Typhoon PhanFone was approaching and we had plans to visit Kyoto. Accompanied by a very special aunt and uncle, we boarded the train for Tokyo. After all, it would be our first ride on the Shinkansen (the Japanese bullet train, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year) and a once in a lifetime opportunity to see Kyoto, the center of Japanese government and culture for thousands of years. Founded in 794, the name Kyoto means “Capital City” although the capital and all national government is now located in Tokyo.
Our train ride to Tokyo began at 8:00 a.m. and took about an hour. We had our suitcases in tow and luckily we did not have to change trains en route to Tokyo. But we would have to change trains at Tokyo Stations so I was a little apprehensive…Tokyo station is BIG! Also, a friend had told me that finding the correct “spot” to board the Shinkansen was difficult. Unlike our usual train adventures, on this one, you had to board according to your seat reservation – and find the appropriate train car. In addition, my friend warned me that the train didn’t stop long, and so you had to be sure to jump on the train quickly. Got it!
We arrived at Tokyo station and walked downstairs from the train platform, rounded a corner, and my uncle immediately saw a sign directing us toward the Shinkansen. We followed the signs, and in less than 10 minutes we were there. We went upstairs, found the correct platform and even the boarding location for our specific car – car #6. Easy, so far. Afterward, we headed back downstairs to buy the traditional bento box lunch to take on the train. On the way, we did make a stop at Starbucks for a quick pick-me-up! Then we proceeded to the bento vendors and were overwhelmed at the many options. We finally made our decisions. Two of us got a bento lunch and one, I won’t say who, got a ham and cheese sandwich! 😉
Bentos (and sandwich) in hand, we made our way back to the platform to await the much anticipated arrival of the Shinkansen. Remembering my friends advice, we stood at the exact correct spot to make a lightning fast jump onto the train when it stopped – I was the first in line and I was ready! Other passengers soon appeared and made their way to the appropriate line. Before long the beautiful white, pointy-nosed train pulled in and stopped. Of course, I stepped aside to allow the departing passengers room to maneuver onto the platform with their packages or suitcases (you do not check your bags, you carry them with you). As soon as the last one passed I eagerly jumped on to the train, much to the amusement of Japanese passengers waiting in line behind us. I was met by a lady dressed in a pink housekeeper type outfit who was waving her hands, making hand gestures and was telling me something in Japanese. Apparently, the train had to be cleaned before we could board! What was my friend thinking? Not only did I not need to jump on the train quickly, but we had to wait for the car to be cleaned. Ten minutes, I was told and in fact, in 10 minutes we were boarding the train. The three of us, as well as the Japanese passengers behind us in line, all had a good laugh!
The train seats were really comfortable and roomy. There was enough leg room to allow for our luggage to fit on the floor in front of our legs. We all got settled, and were eagerly anticipating our departure. I couldn’t wait to experience 320km/hour (200 mph)! We pulled away from the station and before we could go very fast we made several stops – and my friend was right – the train didn’t stop for very long at each stop! Since Tokyo is one of the “anchor” cities on the route, I guess they take the time to clean the train, but otherwise, the train waits for no man. I decided that maybe my friend had boarded the Shinkansen in some other station besides Tokyo. At any rate, before long we were speeding through the countryside. The ride was so smooth, I couldn’t tell that we were going 320km/hour. We had hoped to get a glimpse of Mt. Fuji in the early part of our journey, but the clouds that preceded typoon PhanFone shrouded the entire mountain range!
It was approaching noon by now and these novice Shinkansen-ers were ready for lunch. My aunt had the most interesting lunch, with 8 or 9 different items and mine had 4. Both of us ate (with chopsticks) and enjoyed everything in our bento boxes – what fun! And I think the sandwich-eater enjoyed his lunch too (oops)! There was other fare offered by an attendant on the train, although I am told, at quite expensive prices.
We arrived at Kyoto station on time and proceeded to find out way to the hotel. It was a team effort and without much trouble, we located the exit we were to take. Our hotel was supposed to be close to the train station and we were about to find out. Walking outside in the pre-typhoon humidity, I surveyed the crowd for someone who I thought looked like they could help us. So I asked a young lady (turned out to be a college student) for help. I told her the name of our hotel, and she wasn’t sure she knew where it was. She consulted her cell phone and pointed to the right. I thanked her, thinking she would continue on her way. She did not. She walked us to our hotel! I shouldn’t have been surprised but I still am. The kindness, courtesy and helpfulness of the Japanese people still amaze me.
We had to wait a bit to check in, but we made the most of it and took the opportunity to people watch and relax in the lobby cafe. We checked in, got settled in our room and had dinner. We had not heard anything from our tour company and went to bed hoping that the typhoon that was to come through that night would not result in our tour being cancelled. I went to bed and dreamed of typhoons…