Non-Fiction

My Trip to Japan | Day 6, To Kyoto!

Previously: I visited an onsen and fear for my life on a rickety, ancient bridge

November 7

Though five days in, my jet lag was still lingering as I woke up early once again. Course this time, it was useful as Jessica and I had to be out of the apartment by 8AM.

I had packed the night before and I double-checked that I had all my other stuff (toothbrush, wifi package, charging cables) before breakfast. We ate and then we left.

We took a different way to the bus station compared to when I first arrived – one that looped around the evacuation mountain. We parked in the same location as before and said our goodbyes.

I gave Jessica a big, huge hug. I couldn’t have asked for a better host. She fed me, clothed me, showed me around, and was just so fun to be with. I’ve always considered myself an awkward guest – as I’m not used to sleeping on coaches – but (IIRC) she said I was pleasant to have.

I also hugged her to express how I’d miss her. I still had 14 days of Japan to explore, but this time I’d be on my own.

She confirmed I could call her if anything happened and we finally separated. Dragging my luggage behind me, we waved at each other as she drove away.

I doubt the bus I took was a commuter bus (since boarding at 8AM would make you an hour late for your 9AM job in Osaka), but we had coordinated such that Jessica would get to work on time and I would catch a bus without a long wait.

I approached the bus station counter and simply said “Osaka,” and they understood. I tried to pay with credit card, but they didn’t have a machine. Reluctantly, I pulled out my money envelope and paid about $35 for a one-way trip.

I mentioned this in my Advice for a Trip to Japan post: Japan is a cash-based society. Some places just don’t accept credit cards. I found it was much, MUCH more common in rural and small-town Japan versus the three big cities.

At the time of this purchase, however, paying in cash made me anxious. I had a limited amount and I didn’t want to get an advance from an ATM. Hell, I wasn’t even sure there was an ATM I could use. So I promised myself to be conservative with my cash and always carry around $50 for emergencies.

I got my ticket and thanked the employees with some modest bowing. I lugged my suitcase up the incline to the highway and cross an underground passage to get to the other side. I was by my lonesome as I waited for the bus – I guess I wasn’t really expecting anyone – but just as it pulled up an older salary man appeared from the underground passage, huffing and puffing, and queued with me.

I saw most of the same stuff as I did when coming to Naruto. The biggest difference was that I was on the side that saw Universal Studios Japanl. Even if I had had the time, I don’t think I would’ve gone. I’m cool with solo travel, but going to an amusement park by yourself doesn’t sound very fun.

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An amusement park in the middle of a city. 

When I arrived back in the Osaka bus station, I must’ve figured then was a better time than any because I called Air Canada’s customer support line. I remember, when I got through to a person, explicitly saying “I’m in Japan and I’ve got limited minutes so let’s make this quick!”

It was a short call; just me trying to understand their reimbursement system. I was told I had 21 days from the day I received my luggage. Therefore, I would be back in Canada in time to file the complaint.

(Turns out I would never do it, but it felt good knowing.)

I didn’t know how to get to Kyoto besides the Shinkansen bullet train and according to Google Maps, I was at the wrong station. But I had my JR Rail Pass, so that was something.

So, when I hung up the call, I went down to the subway area and entered the ticket office. For 10AM, there was still a line. When it was my turn, I wasn’t expecting much. Previous experience inferred I would just say a location and the employee would handle the rest, then we’d exchange money. Instead, this employee could speak English! I was pleasantly surprised – not that we had deep, philosophical conversations.

I asked for Kyoto. He asked for my JR Rail Pass and my passport. He inputted commands on his 1980s-esque green-display monitor and printed out a ticket. He explained to me, in so many words, my itinerary. First, I would take the subway to a major station, transferring lines once. Then I would grab the bullet train at 11 something and take the seat designated.

I thanked him and stumbled my way to the subway platform.

I’ll be honest – I must’ve looked pretty dumb. I’m not used to subways, so subways in a language I couldn’t understand was even worse. Arrows pointing this way and that didn’t get through to me. Worse yet, the hustle and bustle, I-know-where-I’m-going commuters made me incredibly anxious.

I tried asking a police officer(?) where I should go, but he just coldly pointed me to a help-desk I didn’t notice prior. Thankfully the help-desk lady was much nicer and explained what I needed to do.

So I got on the subway (the correct direction, thank god), successfully transferred, and made it to major station. Not wanting to miss the bullet-train, I made a bee-line for the platform I’m supposed to be on.

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My first exposure to “Women Only” train cars

It was getting close to noon, so as I waited I considered grabbing a snack and looked around for something.

You’d think with all the vending machines in Japan, they’d have at least one that sold food – but that’s super unlikely. Turns out Japanese people don’t eat on the go, which is why there aren’t a lot of garbage cans on the streets and there are more drink vending machines than any other kind.

So, with not much of a choice, I grabbed a Milk Tea to at least fill my stomach. The Shinkansen arrived on time and I timidly boarded. I say ‘timidly’ because of my luggage. I had recently gone on a trip to Europe where finding a spot for suitcases was always a chore, especially when it usually meant hauling a heavy-ass box over our heads onto a shelf. Thankfully, this train had spots on the ground with easy access.

It was a nice ride. There were a handful of people in my car, so I got my row to myself. I looked out both sides of the train without being in someone’s space or looking at them funny.

It was a surprisingly short trip. Osaka and Kyoto are a reasonable commute away from each other. I’d say it’s less than a 45-minute drive (if it had a direct highway, I’m not sure if they do). Actually… now that I’m thinking about it, it’s possible I wasn’t on a bullet train. That, or it never got to full speed.

An hour passed with (IIRC) no other stops. We passed through some small towns and industrial areas. I started to get excited as we entered a heavily populated area and the conductor announced our upcoming arrival.

Pulling up to Kyoto was kind of unreal. Disembarking left in me a huge mass of people in an equally huge station. Additionally, the train I had been on was on a ground-level track, thus it’s platform was unrestricted by walls with lots of natural light. The noise, the view, and all the people left me in awe.

Kyoto Station has to be at least nine stories tall, four stories deep, and two blocks wide. It’s attached to a hotel and a mall which makes it a hub of activity. It has near endless escalators leading to an observation deck. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people must pass through it everyday because it was crowded.

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Inside Kyoto Station, ground floor looking up.

I was incredibly intimidated by the turnstile exiting the train platforms. I didn’t have a ticket, so I had to go through the man-operated aisle – that also acted as a help-desk). But because it acted as a help, people were always in the aisle, blocking any easy way for me since I had my luggage. It made things awkward, as I just stood there waiting for a good time to leave.

When the crowd died down, I took my chance. I wasn’t privy to the ways of the JR Rail Pass, so I simply walked through. An employee called me back, asking to see my ticket.

I still think this is stupid, since because I’m leaving what’s the point of seeing my ticket? I can only figure it’s because the majority of Japanese train-transit is pay-by-distance. But I wasn’t on the subway, I had gotten on a bullet train and I would’ve had to pay my ticket before getting on so…?

Whatever.

I did as told and flashed the ticket, my Rail Pass AND my passport. I was waved through. In the main lobby of the station, I can’t help but stand-around like a typical tourist and just marvel. The architecture was absolutely beautiful. I wish I had taken better photos.

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Kyoto Tower right across from Kyoto Station

But I wasn’t done just yet. It was still early afternoon and I had to get to my hotel.

Next time: My capsule hotel and Nishiki Market

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