As many of you know, in Spring 2021 I embarked on my most adventurous trip yet: I traveled solo around the United States. So, it was only fitting to take another solo trip this past Spring. Spring is possibly my favorite time to travel because it's not too hot or too cold and it's before peak tourist season hits in the summer. Luckily, I had some time off because of Golden Week, which is a series of holidays lined up in Japan to create consecutive days off work for all state employees.
For my solo trip this year, I had a week and a half to explore three different prefectures: Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto. This area is known as the Kansai Region of Japan and is located in Southern Honshu (the main island of Japan).
My trip started out with a flight to Osaka. Osaka is the second most populated city in Japan (behind Tokyo) and the tenth most populated city in the world! This was my first time trying to navigate public transportation in Miyazaki prefecture and I was incredibly nervous. I left Thursday after work and caught the bus to the airport. Of course I was early for my bus, but I did not understand how to purchase a ticket. If it wasn't for a kind woman that happened to speak English and walked me through the ticket purchasing process I would've missed my bus entirely. However, I did end up making the bus driver a little late, which was super embarrassing!
The rest of transportation that day went smoothly. I am not sure if I have touched on how easy traveling by plane is in Japan. In Miyazaki, they suggest getting to the airport 45 minutes before your flight, and getting to the gate 20 minutes before departure. One of the reasons for the quick turn around is simply because they are more efficient. There is a security check, but it is not nearly as invasive as dealing with the TSA in America. You don't have to take off your shoes, the staff is helpful and kind, and they also let you bring liquid in open containers! I had a water bottle with me that they merely scanned and handed back to me. Then the airport employees send you off with a bow before your plane takes off.
By the time I landed in Osaka, it was dark. My plane was so small that we deplaned on the tarmac. I personally hadn't experienced this before, so I felt like a celebrity getting off of the plane. I grabbed my checked backpack and headed towards the train.
In Japan, there are two ways to purchase train tickets. One way is to purchase a ticket for your specific stop and the other way is to put money on a reusable IC card (or smartcard). The IC cards are the most common way to travel because you can quickly scan into your train station and quickly scan out once you reach your destination. If you don't have enough money on your card, there are ticket booths at every exit to reload your IC card. However, the first night I was in Osaka I decided to purchase a single ticket for the train because I was only going one stop out. After a 1 km walk from my train stop, I made it to my hotel where I was surprised to be greeted by hotel staff from the Mesozoic Era...
The next morning is what I consider day one of my trip! I left early so that I could take a 45 minute train into Osaka City. That morning is when I purchased my IC card. It went a lot smoother than I expected. They have a specific booth for IC card purchases and I was able to figure it out (thanks to an English translation button!) without help from anyone. Even though it seems small, it felt like a win at the time! I loaded my card with ¥20,000 (which is the equivalent to about $145 at the time I am writing this blog. Yeah, yeah don't remind me how weak the yen currently is!)
I first headed to Osaka Castle, but stopped at a Starbucks first for breakfast, and of course my geography mug! Osaka Castle is one of Japan's most popular tourist destination sites. It was built in 1583 by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. Today, the castle is a history museum! The first floor is the entrance and gift shop, the second floor is about the history of the castle, the third and fourth floors are about war during the Sengoku Era (1467-1615), the fifth floor is about the siege of Osaka which took place between 1614 and 1615 and ended the Sengoku Era, the sixth floor is closed, the seventh floor is about Hideyoshi Toyotomi and the eighth floor is a lookout from the roof. As you can imagine, the museum took several hours to get through. However, it so happened to be raining so I wanted to stay inside anyway. (I would like to add here that since it was raining all of my pictures were either taken on my phone or with my GoPro. I even edited out multiple water marks, however if you look closely you can still spot the rain!).
Afterwards, I headed across the street to a history and art museum. Even though I was overloaded with information, I love the fact that museums in Japan are reasonably priced. Additionally, in Osaka *most* of the information cards had English on them, which made it easier for me to learn. By the time I made it through the second museum, I was exhausted and ready to check into my hotel.
At this time, it was pouring. I had purchased a (cheap) retractable umbrella from the conbini that I thought would be convenient since it fit perfectly into the side pocket on my backpack. But, Japanese rain ain't no joke, and the first big gust of wind completely obliterated my new umbrella. I was absolutely drenched from head to toe and tried to use the fabric part of the umbrella to protect me to no avail. When I walked in the hotel, the staff at the front hurried to grab me some towels before I even started the check in process. Shout out to the worker who helped the ignorant foreigner (me)! Some final thoughts about that storm, all of my clothes in my backpack were completely drenched and never completely dried for the rest of my trip because Japan is damp all the time. Also, my camera managed to stay completely dry thanks to my camera bag!
My hotel was nice, but wasn't in the best area. I was fortunate that there were a couple of railway stations within walking distance.
On my chaotic walk to the hotel, I passed an area where there were a handful of people who are houseless. It wasn't anything compared to what it is like in any U.S. city, however, it was quite impactful. I lived in Japan for over half a year before embarking on this trip and in that amount of time I hadn't seen one person living on the street. Additionally, there is this common misconception among U.S. citizens that there is not a houseless issue in Japan. I can now tell you from personal experience that there is. Right now, the cost of living is extremely high all over the world and it is always going to be more expensive in urban areas because demand is higher, but my rant on capitalism will just have to wait for another day.
Once I attempted to freshen up after losing the fight to the Japanese rainstorm, the rain had passed. I headed out to Shinsekai for the evening. Shinsekai is a district in Osaka that has a good nightlife: restaurants, bars and probably the biggest tourist destination in the district: Spa World. Because of COVID-19, I didn't do much besides window shop and find a quiet place to enjoy some karaage.
Please enjoy a TikTok I compiled from Day 1:
Day 2 in Osaka was much less dramatic because it was sunny! I started my day off by visiting Shitennoji Temple. Shitennoji is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan and was the first one to be built by the state in 593. However, the original building burnt down, so the building you can see today is a reconstruction.
The goal of this whole trip was to do and see things in the mornings and the evenings to avoid large crowds as much as possible. As many of you know, I absolutely hate mornings, so this was a major struggle for me. However, I got to Shitennoji right when it opened and as you can tell, no one was around. So I really got to take my time photographing the temple. It was a cool and unique experience.
There was also a pond in the temple that had koi fish and turtles!
Afterwards, I took a train over to the Umeda Sky Building. The Umeda Sky building is the 19th tallest building in Osaka. Japan really likes ranking things. Even though the 19th tallest building award might not seem that impressive, it is home to the highest escalators in the world! To get to the top, or outlook point, you first have to take an elevator up a few floors. Then you hop on an escalator that connects two buildings and spans over 550 feet! Did I mention, that the escalator is entirely surrounded by windows? As someone who has a fear of heights, I was okay going up, but on the way back down, it was definitely a bit eerie.
I also made it to the Umeda Sky Building right when it opened, which was great because I didn't have to wait in line and I didn't have to worry about being in anyone's way when I was taking pictures. I also enjoyed an ice cream float that had purple soda and glitter shaped star sprinkles on top, while taking in the view from the 19th tallest building in Osaka.
Even though I was on vacation, an ice cream float is not a proper meal. So I ended up going to a restaurant in a mall nearby. I don't remember what the name of the restaurant was, but it advertised "southern food" which I assumed is food from Kyushu. As always, I pointed to the picture that looked good, said onegaishimasu, and hoped for the best!
The next stop on my itinerary was the CUPNOODLES Museum. Here you get to learn about the history and evolution of CUPNOODLES, the process of making CUPNOODLES, and you even get to create your own cup.
I finished the day off in an area called Dotonbori. Dotonbori is like Shinsekai, it has a great nightlife. But it is bigger, more well known and along a river. There seemed to be many young people enjoying nomihodai (drinking party). Which made them brave enough to approach me and try to have an English conversation. I found a quiet spot on the other side of the river where I enjoyed some yakitori (grilled chicken on a stick) and watched the boats go by.
If you have made it this far, I am proud of you! If you have just been looking through the pictures without reading, here is a TikTok that summarizes everything I wrote about Day 2, you're welcome:
For Day 3, I dedicated the entire day to Universal Studios Japan, or as my kids call it: USJ. I got there an hour before it opened and stayed until closing. Of course it was the only other day that rained during Golden Week. This time I purchased a bigger and sturdier umbrella. At first I was upset about it raining, but I quickly realized that it was a blessing in disguise. Because it rains so often there were umbrella lockers everywhere, so carrying around my umbrella wasn’t a big deal. There are also water rides at USJ, my clothes were still damp from the initial rain storm anyway and it was warm, so being damp wasn’t a concern. It also seemed to deter a lot of people from going because there weren’t big crowds which means that the lines were short.
This was my first time experiencing Universal Studios. I have never been to the one in California, even though I am dying to do the actual studio tour! So I really didn’t know what to expect. I was really looking forward to Nintendo World which opened this March. The day that I went, May 1, was the first day that they were allowing everyone to enter without any additional purchases.
Even though I thought I was most excited for Nintendo World, as soon as I got to the front gate I saw the Hogwarts Castle and immediately cried. I was surprised at my own reaction to it, but I seriously couldn’t stop the tears from coming (...even hours later...). It was actually embarrassing, but since it was raining maybe no one noticed? My sister and I grew up with Harry, we were around the same age as Harry when all the books and movies were coming out. We read and re-read the stories often, having more than one set of the books in the house. And of course we were fans of the movies too. I will forever be a Hufflepuff no matter how old I get. So I both started and finished my day in Diagon Alley, needless to say it was magical. And yes, the butterbeer was delicious, I am still kicking myself that I didn’t order the bigger size!
Nintendo World was fun too! You can purchase a character wristband (of course I chose Yoshi) and play games to collect coins. There was also a ride, however, the line was so long that I didn’t bother waiting. Maybe next time… (if there is a next time?). Nintendo World at Universal Studios in California will be opening early in 2023, so if you like Nintendo, you have something to look forward to!
USJ was the most American thing I had done since arriving to Japan, it was super enjoyable and felt like a taste of home. They had USPS mailboxes on the corners to make the streets more authentic. There was a Fisherman’s wharf that had buildings modeled after San Francisco and Monterey.
Another awesome thing about USJ was that they had portable phone charges that you can rent. I personally do not own a portable phone charger and heavily rely on my phone when I solo travel, not only for directions, but also to use the translating app and take pictures. With that being said, those portable phone charges came in super handy at USJ. It allowed me to continue to go on rides without having to worry.
Because I don’t want to write too much about USJ, I will end it here with my favorite TikTok from my trip:
My stay in Osaka ended on such a positive note. Because it is a large city, I only got a tiny glimpse into the many things that Osaka has to offer. I enjoyed myself very much and look forward to go back so I can explore more, maybe next time with friends!