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

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JAPAN 2017 | Kyoto: Kinkaku-ji; Kiyomizu-dera

After a quick meal at a tonkatsu restaurant near Shin-Fukushima Station, I caught a shinkansen to Kyoto!

Breakfast

Classic Tonkatsu Set

Although this was a chain restaurant, the tonkatsu were quite tender, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was also unlimited rice, which were delicious in itself, with each grain separated, just the way I like them. I may or may not have had three bowls of rice, which was actually great planning on my part, considering that I didn’t eat my next proper meal until around 9pm.

Kinkakuji

The Kyoto Shinkansen station was located in the middle of my hostel and Kinkakuji, so instead of heading to my hostel first to drop off my backpack, I decided to go straight to Kinkakuji to save some time.

Kinkakuji is probably one of the most iconic temples in Japan, known for its gold leaf covered exterior. The temple was definitely stunning in person, but it was also kind of hilarious as to how many people gathered by the lake to get some identical snaps, myself included.

Regardless, it was quite serene walking around the different areas in the temple. Located near the exit was where you could grab some omamori, which were basically little charms that are said to bring luck. I don’t necessarily believe in it having those powers, but they were very cute, and made for great gifts for family and friends back home, especially given their size. Some people went crazy over them though, buying up to 20!

Kiyomizu-dera

My hostel was located by Kamo River, and was only a short walk to Kiyomezu-dera, there was plenty to see on the walk too.

The architecture of the temple is stunning, with great amount of details throughout. I’m not an architecture buff by any means, but I was left in awe by various parts of the temple.

The hillside location meant that you could get a great view of the city of Kyoto. I was there during the golden hour, and the view left me speechless.

Another popular souvenir in Kyoto is the Melabranche matcha white chocolate biscuits. I wasn’t planning to go out of my way to buy them, but they were actually on the road that leads directly to Kiyomizu-dera, so I bit the bullet and bought a box on my walk back. And let me tell you, although pricey, they were so good! It was truly a struggle to save some to take home.

Dinner

A bowl of warm ramen was exactly what I needed after that walk, and I went into the first ramen restaurant that I spotted. Piled high with green onion, this went down a treat.

The river looks even more serene at night time, and I had an early night, in preparation of a day trip to Naoshima the next day, exciting times ahead.

Spending Tracker

Tonkatsu: 630JPY ~ 7.8AUD
Juice: 110JPY ~ 1.3AUD
Public transport: 690JPY ~ 8.2AUD
Kinkaku-ji ticket: 400JPY ~ 4.9AUD
Omamori from Kinkaku-ji: 600JPY ~ 7.4AUD
Taiyaji: 150JPY ~ 1.9AUD
Kiyomizu-dera ticket: 400JPY ~ 4.9AUD
Omamori from Kiyomizu-dera x3: 1400JPY ~ 17.3AUD
Malabranche biscuits: 1390JPY ~ 16AUD
Sakura Kit Kat and matcha lollies: 513JPY ~ 6.3AUD
Postcard: 110JPY ~ 1.4AUD
Ramen: 800JPY ~ 9.9AUD

Total: 7193JPY ~ 87.3AUD

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