2012 Japan Trip Day 29 – Osaka

Date of Travel: 27/02/2012

One attraction which Osaka is quite well known for is its aquarium; Kaiyukan. I had initially hoped that we would arrive there and start exploring by 10am. However, we struggled to get up on time after being quite fatigued from our travels and the long previous day we had. We bought breakfast, ate some of it on the train, then ate the rest outside of Kaiyukan. By the time we finally got into the aquarium, it was past 11am. The grounds around the outside of the aquarium were nice and pleasant at least.

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The aquarium itself was amazing. It featured a massive central water tank that is 9m thick where the star attraction of the aquarium, the whale shark, and a number of other sharks and manta rays reside. In order to hold all this water in, the glass used for this particular tank is a foot thick! There were a large number of smaller exhibits surrounding the major tank, including otters, seals, dolphins, and even one with a capybara! We tried to make it to as many feeding times as possible, but there was just so many exhibits there was no way we could see all in one go.

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I started getting hungry just before 3pm, so I stopped by the aquarium café for some food. There wasn’t much available as it was quite late, so I went for some pretty terrible takoyaki. I’m guessing it had been sitting there for a few hours, so it was a bit stale. At least the view out to the harbour was pretty good!

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After the quick snack, I headed to the lower levels of the aquarium, which featured an exhibit of massive snow crabs and jellyfish. I waited for Brownie and J.C. at the exit for over half an hour as they got distracted by the otter feeding time. When we regrouped, there was not enough time to go explore the interior of Osaka Castle, which was our planned activity for the afternoon. Instead, since we were still quite hungry, we headed over to the adjoining mall for an early dinner.

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We found an Okonomiyaki restaurant at the mall, and it was the first time we had it since Hiroshima. It was delicious as always, but personally I still think that Hiroshima style is still better. Of course, in fear of getting punched in the face by proud Kansai locals, I never made it known to anyone else until we got to Tokyo! Only joking of course. The rest of the mall had very interesting shops, including one selling ninja goods, and a ninja themed room. J.C. had wanted to go for the ninja room, but as Brownie and I were still disappointed with the Room of Living Doll ride from the day before, we declined. On hindsight we should have gone, as it was one of the few times that J.C. had requested to do something. Fatigue probably had a hand in our decision at the time too. There was also a robot exhibition going on at the same time which we had a bit of fun at.

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After exploring the mall, we had a walk around the bay area. It was very quiet, though not surprising as the bay was located quite far out from the city centre and from residential areas. As there wasn’t really much to do, we hopped on a train back towards our accommodation to pack in preparation for one of the earliest starts of our trip the next day. On the way back however, we had a change of plans and decided to walk around the Osaka Castle grounds instead. The park surrounding the castle was larger than I thought. I was surprised that we were about to walk up right to the base of the castle. In many countries, especially in Europe, the castle would probably be covered in graffiti if there was an absence of security such as this. Just goes to show how well behaved Japan is as a society. Complete contrast to Brownie, who was hiding in the shadows for a good few minutes just to jump scare me with J.C.’s help! Damn hooligans!

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After our quick visit to Osaka Castle, we finally headed back to our hostel. We were a bit hungry however because of our early dinner, so we stopped by Lawsons again for some snacks and ice cream. Our scheduled plan for the penultimate leg of our trip was the most frantic, and so we headed to bed early. With that, our short return to Kansai came to an end.

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Subway from Bentencho Station to Osakako Station – 230 yen
Subway from Osakako Station to Morinomiya Station – 270 yen
JR Trains covered by JR National Pass

2) ACCOMMODATION
Bonsai Guesthouse – 3,000 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from Lawson @ Momodani – 400 yen [teriyaki burger, chicken onigiri, strawberry sandwich]
Takoyaki at Osaka Aquarium (Kaiyukan) – 480 yen
Dinner at 鶴橋風月 @ Kaiyukan Marketplace – 780 yen [Okonomiyaki]
Supper from Lawson @ Momodani – 413 yen [Salmon rice ball and 2 types of ice cream]

4) ATTRACTIONS
Kaiyukan (Osaka Aquarium) entrance fee – 2,000 yen

5) OTHERS
Souvenir from Kaiyukan – 1,190 yen [Tiger whale chain and capybara toy]

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
8,763 yen (513,182 yen total)

Total Cost of Kansai (revisited) Leg
25,542 yen (8,514 yen per day)

2012 Japan Trip Day 28 – Osaka

Date of Travel: 26/02/2012

We planned to meet one of J.C.’s friends today at about 10am. As we didn’t have anything planned before that, we took the chance to have a sleep-in (well…if you call 9am a sleep-in that is…). We quickly headed down the road to Lawsons at about 9:30am to buy breakfast and headed back to the hostel to eat. To our surprise, J.C.’s friend was waiting for us when we returned! It was a bit awkward spending the first few minutes eating in front of them when Brownie and I just met them! But they were pretty cool about it thankfully!

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Our first stop of the day was at Shitennoji Temple, which was located about 20 minutes away. The temple itself wasn’t that grand, as the temple was quite old. Nonetheless the ground was very spacious and the landscaping was attractive, as is the case for most temples around Japan. It was also the first temple that we were free to roam around in since leaving Nagasaki, so it was nice getting back to the activities we kick-started our Japan trip with. It was also the first time we had climbed up a pagoda in Japan. It was only 5 stories high and did not have that great a view, but it was nice seeing how the architecture was like on the interior.

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Next stop was the Gokuraku-jodo Garden, which was located a short walk away from Shitennoji Temple. The building itself was reminiscent of Nijo Castle in Kyoto. The vegetation here was quite different to those we had encountered in other parts of Japan. We had a nice walk among the greenery surrounding the interior lake. It is still hard to believe that we are still right in the middle of the 3rd largest city in Japan considering how quiet and peaceful the garden and temple grounds were.

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Shortly after, we started heading towards the Shinsekai district for lunch, which was located another 10-15 minutes away from the temple grounds. It was quite an interesting walk along the way, passing by fire stations, other buildings with interesting architecture, and the Tsutenkaku Tower looming in the distance. This was a district was once upon a time seen as the centre of growth in Osaka (Shinsekai means “New World”), but other parts of Osaka has risen in dominance since. The gloomy appearance of the tower is a constant reminder of what could have been in years past.

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One of Osaka’s many food specialties is Kushikatsu. It is basically “deep fried everything you can think off”. It is surprisingly popular, as we saw by a massive queue into such a shop. In addition to the usual deep fried seafood and meat, there were deep fried onion, cheese, lotus root, asparagus, tomatoes and more. J.C.’s friend brought us to one of those places for lunch. Can’t say I am a fan, as despite the amount of deep fried meals I had throughout this trip, I actually dislike deep fried food as I just feel like complete crap after having it. Having a meal comprising almost completely of deep friend food was way too much for me. Luckily they had also ordered Yakisoba and a delicious egg and pork dish called tonpeiyaki, so it wasn’t all bad.

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After lunch, we explored the Shinsekai area together with J.C.’s friend. The place was very lively and colourful; a bit like Dotonbori from the night before. As with Dotonbori, many of these buildings had very interesting exterior decoration. There were small interesting alleyways around the place, featuring heart locks (for couples to declare their love) and a place to play shogi and go. After exploring for a while, J.C.’s friend wanted to bring us up to the top of the Tsutenkaku Tower. However, there was a thirty minute waiting time in the queue. There were still many things we wanted to do in the afternoon, so we had to decline their offer. We felt bad about it too as they had been so nice to us. Thankfully they understood and offered to travel with us to the Umeda district before parting ways.

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Umeda is one of the busiest areas in the whole of Osaka. A large number of high rise buildings and shopping malls are located here. The first order of the afternoon for me was a short stop at Yodabashi Camera to see if I could find a new pair of headphones (as mine broke sometime on our trip between Ogimachi and Takayama). Afterwards, we headed up to the main walkway leading out from Osaka JR station and had a great view of the area. On there, we spotted a mall with a ferris wheel and decided to have a look. We eventually found the mall (Hep Five) and spent a while exploring it while waiting for the sun to start setting outside. It had large whale sculptures hanging over the ground which was a bit intimidating but awesome all the same. Brownie was getting a bit of a headache so we stopped by an ice cream parlour for a quick snack. Luckily he recovered very quickly afterwards!

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Once it started getting darker, we started walking towards the Umeda Sky Building. The walk there was interesting, as we really got a feel for how built-up Osaka was compared to the many cities and towns we had visited recently. Part of the walk was along the train lines, which gave us the opportunity to take some photos. There was also an automated carpark, which I had not seen up close and personal before.

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The grounds around the Umeda Sky Building were very modern and spacious. There weren’t many people present since a lot were still at work and that this area was more of an office district compared to the area closer to the Osaka JR Station. We took a look upwards to see how high the observatory was before heading upwards.

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To get to the observatory, we had to take an elevator up to the 35th floor. From there, we took a glass escalator up a further 4 floors. The view from the 39th floor was reasonable, though the reflection of the interior lights against the windows was annoying. Luckily, as the weather was good, we were allowed to go up to the roof. Interestingly, the roof was lighted up by a strange glow-in-the-dark light, where anything white reflected back blue light. We had some fun trying to take creative photos with this light. There was also a corner with more heart locks for couples.

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Needless to say, the view from the roof was amazing. In addition to that, the sound of liveliness of the city really added to the atmosphere. The amount of high-rise and skyscrapers was amazing, especially coming from Christchurch where you could probably count the number of buildings over 10 stories high with your fingers. I also spotted a building where part of a bridge passes through it (top right photo). It was an amazing feat of engineering, though I would not want to be based on that building.

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We headed down from the observatory and observed the nearby grounds. There was a fountain display that was quite attractive, and a garden located at basement level. The modern feel of the place was a sharp contrast to the old temple grounds we encountered earlier in the day. This is one of the reasons why I just love Japan, as the old and the new seem to integrate together seamlessly.

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The basement itself was interesting, as it featured dozens of restaurants which were set up as if it was an old alleyway reminiscent of Gion in Kyoto or the Chaya districts in Kanazawa. It had a miniature shrine, vehicles that were used in the day, paved floors, strange displays, and fake building exteriors. It was done really well. Unfortunately we could not find something which we wanted to eat at a reasonable price, so we decided to head back to the Umeda train station for dinner. Funnily enough, we actually found a shortcut that went under the train tracks we saw earlier in the afternoon that took us back to the Umeda station area a lot quicker than before.

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Since Hep Five was close by, we decided to head back there for dinner. A lot of the restaurants were packed, but luckily we managed to find one with some tables that wasn’t too expensive. While having dinner, we started discussing what we wanted to do after. I picked up a pamphlet earlier in the day for the arcade on the upper floors of Hep Five, and saw that they had a ride called “Room of Living Dolls”. I jokingly suggested that we should go as I thought that J.C. would not be keen on horror related stuff. But surprisingly, J.C. agreed to it in a heartbeat. As such, we headed upstairs to the arcade to try the ride.

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We had no idea what to expect for the ride. The person in charge of the ride asked which room we wanted. We had no idea, so we asked which was scarier. He then led us to a dark room surrounded by creepy dolls, and we were asked to sit down and put headphones on. He then turned off the light and exited the room. We then listened to an elderly woman speak. It was quite well done as it felt like the woman was actually speaking right in our ears, and moving around in the room. But then all hell broke loose when the lights in the room started flickering and large thunder sounds burst through the headphones. It was really deafening. Unfortunately, we had no idea what the woman was saying as it was in Japanese, but soon there were loud bloody screams and yelling, and the sound of something cutting up something else. At one stage, the sound was too loud so I took off my headphones momentarily. I then heard in the background “Somebody I used to know” by Gotye. I had wondered at that moment whether it was signalling that I was never going to step foot outside of this room ever again! Nothing much was happening during the ride, so I started pushing Brownie, who in turn decided to start pushing J.C., who thought that there was a robotic arm actually pushing him and was frozen in fear! After one final blood hurling scream, the chairs suddenly dropped and moved towards the table, and the ride was over. We walked out feeling somewhat disappointed to be honest, as we were expecting an actual haunted house or room that we had read up online before going on this trip. But nonetheless it was a great story to tell! We wandered around the arcade for a few more minutes before calling it a day and headed back to the hostel.

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Subway from Dobutsuen-mae to Umeda – 230 yen
JR Trains covered by JR National Pass

2) ACCOMMODATION
Bonsai Guesthouse – 3,000 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from Lawson @ Momodani – 441 yen [green tea cream bun, sakura flavour red bean bun, water]
Green tea ice cream @ Hep Five – 320 yen
Dinner at some Udon Restaurant (replaced by Korean restaurant) @ Hep Five 7th floor – 780 yen [Curry udon and oyako-don set]
Lunch shouted by J.C.’s friend

4) ATTRACTIONS
Umeda Sky Building entrance fee – 700 yen

5) OTHERS
Earphones from Yodabashi Umeda – 2,510 yen
Souvenir from Umeda Sky Building – 780 yen [little doll]
Room of Living Doll ride at Hep Five Joypolis – 600 yen

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
9,361 yen (504,419 yen total)

2012 Japan Trip Day 27 – Kyoto/Osaka

Date of Travel: 25/02/2012

The rain had returned on the final morning we were in Takayama. There were a few last minute souvenir shopping we wanted to do before we left so we split up again. I returned back to the morning market near Takayama Jinya before having a quick walk through the Old Town back to the hostel. We regrouped at the hostel and headed to the Takayama JR Station. The shop Brownie and J.C. wanted to go to was closed earlier, so they rushed back to see if it had since opened but unfortunately they didn’t have any luck.

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Next city on our itinerary was one we had already visited – Kyoto. We were going to stop by for a couple of hours to observe the Plum Blossom Festival in Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. The trip took about 3.5 hours by train. As such, we bought enough food in Takayama for breakfast and lunch to save us the trouble of looking for food once we arrived in Kyoto. When we arrived in Kyoto, J.C. and I found some large coin lockers available to leave our luggage. Brownie unfortunately was unable to find one, but he did find a security room that stores baggage for a cheaper price! Note to all reading this – if you want to leave large items of baggage in Kyoto for a day, leave it at the baggage storage room, not the coin lockers! Coin lockers however are cheaper for smaller luggage items.

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We took a subway from Kyoto JR station to Imadegawa station, and walked to Kitano Tenmangu. I had underestimated the distance between the two locations, but the walk in between was a good refresher that we were back in a big city. When we arrived, we found ourselves among a large crowd mingling at the flea market held at Kitano Tenmangu on the 25th of every month. We decided to skip the stalls for now and head to the Shrine complex.

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The highlight of the Plum Blossom Festival features an elaborate tea ceremony which we did not participate in. Rather, we observed it from a distance, and also explored the surroundings. There were dozens of Maiko (kimono girls) serving tea to those who had purchased tickets earlier in the day. It wasn’t the first time we had encountered Maiko on this trip, but it was the first time we were able to get decent photo opportunities of them.

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Throughout the ground lie a number of bull statues. Like with that other creepy statue we had encountered at Todaiji Temple in Nara, rubbing the bull supposedly heals any ailments the person might have at the respective body part. There were also beautiful lion statues surrounded by plum blossom trees.

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The Kitano Tenmangu shrine itself was larger than I thought it would be. It was perhaps one of the largest shrine buildings we had encountered on our trip thus far. There was an extremely long queue of people lining up to pay their respects to the shrine. There were smaller shrines and numerous tori gates littered around the ground as well, and it was quite enjoyable walking through and exploring everything. The rain let up as well thankfully! There were plum grooves around the back of the ground which we had considered visiting, but as we could see that a number of plum blossom trees had not yet blossomed, we decided against it. There were still the odd tree present that had fully bloomed which was beautiful.

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We had a slower walk through the flea market after finishing up at the shrine. These stalls brought back memories of similar flea markets back in the countries I grew up in when I was a child. Most of these stalls were selling food, though some were selling toys/masks/clothes etc. There was a creepy one selling idol goods, including adult only items. It was funny how everyone was walking so closely together, but when it came to that dodgy shop, people crowded away from the shop, so there was about a half meter radius of empty space around that shop!

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On the way back, we were deciding if we had wanted to take a bus back to the JR station. That would have saved us about a quarter of an hour so that we can move on to our next destination sooner. When we bus came however, we saw how crowded it was and decided to walk back to the subway instead instead! We were a bit hungry however, so we stopped by 7-11 along the way. I wasn’t hungry for a meal, but rather some desert. As such I bought a fabulous cup of cookie and cream ice cream, which was delicious!

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When we arrived back at the Kyoto train station, we took the time to take a few more photos of the amazing architecture. After spending so much of our time here earlier in the trip, we did have a nostalgic feeling, especially after thinking about what we had experienced and accomplished on this trip since leaving Kyoto about 3 weeks ago. It would be the last time we step foot outside of the ticket gates at this station, so we stood around to soak in the atmosphere one final time before collecting our luggage and heading to our next destination – Osaka.

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We arrived in Osaka quite late, and it took us a while to find our accommodation at Bonsai Guest Houses near the Momodani train station. We ended up getting lost as well as we walked out the wrong exit at the station! We checked in, left our luggage in our room, rested for a while, and then headed off to get dinner.

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We found a decent place for dinner near the accommodation. It was one of those places that we ordered using a vending machine. It has been a while since we used one of those! Food came out quick as usual in these places, and damn it was good. After dinner, we headed back to the station to catch a train to the famous night time district of Osaka at Dotonbori. Along the way, we spotted a poor cat who was stuck under the platform at the train station! Poor thing D:

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For those who are unfamiliar with Dotonbori, it is the site of the famous Glica neon sign. We walked along the canal which was lined by rows of such signs. J.C. did note that it was the first time on this trip we had encountered quite a lot of rubbish lying around on the ground. Still better than most places in the world, but enough for people to take note of.

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Dotonbori was filled with interesting characters we had not yet encountered throughout the trip. For example, we came across a group of what appeared to be guy hosts (or at least it appeared that way). The main street itself was lined with colourful neon signs and interesting exterior decorations. It was a sharp contrast to what we had experienced thus far on this trip. And I suppose it should. Osaka is the biggest city we had been in thus far. The bright lights definitely added to the liveliness of the place, and it was refreshing being surrounded by so many people for the first time since leaving Sapporo.

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Walking back towards the train station, we came across a very strange building exterior, where strange heads on short legs were used to support columns. Personally, those heads creep me out! There were several small displays at the train station which we had a quick look at, then noticed that a large group of youths were out breakdancing just outside the station. We went and watched for a good 20 minutes. Most of them weren’t any good (I’m one to talk – I suck too), but it was a sight we had not seen much of thus far in Japan. Just behind us were large overhead bridges towering above. It definitely hit home that we were no longer in laid-back Takayama. We headed back to the hostel shortly after for a good sleep after one of the more exhausting days in a while.

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Daily Expenditure

1) TRANSPORT
Subway from Kyoto JR Station to Imagawa Station – 250 yen
Imagawa Station to Kyoto JR Station – 250 yen
JR Trains covered by JR National Pass

2) ACCOMMODATION
Bonsai Guesthouse – 3,000 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast/Lunch – 800 yen [Onigiri, melon custard bread, chilli dog, sandwich, chocolate croissant]
Water – 240 yen [one of the vending machines ate my money – turns out it was out-of-order]
Ice cream at 7-11Kyotokamishichiken – 268 yen
Dinner at Meshiya Miyamoto Munashi @ Momodani Station– 590 [Prawn Katsu]

4) ATTRACTIONS
N/A ~all free~

5) OTHERS
Souvenirs from Takayama – 1,420 yen [String ball thing, 3D glass Takayama festival float]
Coin locker at Kyoto station – 600 yen

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
7,418 yen (495,058 yen total)