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 holdsĀ 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:

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?