It was the day I had planned to make my way to Kyoto. I was planning to take the train after lunch at the station, but I had woken up way earlier than I expected, so I had to fill the morning with some activity. I decided to go for a long walk to nearby Tsukushima, a man-made island famous for monjayaki.
However, as I would learn today and in the days to come, waking up early in Japan as a tourist isn’t usually rewarded. Only a few places I encountered, like Tsukiji Market, start operations early. Most cafes open at 10:30am, and lunch restaurants at 11am. While the walk was pleasant, with cherry blossoms blooming along the quiet avenues, all the monjayaki joints were closed. I should have come in the evening, when it would have been lively with activity.
The only thing to do was to check out and head to Tokyo Station for ramen at the Tokyo Ramen Street, a tourist-focused ramen stall area. Surely despite commercialisation, the ramen should be good?
It is certainly a convenient option for most commuters and travellers transiting through Tokyo Station. Most of the stalls were catered to convenience, with vending machines to order your ramen through. I actually confused the ramen I wanted with another, so maybe it wasn’t as straightforward as it should be. Instead of a conventional tonkotsu ramen I wanted, I got something that resembled wanton soup noodles. Other than being not what I wanted, it was pretty mediocre for ramen, at an above average but not unreasonable price. If one has the time to afford going somewhere else for ramen, I would recommend looking elsewhere.
I was supposed to meet up with my friend Wei Chiang, who was a graduate student at the University of Tokyo, for our the next leg of our trip to Kyoto and Osaka, but he had gotten food poisoning and was in no state to travel, so I took the shinkansen (cross-country express train) on my own. As a non-Japanese speaker, it was easy to get bewildered with the tickets I had to purchase; I accidentally bought a ticket that only covered part of the journey I planned to take, and had to buy another one. There was an option to buy one ticket to cover the whole journey that I did not find at the start. This process gets easier with experience, but for someone new to taking the shinkansen, I took more time to figure out how to take it to Kyoto than I should have. More research or travellng with a local friend could have helped. I even got lost on the platform. I didn’t realise that Kyoto would be an intermediate station on the shinkansen line to Shin-Osaka station, so I was afraid of ending up in Osaka by accident, but couldn’t find the ‘train to Kyoto’ based on the signage. The young security guards with their limited English didn’t help much either. Thankfully, I somehow got assurance that the train to Shin-Osaka would stop at Kyoto, and found a nice comfortable seat in the free-seating, non-reserved section. However, I would regret sitting on the left side later, as the right side was where window seats would get a glimpse of Mt. Fuji. Window seats also have power plugs, so it is undeniably the best places to get a seat.
After settling in, the train set off. It was smooth and dazzlingly fast. In 2-3 hours, I was in Kyoto. I short transit later, and I was already at my accommodations near Inari station. After checking in, the day was still bright. There was time to visit Fushimi Inari shrine.