Because I’m OC and cannot leave stuff unfinished (even though I’ve been totally delinquent and it’s been months since our trip), I decided to make one more post. This kwento will be devoted to the touristy portion in our itinerary.
ON NARA PARK:
Pia tip #1: Feed the deers at your own risk.
Nara Park houses over a thousand wild sika deers. These deers are considered national treasures in Japan and can be seen roaming freely around the premises.
They walk around Nara Park knowing full well that they own the place. So you can pet them, take pictures with them and coo to your heart’s delight- they won’t shy away.
Before you start gushing about the adorableness of it all, let me just emphasize something: They are nothing like Bambi. I’ve always had this notion that deers are gentle and fragile. Um, no. They are huge and robust.
Makes me wonder why the phrase doe-eyed even exists. I would look straight into their eyes, and they would defiantly stare back, as if to say, “Yeah, that’s right, run along, tiny Oompa-loompa”.
They are also constantly hangry. And the minute they sense that you have food, they turn on you in a frenzy.
Case in point: One of the partners brought along his wife and baby along to the tour. For some reason, they thought that it might be a delightful family experience to feed the deers.
Well, that kinda went south pretty quickly. Before they could even open the packet of special deer food (which you can buy in the park itself), they were completely surrounded.
The dad, maybe in his panic, decided to throw the packet of food to Moe. And like a scene from the Walking Dead, they slowly and deliberately turned all their famished attention on my husband. They started biting his hands, the strap of his bag, some of them were butting him with their heads, in an effort to get dibs on the food.
It was morbidly horrific- but also kinda hilarious.
The thing is, I’ve always considered myself a loving person. And I really thought that if the opportunity arises, I will sacrifice myself in order to save the love of my life. But instead, I watched Moe get fed to the wolves- or in this case, a dozens crazy-eyed Bambi’s- from a very, very safe distance. Not my proudest moment.
ON KYOTO TEMPLES
PIA TIP # 2: When doing touristy activities, allot ample time for exploring, and make the effort to know the history of the place you’re visiting.
Given the limited time Moe’s firm had in Osaka, they decided to squeeze in visiting Nara and Kyoto in one day. So, by the time we got to Kyoto, we literally only had less than an hour to spend in each temple.
The 2 temples that we visited were beautiful for sure. But I’ve never really been a visual person – I can ooh and aah over the view as much as the next guy, but in order to for me to fully appreciate a place, I need to hear the stories behind it.
Our tour guide was the sweetest, but between her thick Japanese accent and soft-spoken demeanor, it was really hard for me to understand what she was saying- I just had to make- do with Wikipedia facts.
Our first stop was the Kiyomizu-Dera Temple. The temple was a couple of thousand steps uphill. Like I keep on saying, I’m a sedentary creature. So as I huffed and puffed my way up the freakin’ mountain, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was anything there that would make this involuntary workout worth it.
The view on top was breathtaking (pun sort of intended)! The entire scene, with the snow and the temple, looked like it came out of a storybook.
The first time I saw snow in Osaka, I was a bit underwhelmed. It sort of just looked like the universe got a major case of the flakes. Dandruff snow does not justify all the layers of clothing that I had to pile on, so was not a fan. But, as I later discovered on top of that mountain in Kyoto, flaky snow can actually look pretty magical if you pair it with beautifully landscaped pavilions.
The other temple we visited, the Kinkakuji Temple, was also pretty spectacular. The structure is made out of intricate gold leaves. It’s also surrounded by a clear lake and a lush garden. Unfortunately, we literally just stayed for 15 minutes (just enough time for Moe’s firm to take precious groufies). It was so pretty though it deserves a shout out. Pretty golden temple, I’ll come back for you!!!
ON UNIVERSAL AND MY HARRY POTTER SAGA
Pia tip # 3 invest on an express pass
An express pass is a special ticket that allows you to skip the lines in certain rides. Without it, you will end up lining up for hours.
Just to make kwento, I’m a Harry Potter nut; seeing Harry was the sole reason why I convinced my family to choose Osaka over Tokyo for our trip last year. The thing is, despite our best efforts, we couldn’t get our hands on express passes.
I however, refused to be deterred. With the crazed determination of a legit geek, I tightened my Gryffindor scarf (which I had borrowed from Boo especially for the occasion) and made a beeline for Harry the minute we got inside the Universal grounds.
Turns out, the attraction was so popular that we had to schedule a specific time to get into the complex. Rather than checking out the other rides in the park like a sensible person, I waited for two hours outside the entrance in the freezing weather, “just in case they decide to let us in early.”
Ofcourse when we finally got in, I started geeking out.
“Ack! It’s the flying car!”
“OMG! Hogwarts express!!
I naturally wanted to line up immediately for the 4D ride inside Hogwarts castle, but Moe was insisting that we take a look around first. Against my better judgment, I let him drag me along to explore.
Admittedly, I did enjoy myself: I got to drink Butterbeer, we bought wands at Ollivander’s (I picked Dumbledore, he picked Snape) and souvenir shirts at Zonko’s (He seems to think he’s a Gryffindor. I naturally went for Ravenclaw).
But, when Moe finally decided that he was ready to get on the ride, we were met by a four-hour long line.
By then, my brother and my sister-in-law were already pretty much over the whole Universal experience. I didn’t want everyone to wait for my benefit so I forlornly followed them out.
I WAS CRUSHED!
Fast forward to the trip this year: His firm managed to get some express passes online. Hurray!
Then when it was time to go get our Harry on, we skipped all the lines and were in and out of the ride in 30 minutes.
So it worth it? It totally was! There was Quidditch. And dragons. And wizards. All in 4D! Suffice it to say, I can now close the chapter on Universal Studios what-if. All is well in the world again.
ON THE YAMAZAKI DISTILLERY
Pia tip # 4: Always assume that you’re going to get lost
After I registered for the paid Yamazaki tour online, I received an email reminder saying that we had to get to there on time, otherwise the tour might start without us.
To make sure we don’t leave things to chance, I nagged Moe to detailed directions from the concierge. Even with that extra help though, we still ended up getting hella confused:
According to the concierge, we were supposed to make our way to Yasu, she even indicated the cost of the ticket. The problem was, there was a huge difference between cost indicated in our directions the one indicated in the ticket machines.
So there lies the pickle: Do we follow the instructions down to a T, and cough up three times the amount to get to Yasu? Or do we follow our concierge and figure out the right stop that corresponds with the indicated ticket cost?
After much thought and deliberation, we picked the former and paid the extra fare.
The schedule being flashed in the station showed that we still had 10 minutes to spare before the train arrives. Since we hadn’t had lunch, Moe decided to get us a couple of sandwiches in a 7-11 stall nearby.
A train came couple of minutes after Moe left. I figured though, since it came earlier than expected, that it was probably not the one we were waiting for. So there I was, just standing idly on the platform, with no sense of urgency whatsoever . And then, Moe comes back several minutes later and starts gesturing wildly for me to get in. Apparently, it was flashing “YASU” in bold, red letters. Oops.
Anyway, even when we were inside the train, we still couldn’t shake off the feeling that we were majorly lost. Moe wanted to get off and start over. I insisted that we try asking people for directions first. Luckily, the first person I approached was this nice lady who spoke impeccable english. Because of her, we finally figured out that: We were really supposed to get on train HEADED to Yasu. BUT there was no need to go all the way there, because there was a Yamasaki Distillery stop in the middle.
On one hand, that means we overpaid for our tickets big time (getting a refund was another dumb and dumber moment). But dude, at least we weren’t going to be late- yey!
Pia Lesson no 5: Drinky whisky neat is so passe
The tour itself was pretty interesting- I learned a lot of fun whisky facts that I could use as conversation starters to make myself seem more cultured and urbane. :p ( “Hmm.. this whisky has the robust flavour of oak with fruity undertones..)
The Yamazaki Distillery gets its water directly from a mountain spring. So apart from using it for whisky, they also serve this spring water in their Distillery. Dude! It was crazy refreshing! It was so good, that I actually drank more of it than the whisky! (And this is saying a lot, because as you probably all know, I love my alcohol).
The thing is, between the two of us, Moe is the legit whisky-drinker. I like it fine, but I find it a tad bit too potent. I would have to dilute it with a mixer for me to be able to enjoy it. Moe has repeatedly whisky-shamed me because of this practice. He is of the hoity-toity opinion that whisky, especially single malts, should be taken neat.
But then, our tour guide introduced us to the highball, one of the cocktail staples in Japan. It’s basically whisky AND SODA WATER and LOTS and LOTS of ice. Hahaha. Take that douschey husband! I now have the go-signal of entire culture to make cocktails out of your coveted whisky collection. Thank you Japan!
To be honest, I still have more anecdotes to share, and was planning another post. But since I took my sweet time finishing 3, I figured it’s time to move on.
That’s the wonderful thing about Japan though- no matter how many times you visit, there’s always more stuff to discover.
I don’t think I’ll get tired of visiting this country and will probably be back with more stories to tell in the future. But, in the meantime, I have to close the chapter on my Japan adventures in order to make way for other life experiences.