Day 5: TOKYO to KYOTO, 1st Shinkansen experience

13 July 

Heading Towards Kyoto

Weather : 34C degrees at noon

We checked out from the hotel in the morning and from Okachimachi we went to Tokyo station. Since this would be our first Shinkansen experience, we took the tickets for the 11:50 train. Not too late not too early. We found the lockers and locked in our baggage. There were many lockers but since lots of people pass through busy stations, most of them were already filled, so it took a little time to find a non-occupied one. There are size options in the lockers, for our luggage we chose the 700 yen (app. 7 dollars) option. The rule is that your stuff can remain there for 3 days at this price but we needed only for a couple hours. We ended up settling for the price since there were no cheaper/shorter time options.

Tokyo station is really big*, so we decided to take a tour first and spotted the shops for Bento Boxes. It was so crowded with so many options, we had to walk at least 3 times the same shop. It was really hard to choose but we managed to make one, for me sushi and for Erhan is a really big Bento box and of course some drinks to accompany. Time to take the luggage and head to the train…

* Erhan’s Note: Although the main building of the Tokyo station looks old and relatively (especially relative to building around it) small, it  has a huge underground complex, something that is fairly common for most stations we saw in urban areas. It is really easy to get lost in them.

Finding Your Train in Tokyo Station

It was easy to find the train if you follow the line signs. The track/platform was written in your ticket in numbers along with other Japanese signs and your seat numbers (if you had a reserved ticket) If you have trouble finding which line, Google maps was working really well even within enclosed spaces such as train stations and shopping malls. I’m sure that you heard the story of the Japanese shinkansen conductor who had to apologize for coming early to the destination. This is true because they are known with their punctuality.* Fearing that we would miss the train in the madness of the station, we went there at least 20 minutes earlier. 

* Erhan’s Note: The entire nation seems to be functioning on a seamless consequent displacement of people, vehicles, and goods without a break. It is very much like what a healthy circulatory system should look like, even with the overcrowded public transport. 

One Additional thing that I learned before coming to Japan is that the track officers bow down to incoming and outgoing trains, as well as conductors within bowing when they exit individual train segments. A lot of bowing down happens in general in Japan, but I think in this case it functions as a memory tool, something that the officers and workers use to indicate that they are present, and that their duties are performed satisfactorily, to the point where they can bow out with relative assurance. Sort of a ritualistic non verbal mass communication punctuation that has both internal and external significance.

Silent, Efficient, and Fast: Cleaning Team of the Shinkansen

The train came, passengers exited, and the cleaners came to the train with their pink outfits and cleaning equipment. It was so ceremonial, fascinating to watch.* They left the clean train at the same time and at the exact time, waiting passengers started to step in.

* Erhan’s Note: Also a bit like formula 1 pit stop teams, but with elderly women in majority. Acting all in unison and precision. They went in and came out and everything was squeaky clean.

Shinkansen Food: Bento Time!

Erhan and I were so excited that the minute the train left the station, we opened our Bentos, even though we were not yet hungry.

Faster than a Speeding Bullet Train

Shinkansen speed is about 220 to 330km/h . And of course we tested the famous stability of the train along the tracks with our drinks to see if they would spill along the ride! The answer is of course no, not a movement.

Drinking on the train is always fun.

With this speed, it took approximately . 2.5 hours to go to Kyoto from Tokyo station (normally it’s almost an 8 hours drive) . At the 50th minute of the ride, we saw 富士山 (FUJI-SAN) a little bit, with its glorious curves. As Turkish persons, we are very keen to watch scenery along the way since Turkey has also an impressive list on its own. In this sense, this ride was almost poetic for us.

And finally KYOTO… A Dreamland in the Normal World.

Since we planned a long stay in Kyoto, we had arranged an Airbnb house there. The check out time was 4 pm, it was still early to go there, so we decided not to spend any money for lockers twice in the same day and took our luggage with us. 

Once we stepped into Kyoto station, a music welcomed us from far away, when we approached we saw there is a presentation of Gion Matsuri and the music is coming there, a special music to the festival.

After checking the presentation a little bit, we spent our time in Mister Donuts in the station. The donuts are always a good threat but a bad idea for the health at the same time:)

We followed the directions of our Airbnb host and took a bus in front of the station. Every first experience was a new lesson to us.*

* Erhan’s Note: We had heard so much about it, and were excited like little kids. Right off the train the station itself was quite impressive, and out of the station we were greeted by the Kyoto tower. 

Our first Airbnb experience in Kyoto

Following the directions of our Airbnb host, we found the bus to the house. Tip: In Japan, you pay the bus fare to the driver while descending but always prepare your money beforehand, otherwise everyone is waiting for you to pay and it’s very uncomfortable.*

Erhan’s Note: The bus experience was very traumatic for me because I was scrambling to get the exact change for the bus fare. I had to give it to the driver instead of depositing it in the box near the front exit, and he waved me off, probably saying it was ok. For some reason I felt the entire nation would be angry with me for failing such a simple and basic activity. Silly tourist…

Our house has only one bedroom including the entry, the kitchen and the living room:) but after the hotel room, we thought that it’s big and comfortable. It even had a balcony. In Turkey, we are used to taking out our shoes while entering home, but I know that most Americans or Europeans are not very used to this habit. Be prepared, in Japan, you will definitely take your shoes frequently, while entering houses, temples, onsens, some restaurants, even some ryokans…

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When we came Kyoto was extremely hot but windy, unfortunately the wind stopped after a while, and we faced the real Kyoto weather: hot and extremely humid.*

* Erhan’s Note: Calling it hot and humid is not enough. There needs to be another word for that. 

Time for a Small Crisis: Migraine in Japan

Erhan’s Note: One overlooked part of long travel excursions is what to do when crisis strikes. In a civilized country such as Japan there is always people that are willing to help especially in visibly bad crises, but small crises such as a simple headache may be more trouble than its worth. The language gap is huge for most people, especially because of the alphabet. Google translate helped a bit, but finding boxes of tiger jaw leg wing 1000 instead of simple ibuprofen can be taxing after a while.

I have chronic migraine, and the Kyoto humidity and the tiredness didn’t help it. Fortunately, there is 7’elevens near the house, so Erhan managed to get us some bread and cheese to calm down my stomach and my headache a little bit.* First cheese of the week (there is cheese in Konbini but it’s quite expensive compared to Turkey, therefore we avoided for a while but in our everyday life we used to eat cheese everyday for breakfast, thus 1 week of avoidance was enough:))

* Erhan’s Note: Like a brave little scout, I walked down the street, crossed the road, entered the konbini, bought the goods and exited the store and returned home. All by myself. 😀 

So we decided the that we will rest for the evening and prepare for the busy days ahead of us.

Total steps of the day: 4245 

Next: The famous GION MATSURI! stay tuned

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