It was almost 5 p.m. when Yuta dropped me to the main railway station in Tokyo. Yuta was a Japanese photographer based in Fuji whom I had connected with on the internet before leaving India for Japan to help me shoot for my blog and Instagram. After shooting in Tokyo the previous evening, we had driven to Nikko, a small hill station located on the outskirts of the Nikko National Park, about 125 km north of Tokyo. The town is famous for the Toshogu Shrine and the Shinkyo Bridge.
The next day we shot in Nikko for a few hours, and then drove back to Tokyo.
Yuta left me with my two heavy suitcases at the red light one block across the Tokyo Station. As I stood there, wondering if I should ask somebody to help me with my bags, two elderly looking Japanese men, each dressed in a suit and tie approached me. Grabbing my luggage, they helped me cross the street and left me at the ticket counter inside the railway station. Deeply touched by their kind-heartedness, I started to search for a train timetable in English. I wanted to catch the Nozomi Shinkansen, the fastest train in Japan, to Kyoto that evening. Even as I started to look around, another Japanese man came to me and said that he wanted to help me buy my ticket! He led me to the reservations counter where I got my ticket for the next train leaving Tokyo for Kyoto in 15 minutes.
Train tickets in Japan are expensive, and there are no advance purchase fares. One can buy tickets at the station at the ticket counters or the ticket machines. I did not find any online services in English from where I could purchase tickets before traveling to Japan. It is sometimes cheaper to travel in Japan with a JR Pass (Japan Rail Pass) which is available for 7, 14 or 21 days in either ordinary class or green car (1st class). It is the best and most cost-effective way to travel in Japan on multiple rail connections. The pass gives unlimited travel on all JR trains in Japan with a few exceptions. However, one needs to buy the pass before leaving one's country. It can be ordered online through various authorized agencies selling the pass.
I thanked the Japanese man for his help in buying my ticket and without checking the platform number rushed with my bags to catch the train. The station was swarming with hundreds of Japanese men and women dressed in their business attire, as well as foreign tourists, all walking hurriedly in different directions. The Japanese men wore black suits, while the women donned formal dresses, and almost everybody was wearing a white face mask.
I had forgotten that Tokyo Station is one of the busiest stations in Japan. Looking at the multitude of people passing before me, I was sure I would miss my train. I couldn't see any information boards displaying train timings and platform numbers. In a state of panic, I stopped a man passing in front of me and showing him my ticket, asked him if he knew which platform my train was leaving. He was a young Japanese man wearing a black suit and a face mask covering his mouth. He took my bags and told me to follow him. We made our way as fast as we could through the crowds of people, restaurants, shops, and security checks, to finally arrive at the right platform. The man, quickly helped me settle my luggage in the train compartment, and saying that he was on the same train, hurried away to find his coach!
We arrived at the Kyoto Station in two hours and twenty minutes. The train was clean and comfortable, and one could buy snacks and coffee onboard.
As I got off from the train at the Kyoto Station, the same Japanese man approached me once again and offered to help me carry my bags. When I told him I was staying at the IBIS Styles Kyoto Station located right across the railway station, he volunteered to walk me to the hotel. It was the month of April, and we talked about where to find beautiful cherry blossoms in Kyoto. While I was walking with him, I realized that the Kyoto Station was huge with several different exits, and if it were not for the goodness of this Japanese man, I would have got lost. Just as we exited the station, it began to rain, and the man opened his umbrella for me as we crossed the street towards my hotel. He dropped me to the front desk, and before he said goodbye, I asked him for his business card. He turned out to be the Manager at a renowned five-star hotel in Kyoto!
Later, when I told this story to my friends, one of them remarked that it sounded almost like a Hollywood romantic comedy! Ah well, despite the challenges and difficulties I may sometimes face on my trips, traveling solo makes me feel that I am living a real-life ‘rom-com’.