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« kyoto arrival | Main | kyoto trip prep »


(continuation of a multi-part Blathering, begin here)

Wednesday, September 5th (cont'd)

We decided to try making the next train to Kyoto, which was due to leave in about ten minutes. Ruth had told me I should try the bento boxes available on the train platform, so I grabbed two medium-priced boxes at the ekiben stand. The word "ekiben" is a contraction of the words eki (train station) and bento (lunch box). The first ekiben were served in the late 1800s and consisted of pickles and rice balls. Now there are apparently close to 3000 varieties, and some stations are famous for their ekiben. Our ekiben cost 850 yen each (CAN$11.44); some of the best ekiben cost 1000 yen and upwards.

We found the line-up for what we hoped was going to be a non-reserved, non-smoking car. But was it for Kyoto?

I've grown pretty shameless about asking strangers for information in Japan, so I turned around and asked the man standing behind me. Not knowing the correct phrase by heart, I pointed out the correct sentence in my small Japanese phrase book, using Kyoto as the train station name. He nodded and said, "Hai", smiling.

I've found the locals to be -extremely- helpful and friendly when Jeff and I have asked for help or information, very patient with my abysmal accent and frantic flipping through my Japanese dictionary and phrase book.

Not one person has answered "yes" when I ask (in Japanese) whether they are able to speak English, even if it turns out a few minutes later that they do know a little. Most people shake their heads apologetically and smile, a few say "sukoshi" (a little)....the latter usually turn out to be much more fluent than I had expected.

Our shinkansen experience was wonderful. Remarkable quiet, clean, comfortable, fast. Women frequently strolled up and down the aisles with carts selling snacks, drinks, ice cream, and bento boxes. There was also a section at the front of the train selling more food and products. I bought a small container of green tea icecream (aisui creamu), and Jeff bought some iced coffee.

I had fun people-watching on this train. Many had cellphones which they used frequently for e-mailing and a few calls. This was something we've noticed a LOT on our trip so far, at least in Tokyo. Almost everyone seems to have a cellphone (one of those tiny ones still rare in Canada) with a wrist strap. Straps are often combined with some kind of fashion statement; many have small toys or other ornaments attached. Alison has a small basketball and NBA logo tag on hers (she works for the NBA). Another cellphone comment: they seem to work pretty much everywhere, unlike cellphones in Toronto. We've even seen people using them on subways.

But back to the shinkansen (which translates as 'new trunk line'). These trains reach speeds of up to 300 km per hour (!). There has never been a fatality. Jeff and I were both incredibly impressed by the efficiency...the train pulls in within about 10 seconds of its scheduled arrival, and the train door opens exactly where it's supposed to (door locations seem to be marked on most platforms so people know where to line up). Everyone lets passengers off the train before trying to get on themselves (unlike in the Toronto subway).

Jeff and I bought Japan Rail Passes before embarking on the trip (using a Japanese travel agency my dad recommended). The pass lets us use any JR service for seven days for about 28,000 yen (CAN$380). Just our trip to Kyoto and back made the cost of the pass worth it; Jeff and I also opted to use the pass to travel to other places as well.

Sadly, Mount Fuji was shrouded in clouds when we went by, but we did see a lot of interesting scenery along the way. Fascinating to watch the contrasting types of towns, cities, and rural areas flash by, some nestled between mountains and steep hills.

Using the bathroom on the train was another unique experience. It was a Japanese-style toilet (I later discovered that there were also Western style available elsewhere on the train), and a small sign advised me to hold onto a handle in the wall for my own safety. It was quite the challenge to use this type of toilet in the rocking compartment, holding the handle with one hand and holding up my skirt with the other. I think I'll be wimpy and go search for the Western style next time. :-)

Next: Arrival in Kyoto and our ryokan!

Today's Blatherpics:

- Bento box.

- Ekiban stand.

- Train snack lady.

- Stealth photo of the woman in the seat in front of us, using her cellphone.

- Green tea icecream and iced coffee.

- View out the train window during part of the trip. Rice fields, I think?

- Kyoto train station platform.

Today's Poll: (courtesy Alison George)

Is vanilla your favourite flavour of icecream?

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