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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Arriving in Japan - Part 1 Kenji no Nippon Yassumi

Hiroki managed to persuade me to write my experiences while I was in Japan. I was in the country for around four weeks, so I'll be splitting my experiences in several parts. I hope that my experiences will help those that will be traveling to the wonderful country in the near future.

I flew out of Sydney's Kingsford Smith International Airport with a friend (Rose) on the 20th March 2009, bound for Kansai International (KIX). The flight itself took close to 10 hours, when we arrived to KIX it was around 20:30 local time, but it would have been 22:30 (AEDST).

I just wanted to note that prior to going on this holiday, I had immersed myself in the culture and learnt everything that I could about Japan. That involved watching documentaries, watching anime and J-dorama, also it involved listening to J-pop and trying to learn the language. Another important factor was also to read other peoples travel experiences to Japan and also asking my friend who is a native Japanese about the local customs and anything else that I was curious about. Mitsuko san hontoni arigatougozaimashita.

Well getting back, after completing all the immigration checks, I was very impressed by efficiency of the staff behind the counter. If you haven't learnt Japanese, or don't know any, you won't have to worry as there are plenty of English signage at KIX to help guide you.

My next mode of travel was the train from KIX to Kyoto. There is a train called the Kansai Airport Express, and that can take you to Kyoto in around an hour. It is also recommended for tourists to have purchased a JR Rail Pass before leaving for Japan, as the pass will allow you unlimited travel on various JR lines within the region and the duration of the pass. It also allows you travel on the Tokkaido Shinkansen. I'll explain the Shinkansen in another part. But for now, I needed to get to Kyoto from KIX, and since it was late in the night, Rose and I decided to purchase the ticket from KIX to Kyoto instead of checking in our JR pass and waste a day of non-travel.

The Kansai Airport express has a reserved and non-reserved. I can't remember if they also have a smoking compartment, since I don't smoke. But once I boarded the carriage I was in for a huge surprise in terms of how vastly different the Japanese people are compared to Sydneysiders and it gave me a new perspective to the term "civilized nation". For anyone that has been on any of the Sydney trains will know what I mean here, let me put it simply, Sydney trains are a mess at the very best. There's rubbish, graffiti in and outside of the train and also a very unpleasant odor, and you will be hard pressed to find a seat that doesn't have chewing gum or other food stains on it.

Now, the Kansai Airport Express looks brand new, as though I was one of the first passengers to have traveled on it. What helped me to come to that conclusion was the small team of cleaners that cleaned the train at each end of the trip. There were 3 cleaners to a carriage, one would sweep the floor, one would go around check for rubbish (if there was any) and the other would change the head rest cloth on the seats and change the orientation of the seats to face the direction of travel. All this was done in no more then 10mins. So once I came on board and settled in, I noticed a compartment where you can place your luggage without the fear that it would be stolen, also there was the absence of any foul odor.

The Kansai Airport Express has a train guard/inspector to come and check your tickets to make sure you have the right one and also traveling on the correct carriage, and before leaving the carriage he/she would bow to the passengers. Like I mentioned earlier, that this train ride would take around 1 hour. So I just settled in and enjoyed the trip. The service made a few stops on the way one of which was Shin-Osaka. This is where you would alight to get the Tokkaido Shinkansen. Please note, this is not JR Osaka station. If you want to go to Osaka, you would need to alight at Shin-Osaka and get a local service to JR Osaka.

Eventually we arrived at JR Kyoto station. Where our adventures would begin, which will be covered in other parts.

I have included a rail map of the Kansai area, hopefully this would help anyone planning their travel arrangements while in Japan.

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