Kyoto Station (京都駅) is amazing. Opened in 1997, it was built to commemorate the 1200th anniversary of Kyoto’s founding as the capital of Japan. Architect Hara Hiroshi based the main hall on the grid structure of Kyoto’s streets, but the modern steel and glass structure was considered controversial at the time it opened, because of the stark contrast its modernity gave to the city’s ancient past. However, some credit the structure with kickstarting the modernisation of the city, with an increase in high rise buildings being built in the downtown area in the years following the station’s opening.
The modern style is very striking, and the use of glass creates some interesting reflections. Good views of the station’s structure can be had from the many escalators that take visitors up and down the fifteen storeys of the building.
The station is certainly an impressive way to arrive in Japan’s old capital. On our first trip, when we made Kyoto the base for our honeymoon adventures, we spent a fair amount of time exploring the shops and restaurants that fill the complex, as well as making good use of the different train services that run from the station.
One store that we enjoyed, but which is no longer there, was Kyoto Tezuka Osamu World. Outside the main station concourse was a directional statue of Tezuka’s best known creation, Astro Boy. Despite the store closing in 2011, the statue hung around for a year or so afterwards, but I don’t recall seeing it on our last stay in Kyoto.
The store was a fun place to visit, with backlit posters and Tezuka character statues, not to mention the wide variety of Tezuka themed souvenirs.
We quite easily spent an entire hour in the store as we waited for our train to Shibuya!
Beneath the station is the Porta shopping complex. Here we have bought an emergency belt from UniQlo for Mr. Hicks as well as eaten zaru soba in Fujiya. The station is also home to The Cube, a more fashion conscious set of stores with gourmet dining and souvenirs thrown into the mix. It’s a good place to have a look at some higher end fashion without heading up to the exclusive boutiques and stores on Shijo Dori if you only have a limited amount of time in Kyoto. Although, why would you only have a limited amount of time in Kyoto? You should be spending at least a week there!
Isetan is our favourite store in the station, though. Mainly for the stationery floor, where every visit we stock up on Japanese birthday cards, which are better than anything we could buy in the UK. The stationery floor is also good for notepaper, notebooks, cute rubber stamps and coloured stamping pads, and seals for closing up your newly acquired Japanese envelopes. Another floor we like to visit is the one with the kimono, obi and other other accessories for the discerning traditionally attired Japanese person. The fabrics are fabulous, the prices astronomical!
There is also an NHK concession, where you can indulge your Domokun obsession, and the clothing floors aren’t too exclusive. I remember how surprised I was when we went to the Ginza branch of Isetan, thinking it would be like the Kyoto station store. It was very different, and I felt less comfortable looking around the shops there than I do in the Kyoto station branch.
Up at the top of the station, though, is the crowning glory – a roof garden where you can sit and enjoy the bamboo and grasses, or gaze out over the city as it stretches away from you.
It’s a free space and a pleasant place to eat a snack of onigiri or tamago sando bought at one of the kiosks on the station. There are some interesting architectural structures dotted around, as well, and you can get a good view of Kyoto’s other high level viewing platform, Kyoto Tower, from the roof garden.
On our last trip to Kyoto, as we arrived from Kansai airport slightly too early to make our way to our machiya accommodation, we set off to find some storage for our luggage. As we were following the signs for coin lockers, we encountered a huge Lego model of the station. It’s almost impossible to get an idea of the layout of the station when you’re wandering around it, and this model helped us to grasp just how big the structure is.
Midway up the building is an amphitheatre. Sometimes the space is empty, sometimes shows are performed on the small stage, and sometimes the stepped seating area is decorated with colourful artwork, like this huge transfer of Doraemon.
We once saw a show for kids during Golden Week that involved people dressed up as Power Rangers inviting children up onto the stage to act out a scene from the show. It looked like crazy fun!
Outside the station at night there is a crazy light and water show above the roof covering a train platform close to Porta, called Aqua Fantasy.
As beautiful as Kyoto is, and as packed with temples, shrines, museums and nature, don’t neglect the station or the surrounding shopping area. Spend a couple of hours there exploring the station, looking in the shops, eating in one of the restaurants. If you’re craving a different kind of culture, Nishi and Higashi Honganji are only a short stroll away. The streets east and west of the station are full of interesting sights, as well. We’ve stumbled on an eclectic house to the west and a shiba inu guarded shop to the east on our wanderings.
One last thing. If your only encounter with Kyoto Station is as a place to catch the Shinkansen, make sure you do one thing. Buy yourself some baked goodies from the branch of Shinshindo (進々堂) in Porta, not far from the Shinkansen ticket office. It’s our favourite place to stock up on filled buns, bread rolls and pastries before a long journey.
Enjoy your daily bread!