Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Japan: Part 1: Kyoto & Universal Studios

Friday April 7/17

We flew out of Calgary around noon. There ended up being delays leaving Vancouver so I kept doing the math of when we would land, catch a train and end up in Kyoto.It wasn't looking relaxing. Finding our way in the airport station wasn't bad; we were able to get our JR Rail passes and tickets to Kyoto easily.

From Narita Aiport we went to Shinigawa Station and caught a bullet train to Kyoto Station. While i knew that the trains were typically very on time I was worried about falling asleep and missing something.I ended up getting sick, a combination of tired, motion sick, and hungry I think.

Since we'd crossed the date line we didn't end up arriving at our Kyoto apartment until Sat April 8 until 10:30pm or so. Thankfully it wasn't far away from our "home" station and was easy to find and get in to.
Fushimi Inari Shrine




Sun April 9

Woke up around 7, before the alarm. Visited the near-by grocery store for snacks and breakfast items before heading down 1 stop to Fushimi Inari Shrine.

The shrine isn't hard to find as it's right across the street from JR train station. People were crowding the sidewalk and street in front of it taking pictures so we wandered further in before taking our first picture.

Approximately 10,000 toriis (shrine gates) stand on the grounds and climb up Mount Inari. Climbing to the top of the small mountain is said to be a 3 hour trip. We climbed for about a half hour and the crowds thinned dramatically the further we went.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Before continuing on to our next stop we had to stop at home to get the couple things I'd forgotten. Oops. Well, on to Kyoto Station where we'd try to catch a tourist Raku bus to see the Silver Pavillion. I guess because it was a weekend they instead sold us a K'loop Hop On Hop Off ticket. We thought we could make it work.

It didn't.

After waiting for over a half hour after the expected (posted) time we got on the bus. Two routes stopped at the station and either would have suited us. The loop we were on stopped at the Golden Pavillion (Kinkaku-ji Temple) so we decided to do that then the Silver to compare them.

I found the Golden Pavillion overcrowded and overrated. Yes, it's a building coated in gold but you basically herd like sheep, stop and take a picture, and repeat until you leave. After visiting some other temples and shrines that let you relax and enjoy the scenery this place was bumped even further down the "enjoyed" list.I'd estimate we were there under an hour and so was another group that rode the same bus as us.


We waited for the next bus so we could go to the Silver Pavillion (Ginkaku-ji). And waited. And waited. The other group, a family, that we ended up chatting with eventually decided to take a taxi to Silver Pavillion since the public bus schedule sees to change on weekends. L and I ended up walking south about 30 minutes to a JR station I knew could get us home.

I'm glad we did this even though we never ended up visiting the Silver Pavillion. I'd read that Kyoto was best seen on foot and I believe it. We walked past a temple and then a shrine that was having a hanami cherry blossom festival. It was beautiful and the atmosphere was cheerful and lively.

By the time we made it to the train station we figured we wouldn't have time to see the Silver Pavillion before it closed so we hit up a bakery at Kyoto Station and went home. We could have gone to the Philosopher's Path but we weren't comfortable in our ability to get home just then.

This would be the first night we say we'll go to Gion. We said it nearly every night but didn't go until the last.

Tips:

  • look up places/attractions you'll visit and others in the area so you kinda know what's going on
  • have an emergency plan to get home- like seeing if any train stations are near by and how to get there.
  • don't trust your internet and/or Google maps will work, take pictures or screenshots of important info or routes.
  • be flexible, life (and shit) happens.
Mon April 10

We caught the train at Kyoto Station for Osaka so we could go to Universal Studios. It took about an hour to get there from start to finish. Once there we were directed to the far right of the gates and ticket booths to stand in line. After no movement I left L in line to ask if that's where we bought tickets. Nope, go back to the left. *sigh*

We didn't have to stand in the ticket line too long before we were in the park and heading straight for Harry Potter, our reason for visiting. This was the only thing L wanted to do on the trip so I figured I could play along. Twist my rubber arm...

The giant titan. You could pose in his hand like he was going to eat you.

We waited in line for the Forbidden Journey for a stated 100 minutes, expecting that the lines would only get worse as the day went on. That afternoon the wait was at 40 minutes. Well then. By the time we'd finished the ride I was getting hungry but we decided to do the castle walk-through since it was right there. They had the entrance chained off but let us right in when we asked. Maybe to stop people from thinking it was the ride line up? We had to ask to be let in the single rider line at rides as well.


After lunch at the Three Broomsticks, which serves the same meal as Orlando, and basking in the glory of the castle with the lake (this is the only castle that has one) we headed out to do the rest of the park. 

I met Hello Kitty and Dear Daniel in the "kiddy" area that also had Snoopy and Sesame Street attractions. I told everyone that I was going to meet Hello Kitty when I went and push away any kids that got in my way. Thankfully, we went through HK's "fashion attraction" and met her privately ha ha.

We made our way around the park stopping to do the occasional ride through the quicker single rider line. We attended a couple of shows, the first being a trio of violinists doing a street show. They were great! We also saw Universal Monsters Live Rock and Roll Show. We figured we'd get the gist of the show and have a place to sit for a bit. The show turned out to be fun and the songs were English. Host Beetlejuice did talk at the start of the show but it seemed to be basic "warm up" jokes and actions. We were able to participate in parts and guess what he was saying at others so not understanding Japanese wasn't a big deal. 

video

We left the park around 5 after deciding we'd done everything we needed to. We had supper on CityWalk, trying to avoid the work rushes home. It partially worked. On the way to Osaka we caught some of the school rush at our home station and then some work rush to Osaka. After doing Tokyo-packed trains, I can say it wasn't busy but at the time it was for this county-bumpkin.

Tips:
  • use the single rider line when possible, it can really knock down your wait time. L and I never seem to be more than a car apart on rides and sometimes even get in the same ones.
  • eat at "off" lunch times to avoid some of the crowds
  • the Japanese don't celebrate Easter but the theme parks do and stores celebrate sales ha ha