Saturday 22nd November
Kyoto to Tokyo, Japan
Shinkansen journey, Kyoto to Tokyo
We’ve been on quite a few train journeys, both during this trip and on previous ones. Not that we’re particularly train geeks. We just think it’s an easy, enjoyable way to get around. However, in many countries (including the USA and New Zealand) the experience might politely be described as…’leisurely’.
But the shinkansen, otherwise known as the bullet train, is a very different matter. These trains reach speeds of up to 320 kilometres (nearly 200 miles) per hour. They are also very frequent – around every ten minutes between Kyoto and Tokyo when we were travelling (on a Saturday lunchtime). This was definitely the way we wanted to travel between Japan’s old and new capitals.
When we returned to Kyoto station to catch the train, we found ourselves in a completely different part of the station that we hadn’t seen when we arrived. It was already the biggest station we’d ever seen and it turned out we’d only experienced part of it! The main corridor is filled with restaurants and shops, some selling very tasty looking treats. The versions in this photo are actually plastic models, showing what the shop sells. This is very common in Japan – the majority of restaurants have fake food on display outside, presumably because Japan is very much a country where presentation of meals is taken seriously. In fact, plastic food is one of the major souvenirs that tourists like to take home from Japan!
You then go through the ticket gates to find yourself in….another huge corridor filled with shops! This time the focus is on food to take on your journey with you, so we took the opportunity to grab a couple of bento boxes to take with us, before heading to the platform.
The 2 1/4 hour journey itself was great. The ride is smooth but definitely quick, and the scenery races by: we saw a couple of cities and plenty of urbanised areas, but also the Japanese countryside, including fantastic views of Mount Fuji.
On arrival at Tokyo station, our first challenge was navigating the Tokyo subway system….
However, despite it looking immensely complicated, the system is actually fairly easy to navigate, thanks to fantastic signage and a free smartphone app for tourists. It’s also cheap, clean and incredibly pleasant to travel on (apparently talking on your phone is considered very rude, particularly close to the ‘courtesy seats’ reserved for the elderly, so it’s very quiet!).
Having checked into our hotel (definitely the biggest we’ve ever stayed in – 844 rooms, a mini shopping mall, several restaurants and bars, all spread over 37 floors), we agreed there was only one place to start our visit to Tokyo.
Shibuya is probably what you think of when you think of Tokyo, with neon and people everywhere you look. Music is being played in many of the streets (One Direction’s ‘Steal My Girl’ on a loop, when we were there). Shibuya scramble crossing is the point where Shibuya station intersects with the area’s shops, restaurants and neon. At peak times they reckon that over 1,000 people cross here every time the pedestrian light turns to green. Quite an introduction to this huge city.
Shaky Isle of the day
Japan, like New Zealand, has its fair share of earthquakes (in fact, it apparently accounts for around 20% of the world’s ‘quakes!). This is something we got first-hand experience of on Saturday evening, when the walls of our hotel room started creaking and the blinds swaying from side to side.
It turns out that what we had felt was actually a magnitude-6.7 earthquake centred in Nagano, about 200 km away. It’s a very strange experience to feel the floor moving, especially when you’re on the 23rd storey! However, we’re told that the building we are in, like all buildings in the city, is designed to withstand a magnitude-7 earthquake here in Tokyo, so they’re definitely prepared. Some of those closer to the epicentre on this occasion were less lucky.