The 15 storey Kyoto station is the city’s intergrated transportation hub. It is served by Japan Railways (including the Shinkansen), Kintetsu Railways and the Karasuma Subway Line. It also houses a large bus terminal for city, long distance and overnight highway buses. A taxi stand is located besides the Bus Ticket Center. It was opened in 1997 and stands in total contrast to many of Kyoto’s traditional tourist attractions.
The station is a big complex with a 13 storeys Isetan department store in it as well as Hotel Granvia at the east end of the station. Touring just the station will take about ½~¾ hour with some quick selfies here and there. We took more than an hour as we are in no hurry while waiting for the slight drizzle outside to fade off.
The building’s futuristic design was conceived to convey historical Kyoto through a modern aesthetic. The station’s large main hall with its exposed steel beamed roof, called the Matrix, is meant to reflect both the structure of the station and the grid like layout of Kyoto’s street network.
Inside the station, the Grand Stairway runs from the 4th floor of the West wing and almost all the way up to the Sky Garden. It has 171 steps over a distance of 70 meters and a height of 35 meters and is studded with about 15,000 LEDs which generate stunning light shows in the evening. However, during our stay, the lights were under maintenance.
Kyoto Station offers free admission to the Sky Garden, an open air area on the top floor of the station’s West wing. Located on the 15th floor, it offers good views of the city day or night. Always open, the Sky Garden can be reached from the ground floor (1F) via a series of long escalators with a final flight of 2 short staircase to the Sky Garden. To start your tour, take the long escalator to your right at the central entrance after you enter the station. No ticket is necessary to go up as the escalator is before the train ticket gates. Views here are good but becomes unimpressive to photograph on cloudy days due to heavily tinted glass.
There is a glass-enclosed walkway above the station known as the Skyway Tunnel which enables you to walk the length of Kyoto Station, 45 meters above the central hall. It starts from the restaurant floor on the 11th floor and ends at the East wing leading to Hotel Granvia. So, come down from the Sky Garden and enter the restaurant floor. At the other end, is the entrance to the Skyway Tunnel. Through the windows of the Skyway Tunnel, you can see Kyoto tower, the city, the station complex below as well as the bus stand outside. The views along the way are breathtaking.
At the end of the Skyway Tunnel is a single long escalator down. From here, you’ll be able to see East Square with it’s metal pergola with flowers and small trees around it. This is the East wing with elevator access to Hotel Granvia. Coming down the escalator, walk straight and to your left and down a few steps, facing East Square is an open air Lego replica of the station.
From this floor, there is a different escalator going down to the station level. Please note that both the Sky Garden at the West wing and the East Square at the East wing is uncovered and exposed to the weather. The Skyway Tunnel is however covered. Visitors at the station who have time to spare, do take this opportunity to tour the station.