Fulfillment of a dream

After almost 24 hours of straight travelling, I have fulfilled a dream: to visit the island of Hokkaido. I've been using Japan's best-kept budget travel secret: the Youth 18 ticket. 5 person-days of unlimited travel on rapid and local trains. It is by far the best way to see the country if you have the time, logistical skills, and interest in the superb train system. Check, check, check all three for me! My day started by pulling out of the busiest train station in the world, Tokyo's Shinjuku station. I took a night train to Niigata, site of last year's powerful earthquake. I had 5 minutes to transfer to my next train, so no time to visit. Then things got interesting. Last week the Sea of Japan coast has tons of rain. So much, that a landslide covered some of the tracks that are on my journey Northward. In typical organized fashion, Japan Railways organized buses to detour us around the problem area.
On the way, I made friends with a very knowledgeable, semi-otaku train lover. He had the latest copy of the national train time tables. I showed him my itinerary and he was very impressed that a foreigner had the sense to plan it all out. He'd look it over, then flip through his timetable book. He did this 5 or 6 times and came up with suggestions to improve the efficiency of my trip. "You should take this later train so you don't have to transfer one more time". "Oh, when you come back this way, you need to take an express so you can make the bus and then your next connection." Do the Buddhist/Shinto religions have a concept for "guardian angel"? Because this guy was mine! Literally the entire 200 kilometers that our paths crossed, he was looking out for me. He booked a night bus reservation for me when I thought my "wing-it" style would be enough.
We said good-bye. I ate lunch in the city of Akita, famous for the dog breed of the same name. My next train was a 4-hour local to Aomori. Once the commuters got off in the outlying suburbs, it was clear who was going all the way to Aomori. I started chatting with an elderly trio. They were amazed to hear that I was from Nishinomiya, because they were from Kobe and doing the same Youth 18 ticket. It goes to show that you're never too young! Again, they took pity on the my inept logistical skills and helped me find the cheapest way across to Hokkaido. It turns out there's one exception to the local/rapid trains only of the Youth 18 ticket: the limited express from Aomori to Hokkaido! Score. I got on it without guilt and said goodbye to my second guardian angel.
Now I'm killing time in the international hotel while I wait for the night bus. For the last 3 nights I've taken overnight transport to save $ on hotels and keep making progress to my goal: Akan Lake. Still about 500 km to go. Stay tuned for the next time I get Internet access and an update. Genki de!

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Where I've been in the USA