Monday, May 17, 2004
Kyoto-blogging: stations and trains and shinkansen, oh my!
Sorry for the lack of posts - there's an actual conference to attend, you know :) I am writing off-line and uploading when I get a chance, but there are several thousand wireless users competing for the same poor DSL line here, so its rare to get a connection even when the 802.11b signal is strong.
Kyoto station is a marvel. There's apparently some controversy about its architecture among the natives but frankly I think it's a brilliant complex. It was pretty intimidating when I arrived in Kyoto that first night but with experience I've found it to be a pretty interesting and elegant place. The vast interior space has multiple terraces for restaurants and shops, and the station includes a movie theater, hotel, and subway station in addition to the normal train lines and shinkansen.
Some photos of Kyoto station manage to convey its enormity, both inside and out.
On Tuesday evening, I went to visit some friends of the family in Kobe. Leaving the conference, I took the subway to Kyoto station and the JR line to Kobe-Sannomiya, the latter takiung about an hour including multiple stops. On the way we passed through Osaka, whose skyline was dominated by the Umeda tower (I didn't get a photo, unfortunately) which Lonely Planet accurately described as a high-rise, ultramodern glass version of the Arc de Triomphe.
The Japanese countryside between Kyoto and Osaka was much more interesting, however, far more so than the brief glimpse I had on Sunday between Narita and Tokyo. This time it was mostly village and town landscapes, providing a peek into the routine. Several entreprenurial home owners with walls facing teh train tracks elected to advertise cars, drinks, and even websites (one notable one was http://www.ever-best.com). Almost every house, even those tightly packed together in little rows, still had a walled compound for privacy, in some cases providing a courtyard only a few feet wide. The cars were either cute little European-style mini-cars or normal sized Toyota corolla/camry analouges.
The interesting thing about rail service in Japan is the sheer profusion - including multiple competing lines between the same cities. To get to Kobe from Kyoto I had the choice of JR line or JR shinkansen as well as the private Hankyu line. At one point all three lines were parallel leaving Kyoto, bu teh shinkansen detoured off on its own path and quickly vanished from view. The Hankyu remained largely parallel with the JR most of the way, though there were some differences in stations. All three re-converged at shin-Osaka, though the shinkansen went to shin-Kobe and the JR and Hankyu only served Kobe-Sannomiya. The infrastructure investment for all of this is enormous, though I confess to ignorance about similar density metropolises in the United States (New York comes to mind).
I arrived at Kobe-Sannomiya station, one of the two that serve the city. An expensive taxi ride brouhgt me to my hosts' home, and after dinner they dropped me at shin-Kobe station instead of Sannomiya so I could catch the shinkansen back to Kyoto. This time the trip only took 20 minutes. This was my first ride on shinkansen since the arrival in Kyoto, and it was a much more enjoyable experience - these are truly amazing vehicles and I have an almost child-like fascination with them. I will have photos later...