Sunday, October 31, 2010
Bullet Train to Kyoto
Perhaps I am jaded after ten years of living in France, but the famous Shinkansen, bullet train of Japan, seems no different from the TGV. I must admit that the getting the tickets and onto the train business was shockingly easy.
Things can go wrong any where, of course. I am reminded of a wonderful story about Calvin Klein getting on a train in Germany for Monte Carlo and taking the one marked Monaco which is Munich, or something like that--
Anyway, the taxi took us from the InterConti ANA straight away to Tokyo Station which is under reconstruction and therefore less than charming. We went in via the East (Yaesu) Central Entrance, followed the sign in English for tickets, bought them on the spot from someone who spoke perfect English ($150 per person each way)and allowed ourselves 50 minutes to poke around the station and explore what they call First Avenue, the basement level shopping and easting district.
While there is much going on in and around Tokyo Station, it is too much for any one brain to contemplate--especially on a Sunday. Travellers swarmed around us, so we dove underground to the delightful arcade with shops and munchies, vending machines and wonderful smells of fresh cooked something or another. (Don't ask, don't tell.)
Since gift giving is part of the Japanese culture, there were many gift shops with the usual beautiful boxes of cookies and candies as well as much Hello Kitty merchandise. I found some very cute mice cookies (honest) that I will buy for the man who set the mousetraps at my home in Paso, but for now-- I didn't want the burden of extra weight. Still, it was all great fun, although schlepping even a single rolly was a pain. I had a Harajuku Lovers back-pack as carry-on and Sarah wished she too had a back-pack, I wished I'd had a mule train, but that's just me. The station was incredibly hot, so we also had to carry our coats. And shortly after arrival, I was carrying extra shopping bags.
We went to Gate 14 about 15 minutes before our train and sat the the Cafe du Gare which made us gleeful, then took the escalator up to the platform and saw that we were exactly at the spot to line up for Car 6. Everything was well-marked and easy as pie. In France, you have to know to use the train chart and must also know the alphabet in order to find where to stand. In Tokyo, it was forthright and easy.
The tickets were printed in English & Japanese therefore easy to read. We took our seats and pulled out our Kindles. Midway, I dared to try the toilet-- quite relieved to be relieved on discovering it was indeed western style, though not from Toto and not heated.
We passed through beautiful countryside and mountains and paddies and even saw the sea once past Yokohama. We got out at Kyoto Station and immediately fell into one of the retail stores in the station -- it was so cute and so crammed with attractive merchandise that we needed and gained a quick fix.
There was no line for a taxi, so we hoped into a cab and I told the driver our hotel in Japanese. He had no idea what I was saying, but understood Sarah's English just fine.
We drove through beautiful downtown Kyoto -- not a Starbucks in sight-- and ended up at the Okura Hotel, in prme location for shopping --although a little too far from the Gion district for walking...especially when it's pissing rain and you are half crippled. Then we saw the bride in her white kimono and peaked headress and knew it was an auspicious day indeed.