I’ve mentioned before about how complicated the Japanese train ticket system can be. However, I did once learn that the train staff being too subtle can also be some danger. Well, especially if you’re dealing with people who believe that you didn’t believe everything you said and acted accordingly but didn’t bother telling you and thus left you believing that they believed you.
Confused? Well, let me try to explain. At the end of our first year in Japan, the group in my area decided to head down to Kobe for the annual Renewers’ Conference. This is a time of great seriousness where those who’ve decided to commit to another year in the J.E.T. Programme gather to enjoy a series of lectures and presentations by those who’ve been there and done that and then enjoy a pleasant time in the evenings with new and interesting people. (Translation: it’s one giant festival of bacchanalia interrupted by boring lectures and one of the world’s most boring dinner parties.)
Because the party, er, conference starts on a Thursday, it is a renewers’ tradition that people heading to the conference take Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off and do some traveling on the five day weekend. In our case, we decided to pass Kobe and go to Hiroshima and then work our way back toward Kobe. Because we had a lot of time and masochistic streaks the size of, um, well, a bullwhip, we decided to take an express train to Kyoto and then save money by taking slower local trains from Kyoto to Hiroshima. I bought my tickets in Nou-machi, some bought their tickets in Itoigawa whilst at least one person bought his tickets in Toyama.
When we were in Kyoto trying to figure out which platform our train departed from, I showed my ticket to one of the JR employees. He said something in lightning fast Japanese and pointed toward the bullet train platforms. I decided I’d misunderstood and we boarded our local train and took our slow ride to Hiroshima.
Towards the end of the long ride I, bothered by the JR employee’s reaction, took a good look at my tickets. I realized I did, in fact, have a bullet train ticket from Kyoto to Hiroshima. The others mocked my mistake for a minute before realizing they also had bullet train tickets. It turned out that there was a special package deal. If we took the express to Kyoto, there was a discount on the bullet train.
What surprised us was 1) that even though we’d purchased our tickets in different stations in different cities and had all carefully asked for local trains, we’d all received the package deal and 2) that no one had bothered to tell us that we didn’t have the tickets we thought we had.
We then spent the rest of the ride and 25 minutes in Hiroshima trying to get a refund for the difference between what we’d bought and what we thought we’d bought.
In the end, the difference was only about $18 each, making us wish we’d actually taken the bullet train and/or had bothered to look at our tickets.