Halfway between our time in Tokyo and Kyoto, my family and I spent a day with the tour taking the Shinkansen bullet train over and making a stop at the Miho Museum in the afternoon. Compared with the other long days we had in the city, that day was slower-paced, for it served merely as a transition from one city to the other.
After our second night in Tokyo, we packed up our bags and headed over to the train station to take the bullet train to Kyoto. Normally, it would take up to six hours to drive between the two major Japanese cities, but with the Shinkansen bullet train, it would significantly cut the journey time to a mere two hours! Reaching up to 320 km/hr (close to 200 mi/hr), it’s known to be the fastest train in the world. Before catching our 11:00 train, we bought some bento lunches inside of the station (a maze of shops and restaurants) before arranging ourselves on the platform to wait for the train to arrive.
Now, if there’s anything you need to know about Japanese culture, you should know that things are always on-time. Always. The Japanese certainly know what it means to be efficient, so that each minute—even second—counts toward productivity and success. For instance, if you’re even one minute late for your train, it already left without you! Having spent almost a full year abroad in France just before (notorious for being late with just about everything), it was so refreshing to be in a culture which prides itself on timeliness, since I detest the idea of being late to anything.
As predicted, our train arrived on time, if not slightly earlier, to allow passengers to alight and board their cabins. There were even sanitary attendants waiting dutifully in front of the platform, quickly entering the train to clean the seats and tray tables for the next passengers to use. They caught me by surprise, but pleasantly so—I can’t imagine French trains adopting sanitary attendants any time soon!
We entered our cabin and got our assigned seats. Settling in, I was in awe of how spacious and spotless the train was—there was plenty of space to spread out, even! Tray tables were big enough to hold my bento, along with other items, and I couldn’t have been more comfortable than spending the next two to three hours speeding over towards Kyoto.
Around 13:30, we arrived in Kyoto. It was pouring rain once we stepped out of the station and, making our way over to our coach, our tour guide realized that she’d forgotten to take some of her luggage off the train! We had to wait for her to talk to one of the station workers, who said that administration will deal with it—considering that it was Japan, I’m certain that our tour guide got her stuff back in a timely manner. A small blunder, but otherwise, we continued with our excursion.
We actually didn’t spend much time in Kyoto that day, but rather took the coach over to the Miho Museum, located about two hours away somewhere in the mountains (can’t remember which ones). Opened in 1997, the museum was established by Mihoko Koyama, founder of Shumei (a new religious movement) and one of the richest women in Japan. The architecture was constructed by I.M. Pei, a Chinese architect who’s also known for designing the Louvre in Paris, and his use of triangular patterns in the glass windows and ceilings (as commissioned by Koyama herself) make for an aesthetically-balanced look.
Before we made it to the museum entrance, we had to walk through a short tunnel which has been designed in a certain way as to prevent echoes when noise is emitted. That said, there was no reverberation at all in our footsteps and conversations as we passed under. We were greeted by a suspension bridge at the other end of the tunnel, its structure appearing to recall the sun emitting its warm rays, despite the cool and rather overcast afternoon.
Spending no more than two hours inside of the museum, we made a brief, guided tour around the main exhibitions of some 2000-plus art pieces collected by Koyama herself (after all, she was rich). From Greek marble statues to Chinese wood carvings, the exhibitions displayed a wide range of different artifacts that spanned as much as two thousand years, and it’s truly incredible to believe that a single individual, Mihoko Koyama, spent her whole life collecting them, meticulously so. Plus, the views of the misty fog over the mountains outside the museum were too pretty to ignore—it felt as if we were in some surreal landscape painting!
Around 16:00, we left the Miho Museum for our hotel, situated somewhere between the museum and Kyoto, as we would be returning to the city the following day. Just like in Atami, our hotel offered a hot springs-and-sauna service, which I happily used. Admittedly, I didn’t enjoy the experience as much this time around, for I felt that the water was too hot, to the point of discomfort. Nevertheless, I purified myself (like a steamed bun, I guess) and put on my yukata to join the tour for dinner inside the hotel. We had a simple meal of sashimi, pickled vegetables, and miso soup. Of course, there was more karaoke served along with our after-dinner tea, and afterwards, we headed straight for bed. Although we didn’t do much that day, it was what we needed as a pleasant transition between one city and the other, as well as to gear ourselves up for a busy day ahead of us later.
More to come—next up: Kyoto, Japan!