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A Miracle in Morioka

Posted on 2005/08/22 03:45:36 (August 2005).

[Tuesday 16th August]
I had began to wonder if Chie and I were really that well suited to travelling together. We were fine on the way to Hokkaido - the ferry ride was just plain luxurious and we both had a wonderful relaxing time there. On the way back though we had opted for the train, today was going to be the second leg of our journey, and it proved to be putting something of a strain on us. On a ferry you just get on at one end, and get off at the other, and you've no need to do anything in particular in between. Given that the train alternative was going to take several days, there was all the added stress of changing trains, and working out where to stay, where to eat, and so on...

Add to this an earthquake in Sendai, which severely disrupted the entire train network in the East of Japan, and you can imagine a pretty stressful day's travelling. The earthquake struck just before midday, at which point we were still on Hokkaido, just about to go into the tunnel. So we couldn't feel it where we were, and didn't know anything had happened until we got to Aomori, where we were going to change trains. We had a very long wait in Aomori, the train was over an hour delayed (unheard of in Japan!) because of the earthquake. Given that some other trains had been cancelled our train was absolutely jam packed. The delays continued to get worse and worse en route, we spent a lot of time waiting at each station we went through as the line was full of stranded trains, which had been halted until safety checks could be carried out on the line.

We got to Hachinohe a couple of hours later than we had originally planned, already pretty fed up and worn out. We then managed to get a train from there as far South as Morioka, where we decided we ought to call it a day.

We then wandered the streets of Morioka for some time trying to find a hotel, with very little success. Given the train problems lots of people had obviously done the same thing - gone as far South as they could and then found a hotel for the night somewhere. Apaprently there was also some kind of festival or concert on in Morioka as well, so many of the hotels had been pretty much full even before the influx of stranded travellers. We were tired, fed up, and inevitably a big argument ensued. I really lost my temper and swore a lot, rather loudly, on the streets of Morioka. It is a good job the Japanese don't have much of a grasp of British colloquialisms, or I may well have found myself resolving our accomodation difficulties with a night in the cells.

We were pretty much at our wit's end by the time we got to the sixth or seventh hotel we'd tried. I didn't even bother to follow Chie in to start with, and just waited outside instead... but there did seem to be hope - she didn't just come straight back out, so after waiting a bit I wandered in too. Apparently they had two single rooms available - it would work out a bit expensive, but following a day's stress and arguing, the prospect of having separate rooms didn't actually seem wholly unattractive! So we ummed and arred a bit, and then they said if we were prepared to wait, there was a double room that could be made up for us. So we snapped it up.

...but that isn't the miracle, not exactly. You see the girl on the front desk had been looking at us both a bit funny as she was talking to us. I didn't pay much attention to it at the time... but then when Chie was filling out the registration form, the girl at the desk said "Chie...?" - and then it turned out that they actually knew each other!

There are 120 million people in Japan. Neither of us had ever been to Morioka before, which is a fairly sizeable city (about 280,000 people), and we were both pretty much convinced we didn't know anyone there at all. It turns out Chie knew precisely one person there - Hiroko was an old friend from university. And we'd walked into her hotel and booked a room with her.

I just can't believe this is pure chance, I'm pretty much convinced this is some kind of divine intervention. We were really having the shittiest of days, at each other's throat constantly up until the point we met Hiroko, and we quite possibly would have strangled each other in our sleep or something.

...but on meeting Hiroko we immediately forgot about our arguments, and proceeded to have a very nice evening instead. We popped out for dinner first while our room was being sorted out, then when we got back it turned out Hiroko finished her shift at 10, which was great as it meant the three of us could go for a drink together. We went to an Irish bar round the corner, where we had a few lovely pints of Guinness and a few nibbles. After this we continued on to Hiroko's flat, where we drank a bit more, looked through some photos of Chie's university friends, and reminisced about the good old days.

Comment 1

Possibly Hiroko is actually an earthly angel with some concession from heaven on dispensing miracles ..... with a particular ministry for settling lovers tiffs....
Nice to know that even the super efficient Japanes railway system is vulnerable to the local equivalent of 'the wrong type of snow on the line'....

Posted by Nick at 2005/08/22 08:19:47.

Comment 2

Yep it really was just too improbable to be pure chance - especially given that we had originally planned to travel further on that day, we only ended up staying the night in the first place because of an earthquake.

Yes I did feel ever so slightly smug about the Japanese train system finally suffering some proper English style delays. Having said that, even though our train was something like two hours delayed, that isn't really a great deal when you think about it. Following an earthquake they need to check just about every section of track in the region for any damage, sometimes this requires people to physically walk along on foot. In England this would have taken two months, not two hours!

Posted by John at 2005/08/22 09:20:04.

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