PINOY SQUAD WANDERS JAPAN ON A WINTER! 

So, a lot of my friends have been asking me about the details of our Japan trip last February. Every time someone would ask, I would almost always reply them with a one-liner “Japan is, so far, my favorite travel destination.” But I know that will not suffice if they have keen interests in visiting Japan. 

Honestly, I don’t remember all of the details of our trip so, here goes some of the details of our 8-day travel to the “Land of The Rising Sun.” 

 

PRE-DEPARTURE PREPARATION 

Apply for Japan tourist visa. My friends (and travel buddies) Genn and June did the honors in checking the visa requirement details at the Japan embassy in Kuala Lumpur . Turns out, Philippine passport holders need to apply for a visa in advance before entering Japan. I wrote a separate article on how we obtained our Japan visa as foreigners in Malaysia. 

Cost: FREE (ganda lang!) 

 

Book return flight tickets. This is a must. And if you need to apply for a visa, this is one of the requirements. Since Malaysia is a travel hub, it is particularly affordable here to book direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Haneda (Tokyo), then Kansai (Osaka) to Kuala Lumpur. We had our flights with Air Asia X. And the cost really depends on a lot of factors: Did you avail any ongoing promo fare? Is your travel date during peak season? How advance did you make the booking? My travel buddies bought their two-way tickets for approximately 752 MYR only each! Imagine? They got it cheap because of the promo fare. Unfortunately, I booked mine without the promo. If you want to check the best deals on return flights, I highly recommend Skyscanner as a go-to travel search engine. Not only that it is efficient to use in helping you scour the internet to find the lowest possible rates on airfare and hotels within just a short period of time, but it can also be used as a good reference on how much return flights would cost for your desired date of travel.

Cost: 1110 MYR for a two-way ticket 

 

Book accommodations in advance. Being the blessed and grateful friend that I am for having friends like Genn who took the liberty to search and book our accommodations in advance, all I had to do was check every suggestion, throw my comments, or give a go-ahead. She has a taste and she knows our practical needs for an accommodation, so her being in-charged for this task is a gem. Genn is a gem. Naks! Tongue twister. LOL. Last ko na ‘yun.

Anways… We visited three cities but we only booked two accommodations (in Tokyo and Osaka). That will be explained later. If you don’t have anyone to rely on but yourself and you want to know the estimated cost for the accommodation during your desired travel date, I highly recommend using Booking.com. It is my best friend when booking hotels or hostels without the risk. With it, you can choose to book in advance and pay later at the property. And if you have a change of heart – change your mind, I mean – you can even cancel without fees if it’s still within the grace period. Agoda is another option for book now, pay later. If you’re the type of traveler who wants to pay in advance and save more, you may want to check Airbnb. 

Cost: 617 MYR (Tokyo) + 542 MYR (Osaka) = 1159 MYR / 7 pax = 166 MYR each 

 

Travel itinerary. Simply put, our travel itinerary is Tokyo – Kyoto – Osaka. If it’s all up to me, I can just simply have a starting point then endpoint and go carefree and get lost in-between destinations. But due to the visa requirement, we needed to come up with a detailed itinerary. And Genn, being the heaven-sent travel buddy that she is, she even came up with a more comprehensive DIY itinerary. 

Cost: FREE (thanks mars Genn!) 

 

Pre-book night bus. Since we agreed upon taking an overnight bus from Tokyo to Osaka, we also made advance booking for this. Riding in an overnight bus is both economical and practical: (1) saved one night in accommodation, (2) we didn’t have to worry about lost hours during travel, and (3) didn’t need to buy the expensive Shinkansen Pass. Bookings can be made online and they accept major credit cards for payment. 

Cost: approximately 1512 MYR / 7 pax = 216 each 

 

Pre-book attraction ticket. We booked our Universal Studios Japan ticket in advance online. If you dread waiting on the line just to buy tickets, this is your best option. If you’re holding Advance Tickets like we did, you will be allowed direct entry to the park. Meaning, you’ll skip the queue since you won’t be required to exchange it for a Studio Pass at ticket booths. Just make sure you have a hard copy or electronic copy of your admission pass bought online. Klook and KKDay are two of the official partners of USJ for buying admission pass online for the same price. You can still buy the studio pass on the day itself at the ticket booths but you have to endure the queue. 

Cost: 282 MYR – minus discount via Klook 

 

Pack winter essentials. Since we went there during winter (still), we had to pack up several winter clothing and other essentials appropriate for the season: hand warmer (can be bought from Daiso), thermal wear, winter socks and gloves, ear muffs, winter coat, scarf, winter hats or beanie, winter boots, and rain boots. I bought most of my winter outfit online through Lazada. They’re affordable and a lot to choose from. And yes, it’s important to research the weather during your date of travel because you need to dress up accordingly. 

Cost: Varies 

 

Download useful apps. It was our first time in Japan and we could use any help there is just to avoid being lost. We rarely got lost, but we still got lost nonetheless. Whether you’re using iOS or Android phone, I recommend that you download the following apps: Google maps, Navitime, Triposo, Learn Japanese Phrasebook, and Google translate (make sure to download the Japanese translation for offline use). We also downloaded Japan Wi-Fi (for obvious reasons) when we arrived in Tokyo. These are just the basic apps that I used and I found super helpful when we were there. If you know other helpful apps, please let me know in the comments. 

Cost: FREE – just connect to a decent internet connection 

Pose muna bago pumunta ng KLIA2

 

TOKYO 

 

Meiji Jingu Shrine 

One of Japan’s most popular shrines is a large Shinto shrine complex named after Emperor Meiji located in Shibuya, Tokyo. The torii gates at the entrance to the shrine symbolically mean you’re entering a sacred place and leaving behind the mundane world. Surrounded largely by Yoyogi park, the shrine grounds are spacious and the long walking path to the shrine buildings is lined by tall trees which is great for a relaxing stroll. The main shrine building is walkable from both Harajuku Station (south entrance) and Yoyogi Station (north entrance). The admission to the shrine grounds is free, but if you want to enter the Treasure House or Inner Garden, there’s an admission fee of 500 yen each. 

A certain spot that I find really interesting along the path to the main shrine is the huge collection of colorful barrels of sake (pronounced as /sah-keh/) wrapped in straw. In the Japanese language, they are called kazaridaru which literally means “decoration barrels.” They’re physically empty of sake when displayed, but in spiritual terms, they are believed to be chock full of significance. Sake is a Japanese alcoholic drink made of fermented rice, koji, and water. Traditionally, drinking sake is a part of Shinto rituals and has been believed to be a way of communication between the gods and people in Japan. These sake barrels are offered every year to honor enshrined deities at Meiji Shrine. They have been donated by sake brewers from around Japan as a form of prayer for bountiful harvests of rice, and to be used for shrine ceremonies and festivals. 

The long walking path to the main shrine grounds
At the Meiji Shrine main grounds
The huge collection of colorful barrels of sake as our background

 

Imperial Palace 

A short walk from Tokyo station, the Tokyo Imperial Palace is located on the site of the original Edo Castle which was established during the Meiji period. The inner grounds of the palace are generally not open to the public so we didn’t have a chance to go into the palace itself. We just explored around and outside the palace grounds up to the Imperial Palace East Garden. From there you can enjoy the views of the lovely moats, bridges, and massive stone walls of the Palace. Plus, it’s for free! If you have the interest to learn more about Japan’s history, culture and nature, or simply want to experience the contrasts Tokyo is so famous for, I’d say Imperial Palace has a lot to offer in that area. You can also join one of the paid guided tours for special access to the inner areas. 

 

At the grounds of Imperial Palace
Picture perfect at Imperial Palace East Garden

Shibuya Crossing 

Famous for being the busiest crossing in the world, it would be a shame to visit Tokyo and not experience to walk across the famous intersection outside Shibuya Station. I took a video of the “crossing” and it’s quite iconic! That video clip is part of the video I made for our Japan trip. Watch it here.

Cost: FREE

 

Going against the busy crowd of Shibuya Crossing

Hachiko Statue 

Once a rendezvous point in the 1920s between a dog and his master returning from work now stands a statue of a famous small Akita dog outside of Shibuya station exit. But it’s more than just a simple statue. It’s a sign of unconditional loyalty and a reminder to people what’s important in life. If you’ve watched the Hollywood film “Hachiko – A Dog’s Story” you probably know already what I mean. For those who haven’t watched it or even heard about the story, let me give you a quick background on why it became famous: 

Hachiko was the dog of Professor Hidesaburo Ueno who used to accompany his master to Shibuya station everyday and then wait there for his return. But one day, Ueno did not come back when he suffered cerebral hemorrhage during class. Even after his master passed away, Hachiko would wait for his return at the same spot at Shibuya station everyday for about 10 years. People were touched by this story. Hachiko suddenly became famous internationally and soon became a symbol of loyalty. In 1934, the statue of Hachiko was presented and the dog himself took part in the ceremony. A year after, Hachi was found dead in the streets of Shibuya. Many people mourned his death and he was given a monument right next to Ueno’s grave in Aoyama cemetery. 

If you want to see the film, you can check out the movie here. It’s definitely worth watching. Did you say you’re not a crybaby? Well, let’s see. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you. 

Cost: FREE

Hachiko statue

J-World Tokyo Indoor Amusement Center 

If you’re into manga and anime, especially One Piece, Dragon Ball, and Naruto, this place is a haven. There’s nothing big or overly spectacular about it but if you’re the type that enjoys Jump manga, you would enjoy the small attractions and activities here. I’m a full grown adult and I enjoyed it all the same. I guess, only me and Lawrence enjoyed our little tour here. Haha! I just know it. And if you want to enjoy all the attractions, be sure to allot enough time. They close at 10:00 PM but they accept visitors until 9:00 PM only.

Cost: Entrance fee: 800 yen (adult), 600 yen (child). 

 


Asakusa 

Visiting Asakusa also means seeing the Kaminarimon Gate and Sensoji Temple. Kaminarimon also called as Kaminari Gate which was built a thousand years ago, is the first of two large entrance gates leading to Sensoji Temple – the main attraction in Asakusa and a popular Buddhist temple. Before you reach the temple grounds, you need to pass through the Nakamise shopping street lined by more than 30-40 shops that provide temple visitors with a variety of traditional, local snacks and the usual array of tourist souvenirs. You will then see Asakusa Shrine stands a few dozen meters to the left of the temple’s main building. 

Before its large parts were destroyed during the air attacks of World War II, Asakusa used to be the site of kabuki theaters and a large red light district which made Tokyo a leading entertainment district for centuries. These days, the Asakusa area is a tourist destination with lots of attractions to offer while giving you the feels of “old Tokyo.”

Cost: Admission to the temple grounds and sites is generally free. As for the shopping, it’s all up to you. 

Kaminarimon Gate

   

Nakamise shopping street 
Sensoji Temple

Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center 

The building offers a tourist information desk in multiple languages, free wifi connectivity, a cafe, and an observation deck which provides good views of Tokyo Skytree and onto Sensoji Temple and the Nakamise Shopping Street. 

Situated on a corner lot, a few meters across Kaminarimon Gate, we happened to enter this building in our desire to beseech free Wi-Fi connectivity. Lo and behold, we were not only provided with a Wi-Fi connection, but we were also offered to join a traditional Japanese dance workshop while wearing yukata all for FREE! And though this wasn’t part of our plan for the day, we didn’t pass up the chance to experience this. 

The workshop was facilitated by Tokyo Tradition of Arts Council Tokyo with a mission to expand foreign visitors’ awareness of Japanese culture and traditions. You can also check out their Facebook page here. We happened to be featured on their Facebook page for promotional materials.

Cost: FREE 

With Takako “Coco” Misawa

Akihabara 

Those who know me and the inner kid in me would understand why I was so excited to visit Akihabara. Not only because it’s the center of Japan’s otaku (die hard fan) and geek culture, with many shops and establishments devoted to anime, manga, arcade and video games, but also because I can finally get to see Detective Conan (also called ‘Case Closed’ in the North American adaptation) collectibles with my naked eyes! Yes, I’m a Shinichi Kudo/Edogawa Conan fan ever since I can remember. And no, being in my late 20s won’t change that. 

So just imagine my excitement when I saw shops with displays of all things Detective Conan! From DVDs and manga graphic novels to action figures of all the characters, to bag tags, pens, stamp set, key chains…ugh! I can talk about it all day and this blog entry won’t give justice to it. LOL.

You know how the eyes of an anime character would sparkle? Those big shiny eyes full of joy? That was exactly how I felt that time. If only I can bring them all home with me, I would. I got myself though an adorable action figure of Conan. Thanks to Lawrence for luring me over to that hobby shop selling figurines and models based on anime and manga characters. 

Okay, enough of me fangirling. Now, if manga and anime aren’t your cup of tea, the unique atmosphere of Akihabara still won’t fail to amaze you. You can still explore the place and indulge every unique discovery. With plenty of electronics available at low prices, it’s the perfect place for finding modern Japanese gifts.

Cost: Varies on your shopping appetite

For my collection
They’re all eye candies to me <3
Other Detective Conan stuff. There’s a lot!

 

Ichiran “Perfect” Ramen 

Ramen, being the most popular Japanese food worldwide, is definitely added in our lunch or dinner list while in Japan. We can’t help it, we’re foodies! And being the “foodies” that we are, we just know that we should pay a visit to any of Ichiran’s branch to slurp down a bowl of its perfect ramen. 

Well, calling it the best and perfect ramen is actually not an exaggeration. It was an understatement. The consistently creamy and smooth classic tonkatsu (pork bone) broth soup, topped with Ichiran’s original red pepper sauce mixed with different types of spices, and thin slices of tender meat are part of its winning formula. Not to mention the unique booth-based dining experience. By the time we left Ichiran, I was all smiles, well-fed, satisfied, and with a happy tummy.

Cost: 980 yen for a bowl of ramen excluding the extras. 

 

Soooo yummy! This photo can’t even do justice to its actual taste.

Knock, knock! 

Who’s there? 

Ichiran.

Ichiran who? 

Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms 
Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favorite song 
When you said you looked a mess, I whispered underneath my breath 
But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight

Let me know in the comments if you get the knock knock joke. 

 

One of my candid shots infront of Ichiran resto

Tokyo Disneyland 

Who would’ve thought that the first Disneyland location I’ll visit would be that of Tokyo? We didn’t get to enter Disneyland because we were about to head to Osaka and we were running out of time. But even from the outset, I can say it’s definitely “The Happiest Place On Earth.”

Tokyo Disneyland with my squad
Hey Mickey, you’re so fine! :))

 

Odaiba 

Located on an artificial island, Odaiba is a popular shopping and entertainment district in the seaside area of Tokyo Bay. Besides making you feel the ocean and the sky while being in the middle of central Tokyo, this place has a lot to offer, hence worth a visit. 

The Odaiba Statue of Liberty, which was erected in 1998 to commemorate the “Year of France in Japan,” has become a symbol of Odaiba. The Rainbow Bridge that connects Odaiba with the rest of Tokyo and has a significant resemblance to Golden Gate Bridge in San Franciso, California can be walked across via pedestrian walkway that follows along the bridge’s lower deck. Both are awesome backdrop for your future profile photo. They also have Diver City Tokyo Plaza mall that features attractions related to the Gundam anime series, including a large, “life-size” Gundam statue in front of the building. The moving and “talking” Gundam is just amazing! 

Cost: FREE (or it may vary depends on your shopping interests)

Odaiba Statue of Liberty
Giant Gundam at Diver City Tokyo Plaza mall

 

KYOTO

 

Biwako Valley Ski Resort 

We left Tokyo via overnight bus and off to Osaka we went. After a quick breakfast at McDonald’s upon arrival, we eventually head off to the southwest of Shiga Prefecture, the snowy wonderland of Biwako Valley which is about 2-hour drive from Osaka. We’re grateful to Kuya Roy (Genn’s cousin) for picking us up at Kintetsu Namba Station and driving us all the way to the ski resort. 

I don’t really want to speak for everyone, but as far as I know, it was OUR first time to experience actual snow. And it was fun! The kid in me loved playing in the snow (just spare me the snowball fights because I will definitely be out of your sight the moment I see you gathering piles of snow). I didn’t really expect to enjoy the snow because I have an allergic reaction to extremely cold temperatures. It’s also known as cold urticaria or cold hives which causes redness, itching with burning sensation, and swelling to my skin after exposure to the cold. And just like my allergy to seafood, I’m doing the best I can to overcome it. And to my surprise, I overcame that while in Biwako. I just needed to be completely covered and not overexposed.

Cost: Roundtrip ropeway (cable car) is 2500  yen (adults) 

 


Nara Park 

Ah, yes. The park with bowing deer. 

Nara Park is home to hundreds of freely roaming deer. In Shintoism, they are considered sacred messengers of gods. According to Japan Times, there are nearly 1500 wild Sika deer in Nara Park as of July last year. Nowadays, deer are no longer considered sacred, but they still remain as the symbol of the city and have even been designated as protected national treasures. 

Personally, I got tired of temple hunting so at that time, June, Sid, and I decided to sit down outside of the temple and enjoy the view of nature. But seeing a deer bowing to you in hope of a cracker or a pat was a different experience and definitely a highlight. It’s amusing how some of them have learned to bow to visitors when being fed or asking to be fed. Even if they couldn’t say it, I knew they were saying “thank you.” And it’s really awesome! 

Opposite to what the signs read giving warning to tourists that the deer can bite, kick, and head butt people, Nara’s deer are surprisingly tame. I have never fed a wild deer so this experience is quite memorable. I guess deer are just like humans. If you don’t want to be hurt, then don’t do something that will piss them off. So if you happen to visit Nara City, don’t just go for the temples. I suggest that you take your time in appreciating the deer and their habitat. If you want to feed them, deer crackers are for sale around the park.

Cost: FREE (I didn’t enter the temple)

The deer. Bow.

 

Fushimi Inari Shrine 

Fushimi Inari Taisha enshrines the deity Inari, the god of the rice harvest, commerce, and business. The messenger of the god Inari is the fox that’s why you will see fox images all over the shrine. They sometimes have a key in their mouth, which represents the key to the rice storehouse in ancient times. 

Being another icon of Kyoto, it is definitely considered one of the most popular sights in Kyoto. This means that the area around the main hall and the lower trails can be very crowded. At the back of the shrine’s main grounds is the entrance to the torii gate-covered hiking trail. It starts with two parallel rows of gates called Senbon Torii or “Thousand of Torii Gates.” They tend to be really crowded, too. “Sumimasen” was all I can say whenever I find myself blocking the way while trying to pose for the camera. It takes a lot of skills and patience to have our pictures taken in here. 

Besides having thousands of “gates” I’d say there are thousands of steps, too! But the good thing about going further up the mountain through the vermillion gates is that more people drop off the path. So if you want to take photos with no photo bombers, go higher. You can turn back anytime you want anyway. Oh, and another thing. Avoid wearing red or orange when you come here unless you want to camouflage with the torii gates.

Cost: FREE


Downtown Kyoto 

Due to time constraint, we weren’t able to explore much of downtown Kyoto so I couldn’t share much about the place. But we still managed to see it nonetheless. With no plan. We know we’ll be back here in the future for sure to explore more. Until then, I’d say this part of our Japan trip is the most relaxed. After which, we called it a night and traveled back to Osaka because that’s where we booked our accommodation. It’s only about an hour or so to travel by train. That’s the reason why we only booked two accommodations: in Tokyo and in Osaka.

Cost: Varies (depends on your shopping interests)

 

OSAKA 

 

Universal Studios Japan 

We decided to spend an entire day at Universal Studios. Good thing we booked our tickets in advance via Klook. While tickets can be purchased at the front counter, the queue can get ridiculously long. So, buying your tickets in advance means avoiding the counter ticket’s long lines and spending more time inside the theme park. Personally, a day spent here is not enough. So I think I can see myself coming back here for more. 

Universal Studios Japan currently has eight sections: Hollywood, New York, San Francisco, Jurassic Park, Waterworld, Amity Village, Universal Wonderland, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. There are lots of amusement rides to choose, ranging from child-friendly carousels to thrilling roller coasters and simulators based on popular movies such as Spiderman, Back to the Future, Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park.

Most, if not all, of the lines to all attractions, are crowded so it might be tough to conquer all the rides in one day. Especially if your theme park buddy (itago na lang natin sya sa pangalang June) isn’t much of a thrill-seeker. But if you like thrills like we do (except June), aim for the roller coasters first because those will continuously have a long queue. 

Being a Potterhead growing up, I’m glad that the entire Pinoy Squad agreed that our first stop would be none other than the Hogwarts Castle. As we get inside the Hogwarts grounds, the anticipation was building up. Seeing and experiencing the things that I’ve only read in the books or watched in the movies made me so ecstatic. 

We didn’t mind that the waiting time to enter the castle and experience the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey 4D ride was 180 minutes. We used that time to talk about our entire trip while we were in the queue. Next thing we knew, we’re about to get inside the castle. After that, we queued up for Flight of the Hippogriff ride. It’s not the scariest ride, so we were able to convince June to join us.  

Gawd, these roller coaster rides never get old. I just love them! 

I also love the addition of Universal Cool Japan. This features Final Fantasy, Sailor Moon, Monster Hunter, and my favorite of all, Detective Conan. I was supposed to join “Detective Conan: The Escape” game event, but the tickets were unfortunately sold out when I got there. It would’ve been cool to be a participant and join Conan and Heiji trying to solve criminal cases using the evidence left behind at the crime scene. I would really love to go back and finally experience it. I hope this attraction is still there when I make my second visit. I’m just glad USJ chose to bring Detective Conan to life. 

And since I missed joining the Detective Conan game event, I just treated myself a Conan crepe at Lombard’s Landing in Amity Village. With its cute design, paying 690 yen is not bad. It also comes in 3 flavors and named after Detective Conan characters: Amuro (Apple & Caramel), Conan (Strawberry), and Haibara (Mixed Berry). I also bought myself a Detective Conan shoulder bag and a coin stamp. 

In addition to rides, the theme park offers many opportunities to take pictures with popular characters’ mascots such as Snoopy, Minions, Hello Kitty, and the puppets of Sesame Street. There are also various shows put on every day, including the fantastic night lights show at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter castle grounds. 

After roaming the park, you may also want to check out Universal Citywalk Osaka. This is just outside the park’s gates where you can find multiple official Universal hotels and many restaurants and shops, including stores selling Universal Studios merchandise and Osaka souvenirs.

Cost: 282 MYR via Klook

Want some butter beer?
Detective Conan: The Escape
At the San Francisco section
Hogwarts Castle for my background. Or so I thought. LOL



Dotonbori 

After a day of screaming at the top of our lungs and enjoying the wonders of being a kid at heart, we were off for a food trip at Dotonbori. After all, this place is said to be the best place in Osaka to experience “eat ‘til you drop.” Besides hunting for reasonably priced food to satisfy our culinary curiosity, I also enjoyed the eye-catching neon signs and billboards as well as the decorated entrances. The sight of them made me feel like they’re all vying for attention while dazzling one’s eyes, and creating an amusement park-like atmosphere. Disclaimer: The photos don’t give justice. Please bear with me on this.

Cost: Varies (depends on your food and shopping appetite)

Takoyaki and okonomiyaki for our tummies!
Just across the famous Don Quijote store

 


 

 

Kitkat flavors FTW!

 

Osaka Castle 

Osaka Castle is a popular tourist spot and a prominent historical landmark in the middle of a modern urban cityscape. The entire Osaka Castle Park covers about two square kilometers with lots of green space, grassy lawns, plum, peach, and cherry blossom groves. I can imagine how beautiful it would look during the sakura season. The spacious park surrounding the castle itself is already worth a visit, even if you don’t intend to enter the castle. There are street performers and free concerts on the grounds of the park. The admission fee to the castle is 600 yen. But mind you, we didn’t enter the castle. We just enjoyed the company of pigeons and the cool weather outside.

Cost: FREE (we didn’t go inside the castle)


There you go! Another throwback travel post. 🙂

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