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Well thanks to the truncated activities on this stretch of the trip due to the weather, so is this blog entry!

The conditions varied between “Melbourne” and “perfect storm” as we made our way north so we pulled the pin on planned stops like Lake Dobson and Nelson Falls and continued directly to Queenstown where it started to let up around the scenic Lake Burbury. A little further along there’s an old copper mine on the outskirts of Queenstown, take the goat trail to the top where you’ll find a outset viewing platform to really take in the views and test your vertigo.

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Coming down the mountain, just before the town there are a couple lookout points for photo ops with views of the road snaking around the mountains.

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The next day we awoke to… oh look… more rain! The drive to Cradle mountain was slow and tedious, made worse with the traffic thickening and the very narrow parts of the road closer to the national park. You know you’re running out of room when you need to fold in your side mirrors so they don’t clip a guide post or on coming cars! Thankfully the rental car survived unscathed even though we were ready to ghostie it off the mountain by then.

Travel tip:
Little towns like Rosebery are peppered through out the mountain ranges and are good places to stop for a bite to eat and for some supplies for the day ahead.

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Travel tip:
If you didn’t buy a parks pass for all the parks or are only visiting Cradle, you will need to stop at the visitor’s center to purchase a ticket. The lines can be quite long if there is a tour group, so factor this into your itinerary.

Pulling into the Cradle mountain car park we could see how grand the place… could be, alas the drizzle was becoming steady rain again and it was pretty much a white out. After having lunch in the car and watching many people walk half way down to the boat house and turn around for an hour, the rain radar showed no sign of letting up so we reluctantly moved on to our next stop, Deloraine.

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Travel tip:
When they say the weather can turn quickly (and severely) they mean it, so come prepared. A small folding umbrella or emergency poncho is probably not going to cut it in anything more than the most mildest of conditions, but its probably better than nothing! A hardshell jacket, rain paints (or at least gaiters) and waterproof boots are a good start. Wearing your fave pair of J’s is not advisable even in the dry, yep there were several people at the visitor center wearing these and other basketball shoes that you wouldn’t even play basketball in let alone try to tackle wet trails with!

One small plus to the never ending rain, many of the small creeks had come alive with flowing streams which I’m sure was also a nice welcome to some of the bushfire strickened areas we drove through.

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Travel tip:
Looking for some good valued eats while staying in Deloraine? Check out Sullivan’s on the river. Classic “fish n chip” shop style snack bar on one side and dine in restaurant on the other. After eyeballing the heaped “I made this myself” homestyle pizzas it was an easy and filling choice 😀

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The next morning we woke up thinking, you know what we haven’t had in a while? RAIN! And lots of it! Yep mother nature was still playing that ol’ broken record so it was another slow and tedious drive to Liffey falls. The unsealed parts of the road, replaced by flowing streams did little for the nerves nor the confidence we had in the rental car, which had gone from white to completely brown.

The plus to all the rain did mean the falls were flowing nicely and fellow sightseers were few and far between which made it was easy to get some photos without having to fight the crowds.

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After all the fast forwarding of planned stops we ended up a little time spare before heading to Launceston for our flight home so we made a quick detour to the Melita Honey farm in Chudleigh, only the little store was open but it was nonetheless packed. They of course have plenty of honey and honey based food and body/health products …and ice cream 😉 There were also plenty honey and bee related souvenirs and trinkets along with a small display and information on bees and the harvesting of honey.

Travel tip: the farm is not really near anything else, not even toilets, but continue down the road for a minute or two for a rest stop if the rain and cold has gotten the better of your bladder.

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The final coup de gras and bit of salt in the wound was a nice sunset as we were leaving, gotta love a place with a sense of humor even if we were the butt of the joke. Hehe butt. Ok, so there was alot of whinging about the weather but not enough to deter us from a return trip, hopefully in the not too distant future.

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Tasmania 2014 part #1 – Arrival, Eaglehawk Neck
Tasmania 2014 part #2 – Port Arthur and Salamanca markets
Tasmania 2014 part #3 – Hobart to Queenstown to Cradle Mountain and Liffey Falls

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Port Arthur
Port Arthur is only about 30min from Eagle Hawk Neck but with the weather souring it took much longer. I’m not sure if it was because we were heading closer to Storm Bay but I wouldn’t discard the notion as part of the reason things went from bad to full blown craptastic.

We’re not afraid of a bit of rain, even less of a bother when we were prepared for the worse with plenty of wet weather gear and even a sealed cover for my camera but as we pulled into the Port Arthur Reserve our hopes started to diminish greatly as the heavens opened and it really started to come down. Rivers of ankle deep run off flowed through the carpark and visibility had dwindled down to under 10m.

Inside the visitor center it was a madhouse of drenched tour groups or those about to be, clambering for the overpriced disposable garbage bag ponchos. For half an hour we watched the tours bravely yet futilely go out into the white out, waiting for the rain to pass but to no avail. So we decided to do a quick drive around the surrounds, stumbling around a little “beach” area before heading into Hobart.

The approximately 90min drive took hours with the abysmal weather and only started to let up as we got closer to the city.

After checking into the cool little Alabama Hotel we took a short drive around town and to Rosebay Esplanade for some photos of the harbour and a distant Mt Wellington. Thankfully by then the rain had stopped so we can actually show you a couple photos!

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Travel tip: the Alabama doesn’t have any off street parking but there a plenty of overnight parking garage options nearby. You can also park on the street out front, just remember to check the post times.


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Salamanca markets
Next morning we got up early to pop into the Salamanca markets before hitting the road. It was a rather easy choice since very little else was open on the long weekend.

Getting there – The market is located pretty much on the water at Sullivan’s cove and is short walk from the town center. We recommend heading straight towards the water then following it south to take in the scenic bay views.

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The market is of a decent size and is filled with all the markety things you’d expect, though the items tend to lean towards a more up market feel with jewellery, carvings, paintings and framed landscape photos. There are also a few clothing stalls but again with a more “grown up” feel. Of course, what would a market be without food and fresh produce? Plenty of fruit and veg in a separate pavilion and the food trucks scattered through out the venue make breakfast and brunch blend together and lunch unnecessary.

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Tasmania 2014 part #1 – Arrival, Eaglehawk Neck
Tasmania 2014 part #2 – Port Arthur and Salamanca markets
Tasmania 2014 part #3 – Hobart to Queenstown to Cradle Mountain and Liffey Falls

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A few things usually dictate when and where we travel – time of year, events and price of flights. Cheap flights pretty much always take a precedent but we prefer travelling in between seasons to avoid crowds and public/school holidays where possible. This time however was pretty much the opposite of that. We were locked into a small window due to work commitments so basically it was the Easter weekend or nothing till the end of the year and who wants to wait THAT long amiright?? With only 5 days at our disposal we had to keep it reasonably accessible with minimal expenditure. We’ve heard rave reviews from our landscape photographer buddies championed by Mel Sinclair who mentioned (and was smart enough to go the following week!) that around this time of year the Fagas trees start changing colour (they even have a festival dedicated to it) so we thought, why the heck not.

Well the first problem was going when we had to not when we wanted to so we were actually about a week early for the colour changing, no problem, just need to look for places in cold areas where winter is coming early. Second problem, travelling during a batch of public holidays, surely not everything will be closed right? Sadly we were wrong on both accounts, throw in constant wet weather ranging from heavy drizzle to outright monsoonal downpours and a feeble rental car with no will to live and that was just the beginning of our Tasmanian adventure! It was trying to say the least but we’ll try to keep the whinging to a minimum and stick to the facts 😉

The biggest Keyzer Soze moment of making people believe the devil didn’t exist was arriving at the airport to clear skies. The drive out to Eaglehawk Neck was reasonably uneventful, apart from a bit of afternoon/pre long weekend traffic it took a bit over 2 hours from the airport including the low speed limits, endless road works and unpaved roads with trucks and 4wds gunning it with no consideration of on coming traffic.

We chose the Best Western Lufra Apartments because they are pretty much directly above the tessellated pavements. The hotel was a little dated but that sort of thing never really bothers us, we go on holidays to do things other than look at the wallpaper! Meals were a little higher priced but when it’s the only option in the surrounding area the choice is pretty easy if you don’t want to go hungry. The staff however were friendly and helpful.

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The next morning we got up for sunrise, a little icy but nothing too unmanageable. The sunrise itself was rather uneventful – enough for a couple nice photos at the tessellated pavement, nature working its magic on carving out a rather intricate grid in the rock, but it did hold high hopes of a beautiful day of sightseeing. Back to the hotel the dining room’s expansive windows displayed a spectacular view and the buffet brekky with most of the basics covered wasn’t too bad either. Being a long weekend we were expecting a bigger crowd but it was rather tame, probably was a different story for the proceeding days though.

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Conveniently, the Pirate’s Bay area is also very close where you can take in the blowhole, Tasman Arch, Fossil rock look out and Devil’s Kitchen all with in the space of an hour or so if you stick to the main lookouts and 86 the scenic walks. The weathering and layering of the rock formations at the Tasman Arch was tragically poetic to see nature creating and at the same time destroying history of the landmark. Like most natural landmarks there is no open and close times so getting an early start, beating the crowds and getting these sites out of the way is definitely the way to go to maximise your day.

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Travel tip: about 2km from Eaglehawk Neck on the way to the blowhole there is a small town nicknamed “Doo Town”, which lovingly coming about because… well they added “Doo” to everything. Its pretty much a “blink and you’ll miss it” blimp on the map but cute and quaint enough to stop for a quick selfie while trying not to snicker at “doo doo” jokes.

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With the weather still clear and our sense of adventure high we headed further south to Port Arthur to take in the convict town and its historic buildings…

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Tasmania 2014 part #1 – Arrival, Eaglehawk Neck
Tasmania 2014 part #2 – Port Arthur and Salamanca markets
Tasmania 2014 part #3 – Hobart to Queenstown to Cradle Mountain and Liffey Falls

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We’re going out with a bang for the last stop on our trip and what could be better than all the fun and craziness of a movie studio theme park!

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Universal studios is just across the bay from the Osaka Aquarium so if you time it right you could easily do both in the one day if you kept the aimless wandering to a minimum. Like most major theme parks its a breeze to get to, just one change of trains from Osaka station (approx. 10-15min) and a short walk along “Hollywood Boulevard” (a bunch of familiar western and westernised eateries) will have you in front of the famous rotating Universal fountain globe in no time. Check their website for transport options.

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Travel tip: Tickets can be purchased online or at the gate for around $60-70AU for a standard adult fare. There doesn’t seem to be any difference between online and gate prices so we chose to grab them at the gate. There are so many manned booths that there were no lines at all, unfortunately this is the only place that didn’t have lines!

Travel tip: Lockers are located on the outside of the park before you go through the gates, so dump your gear first as there are no pass outs once you enter the park.

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Once inside the park, its the usual constant battle for just about everything, having a map handy and some kind of game plan certainly helps. The website tries to assist with two recommendations, one for the littlies to chase down their fave characters and one to experience the featured rides.

Instead, we chose to hit our “must-dos” first, see how we were going for time then fill it with whatever was left. It’s a good theory till we arrived at our first ride at Jurassic Park and the posted approximate time was 45min. Damn. It’s a slow saunter through the obligatory zig zag maze but they try to ease the waiting and build the illusion of being immersed in the movie with authentic reports and warning sounds from monitor screens above the cattle run. As you’d expect the buildup of tension continues with a first person feel of traveling through the movie. I’ll hold back on the spoilers but will mention, about 10min later you more than certainly will be a little drenched!

Travel tip: take a disposable rain poncho if you want to keep dry. They’re available for purchase on site at a premium so a stop at a daiso for a 100Y special could be in order.

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One of our other fave rides would be the Back to the Future ride – a mechanical ride coupled to an imax sized screen to create a virtual environment, it was great but was over far too quickly.

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The entertainment is never short even if you’re not queuing for rides, parades are regularly scheduled as are the high flying shows on the main stage. Food, merch and souvenirs are also readily available in appropriately themed shops scattered throughout the park.
Being Japan it would almost be a crime if there wasn’t Hello Kitty and she doesn’t disappoint with regular stage shows (complete with backup dancing girl band) and her own section of the park drench in pink and nausea inducing cuteness.

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As you would expect features change semi regularly depending on what movie/franchise is big at that the time like Pirates of the Caribbean making way for Harry Potter. Its also not uncommon to see patrons cosplaying like they’re part of the show too. Not sure if creepy or awesome.

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So with tummies full of Hello Kitty pork buns and arms full of things like DeLorean model kits and Spiderman mugs, this closes our final entry for our epic Japan trip. While it only took us two weeks travelling, its taken closer to two years to write about it! So its probably best we didn’t make any promises on how long the next installment (Tassie 2014) is going to take :p Of course, we’re hoping sooner than later!

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If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on our Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

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The Osaka Aquarium is located on Osaka bay and is near Cosmo Square, the Tempozan Ferris wheel and a short ferry ride from Universal Studios so you could easily spend days in this area, or just one well planned one. Ok, maybe not all of them, we left off Cosmo square :p

Being a major attraction, getting there from just about anywhere is quite simple, take the Chuo line and let the signage guide you. We caught the Captain Line ferry (takes about 15min) from Universal Studios which is almost door to door, handy!

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The aquarium costs about $25AU and is open till 8pm (times may vary) making it a good last stop if you have other things to do earlier in the day. In fact, later in the afternoon seemed to be rather quiet, no lining up for anything and only the odd shuffle around a couple slow moving tour groups.

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The theme of the venue is to encompass all of the different regions around the Pacific Rim (no, not with giant mecha) with many enclosures representing each area and some of the animals that inhabit them. The viewing actually begins at the top on the 8th floor where it spirals down through tanks and enclosures feature aquatic life, fish, manta rays, crabs and other weird looking bottom dwellers along with everyone’s favourites, penguins and seals.

Aquariums are always good for a visit, you get to see creatures big and small effortlessly glide through the water around you but a lot of the time the scale of the animals and their surroundings is lost when viewing through a small window, enter the 10m deep tank with a foot thick of Perspex all the way around! This centerpiece represents the Pacific Ocean and houses a city bus sized crowning jewel, the whale shark.

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Other smaller tanks cross between floors which give plenty of few spots from different perspectives and the idea of the different layers in an ocean environment.

Smaller rooms on the lower level house a large assortment of jelly fish for you to get lost in a lava lamp trance. On the way to the gift shop there’s a hands on section where you can get up close and very personal with a selection of fish and manta rays which vary from slippery soap to “cat’s tongue” in texture. Alot of fun and definitely something the kids would go nuts over. No need to worry about germs, there’s wash stations nearby. There’s also a partially closed off penguin enclosure for you to talk posh with your tuxedo wearing buddies 😀

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Travel tip: speaking of kids, there are also a bunch of rubber ink stamps through out the venue which they can collect by stamping their books. Maybe get them a travel notepad so they don’t get any ideas with their passports should they be in possession theirs!

Photo tip: lighting is very dim throughout the venue, not just in the tanks so a fast mid range zoom is in order and don’t be afraid to push the iso to keep your shutter speed up, and as you can see by our bumper gallery there is HEAPS to photograph!

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Tempozan Ferris Wheel

Behind the aquarium is a small shopping mall with a food court and several restaurants, only the larger stores/restaurants stay open later for dinner but in true Japanese courtesy, if you catch one as they’re closing they’ll still be more than happy to fire up the stove for you.

A short walk further is the Tempozan Wheel, it is quite sizeable as one of the largest in Japan giving decent views of the bay area and should be more than romantic enough to get you to first base 😉 (just watch out for the random pedo bear )-:} ). The coloured lights on the outside of the forecast the weather for the following day (orange – clear, green – cloudy, blue – rain) which is handy, although not entirely accurate with an orange reading when the following day was all drizzle!

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If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on our Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

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Two of Osaka’s most popular attractions happen to also be conveniently the two most central. The first being Osaka castle, only a few stops from Osaka station and a little bit of a walk.

Osaka Castle

Its much of a muchness by train, regardless of what station you get off, however since we came from Osaka station we just had to stay on it till Osakajokoen station (check out the scale model of the grounds and castle in the foyer). From there its roughly a 1km walk past a lot of open concrete and numerous sporting facilities before you get to the park which has a lot of open spaces and waterways. The trees in the park are sakura (cherry bloosoms) which makes this a very common spot during the few weeks a year (usually late march/early april) when they bloom.

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The foliage thickens and becomes almost a little rainforesty once you cross the bridge over the moat. This is where you catch the first glimpse of signs of a “fully functional” castle with battlements and large stone walls surrounding the water. There are also plenty of shaded spots where you can stop for a breather if you’re travelling during the unforgiving warmer seasons.

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The castle sits majestically high above everything in the surrounding area upon its base of rock and stone and is trimmed with typical Asian rooftop styling and gold finishings. A large courtyard area sits at its base with a selection of vendors in cute little vans selling food and souvenirs. For the history buffs, entry into the castle is about 600Y and about 200Y for the greenthumbs that want to check out the castles extended gardens. Costumed guards frequently roam the grounds for your hashtagging pleasure.

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One thing you may not expect to see is a time capsule. Placed there in 1970 for the World Expo, it is built with two levels, the first to be opened every century and the second in the year 6970, probably by Cher.

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Umeda Sky building

Love going to “The Eye”’s around the world but hate the whole moving thing and still want a good view of the city, then this is the place for you!

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Only about a 10min stroll from Osaka station (longer if you’re anywhere south of the station since you have to walk either around or through it and if you’ve been in Japan more than a minute you’ll know that’s not always as simple as it sounds!) but about 15-20min coming from our hotel via a few back streets for some random street photos.

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Travel tip:
The English version of the website has nice simple to follow maps and venue information.

Even from several blocks away (or from our hotel’s external elevator) the Sky building looks menacing in a 90s scifi where the bad guy is the only rich person in the world kinda way.

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Photo tip:
If you’re going later in the evening, get your “from the ground” photos first as they turn off the upper lights before closing time, and check out the art installs while you’re at it

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Like any building with an observation deck, there’s a bit of cueing and staring at elevator floor numbers clock over like it’s the pledged amount on a telethon but you’ll get to the deck in no time. The last section is up a see-through enclosed escalator before arriving at the closed-in viewing deck. This section would definitely be handy during the colder months or if you’re unlucky with the weather, it still offers decent views but if you don’t want the headache of taking photos from behind glass at night, head on outside.

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First impression, you will be forgiven if you think you’ve accidentally stepped into a 90s UV rave. UV paint splatters cover the ground while your white clothes and teeth glow in typical freaky fashion but thankfully this doesn’t detract too much from the view and more so the ability to take some nice photos!

The deck offers almost 360 degree views of downtown Osaka and Osaka bay and even when busy, the crowd ebbs and flows enough that if you stand still you’ll eventually get any spot you choose.

Photo tip:
It’s not a cluttered skyline and the building sits high above anything near by so you may even consider a mid range zoom instead of a wide angle. Like most night shots, a tripod helps alot, even better if you can be bothered carrying something with some height to clear the barriers/railings. There will be plenty of others with the same idea as you so you may need to be patient with nabbing a good spot.

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If you get bored or are waiting for a spot to free up, head to the “lumi deck” for a wall with lit up squares making different shapes, of course the very Sleepless in Seattle-esque heart shape is a clear winner for those thinking it could easily be the Empire State building. The fun continues inside with an interactive light room which… you guessed it, changes shapes and colours as you move like Elaine dancing.

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Finally, after (or perhaps before) you’ve returned to ground level, there are several restaurants on the basement level that is themed in an “olden days” fashion not too unlike the Ramen Museum but most close well before the observation deck so get in earlier if you’re after some grub.

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Next stop, the Osaka Aquarium!

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

We stopped at Macca’s for brekky first and just had to try the maple syrup infused “waffle” bun McMuffin. Yep, every bit as sickly delicious as it sounds :p

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On the way back to Tokyo we finally caught a great view of Mt. Fuji through what seemed to be a large window at a station along the way…(couldnt believe my timing to catch a shinkansen in the shot as well! :p )

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Harajuku
Yoyoji Park

Not too happy about our other failed attempts at rummaging through a large flea market in Japan, this was our last chance. Weather was good, no forecast for rain, left Osaka early to try and beat the crowd… unfortunately the forecast said nothing about protesters! Not sure what they were on about but they were everywhere along with police and media. Foiled again. The park however was a nice consolation for a walk around and to take in some of the outrageously dressed people, dancers, artists and even a cardboard box town that looked like it was pieced together and built/painted on over many hours throughout the day.

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The park in itself is huge so even though it gets rather busy there’s always a nice quiet spot away from all the action.

Disappointed once again, there was only one thing left to do…. SHOP!

Takeshita Street and surrounds

We’ve covered Harajuku previously and you’d have to be researching the wrong country to have missed any mention of the place in reading up of Tokyo must-see’s so we’ll leave you with the knowledge that nothing much has changed… in the sense that everything changes all the time. They’ve spruced up the building fasades on Takeshita street and the major street that runs adjacent to it. Cat Street has also gotten a face lift and a few different shops have moved in. The best thing, most of our fave sneaker/streetwear stores have all moved together. Undefeated, Kicks Lab, Chapter, La Brea Avenue (and Supreme if you like extra hype with your purchases) are all within spitting distance of each other along with seizure inducing rainbow colour store 6% Dokidoki and Ninja Warrior champion sponsor – Rescue Squad. Also in the area, Nike Harajuku, the massive Harajuku Daiso and the irresistible Kiddyland.

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Shibuya

With Shibuya so close, its worth the walk to discover some new sights and places that you’d miss on the train, and that we did. We grabbed a bite to eat at Teddy’s Bigger Burger, a burger joint from our last destination, Hawaii with a guy serving that could only be classed as “quite the character”, which simply added to the great dining experience and tasty food :-‘9

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Continuing down Meiji Dori sees eye catching landmarks like the Audi Forum “crumpled glass” building, sneaker boutique, Atmos, familiar brands like DC, Burberry and local quirky tee store, Graphix. We also stumbled across a live graffiti art install outside a skate shop and swingin’ rockabilly greaser store, Temmye – Cream Soda on our way to our streetwear faves, KiksTYO and Santastic, then almost got caught in an interview with a lifestyle TV show at the Shibuya crossing.

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While we struck out completely with the markets this time, we at least added a few new “I’ll be back” spots to the list for future visits.

Next up we hit two of the biggest sights in Osaka, Osaka castle and the Umeda Sky building.

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

02.25.2015

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If you’re looking for a day trip while staying in Osaka, Kyoto is an obvious choice being only about 30min away on a regular train or if you splurge for the shinkansen add-on for the JR pass it only takes 15min, in fact, you could easily spend a few days here but of course we were still whirlwinding and only had a day so we kept to a couple of the highlights.

Fushimi Inari-taisha

Getting there:
Directly across the road from Inari station which is about a 5min ride from Kyoto station. The giant torii is hard to miss!

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We chose to check out probably one of the most well known Kyoto landmarks first, the shrine at Fushimi Inari-taisha as it, like many “nature” based sights, opened before anything else. The large shrine is located at the base of the mountain which is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice and sake. Food and booze? Sounds like a top bloke 😉 From the shrine there is a few kilometers of walking track up the mountain through several thousand “torii” ie. the big orange arches. The path is mostly easy but with a modest 2 hour approximation to reach the top its best you budget the better part of the day, if however you have a crammed itinerary burning through your hidden waist pouch you can take a detour just before half way which leads to obstructed views of the city and paved paths through residential buildings and a couple little tucked away souvenir stores.

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Foxes, said to be messengers, feature heavily through out the main shrine and the smaller ones up the mountain path. What does the fox say? It says its time to get back to Kyoto station and catch a bus…

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Travel tip: being a mountain hike, make sure you wear suitable footwear unless you’re a fan of stubbed toes and rolled ankles! Exposed rocks and natural paths get very slick under the slightest bit of water so take it easy either way. A light weight spray jacket and some water wouldn’t go astray either.

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The Golden Temple
Ok so on the way to the Golden Temple we may have gotten off the bus a little too early, mainly because everyone else got off so instead we saw…

…The Silver Temple
Second place isnt that bad right? Well unless it’s a temple then its not really the same, especially after seeing photos of the Golden Temple before hand 🙁 That said, it was still a nice stop with some picturesque scenery, a short wilderness walk, sand garden and coy/wishing pond. However if you want the first place, stay on the bus! Don’t get out at the first major stop where everyone gets off.

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Getting there:
Take bus numbers 101 or 205 from Kyoto Station to the Kinkaku-ji Michi bus stop…easier said than done since its difficult to see the name of the stops so this is where our help ends and you adventure begins! 😀

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Shopping on Shijo-dori
Here you get the best of both worlds, higher end stores with brands like Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Lauren on Shijo while a block away the Teramachi and Shin Kyogoku Arcades run parallel to each other with stores along the lines of everyday items with a scattering of vintage clothing stores, “urban” stores and the odd store that sells only walking sticks! While not the shopping mecca for most tourists the unique items in some of the smaller boutiques is worthy enough for a “quick” (it goes on for awhile!) walk through.

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There is also a smaller street section dedicated to food markets called Nishiki Market adjacent to these with fresh food, produce and meat along with a bunch of eateries. At around 7-8pm we noticed they were all closing up so remember to get there a bit earlier if you’re after some grub.

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Getting there:
We chose to catch the train to Karasuma station and walk towards Kawaramachi station. Note: your JR pass is not accepted on most of the local lines here as they are privately run. You’ll also find a lot of the stations and maps at the ticket machines have no English so get acquainted with tracking train routes by colour and matching Japanese characters of the stops of your origin and destination.

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Next up, we make the most of our JR pass and catch an early shinkansen back to Tokyo in an attempt to attend at least one flea market, the mission, the large one at Yoyoji park in Harajuku.

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

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Some words that regularly get thrown around a lot for Osaka are “smaller” and “laid back” in comparison to Tokyo, which of course could easily be misconstrued as it being some kind of little beach town, not so. Its still a large city with plenty of hustle and bustle, to put things into perspective, Melbourne is Australia’s most densely populated city at 430/km2 while Osaka crams in over 12000/km2! So while it may only have a population of Brisbane its shoe horned into the space of the Cook Islands. That said, the only real difference between Tokyo is they stand to the opposite side of escalators. Tokyo = left, Osaka = right. Weird since they both drive on the same side of the road, either way, we’re just glad there’s -some- etiquette and commonsense! (Yes I’m looking at you Australia, get your act together! :p )

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Travel tip: In Osaka, we chose to stay at the Hearton Hotel (Nishi Umeda), a short walk from Osaka station with the majority being undercover thanks to a short mall which joins the station. The mall is pretty much all restaurants and cafes (bar the token electronics store) so its perfect to grab a bite at the start or end of the day. There is also delis, fresh fruit and bakeries/dumpling huts(with some of the biggest pork buns we have ever seen!) along with Auntie May’s Pretzels (not as good as Wetzel’s but a worthy substitute) and McDonald’s inside the train station.

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Ah the wet season, always just enough rain that you need some kind of protection but its too hot and muggy to wear a hardshell so a brolly is the way to go. $5-10 from just about anywhere or just borrow one from the many that are left at entrances of the train stations, just remember to pay it forward 😉

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Nipponbashi aka Den Den Town

Our original plan was to stop off at the Shitennoji Temple markets, one of the biggest in the area but with the rain unrelenting as we exited Tennoji station (closest to the temple) we made the executive decision to turn straight back around and head to back Nanba. This is where the JR pass pays for itself, no need to worry about paying again on a failed mission.

Walking out of Nanba station had a instantly strange small town feel, gone were the towering skyscrapers of shiny glass and metal and in its place, a “main drag” of a small town…comparatively. Not to the point of only a fish and chip shop and a pub but awning covered footpaths, a two way street that wasn’t as wide as it was long and far less signage and neon lights bearing down on you. Many buildings were still about 6 stories tall so there wasn’t a chance of seeing a horse and carriage. The best part, there’s no need for any kind of navigation, it basically just one long street centered on Sakaisuji Avenue.

Travel tip: Walk out of Nanba station East exit (follow the signs to Den Den Town) then turn right into Sakaisuji. One of the first shops is tourist info if you need a map or extra help getting around.

Den Den town is Osaka’s answer to Tokyo’s Akiba, it’s an electronic and toy haven… just on a smaller scale, but what it lacks in variety it makes up for in savings. Prices were all noticeably less here, a quick scan of the Bandai model kit section saw most kits $5-10AU cheaper than their big city counterpart.

Laox and its countless clone stores handled the electronics side of things but it was the toy shopping that tweak our interest with Super Kids Land leading the charge. Five floors of specialties from general collectibles to model kits to air guns and RC vehicles to trains and a whole floor dedicated to Tamiya. If you have any sort of passing interest in any of those things, you may want to budget a bit of time here 😉

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Other stores of mention, Herogangu: very similar to Mandarake, a big variety of toys, collectibles and memorablia. Check out the “best Optimus Prime halloween costume everrrr”, and Astro Zombies (of rockin toyland), worthy of a look on name alone, but there’s much more to this store.  One of the more quirkier stores we’ve come across, it not only sports the usual fair but takes a hard left into pop culture and movie related items from resin casts and busts to masks and props. For those not able to make it to the states, there’s also a big selection of vintage Americana related toys.

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Used camera stores are also plentiful but contrary to belief f1.2 lenses aren’t just thrown away, most of the good/usuable stuff has already been picked through or can be found cheaper online (and new!).

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Dotonbori

If like us, you walked down one side of Sakaisuji Av and up the other you’ll end up with the dilemma – do you keep walking to Dotonbori or walk back to Nanba station to catch a train to the next station and walk back from there? We figured since we were already walking to just keep going. It was only a km or two and we found a nice little spot for lunch along the way. The shops and scenery however dies off and it’s a rather uneventful walk till you get to Dotonbori which is hard to miss with all the giant sea creature signs on the front of shops! It’s a shopping and eating mecca and basically the go-to destination for all Osakian travellers. You could easily spend a day exploring both sides of the canal and the long covered shopping mall that runs perpendicular to it. Nike Osaka is also nearby if you’d like to try your luck for some regionally exclusive items.
On a clear day, jump aboard the mini ferris wheel to get a higher view of the area.

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Photo tip: The Glico sign (makers of one of our fave snacks here and over there, Pocky) can be clearly seen from one of the major canal bridge crossings and is common tourist attraction.

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Heading a little further north you’ll come across Amerikamura, known locally as Ame-mura is kind of like a little America-town, doesn’t quite have the same ring as Chinatown though and its relativity to America is pretty much only in the form of clothing shops with a hip hop angle (closest “wrong” American style food was probably the ice cream/cream filled hotdog bun. We passed, something just not quite right about it… tho if they threw some bacon on it… 😉 ) so again, if you’re missing out on travelling stateside then this could very well be the stop for you, if of course, your wallet agrees. With the some what implied exoticness of all things American, clothing prices reflect that. Basic Adidas tees were around 4-5000Y and just like Harajuku there are plenty of guys of African persuasion trying to jive talk you into their store to give you the hard sell.

Travel tip: If you’d rather not be bothered or would like to browse in peace, give them a blank stare to imply you don’t speak Japanese or English, they give up pretty quickly and move on to the next person 😉

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The stand out for the area however will please the sneakerheads out there, there are several sneaker stores sporting the higher end models, namely Jordans but also a selection of local releases. There are even stores which have larger sizes for those that normally don’t have much luck when travelling through Asia. Fine Crew Osaka was one of the stand outs and clear lovers of the Jumpman.

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Caps and head gear is covered by New Era dealer, On Spot which is conveniently on the way to our must-stop sneaker spot, K Skit. Sadly though, many of their shelves were bare with remaining stock spread out, quite possibly waiting for their next shipment. It was definitely a stark contrast to their brimming Kichijoji store, none the less, its rather easy to find being above GStar Raw.  Just hope you don’t catch them on an off week!

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With the rain unrelenting we made our way back to the hotel for some much needed rest and crossed our fingers it would give us a break the following day when we head to Kyoto!

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

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Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

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Nissan HQ

Having just parted with my faithful old 180sx, a close companion of nigh on 15 years, mere weeks before this trip it was a fitting tribute and just a little coincidental that Nissan’s Global headquarters was on the way to Yokohama bay, just a short walk from Yokohama station.

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Travel tip: The PDF on the Nissan site gives you all the info you need to get there.

Needless to say, the place is impressive as it is sprase, not to say its empty, just very spread out with a sizeable selection of current models from pocket sized kei cars to the ugly duckling Juke (regardless of how many Nismo parts you throw at it) and the business man terroriser, Godzilla aka the GTR. They even have a balls to the wall and extremely rare Lemans R390 GT.

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The best thing is, even though it is a showroom/dealership, there are no pushy salesmen or any obligation at all, its actually quite the opposite. You are free to sit in, adjust and play the open and close game to your heart’s content. Assistants are only too happy to show off a feature like the Swiss army knife seats of the Cube, nod with a smile then leave you to “how many combinations can we do now?” 😉

Of course no attraction is complete without a gift shop and this one doesn’t disappoint with more branded merch than Hello Kitty. Ok, maybe not that much but there’s still more than enough knick knacks, memorabilia and clothing to deck out any fan and their house, car or work space.

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Update: Reports since our visit sees the space expanded to include sections and information along the lines of a museum with accompanying vintage cars and artwork being swapped in and out regularly, all the more reason to check it out 🙂

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Yokohama Bay area

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As this was just a day trip for us, Queen’s Plaza was a logical choice for a centralised jump off point. The train stops at Minatomirai station below the mall which makes its easy to get around and a good spot to ditch accumulating shopping in one of the many available lockers.

Landmark Plaza and Queen’s Plaza (and now MARK IS mall) are all within a short walk of each other sporting a higher end feel, with accompanying stores, from your regular Westfields. Kids (and our 😉 ) faves, Hello Kitty, Studio Ghibli and Pokemon stores are abound but the stand outs were Snoopy Town, Lego store, The Disney store and… Mister Donut 😉 Early evening, about an hour before closing they start clearing stock so donuts and other desserts can be had for some great prices, of course we had to try some (:

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It was well into the evening by the time we made it outside to the waterways around the bay unfortunately being the wet season it rained more days than it didn’t and this day was no different. But all was not lost, the view and lights around the bay still looked beautiful and it wasn’t heavy enough to make the walk to the World Porters mall unpleasant.

Along the way you’ll come across the Cosmo World amusement park, however also due to the less than ideal weather it had closed up early. The Cosmo Clock 21/ferris wheel however was still lit up and looked very cool against the night skyline.

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The Cup Noodle Museum is also down this end of the bay but we missed that by a good hour (!) so that left the Red brick Warehouse and World Porters malls. Maybe it was just the wind down to a rather long day but both malls were rather uneventful, on the plus side however, they’re open late so you can pretty much have the place to yourself if you venture out after dinner.

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Travel Tip: There are a few pedicabs around the area if you want someone else’s legs to get you back to the train station.

Next up, we’re back on the shinkansen and heading to Osaka!

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

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