I just came from a 13-day backpacking adventure around Japan (after which, I traveled solo to Seoul, South Kore for 5 days before heading back home) with my office buddies, Sam and Winnie. It’s autumn season in The Land of the Rising Sun and we went there in time to see their autumn foliage in vibrant colors, and we were blessed to have seen them and more! We tried to cover as much as we can in 13 days and we’ve been to Osaka – Himeji – Kobe – Kyoto – Nara – Tokyo – Yokohama – Kawaguchiko – Nikko – Enoshima. I’ll try to share to you in detail all our itineraries and the tips on how to have the best possible experience on each destination in this post and in the succeeding entries. Since we have a long way to go, shall we begin?
We flew-in to Japan via different carriers. I was with Delta Airlines, Sam was with Cathay Pacific, and Winnie was with Cebu Pacific, thus, we arrived on different dates, time, and airports. I arrived at Kansai International Airport (KIX) at midnight of November 8 coming from Manila with a few hours of transit in Taiwan. I stayed at KIX until dawn, waiting for the first train to Osaka.
Tip no.1: There is a spot at the second floor of the arrival hall near McDonalds, police station, and information center where you can sleep while waiting for your flight or the first train out the next day. The information center even provides blankets for travelers sleeping for the night. It’s quite comfortable and is definitely safe. I took my few hours nap there before taking a shower at the airport lounge on the same floor at the other side of McDonalds. For only 600 JYP (shampoo and bath gel are included, there is also a hair dyer, no towel provided but you can buy from the lounge if you don’t have one), you can have a fresh bath before heading off to the city.
Tip no.2: The currency in Japan is Japanese Yen (JYP). There are lots of Citibank ATM machines around Japan and there’s one in KIX at first floor of the arrival hall. If you have an ATM card with Citibank this is great news for you since Citibank don’t charge ATM withdrawal fee to its clients worldwide, you can opt to just bring your ATM card with you so you won’t have to carry big amount of money and you can just withdraw when needed.
Tip no.3: Research for possible passes that you can use that fits your itinerary. There are 2 passes that I highly recommend if you’re planning to follow our itinerary for the next five days. First is the Yokoso Osaka Ticket (1,500 JYP), this includes the train ticket from KIX to Osaka (via Nankai Electric Railway) and an all day pass ticket that can be used in the Osaka Metro Subways (excluding JR Lines and Hankai Tramway) and Buses. You cannot buy this ticket in Japan without going through this website or without the help of an accredited travel agency. Second is the Kansai Thru Pass 3 Day Ticket (5,200 JYP), this can save you a lot of money if you’re planning to visit Himeji, Kobe, Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka in 3 days as this ticket enables you to ride on subways, private railways, and buses throughout the Kansai district. I’ll share to you how we were able to maximize the use of this pass in the succeeding post.
Tip no.4: Download Subway apps or maps in PDF form and HyperDia. These are the best tools that can help you navigate around the metros of Japan. HyperDia will be your best friend during your entire trip. It will accurately inform you of the subways and trains schedules and fares which can help you plan and budget your trips accordingly. And take note, the average delay time of subways and trains in Japan is only around 20 seconds, i.e. they’re almost always on the dot. Also, most of the trains travel in different categories: local (stops at all stations), rapid/semi-express (usually stops at alternate stations), and express (stops at even fewer stations), limited express (charges extra, only stops at major stations), super express/shinkansen (expensive, city to city stops). Usually, the main tourist spots have stops at major stations so it is advisable to ride the express/limited express (if willing to pay extra) trains because there is a huge difference in travel time in riding the local trains vs express trains.
Tip no.5: Check the time of when the sun sets. At autumn it usually sets at around 4:00 PM. Yes, it’s early like that, so do plan your itinerary accordingly as most of the tourist spots are better to be visited when the sun is still up. Though there are a few destinations that are best to be seen at night.
For our 3 days in Osaka (2 Days in Osaka + 1 Day in Himeji and Kobe), we stayed at Park Inn and booked our stay via booking.com. For me, it was an awesome deal, for only 1000 JYP you get a small tatami room all by yourself. The bath room and toilet are communal but I couldn’t care less. The owner was really nice and accommodating, and he mans the reception area himself. Plus it’s near the Osaka Metro Subway’s Dobutsuen-Mae Station (it is located at the street between Exits 2 and 4) and a few minutes walk to JR Line’s Tennoji Station. When I come back to Osaka, I’d stay here again.
I arrived at Park Inn around 7:00 AM, I checked-in and left my luggage at the reception area, and while waiting for Sam who was coming from Nagoya I decided to visit Sumiyoshi Taisha. According to wikipedia, Sumiyoshi Taisha (a.k.a.Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine) is a Shinto shrine in Sumiyoshi ward in Osaka and is the main shrine of all the Sumiyoshi shrines in Japan. Sumiyoshi Taisha can be reached by the Hankai Tramway from Tennojiekimae Station which is a few minutes walk from Osaka Metro Subway’s Tennoji Station (use the all day pass of the Yokoso Osaka Ticket to get to Tennoji Station). Alight at Sumiyoshitoriimae or Sumiyoshikoen Station, which is a few steps from the shrine. One way tramway ticket is 210 JYP (it is not included in the all day pass of the Yokoso Osaka Ticket). There is no entrance fee to the shrine and it is open from 6:30 AM to 5:00 PM.
Leading to the entrance of the main shrine grounds is the beautiful Sorihashi Bridge, which creates a uniquely high arch over a pond.
I was lucky to have witness a traditional Japanese wedding being held in one of the main halls of the shrine.
And while walking around the shrine I was able to enjoy munching my freshly baked Doraemon pancakes.
At around noon, I headed back to Park Inn to meet with Sam. As it was time for lunch, we had ramen at a nearby hole in a wall restaurant. There was a line outside the store so we figured that it must be good place to eat and decided to try it. You choose your order and pay via a vending machine, my first experience of ordering a ramen, Japanese style.
After having our fill, we decided to head to Osaka Castle. The castle is one of Japan’s most famous landmarks as it played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century. The recommended approach to Osaka Castle is through Otemon Gate at the park’s southwest corner. The closest station is Tanimachi 4-chrome Station along the Tanimachi Subway Line and Chuo Subway Line (use the all day pass of the Yokoso Osaka Ticket to get to Tanimachi 4-chrome Station). The entrance to the castle grounds is free, but if you want to go inside the castle tower the fee is 600 JYP and if you want to check-out the Nishinomary Garden the fee is 200 JYP. Both are open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
It was a long walk before we reached the castle grounds.
Finally, face to face with Osaka Castle.
The castle’s impressive stone walls and moats.
After long walks around Osaka Castle, we headed to Dotonbori. Dotonbori is a street parallel to Dotonbori Canal. It is one of Osaka’s most popular shopping and entertainment district and is also known as the city’s food destination. To get here, take the Osaka Metro Subway to Namba Station (use the all day pass of the Yokoso Osaka Ticket to get to Namba Station).
At night it is lit by hundreds of neon lights and mechanized signs, including the famous Kani Doraku crab sign.
Food stalls selling grilled scallops and takoyaki along Dotonbori.
Dontonbori Canal and River Taxi.
Dinner time! Trying-out Osaka’s famed okonomiyaki, kushikatsu, and takoyaki.
And that was it for our first day in Osaka. We ended our day with sore feet and full stomach, and as satisfied tourists in the Land of the Rising Sun.
On our second day in Osaka we just have one destination and that is Universal Studios Japan. Universal Studios Japan is the first theme park under the Universal Studios brand that was built in Asia. One day studio pass costs 6,667 JYP. It is located in Osaka Bay Area and to go here you just need to take the JR Line to Universal City Station.
Too much crowd on a rainy day = a dreadful USJ experience! We knew the weather forecast, we knew it will rain, and we thought we can deal with that. What went wrong is we assumed that since it will be raining people will be discouraged to go to the park, but little did we know that they can deal with that as well.
And we forgot that it was not just autumn season, it was also Halloween season, and that Japanese loves to cosplay. And a lot of Japanese where there to cosplay because it’s Holloween (and it’s a perfect excuse to go around in costumes — not that they need any reason to do so, they’ll cosplay when they want to cosplay). At some point it felt like I was in Harajuku and not it USJ. Though if it was not raining, it would have been fun to take their photos.
And oh, not to mention, Harry Potter World just opened-up recently. So yeah, that’s another reason why the park was packed, so packed! Once you’re in the park, you need to line-up for a schedule when to enter the Harry Potter World, and oh boy, the line was crazy! But if you’re a Harry Potter fan, it will be all worth it, the thing is I am not (haven’t read any book and haven’t finished watching any movie). By the way, the previous 4 photos were taken by Sam. I didn’t bring out my camera at all as I didn’t want the lenses to get wet so no USJ photos taken by me.
Just outside the park’s gates is Universal Citywalk Osaka, a shopping mall with restaurants and shops selling Universal Studios merchandise and Osaka souvenirs. But more than that it also houses the Osaka Takoyaki Museum, which is essentially a collection of several popular vendors of the local dish gathered under one roof, at its fourth floor. So with a mug of Butterbeer from USJ’s Harry Potter World and a dozen of Takoyaki from Osaka Takoyaki Museum, we consoled our empty stomach and aching heart from the dreadful USJ experience.