Hi everyone, or Howdy! as some of us say in Texas. I’m Brent Olian, a native Texan currently living and working in Japan. The summer after I graduated from Texas A & M University, I went to South Korea for an internship to study the South Korean coffee industry. As this internship was ending, my brother and I decided the visit the nearby island I had heard about all my life but knew little of – Japan. This began with 3 days in Tokyo followed by 3 days in Kyoto. After exploring some of the most heavily populated areas I (or anyone) had ever seen, the comparative calmness of Kyoto was a welcome respite. As somewhat of a connoisseur of high speed trains, my brother and I chose to travel from the new capitol to the old capitol via Japan’s bullet train, the Shinkansen. I had been on two other high speed trains before: the TGV in France and the KTX in South Korea.
However, as impressive as those were, the Shinkansen reigned supreme. As with all trains in this country, the train arrived precisely on time, not a second late. Traveling at speeds I had only ever experienced thousands of feet in the air, the ride was shockingly smooth and quiet. Yet my favorite aspect wasn’t the train itself, rather the service inside. Every few minutes immaculately uniformed attendants would stroll by toting carts full of anything you could need: drinks, food, newspapers, treats, etc. Each time the attendants reached the end of a car, they would turn around, bow exactly to a 65 degree angle and smile (I would wager they did this upwards of 100 times per day). On the whole, the Shinkansen was a quintessentially Japanese experience.
While the transportation to Kyoto was an experience of its own, it was merely the appetizer to a full course cultural experience. Being the historical capital of Japan, Kyoto has history aplenty. On our first day, we visited one of the most famous temples in Japan, the gold coated, Kinkaku-ji. Burned down in 1950 (a story worthy of its own article), this was a reconstructed version. This had 0 negative effect on our enjoyment – in fact the fascinating history behind it only adds to it. The temple itself is of course breathtakingly beautiful, but so is the surrounding natural area. Fittingly, numerous cranes can also be found around the temple.
The next day we visited a spot millions of Japanese schoolchildren have visited on a field trip, Nijō Castle, home of the Tokugawa Shoguns. While perhaps not containing the same aesthetic beauty of Kinkaku-ji, you can’t help but feel the history at Nijō Castle. You can imagine life in feudal Japan by seeing all of the different waiting rooms assigned to people on each hierarchical level. The atmosphere here is also much calmer and it appeared to be frequented less by foreign tourists compared to some of the famous temples in Kyoto.
Our last day in Kyoto, we knew we had to sample one of the Kansai regions most famed delicacies – wagyu beef. Being meat-lovers, my brother and I had planned this before we even made the commitment to come to Japan. Our wagyu establishment of choice was Hafuu Honten. Knowing we couldn’t skimp on such an experience we both went for the full course meal. Never to deny an おすすめ/osusume (recommendation) we went for the chef’s daily choice of sirloin. After five dizzylingly delicious courses, each better than the next, my brother and I both confirmed that this was the best meal either of us had ever eaten.
As our time in Kyoto ended, and it was time to get on the Shinkansen again, I knew that I had to spend more time in this land of golden temples and delicious beef. I immediately started looking at job boards in Japan aboard the train.