Osaka Pokemon Center was today’s first stop. I was thinking we’d be okay because surely it’d just have all the same stuff as the Tokyo one, right? Wrong. It had a lot of the same stuff but a whole lot of awesome new stuff as well.
Shopping was done.
We also played a Halloween game where the screen had us as characters using a video and we had to catch the animated falling treats and avoid the glowing Gengar treats. We caught enough for lots of pokemon to show up at the party at the end, but apaprently we could’ve done better and had ‘everyone’ turn up. It was good silly fun anyway.
After that we took the Osaka metro up to Spa World, which I’d researched on pinterest.
Spa World is a public bath complex and hotel. We got the day passes and went in, slightly confused about the set up. You have to take your shoes off almost immediately and store them in a shoe locker. Then you cross over to the other side of the lobby and take the elevator to the designated zone. The onsens (hot pools/public baths) are split into Asian zone and European zone and they’re divided by gender.
The women’s zone was the Asian zone so with some more confusion – where do we get undressed? (it’s right at the lockers where you store your things) and when do we wear the little tunics they gave us? (it’s once you’ve left the onsen and want to randomly wander the building) and where do you scrub off before soaking? (This one was beyond us, you have to go all the way into the zones and use them).
Anyway, we were both a bit nervous about a) public nudity and b) getting it wrong, but once we saw a gaggle of Japanese grannies strip off and head into the bath area totally nude we got over it. The first section was a walk through side shower, which was very nice. Then the Asia zone was divided into rooms with different kinds of gigantic hot tub.
They were varied heat levels and we moved through most of the rooms and relaxed. My favourite one was the outdoor stone bath, styled after traditional Japanese onsen. Lots of stones and running water, with trees around it. It was also kind of lovely to just be outside, naked in a hot tub. The Japanese cypress bath was lovely too, although very very hot.
There was also a Persia room, an Islam stone bath and a Bali resort jacuzzi. We tried a cold pool, a steam room and standing under the hot water fountain to use it to massage our shoulders. The the Persia room we lay on our backs in the hot water and almost fell asleep, we decided not to try out the purple water tub or the various ones in the “Dr Spa” room because the signs were all in Japanese. (on the website it says they’re Oxygen bath, hydrogen bath and carbonated bath.)
Anyway, when it comes to self care, taking a few hours to submerge your body in various hot pools, this is tops.
Although we’d thoroughly cleaned ourselves and got dressed again, we were both a little faint and very thirsty so we hit the restaurant zone. Once we’d eaten and drunk a bunch of water and green melon soda we felt a bit better and came back to the hotel feeling very relaxed and chilled out.
Slept in a bit and then took a walk to Doutor for breakfast, I also managed to find a post box to send off some postcards in, so that was exciting.
Then we navigated the Osaka subway and got to Osaka Castle park. It’s a beautiful place. They were selling plants and bonzai off one of the paths. There was also an ice cream truck, so the first thing we did was get soft serves. I had chocolate and Anna had condensed milk strawberry. They were both very, very good.
It was a scorcher of a day, very hot in the sun, but sitting on the edge of a fountain, enjoying ice cream and people and dog watching was really nice. Calm. Nice get a little vitamin D without having to navigate a themepark or rush to get somewhere.
The walk up to the Castle’s main tower was quite steep and involved a lot of steps, so it stopped feeling quite so restful. However it’s might impressive up there, and worth the climb.
We didn’t go into the castle itself, we just sat in the courtyard and watched people again. Took in the beauty of the place, watched an acrobat couple do tricks to eighties music and soundtracks from Jurassic Park and drank apple juice. It was a very restful visit, up until a creepy gigantic beetle thing landed on my leg and we both decided it was time to move on. We walked down the other side. The moat is really pretty
After this we headed back to Shinsaibashi where I hit UniQlo and bought pants! That fit me! In Japan! and some great T shirts, and then we went back to the hotel for an afternoon rest.
For dinner we went back to Chibo Okonomiyaki and had a Hiroshima style one with crispy gyoza as well.
A word about Osaka – now, I love Osaka, but in a lot of ways it’s a different country to Tokyo. It feels like Osaka is the drunk uncle to Tokyo’s perfectly presented business person. Tokyo crowds are quiet, well behaved and no one ever bumps into you.
Osaka people act a lot more like New Zealand crowds. They’ll yell at each other, stop in the middle of the walk way and have arguments. The kids are much more likely to be crying and running away from their parents, something we almost never saw in Tokyo. People hoik and spit in the street, ride their bicycles through red lights and directly towards cars and people jaywalk all over the place.
Also we’re staying near Dotonbori which is a weird mix of great food, host clubs, strip clubs and pubs. We wander to and from dinner past signs which aren’t always clear what they’re advertising. Does that name indicate a regular pub, or somewhere you have to spend a lot of money for pretty boys to drink with you? or is it a nice place for food? We just don’t know.
The crowd thing is a little annoying but otherwise it’s great. Osaka is a lot of fun. It’s just so markedly different from Tokyo.
Today’s a rest day so aside from the laundry we got done most of the day was either reading, napping or writing (depending on if you’re Anna or Jamie) with out feet up in bed. In this hotel we’re in separate beds as one of the things I said to our travel agent was ‘if it’s not a proper Queen size bed or larger, we want a twin room’. This is because standard Japanese doubles are built for smaller people, and neither of us sleep well when we’re crammed in together in a hot room.
Anyway, I got lots of writing done. I did editing on my paranormal mystery and wrote a new chapter on my new thing. Anna got lots of reading done and we rested our bodies and took a break. It was pretty great.
Finally we left the room to check out Dotonbori, which is a full on red light district which is also a shopping mall and a brilliant source of delicious food. We hit a couple of shops and then tracked down the same okonomiyaki place we ate and loved last time: Chibo, it’s a eight floor oknomiyaki restaurant.
It was super delicious. We also got crispy gyoza for starters but we were both so excited to eat it we didn’t get a photo. It was really nice. Okonomiyaki is a batter and cabbage pancake pizza with various fillings, covered in delicious bbq-ish sauce, mayonnaise and bonito flakes. Ours have beef and seafood inside and was really, really freaking delicous. Also it had an egg on top.
After that another wander through Dotonbori, and hit up the Osaka Tokyu Hands before heading back to the hotel room.
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Sleep in, late breakfast at the hotel buffet and a lovely late check out so we went back to bed for a bit.
In the room I got some writing done, because being around themeparks is super inspiring for writing a themepark based romance. We checked out and left our bags with the hotel, then headed out the back to the port where we could catch a ferry to Kaiyukan Aquarium.
Kaiyukan is gigantic, and focuses on the ring of fire, highlighting wildlife from all around the Pacific. According to wikipedia the largest, central tank is nine metres deep and holds 5,400 cubic metres of water. This is a tank which holds manta rays and two whale sharks and is my favourite thing.
As we were just a short ferry ride from it, at Universal, we figured we’d knock it off quickly and have Saturday as a rest day. Save ourselves the trip out to it from town. So, here’s some pics and videos of the love of my life, whale sharks (and some other weird fish).
We stopped at the Mermaid cafe because we both got pretty sleepy, and I had the blended whale shark soft serve, which is half vanilla and half ramune (Japanese lemonade soda) flavour. It was really, really good. The hot dog we split wasn’t quite as nice.
On the way out there was an Antarctic exhibition and some penguins, including some babies at the ragged half fluffy mess stage, which is pretty hilarious and endearing. Anna filled up the official Kaiyukan stamp book with all the animal stamps and we exited through the gift shop. So many pretty stickers… I also got a fabric printed in whale shark stripes and spots, which I’m excited to use in patchwork somehow.
We got the ferry back to the hotel and asked one of the helpful staff to call us a taxi to get to our new hotel. Osaka’s train system is a slight nightmare, there’s at least three different rail companies and they all go different places and many have different stations. To get to our hotel in Shinsaibashi would have taken three different trains and connections.
The taxi driver seemed to understand where we wanted to go, but at the last moment he went to a different hotel in the middle of Dotonbori. It was a slight nightmare, as he was confused and we were confused, and Dotonbori is an exceptionally busy place with people all over the streets, driving their bicycles towards you and beeping if you stop in the middle of the road, which our taxi did. He even jumped out and went into a building looking for the hotel he thought we were staying at. Around then I remembered my google translate app and used it to bring up the Japanese characters for “not our hotel. Hotel Nest Shinsaibashi” and then he took us there. It seemed to be a simple misunderstanding between ‘nest’ and ‘Nishi’ but it was stressful. Still easier than three trains with our suitcases though!
We’ve been a bit spoiled by the luxury of the park hotels, which are very generous room sizes with white person sized baths and separate toilets. Although I remember Nest being pretty nice when we stayed here last year it feels small and a little grimy. The bathroom is the standard Japanese hotel ‘all in one’ where the sink and bath and floor and walls are one big plastic piece. It’s fine, and our hotel in Hiroshima will be smaller still, but I do miss the nice big soft bed at Universal Studios.
We had a rest and then went over the road for Mos Burger for dinner. According to my research, Mos Burger is the second largest burger place in Japan after Macdonalds.
Anna had a pork cutlet burger and I had a chicken burger. Both had a really nice amount of greens in them, and you could choose fries or fries and onion rings to go on the side. I also got chicken nuggets because I kept thinking about how nice the ones at Disney were. Mos Burger didn’t disappoint, and since it’s directly over the road we may go there again… maybe. If we can’t be bothered walking to Dotonbori and the excellent food there.
We got up early so we could be in as soon as possible after the park opened. Our hotel gave us the option to purchase express tickets, which are like the Disney fast passes, only super expensive and not as good.
Like Disney but super expensive and not as good is kind of a theme for Universal Studios Japan. The merchandise is nice but it’s so much more spendy than Disney. The express passes for the really popular rides give you a designated half hour window to ride them in. The Express pass packs are expensive. However, they are better than waiting an hour plus for each ride.
The park is very busy, perhaps more than usual because of the Halloween events. I hate to think what it must be like on a weekend or a public holiday. Anyway, Flight of the Hippogriff is a cute little roller coaster ride and after we posed with our house banners.
After the Hippogriff we went to see if we could get on the Spiderman ride, which is a ride which combines 3D projections, actual special effects like fireballs and sprays of water and your car moves up and down and around the sets. It’s a very fun ride, and the special effects with the 3D are very impressive.
After that we looked for food. Unfortunately Universal Studios is kind of designed to give an American experience, with areas styled after New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. So our breakfast was NY style pizza and green melon soda.
After breakfast we used our express passes on the Jurassic Park ride. We had to wait a little while because they were either inundated with express pass people or the ride wasn’t working, we couldn’t exactly follow what was said, but that gave us time to watch some people come out of the ride:
It’s a great ride, and I love the dinosaur special effects. I always want to be brave and not scream at the end. The boat goes up and up and up and you know it’s going to be bad, but then you go towards a gigantic animatronic T Rex which. Well, I get conflicted on because I love a kaiju and I love dinosaurs and I want to love it unconditionally but the ride takes you very very close to it, and then it leans forward towards the boat with its massive teeth and it’s terrifying and just then your boat goes over the falls and it’s an almost ninety degree plunge down into the open air. So yeah, everyone’s screaming by that point.
After the dinosaurs we failed at navigating the park and took the stupidly long way around to get back to Harry Potter world. Here we had a timed entry for the Forbidden Journey ride, a ride I was somewhat dreading because although I absolutely love Harry Potter, this ride is really scary for me. It’s the combination of movement, projections and animatronics which seem to be very very close to you. Plus it’s a straight up scary ride. You’re flying about Hogwarts somehow and a dragon’s escaped so you have to avoid that, there’s a whomping willow encounter, giant spiders and dementors who suck out your soul. It’s not a pleasant story, although Harry does rescue you at the end, it’s not just fun flying around playing quidditch.
Anna loves this ride so we did it, and in my nervousness I forgot my glasses in my bag – you have to check all your bags and things into a locker before riding. So on the one hand I was like ‘okay, things will be fuzzy maybe it won’t be as scary’ but it was. I could still see the animatronics just fine. When you come face to face with the dragon and it’s really there and it opens it’s mouth and breathes hot steam on you, it’s hard to remind yourself that it’s just a fake. I was pretty shaken after the ride, and we went for lunch at the Three Broomsticks right after so I could recover.
After lunch, which included delicious butterbeer and butterbeer flavoured ice cream (yum) we used our express pass for Terminator 4D which is super retro and pretty silly, but Anna had never done it and wanted to try something new. Terminator is a show, and it starts with a patter sequence all in Japanese. Once you go through to the main theatre and sit down it’s a 3D projected show plus animatronic robots plus live actors. It’s pretty fun, if ridiculous.
Right from that we headed to our last express pass ride: Evangelion XR – a virtual reality rollercoaster set in the world of the anime Evangelion which features gigantic robots fighting gigantic aliens called angels. It was Anna’s turn to be freaked out, as she considered bailing from the ride. They checked if she could fit in the pod and she was joking afterwards that was her safe way out, but she fit in just fine. The ride queue (even the short bit we did with express pass) is like a safety briefing for going into an eva unit. Anime characters appear on screen and talk you through the boarding procedure, safety and what to do with your VR headset. The surroundings were all shiny, white and curved and it did feel like we’d walked into the anime. I was even given a case for my glasses, which I had to put around my torso for security. The ride also has a not very comforting subtitle:
Once you’re in the pod, pretty quickly you’re given a VR headset and ride staff help you adjust it for fit. As soon as I had it on I was distracted though, because the experience begins right away, showing a reflection of ‘you’ as a pilot in a white suit with a white helmet on, and the interior of a huge craft hangar. Headset in place the ride begins. I can’t really describe this well, as it’s such an experience, but the virtual reality is exceptionally well done. You are thrust out into the middle of a fight between massive robots and massive alien angels. You feel the scale of it as you can look up and see more. The course you take is mapped out relatively well in the animation but you’re also physically on a roller coaster so it feels absolutely real.
I loved it. I was shouting and screaming and whooping. Afterwards Anna wanted to ride it again but the standby line was up to two hours. It was brilliant and I highly recommend anyone go on it if they like thrill rides. I guess the lack of animatronics meant it wasn’t as scary for me? I dunno, a lot of big things got close to me in the VR but I knew it was animated. What even are brains?
I had kind of wanted to hit the waterworld show, but we’d missed the afternoon show so we did our final shopping and left the park. Both of us quite relieved that our theme park days were now over. It’s exhausting, and our feet are very sore now!
Back at the hotel we settled in with konbini food and Brooklyn 99 and I promptly went to sleep for two hours without meaning to. I guess I needed it.
I spent the evening catching up on my written journal, writing the next chapter of my new book and watching Brooklyn 99 with Anna. It was a really good rest evening.
In conclusion, Universal Studios is a weird park. It’s a mix of very dated properties (Terminator, Backdraft, Waterworld) and cutting edge new tech (Evangelion XR, Jurassic Park Flying Dinosaur ride which we were both too chicken to go on). Aspects of the park seem very poorly thought out. The zombie dance the other night drew a huge crowd to the main exit route for the park, so you couldn’t leave without being caught up in it. The regular parade fires confetti everywhere which has to be swept up somehow, and even gets inside the shops lining the parade route. There’s also parts where they spray foam, and it just sits on the ground, collecting confetti and being gross. Compared to Disney, which is perfectly organised and thought through, it feels like a poor comparison. That said, we did have fun and Harry Potter world is a fantastic experience. They should just make it a park on its own.
This morning we packed up and left our hotel in Shinjuku, dropping off a case full of purchases (and clothes we don’t need) with the hotel for when we check back in at the end of the month.
We have two day passes to Osaka Universal Studios, but it’s not as good a park as Disney, so we weren’t too incredibly fussed about getting there first thing. Lucky we weren’t because with the JR pass you can’t take the fastest bullet train for free. We had to commuter train from Shinuku to Shinagawa and then book tickets for the less fast bullet train ( less fast because it makes more stops, I don’t believe it’s actually a slower train.)
Anna and I made the rookie mistake of not eating breakfast before we went out, which meant we were both a little snippy in the station but we worked it out and apologised to each other. Travel is a great test of a relationship and how much you communicate tbh. I think we’re handling it well, but it’d be so easy not to handle it at all.
Shinkansens are lovely beasts. However today for the first time, I got pretty motion sick on it.
I blame this on sitting right at the front of the carriage. And the guy who was sitting in the window pulled the blind down so he could sleep. I’ve always been sat where I can see out the window. Today I spent a half hour writing postcards and not looking up, and I started to feel seriously gross. I couldn’t look out the window to see the progress, all I had was a blank white wall and the rolling motion of the train. I had to get up and use the bathroom, and walking down the aisle was a major challenge, I felt like I was at sea. Much harder than moving down a plane aisle.
Once I’d been to the bathroom (and didn’t throw up) I felt a little better, but it wasn’t until the guy in the window seat got off and I shifted over to watch out the window I started to feel properly well again. Not fun, but I did manage a nap after that, which felt very much like I know my way around and can just sleep on trains like the locals but actually is just a testament to how sleepy I am. Also I had lots of nightmares about the world ending last night so maybe that was a factor as well.
Once we landed in Shin-Osaka station Anna looked up the directions to our new hotel and it was going to involve three trains and probably some walking between stations. We decided to make it easier on ourselves and take a taxi.
Unfortunately our taxi driver didn’t have much English and had never heard of our hotel, but he got us to Universal Studios all right. And once we were at the park entrance we saw our hotel, which is very close indeed. In fact we have a view over the park itself from our room, which is very cool but also means I can hear people screaming on the roller coaster from bed. Thankfully the park closes soon so it’s not going to affect my sleep tonight.
Hotel Universal Port is right on the water beside Universal Studios and we can see Kaiyukan aquarium from our room. Kaiyukan is my favourite place in Osaka, it has whale sharks. Our room is very large and fancy, we have a proper king sized bed, which is very unusual for Japanese hotels.
Once we’d switched some things between bags and found our tickets for the park we headed over. It’s about a five minute walk to the main entrance.
It’s a busy park and it was mid afternoon by the time we got there. Lots of people in all sorts of costumes, because although Disney is very strict that you must dress as a Disney character, Universal has no such rule. There were lots of horror costumes, as Universal is big on Halloween. There are multiple horror mazes and street shows with zombies.
However we were there for none of that, we had one destination: Hogsmeade. There are only two rides and they had long wait times, so we spent our time eating at the three broomsticks, shopping, watching the street shows and doing magic at the magic stations in the park.
It’s seriously the best British pub food I’ve had, I think. Just delicious, and the butterbeer is so good!
Some of the wands they sell in the park allow you to perform magic tricks. There’s a bunch of spots around Hogsmeade, and the wands that have the sensor bar in them come with a neat little map showing them all to you, in English and Japanese. I used Alohamora to unlock a fancy gate, and made it snow. Anna did incendio to make a fireball come out of a burning brazier and moved a bunch of luggage near the Hogwarts Express. It was surprisingly fun, even when you can see the sensor lights you should be aiming at, there’s a staff member there to guide you in how to do the spell, and the special effects are very cool.
Hogsmeade is Disneysea levels of immersion and attention to detail, but the rest of the park isn’t as good. We spent almost no time there today, actually, although on the way out we did see a zombie street show. A bunch of zombies in prison gear or asylum patient outfits were stalking the streets and scaring people. We saw one take advantage of two girls watching another zombie to sneak up and scare them, and they ran screaming!
Then the zombies did a choreographed street dance, because why not? I guess? It was very popular with the crowd watching. We bailed to rest, and because over the last few days I’ve been planning a new novel and today I worked out the approach for the first chapter. Trains are always good for my creativity, but the themeparks have helped as well.
So we bailed around 7pm and came back to the hotel to rest and chill out, and it’s been very pleasant indeed.
Today we slept in some again. It was nice. Doutor breakfast again, then took the old Yamanote line to Electric Town Akihabara. Akihabara is the home of maid cafes, nerd stuff and collectibles.
We wandered around some and picked up some cute Studio Ghibli merchandise and various little things. Neither of us really wanted to go too hard on the collectibles though so we purchased some Pablo 3 Mini Cheese Tarts and got back on the train to Tokyo station. From there we walked a couple of blocks to the Tokyo Pokemon Centre.
Last time we visited Japan we went to the Pokemon centres in Hiroshima and Kyoto but missed this one, it’s gigantic. And it has a permanent pokemon cafe attached to it. It’s pretty busy even on a Tuesday early afternoon. But we were able to secure a spot in the session which started in 45 minutes after we signed in.
This gave us plenty of time to peruse the gigantic Pokemon centre store.
We picked up a bunch of plushies (some of which are gifts, maybe even more than half) and various stationary, stickers and I got the greatest hoodie of all time. It is the hoodie of the pokemon Mimikyu, which is a weird ghost pokemon which wears a disguise to look like pikachu. Apparently under disguise its true face is horrifying, but I just love it to bits and it’s wildly powerful in Pokemon sun and moon. It fits well with my creepy/cute aesthetic.
After that we went to the Pokemon Cafe and sat down for some very cute, and very delicious foods.
The pikachu face is yellow coloured rice with seaweed facial details, slices of carrots for cheeks and star shaped vegetables in the curry. The curry is Japanese curry which is rich and delicious, like a casserole. The mimikyu is my dessert, it’s a crepe creation with banana berry cream in the ears, and a layered cream, fruit and pancake situation under the face. The tail was a delicious chocolate cookie, the red cheeks were a caramalised raspberry deliciousness.
Anna’s pikachu butt was omelette with spaghetti cabonara underneath, with green salad. The tail was a corn chip. The Jigglypuff dessert was a perfect strawberry cheesecake with cookies, fruit and cream.
The food was all cute and delicious and then, as we were starting desserts the waitresses made an announcement and a giant eevee walked in!
It was such a good Japanese moment. Like, yeah this cafe was nicer than we expected, and the food was great, and we got special collectible coasters for ordering in theme drinks. And then a freaking giant eevee walks in to music and does cute poses so people can take photos?? Amazing.
After the pokemon centre we got back on the Yamanote line and back to Shinjuku. Our current Tokyo hotel is the same one we’re staying at for the last few days of our trip, and when we checked in the desk staff mentioned we could store luggage with them. So, we tracked down a Bic Camera, which is a big electronics and variety department store. We picked up a great big, bright pink hardcase suitcase and brought it back to the hotel. We packed up all our merchanise, fabric, stationary purchases and my gorgeous boots, plus our Disneybound outfits and whatever clothes we don’t think we’ll wear again. We filled the case and got it closed!
Packing everything up tonight because tomorrow we head to Osaka and Universal Studios Japan. Hopefully our feet won’t fall off! To finish, here’s my Mimikyu Halloween special event plushie ❤
Today was better than yesterday by a measure of leagues. Is that a phrase I can use? I had a very big beer at dinner and it seems like that’s a fine sentence. Anyway, Anna and I both woke up feeling much better and we had a bit of a sleep in and then another breakfast at Doutor. Then we went to Harajuku again.
It was instantly nicer, quieter and less loud all round. We went to Bic Camera and I used my google translate to ask about three into two prong plug converters again. This time I was able to purchase one! Very exciting all round.
We headed then to the Mame Shiba cafe, and booked a time for about an hour later. In that time, something truly magical happened. I found gorgeous boots that fit me, in Harajuku. Look at these glorious beasts:
Unfortunately this meant we had to carry them for the rest of the day but BOOTS! ❤ ❤
also Anna became a Sanrio character, as she was always supposed to be and we went to Kiddy Land which is a multi-storey toy shop. Kiddy Land may have been a mistake as we went a bit too far from the Shiba cafe and were a bit late back but it all worked out all right.
The mameshiba cafe is a newish addition to Takeshita St and is quite busy as a result. You’re only allowed a half hour with the doggos.
The Mameshiba cafe is called that because all the dogs are the Mameshiba breed: smaller than regular Shiba Inu. They’re very cute, and all seem pretty chilled out about the whole situation. The room is a tatami floored space with high shelves for your bags to keep them out of the dog’s way. There’s lots of low tables and one shiba was having a nice nap under there when we came out.
The dogs were active, investigating everyone, having scraps with each other, pursuing a particularly in demand pink rubber bone and accepting pats. I made particular friends with a little black one who let me rub his jaw and then promptly rested his face in my hand and went back to sleep with me supporting the weight of his head. I nearly died from the cuteness.
In lieu of lunch we had the Harajuku special, gigantic rainbow candyfloss. Last time we tried this we only got the three colours, aka small. Yesterday I lost my head and went for the large five colour option. It was really, really good. Each colour is a distinctive flavour, and the purple grape and green melon were particularly tasty. It was just… a lot of sugar. We probably should have had an actual lunch.
Then we were back on the Yamanote line to get to Nippori Textile Town, which is a part of Tokyo with a whole lot of fabric stores. I’ve been wanting to go fabric shopping in Japan since my first visit in 2012 but it’s always been an easy thing to put off. Not this time! I was determined.
Nippori is a fair distance from our usual stomping grounds of Shinjuku and Harajuku, it was on the direct opposite side of the Yamanote loop which meant about a half hour train ride. However once you arrive in Nippori it’s very easy to track down the fabric stores.
I’d done my research and I knew which shop I wanted: a massive store called Tomato, which as it turns out, is over five different locations on the same street. We looked in a couple of them, whole stores dedicated to braids and notions and buttons, or just knit fabrics, or just fancy brocades, and went to the big five storey one with patchwork fabrics on the top two floors. Hooooo boy.
The top floor had the generic patchwork fabric, similar to the kinds of things I can get back home, lots of US imports. They had fat quarters for 150 yen which is just a bit over $2NZ, back home a fat quarter would generally be $5-7 unless on sale. So I grabbed a few, and some special shiny fabric Japanese ones with Shiba inus and such on them.
The fourth floor was racks and racks of gorgeousness, and Anna obligingly offered to carry the bolts I picked out for me as I chose. I picked up a lot of lovely Japanese prints and some character stuff as well. It turned out the character stuff was on sale, so I could have picked more pikachus maybe… but I can get pikachu fabric back home so I didn’t. All up it was quite a haul and heavy to bring back on the train.
We went straight for dinner instead of going back to the hotel, dumping shopping and going out again (it just seemed easier to get it all done, plus we were both hungry from missing lunch.) Anna had researched some good nearby sushi places, the first one we tried was under renovations but the second one was open (Itamae sushi) and had tables free. I had a massive beer, Anna got her first plum wine of the trip and we had some exceptional food. I had the salmon, crab and minced raw fish bowl and Anna had one of the nigiri platters. We also got salad, octopus and prawn miso. It was freaking delicious.
Then we went back to the hotel room and crashed out. It was a very good day.
It feels weird to stay in a hotel which is just a hotel. The walls here are plain beige, there’s no hidden Mickeys to spot. The room is nice enough but it’s not the ridiculous level of luxury we had in the Disneyland hotel. When we walk out of the lobby there’s no Disney music playing, and there aren’t copious amounts of staff wishing us a good morning or waving at us with Mickey gloves or Disney plushies.
It’s amazing what you can get used to.
We had a slow start to the day Sunday, because Anna woke up in pain and needing painkillers and to sleep it off. I used the time to catch up on blogging and have a nice birthday morning bath.
We went to Doutor for breakfast, which has been my favourite breakfast spot in Japan since 2012. It’s a chain coffee shop, which prides itself on imported coffee. I’m not a coffee or caffeine drinker but they do a delicious, rich and not too sweet hot cocoa which is the stuff of dreams. The food is Western/Italian inspired. Lots of baked goods, sandwiches and pastries. Anna and I both had filled rolls and split an order of cheese toast. The cheese toast is delicious and may be all I eat for breakfast from here on in.
After doubling back to the hotel to pick up our rail pass vouchers we located the ticket office. This was a roundabout trip because they’ve split off the JR rail pass ticket exchange from the main ticket counter, but we happen to be staying very close to the offices we needed so it wasn’t too much of a drama.
The JR pass allows us to ride a bunch of the shinkansen (bullet trains) for free and most local rail as well. It’s super convenient and only available for tourists, so we had to show our passports. The system is very streamlined though, you join the queue and a staff member checks your vouchers, then gives you a form on a clipboard to fill in while you queue. She then checked we’d filled it all out correctly, so by the time we reached the front of the line everything was in order and the desk staff just had to issue the passes proper. It seems so obvious to have this level of service, a staff member checking on you as you wait, but I can’t think of a single place it happens back home.
Newly minted rail passes in hand we went into the station for our first trip on our beloved Yamanote line. The Yamanote line is a big circle which travels through main suburbs of Tokyo and we caught it a lot last time.
We got off at Harajuku and headed to Takeshita St. There’s some construction happening so things looked a little different on the approach. It turns out that Sundays at Harajuku are very, very busy. We hit a couple of favourite spots: Paris Kids for cheap jewellery and accessories, Daiso, a sock shop and wandered up looking for our favourite sushi place, Sushi-nova. Unfortunately it has shut down permanently 😦
Then we looked at some fantastic shoes, just gorgeous things and all relatively cheap, just to realise that they don’t make them quite big enough for us. I could get my feet in the glorious shiny hidden wedge sneakers, but only just. As I put my foot down I could already feel the squeeze, there’s no way I could walk in them comfortably for any length of time. It’s very sad. Plus there’s all this gorgeous fashion, a lot of it which Anna would love to own but it’s all sized to tiny Japanese teenagers. It’s quite alienating in a way. You can look at all the beautiful things, you can buy them, but you can’t wear them.
We found the shiba cafe I’d read about, but the return time on it was hours away. We found the gigantic rainbow candy floss place, and it had a huge line out the door. Plus the street, which is always pretty busy, was packed and mostly with tourists who weren’t picking up on the etiquette. The flow towards the train station/up the street is on the left and the flow down the street/away from the station is on the right. If you try and battle against the flow it doesn’t work. If you stop in a group and spread several metres into the flow to work out what you’re doing next, it messes the flow up. It was all very annoying.
Around the time we realised we couldn’t get into the shiba cafe right away I just kind of broke. Combination of PMS, exhaustion, disappointment and a little child me inside saying ‘but it’s my birthday!’ all welled up and I just started weeping. I’m sure part of this is also missing Disney, and being sad that Harajuku wasn’t exactly what I wanted it to be, and being away from home on my birthday. This is pretty embarrassing to write about, but the fact is that it happened, and I like to be honest about this stuff. I just started crying and Anna took us to a cat cafe where I calmed down some.
The Mocha cat cafe is one floor up at the top of the street, and the street slopes up so you can see quite a lot of the crowd from inside, and you can see the fluffy cat butts from the street.
It’s a really, really nice place. The rooms are spacious and quiet and vaguely Alice in Wonderland themed without using any of the trademarked material. The walls are dotted with cat platforms at various heights and little cubbies the cats can go to when they don’t want interaction. There were water fountains around the room, and lots of chilled out cats. They limit how many people can go in at a time, so when people come out someone new can go in. They also offer unlimited drinks from two huge vending machines. It had been a cold morning but it really warmed up while we were in Harajuku so I had two green melon fantas and an orange soda and still felt a little thirsty.
The cats were all exceptionally fluffy and very relaxed. They were playful, some of them very happy to chase the teaser toys provided, or nudge up against you or as one cat did to Anna, spend a while sniffing your feet. They had a few different breeds as well and we made friends with a squash nosed munchkin ginger. It was a nice place to chill out.
We headed back to Shinjuku on the train and it happened again, I was weeping. It just leaked out of me and I couldn’t stop it. Back in the hotel room I just let it happen and Anna reassured me that it actually made sense. I hadn’t thought of it in these terms but it was the first day we’d had in months where we didn’t have to do something. There wasn’t a schedule, I didn’t have to pack up or organise or be somewhere, we were just doing things as they happened. My mind was given a chance to relax, and all the stress and the emotions were coming out.
I felt a lot better after that, and decided to treat the rest of the day as a sick day. We sat in bed, drank sodas and juices and ate snacks and watched Brooklyn 99 which has apparently become comfort TV for me. After a couple hours of that I felt much, much better. We got laundry done and then I realised what I really wanted to do: visit Tokyu Hands and UniQlo
Conveniently, we’re staying about five minutes from a huge up market department store called Takashimaya Times Square, which includes a Tokyu Hands and a Uni Qlo.
What is Tokyu Hands? It’s a huge home and craft themed department stores. There’s a floor for kitchen including bento supplies, waffle makers, chopsticks and baking ware. There’s a floor for leather working and tools, there’s a floor for cards and gifts (we picked up some delightful Studio Ghibli mini jigsaws) and a whole entire floor of diaries, pens, stickers, washi tape and other stationary. That last floor was what got us. We spent quite a lot there. It was so much fun. They had all the 2019 diaries out, so there weren’t so many notebooks as there were last time, but we picked up … enough things. We found a wedding album designed to take instax sized photos, which is perfect because we had all our guests take photos of themselves with my instax, so we have a stack of pictures to store. They had a whole bullet journal section and Anna’s eyeing up a new one for next year, I’m considering trying it out, because with all the stickers etc it actually seems feasible for me.
We headed to UniQlo which is a clothing store which I adore. This one wasn’t a huge one, and I need a huge one, but it still had some gorgeous things. I tried on a rather fancy blazer which I’m thinking about. There were some very cute baby things and wool sweaters. They always have a Disney range as well, and usually some art and artist t shirts. This store didn’t seem to have them, so we’ll have to check out another one. Or maybe I’ll just wait until Osaka when we’re staying by the giant one … we didn’t buy anything there as we didn’t have our passports and you can get tax write off as a foreigner, but I’m keen to go back and check out some things.
After that it was a stroll back to the hotel, sort out hanging the still slightly damp laundry and another relaxing netflix and snacks evening.
Overall it wasn’t my best birthday ever, but it ended just fine. We’re here for a long time so that we can have restful days, I tried to fight it a bit, but I did need the rest.
We had a couple of rides we hadn’t done yet, and a couple we wanted to do again. One of those was Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. I mentioned the other day that it’s unique to Tokyo Disney, but I don’t think I said how popular it is. On Wednesday we got on the ride okay because the park wasn’t too busy. Weekends are a different beast. If we wanted to ride Pooh’s again, we had to get into the park as early as possible and join the crowd waiting to get to the ride.
Because we had to check out and drop off our bags for storage we didn’t get in on our early entry tickets the way we did the other day. In fact we went around the long way to get to the early entry zone but went in just at the same time everyone else did. That meant there was already a massive crowd of people surging forward, and most of them had the same goal as us: Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. But some of them had other plans, some went to Monsters Inc Ride and Go seek and a whole lot went to stake out a good space for the parades, a few hours early. Parade space is highly prized, people will spread out a mat or a blanket and sit there for hours.
They opened the line for Pooh’s Hunny Hunt at 8am, people ran towards the ride and we had to make the quick choice between fast pass and standby. We went fast pass. Standby just means you wait in the line. In 8 minutes the return time for fast pass went up an hour and the standby line went from nothing to 50 minutes. The Japanese Disney crowd really loves Pooh Bear. We got a return time of 10.10, which all things considered wasn’t too bad, we were relatively near the front of the fast pass queue despite not running.
Those secured we went to ride Peter Pan’s Flight which generally has a twenty minute or more wait time on it, and has no fast pass option. Neither of us have ridden it before so it was quite exciting, the wait time was 15 mins that early and it was a quick enough wait. The ride is very sweet, you get into a little pirate ship and fly out of the Darlings’ bedroom, over London and through the stars to Neverland. There you see some animatronics acting out bits of the movie and Peter stealing Captain Hook’s ship to save his friends. It’s very charming, but it’s over very fast. I’m glad we did it but I don’t think I’d queue for it again.
We had the closest food option for breakfast: Pizza, grape drink and cheesy potato bites. I chose the seafood pizza and it was probably the best seafood pizza I’ve had in years. Maybe I was hungry which helped, but the crust was good and crisp and the seafood delicious.
We made a plan for gentle things to do we were both interested in: ride the Western River Railroad, Jungle Cruise, maybe Pirates again, while we waited for Pooh to be ready for us. We did the Jungle Cruise first.
I have a lot of love for that ride based on an old viewmaster reel I had of it. We had a whole set of Disneyland themed reels and one entire one was the river cruise. As a kid I didn’t understand that the animals weren’t real and that the skipper of the cruise boat hadn’t really fired a gun to ward off the hippos. As an adult, it’s all pretty clear, but if you commit to the ride, it’s a lot of fun. Of course it’s all in Japanese. Our skipper specifically asked us to sit up the front and at one point she interacted with me. I think the basic context of it was this: we were passing under the waterfall, and she gestured to the seats on the waterfall side and said ‘you’ll have a good view of the falls’, she gestured to the other side ‘you’ll have a good view of… this rock wall’ and then she gestured to the centre where we were sitting and said… something. Then she said something I have to assume was ‘you don’t understand anything do you?’ so I shrugged and shook my head and everyone in the boat laughed. It was kind of inevitable and I was happy to play along. It is a little annoying though, we learned enough Japanese that I can recognise some words in a sentence but not all of them. I can parse what someone said to me with time, maybe a few minutes, but not in the moment. I’m hoping it’ll get better over the trip!
One point of note about the Jungle River cruise, if you ever see a cute animals photo collection or some internet cuteness pictures passing this off as a real elephant? It’s not, it’s a sculptured robot from the Disney cruise.
The Western River Railroad is right above the cruise entry so we hopped aboard the train for some casual racism and a nice sit down. It’s a ride which follows the course of the ‘Rivers of America’, which is populated by statues of Native Americans in various situations: waving at the train, learning off elders and hunting statues of deer. It feels quite uncomfortable to a modern eye. Similarly to the wench auction in Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s something that was designed in the fifties and probably should’ve been left there.
However we did get some nice views of the park from the railroad, and when we went into a tunnel we unexpectedly traveled through time and saw dinosaurs. Didn’t expect that at all!
We had enough time to get across the park and get into the fast pass lane for Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. It’s a very charming ride, and we had a different experience to last time with our honeypot moving into different areas of parts of the story. We got a better look at Kanga and Roo, and in the weird Heffalumps and Woozles sequence, we went to a different mirror. I was glad we got to ride it again.When we got in the fast pass lane at 10.10 am the fast passes had sold out for the day, the park closes at 10pm. The standby queue was at 160 minutes. It’s a good ride, but I’m not sure it’s worth that wait!
We didn’t have much else to do at Disneyland, but it had got chill enough that I wasn’t warm enough in just a t shirt, for the first time since we landed I got cold! I had seen a cute and relatively plain hoodie at the store so we battled through the crowds and I got a warm fleece hoodie.
We took the monorail with the intention of stopping off at Ikspiari mall for some early lunch while we waited for Fortress Explorations to open at Disneysea. However for some reason or monorail stopped at Disneysea and everyone was ordered off, so we went in since we were there.
We knew there was a huge wait time or distant return time for our favourite rides, so we went to a villain’s world show in the square and then checked out Fortress Explorations. The villain’s show is… almost a fashion show? This was the minions one, where original characters who are minions of the villains from the movies appear and try to recruit people to the dark side from the audience. It was all in Japanese of course, but you don’t need to understand the language to get the idea. The minions are all exceptionally good looking people, and their costumes are stunning. Example pics from a few years back, we couldn’t get close enough for good pictures, really. There were six of them out, we had Frollo girl Bell (Hunchback of Notre Dame), Hook (Peter Pan), Malefi (Sleeping Beauty), Hades (Hercules), Ursula boy (Little Mermaid) and Dalmation boy (10` Dalmatians). There’s others which must come out at other times.
My favourites were the Cruella de Vil boy and the Frollo girl (big hat, not Hook). Anna loved Hook and the idea if not the execution of Ursula boy.
Our feet were sore from standing so we went for the closest food again, and had a terikyaki chicken roll, which was kind of weird and kind of delicious. It was raining by this point, but it hadn’t noticeably thinned the crowds. Everyone just got out their umbrellas and continued on.
We spent some time in Fortress Explorations, I sailed a little boat for a bit, and we happened to be in the alchemy lab at the time a Japanese kid brought in an interactive DaVinci Challenge map and activated special effects in the room. it was super cool. The map has a special watermark which when placed on a panel starts up an animation of DaVinci in the map and gives instructions of ways to interact with the room. The room lights up and shows details and it was really cool.
My favourite room though was the planets one which was a sort of manual orrery where you could turn a crank to move one of the planets around the sun. Absolutely gorgeous design.
Well exhausted by this point we left the parks, and hit Ikspiari, which is a great big mall in between the Disney parks. The idea was to get lunch but by this point we were both slightly losing it. Anna was so tired (and her feet so sore) she couldn’t make a decision about what to eat. We chose Pie Face and I got her to go sit down and got her a mince pie and a grapetiser (probably the most kiwi meal she’ll have in a while) and I had chicken and mushroom pie and appletiser. She felt better with the rest and the food, but over the meal the noise in the place started to make me really anxious and my stomach knotted up into a solid lump. Anna took charge of getting us back to the hotel to pick up our bags.
We agreed that a taxi straight to the next hotel would be worth the money. Otherwise it was at least two trains and navigating Shinjuku station and neither of us felt up to it. Sometimes you have to be easy on yourself and pay a little extra, especially after four days of 20k+ steps.
Our taxi delivered us to Shinjuku and our home for the next four nights: Hotel Sunroute. I had a bit of a tired meltdown and napped, then we went to the Family Mart over the road, bought an array of snacks and foods and settled in for a quiet night in our room. We watched netflix, ate and drank and rested. It wasn’t a very glamorous way to spend our ‘one week since we got married’ anniversary, but it was definitely what we needed.
Real talk on emotions and struggles:
Taking care of each other isn’t always easy to do, especially when you’re exhausted yourself from the same things that your partner is exhausted by. But it’s always worth it, I’ve found. I could’ve got annoyed with Anna for not knowing what pie she wanted, and made a thing of it, and had a fight, but instead I chose to be helpful. I sent her to sit down, knowing the kind of thing she likes to eat. I could do that for her, I could be of service to her in a time of need. I could show my love for her by navigating the foreign language and trying to understand the way the restaurant worked and bringing her food and drink. Then, when I said to her ‘the noise is starting to freak me out’ later on, she returned the favour and got us out of there, rubbed my back and said soothing things so I didn’t just break down in panic.
Travel is hard, especially when you’re in a country where you don’t know the language, but we chose to strengthen our relationship instead of adding more stress. We showed our love by looking out for each other.