By the end of 2015 I decided I have had enough of uni and working at a supermarket day in day out. With 200 hours of annual leave, a ton of hatred and stress and having never really done anything impulsive in my life, I bought a Sony A6000 mirrorless camera and booked a two week ticket to Japan, the place of anime, manga, amazing scenery and fantastical food!A bit of disclaimer that I did the bare minimal research of getting a mobile internet sim card sent to my hotel( which I deeply regret,I should have just had it sent to the airport instead), a JR travel pass and booking my stay for the first two nights in Osaka( I decided that I would work my way back up to Tokyo to conclude my journey).
My journey began on the first day of February in 2016, a Monday. The temperatures were suprisingly fine for a summer day in Australia. Arriving at the airport, I felt mixed emotions of excitement and nervousness. Afterall, it would be my first time leaving Australia since growing out of adolescence, but its also my very first journey alone.
I arrived at Singapore airport in the middle of the night for a five hour layover, there wasn’t really much point going outside the airport so I walked around the airport which admittedly was huge, had some Burger King and slept on a bench until my next flight.
Day 1 Aboard the trains
After arriving at Tokyo Haneda Airport sometime in the afternoon on Tuesday, it took me a while to check out, get my JR pass and book my train seat from a tiny storefront in the corner of the airport, before heading off to the train station to board a bullet train or shinkansen to Shin Osaka Station. I suppose my first mistake was to only bring a hoodie to japan realising that it was Winter there, nonetheless, breathing in the chilly fresh air was my very first impression of Japan.
I often heard how timely, the transport systems are in Japan, but it was a different story experiencing the bullet train arrive right in front of me on the dot. A big contrast between Japanese trains and the ones I am used to back in Australia, is the seemingly impossible cleanliness of the interior and the inclusion of a toilet in every carriage. All the passengers sat in their assigned seats and maintained quietness throughout. While aboard the shinkansen, I sat patiently looking out the window at the tall buildings and funky shop fronts that zipped passed as the sky turned from a misty light blue to a dark purple with spots of light randomly illuminating the night sky.
At that time, it did not occur to me that Tokyo and Osaka were like state capital cities in Australia. It was only until I arrived at Shin Osaka station that it became apparent that bullet trains are used for long distance travel in Japan between major cities and normal trains are used to travel between the smaller cities within the prefecture. So it turned out that the place I booked to stay, Shinimamiya, was not just a walk outside the station, so my very first challenge was to get to my hotel within 3 hours before they stopped check ins. I had to go from Shin Osaka station(which I believe was apart of the bullet train system) to the inner train and subway system of Osaka to reach my lodging. Also, unlike the Shinkansen stations where signs were in english, some of the stations only had japanese signs, though, thankfully I recognised some of the kanji(chinese characters) to get by. Note: some of the station names has Kita, Higashi, Minami and Nishi in front representing North, East, South and West of the cities.
It was an unbelievable two hours going back and forth between train stations, asking the station master for directions and not understanding a word they said before arriving at Shinimamiya station. I guess it also didn’t help when there was another city nearby called Sannomiya, which confused the station masters and myself so by the time I got to Shinimamiya, I was somewhat relieved that I still had enough time to make it to my hotel though this relief quickly dissipated when I tried to get out of the station only to find that I could not, because there are two different railway companies so I was only allowed to used some of the exits. By the time I was able to get outside the station not knowing where I was going, I asked a few strangers for directions, though it turns out that they were also travellers(note: if they are also towing their luggage around, its a waste of time asking them for help hahaha). Luckily, I found a policemen which directed me to the right place and it only turned out to be about five minutes away from the station!
After checking in, and heading into my tiny room, I headed out again to scavenge for food. One of the many things that makes Japan awesome is that shops close really late, so I was able to get a quick bite before calling it a day.
Day 2 Osaka Castle & Universal Studios
Having been rejuvenated with sleep, I set out early with anticipation to see the wonders of Osaka, having learnt that there was a famous castle nearby and Universal Studio around the town, I decided to go to the castle first and and head for Universal in the afternoon hoping their would be less people(though this was most definitely a wrong assumption). So after getting some snacks from the convenience store and getting my Universal pass from one of the machines inside the convenience store I headed for Himeji Castle.
Osaka Castle, the first castle I visited in Japan, was quite a magnificent architecture to behold, considering its age! The castle was surrounded by a beautiful water mote with bridges leading to the castle itself.
After walking around the castle and across the open field outside, I headed into the castle, entering each floor and looking at the different artifacts and dioramas, I finally reached the top level to get a clear view of the city. To be honest, it wasn’t particularly interesting. After exiting the castle, I encountered a mass of tourists and their precious selfie sticks posing in awkward positions trying to get the perfect shot of themselves. As a relatively introverted person, it wasn’t in much of my interest to take selfies but then again, it was a better option then trying to ask a stranger to take a photo every time so I ended up finding a selfie stick in a souvenir shop nearby after snacking on some amazing takoyaki.
Leaving Osaka Castle, I encountered some school kids running and saw a traditional Japanese wedding.
All done with Osaka Castle, I set off on the train again to Universal Studios. So it turns out that you actually don’t have to buy tickets from the vending machines at the convenience stores no thanks to my researching skills, you can actually purchase tickets at the entrance. It is actually alot easier that way as well to make sure you purchase the ticket for the day instead of sometime the following month( don’t even know how I managed to do that haha, though the fee for changing the pass was quite minor).
Going to a theme park alone has got to be quite a self-turturous thing to do walking amidst the crowd of couples and groups school kids( remember how I said I thought there would be less people in the afternoon, turns out I was dead wrong when every ride took at least an hour wait time to get on), although it wasn’t as bad as I thought wandering round the different theme parks and entering the souvenir shops. Admittedly there wasn’t as much rides as I thought there would be but alot more food stands and shops.
To be honest, the only thing that attracted me to Universal was the Harry Potter theme park, which was quite the magical experience! Having walked everywhere inside the studio, I could not find the entrance but suspiciously saw a group of people gathering in an empty space surrounded by woods. This turned out to be the entrance to Harry Potter Land but I had to get a entrance ticket first somewhere else. Walking through the woods, the first thing I saw was the crashed car of Ron’s followed by Hogwarts Express. Passing through the many shop windows with strange antiques from the Harry Potter series was quite a melancholic experience.
There was really only one ride within Harry Potter Land which was the 3d Quidditch flying ride, but the line was just ridiculously long thus I gave up on that. The other attraction was entering Olivanders and watching a fake Olivander reenact the scene where Harry got his wand, exiting his shop lead to a souvenir shop selling wands and robes. As much as I wanted to buy some souvenirs, carrying them at the start of this trip seemed too much of a hassle.
Despite this meaningless trip to Universal, it did not end without some good sushi just outside of the studio.
Day 3 Nara Park
I’ve never really been one to wander around parks and go to temples, so I guess this was a first.
Walking through the park looking at the overshadowing trees and meeting the wild deers was quite a relaxing experience. Though thinking back, I should not have showed the deers that I bought alot of deer biscuits. Ended with me being attacked by them and having half my map chewed up hahaha.
Somehow, wandered through two shrines. Within one of the shrines was a wooden pole with a hole in it. I saw children crawling in and out of the hole wondering what on earth they were doing, only to find out later that it was supposed to make them smarter.
After this, I spent the rest of the day uneventfully wondering around Nipponbashi walking through the shops. It really is amazing how tall the buldings are and how versatile Japanese people are at using land.
Day 4 Himeji Castle & Kobe
I think to many of us, one of the things we associate with Japan would be Kobe beef. After 3 days at the hotel I decided it was about time to move on to another city, thus Kobe. Although it actually turned out that Kobe was Sannomiya( the place where all the station masters through I was attempting to go to upon my arrival).
Well anyway, I went to Himeji Castle first thing in the morning whilst towing my luggage with me. One of the best things I have to say about Japan is how wide and flat the roads and walkways are, with dedicated cycle ways. When I look at the road and transport system in Sydney, all I can do is laugh.
Honestly, don’t know why I went to another castle again but the garden next door was quite a nice place to walk about and enjoy the scenery.
Although its alright to stay in a cheap $20 room a night, I decided I have had enough and stayed in a 3 star hotel at Hyogo. Forgot which floor I was on but the scenery was nice. It was also the first time having my own bathroom in Japan. The interesting thing is that the toilet is made out of this plasticky space material.
To be continued…