JAPAN 2017 | Kyoto: Fushimi Inari Taisha; Arashiyama; Nishiki Market; Kichi Kichi Omurice

After packing up everything in the hostel in the morning, and having a quick breakfast in the kitchen, I headed out for my last action-packed day in Kyoto.

Fushimi Inari-Taisha

Snack break!

My first stop of the day was Fushimi Inari-Taisha, probably one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto, if not all of Japan.

Walking through the famous torii gates is a must-do, and the higher up you go, the less people there are, allowing you to soak up the serenity all on your own.

The total hike takes around three hours, which I decided to skip out on due to the tight schedule I had, but I would imagine it to be quite enjoyable if you’re looking to spend a whole day in the area!

Snack break round 2

Just outside of the Shrine is a restaurant that specialises in unagi don, i.e. grilled eel on rice. Although there was only two pieces of eel being given in the set that I ordered, there was a perfect amount of caramelisation resulting from the grill, and the quality cannot be faulted. The eel liver soup on the side sounded like a bit of an oddity, but it didn’t actually have any distinctive flavours.

Arashimaya Bamboo Grove

After spending another hour on public transport, I arrived at the famous Arashimaya Bamboo Grove!

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve seen so many photos and heard so much about the bamboo grove beforehand, but I actually found it quite underwhelming. I mean sure, there was a lot of bamboo, but the walk lasted for maybe ten minutes, before transforming into a regular forest, which was still nice and all, but I personally didn’t find it to be anything special.

Tenryu-ji

Tenryu-Ji was closeby to the Bamboo Grove, so I decided to check it out. But to be honest, by this point of the trip, I was pretty much templed/shrined out, being not religious myself, I found the experience to have become a little stagnant and repetitive. Although I understand that objectively the temple is built beautifully, it was hard for me to not feel like I was going through the motion and actually appreciate the temples more, which was a shame,

Snack break round 3

Nishiki Market

Knowing that I had a booking at Kichi Kichi Omurice for dinner in just over an hour by the time I got to Nishiki Market, I decided to just take a walk around, and save the food for next time.

Although significantly smaller than Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Nishiki Market had its own charm, and it seemed to be more like a local market rather than a tourist attraction. Kyoto is famous for its matcha, and I picked up a couple bottles of matcha spread to take back home, which I later found out is actually stocked at Calia for two times the price!

Kichi Kichi Omurice

Kichi Kichi Omurice has been made famous through various viral videos over the last few years, and I knew it was definitely somewhere I wanted to visit on this trip.

Bookings can be made up to four weeks advance, which means it’s something that you definitely need to plan ahead for. The restaurant is open for both lunch (weekends and public holidays) and dinner (everyday except for the holidays listed on the restaurant’s website), and only seats 8 people, which means that the one-hour-long reservations often fly out of the window. The reservation is made on the restaurant’s website, and it’s a relatively fuss free process, with every step translated in English. Reservations opens on 3pm GPT+9 Sunday, and my only tip is, be ready to book immediately after reservation opens so that you secure yourself a spot! Click here to be directed over to Kichi Kichi Omurice’s website.

the Omurice itself

So the question now is, was all that planning ahead worth it? And honestly, the answer is yes. The fried rice is perfectly separated fluffiness of the omelette is out of this world, and the demi-glace that’s poured over top ties it altogether. I did think it was slightly under-seasoned, but that’s really just me starting to nick-pick a good thing.

The omurice isn’t even the best part. Chef Motokichi Yukimura is truly one of a kind, he’s so good at what he does, loves doing it, and is definitely not camera shy. Although I saw it happen in front of my own eyes maybe five times that day, I still don’t understand how exactly the omelette is made, but he seriously made it look effortless. On top of being an excellent chef, he was also a great entertainer, and was more than happy to take photos with each of the 8 diners at the end of the hour. It was really an experience that’s not to be missed, and I’m glad that this was the final note of my short stay in Kyoto.

Snack round four

I left Kyoto with some mixed feelings. Having heard so many people rave about this city beforehand, I didn’t think I vibed particularly well with the city. That being said, there were some real highlights too, and I’m glad I paid Kyoto a visit regardless. After picking up some snacks for the road, I hopped onto the last Shinkansen of the trip, and headed back to Tokyo for my last day in Japan!

Spending Tracker

Public transport: 210JPY ~ 2.6AUD
Beef skewer: 500JPY ~ 6.3AUD
Yam omelette: 300JPY ~ 3.7AUD
Eel rice set: 2100JPY ~ 25.9AUD
Tenryu-Ji ticket: 500JPY ~ 6.2AUD
Ice cream: 300JPY ~ 3.7AUD
Drugstore: 5655JPY ~ 70AUD
Sesame: 600JPY ~ 7.4AUD
Green tea lollies: 1230JPY ~ 16.2AUD
Green tea jam: 2500JPY ~ 30.9AUD
Omurice: 2700JPY ~ 33.5AUD
Loft: 1128JPY ~ 13.9AUD
Green tea waffle: 151JPY ~ 1.9AUD
Total: 17874JPY ~ 228.5AUD

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JAPAN 2017 | Naoshima: Benesse Art Site

Breakfast on a Shinkansen

Benesse Art Site is a collaborative project by Benesse Holdings, Inc and Fukutake Foundations, and aims to be a space where nature, art and architecture are able to interact, creating an unique experience depending on the time of the year you visit, and the time of day you see each art piece.

Today’s agenda is short and sweet – to spend a day on one of three islands that forms the Benesse Art Site – Naoshima.

You would definitely benefit from spending the night on the island, having a lot more time to explore, but unfortunately I couldn’t fit it into the trip this time round.

So knowing that it takes just under four hours to get to Naoshima, I got up nice and early, and got on the Shinkansen after making a short stop at 7/11, which ended up being where I picked up all of my meals on the day. The trip is outlined in detail on the website of Benesse Art Site, and although time consuming, it was all quite straight forward.

Once you arrive at Naoshima, there is a local bus that you can catch right next to the port. But it is much easier to rent a bike and ride around the island to get to the various art projects and museums. Unfortunately for me, someone who somehow never managed to learn that skill, I had to use the bus. And then next thing you know, I somehow got off at the wrong bus stop, and the next bus wasn’t going to come for an hour, so I decided to just walk around and see what I could find.

There are definitely worse places to get lost in than Naoshima though. Everywhere you turned, there was something worth stopping for, and I actually really enjoyed just taking my time and soaking up the serenity of the island.

A couple of hours later, I made my way to Chichu Art Museum, one of the most immersive museums I’ve visited to date. The architecture by Tadao Ando really compliments the limited number of art pieces that are in the museum, and the fact that the museum is built underground really lends itself to take on the changes in the weather throughout the season. It really is something that I think you have to experience to appreciate fully.

Yayoi Kasuma’s signature pumpkin was another one of my favourites on the island. Deceptively simple yet stunning in person, especially against nature as a backdrop.

I really enjoyed taking things slow and having a somewhat unplanned day in Naoshima. There was a lot to see and explore on the island, and I’m definitely going to plan an overnight stay next time! I managed to get back to Kyoto just after 12am, and was excited for my last day in Kyoto!

Spending Tracker

Ferry ticket: 540JPY ~ 6.7AUD
Breakfast from 7/11: 840JPY ~ 10.4AUD
Lunch and pens from 7/11: 1525JPY ~ 18.8AUD
Chichu Art Museum ticket: 2040JPY ~ 25.2AUD
Souvenirs from Chichu Art Museum: 1020JPY ~ 12.6AUD
Shinkansen bento box: 940JPY ~ 11.6AUD
Snack from 7/11: 400JPY ~ 4.9AUD
Total: 7305JPY ~ 90.2AUD

JAPAN 2017 | Osaka: Universal Studios

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My second day in Osaka was dedicated to one activity only – Universal Studios. I was excited beyond words. I had bought the ticket online the day before on the Universal Studios website, the Japanese version, you actually can’t buy tickets from the English website. The process was all done in Japanese, and being a non-Japanese speaker, it would have been near impossible to navigate. However, there are a number of useful tutorials floating around the internet, and I followed this one to purchase the ticket.

I arrived at 9.30am, and the theme park was already filled with people! I knew where I was heading into though – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! You have to first get a numbered ticket, which assigns you a time to enter WWHP, I’ve heard that if you get in late, you may not be able to enter until 5 or 6pm, which is not ideal, because waiting for the ride – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – alone takes two hours. I was lucky enough to have gotten the early-ish ticket, and the line entering WWHP wasn’t too bad either.

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After walking through some hedges, the Flying Ford Anglia is waiting for you at the corner. The feeling of entering WWHP is indescribable. I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter, it being the first series that actually got me into reading, and then patiently waiting for each movie to come out every year. It definitely felt like I was entering somewhere magical.

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You can choose to have the Butterbeer hot or cold, in a plastic cup or in a collectable mug, I chose the latter, because it was definitely one of the cheaper memoraphilias.

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After a quick browse around, I joined the line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and although the wait was two hours long, there was plenty to see every time you entered a new area, making things interesting throughout.

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The ride was incredible, hands down my favourite experience in Universal Studios. I’m not going to say too much about it because I think it’s better to go in blind, but trust me, it is worth the wait.

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There are plenty of shops to browse through in WWHP, including Honey Dukes, Ollivanders, Zonkos’, Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, Owl Post and Owlery, Dervish and Banges, Gladrags Wizardwear and Filch’s Emporium of Confisticated Goods. The souvenirs do get repetitive after you’ve entered a few shops, but it was fun nonetheless. The one thing I was set on buying is the knitted jumper that Mrs Weasley handmakes for all of the Weasleys, Harry and Hermione, but it unfortunately was unavailable in Japan. I settled for a Ravenclaw scarf.

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Some other fun things to do in WWHP include the life demonstration at Ollivanders, it was interesting to hear the American man perform the scene from the first Harry Potter movie in Japanese. There is also a live performance of the Hogwarts Choir in the square.

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I bought food from 7/11 in the morning, knowing that dining at the theme park itself would be extremely pricey, and there wasn’t any place I wanted to try in particular. However, I couldn’t resist the $5 minion bun, but hey, that’s not too steep for a solit photo op.

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Besides WWHP, Universal Studios is divided into seven sections: Hollywood, New York, San Francisco, Jurassic Park, Amity Village. Water World and Universal Wonderland; with rides including The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man 4K3D, Hollywood Dream. Jurassic Park. Jaws, Terminator 2: 3-D and Backdraft.

There are obviously plenty to do and see, and you’re not going to be able to go on all the rides in just a day, especially with long waiting time for each ride, so it is worth planning your day ahead, and decide where you want to spend your time. You also have the option to purchase the Express Pass 7 or Express Pass 4 to shorten your wait time significantly. However, keep in mind that these passes can cost as much as the ticket itself.

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Me in my new scarf taking incredibly cheesy photos at the direction of the guides on-site
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I went on a couple more rides in the afternoon, and just walked around different areas, soaking everything in. Given that I visited Universal Studios in mid-January (yup, January 2017), the Christmas light show was still on every night, and that was spectacular in itself.

After spending the entire day in Universal Studios, I was tired, hungry, but filled with joy. There is a plaza-like area just outside of Universal Studios, with plenty of dining options available. I settled for some udon with fried goods. The handmade udon is better than any that I’ve had in Australia, with various toppings available, and you have the option to add soup from the soup dispenser. Unfortunately, because the fried goods had been sitting there for a while, it was not as crispy as I had hoped. The meal was satisfying nonetheless.

Osaka provided me with some of the most amazing experiences, and I picked up some takoyaki on the way back to my hostel to commemorate my last night here. Onto Kyoto we go!

Spending Tracker

7/11: 1005JPY ~ 12.4AUD
Butterbeet: 1100JPY ~ 13.6AUD
Harry Potter postcard: 700JPY ~ 8.2AUD
Minion bun: 550JPY ~ 6.8AUD
Udon: 940JPY ~ 11.6AUD
Takoyaki: 450JPY ~ 5.6AUD
Total: 4745JPY ~ 58.2AUD

JAPAN 2017 | Osaka: Lucky Owl Cafe; Dotonburi

Excuse the long pause between the travel posts, they take a lot longer to write and law school’s already catching up with me! Anyway, let’s continue on my first day in Osaka. After spending a couple of hours at Kuromon Ichiba Market, I made my way to Lucky Owl Cafe!

Lucky Owl Cafe

All sorts of weird cafes can be found in Japan, maid, robot, alpaca, just to name a few, but I picked owl cafe to go to, because, well, owls!

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It took me a while to find Lucky Owl Cafe, because it moved location sometime last year, but only the old location was shown on Google map. After finally finding it however, the owls made it all worth it.

You had to buy one drink, and there was a time limit of one hour. The waiter there was extremely helpful, and explained to me where each owl came from, how they look after them, and just some more random owl facts, which I’m all for.

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The full lineup!

The owls were mostly quite friendly, and you can pet them on the beak! The hour flew by and it was time for me to say goodbye to the owls.

Before heading into Lucky Owl Cafe, I was quite concerned about the way that the owls may be treated in these types of places, however I was very happy to learn that they are cared for by the people at the cafe, and enjoy their limited time with people everyday.

Dotonburi

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Lucky Owl Cafe was on a side street in the busy neighbourhood of Dotonburi, aka where all the iconic neon lights, bridges, alleyways filled with restaurants and shops are found. I took my time and walked around pretty much aimlessly. These are honestly some of my best memories in Osaka, absorbing the energy of the city and enjoying being part of the hustle and bustle.

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I spent ages in Loft, a lifestyle store with a focus on stationery, which I bought plenty of haha. It was in the same building as Muji, and the things at Muji were comparatively cheaper than back home, so I finally bit the bullet and bought the aroma diffuser, something that I’ve had my eyes on for a while! I went into another drugstore as well, hunting down some more things on my list.

Dinner

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For dinner, I settled on a yakitori bar that I stumbled upon. It was very cozy and the food was decent. Although each skewer on its own doesn’t seem like much, it certainly did fill me up.

I got back to the hostel at around 11, and was knackered, but also so excited for the next  day because it was going to be Universal Studio time!

Spending Tracker

Drugstore: 5004JPY ~ 62.8AUD
Owl cafe: 1500JPY ~ 18AUD
Socks: 432JPY ~ 5.3AUD
Forever 21: 949JPY ~ 11.7AUD
Muji: 10047JPY ~ 125.1AUD
Loft: 2790JPY ~ 32.8AUD

Total: 20722JPY ~ 255.7AUD

BLOG SALE | Nail Polish (OPI, China Glaze, Essie etc)

The nail polishes have all been sold!

I’ve spent my holidays clearing out some of the things that I just don’t love/use anymore, and one huge category was nail polish!

I bought an Ikea Helmer to store my nail polishes a few years back, and over the years, it’s become overfilled with nail polish. This time round, I looked through every single one of my nail polish to make sure that first, it’s still in decent condition; second, I don’t have any dupes; and third, it’s still a colour that I will reach for.

After the whole process, I threw away 23 nail polish and kept 289. And out of the 289, I’ve decided to part ways with 103 through a blog sale! I have listed all of the nail polish in a Google Spreadsheet, including information like its brand, name, amount used, and the price. Check out the spreadsheet here for all the detailed information.

These are all the polishes that are up for grabs just for your reference!

 

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JAPAN 2017 | Osaka: Osaka Castle; Kuromon Ichiba Market

My first day in Osaka was packed full of activities, and it’s a bit photo heavy, so I’m going to split the day into two separate blog posts!

Osaka Castle

It was raining the entire day, but when you’re travelling, that’s just something you gotta deal with unfortunately. My first stop was Osaka Castle because I wanted to beat the crowd, it was around half an hour walk away from the closest station, but the walk was very scenic and serene, and I had the ugliest yellow raincoat on to protect myself from the rain.

The castle itself was magnificent, and inside, there were eight levels. It is recommended that you go to the eighth floor first, and then make your way down. There was one level dedicated to artefacts from the Azuchi-Momoyama period, another to the life of Hideyoshi, the lord that was responsible for the construction of the castle.

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Kuromon Ichiba Market

After that long walk, it was time to hit up a market for some food, aka one of my favourite things to do while overseas. I marked down Kuromon Ichiba Market as one of my must-visits the moment I heard about it, and it certainly did not disappoint.

Full of food stalls, random nick-nacks, and fresh produce, I happily spent a couple of hours eating my way around the market.

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Kobe Beef

There are a number of stalls that sold Kobe beef, I picked one that had a large selection of cuts, and was more akin to a butcher shop that locals would frequent. The meat were simply grilled on a hot plate with a light hand of salt and pepper. The moment I took the first bite though, legit died and gone to meat heaven. The meat was so tender yet flavoursome, it’s really something that you have to try at least once!

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Uni

Next, I went to get me some uni, aka sea urchin. Again, I picked a stall that was reasonably priced, and had a range of sizes. After you pay for the seafood of your choice, the uni is prepared in front of your eyes, and then handed to you ten seconds later, it really doesn’t get much fresher than that.

Uni is an acquired taste though, so be prepared for something that’s a little slimey and soft, and very, hmm, ocean-y LOL. If you are a fan of uni already, then make sure you get your hands on these!

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Takoyaki

Takoyaki was next on my radar, do you see the pattern of hot and cold yet? Anyway, Osaka is famous for takoyakis, so I did have high expectations already, but these little balls of heaven blew my mind away.

I’m going to list down three reasons why they are the best things ever, because lists are fun.

1. They were piping hot, and when I say hot, I mean it, I burnt the roof of my mouth because I couldn’t wait, but hey, worth it.

2. The outside was crispy and the inside was so god damn creamy, like legit, the sticks they give you are pretty useless because of the gooeyness inside, so the balls literally just collapse when you try to pick them up, which means you gotta think fast and act even faster in order to shove them in, hence the high chance of burning your mouth.

3. There are legit little octopus pieces inside each ball!! Okay scratch that, they’re not little at all. Because of the creaminess of the batter, the octopus pieces have even more of a contracting texture, making it all-so-delicious.

Have I sold you on these takoyakis yet? Please please please, get some when you’re there. The ones in Melbourne suck so much in comparison, and to think that I used to like them, urgh.

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Tuna Sashimi

The fatty tuna sashimi is another must-eat in Japan, but seriously, everything in the market is a must-eat imo. There’s a stall in the centre of the market that specialises in tuna, and the chef is literally slicing up the sashimi right in front of you. I got the one with three types of tuna, and they were all great in their own ways, but of course, the star of the show was the toro, aka tuna belly, it literally melts in your mouth!

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Wagyu Beef

I wanted to try some wagyu as well, but damn it, I should have gone to the same stall that i got the Kobe from. The skewer was a lot smaller in size, and only a fraction cheaper. That being said though, the beef was still really tasty, and the splash of soy highlighted the umami.

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Croquette

To finish off, I got a random croquette thing, which I also regret tbh. I thought the croquette would be fresh from the fryer, or at least heated through, but it was cold and sad. Although it was still really crunchy, but that was the only good things about this.

And that is the end of my food-venture! For now anyway haha, Osaka is known for being the food capital of Japan, and I can definitely see why! Kuromon Ichiba Market showcases the outstanding produce that Japan has to offer, and is a great place to sample a range of different things in one go. Most of the market was undercover as well, which makes it a great place to visit on a rainy day too.

Spending Tracker

Lawson: 140JPY ~ 1.7AUD

Public transport: 420JPY ~ 5AUD

Osaka Castle ticket: 600JPY ~ 7.4AUD

Osaka Castle Coin: 730JPY ~ 9AUD

Postcard: 50JPY ~ 0.6AUD

Kobe beef: 1555JPY ~ 19.2aud

Uni: 1500JPY ~ 18.5AUD

Takoyaki: 450JPY ~ 5.6AUD

Tuna: 1500JPY ~ 18.5AUD

Wagyu: 1000JPY ~ 12AUD

Croquette: 100JPY ~ 1.2AUD

Total: 8045JPY ~ 98.7AUD

JAPAN 2017 | Tokyo: University of Tokyo; Yokohama: Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum

University of Tokyo

My friend is currently doing her Masters in University of Tokyo, so of course, on my last day with her, she took me on a personal tour after a quick breakfast of oden from 7/11.

I think visiting universities is something that doesn’t get as enough attention in the travelling community, but I personally find it very eye-opening and enjoyable. We took a stroll around the campus, and it was really impressive! Although most of the buildings were more reminiscent of a Western style, the Akamon, aka the Red Gate, is something that was retained from the Edo Era.

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Waterfall (!!)
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Lake opposite the waterfall (!!)
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Akamon

Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum

After visiting University of Tokyo, it was time for me to take my first Shinkansen to Yokohama! I had only one place on my list to visit in Yokohama, and it was the Ramen Museum to no one’s surprise.

The museum had three levels, and the bottom floor was set up like traditional Japan in the 1950s. The ordering system is quite simple, there’s a vending machine outside each ramen shop, and you press the button of the item that you want to order, and then insert the cash, take the ticket, upon entering the restaurant, hand the ticket to one of the waiters, and then wait for your ramen to arrive.

There was a total of 9 ramen shops, and I aimed to try three of them, but unfortunately was full to the brim after two, first world problems I know.

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Tonkatsu Ramen from Najima-Tei

The cloudiness of the soup meant that there was a ton of depth to the soup, and the ramen itself was perfectly al-dente. The only negative though was there the soup was extremely salty, which meant that as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t drink all of it.

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Spicy Miso Ramen from Ryu Shanghai Honten

I also tried the spicy miso ramen, since it’s something that’s not as commonly found in Melbourne. After mixing the spicy miso paste to the soup, it did help cut through the richness of the soup, which I didn’t expect! I think this ramen was more akin to traditional ramen, where there is a layer of oil on the soup, and you have to kind of stir the soup around if you don’t want the oily bits.

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Spicy Miso Ramen from Ryu Shanghai Honten

Hokkaido style ramen was featured here, known for being thick and slightly curly, it had a bit more bite to it than the thin straight kind that I’m used to.

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I arrived in my hostel in Osaka at around 8pm, and was so tired, so instead of my original plan to visit Dotonburi, I decided to stay in the hostel and just have some down time, write in my travel journal, and figure out how to buy Universal Studio tickets online, you know, all that good stuff.

Spending Tracker

7/11: 635JPY ~ 7.8AUD
Drug store: 6365JPY ~ 79AUD
Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum Ticket: 310JPY ~ 3.8AUD
Ramen from Najima-Tei: 750JPY ~ 9.3AUD
Ramen from Ryu Shanghai Honten: 870JPY ~ 10.8AUD
Lollies from the traditional lolly shop in the museum: 140JPY ~ 1.7AUD
Postcard: 411JPY ~ 5AUD
Osaka accommodation: 8900JPY ~ 106AUD
Universal Studios Ticket: 7400JPY ~ 89AUD

Total: 25781JPY ~ 312.4AUD