my first trip to Japan (02-14 november 2017)

Early this month, I went to Japan with YF, my husband. Since this is out first time visiting the country, we picked those typical cities/towns tourists normally go: Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo and Takayama.

Day 1 - Harukas 300
We reached Haneda International airport around 10 AM. After getting our 7-day JR Pass and purchasing Suica cards, we headed to Shinagawa to take the Shinkansen to Osaka. After about three hours, we reached Osaka and headed to our AirBnB apartment, which is about 10 minutes walk from Namba station. We cleaned up ourselves before going to Harukas 300. Harukas 300 is the observation deck of the Abeno Harukas, the tallest skycraper in Japan, located at the 60th floor which offers a 360 degree view of Osaka. We got the admission tickets to the observatory when we purchased USJ VIP wristband. After collecting the wristbands, we went to the 60th floor of the building to enjoy the rest of the evening. 

Day 2 - Universal Studio Japan
The VIP wristbands we purchased allowed us to enter the park earlier than the visitors with regular tickets. Our entry time to the park was 7.45 AM. We got in and headed to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which is a 4D motion simulator ride. Unfortunately, we didn't really make the most of the wristband because we were too caught up at Diagon Alley and by the time we left, the regular ticket visitors had entered the park and it was super crowded. We managed to ride on another two or three attractions and finally sat down for dinner before going to the Expecto Patronum Night Show at Hogwarts Castle. I cannot say I enjoyed USJ very much since the park was way too crowded and the queues were way too long (two to four hours of waiting time, even for foods), but I was very happy to finally be able to try butterbeer.

Day 3 - Nara
In the morning, we explored Namba area before going to Nara. We went to the park and encountered many deer, took a few pictures with them and headed to Todai-ji Temple, which contains a large bronze status of Daibutsu (Great Buddha). From Nara, we went to Osaka Castle. Unfortunately we were unable to enter the castle tower because we arrived too late; the last admission is 4.30 PM. We headed to Dotonburi for dinner and of course snapped a picture with the famous Glico Running Man signage and Kani Doraku crab.

Day 4 - Fushimi Inari Taisha
We travelled to Kyoto from Osaka by the Shinkansen and headed to our AirBnB apartment, which is very near to Fushimi Inari Taisha. We found a small kimono rental shop called Kyoto Aiwafuku and decided to rent kimonos from them. We walked to the shrine and hiked to the top of Mt Inari. I couldn't stop taking pictures and admiring its thousands of torii gates. By the way, these torii gates are donated by various organisations or businesses; each gate is inscribed with the donor's name and the donation date. It was getting dark when we came down and just about time to return the kimonos. We headed back to the shrine area to get some foods from a few stalls that were still open.

Day 5 - Arashiyama
Initially, we planned to visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple before heading to Arashiyama, but decided to skip the temple because we wanted to visit Nishiki market in the afternoon. So, we went to Arashiyama bamboo groove in the morning. After exploring the area, we visited Tenryu-ji Temple, which has a beautiful garden and mountain views. We took a bus to out next stop, Kinkaju-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion), a Zen temple which is covered in gold leaf. Around 4 PM we left for Nishiki market, Kyoto's largest traditional food market. We had dinner there and had a walk around Gion.

Day 6 - Takayama
There is a direct train from Kyoto station to Takayama, Hida Wide View Express train. This train is designed with wide windows for the passengers to enjoy the view throughout the journey. They even provided us with some information as we passed by certain landmarks. The view from the train was very beautiful, especially since it was autumn season; the leaves were all started to change colour. We reached Takayama after a three hour long journey, bought our bus tickets to Shirakawa-go and checked in to Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) Asunaro. We were given yukatas to wear inside the ryokan and tried their onsen.

Day 7 - Shirakawa-go
The bus departed from Nohi bus terminal outside Takayama station. It was raining when we reached Shirakawa-go. Shirakawa-go is a village which has many traditional thatch-roof houses. We went up to Shiroyama viewpoint where we could see the village from top. We had lunch at one of the thatch-roof restaurant. We went back to Takayama around 2 PM then boarded the Hida Wide View Express to Tokyo. We reached Tokyo around 10 PM.

Day 8 - Tokyo DisneySea
We got out pretty late and headed to DisneySea located Urayasu, Chiba. It was not as crowded as USJ and we got to try on most of the attractions, such as Journey to the Center of the Earth, Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull, the Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania, Aquatopia and Nemo and Friends SeaRider. We also won the Big Band Beat Lottery to watch its spectacular show! By far, that is the most fascinating music show I've ever watched.

Day 9 - Shibuya 
We went to Shibuya to witness the famous Shibuya crossing and visit the Hachiko statue, then spent the day shopping at Loft and Tokyu Hands before heading to Tokyo Tower in the evening. We didn't get into the observatory because it was under renovation, so we hung around the shopping centre.

Day 10 - Shinjuku & Harajuku
Another reason we didn't get into the Tokyo Tower observatory was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building observation decks, which is free. We had a great panoramic view of Tokyo from the South Observatory. From there, we went to Meiji Jingu and continue to walk to Yoyogi park. We continue to Harajuku where we had an early dinner and did some shopping before heading back to our apartment.

Day 11 - Asakusa & Akihabara
We made a brief visit to Ueno park before going to Asakusa. We visited Senso-ji temple, one of the most colourful and popular temples in Tokyo. It felt like we were back in Kyoto as it was so different from the rest of the city. We found an owl cafe and immediately got in. We were welcome with numbers of cute owls and a capybara! After that, we walked to Kappabashi street for a while and headed to Akihabara and did a bit of shopping before going back to our apartment.

Day 12 - Aqua Park Shinagawa
We visited Shirohige Cream Puff Factory to try their famous Totoro cream puff. There is a cafe on the second floor so we decided to also have lunch there. With a full stomach, we headed to Aqua Park Shinagawa. This was a backup plan. Initially, we wanted to go to Nikko, a one-day trip, but we couldn't bring ourselves to wake up early, so YF suggested Aqua Park because his colleague said the dolphin show was impressive. The park was considerably small and not much of variety of aquatic life but the dolphin show was the highlight. We watched it twice before finally heading back to our apartment.

Overall, I enjoyed my first visit to Japan. The weather was great, although it could be very cold, but the autumn colour was amazing. I couldn't get enough of it. It's so mesmerising. The foods are much better than what I expected, especially in Osaka. What I was nervous about before this trip was the transportation; I kept doing my homework by googling a lot but it turned out Google Map was our best friend throughout the trip. I hope to be back to Japan again soon!


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