Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Kyoto Daytrip - Part 1

It cooled off significantly around Kansai today, making for perfect weather for walking around town. Uji is part of greater Kyoto, so a quick 20 minute train ride had me at Kyoto station with nearly two hours free before my friends arrived from Tokyo.

The Kyoto station was thoroughly rebuilt twelve years ago (the new building opened round about when I was leaving, so I never got to explore it much). I don't know the story behind it but, roughly, a big department store asked wouldn't it be nice if there was a 12 floor fancy department store and hotel on top of the Kyoto train station. And while at it, why not make it more exciting by cutting out the middle of the building out and putting stairs and escalators that go in an uninterruped, 45 degree angle, straight line from street level to the rooftop 12 stories up? I don't get vertigo easily, but the sheer scale of looking directly up (or down!) 12 floors of steps is a bit daunting. Sure, there are landings every floor or two, but those do little to dispel the mental image of slipping and tumbling 12 floors. Very nice view from the top, though! (Oh, and the terrace at the top is called 'Happiness Terrace'. No explanation given.)

Once I met up with my friends, we went in search of food. Since the whole escalator thing is an experience in itself, we went to the top and checked out the restaurants there. Food prices in Japan are often relative to how far off the ground the restaurant is situated, so after a quick tour of menus with lots of zeros, we decided that it would also be fun to ride the escalators down before lunch. Somewhere around the 2nd basement level, two floors below street level, we found tons of yummy food at good prices. :)

From there, they went to check into their hotel. That place, too, is new since the time I lived here. Of interest, it's right next to what used to be the street car stop I used every day to go to school in Kyoto. There used to be a small garden there and a few houses and buildings. Now a subway line took the place of the street car, and a very nice, very, very fancy hotel has taken over for the garden and houses.

From there we took a beautiful walk around the mountains. Unfortunately for us, being on the wrong side of the mountains from the temple we wanted to see, the pass on the map the hotel provided didn't actually exist according to the more accurate maps by subway stations along the way. (Note: if you're ever lost in Japan, look for a subway, train or bus station, they generally have very detailed local maps. Note 2: if, like me, you're a purist and like your maps oriented so that North is up, be ready for North to be just about any direction BUT up on those station maps.)

To be continued...

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