You’ve probably never read in any guide that one of the must-visit places in Kyoto is its central train station, simply called Kyoto Station. However, you’ll probably find yourselves there at some point during your trip to Kyoto.
So although it might sound a little out of the blue, in this post I’m going to tell you exactly why it’s worth dedicating some time to hanging out in Kyoto Station.
Kyoto Station was built in 1997 and is the second-largest train station building in Japan (after Nagoya Station). Besides being the gate to the cultural capital of Japan, this station has many more things to offer: a roof-top garden, a staircase with special illuminations, a view of the whole city, restaurants, bars, and a few shopping centers.
In fact, this station is almost a town of its own.
So today I will introduce you to some of the areas you can visit there.
ATTENTION: In this post, I will not include the facilities in the station that are available only in Japanese, such as the theater and Eki Museum. If you’d like to know more about these facilities you can check the Japanese website of Kyoto Station.
If you’ve ever been to a big Japanese station, you’ll know that it’s very easy to get lost in them. With a total of 14 floors and dozens of ways to get in and out, knowing where you are in the station really requires good orientation.
The first step to understanding Kyoto Station is to realize there are only two directions from which you can enter: the South entrance (Hachijo-guchi), or the North entrance (Shichijo-guchi). There are quite a few entrances from both directions, but they will all be either North or South.
The second thing you should know is that it has 11 floors and a rooftop. Together with the two basement floors, it has 14 floors in total! Now you’ll probably start to see why it’s so complicated in there, and there’s more…
If you stand in front of the North entrance and look at Kyoto Station’s building, you’ll see two different staircases. The left side (East) has only 8 floors, including Hotel Granvia and Kyoto Theater. The right side (West) has 11 floors and a rooftop, with most of its floors being home to the department store Isetan (B2F-10F).Basically the main hall is like a valley between the East and West sides of the station. I hope everything will be much easier to understand now!
Okay, so after this quick introduction, let’s see why Kyoto Station is such a great place to spend time in.
Kyoto Station has three shopping centers which are located next to one another. The first one is Isetan – a department store. It is located on the West side of the station and goes from the second basement floor (B2F) all the way to the 10th floor (10F)! You can find so many things there: homeware, Japanese crafts, clothes, cafes, cosmetics, food, and a lot more!
The second shopping center is The Cube, located mostly underground from B2F to 2F. Here you can find more shops (my favorite is LUSH), and a few places to eat.
Just North of The Cube there’s one more underground mall called Porta. Here you can really spend a lot of time. It mainly has clothes shops, although there is so much more too. You can also chill in Starbucks or in one of the sitting areas which are so beautifully designed.
Similarly to everywhere else in Japan, you can definitely expect to find plenty of souvenir shops. So if you forget to buy a souvenir – the station offers you many shops to do so.
Admiring the view
In contrast to many of Kyoto’s buildings, which traditionally are no higher than three floors, Kyoto Station is one of the highest buildings in the city. You can get a good view of the city and Kyoto Tower from the 7th floor on the East side of the station. However, if you want to have a good view of the South area, where you can see Toji Temple, it is better to do so from the Western part of the station – on the rooftop.
To see a 360° panoramic view you can go up Kyoto Tower – one of the most controversial buildings in Kyoto.
Built to impress in the 1964 Olympics, the idea behind it was that the tower could serve as a lighthouse to “show” the trains coming into Kyoto they have safely arrived in the city. However, many citizens opposed to building such an ultra-modern structure in their traditional city. In fact, many still hate it to this day.
Whether you like it or not, there’s no doubt that it has a stunning view at the top. You can see many of the city’s attractions from up there, including Kiyomizu Temple, Fushimi Momoyama Castle, and many other places. If you’re hungry when you’re coming down, you can grab something on the basement floor of the tower – which has many options. I wrote about my favorite place to eat there, Vege Deli Kanna, in this post.
More things to see and do
The Great Staircase – an awesome feature of Kyoto Station! Every evening, the staircase on the West side of the station has an incredible graphic illumination of 15,000 LED lights.
The illumination design varies: There will be cherry blossom in the spring, autumn leaves in the fall, Christmas trees, and Valentine lovers illuminations depending on the time of the year. It is advised to go after it gets dark to enjoy the lights to their fullest.
Rooftop – after climbing The Great Staircase (or riding the escalator near it, as I did), you will reach the rooftop. There’s nothing too fancy up there, but there’s a seating area if you want to chill in the open air for a while.
The rooftop is also a great place to appreciate the extraordinary modern architecture of the station. So all of you architecture lovers – that’s your spot.
Sky Way – on the 7th floor, where I recommended you see the city’s view, there are a few more attractions. You can play the station’s piano, admire the station’s LEGO mini-structure, and also – go up the escalator to pass through the Sky Way.
This Sky Way is like a floating corridor that leads you above the station, all the way from the East side to the West side (or vice versa). At night time it lights up in a very cool way, so you’ll feel like you’re in a futuristic movie.
Food options are indeed endless in Kyoto Station and the surrounding area, but as always I focus on the vegan options. In the past, I wrote a comprehensive guide to vegan food you can find around Kyoto Station. If you want something else you’ll need to check out Isetan’s restaurants, café & tea guide which you can find everywhere in Isetan Department Store. My recommendation from the guide will be TASHINAMI, which is a Japanese-sweets tea house. It’s not cheap, but the quality really is worth the price. If you want to try out really good wagashi (Japanese sweets) – that’s a great place to do so. Just be careful: some of them are vegan and some are not.
One more thing worth mentioning: there are many bakeries in the station.
If bread and pastries are your thing – you won’t leave hungry.
So if you want to see a part of the city which is unique, and if you like modern architecture, Kyoto Station is your place. You can also enjoy it if you need to kill some time before your train journey.