We’d been a bit slack on laundry so Friday started with washing and drying clothes, so that I’d have clean underwear. It seemed a little odd to do laundry the day before we left the country, but it was also nice to do such a small load.
I used the time to write blog posts and some of my new novel (NaNoWriMo started on the first, and my goal is to write 50k words in the month of November). Anna used the time to repack her suitcase and work out what needed to go in the planned new case.
Once we had clean, dry underwear we went out into the world. The plan was to visit the shiba cafe again and see if we could get in. The return time was within an hour so we booked in, and spent that time on Takeshita St buying some gifts, checking out the Disney store and trying not to buy too much.
The shibas were just as adorable the second time around, if not more so as this time we weren’t awkwardly rushing for it, and because of the early afternoon sun, the pups were all very sleepy.
We did have a moment of shiba drama. One little one had been asleep under the table when we arrived, and I guess another dog woke it up, and there was barking, and every shiba in the place gathered around the table. One of the staff intervened and picked up the little one, and all the dogs just followed like ‘put him down, what’s going on??’
It was quite exciting. We went for Macdonalds for lunch again, because I have a serious french fry habit apparently, and was craving them. After that we headed back to Shinjuku and went shopping at Biqlo, which is a Bic Camera and UniQlo sharing a building. I wanted some more of the super comfy singlet I’d got in Hiroshima, but they didn’t stock the exact style, we both picked up a few things though.
At Bic Camera we got a medium sized suitcase from a very enthusiastic salesperson and then we went back to our hotel to rest and nap. It had got to a very particular level of sleepy and exhausted, like I was saying the wrong words and neither of us were any good at making decisions, but we got there. The suitcase was on sale and is very nice, a Japanese made brand.
After the nappening, we went back to Itamae sushi which we’d liked at the start of the trip. I didn’t want to order something very big, so I went with lots of smaller things. Hokkaido oysters, mackerel sashimi and tuna nigiri. They also gave us miso, green salad and a little bowl of something we couldn’t identify. It was like very tender meat, and it tasted fantastic. Anna thinks it could have been kidney.
Also I ordered a small beer, and they didn’t believe me. The Chef double checked ‘small?’ when I ordered, and then the waiter brought out the glasses to show me the sizes before pouring. They were right, I wanted medium, the small was very small. It was a really, really good meal. Excellent quality of everything.
After this, we celebrated with an hour at a karaoke place, where we belted My Chemical Romance, some Broadway hits from Les Mis and Cats, and Anna’s favourite belt top hits. It was a place which insisted you also bought a drink and their cocktails were really, really nice.
Back at the hotel, we got all our extra stuff into the new suitcase and some extra from our bags and had a rough time getting to sleep. Anxious about heading home, sad about leaving Japan, all the ‘return to the real world’ things.
Maybe because it’s a hotel we’ve been in before, or maybe just because Shinjuku is so familiar now, but I had a fantastically good sleep and woke up feeling perky.
We headed out to Shibuya to find Loft – a store I’d read about on pinterest which was touted as Tokyo’s best stationery store. Now, it was pretty good, but I don’t think it beats Tokyu Hands, honestly.
The sign was neat though, it’s all made of cogs which rotate and sometimes stop to spell out the store name.
Having stocked up on some more paper goods, we had lunch at Doutor and cringed as a group of four tourists made more noise than anyone else in the packed cafe. Read the room, people! If everyone else is speaking in soft tones, you should too. It’s not that hard.
From Shibuya we caught a local subway out to the other side of town and went to Skytree. When I first visited Japan, Skytree was about a month off being completed, and we didn’t make it out there last year because of time constraints. I was determined to get there this time! Skytree is primarily a broadcasting tower and was for a while the tallest building in the world at 634.0 metres. There’s an observation deck at 350 metres, which we paid to get to.
The lifts from the fourth floor ticket counters to the observation deck go terrifyingly fast. They’re very smooth but just the fast changes in altitude meant my ears popped multiple times in the half minute or so the ride took.
The observation deck is a 360 degree view around Tokyo and Tokyo Bay, and I was very pleased to realise we could see the volcano of Tokyo Disneysea from there. Very cool. It was very busy with tourists and you could pay to have a photo taken on a plastic cloud with a little plastic skytree and the view behind you, or with the Skytree dedicated mascot, which is like a humanoid in a dress with a star for a head. They also had large interactive photo maps so you could zoom in on bits of the view and find out what they are, or it would show a timelapse of the view over a day.
It was a very cool experience. Heading down took a little longer as there was a backlog of people trying to leave. We went shopping after that. We received a little money from wedding guests for the Studio Ghibli museum, but it’s hard to get tickets to there on short notice. Instead we bought exclusive merchandise at a special Ghibli shop.
We headed back across town to Akasaka to the Ninja Restaurant, which our hotel had kindly booked us a table for. I’ve been once before in 2012, and it hasn’t changed too much, but I had forgotten some things. The menu is updated a little too, but just as incredibly delicious as I remember it being.
The Ninja restaurant isn’t just a restaurant where everyone is dressed as a ninja. It’s immersive, with the interior decked out like an ancient Japanese village, complete with waterfalls and streams. We were seated in a ‘house’, or private room for two with our own water feature.
There’s some fun surprises about this place, which I won’t spoil, but we were laughing most of the night. We were assigned our own personal wait ninja, and he was having a lot of fun telling us “ninja jokes”. Anna ordered a ninja special cocktail called Black Bubble which tasted like delicous fruit slushie and had gold flecks on it. I ordered sake and it came in a fabulous bamboo jug which I was tempted to steal.
But aside from that, the food and drink is really, really good. We had a delicious ten course meal that was part Kaiseki style Japanse dining and part Western influenced. It was all delicious.
Grissini throwing stars and pate, ‘treasure box’ seafood salad (with jelly), escargot with garlic butter and pesto
Rice croquette, soup with black crab dumpling, ceviche and a gingery ice lolly
Meat course two options: lamb or beef, we each had a different option. Sushi course and dessert featuring a cheesecake frog and ice cream and pastry bonzai, plus a bowl of fresh fruit each.
At one point we also had a master ninja do a ninja magic show for us. Coin tricks and then card tricks and there’s two tricks we can’t at all work out how he did. Ninja magic, indeed.
Well lubricated by sake (me) and worn out from the day (both of us), we headed back to our hotel to crash out. The day was declared a good birthday by Anna, and we both felt so much more relaxed being back in Shinjuku.
We slept in today. In part because our room at our Nara hotel basically doesn’t have a window. I mean, it has a window, but its view is to the wall of the building next door and very little light comes in. Also Anna didn’t sleep well overnight, and needed as much rest as possible. We had a quick breakfast at our favourite, hit a post office for more stamps and went back to Nara Park.
Unlike Sunday when the deer were overfed and bored of people, today they were excited to see us and very, very keen for biscuits.
When they realised we had deer bikkies, they’d mob us. Some of the males would get quite rough, giving a butt with their horns or shoving against you. Some would bite at our t shirts or try and get in pockets in case there were bikkies there. My plushie Pooh Bear and Tigger from Disney which have been steadfastly hanging on my backpack since Disney got nibbled and deer slobbered.
We quickly learned that the deer understand that an open palm with spread fingers means ‘none left’. Even though I’m sure they could smell the bikkies in my backpack, they took the hint and would leave us alone if we made that gesture. (You can see Anna doing it if you scroll through the instagram photos above.)
Deer are such big animals that it did get a little scary when they’re all coming at you, especially when it’s the males with the new horns coming through, but we also loved it. The deer would put up with a bit of an ear rub or a neck scratch while you were eating, and most of them bow to you to ‘earn’ a biscuit, so that was neat too.
Once we’d spent a little more on deer biscuits than we intended to, we walked further through the park and tracked down the big bronze Buddha in Tōdai-ji, or the Eastern temple.
I find it really hard to grasp the age of ancient objects. We saw a lantern which dated back to the 8th century and I look at it and go ‘yep, that seems old’. Maybe it’s because I never studied classics or history, but it’s also in part I think because of growing up in New Zealand where stuff just isn’t that old. We don’t have the same history, we’re a very young country, especially in terms of human settlement.
Still I was happy to tourist it up in front of the house of the great Buddha. Because I’m a nerd.
The Buddha was great though. I’m not religious, but I did feel a kind of awe, or desire to be quiet around him. Something like that. He’s very, very big. There were also some other really neat statues and stuff around, possibly of Gods? but the signs were all in Japanese so we weren’t sure what was what.
I was really glad to have done it, anyway. It was something new, and something Nara is known for besides the deer.
I bought a really great Nara t shirt on the way out too. We walked slowly back through the park and got another soft serve (I had mango and vanilla, it was delicious), and sat down next to an older lady who smiled and nodded when I asked if it was okay. She asked us a couple of the standard questions ‘where are you from?’ and then launched into ‘have you read the bible?’ and tried to sell us on … I dunno. She gave me a postcard with a bible verse on it in Kanji. There were a lot of Jehovah’s Witnesses around Nara for some reason, maybe she was one of those. Thankfully Anna saw her reaching for something else from her bag and suggested we needed to get going.
We went back to the hotel and rested for a couple hours, then went out for dinner to a place called The Terrazo opposite our hotel. It was Italian, and really really good. We had some beef and it was so tender and so good, and then a pasta main each.
After that we went to Karaoke for the first time in our trip, and it was amazing. The range of My Chemical Romance songs was off the chain.
(having some wifi patchiness so more photos to come)
Both feeling somewhat the worse for wear, waking up with stiff calf muscles and various aches we had hotel breakfast and checked out to head to Nara.
I wanted to travel in the morning after the horror of Hiroshima to Kyoto the other day and how much it stressed me out, and it worked out relatively well. Nara is close enough to Kyoto that we took a local express train rather than a shinkansen. Unfortunately as it was a Sunday, a lot of other people had the same idea, so the train was quite busy and we had to stand the whole way (45 mins or so).
Our hotel didn’t seem too far from the train station, but can I just say that dragging your suitcase over artistically uneven cobblestones makes everything a hundred times harder? Sure, cobbles are pretty, maybe the rough marble ones adds a certain something to the pedestrian walkways, but mostly they create a ton of resistance for little suitcase wheels and make your tourists have to work extra hard and get cranky in the afternoon sun.
Nara was busy on a Sunday afternoon, lots of tourists and locals on a day trip. Anna navigated us to our hotel and we left our bags, but it was a late 3.30pm check in, so we had some time to kill.
We got lunch at the Doutor conveniently across the street and decided to check out the deer park while we had time. Last week in Pokemon Go there was a community day but they’d had server issues, etc. They made up with a replacement community day which hit just as we were looking for something to do.
Thus, we wandered up the deer park and caught a lot of beldums on the way.
The park is full of deer. Considered to be messengers of the gods by the Shinto religion, they’re considered a National treasure and there’s over 1200 wandering freely in the park. Deer Cookies are on sale for 150 yen and the deer are into them. It being Sunday afternoon on a clear sunny day, the deer were largely over it. Many were just sitting or sleeping, and although we managed to feed the deer a packet of cookies each and then just wandered looking at the shrines and things in the park.
It’s a very beautiful place.
We had a delicious soft serve and then wandered back to the hotel via some touristy shops for postcards and souvenirs. We also got dinner from the konbini, lots of drinks, onigiri, edamame and sushi. I know it doesn’t sound like much to get food from the convenience store, but it’s very high quality food and super delicious.
The rest of the day was just resting. We both needed it.
My self care included a meditation, a nap, changing into my softest clothes, drinking lots, a face mask, cuddles and telling myself I didn’t *have* to do anything. That last one is the hardest.
After a while I did perk up some and got a lot of postcards written so they could be sent. I don’t know if any of the postcards I’ve sent have made it to New Zealand yet, but at least they’ll have the Japanese post mark on them. Hopefully some of them will arrive home before we do.
We had one mission: get to the top of Mt Inari, via the thousands of Torii gates that make up Fushimi Inari.
To get to Mt Inari, we went on the local subway and then a train line to right by the entrance of the shrine. It was Saturday, so very very busy at the shrine. The main shrine is a short walk from the train station and has a tea house and garden nearby as well as lots of little shrines. Behind the main shrines are the trails heading up the mountain, which are lined with Torii gates.
It’s hard to explain how weird and cool the experience is. The gates are packed densely enough that it’s quite dark in the tunnel as you walk, but you can see between them that there’s bright sunshine, or beautiful forest. Here and there along the path there’s little shrines, stones and guardian statues. Lots of foxes, as they’re messengers of the Gods. Anna took some beautiful portrait mode shots…
It’s not an easy climb. Some of it is slopes, but a lot of it is steps, and they’re not regular, even steps. They’re old steps which have been paved over many times, and some of the paving stones are cracked or otherwise askew, so I found I was watching my feet quite often.
We took breaks on the way. Saw a young family with a toddler who flatly refused to walk and insisted on being carried. An American tourist asked me to take a photo of her with the gates. We saw some giant bee things, and some round shiny black beetles. And shrine cats. Lots of cats on this mountain.
A lot of people stop walking at the crossroads, so as we made our way to the summit, there were less people around. This allowed for photos like the above where there’s no one else in them. It was still busy though, I think some people walked down the hill right after I took this photo.
Even though it was hot, and we were tired and in various pains, we made it to the top. At the top of the mountain is a shrine and a gift store, so we didn’t stay too long before heading back down on the other side of the walking loop.
Down felt a lot better, although sore in different ways.
After that, we picked up some souvenirs and got back on the subway to get back to the hotel.
One thing which isn’t immediately obvious about Japan (or at least, the big cities with the subway systems) is that there’s another city underground. I don’t just mean a couple of shops, like, entire malls with food courts and banks and things. Kyoto subway station is made up of multiple malls and we got slightly lost in them yesterday. If you turn the wrong way, you’re in a whole different mall. The signs are generally useful assuming you can find them.
I did find a uniqlo and bought some comfy, comfy clothing though.
Anyway with how tired we were after the many, many steps, we found a Macdonalds and sat down for a comfort meal. Anna tried some local specials: fries with cabonara sauce over them, and a chicken teriyaki burger. I had a double cheeseburger and regular fries, plus nuggets and we both had green melon fanta with them. I needed the salt and also something familiar. It was delicious, and we sat for a good half hour just unwinding.
After we’d eaten and hydrated, Anna found us the way out of the mall and we got the local line back to our hotel.
A quiet night in, doing laundry, using the hotel onsen and complaining about how our feet hurt.
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.
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.
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.