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The old Imperial city – Kyoto
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Sun 28 Jul – day 78  The taxi ride to the hotel in Kyoto did not take long through the very wet streets and although reception was on the second floor, there was a lift as I was beginning to get fed up humping my luggage around.

The Hotel Sunroute was another great establishment selected by Inside Japan and check in was quick and efficient as always.  The receptionist handed me a package from Inside Japan and this contained some of the rail tickets for my trip up the Kurobe Gorge in a few days time plus the cash to buy those that the company had not been able to purchase.

My room was on the 9th (of 10) floors and I emptied all my bags then sorted things out into piles, dirty laundry, ‘stuff’ to send home, clothes for the next few days and items not wanted at present.  It was then time for a nice hot shower and I felt really clean after my long journey.  Then the phone rang and it was the receptionist saying that my glasses had been found and that I could collect them tomorrow – wonderful news.

After doing all the washing I went up one floor to the restaurant where I was shown to a table by the window.  The rain had stopped and there was a great view out to the wooded and hilly area to the east.  The hotel had made a postcard of this view and the picture was used on all the place mats.  There were numerous shrines (Shinto) and temples (Buddhist) to be seen and I had planned to walk around that area during my stay in the city.

As there are 17 World Heritage Sites in the city I would have to careful to select those I wished to see given that I was only staying here for 4 night’s.

The menu on offer was Italian, so I had a very thin crust pizza and dessert, all washed down with a couple of beers and a cappuccino.

This was a very pleasant setting with good food and then it was time for bed.

Now just three weeks left before I fly home.

 

Mon 29 Jul – day 79  I had a good night’s sleep, but felt a bit light-headed so drank a litre of water.  Up to the 10th floor for breakfast, greeted by the maitre-d with a deep bow and then shown to my table, which was the same one I sat at for dinner last night.  Not a good sight out of the windows as it was pouring with rain.

Good options for breakfast, so I had a large bowl of fresh fruit, then a couple of bacon rolls before finishing with bread, butter and strawberry jam and all washed down with two glasses of orange juice and a cup of strong coffee.  That was an excellent way to start the day.

On the way out of the hotel I handed in my trousers at reception to get them dry-cleaned because after more than 11 weeks on the road there are a bit worse for wear.

Took the bus to the station as the flat rate fare of ¥220 was just 20% of the cost of a taxi fare.

At the start point for the walking tour I met the guide, Mari, and explained that I had to go the Lost and Found office to collect my reading glasses, no problem as there was still quite a bit of time before the tour was due to depart.  A bit of a hiccup as the glasses were being couriered to my hotel rather than the station, so I will have to wait at least another day before I get them.

On the way back through the station I bought a copy of the Japan Times (the English language newspaper) as the main report on the front page commented on yesterday’s weather and it said that sections of track on the west coast had either been washed away or covered by landslides.

At the tour start point lots more people had arrived, so it would quite a large group and the only problem was the intermittent drizzle.

When we set off Mari led us down towards the subway and the along the underground passages that linked the station to the various hotels and shops, so a bit like the PATH in Toronto, only here there were not a lot of shops lining the passageways.

Our first stop was the Higashi Hongan-ji, a Buddhist temple which contains two of the largest wooden structures in the world.  This was the head temple of the Otani-ha branch of Shin Buddhism; Amida-do (Hall) was enclosed by scaffolding and cladding as it was undergoing renovation, where as the renovation of the Goei-do (Founder’s Hall) had been completed in 2009.

The wooden entrance gate was itself a massive structure as was the adjacent Bell Tower.  Mari took us first to the Dragon Bath where we were shown the correct way to purify yourself before entering the temple; right hand, left hand, right arm, left arm and then feet.  At the first step into the temple we all took our footwear off then put them into a plastic bag that was provided which we then carried around.

As the temple was an active place of worship and people were praying we were requested not to take any photographs inside the temple; needless to say some of the tour group did.  The floor was covered with 927 tatami mats and Mari told us that you should never step on the edge of a mat, nor the tape connecting them as it was considered to be bad luck.  In addition you should only have bare or stocking feet, never ever wear shoes.

Have left the main prayer hall Mari asked us to stand to one side and again not take photographs as a funeral procession was approaching.  The deceased had already been cremated and a priest was carrying an urn containing the ashes; the mourners followed, with two lower level priests bringing up the rear.  At the entrance to a private chapel they were met by someone a kin to a Verger who bowed deeply as the party passed by and followed them in closing the doors behind him.

Mari explained that most Japanese preferred a Buddhist ceremony following their death as in that religion they believe in an afterlife which they do not in Shinto.  She also said that uniquely amongst the world’s religions Shinto has no scriptures or prophets.

The passageway passed what had been the monk’s quarters had beautifully made roof titles, an image of the Buddha and then plainer ones covering the lean to.

 

 

 

 

 

To get to the exhibition hall I had to walk down lots of steps which made my knees ache, but having got to the bottom I noticed a lift which I would use to get back up again.  There was a model showing how the temple was constructed and two types of containers on display, one for rice and the other sake.

Having exited the exhibition hall we got probably the best view of the temple before we left the compound.  Just outside the main entrance was a fountain in the shape of a flower with open petals.

 

After crossed the main road we entered the old part of the city which contained large numbers of wooden buildings.  Many of the houses were unoccupied as they lacked modern amenities and cost a fortune to upkeep.  Mari said that there is an ongoing debate about what should be done to and for these premises; it would be a shame if nothing is done to preserve the old Tea Houses and shops and bring them back into use.

 

 

 

 

Virtually every city block had a shrine or temple and these varied in size from the quite small to the positively colossal.  The owner of the company than ran the walking tours, Mr Hajime Hirooka, but better known as Johnny Hillwalker, sponsored the upkeep of one of the shrines and so had a lantern bearing his name by the entrance.

Every one of the shrines and temples were immaculately maintained and there was plenty to see at each location.  We did however have to leave one shrine fairly quickly as the moist and humid atmosphere meant that the mosquitoes were out in force.

 

 

 

The area around the Kyoto Canal was very peaceful with very little traffic and I could hardly hear the vehicles on the main road even though it was less than 100 yards away.  When the cherry blossom was in full bloom this would be an extremely picturesque place.

We made a stop at a fan shop and my initial thought was that this was just another tourist trap.  But no, this was where they made fans of many different sizes before distributing them to the main retail outlets, so the prices here were extremely reasonable.  Lots of fans had been displayed to form a decorative motif; I brought a very small fan with a picture of the Golden Pavilion painted on it and together with the display stand it will look good on my sideboard.

Opposite the fan shop was a family business that made Tofu, a product derived from soya beans.  We were told that the numbers of small businesses like this were declining rapidly because of the long hours (start at 0300hrs) and the change in peoples shopping habits; more and more they buy food and other goods from the main department stores rather than support their local shops.  So just like the UK where the supermarkets have had a severe impact on the high streets around the country.

One of the lads on the tour, an American of Taiwanese extraction, bought a small bottle of Tofu milk for Mum as a reminder of the time when she made Tofu at their home.  Between the family it was soon drunk.

Our next stop was through a gate which led to a cemetery and unless you were on a guided tour a tourist (traveller) would never find a location like this. Mari told us that cremation is normal in Japan and the deceased ashes were in an urn which was placed inside the base.

We had a short break for lunch (and an excuse to get out of the drizzle as if we needed it) at the local community centre; this used to be a school, but because of the falling birth rate (and ageing population) it was closed when the number of pupils became unsustainable.  However instead of knocking the building down it had a change of use; just inside the main entrance was a café and what was the assembly hall was now the local (very local) history museum.  The only part of the school that retained its original function was the basketball court and ballpark as space in every Japanese city was at a premium.  As the centre was nice and warm it gave us some time to dry off a little.

After a snack and a hot drink we set off again passing the entrance to yet another temple with the dragon bath just outside.  We then stopped outside a non-descript concrete block building which looked very out of place amongst its wooden neighbours; but this was not just any concrete building, this was the original headquarters of the Nintendo company when they made playing cards – Japanese style, not western.  The company still owned and used the building even though the current headquarters building was a modern monster of a structure in downtown Kyoto near the railway station.

After further wanderings we stopped at a pastry shop where the baker was making delicacies which were like nothing that we were use to in the west.  Samples were offered along with green tea, I had cold water; then people bought some of the goods on offer, but I didn’t bother as they would have gone stale by the time I go home.

 

 

 

A visit to the largest Shino shrine in the city followed were we saw a massive bell which was rung 100 times each New Year; rung is a misnomer as it was struck by a large log which was swung by pulling on ropes.  A bit different to the bell in at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela where it was the bell that was swung on ropes so that the clapper inside it struck the side.

 

 

 

At the final stop we saw a potter at work painting a delicate pattern on a bowl; although well over 80 he was still hard at work.  He had been given the title of Master Potter by the current Emperor and his granddaughter was his apprentice.

This had been a superb walking tour led an extremely knowledgeable guide who took the group to places that visitors would never find on their own.  Even the long time, well over six hours, was no problem as it meant that things were not rushed.

But now it was time to walk back to the hotel, so through the back streets then across the Kamo-gawe River and along some more quiet alleyways before reaching the hustle and bustle of the main road that ran passed my hotel.

I stripped off my wet clothes as there had been intermittent drizzle all day, so even my day sac was wet, then a hot shower to warm up, clean (and dry) clothes on and out for the evening walking tour.

It was not a long trek to the starting point on the edge of the Gion district, but on the way I saw a peaceful demonstration against what they described as the military occupation of Okinawa.  There were lots of colourful signs and the demonstrators where collecting signatures on a petition.

Yet another very knowledgeable guide, Shome, from the same company that ran the morning tour, but there were less people on this trip.  So we set off around the Gion district which was part of the old town and was the area where the Geisha’s live and work.  The wooden buildings did not have a large frontage because in the era that they were built, the property tax was based on the amount of street frontage; they were however very deep with many having internal courtyards.

Shome first took us to the Shinbashi area and in a quiet street she explained about the Geisha culture.  Although there were geishas in other cities in Japan, there are more in Kyoto than all the other locations combined.  Geisha (or Geiko in Kyoto dialect) were professional entertainers who attend guests during meals, banquets and other occasions. They were trained in various traditional Japanese arts, such as dance and music, as well as in the art of communication.  Their role was to make guests feel at ease with conversation, drinking games and dance performances.

In modern Japan, geisha and maiko are now a rare sight.  In the 1920s there were over 80000 geisha in Japan, but today, there are far fewer with the exact number being unknown, but was estimated to be from 1000 to 2000.

The geisha community was a very matriarchal society where women were some of the most successful businesswomen in Japan.  There was however one over-riding rule in the geisha society, you had to be single – so any geisha who married had to leave immediately.

Girls usually go to school until they are teenagers and then make the personal decision to train to become a geisha.  Maiko (apprentice geisha) training lasts four years and during this time they live in an okiya (boarding house).  The proprietress of the okiya was called an okā-san (the Japanese word for mother) who will pay all the expenses, including for kimono and training; this may cost up to 10 million yen to start and then another 5 million yen a year until they finally become a geisha.  A maiko is therefore bonded under a contract to her okiya and the debt must be repaid to the okiya with the earnings she makes.  This repayment may continue after the maiko becomes a full-fledged geisha and only when her debts are settled was she permitted to move out to live and work independently.  Outside the okiya different coloured wooden blocks with Japanese script on them indicated the names of the geisha and maiko living there.

During the period that a lady was a maiko they were not paid or allowed mobile phones, tablets etc and cannot go to McD’s or Starbucks, so a hard existence for a female in their late teens and early 20’s.

Unlike the cotton kimonos that I had seen ladies wearing previously, those worn by geisha’s and maiko’s were made of pure silk, so were extremely expensive.

I had thought the geishas entertained in the houses where they lived, but this was not so as all entertainment was carried out either in ochaya (Teahouses) or very up-market restaurants if there was a large number of people.

In the geisha society, women run everything and without the impeccable business skills of the female teahouse owners, the world of geisha would cease to exist.  The teahouse owners are mostly former geishas who may have been set up in business by a patron and they are entrepreneurs whose service to the geisha community was highly necessary for the society to run smoothly.

The ochaya provides just the tatami room where the dinner takes place, while the food and the geiko themselves are ordered from the outside.  Ochaya are highly exclusive places due to their traditional way of doing business, so will only grant entry to trusted customers.  Unlike a regular restaurant, an ochaya does not bill its guests at the end of the evening, rather it adds the entire evening’s expenses, including the costs for the room, food, geiko and taxi rides, to a running tab, and charges the customer’s bank account once per month.  Since this system was obviously based on a trust relation, new customers were only accepted if an existing customer served as their guarantor.

As Shome was explaining the geisha culture a taxi drew up just down the street and what people would describe as a typical Japanese high-ranking business executive, wearing a dark suit with a white shirt and with silver hair, got out and went into an adjacent building; Shome said that was a client entering a ochaya.

All the Team Ceremonies start between 1800 & 1900hrs and last about two hours.  We were told that they follow an established pattern and are choreographed by the oldest geisha present; the oldest one still working was 82!!

It was easy to spot the difference between a geisha and a maiko because of the style of their dress and hair pattern.  Geisha wear black wigs where as maiko hair styles and the type of fasteners in them vary from month to month – we were shown a shop that sells hair combs and fasteners, very expensive.

Because of all the hassle that geishas receive from tourists wanting to take their picture, Shome said that you almost never see a geisha walking along the streets as they travel everywhere by taxi; one company has the contract and these taxis had a 4-leafed clover symbol on the roof, so if you saw one of these there was a good possibility that a geisha or maiko was a passenger.  So it was with some amazement when Shome pointed out a geisha having some publicity shots taken; we were told that if we wanted to take a picture it would have to be a long shot, because any close approaches would have seen her get into the adjacent car and be driven off.

Shome said that if you saw a geisha or maiko posing for tourists to take their picture, they were probably tourists who had paid to be dressed up by one of the maiko studios around the city.

We passed a small shrine, then strolled on with the various different establishments being pointed out until we reached a bridge over Shirakawa Canal; the canal was lined by willow trees, high-class restaurants and ochaya, many of which had rooms overlooking the canal.  The bridge had featured in the film ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ which everyone seemed to have heard about except me.

We walked back towards the main road where the sign for a dentist caught my eye.  Having crossed the main road we were in Hanami-koji Street where there lots of restaurants serving kaiseki ryori (Japanese haute cuisine).  Shome said that if there was no menu outside the restaurant, the chances were that you could not afford to dine there.

There were lots of lanterns hanging outside buildings and by the front door of one of ochaya was a board and Shome translated what she told us was the training schedule for the geisha’s and maiko’s that lived in that local area.

We stopped outside the ochaya were the number one earning geisha lived and Shome explained that every year there was a ceremony where the highest earning geisha and maiko were honoured; just like the Oscars she said, but objective not subjective.

Our last stop was at Gion Corner where a cultural show aimed at foreign tourists was held every day.  The show was a highly concentrated introduction to several traditional Japanese arts and include short performances of a tea ceremony, ikebana, bunraku, Kyogen comic plays and dances performed by real maiko.

Unfortunately in the dark I had set up my camera incorrectly so did not get any decent pictures of the maiko as they left on their way back to their ochaya.

This was another great tour with a guide who knew where to go and when.

On the way back to the hotel I had a Mongolian style meal on the restaurant floor of a large department store.  So I cooked the meat myself and it was a good meal with a couple of excellent beers.  But for once the staff did not seem interested.

Back at the hotel I put all the damp / wet clothes from today into the laundry; after the wash cycle had been completed I loaded the dryer, fed in the money and then went to bed exhausted after another long and interesting day.

 

Tue 30 Jul – day 80  I had to get up at 02:00hrs to go to the loo, so also went down in the lift to collect my dry clothes from the laundry.  I could have waited until morning but as I was up it was a job that could be (and was) done then.  Back to bed and I slept until 08:00hrs, so obviously tired.

When I went up to breakfast there was a large of school children and their teachers around the buffet stand, so having been shown to my table I waited until they had all got what they wanted and then went up and served myself.  Thankfully the school party were dining in an adjacent room so the restaurant was relatively quiet.

After breakfast I packed my day sac and headed out, but as I passed reception the Duty Manager stopped me and said that my glasses had arrived.  I had to pay the courier charges, less than £7, but far cheaper than a new pair of glasses.

I was heading for the Kiyomizu-dera a massive Buddhist temple that could be seen from the hotel restaurant.  The maitre-d had given me a guide, which although in Japanese had a good map showing the way from the hotel to the temple.  Unlike the drizzle of yesterday, the sun was out which meant that the temperature and humidity were rising dramatically.  It was a steady slog up the hillside, so I didn’t arrive at the temple before the multitude of tourist’s coaches; as this was one of the main attractions in the city and had a large car / coach park just below the main entrance it was easily accessible.  I was probably the only visitor that was daft enough to have toiled all the way up the hill in the heat.

The last stretch from the car & coach park up to the temple was through the Higashiyama District which was one of the city’s best preserved historic districts.  The narrow lanes, wooden buildings and traditional merchant shops invoked a feeling of the old capital city and recent renovations to remove telephone poles and repave the streets have further improved the traditional feel of the district.  The streets in Higashiyama were lined by small shops, cafes and restaurants which had been catering to tourists and pilgrims for centuries.  These businesses retained their traditional design, although many had been renovated through the years and they continue to serve customers today, selling local specialties such as Kiyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets, pickles, crafts and other souvenirs.

The entrance to the temple was up a steep set of steps and once having paid the entrance fee in was up yet more steps to reach the pagoda.  Like many of the tourist attractions in Japan renovation was underway and this aimed not only to maintain the existing structure, but to make it earthquake proof, so a considerable portion of the temple was closed to visitors.

Having walked along a passageway towards the main hall I decided not to enter the hall as it was packed with visitors and I really could not be bothered to fight my way through the crush in order to see the temple’s primary object of worship, a small statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon.

 

Standing in front of the main hall did not allow me to appreciate the scale of the temple and it was only when I had walked around the hillside was the building able to be seen in all its splendour. The wooden stage jutting out from the main hall was nearly 50 ftabove the ground and both elements of the temple were supported by hundreds of wooden pillars, with the whole structure being built without the use of nails.

From the same spot where you could see the temple, there was a good view over Kyoto and although it was rather hazy the Kyoto Tower and Higashi Hongan-ji were clearly visible.

The grounds surrounding the temple were very extensive and the trees provided some welcome shade from the sun.  Dotted amongst the trees were a large number of shrines dedicated to all manner of things.

I followed the walking route through the gardens using the wheelchair path as this was easier on my knees that descending the steep steps.

Once I had left the grounds I headed towards the north as this took me away from the throng of people and so within just a few paces the streets were almost deserted and I could stand and look at the houses without being jostled.

I had to make quite a few stops because by now it was blisteringly hot and extremely humid and so I constantly had to take on fluids.

As I approached the Gion District I was lucky enough to see a maiko having publicity photos taken; interestingly and just like last night the photographer was a woman.

The side streets along which I had walked last night looked very different during daylight; they were certainly less atmospheric, but were still packed with tourists.

Having walked over the bridge across the Kamo-gawe River I went down the steps to the Kawaramachi station with was the terminus at one end of the Hankyu Kyoto line and as this was a private railway JR Rail Passes were not valid.

I only had to travel two stops, but this short journey under Shijo-dori took me from one side of the main down-town shopping area to the other.

Having alighted and made my way up to street level it took me some time to find the entrance to Shijo-Omiya station, yet another terminus of a private railway, this time it was the Keifuku Arashiyama line of the Randen Railway.  Eventually an elderly lady saw me with my map trying to work out where the station was and although she spoke no English, when I pointed to where I wanted to go she showed me where it was.

The entrance to the station was through an arch between two shops and then there was just a small ticket office and two platforms with a train alongside one of them.  Having purchase my ticket in the automatic machine, I boarded the two coach train we set off and the single track line headed west out of the city as it squeezed its way between the houses, none of which had large gardens.

After just a few stops I had to alight at Katabirano Tsuji in order to change to a train that ran along the Kitano branch of the line.  This line also ran between the houses and the whole railway was more like a tram service that an actual railway.  At the end of the line I reached Kitano Hakubaicho station and from here I started to walk towards what was considered to be one of the most photographed places in the whole of the country.

Although I only had about a mile to walk it was all uphill again and so I decided to stop at a convenience store and treat myself to an ice-cream.  As the building was air-conditioned I stayed in the store while I consumed the ice-cream because it would have melted almost as soon as I stepped outside and so instead of using the small spoon, I would have been drinking it!!

The road I was walking along was one of the main thoroughfares in the city and so was full of noisy vehicles; I was therefore grateful when I turned down the side street that led to the next attraction.

The Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion as it was more commonly know was yet another place that attracted the tourist hordes, but as the car and coach park were outside the grounds it became quite tranquil once you passed through the entrance gate.  Or it would if there were not so many people about.  The main gate was closed as everyone had to go to the left in order to pay their entrance fee before finally entering the complex.

Built initially as a retirement home for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu it became a Zen Buddhist temple after his death.  Although the building had been burnt down numerous times over the years, the last time in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk, it had been rebuilt every time.

Officials tried to marshal visitors into an area from where they could take the obligatory photograph of the Golden Pavilion across the pond, but were ignored as everyone wanted to stand where they thought that they could take the best possible picture.  Up until now I had seen the Japanese as an obedient race that always followed instructions from officials, but not here as they pushed and shoved in order to be where they wanted to be.

Each of the three floors of the pavilion was built in a different architectural style, with the outside walls of the upper two floors being covered in gold leaf.

Having taken my pictures I followed the designated path which led around the side of the pond, passed the head priests living quarters and this had a formal Japanese garden by the side of the house adjacent to the pond.

The path led around the rear of the Pavilion before passing a waterfall at the side of which was a flight of steps that led up to a pond that fed the waterfall and lake around the Golden Pavilion.

 

 

 

 

Outside the exit were souvenir shops and a small tea garden; I bought myself a large ice-cream and then sat in the shade while I consumed it.

Instead of walking back to the station down the main road I went via a residential area where the peace and quiet was in complete contrast to the major highway.

Back at Kitano Hakubaicho station I bought my ticket and then sat and relaxed as the train made its way between the houses; although the carriage was not air-conditioned, there were fans in the roof that gave a blast of air as they rotated; very pleasant.

I had to change at Katabirano Tsuji again where I rejoined the Randen Railway Arashiyama Line and boarded a train heading the westerly most station on the line.  I alighted at Randen Saga, one stop before the terminus as I wanted to take a trip on the Sagano Scenic Railway which was also known as the Romantic Train.

A short walk took me to Saga Trokko station which was at one end of the line.  Here there was a preserved steam loco and visitors centre.  The line ran through the gorge created by the Hozu River and had been part of the normal JR network until being bypassed when the JR San-in line was straightened out in 1989.  Never one to waste an asset, the scenic railway route was preserved and outfitted with nostalgic trains featuring wooden benches.  This was now a popular tourist excursion from Kyoto especially during the autumn when the leaves changed colour.

The train with its open carriages travelled at a sedate pace along the 7 km route so it was easy to take pictures of the forested ravine.  At the half-way point we stopped at a small halt where a bell chime was sounded.

 

 

 

A man dressed as the ‘Demon of the Gorge’ boarded at the halt and made his way through the carriages threatening to curse the passengers if they upset him.  When he saw me he asked in good English where I was from and once I had told him he asked whether I had met Prince George!!  Why was it that people consider that we are personally acquainted with the royal family?

He also insisted in taking a ‘selfie’ with my camera.

When the train left the gorge it was out into open pasture land and then reached Torokko Kameoka Station, the terminal station of the line.  This was adjacent to the new JR line along which passenger and freight trains thundered.

If I had been able to catch an earlier train I could have returned by boat down the river, but as it was everyone had to change seats so that people who had been on the cliffside on the way out were now on the riverside of the train and vice-versa.

The turn-round did not take long and we set off back the way we had come.  The tracks soon passed under one of the bridges of the new line that had shortened the distance by nearly  4km and allowed a double tracked line to be built, something that was not possible in the narrow confines of the gorge.

 

I saw a number of the trip boats as we trundled along and on the other side of the carriage were a group of young ladies all dressed in kimonos.

 

When we got back to Saga Trokko station, the Saga Arashiyama JR station was just a few minutes’ walk away and from here I boarded a local train that took me back into Kyoto along the JR Sagano Line.  As it was now the rush hour no seats were available so I stood behind the driver’s compartment.  It was interesting to watch him carry out his duties; immaculately dressed and wearing a peaked cap and white gloves, when the whistle blew and it was time to depart from each station he would point with the index figure of his right hand to the timetable just in front of him and then to the green signal before setting off.  As the train went along the track he would also point to every green light as we went by.

It had started to rain just before the train arrived and as the journey progressed the rain became much heavier.

When the train arrived back at Kyoto station all the doors on the left hand side of the train opened to allow all the passengers to disembark, then the cleaners went through the train to ensure that it was in a clean condition.  Once they had finished and they only took a couple of minutes, they got off on the left, the doors closed and then the doors on the opposite side opened to allow the passengers to board; a slick operation.

I had planned to have a meal on the restaurant floor of the department store that was an integral part of the station, but first I wanted to explore what I considered to be one of the great railway stations in the world.  It had an impressive 27m wide, 60m high and 470m long concourse, so a went up the escalators to the 7th floor at the eastern end and took a photo looking down. It was then up again until I reached the 11th floor where I walked across the aerial skywalk that linked the eastern and western parts of the station.

Having reached the western end I went up again and reached the observation level on the 15th floor where there was a small garden.  The views across the city from here would be pretty spectacular on a clear day, but unfortunately today was not one of these.

 

From this high point at the western end of the station I could look down the steps to the concourse 15 floors below.  I went down the adjacent escalators (why walk down a myriad of steps and get my knees aching when I could let the machine do the work) until I reached the upper concourse level.  Here spectators gathered to watch the light show on the staircase.

Thousands of lights had been installed in the vertical risers of each step and a computer generated programme turned the lights on and off, or changed their colour so that constantly changing patterns were displayed.  Once the programme had finished the lights would then display a welcome to Kyoto followed by welcome in many different languages.  This light display was a tourist attraction in its own right and crowds of people come just to watch it.

 

I had wanted to have a proper Japanese meal but all the restaurants serving local food were full and with queues outside, so rather than wait for ages I settled on an Italian restaurant on the north side of the station which had a good view of the Kyoto Tower.

After an excellent meal I made my way down to the ground floor and as I did I passed the JR information office which had a poster of Thomas the Tank Engine in the window which just went to show that the books had universal appeal.

As it was still raining I treated myself to a taxi ride back to the hotel rather than a bus.

Then it was time for a shower and bed as I had another long day planned for tomorrow.