This is my Friday story telling series. You can read part one of this story here.
The day after we made the Kitcho reservation, Ryan called me over to Stage Right. He was sitting on a couch surrounded by his Japanese props crew who were all looking at his laptop and talking quietly amongst themselves. Ryan told me that he’d investigated the restaurant website and found their wine list. He paused to adjust his glasses and said, “They have a great cellar. The prices range from $100 to… you know…$27,000. Per bottle.”
First thought: Oh yeah… alcohol. That probably isn’t included in the $500 apiece we’re spending.
Second thought: holy shit. What does a $27,000 bottle of wine taste like?
Third thought: Probably no different than a $20 bottle because I wouldn’t know the difference. Not that we can get a $20 bottles of wine for this dinner…
Fourth thought: We’re going to be spending a lot of money on this dinner. We’re on tour so we’re champion drinkers and one bottle of wine for 5 people is nothing, even at $100.
Ryan’s Japanese crew spent a large portion of their night on the Kitcho website. Discussion of the mythical $27,000 bottle of wine consumed most of the rest of our evening and all of us geared up to spend a sizeable chunk of money on dinner. I think we each said “you only live once” about 20 times that night.
But the larger and more pressing matter was transportation. All of us were slavering to ride the bullet train, which they call Shinkansen (another amazing word). In fact, Martin had only joined us because he wanted to spend his day off going somewhere on the bullet train and it just so happened we were taking it to Kyoto.
The Shinkansen is sleek and fast (186mph) and runs like alien clockwork. In the multiple decades of its existence, it’s only been as much as 37 seconds late arriving to any station and probably the responsible conductor committed seppuku over that infraction. 37 seconds! That’s incomprehensible to any person who’s trudged down into the fiery pits of the NYC subway on a summer afternoon only to discover that the train is down or the station is closed or something has been rerouted somewhere for some kind of work making you late as you run 8 blocks to the next station.
And as an aside, 37 seconds and yet they still can’t manage to update the washing machines? Really???
Anyway, the Shinkansen has reserved and nonserved seats. Reserved is first class and nonreserved is catch as catch can. The news of our dinner had spread like wildfire and all of our Japanese crew wanted to weigh in on this excursion. They insisted we go first class; and since it was Splurge-a-thon 2010, we couldn’t refuse. Plus, Ryan said he “didn’t ride in steerage with peasants and poultry.” Having ridden with both peasants and poultry in the past, I looked forward to the idea of first class anything.
But now that we’d sorted what we wanted, the ticket buying fun began. I can’t adequately describe what it’s like to try to buy a train ticket – or really any transportation ticket – in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language AND you can’t read the language. Even that wouldn’t be so bad if it were as simple as “here’s the station and here’s your destination, here’s a ticket.” But it’s never that simple.
The word labyrinthine was invented to describe the Tokyo, subway/train system. There’s the subway, the Japan Railway and the Shinkansen and they all share stations that take up city blocks and have railways on 3-4 levels. The railway map looks like brightly colored spaghetti scattered with kanji like parmesan. It’s insane. It all runs beautifully and on time but the process of figuring out which station to leave from, which train to take, which station is which, what connections to make, how to get from one to another and all within our time frame took years from my life and hours out of my day.
We finally narrowed down our exiting station and Gene, Cate and I went to get tickets because we couldn’t do it online even though we were in Japan… the capital of electronics and all things technical. In hindsight we should have asked an interpreter to come with us but we’d asked around and none of the interpreters had ever taken the Shinkansen. Figuring out where to go and how to get there could potentially have taken them just as long as it did us but they would have been able to read the ticket machine screens…
Those ticket machines are crazytown. Even getting started is confusing as all the train lines have names that you may or may not know, the English translations of which are literal and there’s a fair amount of knowledge you have to have going in or you’ll never be able to wade through it all.
An hour later we finally figured it out via mangled English/Japanese, written notes and pointy talk with the ticket station operator and accidentally stumbling on the right series of screens on the ticket machine. But then the machines wouldn’t take our American credit cards! 2 people, 4 cards, the machine spit everything out for no reason.
We scrounged through our pockets and dug through our per diem envelopes and somehow came up with enough wads of yen to pay for the tickets, everyone owing everyone else some strange amount and a half hour later we had tickets, a plan and dinner to look forward to.
We paid the equivalent of an US domestic plane ticket for a round trip Shinkansen tickets. Is that reasonable? I don’t know. I was in the throes of Splurge-a-thon 2010 and had left reason far behind.
Sunday finally rolled around, we all arrived at work packed and ready to run. Last show/fast show! The show came down and we raced out of the theatre, ran 6 blocks to the subway and arrived… 20 minutes before our Shinkansen. Which is certainly better than late but annoying since we could have just made an earlier train. That might have helped later on…
But we were on time and ecstatic so we bought beverages and took pictures and futzed around and finally the Shinkansen arrived like a train from the future. Pure white, round enlongated nose, quiet and sleek with a conductor dressed in a blue uniform with gold trim and white gloves poking his impeccably groomed head out of the window in front. It wasn’t even a train from the future. It was a train from a 1940’s movie version of the future. We quietly boarded our first class cabin with all the other quiet Japanese passengers and I fell in love.
Rows of giant comfy seats in sets of two with reclining backs, power outlets, a table in front of me like an airplane, plus a table that swung out of my armrest, tons of leg room, a carpeted padded foot rest that I could adjust, massive curved sparkling clean windows with huge deep window sills and wide aisles. A tiny Japanese woman came around immediately with hot wet washcloths and another woman with a food and beverage cart followed her. The car was a quarter full, at best, and then the train started up.
Even running, the train was completely quiet inside and the ride was so smooth. The stops were so gradual I hardly felt them and I couldn’t tell I was moving until I got up or looked out the window. I had an empty seat next to me for the entire trip and the few people in our car remained completely and utterly quiet since no one in Japan uses their phone for anything except texting on any form of public transportation. No kids cried, no one talked and after a week of shows, it was the most amazing blessed glorious 2.5 hours of silence I’ve ever experienced. I would go anywhere on the Shinkansen. I’d rather ride the Shinkansen than fly. I love the Shinkansen.
Two and half hours went by in a flash and then we smoothly docked in the Kyoto station and it was 6:10pm.