Thank you all for your kind comments! I'm excited to have you guys along for the journey.
bert425 wrote:-- Fantastic Start, but can you elaborate on the room you 1st checked into? you said you were surprised but prepared for it. Was it smaller than you were expecting? larger? just curious. I'm assuming from context it was a smallish room, but clean, so you were pleased?
Sure! Yeah, so Elissa kind of let us know ahead of time that would be the case. Really, the Disney property and Universal property hotels we stayed at later were indistinguishable in size to most US chains. The first hotel and especially the one we stayed at later on in Nagoya were a bit more "Japanese." It was probably about what I expected, but having never been in a room this size, it was still a bit of a surprise. With big suitcases for a three week trip, it was a bit challenging to find space for it on the floor.
bert425 wrote:-- also wondering about your comments regarding using the ATMs. Did you not bring along much cash and then convert at the Airport? or did you just find it easier to use the ATMs? Glad it got worked out so you didn't have to keep fighting with the machines.
So, there are multiple ways I could've done it. For one, it would've been smart to get a credit card that didn't have foreign transaction fees (mine was 3%). But the way I looked at it... 3% of $1000 would be $30 extra. I don't think I spend much more than $1000-1500 for the whole trip. But I opted to just withdraw Japanese currency once I arrived. Airport currency exchange desks generally offer poor exchange rates. But the 7 Eleven atms offer the same exchange rate as what you see if you google it. And the fees are very insignificant (somewhere around $1.50/$100). So i just withdrew 20000 yen at a time (around $200) and went from there. I brought a tiny bit of American cash, but really didn't use it. Japan is largely a cash culture, though they are adapting a lot for the Olympics. I could've paid with card more often, but I felt it easier to track how much I spent via cash.
i305isdaddy wrote:Is breathalyzing common at Japanese theme parks / attractions? As someone that likes a stiff drink that scares me a bit about our trip coming up in September .
Just to echo what was said already, I think this was done largely because of the park's location in a major city (Tokyo). If you go to amusement parks in the suburbs or further out from the city centers (ie- most of the trip for us), I don't think it would be nearly as likely. This was one of only two parks I went to that was right in the city (other being Tokyo Dome City).
Thanks for all the great questions and comments, guys.
The main reason I wanted to arrive a bit early for the pre-trip was to get myself adjusted a bit from jet lag so that on this day, I could explore Tokyo. No coasters on this report. But was definitely one of my favorite days of the trip, anyway. This was the main arrival day for the remaining trip participants (there were about 25 of us, total).
One thing I had decided early on was to head off on my own on these free days we did have. I am a bit different than most in the way I travel. My girlfriend and I will fit a lot more into a normal vacation than most (at least for now... we're young). I am a real planner when it comes to this kind of thing, so I had jotted down quite a few things I wanted to do while in Japan. I think I accomplished a lot of that, discovered quite a bit of stuff along the way, and had a great time doing it.
One of the reasons I was so excited for the trip was that it WAS all planned (expertly) by Robb and Elissa, as far as hotels, transportation, and parks. I could rest easy knowing I could simply wake up and be on time to the lobby and have a solid day. That freed up all my energy to finding things to do and eat during my free time.
So, with all that out of the way! Come explore Tokyo with me. Let's see how much ground we can cover in 16 or so hours.
Started my day in a pretty typical fashion. But look at the variety and quality of options at this 7 Eleven!
They had a variety of noodle dishes, sandwiches, onigiri (basically a rice ball that might have a fish or something mixed in that is shaped into a triangle).
In addition to the cold food area, they had your typical convenience store snacks, but done well. 7 Eleven branded items were actually pretty good too. Remember having a Matcha and chocolate chip cookie which was delicious.
I can't remember which of these milk teas I liked the most, but they're all delicious.
On my way to our first destination. just your typical panda ball.
Kabukiza Theatre. This is the main place in Tokyo to watch Kabuki, which is a traditional show that takes the form of dance-drama. I just walked past on my way to bigger and better things.
I didn't really capture much of what happened between the last picture and here, so I'll catch you up. I stumbled upon a very nice ceramics store that sold tons of tea cups, plates, etc. It looked modestly sized from the window and first floor, but there were a set of steps that led to a significantly larger upstairs. Prices were fair. I got a few little things that I had wrapped and put into my bag to trek around for the day. Then I walked a bit further until I reached Tsukiji Fish Market. This WAS the largest fish market in the world. Read on to find out what happened. But yeah, this guy was just casually driving goods through and everyone parted off to the sides to make room (there was really none).
Okay, so you read on. I do remember reading this when I visited but I completely forgot about it until I google Tsukiji to get the spelling right. They actually moved the entire market 1.5 miles away from the existing one and built a brand new building for it in October, a few months after my visit. From what reviews indicate, (2.5 on trip advisor), people are not thrilled with it. Seems to look very sterile and not much like a market anymore. Might be more functional, but part of what drew me was the history and scale. Oh... the picture. This guy is torching oysters.
So, I made it my mission to try some stuff while I was here. This was absolutely not the right choice but it intrigued me. It was snow crab (I imagine imitation by the size) that was grilled and then torched. From there, you could have it covered in a buttery sauce or not. I tried it and really didn't care for it too much.
Tamagoyaki. This was only 100 yen (< $1). Had a bit of a line that had formed so I checked it out. Basically it's an egg omelette of sort. Was very tasty. To prepare it, they have a square skillet that they very lightly oil (with a sponge) and then they pour a thin layer of egg over the whole surface. Once that cooks up, they roll it over itself. Then they add more egg to the remaining part of the skillet and repeat a few more times. You get an omelette with many thin layers of egg. It was tasty.
Explored a bit more and settled on an indoor sushi place. Here is the menu (sorry for the rotated image, you're just going to have turn your head).
I am more of a sucker for Nigiri, which is just a piece of fish over pressed rice. So I had a few pieces and can remember asking for my check in Japanese (all of two words) and the waiter being so, so happy to hear me attempt the language. It was adorable and further solidifies how much they appreciate foreign tourists (we could take notes).
Some kind of bank building as I was walking.
So, I had to get a picture in front of it. It was pretty, I guess.
Naturally, we have a guy cleaning subway steps.
From Tsujiki, I went to visit the Imperial Gardens, hoping to get a good view of the Imperial Palace itself.
It was really a nice, serene place. One thing I appreciated was the seamless blend of modern architecture, parks, and shrines, etc.
Lay of the land.
I don't know what you're looking at, but it's historical in some way.
On ground level, you can almost forget you aren't in Tokyo. I didn't actually find out where I needed to go to get a view of the Imperial Palace proper (not really accessible directly to the public), but alas, was still a nice little detour.
From the gardens, I headed to Akihabara, which is the Electronics mecca of Tokyo. Tons and tons of streets just full of retro game stores, maid cafes (a cosplay cafe where they will treat you like their master.... very odd), and arcades. Did not experience, but there were loads of girls dressed up encouraging me to visit.
By now, it was lunch time. Found a place just on a side street that looked good.
I ordered a small Tonkatsu, which was like 600 yen (didn't feel like checking the menu in the above picture). It was plenty of food and was really tasty. Also they gave out forks to everyone here to use, which was a nice thing (maybe traditional with this specific meal). As was the case at most places, complementary iced tea was served.
Here is the outside for any of you that decide to visit and copy my every move.
Next up was a place that I had heard a bit about from Robb and in my research, Super Potato. I recognize I am contributing to the main issue people have with this place now... it is overridden with tourists who don't have an exceptionally large passion for retro video games. But yeah, I wanted to visit anyway.
The store takes up the 3rd-5th floors.
I didn't get much here, but it was a pretty neat store. Very tightly packed (as is typical) with tons of goods. Divided by floor depending on what consoles you're interested in. Can't speak on prices, but have heard they aren't super competitive anymore.
From there, I visited a couple arcades in the area. This is one of the more unique things about Japan... there are quite a few multi-level (I'm talking 4-7 floors) arcades scattered around Tokyo, many of which are located in Akihabara. Most had floors dedicated to specific types of games. For example, the first floor or two might be dedicated exclusively to UFO crane games (which are incredibly challenging), with a floor for competitive racing, then a floor for music games (where this game was found). It was kind of like DDR but I don't really see buttons specifically on the floor there.
On my way out of the area, I stumbled upon an idol group. Didn't appear wildly popular... but. Idols are generally just manufactured celebrity figures. They are generally placed together by an agent of sorts and usually don't directly contribute to the creation of their sound/writing of music. But Japanese folks fawn over them.
Before I left, I explored Bic Camera, which is a chain of electronics stores in Japan. This particular location was a bit overwhelming. About 30 or so staff per floor and many a floor. I ended up buying this for my girlfriend. It is a paper model of Osaka Castle that you must craft. She still hasn't touched it (OH WELL).
Yeah, it's extensive.
I took a quick subway ride from Akihabara to the Edo Tokyo Museum. But on the station platform, I caught a glimpse of the top of the Sumo Stadium. Unfortunately, the Sumo season is fairly limited and wasn't occurring during the trip. I would consider going on my next visit.
Stumbled into a little museum right next to the stadium.
On my way out of the museum, noticed a cat cafe. It appeared new... you can pay a fee to go inside and just exist with cats. Cats suck, so I am not sure why this is appealing, but there was quite a crowd. Pets are very expensive in Japan and often aren't practical given tight living quarters, etc.
A bike parking lot!
Edo Tokyo Museum.
Yeah admission was very cheap and I had read good things about the museum. But I never could've expected my experience to end up being as great as it was.
Weird escalator to get inside.
The top floor had HUGE scale models of what the area looked like during the Edo period (1603-1868 under the rule of the Shogunate).
Descending to the bottom floor was a very comprehensive look at the development of Tokyo with time and at a lot of the innovations that came with this development. But they also host cultural experiences daily. This day, they were doing a demonstration on Japanese Acrobats. This man was insane. I am only showing two of the things he did here. But he was narrating his every move in Japanese (and there was an English translator enthusiastically conveying it to us). The whole thing was just insane.
This is sped up so I could show you more, but he stacked item after item on his nose.
Why are Japanese people so skinny when they have escalators this small.
From Edo Tokyo Museum, I visited Shinjuku, which is a large shopping and entertainment district. I visited one of the many huge department stores (Isetan, I believe). They are mostly really upscale and can be 10 floors plus. It is insane, really. But the reason for my visit was the food basements. Think a giant upscale food market. One thing they are infamous for is pristine produce. Around $300 melon.
Yeah, look at those prices (divide by 100 to get a rough USD). $125 cherries.
Just beautiful though. Much of the stuff is actually decently affordable.
From there, I attempted to find dinner. The place I found originally didn't pan out (Ichiran Ramen). The line to get in was EXTENSIVE. But read on to future installments of the report. The Ramen Saga is not over. I believe this was just a a random shrine I stumbled upon on my way to Ichiran. BLURRRRRY.
From Shinjuku, I had one last stop. Shibuya. I would say it is like the Times Square of Tokyo in many ways. I was in here searching for a very specific Back to the Future shirt she had seen at one a year or so ago and hasn't found since. Don't judge. But yeah, 6 floors.
I also found out that Tower Records is alive and well in Japan. This specific outpost actually recently was remodeled and expanded. Ironically, they don't sell much in the way of Vinyl.
Just a wonderful retro vibe.
Look at this directory.
Hachiko, a dog made famous for his loyalty to his owner, whom he would meet daily at Shibuya Station. When his owner died, he continued to wait there for 10 years until he died, too. Really, really popular statue. It is located right at Shibuya crossing. Which is...
INSANITY. It is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. There are many different crosswalks that all get walking rights at the same time. Controlled chaos (no one bumps into you).
A novel little newspaper vending machine.
Not pictured here... but my quest for Ramen was moderately successful. I stopped off on the way back to Shinegawa at a Ramen place. I can't find a picture and can't remember the station it was off of. But it was pretty solid and not crowded at all. Home is in the distance. At long last. 16 hours, 14 miles of walking later. Thanks for reading along. I hope I am not boring you guys with trivia and history, etc. Hope you enjoyed!
^^Not a problem! I really am grateful for how much free time was built into the trip because of the early park closings. Made it to a lot of the "Greatest Hits" as well as some more personal interests.
^And absolutely. That and just being able to stop at them before hopping on the Shinkansen to get a beer and a snack was one of my favorite parts about Japan. The only time a convenience store failed me was the day of the earthquake when all that was open was Lawson. I really didn't find anything too good there and think I ate deli meat, cheese, and chocolate.
Day 5/6: Travel Day, Misaki Park, and Adventure World
Well, the next few days were quite eventful. After a couple very nice days in Tokyo, it was time to travel to Osaka (we will return to Tokyo at the end, don't worry)!
This first day was largely travel. We had a nice buffet breakfast at the Shinegawa Prince Hotel. It was VERY popular among hotel guests and had a huge variety. The whole space was really nice. Sorry if any of you foodies were hoping for pictures. We used the bullet train for the first time and had our seats reserved (we did this reservation on our own). Future reservations were done by Elissa (THANK YOU) who would just grab our rail passes, reserve us all together and then return them later in the day. Again, you don't need to reserve seats. There are cars that are non-reserved cars. You guarantee yourself a seat if you reserve (generally not an issue for them to run out unless you are there during the very busy season).
From there, had a nice afternoon at City Walk, and a great first evening in Osaka. The next day would bring some unique challenges to the group. Enjoy!
Here we are. Leaving Shinegawa for Osaka.
The rail pass itself. It's like a little laminated pamphlet. You can see that mine was active from 6.17-6.30. Important to consider your options as far as whether to get a 7, 14, or 21 day pass. If your first bullet train trip is not at the beginning of the trip and you will just be taking local trains, the rail pass isn't providing you optimal value (you'll be paying $30+ a day to ride local trains that are usually $2.50 each).
....But a bullet train trip from Tokyo to Osaka will run you $100 or so each way, so the value is most certainly there. I personally waited to activate mine until this day and just used the Suica Card (think Metro Card in NYC, pre-loading money on, etc.). This is the card you get for your reservation. I brought a more subtle 'fanny pack' along for the trip and had my passport, rail pass, money, battery block, and any train reservations kept in there. Remarkably, this trip departed and arrived on the minute. Crazy for a multi-hour leg.
We arrived in Osaka, but had to take a local shuttle to our final destination. I wonder where that might be.
Snoopy is way, way more popular here than in America, as you'll see.
Also, it was interesting that in Tokyo, it was customary to stand on the left side of the escalator if you were not in a hurry. In Osaka, it was the opposite. Either way, this was a really nice cultural tick. Impossible for something like that to be implemented in America, I would assume. People just get it in Japan.
We've arrived! We would be staying at the Hotel Universal Port for the next few days. Easy access to City Walk and Universal Studios, proper.
Some familiar faces, here.
Can definitely get used to a view like this from the hotel entrance.
We had some free time to explore the area and get settled in before our welcome dinner.
Clearly referring to the aging of steak.
Took a quick peak around the Studios entrance.
That evening we went to Yakiniku Karubii Champ for dinner. It was all you could grill and eat meat plus sides and a 'beverage bar' for around $30. You had a little touch screen at your table and could pick between a variety of meats that they would bring out (rather quickly, I might add) and you would cook them yourself over a little grill. We stuck with beef and pork but had some veggies, rice, and other sides as well.
Mmmm! I am really missing this place.
A bit of an idea of the setup. If you are hanging out in City Walk, I would recommend this place!
So. much. meat.
That evening, a few of us went to Umeda Sky Building. It is a famous skyscraper and as you'll see, it has a unique design.
I dunno, this guy was just chilling at the base of the building.
Okay, so those two little lines up there are escalators that cross from one side of the building to the other and offer ridiculous views of the city. It's super unique. You take an elevator up to the escalators, then the escalators, and then some extra steps to the observation deck.
We paid like $10 to do this (though not everyone seemed to pay once we got off the elevator and they never collected any kind of ticket, so I am not really sure what to say about that).
Better view of the escalators.
After that, we went and explored the Namba District, specifically the Dotonbori area, which is 100% the most popular destination in Osaka. This is one of many shopping 'malls' that jet out from the main dotonbori canal area. Nicely covered and tons and tons of people and shops.
This, unfortunately, was not open on our visit. Don Quixote Ferris Wheel is its name. Has had some troubles apparently since its initial construction. Very funky, nonetheless.
Here we are on the main bridge in Dotonbori. Basically, you have this levels worth of shops as well as some more on water level below. There are boats that pass through (you can buy a ticket and ride them) and the whole area is very lively.
This is Gilco Running Man. Gilco is a Japanese food company headquartered in Osaka. This particular advertisement has been situated right here since 1935 (various iterations). Every so often, the running man would animate a bit.
Just exploring some of the side streets. Tons and tons of lights everywhere.
The tower used to be an operational drop tower. Now, we just have a rock wall.
That next morning, we left our hotel and attempted to travel to our first park of the Osaka leg of the trip, Misaki Park. Unfortunately, at (I believe) Shin-Imamiya Station, there was an earthquake a few minutes before our train was due to arrive. It was measured at around 6.0 intensity. As you can see here, the radius was pretty large, but it was centered around the Osaka area.
Compliments of Elissa. Yeah, I was sitting up against a wall when it happened and honestly, at the time, I had thought two trains had just collided or something because it was a very loud noise. I dunno if it was because a train came to an abrupt halt or what. The actual quake did cause the station to wobble a bit. I believe it resulted in a handful of casualties and the prime minister even spoke about it. I can say that it was intense enough to provide a little scare, but if it had been much worse, damage would have been significant.
This was really the only noticeable change in the station.
And 10 minutes later, it was being fixed. The whole ordeal took a couple hours before trains resumed. Even then, a lot of the express lines were suspended and trains were making stops at basically every station. We were determined to press on, because some CRAZY AWESOME credits loomed in the distance.
Getting close to our first park. I believe we were due in around 9:00 AM to the park; Instead, I think we arrived around noon or a bit after.
We didn't know at this point if we were going to make it our second destination, but the group decided to hustle our way through for the credits and get on our way.
Robb buying us our ish.
We were not shaken (hah) by the Earthquake. We WERE to ride coasters today.
Our first stop at the park was this odd Hopkins wild mouse.
We all wondered what the old one was like.
Despite what you see here, this was probably the tamest coaster of the trip (including kiddie coasters). In its own strange way, I liked this. It was bizarre, kind of pointless, but still..
The ride operation attempted to brace every car that approached the brake run (definitely the most intense part of the experience).
Some more pictures of the place. It was obviously empty (which was a trend for the trip). The ride operators sort of followed us around as we did things.
Children's Coaster was up next.
It was actually a cute little kiddie coaster.
Sadly, the train would have to wait for my next visit.
Another developing trend was the presence of animals (usually pandas are a staple) that you could ride around any given area. They move rather slow, and I assume you just leave it wherever you end up when your time is up. This one may have seen better days.
This was a side-sitting affair.
We are... very proud of ourselves.
It was a nice little park!
I believe this is the entrance to the final credit, the Jet Coaster. It was actually my second favorite coaster of its kind on the trip, I think (just behind Red Falcon at Hirakata Park).
Here we are on Jet Coaster!
So, it was at this point, I believe around 1:00 or so. We stepped into the subway station and Robb and Elissa laid out our options. Elissa and some others were going to head back, because she thought it would be a bit tight trying to make it to Adventure World (our second park) before 4:00. The park closed at 5, but last admission was at 4:00. Basically, we would need our next train to arrive exactly on time to pick us up and drop-off/get a cab right away to the park. A handful of us agreed to give it a shot (not much else would be open back in Osaka, we figured).
Some quality instructions, plus panda.
So, yeah. Some more train pictures.
The trip actually took us along the coast, which was really nice.
Then, to the cab.
And we made it! At like 3:55, to boot. The park was celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Robb acquired our park admission tickets (around $50), which didn't cover our coaster rides (just the zoo portion). He was informed that the rides closed at 4:30, so we had 30 minutes to work with.
Just breezing through the ride area to our first destination.
BIG ADVENTURE. A very anti-climatic but still enjoyable stroll around the perimeter of the rest of the rides.
After this, we hustled over to Pandafull Coaster, which seemed promising.
More fun animals.
As thrilling as you can imagine. Another wonky wild mouse type ride with loads and loads of block brakes. Also, here is Adam. Adam and I went on the New Hotness Trip in 2012 and he joined this trip at the last minute. It was quite nice to have a familiar face on the trip!
After a quick trip on the powered coaster, Adam and I hustled over to the main attraction (at least for me).
They have two separate panda exhibits. I believe one is more for breeding. They, I believe have the largest breeding program outside of China.
After leaving the park, we had a long trip back to Osaka (still not too many express trains running). We took a cab back to Universal and our cab driver got a bit lost. Instead of just 'taking us for a trip,' he turned the meter off and only charged us probably half of what the trip oughta cost. More Japanese decency and in the least expected of places. At this point, we were starved. Unfortunately, nothing was open except for Lawsons (another convenience store). I ate a very nutritious dinner (jokes) and just kind of took it easy. Thanks again for following along! I'll be back with some Universal Studios pictures next time.
Last edited by Taylor Finn on Mon Feb 04, 2019 2:19 pm.
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