We arrived at Tokyo-Haneda airport at 10:30pm on June 6 and spent the night at the Royal Park Hotel, which is conveniently attached to Haneda airport’s international arrival terminal–about a five-minute walk from the customs windows.
You can’t see much of Tokyo’s skyline from the hotel, but that didn’t matter. Any view would have been exciting, because it meant I had reached Japan.
My son (for blogging purposes, we’ll call him “the Sophomore”–at least until he starts his junior year at college in the fall) met the flight, and joined us for a night at the hotel before departing for Kyoto the following morning.
He also let us know that he’d made plans to meet a friend at the Kyoto Aquarium at 11:30 the following morning–which required him to catch the 6:30 Shinkansen back to Kyoto.
(Have I mentioned this conversation took place around midnight? After a 12-hour flight from the States?)
Since we’re troopers, the rest of us decided to catch the early train along with him.
After a 4:30 wake-up call, we hopped in a taxi and rode to Tokyo Station, where we bought tickets on the Shinkansen–also known as the “bullet train.” We had just enough time to grab breakfast at one of the shops in the station.
Matcha roll cake
Matcha is a finely ground powder made from the leaves of shade-grown, high quality tea. Unlike most tea, matcha isn’t steeped and removed, it’s whisked directly into the water, where it forms a suspension. Matcha is an extremely popular flavor in Japan. Everything from tea to cakes to ice cream and even savory dishes comes in “matcha flavor.”
Since I’d committed to eating as little “familiar Western food” as possible and trying as many Japanese flavors as possible, the matcha cake was a no-brainer.
Also? It was delicious. That little dark line is a chocolate swirl, a common feature of matcha flavored desserts, because the bittersweet chocolate helps to take the bitter edge off the flavor of the matcha.
To go with it… (chilled) cafe au lait in a can.
Japanese companies know how to make a lovely cup of coffee, whether hot, iced, or in a can. I don’t normally sweeten my coffee, and this one did have added sugar, but who can resist a cold, sweet coffee drink on a muggy morning? (Hint: not me.)
After that, it was time to ride the bullet train…
Shinkansen trains have 5-12 cars, with a long-nosed engine on each end (for rapid turnarounds at the end of the line). The last few cars are usually designated “non-reserved” seats, and are normally used by people traveling on Japan Rail Passes or other forms of passes. We had JR passes, but the pass allows you to get a reserved seat on the day of travel if available seats remain in reserved-seat cars.
In our case, there were quite a few empty seats…
Shinkansen cars have a scrolling message board that displays messages and the names of upcoming stations. Pretty cool… and fortunately, the major station announcements are made in English as well as Japanese.
The journey from Tokyo to Kyoto took 2.5 hours by Shinkansen express service (the standard Hikari bullet trains take just over 3 hours). Ordinarily, I read or nap on trains, but I had too much fun watching the Japanese countryside fly past (at over 200 miles per hour).
Upon arriving in Kyoto, we hustled across to our hotel (the New Hankyu, directly across the street from Kyoto Eki, the primary Shinkansen, train, and subway hub in Kyoto), dropped off the bags, and headed out to meet the Sophomore’s friend at the Kyoto Aquarium…but that’s a post for another day!
Have you ever traveled by Shinkansen? Would you be excited or scared to ride a train that travels over 200 mph?