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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

Japantown is pretty much an outdoor mall (Japanese Village Plaza) and its surrounding streets. The plaza has a good mix of the stores you’d expect. Sanrio (Hello Kitty), traditional style souvenirs and apparel, authentic cuisines, bakeries and grocery markets. Sneakers are covered with Footland Sports. They stock a good range of current items including colourways and styles that you’d expect from a much larger store. Very few of the items have prices, when asked, they’re all around standard RRP but with a “I give you a special price” post-fix, so there’s a bit of bargaining to had if you’re purchasing a few items. There’s also a sale wall at the back with old season stock.

Sanrio - Japantown LA

Outside the mall the sneaker fun continues with RIF LA, the downtown consignment answer to West Hollywood’s Flightclub. Similar range, though the prices were higher. As with any bricks and mortar store, the benefit would be being able to go in, handle the shoe and try it on rather than taking your chances on ebay and the like.

RIF LA

On the northern side of the plaza is easily one of LA biggest and best anime stores, Anime Jungle (second store on the southern side). Huge selection of Manga, cosplay outfits, Gundam model kits, tees and anime related merch. The store itself isn’t very obvious with “Cure shop” on its front window but its unmistakable once you walk in.

Anime Jungle

A block to the west you have Weller Court, a small mall with a nature strip and Japanese gardens, perfect for taking a rest from all that walking! The last stop is Q Pop, a mid size store with a good selection of vinyl collectibles, clothing and books. It differs from the usual with a more advent guarde approach to the clothing and artworks, a bit more twisted and a little less cute, there’s also a selection of finer arts like paintings and sculptures. They of course still have the cheek squeezing super cute stuff if that’s more to your liking.

Q Pop LA

Q Pop LA

Next up, we ditch the shopping bags and hit up a string of sight seeing and entertainment!

Los Angeles 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Melrose Trading Post
Los Angeles 2011 part #2 – West Hollywood shopping, Mulholland Drive
Los Angeles 2011 part #3 – Downtown shopping – Fashion District
Los Angeles 2011 part #4 – Downtown shopping – Japantown
Los Angeles 2011 part #5 – Steel Panther @ The House of Blues 17/5/11
Los Angeles 2011 part #6 – Hollywood sign, Farmer’s Market
Los Angeles 2011 part #7 – Peterson Automotive Museum
Los Angeles 2011 part #8 – Greater LA area shopping
Los Angeles 2011 part #9 – Hollywood sight seeing with Orbic Air
Los Angeles 2011 part #10 – Driving in Los Angeles/California

Complete Los Angeles 2011 photo gallery here

Downtown LA

Most cities around the world tend to have a CBD which is based loosely round a large mall or group of shops, not so much for LA. Its CBD is strongly focused on the ‘B’ and can throw off first timers expecting more, very much like ourselves. First stop and possibly only stop for most people is the infamous 100 block “fashion” district. I use the term “fashion” very loosely as it seems like its more targeted to certain demographics and it seems one of the biggest markets are middle age to elderly women, not too unlike the mother of Nanny Fine. You know the look, big loose clothing with violent clashes of colour and patterns or an unashamed overuse of glo-mesh and bedazzling.

Coming a close second are the hoochie mama outfits. If you finally got that part as “background dancer #14″ in your friends rap video (yes we know, it’s a foot in the door till your boyfriend/manager sorts out that demo for you) then this is the place for you! Store after store of leggings that look like jeans, jeans that look like leggings and mannequin bums that look like two pigs fighting under a blanket. Starting to see a pattern yet?

YA RLY

Unfortunately the guys gear isn’t much better, while some of the prices are good, the range is limited to basic work wear, athletic gear and Ed Hardy styled fashion. On the upside there are plenty of suit stores and tailors, a lot with questionable designs and dated cuts to go with their outlandish sitcom drug dealer style shirts but there are some good places with classic designs and vintage flare.

One thing to note is a lot of the stores are wholesalers (some don’t actually sell to the public) so the prices can get very good if you’re looking at buying in bulk eg. For your team, school, work. One of the Dickies sellers mentioned he supplies a few stores in NZ and AU.
But remember these are the UDM (US domestic market) work wear variety, not the “Dickies Street” version sold by stores like City Beach in Australia, which incidentally have very little difference to the work wear ones.

In the way of sneakers, you’re best to just keep walking. The few stores we ventured into were a mixture of fakes, factory seconds and low end “rubbishy” models. There were a couple worthy toy stores with less commercial product, one I found in the most unlikely of places selling wind chimes and jewellery, everything BUT toys. But they did have a shelf in the window of collectible vinyl in a hiphop/graffiti vain which look liked they’ve sat there for years. Pieces which I’ve seen around the traps ranging from $50-200US as limited runs in selected Kidrobot stores and the like. When asked on prices, they were clearly made up on the spot from a guy that should really never play poker! I’m sure I could’ve haggled a better price out of him, but with numbers between $10-15US it was hard to keep a straight face. Needless to say, I cleaned them out 😉

The rest of this precinct is divided up for flowers and textiles. The flower section has a huge selection of cut flowers and potted garden flowers and plants along with associated accessories. Obviously the weather dictates a lot of the seasonal/regional flowers but its still a surprise to see massive 10-15 flowered Phalaenopsis orchids for a throw away $10ea. Similar items would fetch between $50 and $100 mark here. The cut flower arrangements are what can only be described and typically American. Big, bold and brash, like a brand new Escalade with chrome wheels or your mum’s hair style from the 80s, they feature a fanned peacock tail arrangement with a random selection of “pretty” flowers. Roses, sunflowers, tulips and ample Baby’s Breath are all slapped together in a tribal head gear fashion with cohesion and colour blocking coming in with a DNF. If you really want to dazzle your loved one you can even go for the pieces that feature a large plastic gold plated ornament! Needless to say, if you are buying cut flowers, you’ll do better buying a couple bunches and putting them together in the dark 😉

Textiles on the other hand, while still having the patterns/styles of a Rugs-a-million clearance rug, are saved by sheer variety. Even if you have a brief passing interest in sewing its worth a look, if you’re at the other end of the scale and are already thinking how many fat quarters you can get into a suitcase then you may want to consider ditching some of those sneakers :-0

iPhone case anyone?

Its probably best to just park your car as close as possible to the area you’re visiting, then move it to the next area and pay the few bucks again as the blocks are loonngg. If you want to brave it or aren’t driving, walking does have its advantages in stumbling across stores and flea market style centres with electronics, souvenirs and general plastic crap, not too unlike your average Asian shopping “centre” and all at prices less than the usual tourist spots. For example, souvenir tees were around 20-40% less than places like Santa Monica and the Farmer’s Markets.

Big Man Bakes

As you’re venturing north take a detour to South Main street for Big Man Bakes, nothing as suss… or big …or manly as it sounds! Simply some very tasty gourmet cupcakes. Try the Red Velvet – a traditional southern style cake, the caramel apple or the “old school” – yellow cake with chocolate butter cream icing; the list goes on and they get cheaper the more you buy.

Further north is the “Toy District“, which was in all accounts disappointing. A whole district of toys?? Yes please! Unfortunately, from the several blocks we walked through it was nothing more than novelties and knick knacks bar a few remote controlled helicopters and cars. There’s also a scattering of home wares and car accessories stores. There’s a Hello Kitty store, or should I say a store that sells Hello Kitty items. Hard to tell if they were real or not but the branding and packaging looked authentic as did the HK car mats. Hello Kitty as a robot with Astro boy styled rocket feet flying through a rainbow? Just try and stop me!

By now you’ve probably ready to hurt someone if you see another battery powered car that flips over when it hits a wall or a “live” ball with a tail, but don’t despair, Japantown is just around the corner.

Los Angeles 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Melrose Trading Post
Los Angeles 2011 part #2 – West Hollywood shopping, Mulholland Drive
Los Angeles 2011 part #3 – Downtown shopping – Fashion District
Los Angeles 2011 part #4 – Downtown shopping – Japantown
Los Angeles 2011 part #5 – Steel Panther @ The House of Blues 17/5/11
Los Angeles 2011 part #6 – Hollywood sign, Farmer’s Market
Los Angeles 2011 part #7 – Peterson Automotive Museum
Los Angeles 2011 part #8 – Greater LA area shopping
Los Angeles 2011 part #9 – Hollywood sight seeing with Orbic Air
Los Angeles 2011 part #10 – Driving in Los Angeles/California

Complete Los Angeles 2011 photo gallery here

04.21.2010

Yoyogi Park entrance, Harajuku, Tokyo

Amai Undogutsu 😉

Thanks to the ever delectable Gwen Stefani, most people know of Harajuku for its “girls” and its “lovers”, but there’s a reason why Gwen and millions of other people are infatuated by the area and that’s its over the top fashions. Think kandi raving goth punk p0rno star and you’re getting close. A lot of layering, off cuts, frays and safety pins mixed with classic maid or school girl outfits.

Takeshita Street, Harajuku, Tokyo

Straight out of Harajuku station you pretty much fall into the thick of it, ie. Takeshita street (don’t worry, itll get less funny after a day, but then itll get funny again). The closed off street extends a few blocks and is packed with a variety of stores, mostly clothing, with a couple run of the mill sneaker and sport/skate stores. We were there on a Tuesday during school holidays and the street was pretty well jammed moving at a “bottleneck at a music festival” rate. If you’re going to go on a weekend, be prepared to get the elbows out if you want to zigzag between shops.

A side note, watch out for the African looking guys trying to be your friend, they’re only there to drag you into shops or sell you dodgy merchandise/tickets (to who knows what!). They seem to be of European background but speak a few broken languages.

Meiji Jingu Shrine, Harajuku, Tokyo

Speaking of the weekend, it is still the best time to check out Harajuku, mainly for Yoyogi park for its circus of Harajuku girls, performers and those crazy rockabilly Elvis impersonators. While you’re in the park, take the short walk to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, one of the most popular shrines in Tokyo, to stay a few prayers and maybe bless your feet for all the walking you’re about to do 😉

After Takeshita street, *snicker* venture out into the surrounding streets for more of the larger designer stores. A further block or two you’ll find many little lane ways of designer labels and boutique shoe and clothing shops. Brand stores like Adidas originals, Nike iD, Burton, Element along with some of Tokyo’s finest collector sneaker stores, Atmos, Undefeated, Chapter, Kicks Lab and of course for the everyday releases, the Japanese Footlocker, ABC Mart. While you’re in the area check out the many vintage clothing stores, Heatwave is one of the bigger names. There’s a huge variation in quality and selection so you might have to try a few different places if you’re looking for something in particular but like any “op-shopping” the best buys are the ones that you never expected to find.

For lunch I recommend the pocket kebabs. A little store with the long lunch line near Forever 21 (the American version of Supre’ but they sell guys clothes as well). There’s a few of these places through out Tokyo, basically two European guys with a well established little shop, have a photo of themselves in the window and make a killing. Very friendly and picked the Aussie accent straight off the bat. Crikey! The food is little thrown together because of the pace they work at but still fresh and very tasty.

Optimus Prime, Kiddyland, Harajuku

Finally you cant go to Harajuku and not hit up Kiddyland. I know, sounds a bit suss but I promise there’s no Manga p0rn! It’s pretty much the same as Yamashiroya in Ueno but with some floors solely dedicated to one character. So for all the Hello Kitty, Snoopy, Rilakkuma fans your prayers have been answered. For the lads, by pass the fluff and head straight to the top level for all your action figures, collectibles and vinyls needs. They definitely had one of the biggest selections of Kid Robot, Tokidoki and similar vinyls that I saw in Tokyo.

Heading back to the train station pop into the 100Yen store (Daiso) for any last minute travel basics or pretty much anything for that matter. Basically the 99p/Crazy Clarks Japanese equivalent but everything is 100Y (roughly $1US). Some of the items are very cheaply made while others are actually quite good. We picked up luggage straps, padlocks, stubby cooler, belt and a few other bits and pieces all for a buck each!

Tokyo part #1 – Ueno for a day
Tokyo part #2 – Getting round Tokyo, Ueno Sakura at night
Tokyo part #4 – Shibuya
Tokyo part #5 – Kichijoji and Shinjuku
Tokyo part #6 – Akihabara
Tokyo part #7 – Odaiba and Leaving Tokyo

Photo Gallery Here