JAPAN: A Ride on the Bullet Train, from the Memoir of Aunt Carolyn

Bullet Train, Tokyo, Japan
My husband's aunt, Carolyn T. Arnold, traveled to Japan in the 1960's and 70's as the leader of a tour group. Her humorous description of her group’s experience taking a bullet train for the first time brings back memories of my own experiences riding trains in Japan.
We had been looking forward to a ride on the bullet train. One express train leaves Tokyo Station every twelve minutes and is capable of traveling 130 miles an hour. We boarded the train at Atomi. Our luggage had been sent earlier by truck to Kyoto since the train stops at the station exactly three minutes.
When we arrived at the station we found the sign for No. 8 embedded in the concrete platform.  Mike, the guide, and I had divided out group of twenty; one-half to board No. 8 coach at the front of the car with me, while the other half with Mike would board at the rear of the car. People were probably frightened at the thought of being left behind so everyone was already lined up when the train came speeding around the bend.
I never really believed our car would stop precisely at the figure 8, but, as you know, the Japanese are noted for their precision. Right on the spot, No. 8, the door of our car was right in front of us. I had put Hazel at the head of my line, and I brought up the rear. No one was moving.
 “Hazel,” I yelled, “get cracking up there!” Still no one moved. I thought about pushing from behind or letting out a war whoop. Finally, the door of the car opened, and we all fell inside just in the nick of time.
Later, I said to Hazel, “For Heaven’s sake, what took you so long?”
“Well,” she said, “first I pulled at the door, and then I pushed it, but it wouldn’t open.”
That was how we learned that all Japanese doors slide.

Perhaps the original intrepid tourist was Carolyn T. Arnold, my husband’s aunt.  A single school teacher in Des Moines, she began traveling abroad when she was in her forties, beginning with a bicycling trip through Ireland in 1950.  She went on from there to spend a year as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher in Wales, to more trips to Europe and beyond, and eventually became a tour leader, taking all her nieces and nephews (including Art) on her travels.  When she retired from teaching, she wrote of her experiences in a memoir called Up and Down and Around the World with Carrie.  Today, as I read of her travels and look at her photos, I marvel at her spirit of adventure at a time when women did not have the independence they do today. 

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