The Mount T Lift was probably one of the most pointless transportation devices in the history of mankind. A large hunk of junk that once lifted lazy butts from the parking lot of a now abandoned hotel to a viewing point on top of a mountain – but not all the way or all the height difference, just half of it each; time and energy saving 250 meters (!) / 15 meters (!) respectively… more or less parallel to a regular road!
Located on a mountain slope about 10 kilometers away from the nearest train station, the Mount T Lift is a rather rarely visited abandoned place, because hardly anybody cares enough about it to go there… even by car. I on the other hand explored the place solo and by public transportation, which was a steep learning experience and quite a pain four years ago. To cut down the walking time, I took a bus for the first seven kilometers and walked the remaining three up the mountain – though in the end it would have probably been more time effective to walk all the way as researching bus schedules and routes is a friggin nightmare in Japan. Not only for a stupid gaijin like me, but also for the staffs of tourist information offices all over the country. (Half a year later I needed a bus connection from Sapporo Station to a university in the suburbs – it took the staff about half an hour to find the proper schedule!)
Public Transportation in Japan
And with that we are onto yet another “I beg to differ, Japan!” topic: public transportation.
Public transportation in Japan has the image of being flawless, especially amongst tourists, so I will hold it to higher standards than in other countries, because that common (mis)perception is annoying when you have to live with it on a daily basis. At least back home in Germany everybody knows that trains are always late and calculate that factor into their plans; Italians apparently are positively surprised if a train actually runs, and in France everybody is on strike all the time anyway… So you have a car and don’t rely on public transportation unless you really have to. And even then it’s rather “giving it a try, expecting to be disappointed despite lowest expectations” and less relying on it. Japan’s public transportation system on the other hand lulls you in a sense of reliability and screws you over in the most sneaky ways, usually when alternatives are either super expensive (taxis) or not available (taxis…). (I actually started writing this bit of the article a while ago when I was sitting in the middle of nowhere waiting for my bus back to civilization – the one in the morning was cancelled due to a marathon (!), so I walked the 7 kilometers to my destination without a map and just a general direction in mind. It was January, overcast, cold, windy and the “bus station” was a metal stick with a 8 connections per day schedule. The afternoon bus was due at 16:35, but didn’t show up – luckily the next one 45 minutes later did; the other direction (on time at 16:34!) was already out of service for the day…)
First of all: The Shinkansen Superexpress that connects most of the major cities on Honshu and Kyushu (no service on Shikoku and only a hub on Hokkaido) is indeed close to perfect, except being overpriced unless you are eligible for a JR Pass; which you are not when you live in Japan. The Shinkansen is fast, clean, almost always on time, offers the best souvenir shops in special parts of stations, standard announcements are at least bilingual (Japanese and English, recently maybe even in Chinese and Korean) and overall it is a real pleasure for destinations within one hour of flight time. Or maybe 45 minutes. Living in Osaka I’d rather take a plane to places beyond Fukuoka or Tokyo, because it tends to be so much cheaper… and most likely faster.
Public transportation in big cities tends to be great, too. When you have intervals of 3 or 4 minutes, who cares if a train / subway is early or late? You just take the next one… One big letdown though: No transportation between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. at all. Not even night busses once per hour in large cities. Nothing. Except for January 1st, so people visiting a shrine at midnight can go to one further away than just down the street. So if you limit yourself to big cities between Tokyo and Osaka (and / or between Osaka and Nagasaki), as most tourists do, your mind indeed will be blown. BUT:
If you leave the large cities, you might… you will… run into problems. Stations with 8 to 10 connection per day instead of per hour are anything but rare, so you better have your plans laid out well… It happened to me countless times that one of those countryside connections was late and I missed my connecting express at the next bigger station – which can quickly result in another hour of delay.
People tend to ridicule the Deutsche Bahn employees for their announcements in sometimes broken English… but at least they try! If something goes wrong, if there is any delay in Japan – only announcements in Japanese, not a single word in English; even on the Shinkansen and in cities like Osaka.
When you go to the countryside, be prepared that NONE of the announcements are in English anymore – just travel south towards Shikoku from Okayama to make that experience… or past Kansai Airport to Wakayama. A lot of those local trains heading to the countryside are old and therefore don’t have electronic signs, which means that you have to rely on the conductor’s announcements. Oh, and you’ll probably never forget your first “wanman” (one man) experience – normal looking trains that have no conductor, usually serving lines with unmanned stations. The first time I ever took one of those without being aware of the wanman concept I was sitting in the second car… and when I tried to leave, the doors wouldn’t open – by the time I realized that I had to leave through the first car (so the train driver could check my ticket, so I won’t exit the unmanned station with a low fee ticket), the train was already moving again and I missed my remote station. Since they tend to be far apart in the countryside, it was more time effective to wait 45 minutes in the cold for the next train in the opposite direction than to walk back one stop… Yay!
At least you can plan train schedules ahead easily as all train stations and schedules are available in English online data bases (if you can’t read station names you can write down when to get off the train) – probably 95% of the bus schedules / maps on the other hand are available in Japanese only… and on online maps usually only their locations are marked, not their names / schedules, like on GoogleMaps for example. Inner city tourist buses in major cities are the exception, but even regular city buses can be a challenge – like I said, it took the Sapporo Station tourist information staff 30 minutes to find me the correct bus to a nearby university…
Long story short: Japan’s public rail transportation in big cities is as good as it gets – if you think that also applies to bus transportation and / or the countryside… think again! In those cases you better know at least basic Japanese… and how to plan ahead. I’ve used bus routes with two connections per day and I’ve waited more than an hour for connecting trains just 13 kilometers (less than 10 miles!) away from an international airport – in perfect scenarios with no delays involved! Overall this rant is probably more than ever complaining about first world problems, but this is my tenth year in Japan and you have no idea what kind of ridiculous conversations I had about transportation in Japan. It’s good, but it’s also far from the glorified image some people seem to have…
Up Where We Belong
Sadly there is nothing known about the history of the Mount T Lift, but I assume it operated for a few years sometime between the opening and closing of a nearby hotel. Right next to the bright orange upper terminus was a little shack made of corrugated iron and wood on a concrete platform, supported by metal stilts – with a huge glass front, offering a great view to everyone too lazy to continue for another 250 / 10 meters on foot to enjoy the full 360 degree experience. Most of the lift line was overgrown and rather unspectacular, but parts of it were secured by a net below as the lift seats didn’t have safety bars.
Overall the Mount T Lift was a nice extra to the abandoned hotel I mentioned before, especially since I wasn’t aware of it beforehand. So I took some pictures and a video of the lower terminus before I explored the hotel – and some more pictures and another video of the upper terminus after I explored the hotel. What about the hotel, you ask? Well, that’s a story for another time… 🙂
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