Saturday, April 8 - Arrival
The clouds from a morning rain still hung over Osaka Harbor
as we broke clear of the overcast and continued descending into
Kansai airport. The service on the airline was remarkably good and
I was tired, rather than exhausted after the twelve-hour flight.
Soon after we touched town in the early-evening twilight, we were
on the first of the many train rides we'd be taking over the next
two weeks--the unmanned shuttle from the gate to the terminal.
Even though we were the only arriving international flight in that
time slot, it took nearly twenty minutes to make it through customs.
Their checks were thorough and polite, but their staff that Saturday
evening wasn't particularly large. Even in the main area of the
terminal, it was obvious that it was a quiet evening at the huge
airport. The large halls echoed softly with footsteps and voices
as we walked to the concourse on the main level to catch our train
Mirroring the city in glass and steel, Kyoto
Station's architecture was eye-catching even before the recent
We made it to the Haruka, the fast express between Kansai
Airport and Kyoto with time to spare. I barely noticed when it pulled
of the station. I had forgotten how smooth the new Japanese trains
are. Though the hour-long trip, I gazed out the window at the same
night time cityscape I first saw three years before. In the darkness,
Osaka appeared to be all flashing Pachinko palaces and brightly
lit street-side vending machines. I could peer briefly into the
back windows of cluttered offices that were still occupied that
evening. Even in the comparatively sterile world of TV dramas, a
degree of clutter in the workplace seems to be acceptable to the
Japanese. In the small, old shops that line city side streets, one
would think it was virtually mandatory.
I am profoundly curious about the Japanese attitude towards work,
the dedication that exists between employer and employee and the
humble acceptance of one's job. To the Japanese, work is looked
upon like just another bodily function. There is satisfaction when
it goes well, some disappointment and frustration when it does not,
but it is placed in perspective at all times. It is part of one's
life. Nothing more. Nothing less. As a one-time workaholic and inveterate
job- and career-changer, I know I have much to learn from their
Because the express train makes a wide circuit around its circumference,
the ride makes the huge city seem even larger. In the darkness,
it is next to impossible to tell where Osaka ends and Kyoto begins.
The only time that Osaka appears to be of reasonable size is when
it is traversed in the Shinkansen, an effort that takes less than
The train is far from full for the evening ride. Several "celebrating"
salary men pass back and forth several times through our non-smoking
car. A few seats away, I get my first glimpse of the new cell phones
that have caught on throughout Japan. They are thin, narrow and
come in a rainbow of colorsapparently every color except
black. I would learn that there is far more than the size, shape
and color that make these devices so remarkable.
It is nearly nine o'clock when we arrive at the newly renovated
and expanded Kyoto Station. My wife is amazed at the changes and
the radical architecture. Inside and out, is a sight to behold.
We wind out way down several levels of escalators to the basement
and board the Karasuma line subway for the short trip to
our hotel. Both the stations and trains on this line were also new.
The tracks were guarded by glass walls with sliding doors that only
would open when the train arrived. The colorful and complex LED
displays hanging from the ceiling allowed us to follow the progress
of the approaching train from two stations away. Like nearly all
of the Kyoto subway system, the station was clean and bright with
soft elevator music playing in the background. Door chimes played
near the entrances from the street to guide the vision-impaired.
But like most of Japan, access for the wheelchair-bound is difficult,
if not impossible. Only the largest stations have elevators and
these usually only go as far as the parking structures and not to
After a few stops, we arrived at our hotel for the first night.
The next day we would move to another for a four-night stay. This
was the peak cherry blossom week in Kyoto and finding available
rooms during this important festival was a challenge that my wife
discharged with admirable skill and resourcefulness. The fact she
managed to find a good hotel with a vacancy even four nights in
a row was nothing short of a miracle. We checked in and found ourselves
in a cozy "single" with one smallish double-bed and not
a great amount of excess floor space. It was a new hotel, one of
a chain that we would patronize in both Kyoto and Osaka, and what
it lacked in space, it more than made up for in quality and service.
Even though the hotels are targeted at the mid-budget, business
traveler, they are a little expensive by American standards. Our
rooms went for between 11400 to 14400´ per night, but included a
generous breakfast. And, tipping is not part of commerce in Japan.
Before going to bed, we walked half a block to one of the small
but wonderfully stocked convenience stores that have mushroomed
throughout the country and bought sodas and a snack before bedtime.
We had been on the road for nearly twenty hours, so it was quite
easy for both of us to get to sleep.
Day 2 - So many shrines, so little