We woke up at 5:30 and finished packing the last of our toiletries
(having done most of our packing the night before). Since we would
be returning to the Akasaka Prince for our last night in a few days, we
left our larger bags with the bellboys and took only daypacks for our trip
to Kyoto. Even lugging heavy daypacks through the subways to get to the
train station was an immense strain on our shoulders, so we were thankful
we had that option.
We arrived at the huge Tokyo JR station well ahead of time. Hallways
and corridors bisect and trisect each other, heading in all directions
with signs for various destinations leading the traveler through the maze.
Vending booths line the walls of the station selling treats and trinkets.
We were early enough to see the bullet train ahead of ours arrive and depart.
The trains run about 15 minutes apart. Ting took the opportunity to check
out the vendor booths and buy some fish-filled rice balls and a bottle
of water for the trip. Our train arrived shortly and we found our seats
in the reserved car section. True to its name (besides the more superficial
fact that its nose is shaped like a bullet), the bullet train glided along
so smoothly at 150 mph that if you closed your eyes you could not have
known you were moving that fast. Every so often, vendors would walk down
the aisle pushing a cart loaded with drinks, snacks, magazines, or other
The trip from Tokyo to Kyoto took about two hours. It was gray and
rainy when we arrived in Kyoto. Kyoto Station was a world unto itself.
The magnificent structure is all glass and steel, mostly enclosed, but
with assorted sections open to the weather. Commercials are televised on
several large screens in the open spaces like giant billboards. The spire
atop the Kyoto Tower Hotel rose sharply into the ominous sky, its shape
reminiscent of the Seattle Space Needle.
After a quick stop at the local tourist office, we made our way to
the Shin Hankyu Hotel. Our room was not ready when we arrived, so we left
our bags with the bellboys and headed back outside. Since the rain was
still coming down, we ducked into the nearest shelter -- an entrance to
the underground shopping center that lies between the main train station
and the subway. Following the advice of the concierge at the Shin Hankyu,
we crossed back to the main station and headed for the Kyoto 2000 Theater
ticket office, where we were able to buy tickets for the Dylan show coming
up on Saturday night in Tokyo.
Since it was about lunch time, we began looking for a place to eat
and noticed that Chaya Dos, a 'new beer pub and food joint' was right across
the lobby from the ticket office. We entered the restaurant through a curving
hallway lit by black lights. Small TV monitors, set into the floor every
couple of steps, displayed images of swimming tropical fish.
At the end of the corridor was the dining area, which was enclosed
by a hemispherical dome approximately 100 feet across. The walls were lined
with opaque screen material, and a set of theater lights projected a constantly
changing pattern of pastel colors. From the looks of some of the unused
laser light equipment in the two bays protruding from the upper part of
the hemisphere walls, we guessed that the restaurant doubled as a disco
at night. The food was decent, but the beer choice was limited to 'black'
and 'white' ...hardly what one would expect in a brew pub.
After lunch, we peeked out and saw that it was still raining, so
we decided to continue exploring the train station building. Our first
move was to ride the escalators up ten or twelve floors to the very top
of the building. The escalators go up in one diagonal line rather than
the usual switch-back pattern, each floor gated by a flowered arch. At
the top, we looked back down the steep bank of escalators to find the arches
forming a flowered canopy down the length of the building.
We ventured outdoors onto the rooftop observation platforms long
enough to decide that the wind and rain was a bit too cold to make the
experience pleasant. We ducked back inside in search of a restroom. Several
of the higher floors were taken up by a swanky department store. Our search
brought us across the well-stocked kid's department. Here, the kid is King.
The barber shop had toy cars for barber seats so the kids could "drive"
while getting their hair cut. And the kids have their own restroom, complete
with miniature kid-sized urinals, toilets, and sinks. Lucky for us, they
had adult-sized toilets too!
After tiring ourselves out shopping for
souvenirs and taking pictures, we made our way down to the bottom floors
back underground. One half of the lower floors was occupied by food vendors
and restaurants, while the other half was designer clothing shops and other
assorted mall stores. One store we came across was the Three Hundred Yen
Store, where everything costs three-hundred yen (about $2.50). Mixed in
among the kitchen doo-dads and household knick-knacks, we found an assortment
of Dancing Bear products, including postcards and packaging tapes. The
products made no reference to their Grateful Dead origins but seemed to
cater to the Japanese fad for all-things American, including Dancing Bear
and random hippie-ish references. And we all know the Grateful Dead is
as Amercian as apple pie!
It was stuffy down in the underground floors compared to the fresh
cool air of the top floors. A scrumptious display of plastic cold whipped
drinks caught our eyes, so we stopped for a tea time snack. Ting had a
royal milk tea parfait and Randy had green tea with red bean - yum yum
yum! Unfortunately, folks on all sides of us were chain smoking cigarettes,
so that even though the drinks were yummy, the atmosphere wasn't so inviting.
We left as soon as we were done and headed back to the hotel, where we
could unwind and relax in a smoke-free room.
Venturing out again after dark, we got about a block from the hotel
before the rain resumed, so we hurried one more block to the entrance of
a large department store called SuperPlatz. The building was 8 stories
high. The top floor had the most interesting merchandise - music! The CDs
were arranged according to the Japanese romaji alphabet, a phonetic way
of translating foreign words into Japanese katakana charaters, so Pharaoh
Sanders was under "F" with Frank Sinatra and Phil Woods. It was a bit confusing,
but Randy managed to find a couple of CDs he had been looking for. Ting
spent time on the headsets checking out to the "latest Japanese sensations",
a mixture of jazz and pop combined with traditional Japanese undertones.
The ever-present rain discouraged us from wandering too far in our
search for dinner, so we headed back underground to the food floors of
Kyoto Station. It was after 8 PM and things were mostly closed up, but
we found a sushi and doburi shop that looked inviting. After dinner,
we wandered through the station and came across a closed art exhibit. The
Art Deco Trees and XL Baby Gap Shirt displays caught our eyes. Other
displays were hidden under tarps. Walking back to our room, Kyoto Tower
loomed in the distance like a beacon. Passing some penguins dancing on
a construction display, Randy joined them in celebration of a new adventure
(or else he just felt like goofing off).