Universal Studios, Osaka, Japan!
It's an early start for us today as we had to catch two trains from our hotel to USJ, and you're advised to get there an hour or so before doors open, especially if you want to get to popular parts of the park without a special timed pass. In true Japan style, they often open the doors before the advertised times, so you get people raring to go at least an hour before. In less true Japan style, this must have been the day that a homeless guy decided to just take a piss outside the Lawsons in broad daylight as we were coming out from buying breakfast. It wasn't in a nook or doorway like piss heads may do in the UK, but in the middle of a street, so that was kinda unexpected, even after highlighting the homeless problem in the last blog. Back to the trains, and our two were only about half an hour total, and USJ has its own station where you end up in the famous City Walk, which from memory, isn't quite to the scale of the one in Florida. Both lines were on the JR line, so they were covered by our passes. It's been a while since my last blog, never mind those before it, so I can't remember what details I went into about JR passes, but there's plenty of people on FB pages suggesting that the JR passes don't cover smaller lines.. they do, but that is assuming of course they're JR lines. I think I did mention previous, that, if you have failed to notice/understand the signage, it will become pretty clear when you can't get through a gate with your pass, but go back and check those previous Japan blogs so I'm not repeating myself here too much! Trying to buy tickets for USJ was pretty confusing. On both Klook (recommended or tickets and experiences in Japan) and the official website, there are tiered lists for various parts of the park, and as a foreigner, you're not quite sure if you need to pay in to them separate, or they're just fast tracks, or even how to quantify all the confusing information surrounding the different tiers on the site.. so we just didn't bother and played the getting there early card. What I did read and watch while researching, though, was that Super Nintendo World is notoriously hard to get in to on the fly unless you go first thing. It's in its own closed off zone, so once it's at capacity, I think you're done for, so many people get timed entry in advance, or at the machines in the park first thing on the day.. and possibly as part of those tiered deals, but then you're paying extra for something you can go to for free. I'm a Nintendo kid. I can remember the days when Super Mario was the height of gaming, and getting a NES for Christmas was a mind-blowing luxury, so it was an aesthetic I was not willing to miss. I tried to tell the other guys this, but they didn't believe me, so I broke away and went straight there, and when they tried later, they were refused. You can buy bands to interact with the scenery and hit question blocks, but I was quite content just seeing a real life Mario World, especially as the downside to getting in early is that some of the rides weren't open.
Here's a quick phone video of a tiny snippet of Super Nintendo World, and a caged Velociraptor!
I did go to the shop though and bought a Mario cap (because it had a denim effect peak which sold it to me) and a coin holder, and I'm pretty sure that the clerk said that with my receipt, I could come back in at any time that day - but don't quote me on that as it may have been misheard through the language barrier. Along with the happy wave that all the staff do while you're queuing to get in to USJ, if you've evidently bought some merch from any of the franchises there, and are spotted by members of staff as you're walking around, they all make an effort to wave, show appreciation, or tell you you're awesome in some form or another. It's quite a happy, smilie place, which is just as well because my feet are broken - I had to get it in there! This was the height of the crippling damage. Any seat was bliss, and while it may not be quite to the scale of Universal Florida, it's still a fair old walk around the whole of the park combined (three or four times over) with the time being on your feet queuing adding to the pain, although Nintendo World its self, is quite a small footprint. Having missed out on the flying dinosaur while I was in Super Nintendo World, I managed to link back up with the others just after the Jaws ride. I'm not sure if it's because I've seen it in movies (which ones, I can't recall), but the Jaws and Waterworld experiences are something I've always wanted to do at a Universal. While Japan caters for tourists with it being such a universal (pun intended) park and all, you are indeed witnessing these rides in Japanese, which makes them more interesting, confusing, and possibly less engaging to boot. Unfortunately, you're not allowed to film or photograph while on them either, because having the GoPro 360 on the Jaws ride would have been fun, and Photoing the explosions and action on Waterworld experience would have been pretty epic too. In a lesser country I may have tried to take the odd cheeky proper shot, but given Japan is just so sweet and polite on the most part, I decided against it other than some phone snaps. In fact, the majority of proper camera stuff I shot here were just some snapshots of the aesthetics as we were walking around... through the tears of pain.
If you go to these theme parks, I suggest you leave the idea of the real value of money back at the gate as even the sponsored vending machines have a healthy mark-up, probably twice the price (as you'd expect from a captive audience at any entertainment event), but luckily, some of the longer queue rides had water fountains dotted about said queues too. Also, and not least, because you have to experience some of the unique funky themed food, and of course buy some of the crazy merch, which often doesn't come cheap either. We had a small meal at the One Piece café where the rice was served in the shape of Luffy's hat, in fairness, I don't remember the price being ridiculous, but we did have a pretty healthy exchange rate on our side too. If you check out the WanderRuss Instagram posts and scroll down to back when I was in Japan, I put up several phone snaps across a post (or three) of most days, and one was of the Luffy meal - it's the post before the Mario Cap one.
Japan may be polite and all, and that then in turn may make you think that they wouldn't do the old theme park trick of having a queue outside that looks doable, only to discover when you go into a building (or three), it's just a snaking around and three times the length.. but they do. The Americana streets were quite chilled throughout the day until you got nearer the minions rides and the like, but there are plenty of potter heads buzzing around when you get into the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter. It's a little surreal being in another country halfway across the world as an English man and seeing a bunch of people who mostly can't speak English being so enthused by it and wearing the school uniforms, but then, if they'd known I'd never seen it or read the books as an English guy, they'd probably be equally bemused. The one ride we went on there was one of these where you're in a massive rig of seating that throws you about a bit as you fly on your broomstick, seemingly dodging stuff on massive immersive screens (I can't remember if it was 3d glasses) and all while getting sprayed with water and blown with cold air. It was pretty decent, even if I didn't have a clue what was going on! From memory, the minions ride had a similar vibe, whereas, on the Spider-Man one, you kinda go along a track into different rooms with a mixed bag of props and 3d screens aiding the illusion - and i'm pretty sure I did that one back in Florida 20 years ago too.
I think at this point we're well in to the evening, hungry and truly spent, so we finished up having a mooch around some of the City Walk shops and with a proper evening meal at the Hard Rock Cafe, which again, to be fair, probably wasn't far off the price of a pub meal in the UK after the conversion. Knowing we have a decent journey up a mountain tomorrow, and that Marc intends to call a doctor in the morning to check out his leg, we head back to the hotel for some much-needed rest.. well, after preparing suitcases for the morning too. Speaking of which..
the Namba Ebisu Hotel, Osaka.
Baring in mind that it's in the middle of the homeless epidemical part of Osaka, it's actually quite modern looking, but despite this, I don't think the others were overly impressed. The entrance way was small but nicely decorated, and we were given a door code to get in when the reception wasn't manned. We had a room with two single beds and two futons. Before today, I thought a futon was a sofa bed or sorts, but it turns out that a Japanese futon is just a double thick duvet pretending to be a mattress.. or a really really really thin mattress topper, depending on how you look at it; much to the annoyance of Dex! I think we skimped a bit on this hotel by taking the futons to keep costs down rather than booking two rooms. The futons kinda roll out in to the little floor space that is left, and there probably weren't options here for four bed rooms like most of the other places we stayed at that were actually smaller. With it being so hot too, during the day the hotel had the fire escape open which was near our room, and given the homeless problem and the odd story prior to coming Japan of Osaka being a bit rougher and dodgier, I think the others were worried that anyone could wander in with enough desire to. If it was London, Birmingham or New York, I'd agree, but being Japan, I wasn't too bothered. They know their own schtick better than we do, and they have a decent rating on Google and the likes. I think we universally (pun two) agreed it was our least favoutire accomidation while in Japan, and while I don't think the others would, but I'd be quite content there again.. preferably with a bed though!