We went to Harajuku station again to take the JR line to Shinagawa station, which is the station for Shinkansen services. Just as we were about to enter the station, klik spotted the stamping station, so we got a very clear print of the Harajuku stamp (featuring the torii of the Meiji Shrine in the background) in our travel planning book!
When we arrived at Shinagawa, we reserved seats on the Hikari service. The next train was all filled up, and we had to sit in the smoking section if we wanted to sit together. Luckily, the Shinkansen's airconditioning was working full-on, so it wasn't too bad.
There's nothing quite like riding the Shinkansen. I did ride the Thalys from Rotterdam to Paris once (on a same-day return ticket, no less), but it's different in Japan. The whole infrastructure is engineered for speed, which in some cases means they built new train stations for the Shinkansen. The accelleration is not readily perceptible, but when a Shinkansen clears the station, it is already doing 60 km/h! The cruising speed of the Shinkansen is 265 km/h. (I checked, I was running the GPS the whole time.) Even when decelerating for the next stop, the Shinkansen is still coasting at a speed of 110 km/h. The fastest I have ever travelled by train in the Netherlands is 140 km/h -- the Shinkansen is doing that speed when it is slowing down.
And of course, everything is typically Japanese. For instance, all seats face the direction of travel -- they can reverse direction. Unless you reserved four or six seats in one go -- then one set of seats faces the other set. The conductor walks to the front of the car (where everyone is facing) and bows before he starts checking the tickets and seat reservations. He has a little notepad to check off seats he already has checked, so your ticket is checked only once. The lady pushing the refreshments-cart around bows before leaving the car on to the next one. And, unfortunately, it also means that the seats are a bit too low and too narrow for us big, fat foreigners...
We arrived at Kyoto around 14:15. By 14:30 we had located a cafe with coffee and cake (a must, after travelling so far!), and by 15:15 we were at the ryokan where we are staying. The owner, Mrs. Yuhara, said to us: "okaeri nasai" -- welcome back. I'm not sure she remembers us from five years ago, but it's a nice touch. Her son showed us our rooms (our suitcases were already waiting for us), and he was still talking in this nervous manner. I did hear him talk to his mother in Japanese, and he sounded very normal then -- I'm not sure what the deal is. He is friendly though, and he has learned enough Dutch to tell us "Tot straks" and "Welkom terug".
This time, we're staying in a room that's slightly bigger than last time -- we also have a small 'seating area' with two overstuffed chairs. Everything looks like it was bought in a second-hand shop -- or perhaps it's just as old.
We've done the laundry at a laundromat, and we'll be walking to the station for dinner. There's enough dinner options closer by, but we'll save those for when we have walked all day.