Japan Vacation 2016 (part2) – Lovin’ Osaka and Kyoto
After 4 days in Tokyo, we continued our Japan adventure in Osaka!
From Tokyo, we took a two-hour bullet train ride to Osaka. I have always been curious with how fast these popular trains of Japan are. Boy, it was really fast! Like we are zooming past everything!
Bullet train was a comfortable ride, even for the kids. The seat spaces are big, as well as the leg room. There are lavatories on both ends of the train. Most of the passenger have packed lunch and sandwiches that they ate on the train. But in case you do not have food with you, there are trolleys going around where you can buy snacks like sandwiches, chips, drinks and even ice cream!
TIP: In bullet trains, passengers are allowed to bring-in only one cabin size luggage due to the limited space available. Thus, it is best to have your big luggage shipped from your location, for us, Tokyo to Osaka. Inquire from your hotel for these luggage transfers at a fee. It usually takes 24 hours for the luggage to arrive so make sure to pack in your bullet train luggage, your essentials and valuables as well as clothing for at least 48 hours.
In Tokyo, Daddy S and I were thinking of how we can include Mt. Fuji in our busy itinerary. But since it will not be anywhere near our itinerary, we decided to let go of the plan. But lucky for us, during the train ride, we passed by Mt Fuji! It was such a treat!
We arrived in Osaka!
Osaka has a more relaxed feel than Tokyo. Although a relatively busy city too, I find it more tranquil. One thing that I find nice in Osaka (and in Japan for that matter), is their wide use of bicycles. Instead of cars, bikes are parked outside the establishments, schools and even restaurants. I immediately thought of two things; (1) Japanese must be physically fit from all the biking around the city!, and (2) no wonder their air is much cleaner because they eliminated a big cause of pollution which is smoke brought about by car emissions.
During our first day in Osaka, we visited its famous shopping district, Umeda.
We initially went to Umeda’s high end street where vast buildings with stores of expensive brands lined up.
Later, with the help of friendly Japanese, we were able to locate the shopping district where most tourist go. It was a treat for tourist seeing those “tax free “ signs outside of the store. I ended up buying pasalubong to our friends, relatives and officemates. I always bring along my passport whenever I shop and it turned out to be a good idea because I was able to use it to get a nice discount. This is also a good place to shop for toys as there are big toy stores in the area.
Aside from being a venue for shopping, I also noticed that Umeda has a lively night life. As we were going around the area, we saw several yuppies (early 20’s kids) dressed up for clubbing. Some stores were about to close then and yet the area is still buzzing with excitement.
Kid Friendliness Rating: 7. Children can be entertained by all the neon lights that they will see. A sure way to see them enjoy this place is by taking them to those big toy stores!
Osaka Castle is one of the legendary historical landmarks of Osaka. Upon entering, one will be welcomed by the park where families have picnics. There are also a lot of joggers and runners in the area.
The lake with a view of the castle beside it was just picturesque.
Before entering the main Castle grounds, there are several food kiosks lined up that offers grilled food, as well as ice cream, which we enjoyed a lot!
Inside the Castle grounds are several photo opportunities. One can even wear costume and hold a samurai. We enjoyed our couple shot!
For a fee, tourists can go inside the castle for a more historical and cultural adventure. However, for us, we opted not to go inside anymore because the kids might not be up for it.
Kid friendliness: 6. Not so much to do for kids but a great way to learn about the Japanese culture and history.
One of the most recommended place to visit in Osaka when travelling with kids is Osaka Aquarium. It housed a large number of marine animals. Among our favorites are the penguins, sea lion and whales.
There are also some short programs wherein trained personnel gets to interact with the animals. This is a hit among the kids as they love seeing the seals and penguins get playful .
I am in awe of Osaka Aquarium. We’ve been to quite a number of aquarium parks and Osaka is by far the largest and the most impressive that I’ve been too. Young and old alike will have fun in it.
Just right beside Osaka Aquarium is Legoland. It is a big hit among kids too! As for us, we opted not to see it because we’ve been to Legoland Malaysia already. But if you haven’t and your kids love Lego, then I suggest you visit it too!
Kid friendliness: a big 10 for me! I always love educational trips for the kids and Osaka aquarium is a good place to bond and learn. Legoland and Ferris wheel just outside the aquarium makes it more appealing to kids too!
Dotonbori is one of the iconic destinations for tourists in Osaka. It is well known for its several huge neon lighted billboards, especially the Glico billboard of a man running towards a finish line.
Aside from these illuminated billboards, tourists also come here to see, dine or even cruise at Dotonbori canal. The place is best visited at night. It just comes alive with all the lights from the billboards and music from the restaurants lined up at Dotonbori canal. To make the trip more special, I suggest that you take time to ride the motor boat cruising via Dotonbori canal.
The place is also a popular shopping district in Osaka.
Rating: 8 kids will get fascinated by the illuminated billboards in Dotonbori. If they are up for the challenge, a boat ride will be fun for them. They are also toy stores in the area so if shopping is part of the itinerary, taking them to one of the big toy stores will be a good idea.
If there is Disneyland in Tokyo, then there is Universal Studios in Osaka. This is definitely a go-to place for young and old. With all those amazing rides, one will need an entire day to make the most out of your visit.
The highlight of our trip is definitely being inside Harry Potter park.
For fans of this popular novel turned movie, the place is one magical way to experience being in the wizarding world. Inside, you will be greeted by the Hogwarts express complete with the train dispatcher and some luggage from Hogwarts students. Then there are of course the famous joke shop wherein you can buy some naughty trinkets. Mr. Ollivander’s wand shop is also right there, although wands can be bought outside of the store.
A trip to the Harry Potter will not be complete without trying the ever famous Butterbeer. It taste really good! My son loved it!
The highlight of the park is the Hogwarts castle where one can experience getting sorted by the hat and also being toured around the castle. Just have a lot of patience as lines can get very very long and waiting time can lasts for hours. Those with express pass can have a shorter waiting time.
Tip: if Harry Potter is your go-to attraction in Universal Studios, I suggest that you go here first because people tend to pile up. You will need to secure first a schedule of entrance as the park is trying to limit those inside to avoid overcrowding it. So make sure that you get your number ticket fist.
Now on to the rest of Universal Studios. There are several rides inside the theme park and can cater for all ages. One thing that I like about Universal studios in Japan is that character mascots are going around the park and thus there are several photo opportunities with them. Our trip couldn’t be completed without taking photos from our beloved Minions, Elmo and Cookie Monster. Bonus photo was with Hello Kitty who I had been fangirling since I was a little girl.
Tip: before going to Univeral Studios, make sure that you pack along some sandwiches, candies and water. Everything inside is expensive so arm yourself with some heavy snacks.
Kid Friendliness Rating: 10! Young and old will have fun here! Just make sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothes as there will be a lot of walking.
Kyoto is known for its temples and cultural sites. It is a good way to get to know a bit of Japan’s history by visiting its famous temples. Since we are with kids, we decided to just spend a day in Kyoto. Temples are not really what kids would appreciate but we know we could not pass up the chance to see the traditional side of Japan while we are here.
We also did not let this chance pass to eat authentic Japanese food. EA loved the conveyor belt that has various Japanese appetizers!
A trip to Kyoto can be made more special by wearing traditional Japanese kimono on the way to the temple. There are several stores that offer rentals of these kimonos complete with footwear, as well as hair and makeup. Both men and women can rent these traditional kimonos. I even saw couples walking around Kyoto in Kimono!
First temple that we visited is Kiyomizu-dera.
It is a 45 minute walk uphill but definitely worth all that steps. From it you can have a good view of Kyoto’s modern architecture mixed with traditional and historical sights.
The temple is known for its vast greens that turns pink with Cherry blossoms during spring. I can just imagine how this place looks with all that Cherry blossoms!
Tourist and locals also come here to pray and wish for their personal intentions. These wishes can be written on a wooden plank and hanged in this pillar.
The place is also known for its miraculous water called Otowa-no-taki which is believed to bring health, longevity and success to those who wash their hands with it. Some even drink it!.
Just below the main temple is park with a pond inhabited by several turtles.
After Kiyomizu-dera, we took the subway going to our next destination. The next temple that we visited is also one of the most popular temples in Japan, Fushimi Inari-Taisha.
The temple is known to tourists because of its thousands of vemillion torii gates that leads to the sacred Mountain of Inari. It is a beautifully architectured temple with its Romon Gate standing so tall and the trails that lead to Mountain Inari are filled with plants and flowers.The trip to Mountain Inari itself takes about 2-3 hours so we decided not to further explore it so as not to tire the kids out. Just the tour of the lower part of the trail is enough for me to appreciate the beauty of this place.
Aside from the shrines and torii gates, what sets apart our experience in Fushimi Inari -Taisha is our food trippin’ from the food stalls lined up at the side entrance of the temple. We loved all that crab sticks, beef steak, grilled tofu and chicken pops that we tried. EA, on the other hand, enjoyed his freshly strawed orange juice!
All in all, the trip to Kyoto was fun and refreshing. Getting to see a bit of Japan’s history is a great way to end our trip to this beautiful country of Japan.
As Kyoto is our last stop, for now that was the end of our Japan adventure. It is definitely a memorable trip for our family and i sure hope we can come back one day!
As promised, this will be a three part blog. The last part, I will be answering frequently asked questions regarding our Japan trip. If there’s anything you need to know, or if you are planning to go to Japan and curious how to go about it, please just post your questions on the comment bar or send me an email. i will try to answer as much as I can.
Stay tuned for my next post!