Japan 2016: Kaway-kaway from KANSAI (Part 4)

Nov 16, 2017

Day 4/8

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

We saved the best for last – our fourth and last day to explore Osaka (before heading to Tokyo) was spent in Universal Studios Japan (USJ). For some, USJ is just another theme park. For me, it was the realization of a childhood dream, or at least a part of it. In July of 2014, USJ opened “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter”, which houses the majestic Hogwarts castle fronting the Black Lake, and the snow-covered little town of Hogsmeade. Since then, it has been a subconscious goal to get there – by Firebolt or Floo Powder or a Portkey or Apparition or what-have-yous, I had to get there.

But it appears I had to take a plane and train to get to Hogwarts. Heading to JR Universal City station!

Come 16th of November year 2016, I knew I was about to have one of the best days of my life. Aged 26 and not a successful Auror, I still looked forward to that day. I didn’t come unprepared – I have been waiting for my Hogwarts acceptance letter since age 11, so it deemed appropriate to dress accordingly. I donned my Hogwarts uniform, red-and-gold neck tie and a matching scarf, worthy of a true Gryffindor, and headed our way.

I almost forgot I had a mom and a sister with me, by the way, who are Muggles.

Welcome to USJ! I was so keen on getting inside WWOHP itself, I wasn’t able to take photos while walking.

USJ Studio Pass/ Express Pass

Prior to the trip, I did lots of reading and I found out that USJ is ALWAYS packed with visitors – tourists and citizens alike, regardless of the day. Sometimes when the crowd is overwhelming, they close the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and only allow those with timed entry tickets. During these unfortunate days, you can get timed entry tickets to WWOHP at no extra costs once you get inside the park, but you have to be really early and the issuance is not guaranteed.

We passed through the “Forbidden Forest”. So nice of them to literally pave the way 😛 So beside me is the flying Ford Anglia that came to the rescue when Ron and Harry were escaping spiders from the forest. You can hear the Hogwarts Hymn while walking. Oh, my Potterhead heart.

Nonetheless, there is another way to guarantee your entrance to WWOHP even on peak days, and that is to get an Express Pass. This is something you purchase on top of the Studio Pass, so obviously this option is more expensive. I figured I cannot risk NOT getting inside WWOHP, so I opted for this. There are many types of Express Passes, but the minimum I should get to ensure our entrance to WWOHP is the Express Pass 4. It is a skip-the-longer-queue-but-you-still-have-to-queue VIP pass for 4 rides, and the HP ride is one of them.

Last year (because a year has passed already at the time of writing this LOL), the Studio Pass + Express Pass 4 combo from Klook costs around Php 7k++/pax, but thanks to Google I managed to find a cheaper option: buying from the Japanese USJ website, which costed me Php5700/pax. Also thanks to a number of blogs that helped me get through the Japanese transaction successfully! The express pass is not available in the English website.

We were greeted by a busy Hogsmeade

Still expensive for Php5700, you’d say? Well I’d say, what a bargain – because of the Express Pass we spent like only 15 minutes in queue to get to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride (which we rode twice), without the pass the queue normally takes 2 hours. We spent around 20 minutes to get to the Spiderman ride (normally 2 hours) and in the Space Fantasy ride, we literally just walked our way directly to the ride itself, which normally takes an hour in queue. We didn’t mind paying a few extra pesos to spare us the time and effort of falling in line, which we could have spent elsewhere while enjoying the park.

Hello Captain! Welcome to Hogsmeade Station!

Honeydukes, home of the finest sweets including Chocolate Frogs

In front of the Three Broomsticks (our go-to pub) is where we can buy Butterbeer!

 The experience was overwhelming and it felt like Christmas had arrived on that very day – what with the cheerful crowds, festive atmosphere combined with the chilly weather and my excitement. We quickly made our way through Hogsmeade only to find what we were looking for:

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!

Mama easily recognized the castle from “Harry Pattern”. True fan fo’ sure – my mom, who just looks like a brunette Mrs. Weasley 😀 And on my right is Dobby.

Shout out to my sister who watched HP movies 1-8 prior to our Japan trip! Although she calls the Hogwarts Express train operator Hagrid..

Straight outta JK Rowling’s head. What started out as some scribbles on a tissue paper… has become THIS. Oh the grandeur of what have materialized.

Channeling my inner Hermione

So we spent like 32 years in front of the castle just adoring it and taking loads of pictures. We decided to use our Express Pass for the first time to experience Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey 4D ride. And so we went inside the castle!

The House Points! With Gryffindor in the lead (red), Slytherin (green), Hufflepuff (brown) and Ravenclaw (blue).

As expected, the paintings are moving and talking to each other.

The Pensieve inside the Headmaster’s (Dumbledore’s) office!

Do you see Ron, Hermione and Harry? I didn’t know they can talk in Japanese! And oops sorry for the flash photography, although it’s not really prohibited. This, by the way, is the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. We also passed by the Gryffindor Common Room – although we didn’t have a picture of it because we had to drop all our belongings inside a locker prior to the ride.

The hype is real! The ride was amazeballs! We played Quidditch and obviously we were on our broomsticks! Woohoo!! It lasted for a good 5 minutes.. that is so worth the queue!

After the ride, this was the way exit, at the back of Hogwarts.

A truly magical Christmas time

After the ride, we skimmed the Hogsmeade shops:

Everyone’s favorite Honeydukes

Chocolate Frogs with collectible cards of the great wizards and witches inside! What card did you get? I got Rowena Ravenclaw!

Bertie Bott’s Every Flavored Beans

Fudge Flies

Exploding Bonbons

The restrooms are called Public Inconveniences LOL

You probably guessed that you can hear Moaning Myrtle here. You are right! I solemnly swear that I’m NOT up to no good (for instance, making Polyjuice Potion) 😀

The Three Broomsticks Pub, home of the Butterbeer

Zonko’s Joke Shop is Fred and George’s inspiration for their Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Here you can spend your galleons for stuff like Extendable Ears, which you can use for more effective eavesdropping (only present in the book – not physically available for Muggles, if ever you’re interested :P)

Here you can get a copy of Gilderoy Lockhart’s narcissistic books, if you care about him, ‘coz I don’t

Them woodworks. Can you see the owls? This was in the Owl Post – a.k.a. magical world’s courier/messenger service. They like it better than, you know, FedEx or emails or text messages. Don’t ask me why.

The Owl Post

We went inside Ollivander’s and witnessed a show, recreating the scene where the wand chooses Harry. Here, the wand chose that lucky boy so he gets to take home a free wand.

I love Harry Potter but I’m not gonna spend 4900 yen for a pretty stick

Dervish and Banges, where we can buy an assortment of magical instruments and Quidditch supplies

Like Omnioculars

Broomsticks

Bludgers and Snitches

Sneakoscopes

Robes for all Houses

Even the Monster Book of Monsters!

When in a theme park it’s easy to forget that you’re hungry, except my mom. So we had  lunch in Three Broomsticks – Fish n’ Chips, and Pork Ribs Platter.

This is just a dummy of their Christmas Feast which looks really inviting.

Finally I got to taste Butterbeer..

This is cold Butterbeer with a souvenir mug. As expected it was sweet and buttery

A magic show. Look at how everyone sat down so everyone can see. I love this country.

I just regret the fact that we didn’t bother queuing for The Flight of the Hippogriff ride so we didn’t see Hagrid’s hut at the back.

When in Japan – wearing a costume is perfectly normal especially inside a theme park! Just look at that Spiderman behind me

No filter!

It’s easy to forget that there are other areas in USJ that need exploring. As a Harry Potter fan, my USJ area logic would be: Harry Potter, and others. 😀 Darn, the place is HUGE. Since we paid a hefty sum to get inside this theme park, we left WWoHP and quickly explored around and watched the Christmas show. Then, we returned here at night.

I’m never gonna leave Hogsmeade without my stash of Honeydukes goodies

Another round of Butterbeer, this time hot – to battle the 7deg C evening.

The Hogwarts castle looks even more astonishing at night

I left WWoHP with a heavy heart. And a heavy bag of Honeydukes goodies.

I also bought a Time Turner from Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods

I will write another blog post for the other things we did inside USJ outside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! 🙂

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Japan 2016: Kaway-kaway from KANSAI (Part 3)

Some 7-11 purchases

Nov 15, 2016

Day 3/8

Nara

I never thought deers would make me literally laugh out loud.

It was a cold Tuesday autumn morning and we were already tired even though that was only our 3rd day in the Land of the Rising Sun. We had no other spare time so we went ahead with the original plan – firstly, go to Nara and spend time with the famous deers.

On the way to Nara, pretending we were not tired. But hey! Gotta be thankful for being able to travel 😉

We totally don’t know the lady at the back but she seemed to be very happy so let her be.

Looking at this, I realized we walked almost 1.6 km from JR Nara station to Nara Deer Park, and another 1.6 km going back, not even including the walk around the park itself. No wonder we emptied 2 teishoku sets during lunch!

Nara is a city about 1 hour by train from Osaka. We went here just for the deers, but I’m pretty sure there’s more to this city, if only we had more spare time!

Autumn in full bloom! In the left side of this photo, there are stairs leading to Kofuku-ji, the 5-storey pagoda, which also leads to one of the many entrances of Nara Deer Park.

The stairs leading to some temples and Kofuku-ji, the 5-storey pagoda

Kofuku-ji, the 5-storey pagoda

Our first sighting of a deer!

The sister trying to befriend a deer. Deer was not amused.

Deers can be really aggressive if they saw you holding any food! They might bite, kick, headbutt – and WTF, knock you down!

But we didn’t see this sign prior, so here’s my mama just chilling under the maple tree

while we take selfies because duh tourists

While we were busy taking photos, a wild deer appeared in front of my poor mother who basically screamed.

Not gonna lie, their mouths are big and we didn’t know that they can bite! Nonetheless we found this really funny LOL. Bakit ka kasi may Gardenia sa bag, Mama.

We recovered from the shenanigan so we walked some more. The gloomy weather did little to obscure the beauty around.

Honestly we could be taking photos under a post that says some profanity and we’ll never know

The National Museum of Nara. We never got inside due to time constraints. This is where we witnessed “Kamote Vigil”, a group of ahjummas holding hot sweet potato high above their head while walking, because the ever-aggressive deers are freaking trying to get them. I never got the chance to take a photo because I was busy dying of laughter.

You can buy deer cookies around the park. Nagastusan ka na, na-kuyog ka pa (ng deers).

He seems to be older than the other deers. Yes, I just assumed his gender and relative age.

Make yo Mama happy! Hey traveling millennials – travel with yo Mama!

I kind of wish PH moved up a little bit farther from the equator to have this season! Autumn is just so so pretty!

While walking back to JR Nara Station, we passed by this quaint unassuming little teishoku house. Prices are reasonable, food was scrumptious, and the ahjummas serving and cooking for us were really nice!

Yummmmmmmers

And so we left Nara at around 2pm. We took the train going to our next destination – Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto.

 

Kyoto

We missed Arashiyama Bamboo Grove while in Kyoto on our 2nd day, because apparently it was hard to compress destinations when you get out of the hotel at noon-ish and it gets dark at 4pm.

JR Saga-Arashiyama Station (this was taken on our way back to Osaka so it was already dark)

I forgot what this place is, we passed by a couple of other tourist spots on the way to the Bamboo Grove. I’m not even sure if this is a tourist spot or a cemetery?!

But the trees are pretty so we took a brief look inside.

Finally! We were lucky we arrived here while it was still daytime. It might be hard to take proper photos when it gets dark, and I’m not even sure if the place is open at nighttime.

These are tombstones that can be seen at some point while walking inside the bamboo grove, but I didn’t take this photo for the tombstones – rather because of its colorful backdrop.

It was pretty crowded.

Outside Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, we took a rest while eating some snacks.

Iced coffee and street xiao long baos.

And then we went back to Kyoto Station, then Osaka Station.

 

Osaka

Boy was it crowded. This was around 5pm. We reached Osaka at past 6pm and met with my sisters’ college friend.

Genesis is my sisters’ (plural!) generous college friend who is based in Osaka! She treated us to a delightful dinner! Yay!

An assortment of all things good – okonomiyaki, okosoba and tamago, with Calpis and Melon Soda to wash ’em all down our stomachs.

Cheery noises of locals after work, the sound of sizzling food on the tables and great ambiance. Eat where the locals eat! Thanks Genesis for the dinner! The leftovers even reached breakfast! LOL

Osaka Station

The faces we make after having free dinner

This caps off Day 3! We basically went to 3 cities in a day! Whew!

Stay tuned for Day 4 as I take you to Hogwarts! B-)

oOo

You can read previous Japan 2016 posts here:

First day in Osaka and Dotonbori foodtrip:

https://virtuallytalkative.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/japan-2016-kaway-kaway-from-kansai-part-1/

Japan Rail Pass and Kyoto Temple Hopping:

https://virtuallytalkative.wordpress.com/2017/09/29/japan-2016-kaway-kaway-from-kansai-part-2/

 

 

Japan 2016: Kaway-kaway from KANSAI (Part 1)

 

Dotonbori in Osaka

Japan Quick Facts:

Timezone: UTC +9 (1 hour ahead of PH time)

Currency: JPY or Japanese Yen

Denominations: Smallest bill is 1000 JPY = around 450 PHP; 10000 JPY = around 4500 PHP; for coins, there are 50, 100, 500 JPY coins. Typical meal costs 700 JPY. Typical vendo drinks cost 100 JPY. I didn’t see anything you can buy with a 50 JPY coin.

Power outlet: Same with PH, 2 flat parallel prongs BUT voltage is 110V. It will work fine with most chargers for mobile phone and camera but double check the specs. Might have problem with hair curlers/straighteners/dryers, make sure they’re compatible with 110V. Really guys, we girls often bring them with us during travel, don’t fret. 😀

Geography: Kansai region is located at the southern part of Japan and is comprised of many cities including Osaka, Kyoto and Nara.  Osaka is 1 hour away from Tokyo by plane, 2.5 hours away by shinkansen (bullet train) and 8 hours by bus.

Visa Required? Yes, for Philippine passport holders. Around 1 week processing time. Always through accredited agencies, direct application to Japanese Embassy not possible.

 

Nov 13, 2016

Day 1/8 – Osaka

Still basking in the afterglow of my short twoweek European affair, a month later – I found myself packing my overused/over-Instagrammed leather jacket and tossing rolled winter jackets for Mama and Ate in the luggage. This was the “planned” Japan trip, booked immediately after my Korea trip with Mama last March. Having spotted a good deal from Jetstar, I booked roundtrip flights to Osaka without much thinking (calculated risk, of course).

At around 3am we left Migi (Ate’s car) in Park n’ Fly, and then boarded their shuttle to NAIA Terminal 1. I remember being stressed out the day before due to some imaginary problem I was having related to the credit card I used to book. I read somewhere that Jetstar requires physical presence of the card and its owner before checking in, otherwise you will be denied to check-in. Because I don’t have my own and I borrowed Rean’s card and he’s not joining us in the trip, and because I can’t find any working contact number for Jetstar to validate this, I requested him to come over at 4am in the airport. That was a Sunday. By the time we reached the check-in counter I asked the lady about it, and she casually answered “That’s not necessary, at least for Osaka-bound flights from Manila.” If you read this, sorry for wasting your time and effort, Be. At least you got to see me before we left, that’s more important. Hart hart.

This is how crowded Metro Manila is.

Sea of clouds.

So, at 7am we flew to Osaka. That was our first time to ride Jetstar, and it’s not far off from other budget airlines. After almost 4 hours, we landed safely in Kansai International Airport. Welcome to Japan!

Mama’s smile was worth the gastos. LOL.

I booked a ride to our AirBNB place via KLOOK. What a very millennial sentence that is, using apps to get things done. Anyway, our driver was very kind because he waited for us for more than an hour. The delay was caused by us getting our JR Passes, and getting lost finding where to.

It was around an hour drive from the airport to our place near JR Namba Station. I recommend our driver, whose name I forgot, because he was patient while trying to locate Ellie’s Apartment (Consolare Namba Building). He assisted us with our luggage, and didn’t leave until we figured out how to enter the secured building. To be fair, for first-timers in Japan, self-check in is quite complicated – that’s why, my friend, read the instructions your AirBNB host sent you.

I was quite amazed with myself having booked a totally fab accommodation near a JR train station. Ellie’s Apartment is centrally located, spacious, modern, and let us have our first experience of the famous Japanese toilet seat.

Really. First time in Japan and the first thing you look for is the high-tech toilet seat.

You’re lucky if you find something like this in Tokyo. And not to mention the price! This place was PHP 3100/night only.

Most AirBnBs in Japan offer free pocket wifi you can take outside! It’s hard to get around a foreign country without Internet, even with proper planning.

The bathroom is separated from the toilet. Shampoo, conditioner, body wash and hand soap are provided, even laundry detergent! This place has washing machine and flat iron. How handy.

Mama is sitting on a sofa bed. There’s enough space for 3, I was supposed to sleep in the upper deck but the bed was wiggly, so I slept beside Mama. There’s an extra futon bed, pillows and blanket in the cabinet and Ate slept on it on the floor. Also, that split-type aircon double-functions as a heater, as it was normally 15 degrees outside when we were there.

After some rest, Ate and I went to a nearby 7-11 for grocery shopping. And guess what we bought? Freaking noodles, and bento meals! I love the bento meals there!

Meanwhile, here’s a Soju that looks casually like a mineral water. We almost got it until we looked at the price.

There goes this tourist posing beside a bike, because Japan. You can also see some autumn foliage in the background.

At around 7PM we walked from our place to Dotonbori, a place very much like Seoul’s Myeongdong and Taipei’s Ximending, where there are endless shops, cafes, night lights and the most important thing – street food.

The famous Glico sign!

Very long queue outside Pablo, home of the famous cheese tart, which already has a branch in Manila

Shinsaibashi roofed shopping arcade

Japanese restos can’t tell you enough what they’re serving

Huwaw pare laki ng G-Y-O-S-A

I don’t know what the heck this is but probably a really fat fish

Uhmm I wonder what’s the specialty of this place. Grilled dragons?

Ang okonomiyaki at ang Waray. Dito po tayo – sa Warai Okonomiyaki. Waley

They say Ichiran is home to the “best tasting ramen in the world”. They have many branches around Japan. There was a very long queue here, so we had it in Tokyo.

Don Quixote is one of the famous discount stores in Japan.

A quaint resto that’s not as bold as its neighbors

There’s this little place with tables so we ordered some food to eat here for convenience.

Melonpan!!!

Yakisoba

Takoyaki!!

 

“The second most delicious melonpan ice cream in the world” LOL. How honest and specific 😀 I wonder what’s the first?!

It was a very cold mid-November autumn night

We passed by this interesting building while walking back to our place.

Stay tuned for more Japan posts!