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

Day 4: TOKYO, Ameya Yokocho Market

12 July– Weather 29 C at noon 

Last day before Kyoto…

We started the day with breakfast at the hotel (it is a little expensive to have it everyday outside since the breakfast at the hotel was included in the price). We had a pretty full schedule in Kyoto ahead of us, so it was wise to take the day off before heading to Kyoto. Having difficulty deciding what to do, we found ourselves in Tully’s again.

Japanese Toilets: Open Sesame!

I know that many people know about the Japanese toilets already but believe me I wasn’t expecting to enter the toilet at Tully’s and see the lid of the toilet open automatically for me 🙂 For a public toilet it’s super useful not to touch the lid, and of course you can arrange the toilet seat temperature, a music accompanying the session, the temperature of the bidet’s water. One could write a whole book about toilets and public restrooms in Japan, but I will leave it at a paragraph or I would never reach the end of this blog.

By the way the most common brand for the toilets is TOTO, which means butt in a cute baby talk way in Turkish, this coincidence made us laugh each time (You see I’m still talking about toilets)

Erhan’s Note: Japan toilets are famous for their adjustable bidets, temperature control, and pleasant bird songs that mask the noises digested matter makes when your body twists and strains itself to do you know what. Being Turkish we welcomed the idea of a bidet, a common part of the toilet experience, which I know is already a shock in itself for some westerners, especially Americans. Automating the whole experience of course adds to hygiene, especially in public areas.

Everyday life in Tokyo

We sat at Tully’s for a couple of hours, relaxed a bit, and enjoyed our time just sitting about 2 hours. If you followed the blog so far, then you know already that I’m amazed seeing daily life in my perspective as a street photographer. While sitting in Tully’s it was again the case, seeing these well dressed up ladies enjoying their cup of café together for example, or seeing the all black dressed cool Japanese guy gave me inspiration. 

Two different views

While I’m oriented to shoot people in streets or streets in a larger perspective with people in it, like this one

or this one

Erhan is attracted to some very interesting objects and houses around. For example this little garden with its beautiful trees just between the houses

or this tree growing attached to the houses

or this electrical lamp while some may say it is grotesque while Erhan found it very interesting.

I love the fact that we see the same streets with different perspectives, we complete the world’s puzzle together.

A day off? Not really… then let’s go to Ameyoko

                                          

A day off? It’s difficult for us to sit somewhere for more than a couple hours, so we decided to go to Ameyoko (Ameya Yokocho) Market, again around Ueno. It’s mostly formed by fish, fresh fruits, and vegetable sellers. We didn’t buy a fresh thing since we’re staying in a very tiny room without a kitchen and felt overwhelmed after seeing so much stuff together.

Just a decor of a fish shop:) a bit too much, don’t you think? but again, it’s Japan, everything is too much
what is this? I really don’t know

Of course there was also Kebap House, I couldn’t think of a market without Kebap House, back in Turkey so it only made sense that in a Metropolitan area such as this, somebody, probably another Turkish person would import the idea of the convenient kebap. We didn’t try it since we’re in Japan and it didn’t make sense to us to eat kebap when there was so much else going around. 

Erhan’s note: I would rather try a regular burger franchise in Japan than a kebap place. Who knows what the quality of the food they served there was. 

There was also some cheap retails

It was again a very hot day and even the sellers were experiencing it pretty bad.

Erhan’s note: We were hearing the occasional “atsui”, “atsui desu” already 😀

What a towel really is for?

You know what Douglas Adams was right in “Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy when saying : “A towel, [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”. 

Apparently Mr. Adams got the idea for this phrase when he went travelling and found that his beach towel kept disappearing, but I am sure if he had been to Japan he could have gotten this towel idea here as well. A wet towel around your neck keeps you sane, cool and healthy, or a light cloth towel around your head will prevent your sweat from entering your eyes in the hot and humid Japanese summer days. We learned pretty quickly that you shouldn’t NEVER NEVER LEAVE THE HOUSE WITHOUT A TOWEL IN JAPAN! Especially in the summer. I don’t know why we don’t practice this in Istanbul.

Photographer vs the shot

There is a trend going these days in twitter, photographer vs. the shot, so I wanted to share in this page from this day such a shot.

A close encounter with the eight legged kind: Takoyaki

After the market, we found a Takoyaki (octopus pancake balls (literally grilled octopus)) place nearby. Osaka style 🙂 Definitely worth the try. By the way, yaki 焼き means grill and we thought that the symbol looks like a man grilling 🙂 We saw some Gyozas on the menu so we had to try it too. Result: Of course we love them. As Turks, we were already fans of “mantı” and all associated cuisine (classic pasta dough rolled out and filled with a mince of either lamb or beef and onions and spices then folded and cooked in water), so basically it’s similar to Gyoza (Japanese dumplings) except the cooking process and the shape. 

Outdoor shopping

We saw some shops in the way, and bought outdoor trousers from North Face for the hikings ahead of us. 

Shinkansen tickets

The next day, our plan was to continue our journey in Kyoto, so we bought our Shinkansen (Bullet train) tickets from the ticket machines (since we didn’t know the procedures we wanted to be pre-prepared ). 

First sushi experience and the second dinner

By chance, we saw a sushi place called Magurobito Okachimachi by walking. I was pretty fond of sushi back in Turkey so I was very excited for this experience. We entered but couldn’t find any English menu, therefore we were completely out of our comfort zone, no tourist, full of Japanese people. Normally it is good sign, this means we found a local place but when you don’t understand a thing it’s really difficult to handle. We ordered by showing the sushi. Even though there was a man sitting right next to us and was nice to chat with us a bit in English, we were quite intimated by this experience (I didn’t even took a photo because I was afraid they will tell us not to do. So I decided to took a quick video but Erhan warned me, so it’s shaky and short. ) Thus we decided to stop before we were done.

We were still hungry, what to do?

Sushi at a real sushi bar in a unremarkable spot in Tokyo. Still delicious…

So we wanted to find a cheap and simple option for our second dinner of the night. We saw a soba noodle place under the overpass of the Okachimachi station and we finalized our night by dessert to the room from Atré in Ueno Station.

We had a better night sleep, this means we’re adjusting to the time, Yay! The next day : Kyoto!

as always the summary of our day

Total steps of the day: 10595