Whatever imagination you may have of Kyoto before you set foot upon it, Kyoto Station is probably not it.
First built in 1870 to allow for travel between Kyoto, Kobe, and Osaka, the building has been through several iterations. The current version was designed by Hiroshi Hara to commemorate Kyoto’s 1200th anniversary. Conceptualized as a ‘gateway to history’, it bewilders visitors. Outside, after a bout of disorientation, there are old temples in the distance. But at present, the visitor can only wonder at how Kyoto Station is not a station as much as it is glass, concrete, and a never ending complex of shops, restaurants, malls, offices, and department stores. Sometimes a couple gets married on the topmost floor while people go up and down the escalators to get a glimpse. There is a thrill in simply taking the escalators up and down, for they are long and offer views of Kyoto Tower. At Christmas, a large tree draws crowds. Away from the central platforms, there are many spaces to sit outside and view the city.
Certainly, there are trains that can take one from Kyoto to many places in Japan. That is after all, the main function of this space. But many people visit the station just to wander around. It may be a strange place that takes some getting used to, but it is full of interesting nooks that hold the promise of experience and delight. It is unlike the ancient city outside, and it is unlike a typical station, but it mixes those two elements together to create its own buzz. If for some reason, it becomes difficult to go too far from home, then Kyoto Station makes a perfect substitute for travel.