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 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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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:

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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