Holy Week in Japan
(Manila, Philippines – June 20, 2016 – by Anna Alcantara) Once in a while, our busy family gets to have the luxury of travelling abroad all together. This year, we chanced upon the Osaka & Tokyo tour that went on from March 21-28, which was perfect for everyone’s busy schedule as it was Holy Week.
Our flight to Osaka arrived just in time for dinner, so after getting picked up at the airport by our local guide, we were brought to a local restaurant where we had our first authentic Japanese dinner before checking in our hotel.
The first day in Japan was nothing short of a jam-packed day. The morning was spent sightseeing, and our first stop was the beautiful Osaka castle. The castle grounds are reminiscent of our very own Intramuros, and has a ground area of about 106 hectares where a wall surrounds the perimeter. The castle itself has been renovated into a museum, and the top floor’s balcony has become a viewing deck that has a great panoramic view of the Osaka skyline. The castle grounds also makes a great setting for a morning stroll after you are done checking out the museum.
Our next stop was the Umeda Sky building, that has a doughnut-shaped observatory that sits on top of two commercial buildings that gives you a great view of the entire city of Osaka. The process of going up to the observatory is interesting, where you have to ride an escalator that crosses from one building to another. Once you get to the top floor, you have the option to take a look from the inside where you can sit comfortably, or you may also go outside and around the observatory deck.
The last stop of the day was the Dotonbori district, which is definitely a must-see when you are in Osaka. The district has a wide range of shops and restaurants, and definitely has a lot of people so it can get overwhelming, but the district has a nice eclectic vibe that kinda distracts you from the high traffic area. At this point some were too tired to explore the area, while the rest took their time walking around while doing some shopping. We ended our day by eating in a restaurant that was overlooking the canal area of the vibrant district.
The second day of the tour was spent in Universal Studios, and we arrived at around 11am, and by this time there were already a lot of people in the park. (Tip: Make sure you arrive as early as you can, or buy a FastPass in order to skip the lines) Our first agenda was to get our ticket for the timed-entrance in the Harry Potter world, and then used the waiting time to roam around the entire park to see the different attractions. During this time we were also able to watch a couple of street shows and planned out which rides we were willing to line up for after we visit the Harry Potter world.
When it was finally our time to enter Harry Potter world, we were all ecstatic. Visiting the Harry Potter world is definitely like a dream-come-true if you’re a big fan of the series. They were able to replicate the Hogsmeade village, where you can grab a mug of butterbeer on the go so you can have time to explore the different shops patterned after the one in the series. If you’re in the area early enough you should line up immediately for the 5D ride inside the Hogwarts Castle, but if you are not up to lining up for hours, you can opt to spend time going through the different novelty shops to buy your own wand or buy some sweets just like the ones in the books.
After visiting the Harry Potter world, we lined up for the rollercoasters. We found that the key to these rides is to line up in the solo rider’s lane, because it proved to be a time saver like a fast pass. The downside is having to the ride on your own, but the rides are just as fun and you can talk about it with your company after you’re all done riding and you see how much time you’ve saved.
The following day began in the Nara Deer Park, which is outside the Todaiji temple. At the deer park you can buy deer feed, and we were surprised to find out that these graceful-looking creatures aren’t as gentle as they seem to be. They’re a little aggressive and do have a tendency to bite, but it’s worth the photo-op.
Inside the Todaiji temple was where we had our first cherry blossom sighting. Because of this we requested our tour guide to take us to the closest park that had more cherry blossoms after our time in the temple. Luckily, there was one that is near the deer park at a Taoist temple where pink and white sakura flowers were in full bloom at the courtyard.
Our next stop was the Kiyomizudera temple in Kyoto, where the temple is on top of a hill, and the road leading up to it is lined with various novelty shops and restaurants. As we went up the temple there was a great view of Kyoto, so we sat in a little teashop right outside the temple to enjoy the view with a hot cup of matcha tea.
The last agenda of the day was to ride the bullet train to Tokyo. It was definitely an exciting experience because the train itself was beautifully designed and the interiors were very accommodating. We were seated in the second-class cabin, but the seats were very comfortable and spacious. The bullet train travelled as fast as 200mph and it was definitely a smooth 2-hour ride to Tokyo with a great view of the Japan countryside during the ride.
We started off our first day in Tokyo by visiting the Sofia University Chapel that is run by Jesuits, to commemorate Good Friday. After this, we proceeded to visit Tokyo Tower, which is reminiscent of the Eiffel tower, where we went up to the top floor that had the nicest view of Tokyo. After this we proceeded to visit Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi Park, where we took a nice stroll in the park and around the shrine grounds.
The last agenda of the day was a visit to the shopping district of Tokyo that is known for their electronics and novelty items, where we all took a couple of hours to go around.
The following day, we spent the morning in the bus on the way to Mt. Fuji, but we were unfortunately greeted by unpleasant weather that did not permit us to go beyond the first station of Mt. Fuji. It was so foggy that we couldn’t even see the mountain from the visitor’s center.
After lunch, the afternoon was spent shopping in Gotemba Premium Outlet. High-end stores fill this shopping village, and its area is similar to the layout of La Vallée outlet village right outside Paris. Surprisingly, this is where we finally found a Pokemon store in Japan.
Our last full day in Tokyo fell on Easter Sunday. Before we proceeded with the day’s agenda, we celebrated mass in a Franciscan Church in Rippongi, where the local community prepared a very meaningful mass to commemorate Easter Sunday. After the mass, we rode the train going to Tokyo Disneyland.
Upon entering Disneyland we saw that there were a lot of people because it was a Sunday and it was a holiday, so the crowd was rather overwhelming. We spent the day walking around the theme park and watching different street shows, enjoying the different street food, and we were only able to line up for a couple of rides. Towards the end of the day, we opted to find a good spot to watch the firework show that the park always holds at the end of the day on weekends. The firework show definitely did not disappoint. Tokyo Disneyland projected a montage of Disney classics, creatively using Cinderella’s castle as the screen. It definitely made up for the whole day of not being able to ride much of the attractions due to the long lines.
As the tour came to an end, I felt like we were able to maximize our time spent in Japan. There was no dull moment, no dull day, and each day was just as exciting as the rest. There’s a lot of walking involved which is expected in the tour, but the pleasant climate made it very manageable. All the time spent on walking was also great for bonding with the family. Even if the itinerary is relatively jam-packed, it is definitely manageable for people of all ages, and is definitely family-friendly.