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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 to Kyoto.

 

Mirroring the city in glass and steel, Kyoto Station's architecture was eye-catching even before the recent renovations.

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 philosophy.

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 fifteen minutes.

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 colors—apparently every color except black. I would learn that there is far more than the size, shape and color that make these devices so remarkable.

Kyoto Station

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 street level.

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 time

 
 

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