There are a few activities I look forward to when I go to Japan. Riding trains ranks high, just after visiting friends and family, exploring historic areas, and food.
Since we were non-Japanese citizen tourists, we all bought Japan Rail (JR) passes for a phenomenal price - less than $200 for 7 days of unlimited travel - traveling on the shinkansen (bullet train), most commuter trains, buses, and the ferry to Miyajima.
When I walked into the car to Kumamoto, I was impressed with the wooden seat backs. Even with use, the wood wasn't nicked much. It is evident that passengers are appreciative and respectful of their surroundings.
Another perk to the shinkansen are the carts with local specialty foods called ekibento or ekiben (train meal) and beer, as well as trinkets. I've written about our meals here.
Japanese trains are clean, even daily commuter "one man" trams. Bullet trains are beautifully maintained and comfortable to ride due to its speed, traveling 150-200 mph.
During my train ride to Beppu, I bought a bento of grilled fish and a large assortment of side dishes for less than 500 yen at a department store. Even with riders eating meals and drinking, I must comment again, the trains are meticulously kept.
One man trains (trams), buses, and cabs arrive frequently outside the train station. In Kumamoto, the tram stops are beautifully landscaped. It is nothing like the depressing train stops in many US cities that make one feel like a second class citizen for using public transportation.
I also noticed posters in local trams asking commuters to refrain from speaking on mobile phones. What a wonderful rule!
Traveling by train is an adventure, but the major stations are a labyrinth of treats with hours of exploration. One of Angelo Pietro restaurants, a chain of Japanese-Italian bistros based in Hakata, is located in the basement of the Hakata train station. Their miso-sesame salad dressing, sold even in Cleveland, is amazing on salads and as a marinade.
Aside from food, train stations have a phenomenal variety of amenities. One is able to shop for gift-wrapped boxes and fancy jars of regional specialties and fancy jars, as well as textiles and trinkets.
At the Hakata train station there are two major department stores encompassing 6-8 floors where one can purchase play to formal clothing, prepared foods to take home for dinner or on the train, stationery, books, perfumes, kitchenware, furniture, dine at casual and fine dining restaurants, and so much more.