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2015 November 22
by pam artiaga

I ended my Japan trip fully intending to post a blog about it, but I’ve been struggling with what to write. It took me 3 weeks just to get started on this, and 2 more weeks to finish it. I just have a lot to say about my trip, and I want to include them all in this post, though I’m sure I’ve missed some things.

Consider that a warning on the length of this post.

Here goes…

General Observations/Thoughts on Japan

Before going to Japan, I had two assumptions about the country.

  1. that its facilities are very advanced and its services very efficient
  2. that the people are snobs or maybe detached/robot-like

My first assumption is of course correct, there isn’t a single doubt about that. As for my second assumption, let’s just say that after a day in Tokyo it was soundly disproved. I’m not sure how I came to that assumption. I guess I thought that advanced/efficient society = robotic society (*cough* Singapore *cough*), but I could not be more wrong about that. Japan has so much character, and it’s such a pleasant thing to see in a very advanced and disciplined country.

The airports are huge and clean with convenient facilities such as moving walkways, but they provide you with capless Panda ballpens to fill out arrival/departure forms. (It was cute, or maybe “whimsical” is the correct term.) The cheapest restaurants you can find are ones where you can order through vending machines. On train or bus rides outside the metropolitan areas, you could be passing huge factories one minute then extensive rice fields in the next.


Matsuia – a vending machine restaurant with branches all over Japan. It’s as common as Jollibee here in the Philippines

outside tokyo

The view on the train from Tokyo to Tsukuba Space Center. The houses are very uniform, and everything is so clean.

It was very easy to be charmed by the combination of high technology and humble simplicity that is prevalent all over Japan. It was equally easy to be charmed by its people. As I’ve said, I expected them to be rude or at least snobs, but I was pleasantly surprised at how polite and nice they were. They always gave way, always say “sumimasen” or give a friendly nod, and the cars stop several feet away from the pedestrians when they cross the street even when the traffic light’s already green.

Alright, to be honest the constant greeting and nodding wore thin on me. There was only so much niceness I could take, but their unfailing nature to always give way is something I wish I could see everywhere. I think  it’s why Japan is disciplined, but not rigid or robotic. The discipline comes from the citizens themselves, because of how they are as a people and not because they’ll get fined some huge amount if they broke a rule (*cough* Singapore *cough*).

Japan is not perfect (I know that it’s still very sexist), but if only the Filipinos could be half as disciplined as the Japanese, we’d be thousands of miles ahead of where we are now.

But enough about general impressions. Let’s move on to–

The awesome places I was able to visit


I was only here for a few hours to meet up with a friend. (Shout out to Shienna to for the help/tips :D)

cosmo clock

The Cosmo Clock and the Moon

All About Tokyo

I just roamed around Tokyo on my first full day. Looking at my pictures now, I guess I got a lot of things done. I remember complaining about my feet hurting after about an hour of walking around. I’m laughing at myself now because that was nothing compared to the rest of my trip.

Meiji Jingu

The Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. There were a lot of very interesting information about the ruling couple. What struck me most was how Emperor Meiji opened Japan to the west, and that Empress Shoken had a lot of influence on him politics-wise.

tea house

The Empress’ tea house, apparently.

koi pond

Big-ass koi pond

meiji shrine

Meiji Shrine

shoken poetry

Empress Shoken’s poetry

Yoyogi Park

yoyogi park

Small pond in Yoyogi Park. This is just a very small area in the huge park.



The statue of that famous dog, right outside the Hachiko Gate of Shibuya Station


The best place I visited for this day.

Entrance to Kinokuniya

Entrance to Kinokuniya

sf and fantasy

There were a lot of fantasy novels, among other things. It was awesome.


I ended my first full day in Tokyo in this area, where there are apparently a lot of great Japanese restaurants. However, I only like a handful of Japanese food, so I decided go with another vending machine restaurant (not Matsuia). They had the best Tonkatsu I’ve ever tasted.


Yes, my preference in food is, well, not very adventurous

Tsukuba Space Center

Not including the Harry Potter theme park in USJ, the Space Center is, without a doubt, the best place I’ve visited. I couldn’t stop grinning the moment I entered it. It’s a huge area, comparable to IT park, maybe even bigger. There are a lot of buildings where the JAXA scientists and engineers actually work, but the only areas directly accessible by visitors are the welcome center, the information center, and the Space Dome.

jaxa entrance

Entrance to the Space Center


I think this was a prototype rocket?

information center

A “classroom” in the Information Building. That satellite model by the table is one of the many models of Hayabusa. They’re very proud of that one.

The Space Dome is filled with model satellites on display, including the Japanese module of the ISS. It was amazing. I almost jumped in excitement when I saw the Hayabusa replica. (Hayabusa was the satellite JAXA launched to gather samples from an asteroid.)

space dome

View upon entering the Space Dome


Not one, but two Hayabusa models (the small one is on the lower right inside the glass case)

floor projector

Floor projector

kids on tour

Kids touring the Center

model satellite

One of the Earth-observation satellites

communications satellite

Commnications/broadcast satellite


Kaguya – the Lunar Orbiter

model rockets


outside iss

Model of the Japanese module of the ISS

inside iss

Inside the Japanese module of the ISS


Model ISS

You could also book a tour while you’re there. When I went, there was no fee, but now I think they’re charging 500 JPY per person, which isn’t that much. There are three choices: the Astronaut tour, the Space Station tour, and the Rocket tour. The tours are quite far apart from each other, but for some reason they wouldn’t let you book more than one tour in a day, so I had to pick just one. I went with the Astronaut tour. We were shown a video narrated by ISS astronaut Soichi Noguchi. (I’m following him on Twitter and when he showed up on the screen I wanted to say “Hey, I know this guy!”, unfortunately I was by myself.) After the video, we took a bus to a different building, where they showed us how astronauts trained and lived in space.

training module

Astronaut training module

training facilities

Model training facilities


Japanese astronauts

It was great, but the displays were all just replicas, and I wish I’d booked the KIBO Space Station tour. That one was the actual Space Station, and you’d get to observe the scientists/engineers communicating with the ISS. Next time…

Tokyo National Museum

This is actually part of a compound with three other museums in different buildings, and the entrance fee is only 500 JPY. Unfortunately, I got here really late — around 4pm — so I only got to explore the main museum. The main building had three floors, with five halls per floor. There were a lot of displays, so I’m just going to pick random pictures to include here:

tokyo national museum

Tokyo National Museum


One of the halls inside the museum

hilt guards

Katana hilt guards


I forgot what this was exactly. Still pretty cool.

Even though I only got to see the displays in the main museum, the 500 JPY entrance fee is still worth. But I still want to go back to check the others out.

Ghibli Museum

Out of all the places I’d visited, this was the one that required the most effort in booking. I had to go through a travel agency and pay around 3000 php, then I had to go pick up my ticket in Shibuya, in an out-of-the-way building about 15 minutes walk from the station. It was worth it though.

Taking pictures isn’t allowed in the museum, unfortunately, so here’s a list of what can be found inside:

  • Drawings, lots of them: storyboard drawings, character and background sketches all over walls, concept sketches displayed on drawing tables, and more…
  • Real life displays/models of rooms found in Ghibli movies
  • Piles and piles of books. I’m not what they’re for, but based on the topics, I’m guessing they are references for the movies they’re making.
  • Manual movie projectors
  • Some sort of merry-go-round animation. I can’t describe it well, so good thing someone took a video of it — sneakily, I’m guessing. The video’s fps is too slow here to truly illustrate how cool it is, but you get my point. And the name is zoetrope, apparently.
  • A Catbus (not an actual bus). Just think of the Catbus in Totoro, but smaller. Kids can play and “ride” inside, but grown-ups aren’t allowed. 🙁
  • Several movies that aren’t released outside of the museum. There was a cool animation on the evolution of human beings, from single-celled organisms to Home sapiens. There was also a 30-minute movie shown in a small theater. It was in Japanese with no subtitles, but it was still pretty cool.
  • An entire room with a maze and a small lighthouse that was based on another movie that, unfortunately, was not shown that day.

The giant in La Puta – the only thing I could take a picture of since it was outside (well, on top of) the museum building

Tokyo Tower Area

I spent my last afternoon & evening in Tokyo around this area. There wasn’t really anything exciting around there, but it was a cool place to just relax and walk around. And there was a Ghibli shop, which was a bit more expensive than the shop in the Ghibli Museum, but was awesome all the same.

ghibli shop

Ghibli Shop near Tokyo Station

tokyo tower

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo to Kyoto by Shinkansen

When I was planning my trip to Japan, I’d debated whether to take an 8-hour night bus to Kyoto or a 2-hour Shinkansen in the morning. I quickly opted for the Shinkansen because riding something that fast isn’t something I’d get to experience often, plus I wanted to be able to see the sights outside in daylight. But when I finally got to it, the fast journey or the view outside weren’t the best part of the experience. Inertia made sure I didn’t get to feel how fast the train was going (thank Physics), but it was going fast enough that the view outside went by in almost a blur.

The best part of my Shinkansen ride was the lady I was sitting next to. She was about 50 – 60 years old, one of those motherly-types who always want to make conversation with whoever was willing to listen. Normally, I’m very reticent with strangers and when someone I don’t know tries to make conversation with me, I always just responded with non-committal one-word answers. But this lady was so… smart that I couldn’t help but be drawn into conversation. (It helped that she had a very good grip of English.)

The lady was well-traveled, so she had a lot of things to say about different places all over the world. She talked about France, Spain, Germany, and some place in the Mediterranean that she couldn’t remember the name of. I told her that the one country I really wanted to visit was the UK, and she had a lot of tips about that. According to her, if I was ever to travel to the UK, I shouldn’t pass up visiting Edinburgh. In my head, I was going, “that’s where JK Rowling lives, hell yes I’m going to Edinburgh”. After we finished talking about the countries she’s visited (she wasn’t long winded, I just have to add), she started telling me things about Japan. I wish I could remember them all, but what stood out was that:

  • Mount Fuji could be seen from the train halfway between Tokyo and Kyoto on a clear day. Unfortunately for me, it was raining that day and there was zero visibility of any mountain. Next time, definitely.
  • Farmers grow tea plants in a platform tilted at 45-degrees. I asked if it had something to do with the light’s angle, but she said it’s just to save space. I told her about the Banaue rice-terraces, another space saving farming technique, and she said that yes, she knew about it. The lady was truly worldly.
  • Kyoto is very beautiful in the fall. Apparently, had I visited at the end of October , I would have seen the trees really start to turn their pretty autumn colors
  • When the Allies (USA) started bombing Japan (normal bombs, not the atomic bombs), they somehow did not include Kyoto, so that old capital’s temples stayed intact while the rest of Japan lay in ruins.

She sounded very sad about the ruined temples, so out of not knowing what else to say, I told her that it was quite unnecessary of the US to use the atomic bomb on Japan, if not the first, then definitely the second one. She dismissed that, then said, in a sorry voice, that “the Japanese soldiers were very cruel to the Philippines people”. What do you say to that, really? We just fell quiet for a moment, then she said that “war is very ugly”.

We moved on to another topic after that, but that was the most profound conversation I’d ever had with a stranger. I will never forget that old lady.


I didn’t get to explore Kyoto much, but the places I did get to see were very beautiful. There was that one orange temple that was just really orange, but the rest of Kyoto was a sight for sore eyes (which one probably got from the very orange temple).

bamboo grove

Bamboo Grove

wrong way

Took the wrong train and got here


Fushima Inari-taisha – it’s very orange

Harry Potter Theme Park in Universal Studios

This is my main reason for visiting Japan. I don’t know what else to say other than I had the time of my life. I was in Hogwarts.

post office

The Post Office

main street

Main Street


First view of Hogwarts


Butterbeer stall

hogs head

Inside the Hog’s Head. They sell actual alcoholic drinks here.

three broomsticks

Outside the Three Broomsticks, where I had my lunch.

hogwarts lake

Hogwarts and Lake


Line to the Forbidden Journey (TM)


The afternoon crowd

ford anglia

The Ford Anglia

There were other attractions in Universal Studios too, but they aren’t important.

Osaka Castle

This castle still had a moat around it. It was very cool.

moat and wall

Moat and Wall


The Castle


One of the displays inside the castle

Shinsaibashi / Dotonbori / Yodabashi

Osaka is a shopaholic’s and foodie’s heaven. I am neither of those, but I still had a lot of fun exploring Shinsaibashi, that very long shopping-street that crosses Dotonbori, a street lined with restaurants and food stalls.

My favorite place to shop, however, was Yodabashi. There was also a Yodabashi in Tokyo, just right outside Akihabara station, but I didn’t have time to shop in Tokyo and thankfully, there was another Yodabashi in Osaka. It had a lot of cool things and if I had brought a bigger luggage, I probably wouldn’t have been able to stop myself from buying all the awesome toys and gadgets in there.




Dotonbori at dusk

street food

The only street food I tried

Kansai and Goodbye

My trip to Japan was the most fun travel experience I’ve had, even if it was just by myself. A lot of people expressed surprise that I traveled alone, and to be honest I was a little nervous at first, but I had so much fun traveling by myself. I liked it because everything was on my own time. I didn’t have to wait for anyone else to get ready in the morning, nor do I have to try to catch up to someone’s fast pace while walking. I think next time though, I’d like to travel with some friends, and there will definitely be a next time.

Alright, truth be told, part of me was ready to go home by my last day in Japan. I was developing a toothache and having a constant migraine, and I was almost running out of Advil. (Note to self: bring more Advil on long trips.) Mostly, however, I didn’t want to leave. It was just so beautiful there. I’ve been to 2 other countries before, but Japan was the only one I was sad about leaving. In fact, as I was packing my things, I was already planning to go back in a couple of years or so. And I am gonna go back.


Sunset over Kansai


It was wonderful. I’m definitely going back.

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