My Last Trip in Kansai (for a while) – Universal Studio Japan

I moved to Osaka in April which is very recently but I am leaving Kansai (関西)soon in less than 2 weeks. Time flies when you’re having fun! I have ended things with my company peacefully and about to move back to Tokyo before moving…again. But that is another story for later.

In Osaka, I live one station from Universal Studio. Believe it or not, it is even within a walking distance. So, I saved this place for last.

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My coworker has a platinum year pass (year pass = nenkan pasu年間パス) for Universal Studio Japan (USJ), a pass that allows unlimited entrance for a year with some exceptions of New Year count down or additional fees for some special shows. With this pass, he can reserve seats for shows or new attractions before other people and receive some other privileged deals. That day, he was also able to get us discount tickets for 1 day pass (400 yen off – better than nothing!). The normal price for 1 day pass is 6,600 yen so in case you live in Osaka area, a year pass is much better than a 1 day pass. Gold year pass (スタジオゴールドパス) is 15,800 yen and platinum year pass (スタジオプラチナパス) is 22,800 yen (adult price). The differences between these two are the limitation and privileges. There are also express passes for attractions so you do not have to wait hours to ride on one attraction. However, it is an addition from the regular entrance fee.

Details on year pass -> Here!

Details on 1 day, 2 day and express passes -> Here!

For those coming from abroad, some travel companies do offer cheaper day pass. For example, this website offers discount tickets with further credit on their app download (Apple, Android – Input L2AI9 when downloading the app for bonus credits). For details of the pass, click here!

20130610-153248.jpgWe got there early in the morning. USJ opens at 9 am but they would usually open the gate about 30 minutes before. Since we live close by, we were able to get there very early and got our tickets. It was an extremely HOT day in Osaka! The sun was so bright I knew I was going to burn in the day out there.

20130610-153239.jpgWe got in and played a few fun attractions such as Jaw, Jurassic Park、and Back to the Future.;) There were not that many people since everyone were lining up for the newest attraction called ‘Back Drop’ (バックドロップ) which is a roller coaster in which you ride backward! The waiting time there was about 260 minutes so we gave up on that one.

Then, we walked around and took lots of pictures. The whole place was lively and fun despite the sun. I got my kiss with Spiderman! 😛 This and many other sets are scenes for people to take picture by the staff and if you like it, you can buy the picture, mostly for 1,500 yen each.

There were shows scheduled for many times of the day. We got to see so many fascinating outdoor shows! The staff told us to put our UV umbrellas away. …NOOO! My coworker’s phone was even too hot to be used. We were so surprised to see a message on his phone saying something like ‘気温が高すぎる’ (the temperature is too hot).

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One show I found myself praying for the man’s safe landing.
He was doing jump roping in the air!

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Besides attractions and shows, there are arcades and game booths all over the place. We all played lotto game for souvenirs. Each draw is 500 yen for one item. My poor lovely friend got an outdoor mat two times in a row! They wrote in the lotto as ‘レジャーシート’ which literally translates to ‘leisure sheet’. What a great way to make it sound better! 😛 For me, I got a small mascot doll and a bath towel.

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Besides our fun times playing games, I went around observing and cheering on little kids determined to win a prize. 🙂

20130610-153417.jpgWe also got to see Kitty! This was very funny. We went into Hello Kitty house full of little kids. They taught us to say ‘Kitty’ when they say ‘Hello’ = HELLO -> KITTY! They made the scene as if we were meeting a Hollywood star in her house which is a huge privilege…in this case, it was Kitty-chan. 😀

After walking till noon, we had lunch at Jurassic Park restaurant. It was great but not exactly what we thought dinosaurs would eat. We had so much food throughout the day: caramel popcorn, churros, pretzels, etc.

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My friend got sick after eating so much and took a ride. Luckily, there is a first aid room so we got her to lie down for an hour while we went on a roller coaster called ‘Hollywood Dream’. After a bit of rest, she was fine after. 🙂

There are just so many fun attractions inside USJ. We also got to see WaterWorld show, Rock n Roll show, The Terminator, some 4Ds attractions like Shrek and many others. All day till the night parade, we went on every attraction except the Snoopy and some kids’ ride.

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The night parade was pretty awesome! So many characters we all familiar with. Some were Disney characters…yes, I was surprised as you all probably are right now, too. 🙂

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After that, we had a few more snacks and walked home! Had a great time.

Universal Studio website:

http://www.usj.co.jp/e/ (English page)

http://www.usj.co.jp/ (Japanese page)

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I haven’t got a chance to smile. The photographer took a shot too fast!

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A Weekend in Okinawa (沖縄)

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Traveling is one thing I can say I would invest on when I have the time, chance and some pocket money. A lot of people have asked if I am a secret agent, rich or if I am a professional traveler but I am none of that (although the last one sounds amazing). I started traveling since I was little as much as I can to broaden my horizon and to fulfill my own little curiosity. I prefer to spend some time in a certain place than a couple of days in order to really experience what the place is all about but that, of course, always up to time, money and for sure, some luck.

That say, this time I had a special 3-day-weekend holiday, a department holiday which is although short, I decided to spend this holiday on the beach and explore another interesting place I had never been in Japan – Okinawa.

Okinawa (沖縄) is a prefecture with group of islands located in the southernmost of Japan. The islands can be grouped into three: Okinawa islands where the main island (本島) with its capital, Naha (那覇市) is, Miyako islands (宮古島), and Yayeyama islands (八重島). It is also a site for American military bases even after WWII. It is said to be the Hawaii of Japan. Okinawa is also known as Ryukyu islands for its own culture, art, and language of the Ryukyu native culture which is very interesting.

I planned the trip quickly right after my move to Osaka in April. I got a package from HIS, paid for the trip, and then prayed for the good weather. May is supposed to be a rainy season in Okinawa which starts earlier than other parts of Japan. After May, it is the typhoon season which may easily blows off my plans. Whichever the case, May 24th – 26th was the travel date, and it was all set! I kept checking the weather and it seemed to be raining almost everyday but then suddenly, the weather for Friday May 24th changed to cloudy. I was very lucky. The weather was nice the entire trip. 🙂

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Our hotel is located in Onna-son(恩納村)or Onna village in the main island of Okinawa (本島 Hon-to) which is around an hour by bus from Naha airport (那覇空港). We flew from Kansai airport which took around 2 hours. We got to the hotel in early afternoon and the first thing we did after checking in was finding information on marine sports. We went out snorkeling just half an hour after we arrived. Our hotel is called ‘Hotel Moon Beach’; it is a beautiful resort with various marine activities and a warm indoor pool.

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This was the first time I went snorkeling with a wet suit. I was quite surprised since in Thailand, we never have to wear one except for diving. 画像 2522The fish in Andaman sea of Thailand are visible even within one meter deep water (I miss Thai beaches!). We got all the equipments, and then they started explaining how to use them. Then, we got out to the sea! The water was unexpectedly cold…like Titanic-cold as I am so used to the warm water in Thailand. The wave was quite strong. We got out and started snorkeling…so much fish life! We gave out some bread, saw more fish, and then back to the port. It was quite an exercise but definitely fun! Our hotel offers so many marine sports such as diving, para-sailing, snorkeling, canoe, and something called fly boat & so much more!

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Cool, isn’t it?

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Snorkeling time 🙂

We went out to dinner that day at an Okinawan food restaurant called がちまい(Gachimai). I found the food to be quite different from everywhere else in Japan. The variety of food and drinks were interesting. I had more than just a fun time trying all the food and drinks. 😉 The guava drink, the famous shikuasa drink (シークワーサー), and so much more yummy things that should be sold widely in Japan!

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Yummy fried crabs

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Okinawa-only ice creams

Not only the food I found different, it was the people and the dialect, too. めんそれー!(Mensore) meaning welcome as in general Japan would say いらっしゃいませ(irasshaimase) was visible almost every tourist places I went. 画像 2642The people, too, looked different from Japanese people in general. Some of them even looked like foreigners. I have heard that Okinawa people or Okinawans are actually native Ryukyu people with different cultures and dialect they had formed way before Okinawa islands became part of Japan. I do not know much about this but it is very interesting and I would definitely find out more about it.

The next day, I visited Ryukyu Village (琉球村) to explore more into the Okinawan culture. We took a taxi from our hotel for about 15 minutes.

When got there just in time for Ryukyu dance show. There was a parade, song, and then a dance I had never seen before. They used some kind of wooden instrument to make sound when dancing. Their heads and faces were so still… After the dance, they all got us dancing, too!

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We had the famous そーきそば (so-ki soba) there. It is a famous Okinawa soba with pork and flat yellow soba. The pork was so soft and tender…delicious!画像 2598

Inside the village, there were small cottages with some exhibitions in each one, for example, silk making, Okinawan musical instrument, pottery, and others. All of this, you can pay a small fee and do a trial session by yourself. Then, there were the famous water buffaloes which is quite unusual to be seen in Japan and then some goats! We explored a bit and got back to the hotel. I saw later at night that the hotel also offers a day trip to 4 different places with one lunch meal and the cost is only 4,700 yen. This is definitely worth it if you want to visit many places.

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After Ryukyu village, we got back and went out on a dragon boat (ドラゴンボート)! I am not quite sure about the difference between a dragon boat and a banana boat. In other places, it is called banana boat, a boat people ride with the intention of the driver to make it flip so that people fall into the water. However, the banana boat has only one row while dragon boat has two. So I guess that is the difference.

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Our tour package includes a buffet Yakiniku (焼肉) dinner at Okinawa Beer Garden (沖縄ビール園). What could be better than this? I couldn’t think of any. A guy from the restaurant picked us up by car to the beer garden. That good thing about this place is the free pick up. Then, everything went pretty quickly…next thing we knew, we were strolling on the street in front of the hotel trying exercise a bit after a huge meal.

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The next morning was the last day. We had the buffet breakfast, headed out for a walk on the beach and left for the airport. We had a wonderful time. Definitely a great place to visit. There are so many places in the main island to visit such as Nago pineapple park, Churaumi aquarium, Ryugujo butterfly garden, and so much more. Next time, I would love to go to other islands in Okinawa especially Ishigaki island (石垣島), an island a bit far from the main one with deep blue ocean. 😉 Time was limited, but it was a great trip.

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Airport Okinawa themed Purikura

More information on Okinawa

Travel guides:

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A Visit to Osaka Aquarium -Kaiyukan (海遊館)

20130520-111233.jpgOsaka Aquarium or Kaiyukan 〔海遊館) is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Osaka and probably in the whole Japan for aquariums. It is located in Osaka bay area. This aquarium is famous for its various displays of marine life which is organized in a very impressive way.

When I was living in Beppu city (別府市), Oita prefecture (大分県), I visited an aquarium called ‘Umitamago(Umi 海 = ocean, Tamago卵 = egg). 20130520-143913.jpgThe aquarium is obviously not as big as others in the bigger cities but the fish tanks were arranged nicely and with its location on a scenic beach, the atmosphere is great. I got to shake hand with a cute seal when I was on an outdoor stadium for a show and had club sandwiches in the terrace near the beach. The entrance fee was free that day because we got two tickets from the owner of the place by chance. 😉 I had a great time. It was a lot of fun even in a small city aquarium so I had high expectations for this well-known Osaka Kaiyukan.

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Outdoor show at Umitamago

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My friend observing marine life inside Umitamago

I went to Kaiyukan with the same friend I went to Umitamago with. The difference was that we are a few years older; both have graduated and now working in a different country. Since my friend decided to visit from Korea, I was especially excited to spend the day catching up and having fun. This was actually my second time at this aquarium. The first time was 5 years ago although I could barely enjoy the place or remember much having been so sick and fainted inside the aquarium (no joke!). So this time was sort of like my first time there. It was a rainy day so we thought we could enjoy the day being inside.

We started from Osaka station and took a train to Bentencho station (弁天町). From there, we took Osaka municipal subway Chuo line (中央線) toward Cosmo square to Osakako station (大阪港 Osaka port). It took only about 18 minutes. Then, we walked to the aquarium in the rain, had some ice cream (soft cream ソフトクリーム), paid for the entrance and went in. There were tons of people inside!

20130520-111804.jpgThe exhibitions were divided according to the Pacific Rim or the Ring of fire from Japan forest to Antarctica to The Great Barrier Reef and others. There were various kinds of sea animals; dolphins, penguins, sharks and so many others we are familiar with or some that we had never heard of. With the massive amount of people, it was hard to view the animals at first but there seemed to be less people as we moved along the route. The aquarium has 8 floors which go in spiral once we move forward so we could observe marine life from many angles. The central tank is one of the main attractions. It is 9 meters deep and is visible along the route.

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I could observe so many sea animal activities; dolphins playing water polo (in their way), penguins community gathering, huge Japanese crabs showing power, jelly fish floating up and down, and so many other interesting marine life.

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Right before the exit, there is a big fish tank which contains mainly sharks and stingrays. They allow people to touch the fish in this tank with a warning of Do not touch the sharks in the head, please only touch the back. I tried…but failed. 20130520-111221.jpgI blame the announcer who kept announcing the warnings. 😛 Despite the fact that there were so many people, I did enjoy the place although I could say that 2,300 yen for the entrance is a little bit expensive. The only thing I wish they had is an outdoor show. Apparently, there are other attractions besides the exhibitions, too. There are cruises, Ferris wheel and other activities you can enjoy. This place can be really good for families with kids for a day out activity.

The most surprisingly thing that happened there was that there was a wedding inside the aquarium! We were walking along the route when we heard someone ringing the bell and shouting ‘現在海遊館の中で結婚式を行っております’ (genzai kaiyukan no nakade kekkonshiki wo okonatteorimasu) meaningThere is currently a wedding inside Kaiyukan at the moment. Then, we saw a couple wearing a suit and a wedding gown walking out with some people following behind. What a very strange place to get married but I’m sure it is something they’ll never ever forget.

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A couple having their wedding at the aquarium

Access:

Take Chuo Line and get off at Osakako (Osaka Port) station.
Approx. 12 min. from Hommachi (Midousuji line) to Osakako station.
Approx. 18 min. from Umeda (or Osaka in JR line) to Osakako station.
Approx. 35 min. from Shinosaka (Shinkansen JR line) to Osakako station.
Approx. 37 min. from Universal City (JR line) to Osakako station.
Approx. 75 min. from Kansai International Airport to Osakako station by JR line and Subway.

Operating hours: 10 am – 8 pm

Entrance fee (one time – adult): 2,300 yen

Website: http://www.kaiyukan.com/language/eng/index.htm

Discount ticket from Klook -> here! (free bonus credits when downloading their app and input this code: L2AI9)

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Shibazakura Viewing at Hitsujiyama park, Chichibu – The Colorful Carpet of Flowers!

Golden week had quickly come and gone. In Japan, there are a few long holidays; one of those is Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク). Golden week starts around the end of April till the start of May. This year, April 29th and May 3rd – 6th are holidays; hence, the holidays are divided to 2 parts of 3 days and 4 days with 3 working days in between. Some people may be lucky and get 10 consecutive days of holidays from April 27th to May 6th! My work schedule was a little different. I got holidays on May 1st-6th so I used this time to visit Tokyo again. 🙂

On May 2nd, I visited the famous shiba-zakura (芝桜) park in Chichibu city(秩父市), Saitama prefecture(埼玉県).

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Shiba-Zakura (芝桜) season comes around mid April till mid June, a bit after the sakura season. Shiba-zakura is called moss phlox in English. It is a plant that is similar to shrub-type plants which grows to a height of about 10 centimeters with long leaves and small vividly pinkish flowers. Due to its appearance that is similar to cherry blossom, it has been called ‘shiba-zakura’. I have never seen shiba-zakura before but I have heard wonderful things about it, so I decided to visit the nearest park to Tokyo in Golden Week.

20130507-102602.jpgChichibu city (秩父市) is located in the Northeast of Saitama prefecture(埼玉県), a neighbor prefecture of Tokyo. It is famous for shrines and nature especially for outdoor activities such as flower viewing, picnic, barbecue and strawberry picking. There are also many festivals such as Chichibu night festival in which decorated floats are lighted up at night in a shrine. There was a festival on the day I went as well but time was limited so I couldn’t stay long enough to see. The easiest way to get to Chichibu is by train from Ikebukuro station. I took Seibu-ikebukuro line (西武池袋線)from Ikebukuro station (池袋駅) to Seibu-chichibu station (西武秩父駅). The trip took about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Apparently, there are express trains as well but the tickets were all sold out for the day due to the amount of people visiting during holidays. So, make sure you get the tickets beforehand if you plan to go on holidays.

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When we arrived at seibu-chichibu station, it was around 11 AM. The weather was extremely hot! We followed the crowd and walked up the hills to Hitsujiyama park (羊山公園). Occasionally, we would stop and buy some cold drinks to keep our body cool. We paid a small fee for the entrance and entered. This park is one of the renowned spring destinations with amazingly colorful shiba-zakura that are not only planted in different rows for each color, but also in different shapes making the whole field appears to be an incredible carpet of vividly attractive small flowers. Sometimes, this place is also called ‘Moss Hill‘. I found it very picturesque and just spectacular, similar to a scene from a lively musical movie! There are flower rows in pink, light purple, purple, light blue, white and some are planted in circular or heart shapes. I had to fight the urge to jump into the flowers! At that time, it felt like a thing to do…

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One of the things I love most about Japan is that Japan has a way to make nature very attractive and Japanese people sure know how to appreciate it. They create an event out of what is around and make everything exciting. All year round, there are always new events, things to see and places to explore. It is obvious that this shiba-zakura flower field was well designed and surely has become a great tourist spot out of the wonderful nature. It is just very impressive. In Japan, people definitely have a great sense of beauty.

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There are some other places to view Shiba-zakura as well. One is on the foot of Mount Fuji. Just only imagine a colorful flower field with amazing Fuji view on the background, I could tell it is worth it. Also, there are some other similar places in Hokkaido. (Click here to see other shiba-zakura destinations.)

Shiba-zakura festival near Mount Fuji -> http://www.shibazakura.jp/ (Japanese), News in English -> click here!

Other than Hitsujiyama Park, there are also other places in Chichibu city. I got to visit another park called Chichibu Muse park (秩父ミューズパーク)which is famous for poppies. I took a free shuttle bus from Hitsujiyama park to Muse park and a free shuttle bus to Chichibu station before heading back to Tokyo. However, this time the poppies were not in full bloom yet, so we got 50% discount for our tickets. Despite not being to view the poppies, the park was beautiful. I could see different kinds of flowers which I don’t know what they are but it really didn’t matter since everything was beautiful. I also found a small two-storied stadium on top of the mountain where we can see scenic mountain views. The scenery was breathtaking.

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If you plan to visit these places, don’t forget to bring a hat or a UV umbrella. The weather was so hot that it got me a very bad cold. *boo* So yes, prepare well and enjoy spring! 🙂

Hitsujiyama park official site -> http://navi.city.chichibu.lg.jp/flower/shibazakura/ (Japanese)

Nearest station: Seibu-chichibu station

Muse park official site -> http://www.muse-park.com/ (Japanese)

Stroll Around Kyoto (京都) in a Kimono (着物)

Have you ever wanted to stroll around Kyoto in a kimono? I have always wanted to do so seeing many tourists walk in beautiful kimonos sightseeing around beautiful temples and shrines of Kyoto. I always thought to myself that I must do this at least once while I am in Japan.

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Kyoto is definitely the most famous place in Japan to do kimono fitting since it is an old capital with numerous wonderful old shrines and temples. A lot of Japanese traditional things that pop up in your mind when you think of ‘Japan’ or see in movies are here; for instance, Maiko, Geisha and other forms of arts, traditions, sweets and so many others. As you may know, I have done Maiko transformation before and it was such a great experience. You could never get closer to a Japanese traditional culture than this. 😉  This time, I wanted to simply wear a kimono and walk around Kyoto city, especially to visit Kiyomizudera temple (清水寺)and take photos for memories.20130422-110309.jpg

I finally did it and I had a great time. It was worthwhile. As of how to do kimono rental (着物レンタル)in Kyoto, very easy!

HOW:

  •          First, plan you trip to Kyoto.

Leave a day or at least half a day in case you don’t have time for this experience since you obviously want to take a lot of photos while you’re wearing kimono. If you stay in a ryokan (旅館) within Kyoto, some kimono rental stores may allow you to return the kimono the next day at your hotel. But, in case you stay in a nearby city, you must return the kimono by the designated time at the store (until 5pm in my case). Keep this in mind when you plan your visit.

  •          Select store and decide the places you want to visit.

For this, you want to choose a kimono rental store close to your hotel or tourist attractions that you want to visit. Especially when you’re wearing a kimono and walk around in kimono shoes, you want to be as close as you can to the places you are interested in.

          Recommended kimono rental stores

  1. Yume Kyoto (夢京都)– I visited this store for kimono fitting. It is located right next to the entrance of Yasaka shrine (八坂神社)in Gion (祇園)district (central Kyoto) and only around 15 minutes on foot to the famous Kiyomizudera. Yume Kyoto also has another branch near Todaiji temple. They have kimono rental plans from 3,500 to 5,250 yen depending on the type of kimono. For 3,500 yen plan, you cannot choose kimono but for the 4,000 and 5,000 yen plan, you can choose kimono, bags and accessories as well. I liked their kimono choices. They also give free Tabi (kimono socks) for free and you can bring home as souvenirs.
  2. Okamoto (岡本)– This store is located in Kiyomizudera area which can be convenient for people who wants to visit this temple. I remember seeing in just on the bottom of Kiyomizudera!
  3. Yume Yakata 〔夢館)– The cheapest plan of this place is 2,500 yen which is pretty ideal. This is also the place I did my Maiko transformation.

In addition, if you are a traveler from abroad with limited time to plan, you may opt for a package tour for this kind of kimono experience. Many are sold within the city such as at big JR stations and travel companies. Some are also sold in websites for tourists from abroad. See this discount tour for a great 1 day plan with hotel pick up, English speaking guide and admission fees included (Input code L2AI9 when downloading their app to get free credits! –apple, android). 🙂

  •     Make a reservation

Make sure you reserve in advance so you can be sure you will get a place and time you want.

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PLAN & PRICE:

Usually, the price ranges from around 3,500 to 5,250 yen for Kimono rental. However, depends on the type and prints of kimono, it can also be much more expensive or less expensive if you are very lucky. At Yume Kyoto, I chose 5,250 yen kimono and got my hair done for 1,500 yen. So in total, it was 6,750 yen. Unlike Maiko transformation, you need to do your own makeup. After you are done dressing up, you are free to walk around in kimono and return it at the store or at your hotel depending on the store’s policy. Beware not to spill anything on your kimono. You may need to pay for the cleaning fee if you do so.

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PROCESS:

  •           Go to the store at your reserved time and tell your name.
  •          They will lead you into a room full of kimonos. Choose a kimono of your choice, then choose obi (similar to a big belt). In my case that I chose 5,250 yen plan, I could choose a rope which is a layer inside the kimono, too. You can see my reddish collar inside my kimono which is not a regular white layer.
  •           Then, they will start dressing you up. Starting from the rope, inside layer, then kimono. After that, they will tie you with some more ropes and Obi. And then, you’re done! It took less than 30 minutes for me.
  •           After you’re done dressing up, they will lead you into a hair section where you can choose a hairstyle that fits you the most.20130422-110338.jpg

The whole process took about 40 minutes for me.

TIPS/ADVICE:

It is important to bring a friend to take photos for you. I was lucky as my friend’s friends join us with their professional cameras. So, we got very good photos. Also, prepare to smile a lot because so many people will ask to take pictures with you or try to snap a photo of you.20130422-112409.jpg

Last but not least, CHECK THE WEATHER before you decide to do this. It is hard to predict the weather as you may want to reserve in advance but the day won’t be as fun if it’s raining, so try to avoid it!

And…of course, ENJOY! 😉

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At the ladders in the front entrance of Kiyomizudera

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In front of Yasaka shrine

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We met two tourists dressed up as Maiko-san, too.

Big thanks to two amazing photographers Kenichi Sanguan-ngern & Nichchima Anongjanya.

Kinkakuji (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都) – Amazing Golden Pavilion

Kinkakuji (金閣寺) or the Golden Pavilion is definitely one of the most renowned temples in Kyoto and probably very easy to say, in all of Japan. It is also one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kyoto. Of course, as well as the beautiful Kiyomizudera (清水寺), I also visit this place every time I get a chance to go to Kyoto.

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The first time I ever saw this golden pavilion, as many may have been the same, I was amazed by its beauty. The Golden Pavilion is situated in a garden surrounded by a lake. The shadow of the pavilion reflects in the calm water creating a very picturesque sight. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful landscapes in Kyoto where you can take post card-like photos and enjoy its beauty and peaceful surroundings. Even in winter, the place is just breath-taking. I luckily got a chance to visit during winter holiday as well.

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The Golden Pavilion has 3 stories and each of the stories has its own meaning. Not only the fact that it is a beautiful temple, but also Kinkakuji is a place where the relics of the Buddha are kept; thus it is highly treasured. This place was originally a retirement villa of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. After his death, this place was turned into a zen temple following his will. According to many sources, Kinkakuji has also been burned down several times in wartime and was rebuilt in 1955.

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After viewing the amazing Golden Pavilion, you will find a trail to the back to the temple where it is surrounded by garden and forests. During my latest visit, I also noticed a tea house in the back of the pavilion near the exit after I came out from the trail. It seemed like a lovely place to enjoy an afternoon tea.

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Other than Kinkakuji, there is also a temple very similar to Kinkakuji but instead of gold, it is a silver one called Ginkakuji (銀閣寺). This one is another beautiful temple worth seeing. But all in all, if you visit Kyoto and not go to Kiyomizudera or Kinkakuji, you are missing some wonders of Kyoto!

How to get there: From Kyoto station, take a bus number 101 or 205 to Kinkakuji-mae (金閣寺前). The ride is about 40 minutes. It can take a bit long so alternatively, you can take a train to Kitaoji station (北大路駅)via Karasuma subway line (烏丸線).

Operating Hours: 9:00-17:00

Map:

Nara park (奈良公園)- Don’t get bitten by a deer!

Deer are cute, aren’t they? Well, I always thought they are until a couple of days ago when I visited Nara. My family is here for a visit after my recent move to Osaka so I guided them around traveling in Kansai area and visited Nara (奈良)the other day.

This is my first time in Nara. We went to Nara park and some famous old temples around. Nara is also a famous tourist spot since it used to be Japan’s capital in the past similar to Kyoto in which it has a great glorious history. It is also famous for wild deer!

As soon as we got to Nara park, we saw so many deer. They were there waiting for FOOD! We were told not to feed them or be very careful if we do. I was taking pictures of the area with my brother when I turned and saw my father running away from those deer. The deer were after ‘senbei’, a salty Japanese crackers. They could smell it and followed that smell! 😀

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The deer wouldn’t wait one second! lol

As I was in the park, I could see that the deer’s antlers are cut off to prevent them from attacking people (in some certain level anyway).

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Warning!

This is a senbei stall where people can buy deer food.

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Look how hungry they are!

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That’s the closest I would go close to a deer.

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Some deer can also be shy.

It was a fun experience walking in a park full of deer. So much nature! I loved it. A must-visit place if you pass by kansai area.

Kiyomizudera (清水寺), Kyoto (京都) – Beautiful all year round

Recently, I just moved from Yokohama/Tokyo to Osaka for less than a week. I’m still not at all familiar with life in Kansai yet. However, the good thing about being in Osaka is that it is close to many great places in Japan – Kobe, Nara, Kyoto, etc. So many places to explore. All my weekend schedules are now filled. 🙂

This is probably the 7th time I visited Kyoto ever since I came to Japan and this temple is one of places I never miss every time I go – Kiyomizudera (清水寺), one of the most celebrated temples in Kyoto. Kyoto is definitely one of my favorite cities in Japan. It is an old city with so many beautiful temples and  historic places. Everything is just so charming here.

I came to this temple many times in different seasons. First time in winter..then fall, summer and now spring. Summer is not recommended since the sun will burn you like you are on the beach. Spring and fall are probably the best seasons to visit especially fall when the leaves turn yellow and orange. This temple is just magical in so many ways I can never explain. It is huge and the view from the temple is just amazing.

How to get there: Kyoto station -> Bus number 100 or 206 to Gojo-zaka (五条坂) or Kiyomizu-michi (清水道) stop. Each ride is 220 yen so it is recommended to buy 500 yen 1 day bus ticket.

From the bus stop, you can walk up to the temple. Along the way, there are many shops you can buy Japanese souvenirs, snacks, ice cream and others. One thing I always have to buy here is the Kyoto famous snacks- Yatsuhashi (八ツ橋). It is a thin slice of flour..mochi-like snack with stuffed flavor inside. If you don’t want to buy, don’t worry! Go try some they give out for free with a cup of tea. 😉

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I have some of the pictures from my earlier trip to Kiyomizudera in winter and the recent one in spring. Can’t remember where I put other photos from other trips. You can see that this temple is beautiful all year round.

Winter 2010

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Spring 2013

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Now in spring, sakura is visible and it goes perfectly with the temple. Just beautiful!

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(I wanted to sit on this guy’s spot and take a picture! oh well…)

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4 days in Taiwan (Taipei)!

I was so desperate to make an excuse to get out of the office for a couple of days. So I thought of traveling somewhere.  Some of my friends said it’s even cheaper to go to a nearby country than within Japan so I thought of Taiwan having heard that Thai citizens with a valid Japanese visa are exempted from Taiwanese visa. And I can brush up my Chinese, visit new places and EAT all the delicious food there.

I booked a package for H.I.S. – 4 days 3 nights for 30,000 yen with hotel and air tickets included. We got a super great deal. I personally would recommend H.I.S. for international travel package. We picked 自由 (ji-yuu) plan which means no tour is included and we are free to travel by ourselves. Airport pick up and sending are set up by H.I.S. which is very nice. However, with this price, we knew we couldn’t expect the hotel to be Grand Hyatt or anything fancy. The hotel turned out to be quite small but nice room in a nice area so I guess that’s more than enough. But the plane…that’s another story.

Now let’s get to the travel part!

Day 1: Tokyo -> Taipei, Ximending, Shilin night market

We left Tokyo in the morning by an airline called ‘Sccot’ スクート, a low cost airline I’ve just first heard of. My impression with this airline is NOT good at all. They plane was not very stable. It felt as if I was in a roller coaster ride for about 15 minutes when it started flying.  After everybody got to sleep, they also woke us up by ringing bells to sell ice cream.

We finally got to Taipei airport in 3 hours. There, we exchanged our money. We thought that the rate would be cheaper there but actually exchanging at Narita airport gives better rate. We exchanged only 15,000 yen for the trip.

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Our hotel is located in a shopping district Ximending- Ximen MRT station. They say it’s like Harajuku/Shibuya of Taiwan. We  walked around and ate a few things before heading to the famous Shilin night market!

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We tried a lot of food at the market and bought a lot of souvenirs. The food was great. We also found so many strange things as well.

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And the bubble milk tea, my favorite drink, is so good in Taiwan as it’s the origin of bubble milk tea.

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I have to say the MRT is very convenient and it’s quite easy to get around in Taipei. Lucky that we can also speak Chinese so that helps a lot too. If you visit Taipei, Shilin night market is a place you MUST visit. It’s full of interesting food and stuff that you don’t see very often. This picture is an example- a massage using knives at a shop called Alien study center!? It’s actually  not as scary as it looks and felt a bit good somehow.

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Day 2: Chiang Kai-Shek, Tamsui, Zhonghsan area (mall), Taipei 101

Staring off our day at Ximending since we had to get on the MRT from Ximen station. Everything was still closed at that time. But we found this amazing food on the street. I don’t know what it’s called but it’s made of flour..kind of like Roti (Indian food) and we can order eggs or pork and so many other toppings to add to it. I ordered the original one with eggs. My friend ordered a pork one. It was delicious and very cheap!

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After that we went off to Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall (國立中正紀念堂). There, it locates a monument in the memory of Chiang Kai-Shek, former President of China.  Next to the monument is a National Theatre and National Concert Hall. The area is surrounded by a big park. We were a bit surprised to see all the teenagers gather to dance and practice their performance at the memorial square. Unfortunately, the memorial hall was under construction. But the whole area was still beautiful. The weather, however, was extremely hot. Bring a hat when you visit this place!

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After visiting Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall, we decided to go to the last station on the red line, Tamsui (actually it is read as ‘Dan-Shui’). It took us around 40 minutes from Taipei city center. It is  located by the seaside in Northern Taipei. It is popular for Fisherman’s pier/wharf, the food, water activities, and the outdoors such as clycling.

We went straight to the market for lunch and found so many interesting food. The picter below on the left is fish balls with noodles inside and the right picture is pork…it was our lunch!  Other than this, we found interesting food and drinks such as almond drink, black eggs, and so many others. I bought some of them back to Japan. 😉

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After lunch, we headed for a walk around the beach. The sea breeze was so refreshing despite the hot weather. Many people were cycling, taking a boat ride and others. I was very impressed with this place locating close to the city and so peacefully lively at the same time.

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Even with a full stomach, you can’t go wrong with another cup of bubble milk tea. I recommend this shop with the nuber 50 in the logo. It is a franchaise all over Taiwan. There is another shop I like called Cha Time but I prefer this one more since you can personalize your own cup. You can choose from the jelly or the stuff to put inside, the size of the bubble(pearl?), then the sweetness from 10% to 100% (I personally chose 70% every time). The taste is very good. I personally like the normal size of pearls in the bubble milk tea and the grass jelly is also a very yummy one.

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After Tamsui, we went back to the city center. We wanted to rest a little since it was such a hot day so we decided to go to the big mall in Zhongshan area. This area has a feeling of Shinjuku-sanchome. We went to Mitsukoshi mall having heard that it is one of the biggest malls in town.

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Then, we headed to Taipei 101! The landmark of Taipei which is a skyscarper with a mall inside. It used to be the tallest building in the world as well. I love the exterior and interior design of the building very much. It is unique and very grand. There are many offices in the building as well.

We got there by shuttle bus from Taipei city hall station. We went to eat first. The food court in the B1 floor is AWESOME. Various choices to choose and not expensive either. We went to the restaurant on the same floor where they have dumplings and real Taiwanese/Chinese style food. The best I’ve ever had!

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Then, we went up to the observatory of Taipei 101. Waited in line about 40 minutes till we got to go up. The night view of Taipei city was beautiful. The observatory is wide and organized. We could see the whole city and how it is nicely arranged.

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We took a taxi back to our hotel in Ximen that night  since we stayed until the building closed and there was no more shuttle bus. Even around 20-30 minutes on a taxi, it only costed us 280 yuan (less than 1,000 yen).

Day 3: Longshan temple, Sun yat sen memorial hall, Taipei 101, Shida night market

Starting off very relaxing on the 3rd day because the flight on the next day was very early. We went to Carrefour supermarket to see some interesting products they sell in Taiwan. I got a lot of instant ramen, snacks, sauces and others.

I couldn’t wake up to have breakfast at the hotel so I went to a convenient store and bought Taiwanese oden. This is the bag they gave me. Reminded me of my art class when I was little.

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After a full stomach, we headed to Longshan temple but before we got there, we passed a place which is some kind of a historical center. We couldn’t read all the Chinese explanations so we only knew that the area used to be a school and an important place for ceremonies in the past..also related to the period when Japan colonized Taiwan.

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Finally, we got to Longshan temple. Again, it was very hot. We prayed and stayed for a while before another cup of bubble milk tea and lunch at Taipei 101 food court.

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After lunch at Taipei 101, we went to Sun Yat Sen memorial hall. It is a memorial hall for Dr. Sun Yat Sen, China’s national father. Inside the hall, Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s life and legacies are displayed there with an enormous monument of him similar to that of USA former president, Abraham Lincoln. There was a small ceremony for changing military officers as well.

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Outside the hall is like a square- a multi purpose ground for people to exercise, fly their kites, walk their dogs, etc. The place was lively and sort of bright.

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We could see the Taipei 101 building from this place as well. It is only a station away and it is actually within walking distance.

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Another great day in Taipei!

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Finishing off with Shida night market. I had the best pork bun (?), fried chicken and so many other food at this market. My friend also tried the smelly toufu, too. After eating like it was our last meal, we went back to the hotel and get ready for a 6 AM flight.

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The flight was too early. Maybe we should have paid a bit more for them to arrange a better flight. I would definitely do that next time.

We had a great time this trip. So glad to be able to travel again. Taiwan was great and I hope I get to go again someday.

Just FYI – Taipei MRT map

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