Japan trip – 5 days in Osaka

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!


happy new year!

So, it’s a new year! We celebrated in Japanese style.

No late night partying.  Up not too early, not too late.  Checked out at the hotel and hung around in the lobby for the mochi ceremony. I think many of the people staying there were overseas visitors, there very few people in the lobby for this- unlike the hotel we were in last time.

Mochi are made by pounding cooked glutinous rice until it is a paste.  It is traditionally done in a stone bowl.

We have done this before, with a community group at the old house museum we visited last time.  

The mallet used is made of stone as well, and is pretty heavy!

So the cooked rice is placed in the bowl, and mushed around a bit, then you start whacking it with the mallet.  It’s hard work.

They looked for volunteers and picked some likely candidates.  It became clear that most of the people in the lobby had never done it before.  They did not whack the rice hard enough.  Then G had a go.  Like I said, we have prior experience!

I have a video, but my blogging app is not being helpful.  I will try to add….

The rice paste tends to stick to the mallet, so water has to be added periodically, that’s what the guy in the corner is doing.

 Then this is what we got – two types of mochi and some tea.  One has red bean paste- it’s kind of sweet and works really well with the mochi.  The other is some kind of nut/soy powder. Tastes peanutty.

Then we dragged our bags to the train station (all of them, haven’t had to do that yet) and took a train one stop to Osaka station.  There we took the shuttle bus to our next hotel and left our bags there for the day.  Yay for higher end hotels with shuttle buses!

And then it was off to Sumiyoshi Taisha for hatsumode, first shrine visit for the year. Sumiyoshi Taisha is apparently a very old shrine, bits of it are in a very old style of architecture, predating Chinese influence on japan.  

We took a train, and then boarded a tram, along with many others.

Looking at the tram in front

At the shrine it is a festival atmosphere, so lots of food stalls and a few carnival games. And so many people.

We went over a very old wooden bridge

And then into the shrine grounds

This orange and white building is one of the old style buildings

I say style, because one of the things about Japanese shrines is the rebuilding of them, exactly as before, on a periodic schedule. So the building looks like the one that was built over 1000 years ago, but is probably not that old (I don’t actually know)

The grounds were full, people praying, buying fortunes or various lucky objects.  We bought a New Years arrow (only sold at this time of year).  

Then we stopped in a food tent and had some yakisoba and beer and a roasted prawn.

On the train ride back we stopped in Nanba, a significant shopping area.  Most of the shops were closed, but a few had started sales early.  We went past the Apple Store, there was a line of people camping out for the lucky bags.  Stretched down one block and then started back on the other side of the street!

Back to the hotel and our warm hotel room! And then it snowed!

Happy new year!  





back in Osaka

Trying something a bit different.  I seem to have fallen behind on my posts about the trip, so will blog for today, and then try to catch up on the days in between.

We returned to osaka last night, and are in a much less nice hotel than before.  Good thing, only for two nights!  Booking for New Year’s Eve has always been an issue. We are staying the Shin-Osaka area, so it isn’t as lively as the Osaka station area.

Anyway we are now well and truly into the annual shutdown for New Year that happens in Japan- Christmas is a fun custom from overseas, New Years is a serious family holiday.  Everyone goes home for the holidays (and the trains have reflected this), the family sits around at home and eats special traditional food only prepared at this time and children are given gifts of money.  A lot of tourist attractions and museums shut down, shops close banks (and their ATMS,) close.  Restaurants close.  It is much less so than when I lived here- back then if you hadn’t planned ahead and didn’t live in the city you could wind up not being able to get money out of the bank or subsisting on convenience store food. It’s like everywhere else, a creeping expectation that things will be open.

Some chain restaurants will stay open, as will convenience stores.  ATMs in convenience stores will stay open. Back when I lived here ATMs opened at 9 or 10 and closed at 9, except on Sunday’s when they shut at 7. And public holidays they stayed closed. The holiday will last until about the 4th or 5th.

Some stores will open on New Year’s Day for the sales, while a lot of the big ones will wait until the second.  The sales can be huge- Boxing Day/Black Friday etc.  and with the added fun of “lucky bags”. Grab bags of product that are sold,for a set amount but promise more in value.  The apple ones are traditionally very good and features items only available in the lucky bag.

So, seeing as so much is closed, what did we do?  We went to the Osaka Aquarium, along with many others.  It’s in an entertainment area- not far from the Universal Studios theme park, with a restaurant shopping complex next door and a huge Ferris wheel. It’s on the harbour, near the port.

We took the subway and got off at Osakako,  it was an easy walk from there.

Walking in the entrance, still outside, there were some Penguins, just hanging out.

The aquarium is organised by biome, with some multilevel tanks- so you see the otters at the surface, and then walk through the building and encounter the underwater part.  They post the feeding times, but there are no shows.  The dolphins do have toys though.

River otters napping

I think the seal on land was doing a Pilates hover while the others swam around…

Blurry Dolphins 

The three story tank that had many types of fish. The path kept bringing us back at various levels.  

All of the other people!

They were cleaning the floor of the penguin tank


These are huge spider crabs.  HUGE. If they were next you they would reach knee high at least.

It is at about this point that my phone battery gave out.  If anyone has a solution to the iPhone 5 battery crashing ( the current iOS) I would be thrilled to know it.  I am having to carry a battery recharger and use it every day.

So the rest of the photos are on the camera.

After the aquarium we went to a family restaurant next door, the chain restaurant CoCos.  Not the curry one, the other one.  I used to spend a lot of time in CoCos when I lived here, avoiding my annoying roommate.  So a tiny memory moment.  Then we went back to Osaka station.  We went to Grand front osaka, which is a shiny new shopping centre.  And I found a branch of Hobby-re Hobby-ra.  This is one of my favourite craft chains in Japan and up till that moment the only branches I knew the locations for were in Tokyo and kyoto (we went there before we left) so that was nice, and dangerous for the wallet. For those searching, it’s in the same building and side as the Canterbury shop, but one or two floors higher. Sorry, wasn’t paying enough attention for precision.  Didn’t buy anything today.

We then came back to the hotel and dined on convenience store food (generally reasonable) and are now watching end of year variety shows (another tradition in Japan) 



We had some plans for things we were going to do.  Monday was supposed to be Koya-San a mountain with temples, then switched to the whiskey tour, but that was fully booked.  

So monday was a sleep in, some shopping for warm clothes and then a successful expedition to DenDen town. We had come close before but we actually found it.  Yay.  Is at in a cafe and read while G looked around.  

Then we went back to a nearby kitchen goods shopping street- yep, a shopping arcade dedicated to various kitchen/restaurant elements.  We had found that on our way to denden town.  I had snapped a picture of the left handed knives and sent it to my sister.  She was very enthused, so we bought her one.  After a bit of cross continental messaging!  Yay for iMessage.


The shop was mostly about various sharp edges. As well as a few iron teapots- I want but I don’t know how to managed the luggage weight issue.

There were several shops- some general kitchen wares, others much more specialised.

After this we headed to Spa World- an onsen(hot spring/bath) complex.  It has a swimming and slide area, where you wear a swimsuit and two floors of gender separated baths.  G had my suit, so I waited in the slide floor for an hour (I did get my kindle) because he thought the baths were going to be first.  Once this was sorted, it was a nice place, if a bit empty (Monday night) and a bit old feeling.  Nice and relaxing.  I love going to onsens!

Afterwards we ended up walking through Americamura(?) a slightly dodgy but trendy area with many restaurants.  

Not sure what we did for dinner, but for dessert we got a special set of cakes.

One of the cake shops in the department store basement has this set of cakes, based on one of my favourite fairy tales “Snow white and rose red” 

I got the chocolate bear king

G got the little house (lemon flavoured)


The next day we had a print session at the Ukiyoe museum



I thought I had more pictures of the streets in the area, but they must have been on the big camera, not my phone.  I will try to put them up later.

We wandered around the area and then headed back to DenDen so G could show me.  So many old video games!


Rival maid cafes promoters…

One of the original Nintendo systems…


Dinner was sushi (first time in all of our trips to Japan!)

Wednesday we tried to go to a museum, but it was closed.  This is one of the frustrations of this time of year- a lot of places close for the end of year holiday.  Not for Christmas, but for new year.  We wandered down the local shopping street- much more working and daily life than some of the other ones we had been down.

I think we went back to the Shinsaibashi and Namba area to look at shops, but I honestly can’t remember.  Mellow.

I do want to do posts on the food, and the hotels.



my hobby is shopping

Well no, not really.  But this is something a lot of students used to say to me when I taught English here.  Just to be clear “students” were customers at a commercial English  teaching business and ranged in age from 12- 90 or so.  We did teach kids as well, but they were in different classes.

Anyway shopping is something you can spend a lot of time doing in Japan.

Yesterday we did.  First up was the flea market at Shitennoiji Temple. This is held monthly on the 21st and 22 of the month. (Closest station is Shitennoji mae yuhigaoka on the Midosuji line) at the temple.  Flea markets at temples are common in Japan.  They can be very interesting experience, but most of the markets we have been to previously have been on the tourist circuit (domestic and international) or very small.  This one was huge and mostly localish people, judging by what was sold and not.

We got off the train and G asked me which direction.  I said follow the stream of old people with shopping trolleys!  Even the roads leading to the market had tables, mostly for the shops that were on the road.

The temple gate, leading in…

There were several stalls of old kimonos, which used to be common at the Kyoto ones (but the vendors there have clued into tourist interest and charge accordingly), frequented by ladies in kimonos.

There were rolls of fabric

There several stalls with everyday living things- pots and pans, cleaning products, blankets etc.  there were stalls selling old stuff.  Cameras, old knick knacks, we even saw a rack of 8 tracks.

I bought some buttons at a button stall.  The stall holder told us one was from the 60s, pre Tokyo Olympics, because the papers wrapping the buttons were all 1964 Olympics newspaper articles!

Continue reading “my hobby is shopping”

Japan- getting here and the first day

So, we’ve made it to Japan and are experiencing nice chilly weather.

The flight over was both more stressful than expected and easier.  We had to catch a domestic flight up to cairns and then the flight to Japan. This seems to be the new strategy for the airline- both of our airport options worked this way, so we got to fly out of Brisbane instead of the Gold Coast.  We had to catch a very early flight, and the check in and bag drop was not awesome.  International flights require passports to be sighted, even though (this was one of the annoying things) we had to pick up our bags in cairns and re check in.  Our flight schedule gave us an hour and half from landing in cairns to get bags, check in, clear immigration and then security.  Our plane landed early and it was still a scramble.  Those of us who were doing ths connection didn’t get our bags tagged as priority, so we had to wait.  Then the dash on foot to the international terminal (not far away) and the realisation that flights from Brisbane and the Gold Coast (possibly other places too) were funnelling a pile of people in.  There were two check in lines and the one for Tokyo ( much later flight) obscured the osaka one.  Good thing we asked questions, otherwise we would have had issues.  The queue was long, the organisation was poor.  The only good thing ( and this was true in the overwhelmed security screening too) was that we were solidly in the middle.  If they had closed the flight off, there going to be a,lot of very angry people! The plane itself was half empty, and we ended up with an empty aisle seat in our row. So quite good.  The checkin and wait in lines bit was bad, the flight was good.  Then we landed in osaka, and the immigration queue was another long and painful one, but far less stressful. 

The flight path was different and I got to see Papau New Guinea from the air.

A train trip in, and a quick walk to the hotel.  We ventured back out for dinner, at a restaurant we have been to several times.


Very filling, hot and not expensive. Also super yummy.

Today was very rainy.  We went to the tourist bureau to see if we could get tickets to the Suntory distillery tours, but completely booked out for the days we are here. Sad

Then we went to a special exhibition about swords at the Osaka museum of history.  Lots of swords and knives, including several for women- I think, but am not sure because it was all in Japanese.  There were also some manga character posters and some representations of their swords.

And some beautiful embroidery. Most of the photos are on my big camera, and haven’t been taken off yet.  Will try to have a bigger picture post later.

After the museum we opted not Togo to osaka castle because of the rain.  We went to a shopping area instead and bought lots of things.  And then we went looking for denden town, the area where electronics are.  We have tried to find this once before and not had great success. We did not have much success this time, and we walked in a big u shape in the rain.  I did lots of steps and we ended up with some old prints, but I was not a happy camper. We think we have found it, and it is now flagged in our maps, but too tired and wet ( and grumpy) to continue.

We headed back to the hotel and then went out for the German Christmas market.  This is a regular Osaka event in December- a German Christmas market at the foot of the Umeda Sky building. 

There’s a carousel

And lots of stall selling ornaments and Christmassy things and German,food.

There also a Santa and a giant nativity and a big (fake) tree


There are stalls selling gluhwein(and hot chocolate) and this time they had special commemorative cups

I keep forgetting that G doesn’t always understand the kanji and kana signs.  I don’t either all the time, but I can understand some stuff and extrapolate.  G didn’t realise we could get hot chocolate as well as gluhwein, and I didn’t realise they both came with the cup.  So gluhwein it was.

It’s Saturday, so lots of people out and about, lots of crowds everywhere.  That can be stressful too.  The day was a mix of fun and relaxing and frustration.


Still happy to be here, rather than at home