Note: This is the second part of a 3-part series of Family Trip to Japan: Travel Tips and Guide to Osaka and Kyoto
Day 1 – Arriving in Osaka
We arrived at Kansai International Airport (KIX) at 10 pm. I admit it’s quite late and the last public transport that leaves KIX is airport bus at 1:30 am. We needed to go to our pre-booked apartment in Namba. We wanted to take Rapi:t train (which is faster) but the we missed the last train of the day at 10:55 pm. We had to settle for Airport Express which takes slightly longer than Rapi:t, about 10 minutes longer.
A small incident happened even on our first day in Osaka. By following the directions given by the landlord, we were supposed to get out from South Exit of Namba Station but by the time we reached, we were told by one train station employee the exit was closed already. The only way out was North Exit. We were stunned and worried if we would make it to the apartment without hassle.
To my relief, after exiting North Exit, we managed to find our way and re-connect with the map given to us by the landlord to find the room we had rented.
On the way, we went in to Lawson, a famous 24-hour convenience store chain in Japan, to get some food for our late dinner. We bought some buns and of course, instant ramen. J and K were thrilled.
After reaching the apartment, we prepared ourselves a light and simple dinner. The apartment or rather room, is very small by Malaysian standards. But it is clean and it has all the basic amenities that we needed.
Day 2 – Traveling with Osaka Amazing Pass
For the first whole day in Osaka, we used Osaka Amazing Pass (OAP) to travel around. First thing in the morning, we walked to Tourist Information Namba at Nankai Namba Station (which we saw the night before when we arrived) to purchase OAP.
The friendly staff at the counter was so helpful that she calculated the places that we planned to visit and their respective costs to see whether K should get one OAP for himself or just get an ordinary subway day pass. OAP has one-day pass and two-day pass. Each with one flat price. We bought the one-day pass.
One-day Osaka Amazing Pass comes with unlimited rides of subway (except JR lines) and buses for a day. Not only that, it also offers free and discounted entrances to designated attractions. To ease our wallets, we took advantage of the OAP and visited attractions that are free with it.
Tourist Infomration Namba
Nankai Terminal Bldg. 1F, 5-1-60 Namba, Cnuo-ku, Osaka
Here are the places we went to, which are free with OAP.
Shitennoji Temple (四天王寺)
We took advantage of OAP to enjoy free train rides. Our first stop was Shitennoji Temple. To reach there from Namba, we have to go to subway Tanimachi Line Shitennojimae Yuhigaoka Station.
Shitennoji was the first Buddhist temple constructed in Japan. Like most wooden temples in the country — it has burned down at various times in history. Each time its reconstruction was faithful to the 6th century original. The locals hold a variety of events and festivals at Shitennoji each year.
The compound is huge but only access to the main temple and 5-Level Pagoda will be charged. We walked quite a bit (15 minutes) from the nearest station to the main entrance of Shitennoji Temple. Inside it has a huge open area with white pebbles, nicely “combed” to form ripple-like surface. If you are in the mood, you are allowed to climb up the 5-Level Pagoda but we didn’t.
A Short Break at FamilyMart
While walking from Shitennoji Temple to Keitakuen Garden, since it was a long walk, we quickly stopped at FamilyMart when we spot one. To alleviate any possibilities of getting impatient, we soothed J and K with ice-cream.
Who doesn’t want to have ice-cream on a hot day? It was a great encouragement for J and K to continue walking without whining.
After the cool feast, it’s time to continue walking and looking for the next destination. Despite some small hiccups, with the help of Google Maps, we successfully reached Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts.
Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts
For free entrance with OAP, only one section of the ground floor (ie: collection exhibit) of Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts is accessible. That floor showcased countless sculptures of Buddha from various dynasties of China.
[Regular fee] ¥300.
Keitakuen Garden 慶沢園
Just next to Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts is Keitakuen Garden. Keitakuen Garden is a traditional Japanese garden within Tennoji Park.
A formal Japanese Chisen-kaiyushiki garden, it has a pond with an island that is surrounded by trees and plants. One can actually take a stroll around the garden while taking in the beauty and calmness of the garden.
After visiting the garden, we walked to Tennoji Station to get back to downtown Osaka since it’s the nearest station from Keitakuen Garden.
〒543-0063 1-108 Chausuyama-cho, Tennoji-ku, Osaka City (Tennoji Park)
[Regular fee] ¥150.
Lunch at Tennoji Station
By then we were hungry. We looked for a restaurant for our late lunch. To save time, we decided to dine at the train station itself. We picked one that looked decent and not too expensive and looked good to us.
Finally, we settled at Zenya Japanese Restaurant of Tennoji Station. It turned out to be one of the best meals we had in Osaka, according to food critics J and K.
HEP FIVE Ferris Wheel
After lunch, we took subway to Umeda after one train transfer. Just across the station (about 5 minutes’ walk) that’s where HEP FIVE Ferris Wheel can be found.
HEP FIVE is a shopping and entertainment complex. What we were interested in was the ferris wheel which forms part of the one-stop center. It’s one of the few ferris wheels available is Osaka. You won’t miss it as it’s painted in bright, red color. You can board the ferris wheel from the 7th floor.
K got a bit overwhelmed as he didn’t expect the ferris wheel to be so huge and high. He thought he was onto a ferris wheel like what we normally find at a local funfair. He was so worried that he couldn’t sit still as he was afraid of height.
We tried to distract him with the amazing skyline that Osaka had to offer. We didn’t know he would react in such a manner but he managed to go through it finally.
[Regular fee] ¥500.
Umeda Joypolis’s Wild River
We didn’t plan for this. However my wife remembered reading something about this river ride and it’s part of the benefits of OAP. Since we happened to be in close proximity, we dropped by at Wild River. The queue was long and it took us about 30 minutes before we reached our turns.
It is an adventure ride that allows you to virtually experience going down the wild river with visuals and effects.
[Regular fee] ¥600.
Umeda Sky Building Floating Garden Observatory
It’s one of the best buildings I’ve ever seen. It’s modern; it’s magnificent; it’s unique. To reach Umeda Sky Building, one has to walk about 20 minutes from HEP FIVE.
170m above ground, the 360-degree observation deck on top of the twin towers offers an unobstructed view of Osaka and its vicinity. The view is stunning.
One level lower is an indoor observation floor where visitors can sit and relax while sipping a cup of tea from a cafe on the same floor. That’s where J and K received their reward for walking hard: another ice-cream.
To reach the highest floor, you need to take specially-dedicated lift and escalator. You may consider coming here for sunset and night view as this deck closes at 10:30 pm (last admission at 10 pm).
〒531-0076 1-1-88 Oyodo-naka,Kita-ku,OsakaCity
[Regular fee] ¥1,000.
Temmabashi Best View Cruise
It’s about 5 pm and we were all exhausted from the walk. What better way to spend the evening than sitting in a cruise (no walking!) and enjoying the evening view of Osaka.
We took train to Temmabashi station. Jetty (Hachikenya-hama pier) of Temmabashi Best View Cruise is very close and right next to the station. To redeem the tickets, get them from a counter in the train station before going to the jetty.
Unfortunately, on board, the guide only spoke in Japanese with one or two English sentences scattered around. I am not sure why they don’t do recorded travel guide for foreigners.
The cruise is a loop, starting and ending points are the same. As an added bonus, after we finished the cruise, the timing was just right for an amazing sunset near the jetty. It was pretty and the view was simply breathtaking. It turned out to be one of the best of our trip.
Before this everything was within our expectations. Things began to change when we arrived in Dotonbori in the evening. The place was crowded and a hive of activity.
The people, the neon lights, the noise, the smell. You name it, you got it here in Dotonbori. There’s no shortage of things to stimulate your senses.
This is also the place to view the insanely huge signboards that are colorful and elaborate.
To be honest, Dotonbori is a bit too crowded for my liking. But here’s the place to come when it comes to food. You won’t go hungry and wish you could have a bigger stomach to enjoy all the food in Dotonbori, be it street food or restaurant food.
We were confused what to eat but in the end we settled at Osaka Ohsho. A Chinese restaurant that serves gyoza and fried rice, besides ramen.
Before that we had tasted Osaka’s most famous food: takoyaki. I don’t really like the slimy texture of it but if you haven’t tasted it, go ahead and try it.
Japan Night Walk Tour
After dinner, we joined a walk tour. The tour has to be registered before hand and the venue to sign up and meet is a small counter located inside the Nakaza Cuidaore Building 1F Ichibirian shop.
It’s a 45-min walking tour. A guide will take you to recommended spots. You will also receive discount coupons for souvenirs and restaurants.
The tour guide of the day was Hachan. She was really friendly and helpful. She also introduced restaurants that she personally liked in Dotonbori as she took us around the hidden paths of Dotonbori. She is fluent in English.
Going to Hozen-ji Temple is part of the Japan Night Walk Tour. The walk ended in front of the famous signboard: Glico Man.
6:00 pm to 9:00 pm
[Regular fee] ¥1,000.
Day 3: Universal Studios Japan
I am not a big fan of theme parks but once in a while I make exceptions. Universal Studios Japan is one example. We went there mainly for J and K.
One of the must-see sections of USJ is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It’s so famous that you’ve not been to USJ if you’ve not been to Harry Potter.
Going to USJ needs proper planning unless you want to waste your time wandering aimlessly. You don’t want to do that because the tickets to USJ are super expensive.
The day we went was very crowded even though it was a Wednesday. I guess it was due to summer holidays in Japan. On average, we waited 1.5 hours for each ride.
To help you make full use and get your money’s worth, I have compiled some “insider” tips that you can use when planning your trip to USJ.
Buy tickets in advance.
There are two types of studio passes: one day (7,600 yen and 5,100 yen, adult and child respectively) and two-day (12,800 yen and 8,620 yen). You don’t want to waste your time queuing up to buy tickets on the day of the visit itself. There are a few authorized outlets selling USJ tickets online and offline. We bought ours from Klook. The best thing about buying tickets from resellers is the prices are the same and there are no extra charges. You might even get discount sometimes from online purchase. On the day, just scan your ticket on your mobile phone or print it out during entry.
Of course, there are many passes available for sale besides the ordinary entry tickets. You can purchase express passes for a particular ride (or group of rides). Mind you those express passes are no cheap. Some are as expensive as the entry ticket itself. We didn’t buy any express passes.
Plan your route.
Based on what you want to focus, prioritize the sections you would like to visit.
If you have toddlers, you might want to visit sections like Universal Wonderland (Sesame Street), Snoopy Studios, Hello Kitty and Minion Park.
If you’re an adventurous type, take all the heart-stopping rides. The most challenging rides are Jurassic Park’s The Flying Dinosaur (though I am considered daring, I didn’t have the courage to try this) and Hollywood Dream The Ride: Backdrop (we tried this!), in my opinion.
Our focus is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the rides. To facilitate your planning, get a USJ studio map.
Arrive one hour before opening.
A blogger advised the best days to visit USJ are Wednesdays and Thursdays. We thought we were fine since we went there on a Wednesday.
But to our horror, when we reached USJ 30 minutes before opening, the visitors surrounded the entrance like ants to sugar. Sometimes what you have read might not be relevant anymore but I still advise you to reach USJ before opening hours. This is to avoid the crowd and save time. Make sure you line up at the right lane. USJ has varied opening and closing times. Check out the exact times here.
Pack snacks in your backpack.
Again I read somewhere that we were not allowed to bring in food and a search in the backpack during entry would be performed. That didn’t happen on our visit. Luckily we didn’t heed the advice of the blogger and brought some buns and snacks.
Of course, drinking water is a must. Water coolers are provided throughout the park.
Let me warn you the food sold in USJ is highly priced. We bought sparingly and ate only the necessary or unique. Even you had the money you wouldn’t find a place to sit as most restaurants were packed on that day.
We tried butterbeer (Harry Potter), turkey leg, and black pepper ribs (both available in Jurassic Park). Buy snacks the night before near your apartment; don’t buy at Family Mart outside USJ. When we were there, the shop had the longest queue at the check-out counter in the world.
Get timed entry tickets to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
We planned to snatch timed entry tickets to Harry Potter as our first task once we set our foot in USJ. However, the timed entry tickets were not available that day.
These free tickets entitle you a guaranteed entry to Harry Potter at a particular time. This is especially handy if The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is packed.
The machines that dispense these tickets are located in the Central Park (in the middle of USJ) near the lake of San Francisco. There is night show at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the evening. They project the movie/animation on the exterior of Hogwarts Castle. Check website or ask the staff for timetable so you won’t miss the 5-minute show that ends with not-so-elaborate fireworks.
Have dinner at Universal Citywalk.
As I said, we didn’t really eat at USJ except for some snacks that we find interesting or the need to recharge. Once you have finished visiting USJ and you want to pamper yourself after a hard day’s walking, head on to Universal Citywalk just outside the theme park.
There are many choices to choose from. Some are American brands brought in by Universal Studios and some are homegrown. Not only on the ground floor, there are many shops which are located on the first floor. Take your time to explore and look for one that you like.
In the end, we settled at one of the Japanese restaurants on the first floor. After the satisfying meal, we took train back to our apartment with tired feet dragging along.
Unannounced Benefit: It was an added bonus of USJ package. To understand and appreciate more The Wizarding World of Harry Potter of USJ, I encouraged K to read Harry Potter book series written by J. K. Rowling which he had never read or watched even the highly successful movies. He, in fact, picked it up and managed to finish the first two books before the trip.
At least he knew what Hogswart Castle was, the four houses of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the cloaks and wands, who Dumbledore, Hagrid and Hedwig were, etc. Even after the trip, K is still hooked to the series and he is into its 5th book as of now. J didn’t get bitten by the bug (due to her heavy schoolwork) but we watched the first movie together so that she knew what was going on. Getting K into reading the Harry Potter series is well worth the entrance ticket we paid for him.
Day 4: Last Day in Osaka and First Day in Kyoto
Today was free and easy day. And also shopping day (yay?!). A note on shopping: Before the trip, many friends of ours told us there’s lots of things to buy from Japan. From snacks and beauty products to green tea and fans. But we made it a point that shopping was not our top priority. So we didn’t spend much except to meet the minimum requirement (¥5,000 excluding tax) of enjoying tax-free.
We planned to visit Dotonbori again, but this time, in day time. Besides that, another place on our itinerary was Kuromon Market.
Food in Dotonbori
We walked from Namba Station to Dotonbori and Kuromon Market. I wanted to try out Kamukura Ramen but we were kind of lost and confused. Eventually we saw Ichiran Ramen which was also very popular judging from its long queue. We gave it a try since the outlet that we saw was not very crowded. You have to make payment first before you are allocated a seat where you can customize your order.
The soup is thick and flavorful. Overall the ramen is excellent except that it is too pricey for me. It costs ¥890 a bowl. Once we were done and out of Ichiran Ramen, I immediately saw Kamukura just right opposite of Ichiran. Too bad I was full already, no chance to try it.
Other food items we tried out were Kobe beef. We went to the restaurant recommended by the tour guide of Japan Night Walk Tour. The restaurant only serves Kobe beef for dinner but the owner was kind enough to serve us as lunch. I just wanted to try out Kobe and I ordered the smallest serving of 50g at ¥5,000. When I mentioned the tour guide’s name to the owner who referred us to the restaurant, we were treated with free drinks, including alcoholic drinks. How nice!
We tried for the second time takoyaki, one of Osaka’s most famous food. Personally, I don’t like the inner texture of it; it’s too slimy. Again if you have not tried it, go ahead and try it.
Kuromon Market 黒門市場
In Kuromon Ichiba Market, one can buy fresh produce like fruits and vegetables, pork, beef, and seafood. Of course, there are many snack shops too.
You can eat until you drop in Kuromon Market. We ate as we walked.
We tried okonomiyaki, soy milk (thick and tasted like blended tofu), and dorayaki (a red bean pancake). I prefer okonomiyaki to takoyaki.
The only place we shopped extensively was at Don Quijote in Dotonbori. This is the only place we enjoyed tax-free items on this trip. Don Quijote is a discount chain store that has over 160 locations throughout Japan. It sells everything under the sun, even luxury watches like Rolex. We didn’t buy Rolex but tit-bits and some souvenirs.
Once we’re satisfied touring Kuromon Market and it was getting late, we took a train to Kyoto, our second destination. We reached there about 7:00 pm and we walked for about 18 minutes (from Karasuma station to an apartment near Karasuma-oike station) to our apartment with the help from Google Maps and Kyoto Free WiFi. We were so tired that we didn’t go out for dinner in Pontocho as planned. Instead, we ate instant noodles we bought from a Family Mart nearby.
Note: This is the second part of a 3-part series of Family Trip to Japan: Travel Tips and Guide to Osaka and Kyoto
Quick links to the 3-part series: