One of the destinations in my bucket list was to visit the land of the rising sun. This place has always been a place to go because of the many influences the country has had on me. When I think of Japan, I think Sushi, cars, gadgets, discipline, ethics and anime! I have always been awed by the kind of things or innovations the Japanese come up with, ranging from their talking toilets to their sophisticated machinery they produce.
Naturally, when I came across the contest to win a 6 day, all expense paid trip to Tokyo & Osaka by Malaysia Asia travel blog and AirAsia X, I did what had to be done, I joined and made sure I stood out! We had to send in a picture of anything that resembles the letter ‘X’ in the most creative way possible. Since the wining prize was to go to Japan, I thought, “Why not look the part?”. Which led me to rent a ‘Sumo Wrestlers’ costume from the local costume shop and snapped a couple of pictures with my hands up and feet apart to portray the letter ‘X’ as much as possible.
Never did I imagine seeing my picture up on the Malaysia Asia Travel blog as one of the winning pictures! I was so excited and at the same time unprepared, mentally and physically to go for a trip to JAPAN in a weeks’ time! However, I managed to sort out my Visa and applied for leave at my workplace and was ready to go and did not know really what to expect!
On the 16th of February, we met the rest of the ‘AAX Japan Winners’ crew’ at LCCT airport and I was introduced to David Hogan, the blogger for Malaysia Asia Travel blog, the other 3 winners, Ryan, Melody, Sarika, Shantee from Tongue in Chic (fashion blog) and Miss Gigi from AirAsia X. The hospitality treatment was felt immediately on Day 1 as we were checked in with the help of Ms Gigi on the priority lane.
Although, the flight to Tokyo was a long 6 hours, the experience flying with AirAsia X made time fly with great hospitality by the AirAsia X crew and good company with the rest of our own Japan AAX crew. We were also served with their signature Nasi Lemak Ayam dish on board which ‘reminded’ us of good Malaysian food in case we decided not to return to our country.
We arrived at Haneda International Airport at 10.30pm local time with anxious and eager faces to experience Japan. A representative of AirAsia X in Japan met us at the airport and took us back to our hotel with the service of a tour bus. Our tour guide during our Tokyo stay had a very colorful character and never failed to amuse us with his knowledge on facts and happenings in Tokyo.
We were welcomed to the Prince Hotel, Sunshine City with an executive suite for us each! As it was already late, we decided to grab some dinner from their local ‘7 eleven’ style mart which was known as ‘Family Mart’ which was situated in the hotel itself with 24/7 operating hours. To our amazement, the variety of items sold in the mart was a glimpse of how Japan is going to be in the next few days. They had western & Japanese pre-packed meals which just had to be ‘microwaved’ and voila! , dinner was ready!
The next morning everyone was very excited as ‘Disneyland’ was on the agenda! After our complimentary breakfast buffet at the hotel, we made our way to Disneyland Tokyo. For some of us, it was our first visit to a Disneyland and it definitely brought out the ‘kid’ in us.
Tokyo Disneyland was huge and had so many attractions according to most of the famous Disney characters and movies. Another marvel the Japanese are capable of is their excellent attention to detail. Although, most of them were in Japanese, it only made the experience more unique. Before we left, we were treated to the ‘Disney Parade’ which featured all the famous Disney characters and music which concluded our Disneyland experience.
After we made our way back, we were treated to another surprise that night. It started out as a few trickles of snowflakes. Before we knew it by midnight, it was snowing in Tokyo! As Malaysians who have never seen snow before, we amused a couple of pedestrians by taking pictures with the snow covered bush and plants!
After, as some of us were still hungry, we decided to take a walk from our hotel into the Ikebukuro district to find something to eat and do a little exploring on our own.
We came across this little Ramen restaurant in a corner of one alley and decided to have a go. It turned out to be the best Ramen we have ever had! After dinner, we discovered how big the slot machine industry is in Japan, or known as Pachinko Slot Machines. A simple pinball type of machine that wins you coins is a huge craze as there were many buildings dedicated to Pachinko’s in every direction we turned into.
The following morning, we were scheduled to experience the traditional side of Tokyo by visiting a temple called Asakusa. One of the popular tourist attraction, here we were treated to the traditional and ancient architecture of Japan. There were also rows of shops selling various souvenirs and tid bits. After much traditional stuff, we were brought to the Tech central of Tokyo, known as Akihabara, which was home to many major electronics and tech stores. Here we had a glimpse of all the latest gadgets and technology which was produced out of the land of the rising sun. After much exploring, we were treated to lunch at another Ramen Noodle shop with a twist. These noodle dishes were spicy and ranged from level 1 to 5 being the hottest.
Next stop was the world famous, Harajuku Street! This is where you can find girls and some guys expressing their freedom of self-expression through fashion! Some were weird and some were downright outrageous but was interesting to see nonetheless. Harajuku Street was filled with clothing shops which was frequented by teenagers and some adults.
The following day, we were given a free & easy day which we used to explore the city on our own and have some time to shop. We started out the morning by exploring Ikebukuro and had some crepes that were sold in this little car/van. After that we experienced the Tokyo Subway Train system which comprises of various lines interconnecting each other. Although it was quite confusing, we managed to get out way around. We made our way to the center of the city called Shibuya, which is famous for being used in any movies or TV ads as the biggest or most dense Zebra crossing ever. Many of us just stood there to watch how people from all corner of the streets, crossed the street without bumping into anyone and there were thousands of them. Also, in a mall called Shibuya 109, we were treated to the ‘dolls’ of Tokyo which dressed up to their finest and dolled themselves up according to the latest fashion trends.
After a long day of walking, it was time to say goodbye to Tokyo as we proceeded to the Bullet train station which was known as the Shinkansen. The fastest train service in Japan which could reach speeds up to 300km/h! And we were lucky enough to get the latest train model, the N700 which was one of the fastest to run today. Many of us were tired but glad that we experienced Tokyo the way we did.
After 3 hours, we reached Osaka! We were greeted by our friendly and cheerful tour guide, and ushered towards our transport to the hotel. Along the way to the hotel, we noticed significant differences about the building architecture and streets of Osaka. There weren’t many skyscrapers as compared to Tokyo, in fact, most of the buildings had a subtle yet old school feel to it. We never saw any building taller than 10 storeys!
As we arrived in Osaka at night, we had a glimpse of the bright and colorful neon lit signboards although not as densely populated as Tokyo. We arrived at our hotel, which was located in the middle of Shinsaibashi, one of Osaka’s main shopping district which is surrounded by major boutique stores and restaurants. It was definitely one of the busiest places in Osaka and a center of Osaka’s youth culture.
The following day, we were scheduled to make our way to Universal Studios, Osaka which was another major attraction of the city. About 3 train changes after, we arrived at Universal Studios and was practically transported to Hollywood. Everything in this theme park was designed which such intricate details surrounding famous movies such as Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Spiderman, Batman, and many more. We started off with the best rollercoaster in the park, the Hollywood Dream and roamed around the park as we slowly transitioned into respective movie’s themes. We also bumped into a stall that was selling Hello Kitty shaped buns or ‘pau’ that we so fondly call it.
After having a day filled with fantasy fun, we made our way back to Shinsaibashi and was promised the best Shabu-Shabu in Osaka by our guide at a very low profile Restaurant in the middle of the shopping district. With the traditional Japanese dining area with tables so low to the ground, we were seated on the floor awaiting our Shabu-shabu. The razor thin sliced meat arrived in trays and then was submerged in the boiling water in the middle of the table. It was definitely one of the best we had after a unanimous voting session. The meat went down well with a glass of ‘Umeshu’, which is a traditional Japanese plum liqueur.
Day 2 in Osaka started with a visit to the Umeda Sky building or also known as the Floating Garden Observatory, which is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. It consists of two 40-story towers that connect at their two uppermost stories, with bridges and an escalator crossing the wide atrium-like space in the center. We were treated to a great view of Osaka city from he observatory.
Next on the agenda on our sightseeing day was Osaka Castle, one of Japan’s most famous castles as it played a major role in the unification of Japan during the 16th century. The central castle building is five stories on the outside and eight stories on the inside, and built atop a tall stone foundation back then to protect its occupants from sword-bearing attackers. Nowadays it is a famous spot for newlyweds to hold photo shoots for their wedding profiles. The 15 acres wide castle grounds caged in the preserved ancient Japan heritage architecture and serenity away from the modern city outside the walls. Dave from Malaysia Asia Travel blog had a field day in photographing every bit of detail his lens could capture.
What is a trip to Japan without sushi?! Our knowledgeable guide, who also knows her restaurants in town, took us to a small restaurant in Shinsekai district, which is close to the famous landmark in Osaka, the Tsutenkaku tower. This small yet pleasant restaurant put on quite a good display of how the sushi was made from scratch and also with – style. The chef’s took extra initiative and paid very close attention to the slicing of the tuna and salmon and used very specialized equipment to make the sushi. The salmon and white tuna was very fresh and all of us enjoyed the sushi very much. After lunch, we went around Shinsekai for a bit of shopping, which was mostly tid bits and souvenir shopping. A lot of Pokky biscuits were bought by us, as there are so many flavor variations that we found; so much so Dave the blogger already had a head start on his Pokky collection!
Mid-day and we were back in Shinsaibashi to further explore the shopping district and have a go at the famous Takoyaki balls! Takoyaki’s are fried or gilled octopus which is ball-shaped Japanese snack made of wheat flour based batter and cooked in a special Takoyaki pan. There were many variations to the Takoyaki balls but the original are the ones to try and it was worth it. The rest of the evening was filled with shopping and eventually the girls went their own way and went to shop for the latest fashion at the retail outlets. Ryan, another winner and myself explored the streets and took pictures of the different type of stores and type of people in the area.
Late evening, we made way to the train station that will take us to the airport. The train service line was called JR West. The management at JR West was kind to meet us personally to greet us and congratulate us on winning the trip. They also presented us with complimentary tickets to the airport and a goodie bag filled with information on Osaka city and JR West. Thank you JR West.
As soon as we reached Kansai International Airport, an AirAsia X representative greeted us and escorted us straight to the Xpress Check-in counter! We were truly grateful for the hospitality and services that AirAsia X provided the whole lot of us and a special thanks to Ms Gigi Yee of AirAsia X who accompanied us throughout the trip and ensured it was an unforgettable experience for all of us. We bid farewell to our guide and to Osaka and Japan that we were growing fond of. Japan you will be missed!
Thank you AirAsia X, you made my dreams come true. Now I can strike off an item on my bucket list!