Japan 2017 – Day 9 and 10

Day 9: Universal Studios Japan

Imagine if you had a theme park like Universal Studios just a bike ride from your house. That is the situation in Osaka. Universal Studios Japan is 2 train stops away from the Osaka loop line via the Sakurajima line. You know you’ve transferred to the right train (at Nishikujo station) when you encounter a train covered in cartoon characters. Even on a cold February Wednesday morning, the park was packed. It took 30-45 minutes just to get in the park even though we arrived at the entrance during the opening hour. Its smaller than the theme park in Orlando but it’s large enough to take a full day to cover it. And it’s the 15th year anniversary of this theme park! My advice other than getting there early on a weekday is to get a fast pass, otherwise your day will be 50% waiting on a line.

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What separates this theme park from the one in the USA are 2 major things:

 

  • The rides are in Japanese. Elmo and Cookie Monster are speaking Japanese only as Erumo and Kuki Monsuta. Even Harry Potter and the gang have become Japanese. But it doesn’t really matter, a ride is a ride.
  • Universal Cool Japan. It’s a suite of Japan-only rides/attractions that outclass most rides in my opinion. Also, they are anime themed, so extra points right there. The rides for 2017 were Godzilla, Attack on Titan, Evangelion XR, Detective Conan (didn’t do this one), and Monster Hunter. The first 3 are perhaps the best rides I’ve been on period.

 

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Additionally there are the common areas like Harry Potter world, Jurassic world, and such.

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Remember when I said to get a fast pass. Look at these record-breaking wait times!

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After being there for hours and seeing the multitude of young locals in groups and dressed up in park-bought attire, I believe that the theme park is a big after school hang out spot. The 3pm parade was quite impressive, they know how to throw a party.

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You may get hungry by the end of the day. Conveniently placed right outside the park is an avenue full of shops and restaurants. This was our last day in Osaka. As we headed back to our Kyoto hotel, we realized that it was also our last night in Kyoto. Time to pack and get ready to catch that early morning bullet train back to Tokyo.

Day 10: Back to Shinjuku, last day in Tokyo

Finally, a much-needed rest day. After arriving back into the madness that is Tokyo station via the bullet train, we hopped on the local train back to Shinjuku station (once we were able to actually find that train platform). Checked into the hotel and had a good 8 hours to spend eating at places, last-minute souvenir shopping, and spending the remaining coins at the arcade. We did not stay up too late since we had an early morning flight back to NYC. I have to admit, it is hard to say goodbye to a this place, this country. The food is great, the people are nice, so much to see and do, and I only managed to cover a fraction of it. Arigato and sayonara Japan! Maybe I’ll see you again during Olympics 2020.

Japan 2017 – Day 8

Day 8: Osaka (大阪)

Some consider Osaka to be a mini-Tokyo and I can see why. Osaka station is about an hour from Kyoto station. We pretty much made this into a day tour and attempted to cover as much as possible. But you could easily spend a few days in this city. Starting from Osaka station, we headed to the Umeda (梅田) Sky Building. This building stands out and one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. It’s basically 2 building that merge at the top (cool escalator across). As always, we headed up to the rooftop observatory to get the view of Osaka. It was quite the cloudy day.

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This building was a slight detour, so we had to head back to Osaka station to get on the Osaka loop train line which is like the JR Yamanote line in Tokyo (or the Chicago loop line). We got off the train stop closest to the Shinsekai (新世界) New World market. You know you are at the right place when you it starts to look like an amusement park and you see Tsutenkaku (通天閣) tower in the background. Shops and eat spots everywhere. The street food is great too. But I noticed that several shops were closed during the morning around 11am.

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And since we were in the land of Takoyaki (ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special molded pan, filled with minced/diced octopus, pickled ginger, and green onion), one could not resist eating at a spot with a huge octopus on the store front.

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After walking through the marketplace completely, you’ll arrive at Ebisucho station. From here, we just walked for blocks along sekaisuji street until we arrived in Nipponbashi (日本橋日本橋) DenDen town which is a smaller version of Akihabara Electric town in Tokyo. There were electronic stores, anime/manga stores, action figure stores, video game stores, etc. It started raining so I don’t have many photos, but I did manage to assist Solid Snake espionage mission. And if anyone is familiar with the MegaMan games, guess what, the original Japanese name is RockMan.

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A few more blocks will lead you to the Kuromon Ichiba (黒門市場) Black Gate market. Again with the shops and eat spots. Not easy to resist buying something. A few blocks further will lead you to Namba City (難波) station. This is regarded as Osaka’s center and it started to look like Tokyo with its large buildings and all. And since we were finally in Namba, Dotonbori (道頓堀) was not too far away. Dotonbori is the Vegas strip of Osaka and definitely the place to be. Large crowds are everywhere day and night throughout the Dotonbori canal. If I was staying at Osaka, I would want my hotel to be a 10 minute walk away. The signboards on the stores and restaurants were quite impressive and make Dotonbori such a unique place.

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You can never be hungry if you are here. Too many good things to eat. I didn’t even last 5 minutes. Once I saw the huge mechanical crab (legs move), I had to go in and have me some crab. Great view from the upper floors.

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And it doesn’t matter if you’re full, it won’t stop you from trying other things beyond your limit. Ooh look takoyaki with the squid legs sticking out of the balls.

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And you can’t say you’ve been in Dotonbori without standing by the bridge next to Osaka’s iconic Glico runner sign. And of course, everybody does the tourist pose.

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And this place may actually be brighter at night since everything lights up. Time Square has some competition. Also, if you didn’t satisfy your shopping needs by now, the Shinsaibashi (心斎橋) shopping street is right there.

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Well, it gets dark early in the winter. We headed back to Kyoto that night and said farewell to Osaka but not goodbye. Why not goodbye? Because Universal Studios Japan is in Osaka…

 

Japan 2017 – Day 7

Day 7: Nara and Ninjas

Let’s get right to it. We got on the train to Nara from Kyoto station first thing in the morning; about a half hour ride. After getting off at the nearest Nara station, you simply walk up the main avenue until you see the park. You’ll know when you’re at Nara park (奈良公園) when you see these guys walking around.

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Nara park is a large park containing several temples, gardens, and 1000+ sika deer roaming freely. I would say that it can easily take a whole day to see it all. As for the deer, there are deer cracker salesmen scattered throughout the park if you want to feed the deer. But beware, these deer are cracker addicts and will follow and chase you down if they suspect that you have deer crackers.

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Some deer learned a bowing technique as a way to signal that they want you to give them a cracker. I’ve found them to all be approachable and friendly since they are very used to people. Since we only had a few hours to explore, we decided to check out Kofukuji (興福寺) Buddhist temple, Todaiji (東大寺) Buddhist temple complex, and the park/gardens in between. There is also the Kasuga grand shrine but we did not have enough time to venture that far.

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The closest temple to the train station and toward the entrance of Nara park is Kofukuji. After feeding a few deer and running from others, we saw a 5-story pagoda and just headed toward it. Kofukuji’s main buildings consist of the 5-story pagoda, Tokondo (東金堂) east golden hall, and Nanendo (南円堂) south octagonal hall.

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Todaiji temple is perhaps a 20-30 minute walk from Kofukuji. But it becomes an hour easily since there are some shops and food stands setup right at the entrance and you would be hungry by this point. How about a whole squid on a stick.

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Keep in mind that there are deer scattered throughout the entire park so there’s that. Before you know it, you’ll arrive at the Todaiji temple complex entrance.

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Once you pass through Todaiji main gate, you’ll feel small in front of a very large temple; Daibutsuden (大仏殿) Great Buddha Hall.

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I would’ve never guessed what was inside the Buddha hall and why it needed to be so massive. Maybe because the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha is in there. A photo won’t capture the size difference between the statue and a person. I can just say that I am approximately the size of its pinky finger. It’s truly a masterpiece.

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Like I said before, there is more to see and more strolls to take in Nara park but we had a 3pm appointment back near Kyoto station. A ninjitsu (忍術) appointment to learn the secret art of the ninja (忍者)! Yes, I found a cool authentic ninja training dojo in Kyoto called Ninjadojoandstore. As a youth who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, ninjas were the thing. Since I’m in Japan, it had to be done. In an hour, they dress you up in ninja gear and teach you several things staring with meditation, main concepts, and ninja walking.

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It turns out that there are trap doors everywhere; it’s a ninja dojo after all. Ninja … vanish…

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Then one-by-one, the weapons are introduced. First, the katana (sword). How to properly sheathe/unsheathe and cutting techniques for small enclosed areas.

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But wait there’s more. The Kunai (dagger), the shuriken (ninja star), the stick type shuriken, the ninja blow dart, and a general show and tell with other miscellaneous ninja weapons. And this isn’t a museum, you get to swing and throw everything. You’ll feel like a junior ninja in no time. Did I mention that there is a photographer taking photos during the entire time. If you’re in Kyoto and like ninjas, then this is the place for you. Also, there is a store if you want to buy some ninja weapons to satisfy your inner ninja. It was a lot of fun and the ninjas are very cool even though they are deadly.

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After becoming ninjas, we decided to stroll through Nishiki (錦市) market which isn’t too far from Shijo dori where we happened to be at the moment. This marketplace is several blocks long and has and overwhelming amount of foods and goods. You should several things you were looking for as well as things you weren’t looking for but will end up buying anyway. Japan has a neat way of making you buy things without pressuring you at all. They can take some random object like a garbage can, and give it a smile and turn it into a cartoon character, and then make foods, clothes, magnets, watches, bags, earrings, and a whole bunch of other items that will make you think, hmm, I think I want one. Also, it doesn’t hurt to try out some new food, 9/10 you will be glad you tried it.

Well, that’s all for Nara and Kyoto. The next day would be full of brand new terrain, we would head to the city of Osaka.