A month away in my home away from home23 November, 2012 by Chad
It was about time for another escapade in the land of the rising sun. If you haven’t been following my Twitter account then this would explain the scarce updates as of late. In usual fashion, I’ll be sharing the day by day exploits so our readers can relive the experiences together. As an added bonus this time, we will also be testing out a new collaboration system with Twitter, so we can look back at the (often silly) Tweets made during the course of the trip.
Despite having already visited once earlier this year, the yearning to return to Japan again, is something that never quite goes away. Unfortunately, due to studies, it would seem that my usual travel partner Wilson would not be able to go anytime this year so I ended up planning since mid-year for a trip together with two other friends, Randy from Indonesia and Eri from Singapore, who would be visiting Japan for her first time.
Due to busy work schedules, Eri would need to book her leave much in advance, so we settled upon the dates many months earlier. Also due to certain commitments (then) Randy would be staying for 3 weeks, while the rest of us would stay on for an additional week.
Given the sizeable duration of stay and the fact that the company this time have had little to no experience, we planned the trip around revisiting the Kansai and Kanto prefectures of Japan, and even squeezed in a few days in Aichi.
Though the dates had been settled, details for the trip remained scarce all the way up to us leaving. All 3 of us had been busy with work the days leading up to the trip. One lesson from past travels and working in my line of work is that it pays to be prepared, but at the same time, it is equally important to strike a balance between planning and flexibility. Trips are as easily spoiled by the lack of preparation as they are by overtly eager planners looking to take over a trip.
We ended up taking the days before the trip pretty easily. Randy had provided just a few points that he wanted to cover, while Eri left most open for suggestion, her only request to embrace as many idol events as possible. Sadly, as the days approached, we learned that most of the concerts in the season fell narrowly out of our dates. Still, we managed to plan for a few and pre-purchase tickets for a couple of events before flying.
Perhaps it was knowing how unprepared we were, or just from being busy from work, but before we knew it, the trip was approaching too soon.
Let’s go! twitter.com/supermerlion/s…
— Supermerlion (@supermerlion) October 25, 2012
Like the last trip, we would be traveling by ANA. All things aside, ANA offered us the option of taking a connecting flight directly to Osaka (where we would be starting this trip) and returning from Haneda to Singapore, when that time eventually comes. After picking Randy and Eri, who had to work all the way up to the final moments in Singapore, we took for Changi Airport to catch a 9.45PM flight over to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.
Arriving early, we got the necessities over and done with and spent the remaining 90 minutes catching a light meal at the departure lounge. There was an attractive salad shop here, but after watching a couple wait for 15 minutes for the counter staff to take his time assembling their salad, I decided to settle at Delifrance instead. For anyone who has ever ate at Delifrance, you’d probably think “not the best decision” but with our whole trip to look forward to, it didn’t matter much.
One thing that did manage to dull my mood a little were the security checks though. The guards were pretty rude and asked that I stand on the spot for a while as they stared me down. If that weren’t bad enough it would be the first time ever where I would be pat down too, despite only wearing one shirt.
Thankfully, the inflight experience was similar to the last trip’s if not sightly better. The cabin attendants weren’t nearly as cute as the last time but made up for it by being attentive and polite. The only qualm was not being able to get a window seat. We managed to book some good center seats right at the front of economy class though. No worrying about any particular in-flight meal running out.
Being the wota they are, Randy and Eri watched the Japanese version of Disney’s Brave, while I caught the movie sequel for Fujiki Naohito and Ayase Haruka’s Hotaru no Hikari. As with most drama movies, it turned out to be quite a disappointment, with no relation to the show’s past two seasons. Tried watching Men In Black 3 on Randy’s recommendation, but got bored of the forced humor after a while.
After many failed attempts to catch some sleep and one airplane breakfast later, we landed at Haneda about an hour too early for our connecting flight.
This would be my first time landing at Haneda and things would be immediately interesting there. The plane landed at the airport’s international terminal, where we would need to pick up our luggage, complete the immigration procedures to get onto Japanese soil and then re-check onto another domestic flight at a small counter outside.
The counter here was staffed by 7 or 8 of ANA’s younger staffs, one of whom looked like Hata Shawako. Despite the rest of us still being quite far away, one of the attendants remarked “3 of you” when Randy tried checking in first. It slowly donned on us that were were the only international customers actually taking the connecting flight this morning.
While queuing at the next customs check, we noticed that the attendants there had given both Eri and Randy new boarding passes while I did not get one. Indeed, I was not allowed to pass at the gate and had to return to the check-in counter once again for help.
After explaining the situation to the girls there, I was told that the e-ticket ought to be fine but was given a boarding pass anyway and accompanied to the customs check, where I was allowed to skip to the front to the annoyance of everyone there. The ANA girl explained that I could had very much passed through with just the e-ticket’s barcode but the customs staff were being pricks about using the newer boarding pass QR code.
Past the customs, was just a tiny waiting room and an elevator down to the ground level. A monitor here alerted when it was time for us to enter the lift, following the cue, we were taken downstairs where an empty bus awaited just the three of us.
Then, we were treated to a private tour around Haneda airport as the bus would have to take us from the International Terminal to the furthest Departure Terminal 2, while still sticking within airport’s apron.
It was still rather early at our departure gate, with no one in sight. Even our plane had yet to arrive. Having had none on the plane, I tried to get some shut eye while Randy recharged his cellphone at a nearby charging station. It took almost an hour before the rest of the passengers, all locals and our plane eventually arrived. To the pleasant surprise of everyone, we would be flying on the Pokemon skinned plane that we had passed by on the ramp earlier.
It was an older, smaller plane, with seats packed in a 3-3-3 formation, as opposed to the usual 767’s 2-3-2 seats. And for some reason, we were given separate seats spread out all over the plane. I had the fortune of getting a window side seat but was in pretty bad shape by this point and passed out immediately upon being seated.
By the time I awoke, I found myself staring at Mount Fuji face on and between bouts of consciousness, managed to absorb some amazing views of the surrounding mountainous areas, Shiga and Lake Biwa. It was an usually clear morning and as it was a domestic flight, we were flying low enough to really appreciate the terrain. I found myself being most amazed by the cover of clouds that settled above some of the mountain chains, as well as the giant Lake Biwa, which even from up in the air looked like a fully fledged sea.
The flight from Haneda to Itami, lasted just an hour but upon waking up, one of the attendants was nice enough to offer me some refreshments that I had missed earlier. The domestic flight was seemingly staffed by all of the airline’s older, more experienced attendants.
We reached Itami Airport at some time after 9 AM in the morning. Being a completely domesticated airport, security here was slack, being more like a train station than an actual airport. Most foreigners tend to prefer flying to Kansai Airport instead when visiting the region, but there are benefits to flying by Itami.
Not only were our tickets cheaper and the flight timings better, Itami Airport was actually located within Osaka City, allowing us to catch a Limousine Bus to our nearby hotel at Shin-Osaka. The journey takes just 20 minutes and costs just 490 yen, as opposed to the 90 minutes and 1,500 or more yen it would take to get to Osaka if one were to come by the Kansai International Airport.
Since it was both Eri and Randy’s first time in Kansai, it would be only necessary that we revisit some of the touristy areas covered previously. One month seems like an ample amount of time and I was looking forward to returning to some places that we had skimmed past in our haste during the last trip.
While I had a mental list of places to recommend, most of our days were quite flexible. It was still too early to settle down at our hotel so we decided leave our baggage there before heading out for some necessities, before tackling one touristy spot in the late afternoon. For this reason, it seemed like a good idea that we purchased the Osaka Aquarium and Subway one day combo pass when we dropped off at Shin-Osaka Station.
Being lazy, we immediately used the pass to take us one station down to Nishinakajima Minamikata, which was just slightly nearer to our hotel (about 300 meters as opposed to 600 from Shin-Osaka). We dropped our luggage at Shin-Osaka Sunny Stone Hotel, which was to be our Kansai camp for the coming week.
One of Randy’s requests, and one that we would all wholeheartedly agree to, was that we celebrate our arrival in Japan with a good meal. Our next stop was to head over to Awaza for the Osaka Chuo Oroshiuri Shijo market, home to Endo Sushi.
There was a short wait outside, just a few salarymen who had come here for lunch but it didn’t take long for us to get seated. It was still early for lunch, and many more people would arrive soon after. Surprisingly, we were given the same seat as my previous visit with Wilson and Yan.
Seated beside us, were a Singaporean couple as I would correctly, guess based off the fact that they seemed to had been seated there far longer than anyone else, despite having obviously finished their meal at some point earlier. Maybe they’ve read our recommendation?
The three of us each had a couple of plates of Endo’s Sushi’s special, as well as their clam miso soup. This article will do a better job of explaining. Perhaps it was the season but the cuts were slightly less impressive this time round. This was apparent from the perilla leaves (which we would end up referring to as the “funky leaf”) being put in may of the pieces of sushi we were served to mask the taste. Overall, it was still a great lunch though.
After lunch, we took a train backwards to Umeda to stop by the Yodobashi Camera there. Our first goal was to grab a bunch of B-Mobile Japanese Sim Cards. These were data only sim cards that provided us 1 gb of data transfer fpr 30 days for just 3,480 yen (approximately SGD$52).
The only downside to B-Mobile Sims were that they needed to be activated for use via a Japanese cellphone line. It was as simple as dialing a toll free number and entering the sim card’s number into the automated system. Based off others’ past experiences in Japan, I thought that we wouldn’t have trouble getting help from the people at Yodobashi Camera itself but boy were we wrong. In the end, we purchased the cards anyways, but would now have to find some other means of getting them activated. Surely, the hotel staff would help?
An alternative would had been to order the cards online via re-sellers. Nearly any online shop claiming to sell Japanese Sim cards are pretty much just locals buying the B-Mobile cards themselves, activating them and reselling them for anywhere between 1,000 to 2,000 yen more.
We took a look around Umeda for a bit after getting the Sim Cards, while looking around for a rest room. A lot of the area had changed since the last visit, with JR’s Osaka Station getting a brand new makeover. It now occupies most of central Umeda’s ground and underground area, enveloping it in their trademark mess of tunnels.
I was looking forward to taking a look here, after seeing pictures of the new station, but it wasn’t nearly as impressive in person. It did have some interesting fountains at the exits though. At the adjacent Daimaru, we found a Pokemon Center and grabbed some necessities from the Uniqlo store on the same floor.
We he had originally intended to head back to the hotel to check-in first. What more, all of our cellphones and cameras were already running low, so both our gadgets and ourselves were in need of recharging. But the rest seemed to be in favor of pressing on so it was off to Osaka Port for the Kaiyukan there.
Unfortunately, this ended up being a bad decision, for upon reaching Osakako, I would learn that my camera had been stuck in preview mode inside my bag for the past half an hour or so and as a result was completely flat! We’ll need to depend on my iPhone camera for the rest of today’s photos, so pardon the poorer quality below.
It was still pretty early, so we took a short break first at the adjacent Market Place mall while scouting around the shops and possible dining places for later. A Singaporean tour group had been let loose around here. Nothing against them personally, but not exactly the most inconspicuous bunch. We wondered why did we kept finding ourselves bumping into them today. One group were sprawled on the floor outside the aquarium, as they attempted to take “artistic” portraits, no doubt for their Facebook pages or whatnot.
Not having a camera of my own did dampen my mood a little. I had been especially looking forward to revisiting the aquarium though so the mood would immediately bounce back upon entering the ridiculously large building that is the Osaka Aquarium. Aquariums rank way up there with the things I most love about Japan, together with towers. I guess you could call me an Aquarium and Tower-ota.
In contrast to the Valentine’s visit last year, the aquarium was quite empty today. It was a good thing that we decided to take a break at the mall first, since the tour group had by now packed up and moved onto their next destination. The only people remaining apart from ourselves were a couple, two families and two very excited Korean girls who were busy snapping away at everything.
Perhaps it was the warmer weather, but the animals were actually awake this time round and were very much active. It was great to see them all in motion.
The mystery as to why we saw the penguins all clustered together on one spot and staring up was solved too. It was completely dark the last visit, so we didn’t know about the snow machine in the enclosure blasting cold air here. Only the bigger penguins got the privilege of standing here. The biggest penguin had an entire harem of female penguins around him.
Another amusing sight was this group of fish that swam on the spot in their tank as if suspended in space. Most of the old faves were here, though a few tanks looked emptier than before. The sunfish for example was noticeably missing today. I did find some new fishes that were previously missed though and the temporary exhibit had been renewed as per the season, with more jellyfish than usual.
Most notable was the flat transparent case set up at the entrance of the seasonal exhibit area filled with jellyfish. From a distance, it looked like the fishes were swimming in air. That and the 40cm big Kishinouye jellyfishes in the tanks outside.
On account of the poor camera, I thought it’d be a better idea that I took as many videos as possible instead, thus the video spam. You will find even more at our YouTube Channel. Still, no pictures or video can accurately capture the awe of having these creatures of all sizes swimming around you. Thanks to its multi-level design, Osaka Aquarium has a lovely surreal ambiance that has to be experienced to be understood.
Looking closer at the tank full of deep sea crabs in the aquarium, the crabs here were bullying the other fishes inside. Some of the crabs were walking around the tank and making a point to step on all the bottom dwelling fishes inside. You can see a video of the fish’s amusing reaction below.
Randy was strangely amused by Kaiyukan’s peculiar mascot character and got me to take pictures of it. We found inked stamps of it spread around the aquarium and the two Korean girls were busy acquiring them. In our haste, we had forgotten to take any pamphlets so had nothing to stamp them on. We considered returning back to the entrance first, or perhaps returning for another round but decided to let it slide.
At the souvenir shop downstairs, I ended up getting the largest whale shark plushie I could find, after the regret of not getting one last trip. Randy was disappointed that they didn’t sell merchandise for the aquarium’s mascot, but bought the medium and smaller equivalents of the same whale shark.
Revisiting the aquarium was certainly a most enjoyable experience and were I to live in Osaka (or anywhere in Japan with a decent size one) would definitely get a yearly pass. Unlike in Singapore, yearly passes for such places are affordable to the point of ridiculousness, many cost just twice the entry price.
Headed back to the mall next door after to grab something to eat, dropping by the Naniwa Yokocho that we had spotted earlier. For some reason, we had completely ignored this spot during the last visit.
Naniwa Yokocho describes itself as a “food theme park” for Osakan street food. A corner of the first floor of the Market Place mall had been converted to resemble an old street, housing a great number iconic Japanese food stalls serving Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, Yakisoba and whatever else that they can fry up quickly. Touristy, but still worth a look.
We weren’t particularly hungry at this point, but decided to grab something to eat here before heading directly back to our hotel. We were pretty tired by now, especially myself, who had the least sleep among the three.
All of the shops at the Tempozan Market Place are catered exclusively to couples, and the local and foreign tourists that make up pretty much the entirety of customers to the aquarium and ferris wheel. So apart from Naniwa Yokocho, the only other food served outside were overpriced fast food and snacks. As gimmicky as it were, Naniwa Yokocho was actually the better of the two choices, with a greater variety of food at cheaper prices.
After a few rounds inside, we stopped at a gyoza shop first.
I’ve never been a fan of gyoza but even in this gimmicky zone, the ones here were already better than those in Singapore. The ones we would be having today would be a mix of 3 flavors, beef, vegetable and regular gyoza. The three of us shared a plate to make room for more random foods later on.
And random foods we had. Randy got a curry bun and mince meat croquette from another shop which he worked through faster than I could capture any pictures, while Eri and I shared some yakisoba from the same shop. Didn’t eat much, since I was really too tired to even eat at this point.
Then it was back to the Shin-Osaka Sunny Stone Hotel to finally check into our rooms.
The rooms turned our to be a lot more spacey than expected, especially considering that it only cost us SGD$52 each (after tax) for the individual rooms. Unexpectedly, the staff even threw in breakfast vouchers for us, which weren’t part of the initial reservation. They mixed up Randy and my names though so for the rest of the days I would have to be known as each other.
We also got a balcony view, though it was shared between our adjacent rooms on the 7th floor. There wasn’t much to see since we were located on a side street at Shin-Osaka but the windows were pretty big, on account of having to double as doors to the balcony.
Reflecting upon the day, even in the afternoon we had already realized that we would had been better off skipping the later half of the day and heading back to hotel first to rest.
A quick shower and little bit of unpacking, during which Erepyon’s new single and more surprisingly, Weather Girls were playing on TV. Went through a bit of the next days’ plans before sleeping like a log right after. We will need to wake up early tomorrow to catch a SUPER☆GiRLS release event outside of the city.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.