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I would just like to mention that this is my 100th post… and my first post for the year 2013. A small hooray is in order. “hooray!!!” Now that that’s out of the way, you may read on…

Japan is one of the places that you just HAVE TO go to. I always hear about how different it is, how getting lost is common and how communication is especially difficult. It sounds both terrifying and exciting for someone like me who loves to travel.

When an opportunity to go to the land of the rising sun came, I knew I just had to take the trip (expenses and all). I promise myself to go someplace new each year and Japan is hands down my ULTIMATE destination for 2013. I plan to share as much of the whole experience as I possibly can; so my special trip is going to stretch across a number of entries. Let’s start!

Before I write about my day to day adventures, I would like to cover the basics of my trip… how I got there, where I stayed… That kind of stuff. From this, hopefully you’d get to pick up a couple of tips when you do plan to take your own trip to Japan.

THE TRIP: Osaka It Is!

I was tagging along with my brother and sister-in-law to a food and bakery expo in Osaka; so that’s where my trip centered around. I went around Osaka and areas nearby. Even with almost a week allotted for this trip, our itinerary was pretty packed! Tokyo is a long way away. Going all the way there would not be practical; so I’ll reserve that for another time.

THE PREPARATION: Avoid Panic Packing

Upon deciding to go to Japan, I had to research about the weather when I get there. March is the time when winter slowly transitions into spring; and so it’s significantly cooler compared to our tropical climate. Having never been to a country so far north from the equator, this meant I had to start from scratch and buy everything I needed.

I started building my fall/winter wardrobe early, scouring December and January sales at Mango, Forever 21, Aldo and Terranova. I also bought HeatTech basics from Uniqlo. Sweaters, turtlenecks, jackets, boots, gloves, socks and leggings are essentials for cool weather. It’s best to buy stuff little by little instead of plopping down thousands in one time. That way I won’t be overwhelmed by the clothing expenses on top of travel expenses.

this is PACKING awesome! #osaka2013 (March 2, 2013 1:33pm)

From my Twitter: “this is PACKING awesome! #osaka2013” (March 2, 2013 1:33pm)

Two to three weeks before the trip, I started planning what I would wear daily. I did this to avoid packing unnecessary clothes that would just occupy luggage space. For a six-day trip, I prepared 7 days worth of clothes plus extra tops just in case. A week before, I started putting everything in my luggage. This allowed me a week to add or reduce clothes as I see fit. This way, I won’t pack like a maniac and forget stuff the day before I leave.

THE FLIGHT: Flying Cathay

Given that travel time to Osaka would take longer, I don’t regret spending a bit more money to fly Cathay Pacific. It was my first time with this airline; and we went on connecting flights from Manila to Hong Kong to Osaka. There is definitely a difference (as compared to local airlines) when it came to the plane itself, the food, the service as well as the in-flight entertainment. The seats were more spacious. We were given blankets. I also came directly from a shoot the day before; so I needed a flight that allowed me to sleep comfortably. It was well worth the few extra dollars.

THE TEMPORARY HOME: Toyoko Inn Nanba

Photos of Toyoko Inn Osaka Nanba - Hotel Images

Hotels aren’t really that big a deal for me. Since I will spend more time outside than inside, all I need are clean sheets, a clean bathroom and a comfy bed. I got all that at Toyoko Inn Nanba. My room is a small one; but it was for only about Php3,000++ a night. With free breakfast and free WI-FI, that’s a pretty good price point given the location.

Pictures of Toyoko Inn Osaka Nanba - Hotel Photos Pictures of Toyoko Inn Osaka Nanba - Hotel Photos These photos of Toyoko Inn Osaka Nanba is courtesy of TripAdvisor

THE WEATHER: Between Two and Twenty Degrees

My trip was from March 4 to 9; and in that week the temperature transitioned from really really cold to moderate.

I was practically freezing upon arrival at Kansai International Airport. I underestimated the weather, wearing only one layer of clothing. After checking in, I piled on the clothes but it still wasn’t enough! My feet were freezing in the two-degree weather. I ended up buying a thermal shirt and leggings. It really helped in the first few days. I’m just glad the temperature gradually progressed to a more comfortable 17-20 degrees as days passed by. It just goes to show that no matter how ready you might be, you may still be surprised once you’re actually there. But hey, it’s part of the unpredictability of travel.

THE TRANSPORTATION: Confusing But Effective

The Osaka Railway System looks this crazy. Who wouldn't get lost with that?

The Osaka Railway System looks this crazy. Who wouldn’t get lost with that as a guide?

Our main mode of transportation was the subway/trains. We had a local accompanying us while going from one place to another, so he was a really huge help. But he himself still got a bit confused by the subway system, asking other people along the way. (I find the Hong Kong and Singapore Subway System easier to grasp and understand.) Still, you gotta hand it to the Japanese. Their transport system is very effective and efficient. All the trains have arrival times set to the minute. There are almost endless combinations to get to your destination; because everything is connected in one way or another. It’s confusing; but still brilliant. In Filipino, pinag-isipan nang maayos (well-thought of and planned well).

It’s also convenient. You just get an ICOCA card, load up (it reached around 4000 Yen or less than Php2000 for me for the whole trip) and just tap to get in and out of the stations. As a bonus, the stations each have their own personality (some are old but with character, while others are very modern), the trains have cushioned seats… sometimes even heated seats. It definitely made travel comfortable and hassle-free.

THE SIGHTS: A Really Photogenic Country

I believe Japan, as a whole, simply looks good in pictures. There are a lot of sights worth taking a snapshot of, even something as random as a walkway or a street. Case in point:

first subway station we went into

one of the many stretches of shops around Osaka

this is an installation along one of the walkways

another stretch of shops, this one in Kobe

Even the food — real or fake — are so pretty! Can you tell which is which?

FAKE. food displays outside the restaurant.

REAL. pancakes from 3 Brothers Cafe

REAL. expensive but oh-so-delicious strawberries.

REAL. authentic karaage from Tempozan Market Food Court.

FAKE. i have no idea what this is, but it’s some sort of dessert

Even at the convenience store, I couldn’t help but take pictures!

a display of drinks.

one of the many food items available at Family Mart, a popular convenience store.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s no wonder I had a great adventure in Japan. Almost everything I encountered is unique from other destinations I’ve been to. Simply put, the whole trip was just AWESOME!

Up Next — Kobe/Dotonbori

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