We are in Japan for our end of year holiday. We flew in with a friend of G’s (let’s call him M) but not J. He chose to stay home (there is a story there)
We arrived the evening of 19 December, in Osaka.
First day was Universal Studios Japan (USJ). IN all the years i lived here, and all the times we have visited, USJ has never been on the menu. But it was this time- because of Harry Potter. USJ has a Harry Potter area. The Harry Potter area at USJ is set up as Hogsmeade (i think the one in Florida is Diagon Alley?) with Hogwarts at the end. One of the factors for the day we went- selected and booked in advance, was that it was a low crowd day (in advance of the high crowd days over new years). Usually access to Hogsmeade is dictated by timed ticket, but not the day we went- we were able to head straight there and return later in the day.
We looked around the village, decorated for Christmas and containing snow filled rooftops(not real). I was able to buy butter beer from the stall in the centre of the village with no line, and time for a conversation with the seller. And because it was December, I opted for hot butterbeer. It was delicious, much better than the cold one i had at the studio experience in the London.
We wandered up to the castle and got in the short (40 minute) line for the 4D ride. The route of the line through the castle is an attraction in itself- we didn’t get much time to admire it (and the voices are all in Japanese). The ride was pretty good- very immersive. Following the ride we picked up a few souvenirs (chocolate frogs etc) and went to the rest of the park.
Everywhere was decorated for Christmas, including the shark!
The Jaws ride was closed, and M and I both refused the Flying Dinosaur roller coaster, although we did go on the Jurassic Park log ride- not the wisest decision in December! The drama of our ride was broken by the fact we were stopped just before the big drop because the people in the front row took out their camera.
For most of the rest of the ride USJ seems to rely on projected 3d and cart rides- think a more contained Haunted Mansion where the effects are mostly projections. I don’t mind some of these, but too many make me feel ill.
In the late afternoon we headed back to Hogsmeade and bought a wand and then i got to try the other element of the village- Wand magic! At certain key points in the village, if you stood on a particular mark, made the right movement and said the right word, something happens! There are helpers to go through the spell and direct you, but it is based on wand movement. I have no photos, as i was doing it. We then had dinner and watched the light show on the castle.
The next day we got up early and headed to the Shi-Tennoji temple markets. These are held monthly on the 21st and are fascinating flea markets
The markets start before you enter the grounds, with local shopkeepers setting out stuff as well. We breakfasted on fresh, made in front of us, drip coffee and okanomiyaki. The okanomiyaki stall even had tables to use.
There is a lot to be seen. We were there early (8:30 or so) so the crowds weren’t out in force yet.
I got a couple of kimono, G and M poked around at stuff, it was generally interesting. After a couple of hours we headed out. We took as wander through neighbourhoods to get to DenDen town- Osaka’s answer to Akihabara. It was about 20-30 minute walk, but due to the quirks of transportation, trains would have taken as long. We looked briefly at a couple of stores, then had lunch. After lunch i stayed in the cafe, then wandered through the kitchen supply area while G and M looked around the shops. Then we went to the Osaka museum of Daily Living- which was a train ride away. An old neighbourhood from the 19ths century has been recreated inside and you can wander the street and look inside homes and businesses. They simulate weather sounds and light (but not precipitation) They also offer the chance to dress up in kimono, but that was fully booked. Once you move on from that street there are a number of models showing different neighbourhoods and changes in Osaka. It was interesting.
In the evening we had a seal carving class- Japanese people use carved seals (hanko) instead of signatures and this was a chance to make one. It was pretty interesting. Due to the size of the seal and length of the class, we could only carve one kanji. It’s not easy! I don’t have pictures, because although the tour lady took some, they aren’t on my phone!
The next day G and M headed for Hiroshima, i stayed in osaka. I went to an art museum, wandered around Osaka and some fabric shops and then went to Spa World- a big onsen complex. M has tattoos, so our onsen options are not awesome, so i went when he wants around.
Spa world was good, but i was looking at the body scrub option (there is a salon/extra services area) and the lady came out and brought me in and convinced me a 40 minute scrub was a good thing (it was). Then about 5 minutes before the end of the scrub, she upsold me on a massage. I was very relaxed!
The next day we all met in Himeji. I accidentally took a shinkansen that didn’t stop at Himeji and had to hurriedly change at Okayama-onto the same train as G and M. Himeji has a famous castle that has recently been restored.
We climbed to the top- steep stairs and no shoes- just slippers.
After the castle and lunch we went back to Osaka. In the evening did laundry and then we went to the German Christas market- which was packed!
On Sunday- our last day in Osaka, we sent our bags to Kyoto and then went to our lunch at a Michelin restaurant. We had booked at this one because it was possible to book ahead, online. For the day we booked there was a set christmas menu- which was delicious! The restaurant was on floor 20 at the Intercontinental- very swish!
Unfortunately I spent most of the later afternoon and evening in the hotel room- I cam down with a cold and it was not good!