Japan Trip – Day 9: Kyoto

Dateline: November 16, 2008

Today we’d be doing a day trip to Kyoto. But, before we left Nagoya, we stopped off at the Station Master’s office to grab our written instructions for our tickets to Hakata that we’d requested the night before. As you may recall, we had a similar issue getting today’s Kyoto tickets and since we’d requested the Hakata ones later in the evening, we had to come back the next morning to get the final confirmation. Since we had a train to catch, we kept the instructions with us and planned to get the actual tickets once we returned from Kyoto.

The forecast for today said rain so I figured it would be prudent to pick up an umbrella. Last night I bought a compact umbrella that fit in the upper pocket of my camera bag so I didn’t have to haul it around in my hand the whole time.

Kyoto Station Atrium

Kyoto Station

On the ride to Kyoto, I noticed an interesting visual effect. Some of the trains go fast enough that when passing another going in the opposite direction, you can still clearly see through it to the landscape on the other side. If you’re busy staring at something out the window, your line-of-sight doesn’t get blocked.

Kyoto Station is a big building sandwiched between two 11-storey department stores. It hosts 34 platforms (numbered 0 through 33) as it is one of the main terminals in this part of Japan. As we wandered outside into the rain (good thing I bought that umbrella!) we noticed an informational sign with Astroboy on top. Upon closer inspection, we found there was a small “museum” focused on Tezuka Osamu! I loved Astroboy when I was a kid, and it wasn’t until several years after getting hooked on the series that I learned what anime was, and that the show was my introduction to it.

Osamu Tezuka Character StatuesTezuka Osamu is the guy behind Astroboy, Black Jack, and Jungle Emperor (known in North America as Kimba the White Lion), among others. Off at one end of the large station building you’ll find Tezuka Osamu World. He also holds the distinction as the man who started the “large eyes” trend in Japanese manga and anime. There was a large schematic poster of Astroyboy in the gift shop which I wanted to pick up, but I couldn’t figure out at the time a good way to get it back home without destroying it.

First Temple

Wandering off from the station, we made our way to Higashi Honganji, a very large temple complex. The Goei-do (Founder’s Hall) is one of the largest wooden buildings in the world and was currently undergoing a massive restoration, accentuated by the large exo-skeleton building surrounding the hall.Front Steps The prayer room of the smaller hall (which due to the restoration project is currently the “main” hall) was beautifully ornate and the entire inside was lined with tatami.

Between the two halls there were artifacts from the history of the buildings. One was the sled that was used to move the massive trees down from the mountains to be used in the construction of the temple’s main pillars. Another was the 69 meter-long rope made of hair donated by followers of the temple. Hair was used because it was significantly stronger than the regular rope available at the time.

Within the Goei-do, restoration work was proceeding. Even with all the construction materials laying out, the interior was impressive.

Having spent a fair bit of time in and around the two main halls of Higashi Honganji, we decided to take leave from its encircling walls and search out what else there was to see.

In the courtyard of the complex, there was a flock of pigeons frequently surrounding visitors, and at least once, taking flight above the temples.

Back at the Station

Big StaircaseOne thing I wanted to make sure we saw while here in Kyoto — even though we were planning to be back several more times throughout the trip — was the big staircase at the station. It covers the gap between the two department stores and runs from the fourth to the eleventh floor, from which there’s a separate small staircase to the rooftop garden on the twelfth floor. The view from the top is pretty nice, especially at night!

Before heading out from the station again, we decided to check out the department store to scrounge for souvenirs. In the Isetan building we had some fun with the elevators while trying to head up to the tenth floor, where a bunch of the restaurants are, for lunch. To get to the big staircase, you have to go up to the fourth floor in the Isetan building, which is where we were.High Up Kyoto Station In order to get up or down from the fourth floor in a wheelchair, you have to also take the elevators; this is assisted by the fact there are seven elevators in the store. Good stuff. The problem is that this is a very popular department store. We must have waited for at least 20 minutes for an elevator that wasn’t packed to the teeth with people, going up or down! It seemed for a time like we were trapped on the fourth floor. It was about this point that I was getting rather irked at the people for being so lazy and not taking the stairs.1

Finally, an elevator heading down had enough room that my brother could squeeze in. I told him to just stay on and ride it back up to the eleventh floor (which was my mistake, I meant the tenth) and I’d meet him up there. Into the stairwell I went and waited on the tenth floor outside the elevators. Several minutes passed with no sign of my brother. Thinking he may have taken what I said literally, I hopped up to the eleventh floor; nothing. I spent the next five minutes bounding back and forth between the floors searching for my brother.Skyway I figured by this point I may as well go back down and look for him, even though I was hesitant to do so because if we started playing floor tag, it might be a while before we found each other again (what if we both stay put and wait for the other, what if we keep passing each other, etc.). I jumped on an elevator on the eleventh floor (and since this is at the one end of the floor list, it was easy to get on) and went down to the first where I found my brother. Turns out staying on the elevator/getting back on it was easier said than done — he was right at the doors, after all, and had to get out to let all the others exit. People; can’t live with ’em, can’t kill ’em.

Second Temple

Main BuildingsWith that mess behind us, we decided to forgo lunch and venture out from the station again. Next up was Nishi Hongwanji temple, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The wall surrounding this temple was much more than just a simple wall (as at Higashi Honganji) and had a dry moat separating it from the sidewalk. As Nishi Hongwanji is the mother temple for the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha sect of Bhuddism, there is a large administration building on the grounds, styled to match the original buildings.

Like so many of the places we’d been to on the trip, this complex was under construction and restoration as well, resulting in a large section remaining inaccessible to us. At least the sun was starting to peek out between the clouds while we were here.

Kyoto Tower

Now that the sun had gone down, we decided it was time to head up to the top of Kyoto Tower which is just across the street from the station.Kyoto Tower at Night On the way there, I spotted some garbage cans on the street! The first ones I’d seen since we set foot on Japanese soil. We’d learn several days later the reasons behind why this was such a rare occurrence.

Up in the observation deck 100 meters over the streets below, we got a great nighttime panoramic view of Kyoto. I was a little surprised by how small the observation deck was, especially since at first glance from the street, it seemed pretty big. Though to be fair, the last observation deck I was at was the Stratosphere in Vegas, which is quite sizable. There were 30×120 power mounted binoculars all around the perimeter of the deck which I used to get some “spy shots” of the city.

From this vantage point, we could see down into the Higashi Honganji complex from earlier in the day, and spotted the light from Kiyomizudera. Plus you get a better sense for just how organized the taxi lines are at stations.

The Ride Home

Heading Back

Before departing on our homebound train, we stopped at Mister Donut in the station for a quick snack. I tried the Angel French (a chocolate dipped, twisted, torus-shaped eclair) and a Honey Churro (no sugar or cinnamon on it!).

We got to take a ride on a Series 300 Shinkansen back to Nagoya, where we went to the ticket office to pick up tomorrow’s tickets to Hakata. It will be our first inter-hotel trip that includes a transfer (at Shin-Kobe).

  1. For those that don’t know, my office at my job is on the tenth floor. I take the stairs both ways six times a day, so I didn’t feel like much of a hypocrite for thinking this.

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