Nothing motivates me to travel more than a prospect of securing a promo fare. My friend, Gail, and I planned to travel to Japan this year until we saw an affordable South Korea package tour that we skipped the Japan trip. We were happy with that Korea trip that we agreed that we would only travel to Japan if we find an offer we could not resist. Lo and behold, Cebu Pacific had this promo.
It was heavily promoted on Facebook. (Maybe I was just an easy target of their marketing campaign.) So I informed Gail about it and asked if she was interested. And she was! So together we agreed to book tickets if we find something below Php 5,000 per person, roundtrip. We agreed on a date. I said I wanted to go sometime around October because I wanted to watch Sweeney Todd with Lea Salonga as Mrs. Lovett and it runs in October. (Will blog about that soon!) Since the mechanics of the promo had a schedule, experience told me that these seats easily get sold out at the first hour of the promo. We agreed we would wake up early and both look for slots simultaneously. We also agreed on the destination in Japan. We both wanted to go to Osaka for Harry Potter at the Universal Studios Japan. And we also wanted to go to Tokyo because my friend, Grace, lives more or less two hours away from Tokyo via shinkansen. She is one of the reasons I wanted to go to Japan. I follow her on instagram and she lives in a charming Japanese city, Tokamachi, in Niigata Prefecture. Check her Instagram @findingbackroads. So the plan was either to arrive in Tokyo and exit Osaka or the other way around. I found seats for Manila- Osaka and Tokyo-Manila for only 7,310 for two people! We took it as a sign that we were meant to go to Japan.
Another sign that we were meant to go to Japan was that we found an accredited agency that would process a Japan visa that only charged us Php 700 each because they had a promo. They were so fast! We got our visa just two days after we submitted our documents. Japan single entry visa is only valid for 90 days after the issue date so we needed to apply within a certain date for visa validity. This time, I was a little more confident in applying for a visa because I got a Korean visa earlier this year.
Our first stop was Osaka. We arrived past seven in the evening so we still had time to buy our train passes and local SIM card with data credits. I loosely say “We” but, really, Gail did all these things. Ha!
We had dinner at Lawson and rode the train and navigated our way to our hotel in Namba. Gail chose the Namba area because it was near the stop of the airport bus to Osaka Airport (different from Kansai). We would fly to Niigata two days after to spend the weekend with my friend, Grace. I love traveling with Gail because she thinks of these things. If it were up to me, I would have booked any cheap hotel near a train station.
This is our hotel room in Namba. When I needed to get things from my luggage, I had to open it and close it back again every time or else I would be blocking the way.
It was cramped but clean and it was within our budget so we can’t complain. We would be spending most of our time exploring anyway.
Our first whole day in Osaka was dedicated to Universal Studios Japan. This Harry Potter fan was happy.
There is Uncle Vernon’s car just by the entrance to the park!
I got to see Hogwarts…
… and Hogsmeade.
We went inside Ollivander’s. I cannot afford a wand so we stalked people who bought wands when they tried magic spells using their wands around the Wizarding World area. (Will post a video soon!)
We explored more of the Diagon Alley. We went through the shops and I also could not afford a scarf. Ha! Here’s a tip: you can try on a scarf and photograph yourself wearing one. I did not have that brilliant idea before I went so I do not have that photo. ( I only learned that from Grace. Thank her for that tip by following her on IG! )
Gail did not want to try the rides because of motion sickness so we opted for a castle tour.
This is Fawkes, the Phoenix. I think.
We went through the hall with the talking frames.
There is Albus and Harry, Ron and Hermione.
We tried butterbeer!
My only caveat in USJ? Everything was in Japanese. I was trying to figure out what language the talking frames are speaking and it took me awhile to realize they were all in Japanese. We went to most of the shows in the park and they were all in Japanese. We just tried to understand everything by taking hints based on their actions. All in all, it was a fun experience.
And we rode the carousel! Ha! It was the only ride that Gail could manage without getting motion sickness. It was my first time on a carousel so I was game.
It was already dark when we left.
We ate dinner at the train station and called it a night.
For day 2, we went to Kyoto. We got ourselves this day pass.
We picked two destinations: Fushimi Inari Shrine and a temple in Gion because the temple was a few trains stops from Fushimi-Inari.
I had a sabaw moment (that moment when the brain seemed to be floating). As soon as we arrived at the train station near Fushimi Inari, we went out to cross the street. We heard bells signalling that a train would be passing. So I prepared my camera in anticipation of the train. I was thinking it would be an old train. Duh! I realized it was nothing fancy. I took a photo of the similar train I rode. Of course, I was in a train station. I guess I was used to subways that it did not occur to me that I was not on a subway and that I would also see the actual train I rode in when I leave the station. Ha!
I guess I needed food to feed my brain. Good thing there were shops along the way. We got this fried mochi type of snack.
Gail, the foodie, would stop and look at the what kind food was sold in the shops.
But first things first, we must walk our way towards the shrine. Oh, too many people for an introvert like me! But we pushed on.
We found an area with less crowd…but with lots of spider webs which frightened Gail. Hi, Gail!
We took enough to photos so off we went and try some of the food along the way.
The titas took a break in the rest area.
We are now ready to sample the food in the area.
We bought crabstick..
… matcha ice cream
… and fish shaped cake with red bean filling.
We bought the green biscuit to try at the hotel later. The shop owner gave us the fox-shaped biscuit for free. It did not pass quality control so we got it for free.
Next stop was Gion. I think it was a tourist area because we passed by souvenir shops.
Around the corner was the Yasaka Shrine.
Our goal was to reach Kiyomizu-dera so I just asked Gail to take my photo from afar with the shrine at the background.
Errm. Nice timing, Gail. LOL
It was easy to find the way to the Kiyomizu-dera. We just have to follow the street with people wearing in Japanese attire.
We passed by the Hokan-ji temple.
Unknowingly, we found ourselves in Nineizaka, a quaint and charming area with traditional homes. So cute! (If only there weren’t too many people. LOL. The introvert in me strikes again.)
From the Kiyomizu-dera, you get a great view of Kyoto.
We hang out for a while because Google maps told us it would take 16 minutes for us to walk back to the train station. We relied on Google maps for direction. The thing was, I was not very good with directions and Google maps adjust the instructions according to our location. We passed by residential areas we did not pass by before. We took a totally different route that Google led us to a different train entrance. We found ourselves in this long underpass. Only two of us were walking inside. We eventually found the right platform of the train bound for Temmabashi- our stop for Osaka Castle.
A few minutes of walking from the train station was needed to reach the castle grounds. As soon as the castle slowly came to sight, Gail said, ” I am okay with just looking at it from here.” I replied, “Me, too.”
Then I said that we’ll just go near and take photos. So I had this photo.
Then, Gail said, ” We walk a little more and check out what’s out there.” So I asked her to take my photo because the leaves in those trees started to change color.
We saw that there was a boat tour around the castle. See that bridge? We kept on waking until we reached that bridge.
Look at her, so effortlessly relaxed even with all the walking. And how about me? Never mind. LOL
And that was not the end of it, we walked inside those walls. This was the closest I could get at taking a photo of the castle.
It was about the get dark so it was time for dinner. But first we dropped by Rikuro’s to get that famous fluffy and jiggly cheesecake..
Off to Dotonbori!
Dotonbori was just a block away from our hotel so we dropped a few of our things at the hotel, rest awhile and went to Dotonbori.
I really did not do any research but the way I understood it was that Dotonbori was street market for food. So what we did was to try food where there was a long line.
There was a line for crabs but I was not interested because we ate crabsticks earlier.
We saw people looking up at this Doraemon-themed billboard. We realized what it was all about. So we waited for our turn. If you squint hard enough, you will see us . LOL
There was a long line at this takoyaki shop so we lined up.
The takoyaki was delish! The takoyaki I tried before did not taste like this.
We walk further and we saw the line at Melonpan. So we bought one.
Melonpan is a soft sweet bun and to add to the sweetness, you can have it with ice cream. Of course, we chose a matcha flavored one.
While looking up the bright lights around, Gail kept telling me to look for the running man. I have no idea what she was talking about. So we took the route along the Dotonbori Canal.
We saw this huge building with modified version of a ferris wheel. No way. The acrophobic in me would tremble.
There was a boat cruise along the canal. All the tourists looked up. They looked like they saw something behind us. I finally saw the running man Gail was talking about. So we walked to the other end to get a better vantage point at the running man.
At this point, our trip in Osaka came to a close. We need to go back to the hotel and pack because we would be flying to Niigata the next day.
Plus, we really need to rest from all the walking. When I checked my phone’s health app. Look at that! 27, 245 steps just for that day.
If you add the 19, 065 steps the previous day, I took a total of 46, 310 in the two days I spent in Osaka.
We sooooo deserved this cheesecake!