The Japan Series | 3 of 3: OSAKA

For the past weeks, I talked about how I spent roughly ₱40,000 for this Japan trip, how we enjoyed Tokyo for 5 days & how we managed to squeeze as much as we can in our brief 1.5 days in Kyoto. Now, it’s down to the last part of this series; our final 2.5 days in Osaka. I will give you a detailed recap on what we did & where we went in our last days in Japan.

Let me tell you that the primary reason we dropped by Osaka is to visit Universal Studios Japan, especially The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We kind of relaxed a bit in this part of the trip; there was no pressure to go to this place or that.

The Japan crew at Universal Studios Japan 😃

Day 1 (Day 0.5)

After getting the our bags at Backpackers Hostel K’s House Kyoto, we walked to the JR Kyoto Station & took the 29-minute train to Osaka Station. We then transferred to the local Midosuji Line to Namba Station where our Airbnb apartment is near.

Inside Namba Parks Shopping Centre

We dropped our stuff & settled for a while. After an hour of rest, we walked around the nearby Namba Parks. It is a commercial complex with an 8-level garden with waterfalls, ponds, etc. It also has very interesting interiors. After walking around the complex, we then walked our way to Dōtonbori via the Shinsaibashi shopping street. I think it was a 1.5 km walk from Namba Parks. We didn’t mind walking because the weather was nice.

Colorful Dōtonbori at night (with the famous Glico Man)

We braved the crowd & took photos with the famous Glico Man. We also checked out the shops & restaurants within the shopping area. We stopped by a local tempura shop to have dinner before we walked back to the apartment.

Day 2

We only had one planned for this day & it was the main reason we stopped by Osaka before going home – to visit Universal Studios Japan. Ticket purchases were only available on site during our visit (unlike Tokyo Disney Sea, where we booked our tickets online). Each entry park ticket costs ¥7,400 per person (₱2,886 that time).

Upon entering the theme park, we immediately went to the ‘timed-entry’ ticketing booths for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to get our scheduled entry passes. Yes, you’ve read that right, you need to secure your entry passes for you to go to the Harry Potter World. They regulate the entry of the guests every 20 minutes. Slots fill up really fast so make sure to get yours as soon as you enter the park.

USJ Park Ticket & Harry Potter World Timed-Entry Pass

We planned to get in there around sunset, but there were no longer passes available so we took the latest – 3:20 pm. We walked around the park & tried as many rides as we can while waiting for our turn. We had our lunch in SAWS Restaurant inside the Sharks Village. We also checked out the goodies in the specialty shops nearby & watched the daily parade of stars.

Saw Flying Ford Anglia before entering the theme park

At exactly 3:20 pm, we entered The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was a bit of a walk from the USJ theme park; but the long walk was worth it. The Hogwarts Express welcomed us to the park. We walked to Hogsmeade afterwards. We were lucky the butterbeer pop-up shop in just opened. I got a glass of iced butterbeer worth ¥700.

Iced butterbeer!!! 😋

We walked to the Hogwarts Castle & waited for the sun to set. The castle was beyond beautiful during sunset. We went inside the castle, saw some moving & talking people in the frames (just like the ones in the movie), a hologram of Dumbledore, Harry, Hermione & Ron & other familiar sightings from the movie.

The Hogwarts Castle before sunset

Sunset from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

After a long day at USJ, we decided to go back to Shinsaibashi to have dinner. We also dropped by Daiso (the ¥108 shop) to get some goodies before heading back to the apartment.

Day 3

It was our last day in Japan. It was also a Sunday, so Junelle & I decided to hear mass in Sacra Familia Catholic Church in Umeda. Majo wasn’t able to join us because she could barely walk due to fatigue. We attended the 9:00 Sunday English mass.

Had a nice stroll at the Osaka Castle Park

After mass, we decided to have a quick look at the Osaka Castle. We took the subway to Osaka Business Park Station then walked through to the Osaka Castle Park. Due to limited time, we were not able to go inside the castle. We had to rush back to the apartment to get our things.

Outside Osaka Castle

After fixing our bags, we went out to have lunch in a nearby ramen restaurant. We had a short walk around Namba Parks again; then tried the famous okonomiyaki (pan-fried food with batter, cabbage & a variety of toppings & ingredients) on our way back. We got our luggage & went straight to Kansai International Airport for our flight back to Manila. The flight left Osaka a little late, but we landed at Ninoy Aquino International Airport on schedule.

That pretty much sums up the short stay we had in Osaka. Before we left Japan, I made a promise to myself that I will go back to this beautiful country as soon as possible to explore more. That promise materialized after a year where I went back to Japan for 13 days & explored 7 cities. I will tell you more about that recent trip in the upcoming blog posts.

I hope you had fun reading through the 3 parts of our October 2015 Japan trip. Make sure to also check out how I managed to spend less than ₱40,000 for this 9-day trip. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or send me an email to contact@thewkndtravel.com. Alternatively, you can also send me a message on Facebook or ask me on Instagram or Twitter.

Arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます) 🇯🇵 & have a nice day! 😃

PS. Thanks again to Junelle for allowing me to use some of her photos.

The Japan Series | 2 of 3: KYOTO

Welcome to the 2nd installment of the 3-part blog series about our Japan trip last October 2015. After spending 5 days in Tokyo, Majo, Junelle & I decided to go down to Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital via night bus.

Kyoto is known for its breathtaking landscapes, beautiful heritage-listed temples & rich history. Most people go to Kyoto only for a day trip from either Tokyo or Osaka but we opted to stay for 1 night to cover as much as we can.

Japan ’15 crew @ Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

I will keep this blog informal & perhaps discuss it part by part – from where we stayed, how we went around Kyoto, what we did & where we went.

Where We Stayed

We’ve read reviews of the best places to stay in Kyoto; we found Backpacker’s K House Kyoto as one of the most affordable & well-recommended accommodation near JK Kyoto Station. It is about 10 minutes walk from the main station.

Since we were a group of 3 with big bags, we decided to get a triple private room with shared bathroom for around ¥3,200 each (¥9,600 per night). The room consisted of a bunk bed & a single bed. If you are travelling by yourself & you want to meet other people, the hostel also offers bunk beds for a more affordable rate.

The hostel has a spacious reception area. It also features a 2nd floor large common area. It has couches, computers, outdoor terrace, common dining & kitchen area. It also has a common traditional Japanese bathroom & toilet. There is also a bar & restaurant, called Zen Cafe, at the ground floor beside reception.

The hostel allows both incoming & outgoing guests to use the facilities in the common area while waiting for their room access (which starts at 3:00 in the afternoon) or their night buses or flights. Given we arrived in the morning, they allowed us to use the bathroom & toilet in the common area to freshen up & then had our bags stored in the luggage room.

Spacious hostel lounge area

I recommend staying in Backpacker’s K House when in Kyoto. The hostel is centrally-located & offers great amenities plus really nice & helpful staff. Make sure to book your rooms / beds early because they are usually fully booked.

How we went (or to go) around Kyoto

Apart from having a JR Pass, there are other ways of going around Kyoto. As mentioned in my Tokyo blog, we each got an IC card which is valid in almost all train lines all over Japan. We opted to use our IC cards for that day. We took the JR train to Arashiyama, boarded the local tram & city buses to the different temples & went to Gion & Inari via local subway all using the IC card.

A cheaper alternative is to get the 1-day Kyoto bus pass for ¥500 or the 1-day Kyoto Tourist pass for around ¥1,000+. The bus pass gives you unlimited access to all city bus routes for a day. This option is cheap but one thing you need to know is that lines can really be long in different bus stops (especially the buses leaving from Kyoto Station). The tourist pass gives you unlimited access both to the city buses & local subway lines.

Each bus ride / subway ride costs around ¥200 yen to ¥240 yen, except the JR line to Arashiyama which costs around ¥400+. Come think of it, the 1-day bus pass is really a good deal. It will save you some cash but just make sure you are not in a hurry. Both passes are available at the Kyoto Bus Information Center in front of JR Kyoto Station.

View of Kyoto Tower outside JR Kyoto Station

What We Did & Where We Went

Given we had limited time in Kyoto, we carefully planned our itinerary for our stay. Too bad we were not able to cover everything but we managed to visit as much temples & places as we can.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – This place is famous for the famous scenic bamboo forest. It is a short passageway full of bamboos on both sides. Make sure to go up to the end to take pictures with lesser people in the background. It would also be better to go there around 8 in the morning to avoid the crowd. (No entrance fee)

Taken towards the end of the Bamboo Forest where there were less people

Tenryū-ji – This is Arashiyama’s most famous & most important temple. This  white zen temple is also listed as a world heritage site. It features a landscaped garden with central pond surrounded by rocks & trees. (Entrance fee: ¥‎500 per person – for more information about the temple, click here)

Right outside the main temple building

Ryōan-ji – This is a temple famous for its rock garden. Viewed from the Hojo Building (former head priest’s residence), the garden consists of pebbles & rocks laid out in portions of moss. People are advised to keep quiet while inside the building. The temple grounds also feature a park & a pond; one of Kyoto’s most beautiful spots during spring & autumn. (Entrance fee: ¥‎500 per person – for more information about the temple, click here)

View from the Hojo Building

Ninna-ji – This is another world heritage-listed zen temple famous for its temple buildings & beautiful gardens. It also features a five storey pagoda, which you can immediately see upon entering the temple grounds. Just like Ryōan-ji, this is another famous spot for cherry blossoms every spring. (Entrance fee: ¥‎500 per person – for more information about the temple, click here)

Ninna-ji’s 5-storey pagoda

Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion) – This is the most famous temple in Kyoto; I reckon also the most beautiful I’ve seen that day. The golden temple features a pond in front & a garden at the back. Seeing its reflection in the water on a sunny / clear day makes it even more beautiful. Make sure to also go early to get decent photos & also to avoid the crowd. (Entrance fee: ¥400 per person)

Stunning view of the Golden Pavilion

Gion – This is the Kyoto’s famous geisha district. It is full of traditional Japanese restaurants & tea houses, modern cafes & shops. Make sure to head over to Hanami-Koji Street & it’s alleys to try your luck with spotting geishas. My friends & I gave it a try & we saw around 10 of them (real ones). We even identified one of the many geisha houses in the area.

We weren’t able to see all temples & shrines on the same day so we moved the visit to Fushimi Inari Taisha the next morning. The temple is in the foot of Mount Inari & is famous for the big & small torii gates. These torii gates lead you up to the forests of mountain as well as to the peak. We had limited time here so we did not bother going up that far from the main grounds.

Just like any other famous place in Kyoto, I recommend that you go here before 8:00 in the morning to enjoy the place by yourselves. As far as I can remember, the place is open for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so you can go there as early as you can. (No entrance fee)

Inside the row of torii gates

We’ve been to a lot in our 1.5-day stay in Kyoto but I reckon we haven’t covered most of it – only some of the major ones. If ever you are to visit Kyoto soon, make sure to stay here for a few days (not just the usual 1 day tour) to see more of what this beautiful city has to offer. Kyoto is one of my favorites in Japan; I will definitely visit this place again soon.

Just in case you missed it, click here to read about our first 5 days in Tokyo. I also blogged how I spent less than ₱40,000 for this Japan trip. You want to know how? Check this out! I will talk about our last stop, Osaka, in the final installment of this 3-part Japan Series in the coming weeks. Thank you for reading! 😊

PS. Thanks again to Junelle for allowing me to use some of her photos.

Tuesday Tip: How to be a CHAMP in booking low-fare tickets

Who would say no to a ₱200+ round-trip ticket to Cebu, a ₱1,300+ round-trip ticket to Kuala Lumpur, a ₱1,800+ ticket to & from Bangkok & a ₱4,900+ round-trip ticket to Tokyo & from Osaka? No one. Many friends ask me how do I book affordable tickets for all of my past travels. Some think I’ve done it with luck; I say I’ve done it with a few strategic measures.

You want to know my secret? Let me teach you how you can become a CHAMP in booking cheap domestic & international tickets from Manila, Cebu or any Philippine airport.

Note: These tips mostly apply only to low-cost carriers like Cebu Pacific Air, Air Asia, Jetstar Asia et al. The tips below are purely based on actual observations & past personal experiences; they did not come from any airline insider or connection. Also, these tips don’t include baggage allowance, seat selection & other flight add-ons. I don’t intend to endorse any airline / carrier; I am not affiliated in any of the mentioned companies below. 

UPDATE (9 May 2017) – This post has a PART 2! Click HERE to know more about the additional 5 CHAMP tips! 😎

C – CHECK & subscribe to mailing lists

Airlines regularly send out emails about their upcoming & current fare offers. Air Asia announces their low-fare sale 3-5 days before & announce the travel period a day before the priority sale. Cebu Pacific Air sends out regular announcements to there subscribers while Jetstar alerts their subscribers 2-3 days before a low-fare sale or minutes before the regular 10 AM Friday Frenzy Sale.

H – HOLIDAYS & special occasions

Seat sales usually happen 1 day before or sometimes on the day of the holiday / special occasion. Cebu Pacific Air usually starts their offers 12:01 am of a day before a Philippine Holiday – true to the recent New Year sale (started 31 December 2016), Christmas Day sale (started 24 December 2016) & Bonifacio Day sale (started 29 November 2016). From memory, the only seat sale that starts 12:01 am of the same day is the Easter Sunday sale. This was the holiday where my friend & I booked our Japan tickets for less than ₱5,000 each.

A Japan round-trip ticket for 2 booked during the 2015 Easter Sunday seat sale

There are also occasions where airline companies hold special seat sales. This can range from anniversary sales (i.e. Cebu Pacific’s 20th Anniversary Piso (₱1.00) base fare sale last 8 March 2016 & Philippine Airline’s 75th Anniversary (up to 75% off on fares) sale last 13 March 2016) to random calendar patterned offer fares (i.e. Cebu Pacific’s 12.12 sale last December 12, 2012 & 10 peso sale last October 10, 2010). On the other hand, Jetstar holds their annual Boxing Day sale every after Christmas & their Return-For-Free promo in some selected months per year.

A super duper mega affordable round-trip ticket to Bangkok booked during Cebu Pacific Air’s 20th Anniversary Sale last March 2016

A – Airlines’ Mobile APPS

Airline websites tend to get busy minutes after every low-fare sale starts. An alternative way of securing cheap tickets is booking via the airlines’ respective mobile applications. These applications show the same fares being offered in the websites.

The Bangkok ticket above was booked at 12:38 am via the mobile app

Some applications allow you to log in & key in personal details beforehand for faster check out. Always remember only credit card is the only mode of payment accepted in booking via these mobile applications.

M – MEMBERSHIPS, Miles & Loyalty Points

Airlines offer memberships to all its patrons. These memberships let you save your personal details, family members & companion details as well as credit card details in their system. Having all the details saved online makes bookings faster, thus securing your promo seat in no time.

Air Asia provides a 24-hour priority access to their Air Asia BIG Loyalty Programme members. The members can already book tickets ahead of time (usually every 12:01 am Sunday) before they start the network-wide sale (which starts 12:01 of the next day, Monday).

A round-trip ticket to Kuala Lumpur I got for 20 Air Asia BIG Points & ₱1,300+

Cebu Pacific’s GetGo also send emails for upcoming seat sales; these email alerts let their members plan their trips ahead of the sale.

Most airlines also allow you to earn loyalty miles / points every time you fly with them. Air Asia allows you to earn Big points, Cebu Pacific Air lets you earn GetGo Points, Philippine Airlines allows you to earn Mabuhay Miles & so on. Make sure to register in these platforms & earn miles / points every flight you take. Keep on earning miles / points with these airlines & you’ll get eventually get privileges such as free flights, exclusive seat sales, in-flight treats & lounge access.

Flew back to Manila for free last week; Used my GetGo points for my ticket

P – PLAN Dates

The last tip I can give to everyone is to plan the dates of your trip. You might ask me, how will one know the travel period of the upcoming sales of each airline? Easy. Given I’ve been booking tickets for years, I have already noticed some patterns on the travel dates offered in the seat sales.

Cebu Pacific Air makes changes in their website a few minutes before 12 midnight. Make sure to check the website 11:58 pm – 11:59 pm before the usual holiday sale to have an idea on the offer fares as well as their respective travel period (before everyone knows about it by 12:01 am). Usually, the travel period of the low fares can range from 4 months from the current month up to 12 months.

Air Asia on the other hand announces the travel period 12 hours before the priority sale for BigShot members. They send out an email to all members to announce the travel dates for the upcoming sale.

Jetstar’s Friday Frenzy sale usually offers discounted fares for immediate travel (within the next 3 months) while their special sale offer low fares for travels 4-6 months from the day / month of booking.

Tip: If you want to travel on dates during long weekends, make sure to choose the dates 2 days before or after the holiday / long weekend for higher changes of securing a low fare seat.

So what are you waiting for? Head over to the different airline websites & subscribe to their mailing list, download the available mobile apps, join the different membership & loyalty programs, plan your next trips & wait for the next low fare sale. You might just get the most affordable ticket to your dream destination! ✈️

If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or send me an email to contact@thewkndtravel.com. You can also send me a message on Facebook, drop a comment on Instagram or send me a tweet on Twitter.