From Tokyo to Kyoto on the bullet train

 

Getting somewhere fast – the bullet train

After we got all shook up by the earthquake, getting out of Tokyo for a bit seemed like a very good idea. Seismic activity is increasing in the whole region apparently and even the next day, after our big 8.5 earthquake, there were two smaller ones somewhere else in Japan. We set off in search of more solid ground and to buy tickets for the famous Japanese bullet train to Kyoto. In Britain, train travel is often a challenge. Different providers run different bits of the network with differing levels of indifferent service. UK tickets are the most expensive in Europe, punctuality is intermittent, and the journey is often crowded and uncomfortable, crammed in, facing the wrong way. Frequent loud and unnecessarily long announcements occasionally threaten you with fines if you don’t have exactly the right ticket, meaning that any snoozing is rarely an option.

I feel the need for speed

It’s not like that on the bullet train! Space age high speed trains called Shinkansen connect Tokyo with most of the country’s major cities. All the trains are operated by Japan railways (JR) and run at speeds of up to 320 km/h. Most trains depart every ten minutes and they are known for their punctuality (often to the second.) Carriages are very comfortable, spacious and silent. There have been no fatal accidents in the Shikansen’s history and all of the seats always face forward. This is astonishing to the British traveller who is often made to feel slightly sick in transit by facing away from the direction of travel. All seats can be turned by 180 degrees and are turned by staff at terminal stations or, you can turn them yourself if you fancy a foursome. Brilliant!

 

Fuji on film

During the two and a half hour journey you are asked very politely for your ticket by a smartly uniformed guard and you are served refreshments by a beautiful doll like lady who bows as she enters the carriage and then again as she leaves. We had delicious miniature egg sandwiches of the sort you may expect at a doll’s tea party, and the lady even told us exactly when to look out of the window so that we had the best chance of seeing Mount Fuji, the symbol of Japan. You can’t always see it if the weather is cloudy, but we did get quite a good look at this famous active stratovolcano.

 

Arms up!

In Kyoto we stayed in another Airbnb which turned out to be the world’s smallest apartment, not much bigger than a camper van. It was cosy though, and in a very good location handy for everything we wanted to see. Other plus points were; it never took long to tidy up, and it was quite difficult to lose anything as there wasn’t anywhere for it to go. We did spy from our modest window the workmen on the building site next to us doing their morning exercises led by the foreman. Very Japanese.

 

Nishiki market

Kyoto is another big Japanese city but it has a lot more of the traditional cultural offering there. There is the famous Gion Geisha district and lots of temples and shrines, some of which were really old and others which looked old, but had been rebuilt over time.

 

Gorgeous Geisha

It is also a big shopping hub with some pretty up market stores and there seemed to be a lot more tourists here than in Tokyo, sampling the local wares.

For all your fish on a stick requirements

One highlight for me was Nishiki market, which specialises in all things food related, although not everything was so tempting for my conservative Western tastes. I can take or leave a pickled mushroom or a whole fried fish on a stick. Or a bowl of noodles with ice cubes in it. Or a patty on a stick with the consistency of a rubber draft excluder. However it is a very jolly lively fascinating place and heaving with locals and tourists alike.

More things on sticks!

More up my street was the cat café where they charge by the half hour to stroke and pet big, floppy, furry cats. We even got some super cool glasses made for a fraction of what they would cost at home. You pick out your ultra stylish Japanese frames and then they make up your glasses with the lenses in nine minutes! Not eight minutes, or ten minutes – nine minutes precisely! You can’t heat a pizza up in that time!

 

Come to the crazy cat cafe

 

Also of note was the welcome sign at one of the restaurants in Gion which listed advice for patrons including:
  • No a la carte menu
  • No vegetarian menu
  • No partial payment even if you can’t finish the whole course
No troubling other customers such as:
  • Strong perfume
  • Legs stretched toward other customers
  • Too active baby

 

We don’t like the look of that menu..

After a whistle stop tour of Kyoto in two days we got our MK cab back to the station, driven by the jolliest driver ever – definitely a character out of Total Recall  – and headed back to Tokyo. We checked our earthquaketracker.com app on the phone first. Just in case.

All is well with MK cabs!!
Earthquake free Kyoto!