It’s an unwritten rule of life and the universe that when things go wrong or plans fall apart, very often the outcome is an improvement on what would have happened had everything gone exactly as expected. If we’d all just get comfortable with this fact, we’d probably save ourselves a lot of shouting.

This is not breaking news, of course. But it bears repeating, because in the case of travel the chance of something going wrong increases in direct proportion to the amount of money one is spending on the trip – much like the way that, as the value of the carpet increases, so do the chances of the dropped toast landing peanut butter-side down. There’s possibly a unifying law of physics and philosophy in there somewhere, just waiting for a future Nobel Prize winner to untangle it – perhaps a corollary clause to Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will – and at the worst possible moment. But that’s not always such a terrible thing.” Except in the case of the toast.

A case in point: Friday’s trip to Takayama. Leg one, as with all my out of town trips, was a 15-minute local train ride from my neighborhood to Fukui Station downtown. Leg two: an express train from Fukui 70 minutes north along the coast to Toyama, where I had exactly six minutes to detrain (as far as you know, it’s a word) and find Platform 3, where leg three of my journey would begin on a new train bound inland and up for Takayama. (Incidentally, this whole trip costs about $45 U.S.) Though I’d left the tn_img_0515.jpgcrutches at home, I was still limping, a condition that does not lend itself to racing the clock through unfamiliar foreign train stations filled with stairways in the freezing rain (did I mention that part yet?) in search of a departure track that’s hidden at least as well as Harry Potter’s Platform 9 and Three-Quarters.

When I finally found Platform 3 – it exists not between Platforms 2 and 4, naturally, but is rather an extension of Platform 5 – my train, as the saying goes, had left without me. I’d have to make do with a slow, local train to Takayama, making many stops along the way, rather than enjoying the express trip I’d planned.

See paragraph 1.

tn_img_0520.jpgI now have a new rule of travel, one which I’m sure countless travelers before me have discovered on their own: “When traveling through especially scenic countryside in which there’s a heartstoppingly beautiful vista around every corner, slow trains are better than fast trains.”

[Bonus cultural observation: Japanese railway workers bow whenever they enter or leave a train car. Nobody bows back.]