Life in the Fast Lane


Konnichiwa (Part One)

By 5:24 PM , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It's been almost a month (can't believe how fast time flies) since I left for Japan, and I only found time to write about it, well, now. Apologies for this really delayed entry; chalk it up to reality slapping me in the face as soon as I came back.

Anyway, going back to the reason for this entry: I finally set foot on Japanese soil! This had been one of my lifelong dreams, and thanks to that wonderful thing called a "seat sale", as well as a great deal on Airbnb, it finally happened.

Our (my youngest brother, my sister, and her BF) flight last April 18 took off fairly late in the afternoon (unfortunately, along with seat sales, one must expect delays; you get what you pay for), so we arrived at the Kansai International Airport in Osaka late in the evening as well. One of the first things we did after going through Immigration, etc., was to get a pocket WiFi, which became our best friend throughout the trip. I rented ours from Global WiFi, which has stalls in both the north and south halls of the Kansai International Airport, for an equivalent of PhP 5,250 for five days.

Tip: Before making a trip to Japan, scour the Interwebz for pocket WiFi services. There are several of them that offer such services (or you can also rent a phone or buy a local SIM; if you're traveling with a group, though, it's better to rent a pocket WiFi). You can reserve in advance and just pick up the unit when you get to the airport. If, like us, you take a chance and just rent one without any reservation, you might not be assured of a unit, depending on what's available. 

From the airport, we had to figure out how to get to Esaka, which was where we would be picked up. Take note that none of us had been to Japan before, so we had to do our research. Armed with printouts from Google Maps as well as train station apps on our smartphones, we managed to get to the Namba Station, then switch trains to the Midosuji Line so we could get off at Esaka. Our Airbnb host picked us up from there and took us to our apartment.

It was a quaint two bedroom apartment located in the Esakocho Suita area. It comfortably fit four people and it had a kitchen, laundry area, and, of course, a bathroom with a Japanese-style toilet (temperature- and bidet-controlled, with music!). It came out to PhP 4,000 each night for four people.

Since we got to our apartment really late (practically midnight), none of the restaurants near the apartment were still open, so we settled for convenience store food. Which, if you've been to Japan, will know that it's not a bad idea.

The next morning, our first full day, we wanted to do some shopping and eating. Before that, though, I went running (I just had to explore the area). And what surprised me was my first cherry blossom sighting. I was so excited!

When I got back to the apartment, we set off for the Dotonburi/Shinsaibashi area. It's pretty much a really long stretch of shops and restaurants to the left and right.

They had the usual suspects (H&M and, of course, their very own Uniqlo), but a lot of interesting shops (cosplay costume stores, animé and videogame shops, and the like) as well. All of us were surprised because we were expecting everything to be really expensive, but they were more or less the same amount (if not slightly higher) as the items here when converted to PhP. In fact, some were so much cheaper. I got a pair of black canvas Doc Martens for PhP 3,500; over here, Doc Martens cost PhP 5,000 and up.

When we were at the Disney Store, one of the salesladies recommended a nearby ramen restaurant. Being the ramenholic that I am, I knew that I needed ramen to be my first legit Japanese meal. Ramen Zundouya seriously did not disappoint. We ordered the Ajitama ramen (around PhP 380 when converted) and a plate of gyoza. Every slurp was indescribably flavor-packed. I almost teared up after my first sip of the broth. And when the gyoza was served, I also wanted to die from sheer happiness.

Late in the afternoon until early in the evening, we spent some time around the Osaka Castle. Unfortunately, when we got there, the castle itself was already closed off to tourists (visiting hours were over), so we roamed the castle grounds. It was actually a relief to be able to sit around and soak in the scenery after hours of walking.

When it was time to call it a day, we looked for a nearby restaurant. We initially wanted to look for a good sushi place, but since all of us had aching feet, we settled for whatever was closest. Thankfully Google Maps directed us to a katsudon place about five minutes away from the castle. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to note the name of the restaurant since the signage was in Japanese. What I can say, though, is that we were blown away by how cheap but delicious our meal was (the menu was in Japanese, so we just pointed to a picture of the tray; it came out to PhP 280 when converted).

The following day, our second full day, we were off to Universal Studios. We booked our tickets in advance c/o Voyagin. Each ticket cost around PhP 3,500 when converted.

Tip: Whether you decide to buy a ticket in advance, or in Universal itself, allot ample time for traveling, especially if you're taking public transportation. Since the gates open around 9am, best to get there as early as possible. We left our place around 7:30am and had to ride three trains to make it to Universal by 9am. By the time we got there, the lines were already fairly long. Another thing I learned was to avoid going on a Friday, a weekend or on a Monday, if possible, because there might be a smaller crowd between Tuesday to Thursday.

Unfortunately, it was raining practically the entire time we were there. It was cold that day (ranging from 13º to 17ºC), and with the nonstop rain, we were pretty much freezing almost the whole day.

Tip: Prepare for all kinds of weather. Even if we already knew it would rain on that day (days in advance, while we were still in Manila), based on the weather app on our phones, we had no choice but to push through because of the tickets we booked through Voyagin two weeks in advance. I guess one advantage of buying tickets on the spot is being able to shuffle items on your travel itinerary around, especially if the weather will affect your day.

The first item on the agenda? Harry Potter, of course! Those who used to read my blogs (especially back in the prehistoric era known as LiveJournal) would remember how much of a Potterhead I was. Naturally, I had to check out Hogwarts.

Tip: Since The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is their biggest attraction, and since you're most likely a Muggle and not a Wizard who can Apparate, you'll have to fall in line in a designated area somewhere within the grounds, before being able to enter the Harry Potter area, to get a stub that shows when you can enter the actual grounds. That way, they can manage the crowds because it gets full pretty fast. 

We were able to get a slot at 10am, so we walked around a bit (as far as our umbrellas let us). Then we were finally let in, and our first order of business was to get ourselves some Butter Beer.

Then we went around the different shops. It was almost as if we were in Diagon Alley mixed with Hogsmeade.

We wanted to check out the ride in Hogwarts itself, but the line was long (two hours' waiting time). Thankfully, we were able to come back later in the afternoon, when there was a window of no rain (which only lasted for about an hour). That ride was a blast!

My souvenir was a Gryffindor scarf, which I'd long wanted to get for myself. So stoked! It came out to PhP 1200 when converted, which isn't bad.

Of course this particular Universal Studios still has to retain Japan's sense of aesthetics.

We visited as many of the attractions (from Jurassic Park to Spider-Man to Jaws, etc.) and went on as many rides as the weather let us, and met some friends along the way. My favorite, of course, was Charlie Brown!

When it got to be too rainy and too miserable (we had already started going on our own sneezefests), we left sometime around 6pm. Somewhere outside the park itself was a row of restaurants. We chanced upon Daikisuisan Revolving Sushi and decided to check it out.

We had to figure out their mechanics for ordering sushi, since none of the staff spoke English very well. We just had to basically point out which dish we liked based on pictures on the menu. But everything we ordered was oishii! The whole meal cost less than 1K in PhP.

Since this post is turning out to be almost novel-like in length, I'll write about the next two days in a succeeding post. 

In the meantime, thanks for checking this out. I hope that reading this excited you enough to consider planning a trip to Osaka — or, well, anywhere in Japan! Stay tuned for the next one featuring Kyoto in particular.

Ja matane!

(Cameras used: Canon EOS 550D, Nikon S6300, GoPro Hero 3, iPhone 5S.)

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  1. Great experience, Tin! 'Would love to travel to Japan someday! Always keep that adventurous spirit up high! ;)

  2. Hi, Tey! Sorry, super late reply! You should definitely visit Japan; I'm sure you'll love it. :D

  3. Waiting on part 2. Haha. *Pressure*

    1. WAHAHAHA! To be perfectly truthful, I totally forgot about Part 2! Ack! Thanks for reminding me!


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