exteriors and interiors. Waiting at the Wakayama station was Tamadensha, a white painted set with cat whiskers and other decorations. Inside is a library, colourfully upholstered wooden furniture and even a cat cage, unfortunately empty.

The scenery outside the semi-rural line is largely irrelevant, everyone is there for the interior. There are tourists, locals and a large group of junior school students.

Keeping watch at the Kishi terminus is a brown, black and white Tama in a glass box. There’s a little shop selling souvenirs and a cafe with coffees and other drinks. I order a creamed top hot chocolate for my breakfast and it comes with a cat paw decoration. One of the nicer hot chocolates I’ve had in Japan.

I can’t help but buy a few little souvenirs. Opposite the station is a small shop selling the mikan from the orchards that line the route. Unfortunately, I cannot bring them back to Australia, so I buy a couple of fruit jellies instead.

There’s not much else to do, but it’s not long until the next train. The black Tama Museum is even more over the top that the previous train, featuring chaise lounges, a kids play area and painted portraits of Tama as famous figures throughout history.

The whole thing is so zany that it really is worth a visit.

Back at Rinkutown I have been given a couple of missions. I need to cross over to Nitori, a furniture and homewares store, and buy a summer doona for our bed. I also need to purchase some Japanese toothbrushes. This done, I go to Ootoya for lunch. My stomach is still feeling flight-anxiety queasy, but I force myself to eat a lunch of ginger pork and rice.

When I return to the hotel, I discover that the doona will not fit into the extra bag I brought. I’ve already got enough extra goods to exceed my carry-on weight limit, so I’ll need to check in some luggage anyway. The cheapest solution I can think of is to go to the large Trial supermarket nearby, as it sells a wide variety of goods.

I was hoping for a bag, but they don’t have any so I get a roller case instead. Another item in our luggage collection…

I’m so tired that I have an hour’s nap. Then I use the hot spa facility again. Sitting in the 40 degree water I gaze out at the ocean and watch the planes take off, relax my mind and body until I feel at least some semblance of peace.

Then it is time to go.

I set out back to Rinkutown station for one last train ride. There’s quite a wait at the platforms, then across the long causeway bridge. When I arrive the queue for Jetstar check-in is already long. Then I pass through security, past the luxury duty-free stores, into the shuttle train and off to gate one.

I think about getting some food to eat from the convenience store, but there is a long queue and I give up, just buy a drink from a vending machine.

Boarding happens in sections. Unfortunately, I will not have a row to myself tonight, as an elderly couple sit down beside me.

I just want these flights to be over and done with. I’m really tired, but somehow can’t sleep even on the tarmac.

We taxi out to the runway, then take off towards the north. Then it’s a sharp bank over the bay until we are heading northeast. The skies are clear and I can see city lights below.

Service starts almost as soon as the seatbelt lights are switched off. I have another butter chicken ordered apparently. I enjoy it a little more this time, I am actually hungry despite the combination of curry and queasy stomach shouldn’t work well together.

I ask the crew not to lock the window dimming.

I glance out at the window now and then and there are a few little shakes, the skies are surprisingly clear of high cloud. My main focus is in watching more episodes of What We Do In The Shadows. I get through 14 of them on this flight.

With an hour and a half to go, after we have crossed Papua New Guinea and into the Coral Sea, the lights are switched back on and service restarts. I use my $15 credit for a chicken caeser wrap and juice. It’s okay, the kind of mild food that works best at this time of day.

The descent into Cairns is free of trauma and we are actually running 15 minutes early. It’s still a long queue through passport control and my luggage takes ages to appear. Fortunately, the quarantine officer waves me through with just a verbal explanation of my declared items and I am on my way to the domestic terminal, where the luggage belt is having issues.

The issues are sorted and I eventually get to drop my bag off and pass through security, though they are both slow. I now have maybe 20 minutes to use the Qantas lounge, All I do is eat a bowl of fresh fruit and have another juice. Unfortunately, they don’t convey Jetstar announcements there, otherwise I would have heard that our flight was delayed by half an hour due to a staffing issue.

Instead, I find a chair near the gate and fall asleep for a few minutes.

Then it’s boarding time. I have a couple of large Americans next to me in the Jetstar Airbus A320 but thankfully they try to keep to their space. It’s sunny outside with clear skies, but I am concerned about the rain and wind in Sydney.

Both the cabin manager and the pilots announce their thanks to Jemima, who arrived to replace a crew member suddenly taken ill, as humidity fogs out of the ventilation system.

It’s a short taxi and then we are off to the south, rising up past the hills, a sharp turn so the airport is visible out of my window before we turn parallel with the coast.

I doze for some of the flight, relax and look out the window for the rest. There is haze below from the Queensland fires and further south, after we have crossed inland, we can see some of the sources.

Up here it is clear and the air is pretty stable for most of the flight. Looking out into the powder blue sky I can almost feel my love of flying returning, that sense that you could go on forever.

I use my $15 credit to order the pumpkin feta quiche and spinach pastry, along with a soft drink. I really do think it’s the best thing on their menu.

But the threat of Sydney’s weather remains. Despite us making up time in the air, the captain announces that air traffic are slowing us down and we will definitely be late.

I like the slowdown as we descend into the clouds. They are not too dense and the bumps are much less mild than I feared. It’s not until we are close to the ground that I can feel the aircraft fighting the wind. Then we are on the ground, the main runway, not the third as was announced earlier.

I’m soon out and waiting for my luggage, which comes early this time. A wait for the train, then back to Padstow where B picks me up. We are both so happy to see each other again!

Thai for lunch, it’s good to eat fresh vegetables, a shave, a shower and a sleep.

It’s good to be home. I don’t know if I feel an urge to go overseas alone on adventures anymore. I missed my family, missed sharing experiences with them. There will still be days when I want to do things they don’t, and we can go our different ways then, but I think it’s more fun together.

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