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!

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)

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.

Sakura viewing – Hanami in Tokyo!

This year, sakura (桜) started to bloom a bit earlier than it usually does. Normally, sakura should be in full bloom around early April, just in time for entrance ceremony (入学式-nyugakushiki) for schools in Japan. But this year, the season has started from mid-March which is around the time for graduation ceremony (卒業式-sotsugyoushiki). This probably explains why there are a lot of girls in “Hakama (袴)”, a Japanese costume for graduation ceremony, taking photos with beautiful sakura scene.

I used to live in Beppu city, a small city in Oita prefecture, for about 3.5 years. Every year, our only option was always Beppu park (別府公園). So I got a bit excited when sakura started to bloom this year having heard that there are so many good spots here in Tokyo. Last year, I was also away for a company training in Nagano (長野県), a famous city for skiing and winter activities. Therefore, I can say that this year is actually my first time for sakura spotting in Tokyo.

When we talk about going out picnic under the sakura trees or just simple going for a walk along the river with beautiful sakura and others, the word ‘hanami (花見)’ is used. This word literally means ‘flower-viewing’, hana (花)= ‘flower’ and mi (見)= ‘see’ from the verb ‘mi-ru (見る)’ . Thus,  in other words, it means flowers viewing which is particularly imply to sakura.

This time, I visited two places for hanami in Tokyo: Naka-meguro and Yoyogi park.

  • Yoyogi park

Yoyogi park is a famous park in the city center of Tokyo. The closest JR station is Harajuku- one of the most famous shopping area so, it is always packed with people during this season. This time, my friend and I decided to walk into the park just to see the sakura. We did not expect to sit down and have a picnic under the sakura tree at all since we can predict that the park is already full of people. We took a lot of pictures. It was enjoyable just to see beautiful sakura and people having fun with their families and friends. 🙂

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  • Naka-meguro

I have heard a lot of good things about Naka-meguro. It is located in meguro-ku and is only one station away from Shibuya on a rapid train on Tokyu-Toyoko line which is the line I use to commute everyday. The sakura view here is famous since there are sakura trees are along both sides of meguro river. It is an amazing view. 🙂 I had the best time there. I can say it was the best hanami I’ve ever had. The whole area was so beautiful with all the sakura in full bloom. It looks kind of like a sea or a huge cloud of pinkish-white sakura. I can just walk there all day. There are many interesting shops, cafes and food carts all around, too. So the hanami experience in Naka-meguro is definitely worthwhile.

Moreover, in Naka-meguro, they have lanterns hanging on the branches of sakura trees. They light them up at night during sakura festival. This year the festival starts from April 7th which is too late for the season this year. All the sakura will probably be gone by then…

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Some other good spots I have heard of:

1) Shinjuku Gyoen, 2) Ueno park, 3) Sumida park, 4) Inokashira park

…and so many others. Enjoy your hanami everybody!

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