This was always a transfer day.
We had taken advantage of our Tokyo hotel’s luggage forwarding service, whereby we decanted the contents of three cases into one and sent the remaining two to Kyoto to wait for our arrival in a few days time.
The journey from our ryokan in Kawaguchiko required that we travelled back to Tokyo to get to Kyoto. A pain but unavoidable as the Five Lakes area are effectively a branch railway line. The journey on the preceding Saturday had been quick and direct but this was a special service to transport the sightseers to the area.
This was Monday and the trains were back to their usual timetable – slow and regional, stopping at every stop. The other issue is that our JR Rail Pass isn’t valid on all lines on Japan’s privatised and carved up rail network.
This is where our ryokan came up trumps. Our maid suggested that we travel to Tokyo via highway bus, dropping us at Tokyo Station where we could catch the bullet train aka Shinkansen to Kyoto.
Never one to ignore a bit of local knowledge, we took her advice. The comfortable bus journey took us around a few local pick ups at hotels before a steady drive through the Kyoto countryside into Tokyo’s urban sprawl. In just over two hours we at the Station and picking up our bento for the journey ahead.
Tokyo Station has received a recent makeover and the basement level had a teenager pleasing array of Japanese novelty stores plus an adult pleasing Lego store – an excellent way to kill half an hour.
Operating since the 1960s and still experimenting as to ways to get quicker (a 600kph train was trialled in 2016), the Shinkansen now uses 1717 miles of high speed lines. It was the most heavily used high speed rail transit system in the world but has now been overtaken by the Chinese (then again who hasn’t). The system wasn’t without its financial woes and has taken a lot of commercial remodelling to exist. Japan is taking advantage of post economic crash ultra low interest rates to borrow and expand the infrastructure, something which the UK could do with taking a leaf out of.
We arrived on the Shinkansen platform to take our seats having changed our reservation from our original booking made in Tokyo a few days earlier.
And what seats they were. We had treated ourselves to a green pass upgrade which is effectively first class. We got wide reclining airline seats with footrests and under bum heating. The legroom for me at almost two metres tall was fantastic. As we had read before, luggage space is restricted so reducing our baggage was the right move. The train was immaculate too, a pink army of cleaning staff waiting as it pulled into Tokyo.
Here’s a differentiator with the UK. Whilst Virgin may stick a couple of disinterested attendants at each end of the train to walk through with a bin bag, the JR devotes four staff per carriage, armed with hoovers and wipes. The result is a train is cleaned top to tail in about ten minutes – truly impressive.
Two and half hours later and we arrived at Kyoto, completing the journey in total comfort. The train doesn’t sway or jolt. the bends having been designed to remove the effects.
We arrived in Kyoto and checked into our hotel room. And what was waiting for us there? Our two suitcases that we had forwarded of course.