Kyoto, Postcard 01: Arrival

I was surprised at how nervous I was before my trip. I made the mistake of telling some friends and family about it in advance, which meant several months of well-intentioned but nonetheless overwhelming advice. (This took the usual form: a combination of personal experience, second-hand anecdotes, Internet fragments, pop culture references and blind conjecture.) The most common theme was the potential culture shock, but thankfully, Osaka International Airport is a lot like other international airports. There are the usual signs for toilets/immigration/baggage/exits, with reassuring logos and English translations. There’s the obligatory duty-free boutique, whose classy wares are completely inappropriate for how disgusting and post-flighty everyone feels. And there’s the interior design: clinical, bright, spacious. I wonder if these consistencies are deliberate, to stop people from just freaking out and screaming whenever they land somewhere new. 

The second most common theme was the Language Barrier, which was often referred to in italics and with capital letters. I had consequently spent some of the flight trying to memorise a phrase book, but my sleep-deprived haze (/general cowardice) stop me from saying anything more than the occasional konnichi-wa. (And even this isn’t correct: it’s the evening, so it should be komban-wa.) It doesn’t help that I don’t actually need to speak any Japanese: the staff at the airport are complete pros. I even overhear an immigrations officer shouting ‘Aqui! Aqui!’ (‘Here! Here!’) at a Spanish man who doesn’t know where to put his fingers for the fingerprint scan. I mean, you never see a member of staff speaking Spanish on UK Border Force, do you?1

After leaving the airport, there’s still about 50 km of travelling to get to Kyoto. I opt for the fastest route, the JR Haruka train, which takes about an hour or so. (Tip: if you ever do the same, get a Haruka + ICOCA card. It’s a 4,030¥ smart card that includes a return ticket and 1,500¥ to use on the Kyoto subway. Bargain. You even get to choose between two designs: the Japanese Wind and Thunder gods… or Hello, Kitty.) I spend about fifteen minutes on the platform waiting for the train, and already I can spot examples of the ingenuity for which Japanese engineering is renowned. There’s an emergency space under the platform for accidental falls. Good idea. The unreserved coaches are numbered 4 to 6, and there are clear numbers on the platform wall telling you where to stand. Good idea.2 When the train arrives, it’s promptly cleaned, and then all the chairs turn around automatically so that they’re facing the direction of travel. Great idea. 

It’s late, so I spend most of the train journey asleep. My only memory is arriving into Shin-Osaka station: the view filled with sleek, futuristic skyscrapers; their outlines shimmering in the moonlight. It’s literally awesome. It’s hard not to re-enact that film trope of a country kid coming into a city for the first time: a shot of them gaping through the window, completely enthralled by a whole new world. My nervousness dissipates. This is going to be fun. 

Continues Monday, April 28th.


[1] But that’s also probably because you don’t watch UK Border Force. I just checked Wikipedia to make sure I got the title right, and was shocked to discover there are only 18 episodes. I have definitely watched more than 18 episodes, which means I have watched some episodes repeatedly without even realising, which is basically why I shouldn’t be allowed free will. 

[2] Although that does ruin the fun of the ‘How Far Do I Have To Race?’ game you get to play when your delayed East Coast train finally makes its way to the platform.


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