exhausting jam-packed day at Tokyo DisneySea, Adam and I all but collapsed when we got back to the hotel. (You can read all about our Disney day here!)
In the morning we enjoyed our last breakfast at the Richmond Hotel in Asakusa before our train ride to Kyoto. I (again) opted to play it safe with western-style food, while Adam was more adventurous. We ate outside and got to watch the street come alive as people opened up their shops for the day.
After breakfast we went to the front desk to check out and have our luggage forwarded to the next hotel. I’m not sure if luggage forwarding is already “a thing” in the US, but it definitely should be! It was such a convenient way to travel around Japan. For about 3,000 yen (100 yen is less than 1 US dollar) we were able to send our luggage ahead to the next hotel, and we didn’t have to schlep it with us or really worry about it for the rest of the day. We did this several times throughout our trip and our luggage was always safely waiting for us at the next hotel.
Once the luggage was out of our hands, we were free to hop on the subway and make our way to Tokyo Station to catch the 11 a.m. Shinkansen ‘Bullet’ Train to Kyoto. Adam was excited to ride Japan’s high-speed rail line because the train goes up to 200 mph! Since we got there early, Adam and I took the time to explore the shops below the train station one last time.
When it got a little closer to our departure time, Adam and I made our way to the train platform. Two days before, our tour guide helped us activate our rail passes and reserve seats for our bullet train ride to Kyoto. She had explained that certain cars have assigned seats while the rest have open seating, and recommended that we reserve assigned seats so we could sit together. Once we finally boarded the train and found our assigned seats, Adam and I congratulated ourselves on our ability to navigate the subway and rail system in a foreign country.
Unfortunately, our self-congratulations were short lived. Almost as soon as the train started moving, we realized that our rail passes were for the day before! We were in the right seats on the right train at the right time, but we were there on the wrong day! Panic ensued as we tried to figure out what to do next.
After a few stops, a family came onboard holding tickets to the seats we were sitting in. Adam and I quickly apologized and got out of there. We made our way, car after car, toward the front of the train. We passed through the assigned seating cars, smoking cars, and the first-class cars with green velvet seats. After passing through about 8 or 9 cars, we finally found one without assigned seats—but it was completely full. It took a few more cars before we finally found two open, unassigned seats just a few rows away from each other.
I sat down nervously between a man and an elderly woman, and Adam sat down a few rows in front of me. Even though we found seats, we weren’t out of the woods yet: the conductor still had to collect our tickets. Not only were our tickets for the wrong day, but now we were also sitting in the wrong section. Would the conductor throw us off the train? As if summoned by my fears, the conductor entered almost instantly to check everyone’s tickets. All we could do was wait and see what would happen.
The conductor went up to Adam first—and it was then that I realized that I was holding both of our tickets! Since I was wedged in the middle seat and couldn’t easily get out past the elderly woman next to me, I had to get Adam’s attention to pass him his ticket. With the help of some kind passengers I was able to give Adam his ticket, but it was all rather confusing since nobody really spoke English. Everyone in the vicinity was soon aware of the two foreigners who were split up and clueless on the train. Thankfully, (after all that) the conductor accepted our tickets, but it was all incredibly nerve-wracking. Finally, I was able to settle down and enjoy the two and a half hour high-speed rail ride.
The man sitting next to me explained (through gestures and a few English words) that once he got off the train, my “friend” could have his seat. I thanked him and then we struck up a (rather disjointed) conversation. He asked me where I was from and when I said New York he became very excited. Apparently, his daughter was studying in NYC. We then communicated through the photos on our phones. He showed me photos of his daughter enjoying NYC, including one of her in front of the Flatiron Building, and I told him how I walk by there all the time. I then showed him some photos from my own NYC adventures and told him that we were headed to Kyoto. It was a lovely interaction that wouldn’t have happened if Adam and I had our assigned tickets for the right day.
When the man reached his stop, I was sad to say goodbye to my new friend, but was glad to share the experience with Adam. Throughout our trip, I found the Japanese people to be incredibly kind, especially to clueless foreigners who don’t speak their language. I can’t help but shudder when I think of what would have happened if the tables were turned, and a lost tourist who didn’t speak English was holding a ticket for the wrong day on an American train. After spending a year commuting to NYC via NJTransit, I can tell you it would have been ugly.
When we finally reached Kyoto, Adam and I found ourselves inside the beautifully modern and bustling Kyoto Station. I insisted that we enjoy some time at the station before going to our hotel, and I’m glad we did. The architecture of this station was stunning.
Afterwards, we took a cab to our hotel, the Sunroute Hotel Kyoto. Since most of the cab drivers in Japan don’t speak English, we had to point to a piece of paper with our hotel address and hope he took us to the right place. It was a very short ride, maybe 10 minutes, but we made it! It was weird to not tip the cabbie, but it would have been considered rude if we didn’t accept the change from our ride.
The Sunroute Hotel was within walking distance of a huge shopping area, but we decided to check in and take a nap before exploring. We were still exhausted from our day at DisneySea. Just as we had planned, our luggage was waiting there for us. Luggage forwarding is glorious!
By the time we woke up from our naps it was dark outside! (Disney really wiped us out.) We then went out to explore the Kyoto nightlife and shopping area. We walked the few blocks to the shopping center and soon discovered that everything in the area closed at 6 p.m. Unlike Tokyo, the nightlife in this area was virtually non-existent. It was such a bummer.
At this point we were both starving, since all we had eaten that day was breakfast. It took a while, but we managed to find a karaoke bar that was still open. It was dead there. Besides us and the bartender, there were only two other patrons. Since the only vegetarian option was French fries, that’s what we ordered. As the bartender heated up our fries in the kitchen, we watched as two guys smoked cigarettes and played darts. The highlight of the evening was when the song “Empire State of Mind” started playing while we ate our fries. Since the night was a bust, after the bar we just went back to our room so we could prepare for an early morning. Stay tuned for Day 4 where we explore Kyoto!