The last time I visited Kyoto was 11 years ago — and I traveled here alone. Just a duffel bag and a passport and that’s it.
Not much has changed a decade later — except my back hurts. Here I am, lugging around a duffel bag and snacks from Family Mart to nosh on the three-hour train ride from Fukuoka to Kyoto — alone.
This was my fourth day in Japan and I was heading to Kyoto to meet up with the group of friends with whom I had originally planned this trip. I wasn’t expecting to hop on Hawaiian Airlines‘ inaugural flight to Fukuoka. My group of friends — the Old Guys I surf with — and I had made plans to tour around Kyoto and Tokyo, then check out the Hawaii festival in Chigasaki.
So since I went up earlier, I had to navigate my way around kanji and motivated Japanese businessmen to get to Kyoto on my own.
Lots has changed in 10 years. First off, my Japanese skills are all but lost. Second, Kyoto, itself, has changed, too. It’s busier, louder, more colorful and crowded.
This isn’t the Kyoto I remember. And it’s definitely not the one most people read about in travel stories and guide books.
Kyoto is located in the central part of Honshu, in a valley with mountains surrounding it. It was once the largest city and the imperial capital in Japan. Now, with a population close to 1.5 million, it’s the capital of Kyoto Prefecture and a major metropolitan area with remnants of its storied past everywhere.
I arrived in Kyoto early enough to check out a few sights before turning in early. (When I say early, I mean 8 p.m.!)
So here’s what this part of my journey looked like:
Catching the shinkansen
Japan Railways Group operates the shinkansen, or bullet trains on an effective network of high-speed railway lines throughout Japan. The Kyushu Shinkansen, which departs from Hakata in Fukuoka and connects to Tokyo, is the smallest of JR's lines, with just 4.2 million passengers annually.
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