Osaka’s Universal Studio Japan

Hooray! USJ time! It was raining but stopped when we left the apartment. IMG_1405

The magic is here! (Oops, wrong theme park! This isn’t Enchanted Kingdom)IMG_1407

So, we were able to buy tickets and enter USJ at 11am. There weren’t any express passes anymore. We weren’t planning to purchase them, but, just so you know, they were sold out by this time.

Our first order of the day was to look for the ticketing area where they give out passes to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. These are free but timed passes to enter the gates of HP. By the time we were there, there were only 3 schedules left. My sister told me when they went to USJ, they weren’t able to get tickets anymore.

After securing the passes, we listened to the band singing and dancing on stage. They were playing Taylor Swift songs, Shake It Off and Blank Space– the same songs we played the night before for Little A.

IMG_1418

Then, we decided to look for a place to have lunch. Funny story– I really don’t have a good sense of direction! We were looking for the Studio Stars Restaurant. DrG and Little A were behind me. I entered the restaurant. Scored a round table for the three of us. DrG went to line up to buy food. I look around and saw people were just eating sandwiches there. I thought this place served a popular roasted chicken dish. Then, I realized it was the wrong restaurant! We were in the Boulangerie! Ugggh!  I went to DrG and he said he thought I changed my mind about Studio Stars. Hahaha! So off we went to go to the correct one.

With the bellies happy, we went to Universal Wonderland.

IMG_1432

Hello, Kitty!

IMG_1438

Carousel fun! Little A was afraid at first but got some courage after a few minutes. Bravery was short lived though as the carousel started to turn. We just have to try and try again!

IMG_1453

View from the (carousel) high horse

IMG_1494

Elmo and Cookie dancing

IMG_1499

The Delorean

I wish the Back to the Future section was a lot bigger than this (one ride). The city square would’ve made a good theme park section, don’t you think? DrG said maybe because the movie isn’t as popular as I thought. Are there no BTTF fans in Japan?

IMG_1505

Mr. Walt (oops, wrong theme park again!) This is probably someone important

Little A was asleep; we were full; we already took photos (Jaws, Spiderman, etc). We were just killing time walking around the park waiting for….

IMG_1514

Harry Potter! Could hardly contain my excitement!

IMG_1523

Welcome to Hogsmeade Village

IMG_1529

All aboard the Hogwarts Express

But, didn’t see the platform in Kingcross anywhere! Maybe because we were already in Hogwarts?!

At the back of this area, people line up to have their photos taken (3000plus yen per!) on the train coach.

 IMG_1533

It looks amazing! Just like in the movies/books/my mind!

There were long lines everywhere. So we decided to eat first at the Three Broomsticks.

IMG_1538

IMG_1539

The great feast looks good! But seems to be too much for just the three of us!

IMG_1540

Three BroomsticksIMG_1544

We had to try the butterbeer of course! It tasted like the butterball candy and cream soda. The cold version tasted better than the warm one. I wish they served a frozen one, as well. I imagine that would taste even yummier! IMG_1545

Ribs and Corn

IMG_1554

Baby Mandrakes

IMG_1559

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

IMG_1561

A better view of the castle from this side of the Black Lake

IMG_1571

The Ride. 120 minutes wait if you don’t have express pass.

IMG_1574

We took the Castle Tour instead. 50 points to Ravenclaw!

IMG_1575

The password is Sherbet Lemon

You’ll be entering Dumbeldore’s office. Check out his pensieve, too!

IMG_1576Some of these are moving portraits!

IMG_1581

Dumbledore shows up

IMG_1582

His office window

IMG_1585

The trio in a classroom

 IMG_1590 IMG_1593 IMG_1595 IMG_1597

Souvenirs. The time turner is ❤

IMG_1599Even though we didn’t get to ride the main attraction, I was quite happy strolling along Hogsmeade Village. Hogwart’s choir also sang some songs a cappella (Can You Dance Like a Hippogriff?)

Don’t forget to check out the toilets to visit Moaning Myrtle!

Drop by Ollivander’s, too! You might be the lucky wizard/Muggle. Remember, the wand chooses the wizard.

Website here

Advertisements

Kyoto with a Toddler (Kinkakuji Temple aka Golden Pavilion and Ryoanji Temple aka Zen Rock Garden)

Day 2 was sunny although a bit colder than the first day.

We took a 30 minute bus ride to Kinkakuji as instructed by the very friendly receptionist. Since it wasn’t forecasted to rain, I brought along the baby car. It was easy enough to lift the car in and out of the bus. But, when it got a little bit crowded, I had to protect Little A from getting crushed by bags (also wished nobody would fart while standing near her– my worst fear!)

Since I will be riding the bus thrice that day, I bought an all day pass from the bus driver. 500 yen. All you can ride within the specific areas listed on the map. It’s great for tourists hitting many locations each day. The standard fee per ride is 230 yen.

The bus stops just across the Kinkakuji’s gate which was great!

After paying for the ticket though, someone approached me to inform me that there are several areas that have stairs and it would be difficult to maneuver the cart on my own.  I only wanted to show Little A the main temple anyway so it was fine by me.

IMG_0837

It is so pretty there!

IMG_0894

Heavier Snow Fall

After enjoying the Golden Pavilion, we headed towards Ryoanji Temple. It is just a bus ride away and it is pretty near by. When we got there, I was advised (once again!) that the temple isn’t wheelchair friendly. Uh-oh. I was told that I can’t leave the stroller anywhere, too. So, that meant carrying Little A and dealing with the baby car! Double uh-oh.

I found out that there are many steps before you could get to the Rock Garden, hence the warning. Lots of people asked if I wanted help which I think is great! I refused as I was pushing the cart slowly anyway and didn’t want to bother other tourists. But, still I was thankful that there are still friendly people (at least in Kyoto!).

IMG_0914Teenagers in traditional costumeIMG_0900

Meditating. Nah, just making sure her slippers won’t fall off her feet

On the way back down, you can choose to exit the same way you came or go through the scenic route via the pagoda but still…stairs! Anyway, it is only a problem if you’re on your own with a kid and you brought a stroller with you 😉

Afterwards, we took the bus back. A quick Takashimaya depachika tour for the hungry tummies were in order and someone promptly fell asleep soon after. Luckily, we found our way back to the hotel before snow fell again.

Kyoto with a Toddler (Hotel Unizo)

We had an opportunity to go to Kyoto for several days! How exciting to explore a new place.

DrG found a newish hotel at Shijokarasuma (四条) which is a very nice starting point to all the places we wanted to visit.

image

Gion was a bus ride away. The hotel was also walking distance to Nishiki Market and the long strip of shops and restaurants in Shijo. Nearby are the tram and the subway stations. There were also convenience store and a small supermarket off the corner. Small restaurants and cafes are scattered here and there, too!

image

The lobby staff spoke excellent English and are very helpful with information.

Housekeeping kept our room clean and well stocked. Wifi is available.

image

Except for the broken bathroom door handle and busted light, everything else was peachy. They tried their best to provide for the extra blanket and pillows we asked for. They gave us…..extra *futon* and pillow. Worked out ok because the double bed sometimes only had room for one adult and Little A. Someone else was delegated to sleep on the futon…on the floor…(mostly DrG!)

The hotel has a Tully’s on the ground floor. We had breakfast and snacks there on several occasions.

image

Tomato Pasta

image

Hotel Unizo website

Kyoto with a Toddler (Tips for the Shinkansen Ride)

Going to Kyoto from Tokyo station via Shinkansen isn’t as daunting as it sounds.
I’m no expert but here are some tips on riding the shinkansen with a toddler.

image

1 Bring a stroller and a carrier
You never know when you’ll need one or the other. Don’t be lazy! Hahaha! Bring both!

The stations are very stroller friendly. They have elevators and escalators everywhere.

Compact strollers fit in front of the seats (2 paying seats). Little A was sleeping on the cart during the ride so we just positioned her in front of our seats. You could also fold the stroller and keep them at the back (near the doors) or put it on the overhead luggage compartment.

2 Food and drinks.
You can make your own bento or buy from the station.  The options are numerous. If you have time to spend, there are also lots of restaurants available inside. We took the earliest available train so we only bought food just in case we get hungry (we always are!)

IMG_0775

Bento Box Artwork

IMG_0776

Anago

They also sell food inside the train but your choices will be limited. On the upside though, they sell ice cream if you’re craving for one.

Drinks are available, too!

3 Entertainment
The train ride took less than 3 hours but some sort of entertainment might be required to keep your little one occupied.

Two little girls and one baby boy, who were seated beside us, provided Little A onboard entertainment. They were eating, giggling, whining, playing, and crying. Little A was amused by them all.

Books, pencils, toys. Anything that could make those tiny hands and curious minds busy.

4 Be early
The trains leave on time. You lose your reserved seats if you don’t go on the correct time.

IMG_0767 2

Babies don’t read time, do they? Elevators might be farther than where your coach is, so that’s extra walking or in our case, sprinting time required.

5 Consider sending your luggages ahead
Kuroneko has takyubin services where you can send your luggage ahead of time so you’re not lugging your…uhmmm…luggages. You already have your hands full with your baby.

6 Watch for Mount Fuji
You can see Fuji on the right side (seats c and d) some time past Shin Yokohama. About 50 to 60 minutes into the ride.

7 Prepare your things (and baby) when the music chimes
The trainstop is really jusy short enough to offload passengers and load new passengers. If you are anything like us, you’ll have tons of things to put back (jackets, unfinished bento boxes, water bottles, toys). So, prepare ahead of time. Also, see number 5 to make things easier for you!

8 Don’t be rude
Return your seats to the upright position. While you’re at it, make sure you didn’t leave any trash. If you turned the chairs to face your companions, be sure to return the chairs front facing.

Remember the 3 kids? The mom brought a trash bag with her to stuff all the bento boxes and bottles they used! Brilliant!

If you have other tips, feel free to leave a comment!

Follow our adventures in Kyoto (and later, Osaka)!

Apple and Persimmon Fruit Picking at Yamanashi

IMG_9842

Autumn is so much fun! I love how the leaves turn yellow, orange and red. I love how chestnut, sweet potatoes and pumpkin flavors are incorporated in savory and sweet food alike. The weather is also perfect to go out and explore!

DrG found an amazing place in Yamanashi where we could enjoy and experience the rural life this season.

IMG_9791

i could sit in this Japanese garden and stare at this all day

But, we had farming (and eating) activities to go through!

IMG_9726

Sage the Farmer Volunteer cutting the top portion of persimmons

IMG_9727Peeling the Persimmons

IMG_9729

Hanging to dry

IMG_9737All dried up for us to eat! These can be eaten hot or cold. I prefer the heated dried persimmons. It looks all yucky and gross, doesn’t it? But I was told it tastes better than it looks so I bravely ate one and forgot my qualms. They are yummy and sweet. The drying process allows the astringent taste to disappear.

IMG_9735

Freshly picked persimmonsIMG_9927

Little A trying out fresh (crunchy) persimmons

IMG_9880

We also got to visit the apple orchard and tried some spectacular fuji apples and pears.IMG_9853

So sweet and juicy!IMG_9865

How many can you eat at a single sitting? We were sooooo full!

IMG_9711

But, still had lunch at this popular town restaurant that serves really good tofu and Hoto ほうとう– a popular Yamanashi dish of hand made noodles with vegetables and miso soup

IMG_9849

You can see the beautiful Fujisan just off the road.

We spent the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the quiet place. By dinner, we were served this incredible *simple* Japanese dinner (same restaurant though).

IMG_9751

Again, handmade tofu was the highlight of the meal.

IMG_9746

Tofu with fresh wasabi on top

IMG_9748

Daikon (radish) for the tempura

IMG_9747

Pickled Daikon

IMG_9749

Stewed Daikon with beef

IMG_9745

Seaweed and Daikon (refreshing!)

IMG_9759

Tofu with soup

IMG_9760

Tempura

IMG_9754

Our table looked like this when everything was served. Tofu salad for sharing!

The best part of the trip (apart from all the eating we did) was the *free* tour guide and stories shared by Kazu-san. He speaks English fluently which saved DrG the hardwork of translating everything. Kazu-san is a serious guy and very passionate about farming. You’ve got to listen to him talk (and joke)!

He talked about many things including the difference of Japanese farming versus the western processes. He talked about manual cross pollination and what they do to have really big and juicy peaches (our favorite!)

Book his second home for an overnight stay.

IMG_9845

Saying goodbye to this beautiful place. May we meet again (maybe in spring!)

Nakagomi Orchard Farm for farm stay and fruit picking
090-1664-2921
 

The Access Narita

wpid-20130405_153749.jpgFor commuter folks like myself, the Friendly Limousine bus service is one of the easiest way to get to and from the airports.  Recently though, I found out that there’s a bus service called The Access Narita.

Cheaper:  It’s only 1000 yen! A third of the cost of the other one.

Boarding: Can board at either Tokyo Station or Ginza Station. From where I live, it costs just 30 yen more to get to the station and actually less walking involved. An advantage when you’re lugging some heavy bags. From the airport, they’re at Stop 31 at Terminal 1 and Stops 2 and 19 on Terminal 2.

Reservations: Available! You’d want this if you cannot go early to line up. We didn’t have one but since we left on a non-peak hour, we got on without reservations.

Ticketing: Paperless! You pay when you ride and they don’t hand out tickets anymore. Even baggage doesn’t have tickets. Honesty system really works in Japan (Please World, try it some time!)

The only disadvantage though is they have less routes to and from the airport. But with good planning, this is definitely a good option!

Yokohama German Festival

A very late post.

IMG_4491Yokohama at dusk is so beautiful!  We wanted to go there to visit the German Christmas Festival.

IMG_4502

The ice skating rink

IMG_4504More Christmas decorations on top of the stall roofs selling various German goodies.

IMG_4511

IMG_4542A BelenIMG_4545Small belen, German madeIMG_4522People lining up to take a photo under this marvelously decorated gigantic Christmas tree.  You get to ring the bells, too!IMG_4530

IMG_4528

IMG_4529

Several stalls selling wine, hot cocoa, beer

IMG_4521

German Sausage with curry powder

IMG_4524

 Lamb on a stick with bbq sauce

IMG_4539Bowl of fried potatoes and cheeseIMG_4540Cheese. Fried. No other words necessary.

We strolled around some more and walked towards the amusement park.

IMG_4571The ferris wheel up close  one from the first photo)IMG_4579Ice World

IMG_4581Plenty of other rides there!

Yokohama is such a fun place with tons of stores and interesting sites.  It was getting late though and it’s a bit far from where we live. Maybe next time, we’ll stay longer.