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Universal Studios at Osaka

When we arrived at Universal Studios at around 11:30, the sun was shining and there were almost no people standing in line at the entrance. “Wonderful” I thought to myself, “if we’re lucky, it’ll be like Disney in Tokyo last year”. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As we entered the park, we realized that all the people were already inside! The lady in the ticket booth told us that if we wanted to, we should go and get a time slot ticket for the new Harry Potter part of the park. Since this was one of the main reasons why we went to Universal Studios in the first place, we hurried to the vending machine for the time slot tickets and was lucky enough to get a ticket for… 19:40 (!?). With the tickets for Harry secured, we started scouting the park. The first roller coasters we stumbled across were the two found on your right as you enter the park. With a queue time of 300 min and only 250 min to the other one, we decided to try our luck with something else.
After walking around for a while, we reached the “Spiderman” ride. There was no visible queue and it didn’t have an estimated queue time. We probably should’ve realized that something was fishy at this point but we were so excited about finally finding an attractions without queues that we swallowed the bait instantly.

We walked in through the entrance, followed the stairs down to… the queue! “Wait a second, there are people standing in line here, but I don’t see the end of the line” Our smiles gradually turned into horrified confusion and the people behind us let out an exclamation “uso!” (loosely translated as “liar”, “you’ve gotta be kidding me”). As we exited the first (visible) “queue room”, the path lead us out to what looked like a small/medium size parking lot, but instead of cars there were people. Still with no end in sight, we continued walking up to the second floor of the people parking lot and there it was. Luckily the second floor was only half full. After a while we lost track of time, but we probably spent 2,5 – 3h in that queue. The ride itself was pretty darn cool but the queue time was just ridiculous.

This is the first floor of the "people parking lot"

This is the first floor of the “people parking lot”

As we came out from the Spiderman ride, there were even more people inside the park. You had to stand in line for practically EVERYTHING. Want to go to the bathroom? Hope it’s not urgent because you’re gonna have to wait. Feeling hungry? “Chotto matte” (wait a little), only 20-30 min or so to get a hot dog. But the worst queue must still be the 10-15m queue to the vending machine for beverages. Look closely at the picture, there are even two lines, one for each vending machine.

Queue for the vending machines. Notice the wonderful cosplay :)

Queue for the vending machines. Notice the wonderful cosplay :)

Instead of spending all our time in queues, we went for a stroll around the park to see the surroundings. Here and there, we found “Zombie Zone” signs as well as a couple of SWAT cars parked at the side of the streets. It looked like some kind of Halloween prop and I thought it had something to do with the fact that you could get some zombie makeup and dress up as one. After an almost complete walk-through of the park, we aimed for Wonderland, the area of small kids. It was here that we found the ride with the shortest queue time, Kitty’s Ribbon Museum! After waiting 40 min we got to see a lot of ribbons and of course, (Hello) Kitty!

As we got out from the complete overdose of pink, the sun had set and the streets were swarming of people who seemed uneasy. As gunshots echoed through the streets and the crowd moved in somewhat panic-stricken, irregular motions, we heard the sound of a chainsaw. On top of a car, only 25 metres away from us stood a man waving a chainsaw around and he wasn’t alone. Another man, armed with an axe, was at is side. Then we saw them, the zombies. They were all over the place and people were screaming from both excitement and terror. For a brief moment, I thought that the guy with the chainsaw actually was a mad-man on the loose but then I realized that it was all a part of the show.

It was a great zombie show! There was one zombie in particular that scared the living crap out of me. I was walking down the street with my phone in hand, fiddling with the camera settings when my husband said “Ehm Nicole… Nicole? You might wanna move this way”. “Huh? What are you saying?” I looked up, only to stare into the face of the most terrifying zombie woman. “Waaaaahhhh”, I screamed. Then I just stood there, unable to move, like a deer caught in the headlights. She hissed and growled equally loud. It felt like hours before my legs would finally move and I bravely advanced in another direction.

Note to self: During a zombie apocalypse, only cannon fodder fiddles with their phone while walking.


Osaka Castle and Kaiyukan Aquarium

Last year we regretted that we never got to see any of Japan’s castles. This time we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss it again and decided to visit the Osaka castle on our first day in the city. From one of the nearby metro stations, we made our way into the castle park from the south entrance.

The park is very beautiful with its well maintained trees and bushes and I imagine it’s even more beautiful in the spring with all the sakura in bloom.

The south-east entrance to the Osaka castle park. Don't you think the trees to the right look like Hattifatteners (Hattifnattar in Swedish) from Moomin?

The south-east entrance to the Osaka castle park. Don’t you think the trees to the right look like Hattifatteners (Hattifnattar in Swedish) from Moomin?

After walking through the many gardens and passing two moats, we could finally see the castle up close. It really is quite beautiful with its white walls, green roof and golden decor. Nowadays, the castle has been turned into a museum that mostly tells the story of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the man known as Japan’s second great unifier. On the top floor of the castle is a 360° panorama view of Osaka.

After visiting the Osaka castle, we took the subway to the harbour where the Kaiyukan Aquarium is located. According to the Lonely Planet guide, there’s a great food court called Tempozan right next to the aquarium and I can tell you it was not wrong. Both my husband and I are huge fans of okonomiyaki (a sort of cabbage pancake with shrimps, octopus and bacon) which means that we went straight for Fugetsu, one of the two okonomiyaki restaurants in Tempozan. Here you may choose from a number of different fillings for your okonomiyaki and the staff will cook it right in front of you, on the huge built-in hot plate on the table.

Full and happy from eating the delicious okonomiyaki, we made our way to Kaiyukan where all sorts of sea living creatures waited for us. It is a nice aquarium but if I compare it to the one found in Shanghai, I think that Shanghai was slightly better. One thing that was truly amazing was the whale shark in the main tank. Unfortunately, all my pictures of it were rubbish so you need to google it if you don’t already know what it is. However, as amazing as the whale shark is, my absolute favourite is still the sea otters. They are just incredibly cute and I could probably spend all day watching them!

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Hakone Open Air Museum

On our second day in Hakone, we went for a stroll around Hakone-Yumoto and watched two famous waterfalls guarded by a duck with a red ribbon. It gladly accepted bread crumbs as a bribe for letting us pass.

After the waterfalls, we took the train bound for Gora to pay a visit to the Hakone Open Air Museum. As the train climbed the mountain, the weather got worse and worse. Not only was there even more clouds stopping us from seeing mount Fuji, it also started raining! Since we didn’t feel like visiting the museum while it was raining, we took a detour for a couple of hours and came back later when the weather was a bit better.

If you ever find yourself in Hakone, I highly recommend visiting this museum. The sculptures really are something! This is one of my favourites and it kind of reminds me of the “Silence in the Library” episode of Doctor Who.

"Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved"

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

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We’ve now spent three jet lagged days in Hakone, a hot-spring mountain area south-west of Tokyo. The ryokan, Hakone Suimeisou, that I booked for our stay was just a 5 min walk from the train station in Hakone-Yumoto. With a wonderful view of the river, I don’t think you’ll find a ryokan (traditional japanese hotel) with a better location. As with all ryokans, it was a bit pricey but the room we got was very nice, the staff friendly and helpful and both dinner and breakfast was excellent!

View of the ryokan (the large yellow building)

View of the ryokan (the large yellow building)

Suimeisou also has a public onsen for both indoor and outdoor bathing. Men and women bathe separately but if you’re staying at the ryokan as a couple, I recommend booking the private outdoor onsen for 2000¥/50 min. Relaxing in the warm water is such a great way of starting the day that we rented the private onsen every morning before breakfast.

After having spent our first night in Japan, we set out to do some sightseeing! We began our journey by taking the train to Gora. The train climbs the mountains painstakingly slow but going any faster on these winding tracks doesn’t seem to e a good idea. It never ceases to amaze me how people can build things in remote areas like this one. But more importantly, just who thought of it? and why?

From Gora, there’s a cable car going up the steep hill to Sounzan where a rope way takes visitors the last way up to the top of Owakudani. The Owakudani station is sometimes closed off due to toxic volcanic gases but luckily not when we were there. As we got out, we felt the chilly air that smelled of sulphur. At this point, I really wished I had brought a sweater along, but as the sun peeked out of the clouds it felt a bit better.

The “main attraction” at Owakudani are the black eggs that are boiled in the milky white onsen water. The water is very rich in sulphur and some unknown reaction causes the white egg shells to turn pitch black when being boiled. I find it a bit funny that they boil eggs here since the sulphur smell reminds me of rotten eggs :)

We walked up the hill to where they cook the eggs and as we walked, we noticed the tiny, tiny rope way that was carrying a basket of black eggs down to the rope way station (for people). At the top, we bought 5 eggs for 500¥ they were absolutely delicious! As a matching dessert for our black egg lunch, we bought some black ice cream! It was equally delicious but of course I ended up covering half my face in black goo :).

Black ice cream!

Black ice cream!

Full of new gained energy we set out to, instead of taking the rope way down to the other side of the mountain, take the hiking trail down. It was a nice walk among trees and bushes that were a bit special to the area. Not all plants are able to survive in a volcanic area like this but these plants have adapted.

After the peaceful walk down to Togendai, we reached the school-kids-infested and not-so-peaceful harbour for the sightseeing pirate ships. Yes you heard me, PIRATE SHIPS! Sure, they were a bit gimmicky but me and the school kids loved it all the same. It is said that you should be able to see mount Fuji from here but we couldn’t see anything even though we kept our eyes peeled open the entire trip. It must have been too cloudy that day :(

Yaaaaarrr! Time to board the pirate ship :D

Yaaaaarrr! Time to board the pirate ship :D

When we arrived at Hakone-machi, on the other side of lake Ashi, we went for a walk to Moto Hakone in search of the cedar avenue. At first we thought we had missed it and spend some time feeling utterly confused but let me tell you this, one simply does not lose a bunch of insanely large and tall trees. When we were tired and started to lose all hope of ever finding them, they were right in front of us.

Cedar avenue

Cedar avenue

From Moto Hakone, we took the bus back to Hakone-Yumoto where we arrived just in time to enjoy a quick nap before dinner.


Mm, dinner

Mm, dinner

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Back to Japan!

This year’s vacation has been secured, we’re going back to Japan! Last year we went on a three-week trip where we first visited Kyoto and then Tokyo. We had so much fun last year that we wanted to go back and this time, we’re staying for 1 month! Last time, we managed to arrive during the peak of the typhoon season. Despite what you might think, this actually has some perks. The tourist attractions weren’t especially crowded (even Disneyland was ok!). I’ve also read somewhere that the weather usually turns great right after the typhoon. This was probably the case for us when we were in Kyoto. Completely unaware of the weather, we met the landlady outside the house we rented. She gave us a warm greeting and said that she was “so happy to see us” and that she “didn’t know if we would arrive on time”. Then she said, with a big smile on her face, “oh and by the way, your house is still here!”. She was dead serious.

If you disregard the risk of getting caught in a typhoon, the weather was pretty awesome after we got used to the temperature. This year we hope to repeat the success and thus we booked almost the same dates, middle of September to October.

We haven’t booked any houses/hotels or ryokans yet so if anyone’s got any tip on nice places to visit, please share! We fly to and from Tokyo so we will probably spend a couple of days there. We seriously fell in love with Kyoto so we might go back for a few days. Perhaps a day-trip to Osaka is a good idea? As of now, I’ve got three things on my want-to-do-list.

  • A visit to Hakone Ginyu. This looks like a lovely ryokan were each room is equipped with a private onsen. Onsens are usually public and men and women bath separately. Soaking in the onsen water is a great way of relaxing, and this time I would like to share the experience with my husband.
  • A trip to Kōya-san and Oku-no-in. I imagine this Buddhist graveyard is quite beautiful and peaceful.
  • The Tsumago-Magome hike. A mountain path with traditional wooden inns which hosted travelling samurai lords. Need I say more?