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Shinkansen day / 10 April 2011

Photo of cherry tree, with straw-bound trunk, in the Toji Temple complex

The most impressive cherry tree, with straw-bound trunk, in the Toji Temple complex. Photo © Gini

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Surely I must be
falling off the
edge of the world.
The skyscrapers lean
to impossible
angles; and cars,
why don't they
slide away?
Riding the Shinkansen
is a glide into wonderland.
Tokyo to Kyoto,
in just four stops.
I have no sensation
of speed, yet the
journey is over
so soon.

Today we get up at five, and I'm excited to be having my first high speed train journey. Japan has two incompatible power systems so there is no power-saving in the west of the country and the Shinkansen to Kyoto still runs.

Travel by wheelchair always takes longer than non-wheelchair users plan for, and access delays at the station mean that we arrive early for the seven-thirty, rather than late for our reserved seats on the seven-o'clock. And being early we secure seats in the unreserved carriage; it's as easy as that.

The train journey is incredibly smooth, there is no sensation of speed, just great views of Japan. There is countryside; mountainous, wooded, and lots of water, though seldom flat for long and hardly a view without buildings on it somewhere.
In Kyoto we leave our luggage at hotel, eager to start exploring the city that claims such history.

The Toji Temple complex is close to the hotel and quite stunning; it's shrines are impressive; the cherry blossom is perfect and the five-story pagoda, at 187 feet, the tallest in Japan.

We stroll through a public garden on our way to the next tourist attraction, it's full of folk playing games and having cherry-blossom picnics. Hongwanji initially looks somewhat life-less, but that impression is so miss-leading. There are ca. three thousand people sitting quietly as the second day of their seven hundred and fifty year celebrations begin. The thanksgiving ceremony to the founder is being televised; screens and loudspeakers make it all very accessible.

I am made to feel very welcome, ramps allow access to the main ceremony as well as various shrines. It is all most impressive; the great wooden building with it's intricate carvings; the silk brocade robes of the processing celebrants, the flower decorations that look like Christmas trees in a giant vase with blossoms like lilies and tulips, and the silence.

Then there is music and chanting and a sense of timelessness that eventually helps us decide to leave. We have no idea how long the ceremony will last and are now keen to check into our hotel. It is a relief to stretch out for a while; I smell of incense.