Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Shinkansen Experience, Osaka, Kyoto, and Ekiben

If you're coming to Japan for the first time, I highly recommend buying a JR (Japan Rail) pass. You can buy it online or at one of the Japanese travel agencies in America where you'll get your pass voucher on the spot in which you can exchange it at a JR station in order to redeem your pass. Depending on which class you have your pass to be, Ordinary or Green (I would just recommend getting the Ordinary pass as the Green class are just bigger seats and less people), you can get them in 7, 14, or 21 consecutive day passes. You can ride on the local JR train/subway (not city subway lines like Tokyo Metro/Toei) and bus lines all over Japan. However, their great value comes in hand as you can use them for most of the Shinkansen bullet trains except the Nozomi shinkansen which has the least stops.  The cost of a round trip on the shinkansen, say from Tokyo to Osaka, is pretty much the near the price of just purchasing a 7 day pass which gives you nearly unlimited access to the majority of the JR network all over Japan. Some of the cities I recommend visiting using the rail pass via shinkansen are Osaka (labeled as Shin-Osaka station for the shinkansen), Fukuoka (labeled as Hakata station due to historical reasons), and of course Kyoto. I write to you for this post is my experience of riding the Hikari Shinkansen between Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.

When it was time to head to Osaka from Tokyo, I went with my bag from Asakusa station in Tokyo to the Tokyo station which is the main station where most of the shinkansens arrive via the Tokyo Metro subway (once again, different from JR where it's sort of like comparing the New York subway system or BART in the SF Bay Area to Amtrak). The following video is the cabin of an Ordinary class car for reserved seats (reservations can be made on the same day at a JR station).



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Here's the next video taking off from Tokyo station to the nearby Shinagawa station which is why it's not going that fast yet
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Now the shinkansen is speeding at around 200+ MPH past the suburbs

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When riding on the shinkansen, there's an attendant who sells snacks, drinks and bento boxes. I bought a tiny bottle of Suntory Yamazaki 12 yr Single Malt whiskey for 770¥ which I usually buy when riding the shinkansen.

When I arrived at Shin-Osaka station (There's an Osaka station but the shinkansen arrives at the new station (Hence "Shin" meaning new) and arrived at my hostel, after seeing the Osaka episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations many times, I immediately went to Dotonbori in the Namba district to try the famous foods of Osaka. The city is known as the "Kitchen of Japan". In Dotonbori, they have a bunch of wacky billboards.






I stopped by at this takoyaki place but because my Japanese was so limited, they knew to offer the English menu; how embarrassing. I ordered their Bikkuri (meaning surprising) takoyaki as they added a larger piece of octopus. The second pic is where you take a piece from the grill in which you add the toppings of takoyaki dark sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, bonito flakes, and herb sprinkles.



After having eaten all of the delicious takoyaki and a beer, I toured the rest of Dotonbori with the over the top signs above restaurants.









The next day, I took off from Osaka and headed to Kyoto via shinkansen. I purchased an amazing Kyoto-style ekiben that contains sushi (1000¥ - amazing price for the quality) and a Suntory Whiskey Highball (200¥). It occured to me on the train that I had less than 20 minutes to eat it as the two cities are really close to each other.




When I arrived, I went to my hostel but had to do laundry. Therefore, I had to wait till around 4:30 pm to get out. By then, most of the sites in Kyoto were closed. I then decided to go to a landmark I was most intrigued by: Fushimi Inari Shrine. It's famous for its path of walking through the many Shinto pillars. As Fushimi Inari is a shrine of wealth, Japanese businesses make donations to the shrine where they can purchase these pillars and write their inscription on them. I had thought that the path of many pillars was just a simple walk in the park but little did I know that it was a freaking mountain full of these things.




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This is near the top where I got a great view of Kyoto.


There are a lot of cats near the base of the mountain. I was able to get a close up vid of this cute cat after heading back down.
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After seeing the cat, I wound up lost at a neighborhood near the shrine. I've noticed in the parking spots for some of the homes in the neighborhood had Audis and Mercedes Benzs. As they're a shrine of wealth and are used to receiving large donations in return for constructing pillars with hopes that they will give companies profit, the people, assuming they work for the shrine, can afford expensive European cars. As I still couldn't find my way, a nice man told me where the JR train station (Inari station) was at in order to get back to my hostel. Here's a picture of the entrance at night before I went back on the train all sweaty due to the climb and the humidity.






The next day, I had to leave Kyoto back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen for my meal at Pierre Gagnaire. Lesson learned is that one needs around 3 days to tour most of the sites of Kyoto as I only had a day. Before boarding the shinkansen, I wanted to buy one more Kyoto-style ekiben. It was another sushi one (900¥) and bought another Suntory Highball as well (200¥).



On my way back, I caught a glimpse of Mt. Fuji.




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