Train stations are normally places you arrive in, quickly traverse, and head straight out of, ready to explore further afield. Kyoto train station, however is a destination in itself. In this post, I highlight some of the features of Kyoto’s futuristic train station.
A destination in its own right
From my prior reading about the Kyoto train station, I knew that when we disembarked from the shinkansen (bullet train) we’d boarded in Odawara, we’d be arriving into something a little different from your average train terminal, however I wasn’t quite prepared for how amazing this construction is.
The building opened in 1997 after almost four years of construction. It is the fourth Kyoto Railway station and replaced a practical but pedestrian 1950s concrete construction.
In the 1990s, to celebrate the 1200th anniversary in 1994 of Kyoto’s founding, a competition was held to decide on the new design. Award winning Japanese architect, Hiroshi Hara won with his grand plans of glass and steel. Like most architecture that pushes boundaries, it polarised popular opinion at that time, with many people feeling its futuristic, science-fiction style was at odds with the traditional heritage of the city.
Apparently Hiroshi did pay homage to some aspects of Kyoto’s past. For instance, the light and airy cavernous large main hall (called the Matrix) with its exposed steel beamed roof is intended to reflect the grid like layout of Kyoto’s street network.
It is more than likely that you will pass through this building (which is Japan’s second-largest train station) at some point during your stay in Kyoto, as it is the station for the shinkansen (bullet trains), JR trains, the Haruka airport express train and local trains servicing the area surrounding Kyoto. Plus there is a bus terminal right outside the station and you can connect to the subway through the Porta Underground Shopping Mall.
Once you leave the platform area and enter The Matrix, escalators ascend and descend in both directions to a complex containing a hotel, shopping malls and restaurants. Navigating the complex can be a little bit tricky, so it’s worth printing out (or saving) reference maps from the station building website, and there’s both a building information centre and a tourist information centre on the 2nd floor.
The top layers of The Matrix contain many restaurants, and there is a walkway from the 11th floor known as the Skyway tunnel which enables you to walk the length of Kyoto Station, way above the central hall. Through the windows of the Skyway, you can see the city and the station complex below.
Travel up the seemingly never-ending series of escalators at the western end, and you’ll find an open-air rooftop garden. We discovered that a geocache is concealed in this garden, so we hot-footed it up there to tick off a foreign lands geocache.
And if you are a stone aficionado, there is the Museum of Stones on the north side of the ground floor which features 288 different kinds of marbles and granites from around 35 different countries. 73 of these stones were used to build the Kyoto Station Building.
Sleep at the station
Tell anyone you are staying at a hotel above a train station, and it conjures thoughts of dodgy, noisy digs. The Hotel Granvia Kyoto couldn’t be further from that image, and that was our accommodation of choice in Kyoto. For first-time visitors to Kyoto it was the perfect place to base ourselves, offering quick and easy access to the trains and subway system, plus innumerable amenities readily at hand.
This deluxe hotel is owned by Japan Rail, and features 535 rooms, including suites and two exclusive Granvia Floors. The guest rooms are located on the 7th to 15th floors of the building, are well-appointed, and are a reasonable size for Japan. Our rooms were on the north side of the building overlooking the tower and the city, and we didn’t hear a squeak of train noise.
Plus, the hotel is home to over 1,000 pieces of contemporary artwork. We managed to have a look around at some of these artworks which are scattered throughout the hotel. The artworks (paintings, sculptures, and photographs) are by many of Kyoto’s most famous artists and often blend contemporary style with traditional inspiration. A gallery of some of the works can be seen on the hotel’s website.
Floral designer, Yuki Kawasaki creates seasonal flower installations in the lobby which reflect current events. We saw two different ones while we stayed and they were spectacular.
Shopping and eating
The station complex contains two shopping malls, (Porta Underground and The Cube) and an Isetan department store.
JR Kyoto Isetan department store extends over 10 levels in the western end of the station building. The Porta Underground Mall is under the bus terminal and plaza on the Karasuma side of the station and has about 100 shops and restaurants. It’s also the link to access the Karasuma Subway Line. The Cube Shopping Mall is in the basement of the Kyoto Station building with shops offering local souvenirs, plus fashion and accessories. Confusingly, some of the restaurants on the building’s 11th floor are also considered part of The Cube.
When it comes to restaurants, put aside your preconceptions about ‘train station eateries’. There are some excellent restaurants dotted throughout this complex, including many in The Cube and the Eat Paradise area on the 11th floor where you’ll find a range of restaurants serving everything from Japanese okonomiyaki (griddle cakes) and noodles, to Italian pasta and pizza. However, be warned…these restaurants get busy and you may need to queue to wait for a table. The Porta Mall offers more casual dining venues.
As we were staying within the station complex, and using trains often during our five night stay in Kyoto, we found ourselves in various parts of the Kyoto Station often. We shopped, we ate, we slept, we toured the art, and we even found a geocache. Whether you’re staying at the station or not, it’s worth setting aside some time to explore it before or after any train journeys.
Does the idea of staying at a train station appeal to you?
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