We've been spoiled by the simplicity of using the Tokyo Metro system.
Getting from Tokyo to Kyoto was straight forward enough, via Nozomi (fastest) Shinkansen (bullet train). We bought our tickets at Tokyo station with just enough time to find the right train platform, and as you please, we were off.
Kyoto Station though, is a huge building with access to rail (local and ongoing), its own smaller metro system, and several different categories of bus line. We knew we needed to catch a bus to our accommodation, but unfortunately not which one, or at which stop we'd need to get off.
The city of Kyoto is surrounded by hills on three sides and the station is meant to be an artificial fourth hill side. The station is intriguing. It's designed to simulate the walk down a mountain pass for people who just got off of their train. Conceptually, I loved it. you can see a lot of the skyline of the city as you leave your platform, but practically, with a 22 kilo pack on my back, I have strong (read negative) feelings for the architect.
After turning in circles trying to follow the many different signs for buses we were approached by one of the stations "tourist helpers" who provided us with maps of the area and various bus/metro systems. He took a look at our destination address, bobbed his head, and said "ahh, city bus, very hard, very hard, follow me."
He then took us on a trek from one end of the station to the other, stopping at the bus station office to make sure we got the correct day passes and to check schedules, and left us at our bus stop with clear instructions on how and where to make our transfers. Then before you could say Arigato, he was off to help the next lost wanderer.
So Thank You:
To the city of Kyoto for having such a great network for travellers (including a very thorough international visitors office which we visited later), and for hiring people like the one who found us. Otherwise we might still be walking in circles around Kyoto station.
This guy was actually a volunteer. Which reminded me of what my grandfather always said,
"If you're going to do something you might as well get paid for it."
You could tell that this guy was getting a huge amount of satisfaction, not from money, but still a payment of sorts. He had all sorts of pins on his messenger bag from here and there. I was able to chat with him a bit and it seemed like he had visited quite a few places including Toronto, Niagra falls, and some places in Europe. I really wish we had something to give him but the only gifts we brought were post cards and at the time everything was tightly packed away on our backs.
If i was going to rate my top 5 modes of transportation starting with the most favourable it would be: train, boat, airplane, car, bus. Our bus ride reminded me exactly why bus is at the bottom of the list and after that ride I'm considering bumping animal up from the sixth spot.
On the bus I experienced some sensory overload. There was no English, not even the phonetic English written underneath which was standard in Tokyo. It was packed shoulder to shoulder, or in our case shoulder to mid-section, and it was smelly. On top of all that the trip was like wrestling a (pedo) bear.
Maybe it was the driver or maybe it was the traffic but whatever the cause we were constantly stopping abruptly for seemingly no reason at all, would jerk enough for everyone to stumble, and then resume. Furthermore, the whole bus seemed to be shaking from side to side (which I didn't even know was possible on a four wheeled vehicle). Once we got off the bus I noticed that the bus had a manual transmission, and here I was thinking we had a driver in training or something.
Once off the bus it took us some time to get oriented. We walked, unfortunately, in the wrong direction for quite a ways before deciding we hadn't seen any buildings that looked even remotely like the picture we had of our accommodation.
Luckily we did have an address which we were able to pronounce in passable japanese, though each person we asked would tell us "two signals and left" and point us back in the direction from which we'd come. Eventually this brought us back to the stop where we'd originally disembarked, and low and behold, the building we'd been looking for was ahead and around a corner.
Hello Kyoto, and hello bed.