Gliding into the city and disembarking in Kyoto Station 京都駅, then finding bearings in the many levels of the building to exit via the south side and head to the hotel a few blocks away.
The ground was still damp from earlier showers and a strong wind was relentlessly scrubbing through the city's street grid, which made for a chilly suitcase drag. But it didn't take too long to find the hotel and check in, settling in for a little to watch the sakura 桜 blooming updates on TV.
From the balcony, the five storey pagoda 五重塔 of Tō-ji 東寺 was silhouetted in the afternoon light and drizzle, amongst layers of rooftop machinery. It's a view that has proven itself indelible.
Although the sun was setting and the majority of temples and shrines would be closing, I'd read that Fushimi Inari-taisha 伏見稲荷大社, famed for its thousand or so torii 鳥居 gates, was open to the public 24 hours a day. Being situated on a hill there was also supposedly a good view from the top, so I donned a jumper and walked back to the station to catch the next train on the Nara Line 奈良線 to Inari Station 稲荷駅, just two stops and six minutes away. The walk up the mountain is supposed to take anywhere from one-and-a-half to two hours, so I left my DSLR behind figuring there'd be little time for taking photos if I was to make it up to the top and back down to the station before the last train.
The entrance to the shrine is situated just metres from Inari Station 稲荷駅, so it couldn't be easier to find. The giant vermilion torii 鳥居 helps too.
Quite a few people were still outside but the sky was fading fast. Once inside the shrine complex it was clear that most people were taking a few last snaps before making their way out.
One of the great things about trains in Japan is that you can be confident that they'll be on time, usually down to the margin of a few seconds, which allows you to book an onward train that leaves only minutes after your train is due to arrive. This is the kind of connection timing that you could never attempt with air travel.
At Nagoya Station 名古屋駅 I left the mountain train and found the Shinkansen 新幹線 gates, grabbed another snack and within ten minutes was boarding the Green Car of another N700 Hikari ひかり bound for Kyoto 京都.
On the non-stop Nozomi のぞみ (Wish) super express service the trip takes just half an hour, while the Hikari ひかり makes a few stops and thus takes a little longer, but is included in the Japan Rail Pass.
Down from the mountains and moving faster across the sprawl, stopping for just a minute at Gifu Station 岐阜駅 to reverse and go south. A few minutes later after crossing Kiso River 木曽川, the 138 metre tall twin arch tower in Kiso Sansen Park 国営木曽三川公園 (the largest urban park in Japan) stands out above the rooftops.
In Japan they can't resist a good play on words, so the 138 metre height was chosen because it sounds like the name of Ichinomiya city 一宮市, where part of the park is located.
Approaching the town of Sakahogi 坂祝町, the rain was just a drizzle, and not yet interrupting baseball practice for school students that were dotting a field in white uniforms.
Pausing briefly at Sakahogi Station 坂祝駅 where sakura 桜 bobbed in the breeze beyond storage silos, then on again.
For me, trains are cosy in a way that planes never are.
My ability to fall asleep on an overnight flight: 1/10. My ability to fall asleep on a train: 10/10.
Note: It's only taken me a few years to get around to it, but I've updated the site with some layout improvements to make it more pleasant on mobile, including a more functional menu.
Down through the valley, skimming the road in places, past dams in the river and hydroelectric power stations. It wasn't long before the rain set in, becoming heavier as the journey went and draping the view in shifting streams.
Above, passing slowly through one of a few quaint villages along the way.
With less than half an hour left before my train was due to leave, I took in views of the river and worked my way back through adjacent streets to the station. Suitcase out of the locker, then on board and settled in for the trip down through the mountains, on for Kyoto 京都.