The train plunges into darkness. Lights on tunnel walls wink past as my eyes struggle to adjust to the contrast. But just as I begin to see anew, the sky engulfs us again and a strong noon sun blinds me. We go over a bridge and my pupils settle down and…are those people driving go-karts down the street, dressed up as video game characters? I blink - yes, that definitely is Mario skidding around the corner.
Suffice to say, I’ll have to rely on the intercom’s assistance in finding my stop. Even that might prove to be a weak lifeline amidst the cacophony of chattering tourists filling this car to the gills.
“Kyyyyoooooto Staaaaaation” the intercom announces, its chipper voice bidding all of us foot soldiers to press towards the doors. Shifting to adjust my bag, I manage to squeeze out with the throng.
Back into the labyrinth.
Kyoto Station is a major transportation hub in Japan, and a multifaceted complex hosting almost everything you can imagine. As a critical modern thoroughfare, it has replaced the old Nakasendo Trail - the walking route that I’ve emerged from. Akin to the Post Towns of yesteryear, industrious folks have stepped up to offer everything you could imagine to those of us passing through - that, and then some.
Food courts? There are at least five - more, depending on how you count them. Underground shopping malls? Yep - they never really stop. Epic thirteen story glass atrium with interactive art and upscale restaurants claiming the views? Obvs.
I slide into a line of people along the main corridor, waiting my turn to retreat into a dark kissaten. My booth is small and private, with a little electronic panel in the table’s center for ordering. Slipping into the cool leather seat, I escape the constant thrum of people coming and going. Sanctuary, and a bit of space for me to think and regroup.
Today was hot, crowded, and loud. It’s all a little much after coming from a sleepy, open-aired train stop a few hours up the coast. I hardly took my camera out of my bag; a reaction to finding myself within crowds of other photo-snappers. The hoards here are really something else.
And how can you blame them? Kyoto is a city of remarkable heritage. Historically wealthy, there’s a lot of incredible architecture and stories left behind to explore. I mean, that’s what has brought me here too.
Lots of walking today to try and get my bearings - about 30km so far. Despite this, I feel disconnected from the city. I’m happy to report that at least my stomach is satiated tonight; filled with some excellent supermarket sushi that apparently gets marked down every evening at 8pm.
Rest now, try again tomorrow.