Day Seventeen -Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kyoto

We woke up sort of energised. I say sort of. Maybe we were high on the success of Bunny Island and Ichiro’s amazing okonomiyaki. Maybe it was the choco-flakes I ate at the hotel buffet for breakfast ( delicious btw), but we packed up our things, checked out of Chisun Hiroshima and left our bags with them. We walked up the road to the Peace Memorial Park and had a quick wander, taking in the atomic bomb dome, and I foolishly hit play on an info reading on a memorial which made me cry.

It was a memorial statue to the students who died in the war, and depicted a peace goddess in front of a five storied pagoda. It was emotional. The peace park is built almost under the detonation point of the atomic bomb that went off over Hiroshima. The Bridge it’s next to was the target of the bomb, and the peace park includes monuments to peace donated from all over the world, the Atomic Bomb Dome, memorial hall, peace museum and various memorials. It’s a beautiful place, generally very calm. Yesterday it was full of tourists and school groups, and we were lucky enough to walk by the children’s memorial as a school group sang a song to it. It was eerie but beautiful.

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We got on the ferry to Miyajima (it’s more expensive to take the return one from the Peace Park, but it’s quicker than the train + ferry option, and we were wanting to get to Kyoto later in the day. Plus the park was just up the road from our hotel, so convenient.)

Our pocket wifi stopped working. Actually we think it stopped working on Bunny Island, maybe because of remoteness or something but I emailed the company and they offered a replacement for the next day, to be delivered to our new hotel, so that was good service. Everyone, Global Advanced Communications is a good place to rent from 😀

The ferry ride from the Peace Park takes 45 mins and is a nice ride down the river and then out into the Seto Inland sea. Last time we went to Miyajima, we stared around the waterfront, visiting with the deer, having lunch and going to the aquarium. I was keen to try something different this time so we went into the island to the ropeway, which is what the gondola up the mountain is called.

Miyajima is the common name, the island’s proper name is Itsukushima, but Miyajima means ‘Shrine island’ and that seems appropriate. There’s a huge floating tori gate and a huge floating shrine over the water. It’s a UNISCO world heritage site, and very pretty. It was also pretty clogged with tourists, so heading up the mountain it was a bit quieter.

You can choose to walk up the mountain, but the bit we did getting to the gondola station was plenty. It was a beautiful path up through the mountain forest with traditional Japanese gardens and a koi pond on the way, but it was steep and there were a lot of steps. You can choose to hike right up the mountain and I’m sure it’s amazing to do, but we are nowhere near fit enough for that. Plus it had become a super hot day (again) which didn’t help. Once we got to the station we took a break for some peach nectar out of a juice vending machine and then hopped on. The ropeway is actually two gondolas and it was very calming to ride. It’s so silent, and the views are incredible. You’re over the tops of the trees looking down the valley out to the sea and Hiroshima city on the other side. Just fabulous.

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At the top of the green one you switch to another gondola which goes in a different direction up to Mt Misen. The green gondola is a seated one, which allows 6 – 8 people (I don’t see how 8 could fit in but maybe they’re thinking of children?). The second one is a mostly standing one which fits like, 20 people. It was a lot like being in a tram or a train carriage which happened to fly through the air.

Mt Misen’s peak is another 30 minute hike further from the top gondola station, and again, at another time when I’m fitter I might be into it. As it was we had a fast turnaround time for our return ferry to Hiroshima, so we didn’t linger too long. Just took in the stunning views of the islands in the sea and I got a little lightheaded from the thinness of the air and the heat of the sun.

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We caught the gondolas back down and I started to get nervous about getting back to the ferry in time (we had I think, 40 mins from mountain peak to ferry).

On the green gondola down we spoke with a Japanese guy who asked about Anna’s shiny penguin shirt from Kaiyukan. Then he noticed my Tokyo Disney daypark and asked us about our trip and where we’re from, etc. He was very friendly, and very amused that we’d traveled so far and were seeing so much of Japan, and also that we thought it was hot. He had long sleeves on and extra layers, we had shorts and t shirts.

The gondola timing worked pretty well, and we had 20 mins from when we got off to get back to the pier.

We powerwalked like pros. Even though both of us were stinking hot, tired out, sore feet and various other aches and pains, we motored across the island and through tour groups and past deer… only to get to the pier to see the boat leaving. It had been scheduled to go at 1.40 and at 1.41 we were too late. Thankfully the woman at the ticket booth happily swapped our tickets for the next sailing at 2.15 and we had a good rest while we waited for the next boat.

The boat ride back wasn’t as restful as I’d have liked, as an American couple sat behind us with their Japanese guide. They (mostly the guy) peppered her with questions about the details of the bomb going off in Hiroshima, why it happened, how good it was (!!) and generally I got a gruesome history lesson that I didn’t want or need. It was made worse by this guy insisting that it was a good thing the bomb went off because his father was fighting in the American army and he could’ve been killed if the bomb hadn’t ended the war. It was deeply unpleasant listening and Anna and I both got irritated by hearing it. The Japanese guide handled it like a pro though, so kudos to her.

My heel on my left foot had seized up some so we took the tram back to the hotel and picked up our bags. While Anna used the bathroom I had a really nice chat with one of the hotel staff, who had exceptional English and was also surprised we’d seen so much of Japan. She’d never been to Kyoto she said, which sort of blew my mind as it’s not that far away from Hiroshima, but then. I guess I live in Auckland and I’ve never been to Russel or Cape Reinga so…

We got the tram to the train station and went to get Shinkansen tickets for Kyoto. The English language assistant pulled a face and said ‘for today??’ and then informed us we’d missed the last one (I think she must’ve meant direct?) So we went up to the platform for non-reserved seats to Shin-Osaka. I got pretty anxious. I like having a clear path to our new destination and it had already been a tiring day. I just couldn’t stop thinking ‘what if?’

We got on the train all right and made it to Shin-Osaka where it was easy to get tickets to Kyoto ( reserved this time, much more calm). It’s only a 15 minute trip from Osaka to Kyoto so we didn’t bother putting our suitcases on the overhead racks.

From Kyoto station we caught a ‘foreign friendly’ taxi to our Ryokan. There’s a whole fleet with English speaking drivers, it makes things quite easy. I asked him how busy Kyoto was, since Hiroshima had been so packed with tourists and he assured me that Kyoto has many, many people in it.

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese in. No shoes inside (they store them for you by the door) and very attentive service. They welcomed us in, insisted on taking our bags for us, and got us to sit down to do the check in process. They also insisted we have dinner, since we were just in time for the last dinner service. They led us up to our room and dinner was served inside the room.

We hadn’t’ really had lunch, but with all the travel and stress neither of us actually felt hungry. How wrong we were.

Dinner was a full Kaiseki style banquet of eight artful courses. Starting with such appetisers as chicken liver in chrysanthemum petals and chestnut, through shiitake mushroom soup and fresh popped rice on the stick to miso and fruits in jelly, it was exquisite. It was way, way too much food as well, but we made a valiant effort.

The slow way it was presented (one dish at a time, and time to eat, then the next), made me calm down. It was good, nourishing food as well, it felt good to eat it. Minimally processed, lots of vegetables and soups. It was the perfect antidote to the fiveish hours we’d spent in transit. Perfect welcome to Kyoto as well.

After dinner we went to use the in house onsen, which was very good but very hot. I got a little heat affected I think. While we were in the baths the staff came and made up our beds, traditional futons on the tatami mats. (With little paper cranes on the pillows!

I crashed out pretty hard.

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Day Sixteen – Hiroshima, Ōkunoshima

We started the day with the hotel buffet breakfast. I was pretty firmly up on the wrong side of the bed and cranky, which didn’t help when someone barged in on the line for the toaster.

The trip to Ōkunoshima involved four kinds of transport. Streetcar/tram from hotel to train station, shinkansen to Mihara, bus replacement instead of local train to the sleepy seaside town of Tadanoumi and then a 15 minute ferry to the island.

Ōkunoshima or, as it’s commonly known, Rabbit Island, has a dark past. It was a testing ground and factory centre for chemical weapons which were used by Japan in China during World War Two. The island is dotted with remains of factories, laboratories and a poison gas museum. However those were all closed up, which was good because we weren’t planning on exploring that history anyway. We went for the rabbits.

Stories vary on if the rabbits currently on the island are descended from the lab bunnies used for testing chemical weapons or if they are just other rabbits intentionally released on the island. Either way, the island is packed full of cute bunnies.

The place you buy ferry tickets from also sells bags of rabbit food, so we bought a pack each and hopped on the ferry. As soon as you get off the ferry, there’s rabbits.

They know which side their bread is buttered on. If you hang out near the boat where all the tourists get off, you will get fed. They know the sound of a paper bag rustling, they know the meaning of an outstretched human palm. They’re wild, but they’re a tame sort of wild.

The rabbis were very good at showing you what they didn’t want. If they didn’t want a pat, they’d back away. There are walking trails around the island but there’s also a lot of dense bush, so if the rabbits don’t want to be around people they have so much space to fall back to.

It was a hot day, and I learned that on hot days rabbits will dig a shallow hole and lay in it like it’s a dirt hammock. They will also seek out shade wherever it is. They will then sleep.

The bunnies generally wanted food, not pets, but if they lay down like a loaf of bread, like the one in the second to last picture above, they’d let you pat them. Their fur was super soft and the ears even more so. That one settled in for a good five minutes of pats from me and Anna before moving into their hole next to the concrete to cool down. Good bunny.

There were a ton of other people doing the same as us, including people who’d thought ahead and brought fresh greens and carrots. The bunnies loved that, you could see them munching on carrot sticks or bits of cabbage leaf very happily. They did still come over for rabbit pellets as well though. It was such a hot day I think a lot were sleeping or staying in the bush out of the sun. I know I’ve seen images of people swarmed with dozens of bunnies at a time, and I think that would’ve quickly got overwhelming for me. As it was, it was just a really nice bunny trip.

We stopped and had lunch at a picnic table and a bunny pushed past my leg, and it was like my cat rubbing by me. Somewhat startling but cute.

I had fun spotting the proper burrows as well. There’s a hotel on the island and there were some very large burrows near that.

You just can’t quite get used to how many rabbits there are. I kept being surprised by it.

It’s also a really beautiful island. There’s a swimming beach and I think I’d quite enjoy staying at the hotel, but it’s definitely on the hard to get to side of things.

We got the ferry back to Tadanoumi and had to wait about 40 mins for the replacement bus (train line wasn’t running). There’s not much to do in Tadanoumi so it was one of those liminal times were you can’t really do anything but wait. Once we were on the bus it was easier, although again we had to wait a half hour for the next shinkansen back to Hiroshima. It made for a long day.

On the way back to the hotel we went wandering, I vaguely remembered there being bars and restaurants a block away from our hotel so we tried the first place advertising okonomiyaki we found. It was a little bar/restaurant called Ichiro and it was incredibly good. Also, long hot day, lots of travel and not enough hydration means beer goes to my head very fast.

Another early to bed night 🙂

Day fifteen – Osaka to Hiroshima

To be fair, we weren’t allowed in our hotel room right away. We had to kill some time. And we killed that time by hitting the Hiroshima pokemon center.

This morning we got up, packed up our bags and headed from our hotel to the local metro and got on the train to Shin-Osaka. From Shin-Osaka we tried to get reserved seats on the shinkansen but it was too busy a day, so we went with the non-reserved tickets instead. What this means is the first three cars of the shinkansen are ‘just find a seat’. It’s a little nerve-wracking, I’d prefer to have a guaranteed seat, but it actually worked out fine. Although there were a number of people waiting for the train, each car has 24 ish rows of five seats so, three cars worth of that is a lot of space.

We got some good seats near the front, got our suitcases up on the racks and settled in for the ride to Hiroshima.

This shinkansen ride I didn’t get motion sick at all, and I was very happy about that. I got a little writing done on my laptop even! Up until the pocket wifi started having issues with the high speeds and the tunnels and I wasn’t able to connect anymore. But yay, fiction writing is still going well.

We navigated the streetcar system, dropped our bags off at the hotel in Hiroshima and went to Cafe Velloce which seems to be a not as good Doutor. Disappointing cocoa. Although they do a cocoa float which is iced cocoa with soft serve and quite good.

Hiroshima is a lot quieter than Osaka and Tokyo. Noticeably fewer people on the road, fewer cars, etc. It’s a relief, a little more like being at home.

After that we went to the local Tokyu Hands and I got some more postcards to send people, and then the Hiroshima Pokemon Centre which is one we’ve been to before. The Hiroshima baseball team is the Carps so there’s some amusing Magikarp baseball merchandise.

It was also raining properly, big heavy drops so we bought our first Japanese clear umbrellas.

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One weird phenomenon we’ve noticed is to do with certain light levels or sources. It happened in a seven eleven to Anna and to both of us in the laundry room at the Osaka hotel. Basically you go in there and get vertigo, or a sensation of the room spinning. Now, it’s fully possible this is just we’re tired and traveling a lot, but both of us felt better as soon as we were out of whichever light source had caused it. Weird.

Epic levels of tired started to hit, so we picked up snacks and drinks and checked into the hotel as soon as three pm rolled around. The beds in the Chisun are way more comfy than the ones at Nest Osaka so we were both very happy about that.

We nipped out for dinner at Nakau, but possibly the chain has gone downhill or possibly I was just remembering it better than it was. The menu’s changed so Anna couldn’t get the salmon bowl she was looking forward to and my katsu curry was good but not great. We were both just exhausted as well, which won’t have helped.

Early to bed and early to sleep.

Day fourteen – Osaka, Pokemon center and Spa World

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.

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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.

Day thirteen, Osaka castle

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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

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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.

Day twelve – Osaka, rest day

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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Day eleven – Osaka USJ port to Shinsaibashi

Sleep in, late breakfast at the hotel buffet and a lovely late check out so we went back to bed for a bit.

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Smoked salmon and saury, camembert and salami, takoyaki and dim sum, okonomiyaki, deep fried fish cake with dinosaur print, onigiri

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).

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whale shark friend #kaiyukan #AnnaJamieHoneymoon

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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.

 

Day ten – Osaka Universal Studios

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:

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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:

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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?

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Post ride high

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.

 

Day nine – Tokyo to Osaka, Universal Studios

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.

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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.

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View from the hotel room includes some behind the scenes stuff, Hogwarts castle to the right and various roller coasters.

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.

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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.

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a little towel Snoopy and a congratulations card from minions?

Day eight – Akihabara, Tokyo

We’ve been in Japan one week !

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.

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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 ❤

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