I don’t want to sugar coat our trip. Looking back at the photos, it would be easy to paint a picture-perfect family vacation. But there were times when it was so hard that I wanted to join Max in his tantrum and cry. Mikey is the epitome of patience and flexibility when it comes to dealing with Max, but I know that he had some tough times with him too.
We were kind of baffled at this new clingy and fussy toddler that we were dealing with. He either wanted to breastfeed or to be allowed to run amok. A part of me thought that maybe this was a new phase Max was entering. Maybe it was a preview of the terrible twos that people kept telling us about. But looking back, I think it was a mixture of Max being frustrated because he couldn’t communicate what he wanted, the horrible weather, over-stimulation because of all the screen time, teething, and also still recuperating from his sudden sickness a few days before the trip.
It would be easy to regret the timing of the trip (“maybe if we waited until he was older, it would’ve been easier“), especially nowadays when we can meaningfully reason with Max. We could regret it, but we honestly don’t. As silly as it sounds, all the hard stuff is ultimately eclipsed by the sheer fun that we had together. Experiencing the world in new ways as a family is such a privilege. We are beyond grateful.
It took me a while to finish this series, but I think (like always) the timing makes perfect sense. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to include this last tidbit: a few nights ago, Max saw his Papa’s iPad wallpaper (a photo of Max and I watching rays at the Osaka Aquarium) and he said: “rey! Pan!” (Ray! Japan!). We were so amazed! He remembers and even if he can’t fully articulate it, I know that he learned and grew so much because of this trip. And so did we.
I don’t remember who woke up first, but I do remember that I knew what I wanted my last non-airport meal in Osaka to be: Shake Shack! We didn’t even have breakfast because I was so excited. We decided to check-out early so that we didn’t have to hurry back to the hotel.
Our hotel was really beautiful.
We found Shake Shack in this cute little mall a few train stops away from our hotel. I think we might have accidentally cut the line, but it was well worth it! Max didn’t enjoy it as much as we did. Mikey and I actually had one burger each and then we shared another one after. It was so, so good. I wish Shake Shack would open in Manila already.
After Shake Shack, we went back to the hotel and decided to just spend some time in the lounge until we had to leave for the airport. Max and I ended up napping while waiting. While we napped, Mikey went around Shinshaibashi one more time and got me a honey latte again.
When we Googled the train ride to the airport, it turned out that we had one transfer. We had a lot of baggage (three large bags, one small one, and our own personal bags) and we had Max. I told Mikey that it might make sense to take a taxi to the nearest station of the train that would take us directly to the airport so that all we would have to do is get on the train. And I’m so glad we did. It was pretty much a hassle-free trip (Max slept and breastfed on the way) and we got to the airport pretty early.
Max breastfeeding in the Taxi.
Train ride to KIX.
We deposited our bags and then we spent two hours shopping and eating at the duty free area. When we finally checked in and got into the main airport, we wanted to spend what little Yen we had left in the airport shopping area, but while Max was playing in a play area he had a small accident with another child and he wanted to breastfeed. He fell asleep at some point, but I didn’t want him to waste his sleep while we were still at the airport. My failed attempt at gently waking him up by nursing and walking around at the same time was a disaster. Max freaked out and we both ended up on the floor. Him wailing and me on the verge of a breakdown. He calmed down after a while and we had to head to our gate already.
Our plane was full and when we requested to be seated in a row without other passengers, they said that it wouldn’t be possible. But like a miracle, we were seated at the only row without another passenger (THANK YOU CEBU PACIFIC!). Also, like another miracle, the earlier breakdown turned to be worth it because Max fell asleep as soon as we were seated and he stayed asleep for the rest of the ride. Maybe this was his way of telling us that he was ready to go home.
What is tired?
Landing in the less-than-spectacular airport in Manila made me miss Osaka. But there was something comforting about being greeted by people who understood you. When we got home, we discovered our freshly cleaned apartment (care of Gwama Elena’s cleaning crew) and some new friends that Gwama got for Max. Max was thrilled be reunited with all his toys. And he was excited to play with some of the toys we didn’t open in Osaka.
I guess the trip was successful because we felt like it ended too soon, but after spending 7 days in a tiny (cozy) hotel room, our apartment suddenly felt like a mansion. We missed Osaka but were truly happy to be back home.
Our last full day in Osaka was on a Thursday. We didn’t have much planned for the day except we knew we wanted to finally explore Dohtonburi. And Max wanted to ride the boat that we saw by Dohtonbori, so we knew we would do that at some point.
Our morning was slow again: konbini breakfast (cheese and cold cuts, super yummy) and going through some Shinshaibashi shops. It was a tough morning with Max because for the first time, he pooped outside of the hotel. So we went to Daimaru to change his diaper. Osaka is really baby friendly and it was nice that we got to try out their public changing rooms. We finally had our sushi lunch and it was divine. Max was a trooper and ate his tamago sushi. For some reason, in Japan, tuna is more expensive than salmon (it’s the opposite here). And they had a whole variety of tuna sushi, so it was nice to try those out.
After lunch, we returned to the hotel (around 12 noon). I knew the evening would be a bit challenging with Max because we were going to do Dontonburi, so I thought it would be a good idea for Max to rest until then. I told Mikey that I would watch Max and he could spend the afternoon exploring. He had a good time and I took advantage of the wider Netflix selection in Japan while Max played with all his vending machine toys. At some point, Max fell asleep.
When Mikey returned from his adventure, Max was still asleep so it was my turn to explore without a toddler. For some reason, I was hungry. So, the first thing I did was hit up Ichiran again. I wanted to try it with a little bit of spice this time. After Ichiran, I went to Uniqlo to pick up another on sale Airism shirt (Y500 only, or Php 241.00 or USD 4.45)! And that’s where Mikey and Max met me.
After Uniqlo, we made our way to the Dohtonbori boat tour ride (or the Tombori River Cruise). It was really fun! Our guide spoke in broken English (but mostly Japanese). Max was quietly watching most of the time. Towards the end though, he decided to breastfeed.
After the boat tour, we made our way to Dohtonbori. It was fine for a while, but Max had a huge tantrum. He wanted to keep rolling around on the floor and we wouldn’t let him. Mikey had to give him a time out and we were both emotionally spent. It didn’t help that most of the restaurants we wanted to try were full and Max was getting crankier by the minute. We eventually settled on an empty-ish okonomiyaki restaurant and it wasn’t bad! I’m sure Mikey wanted to try more of the street food, but I guess that’s the price you pay when travelling with a toddler.
As soon as we got to the hotel, we put cranky Max to sleep. And we spent most of the evening packing and buying more luggage weight online (we did a lot of shopping). When we were done packing and re-packing, Mikey rewarded himself with a solo trip to Ichiran (again, our hotel location was amazing!) and I stayed behind to watch the toddler sleep and downloaded a bunch of movies on Netflix for our plane ride home tomorrow. It was a tiring day and even if we were starting to miss the comforts of home a little bit, I don’t think we wanted to say goodbye to Osaka just yet.
Our fifth day in Osaka was probably the toughest day, Max-wise. It started off pretty slow, we had a late breakfast in Shinshaibashi before taking a long(-ish) train ride to Kyoto. Max was still pretty clingy on the train and he wanted the breastfeed the whole way. At that point, I just let him because he was easier to manage and we knew we had to reserve our energy for the day ahead.
The train ride was pretty spectacular though. It made the trip to Kyoto worth it. We got to see a another side of the Kansai region. We passed by an area that was just houses and sprawling hills. It seemed more provincial than Osaka. By the time we got to Kyoto Station, Mikey was hungry. So we stopped at the first comfortable restaurant we saw. It turned out to be a restaurant that specialized in tempura. It was really good, but based on the price, it was definitely a tourist trap. Unfortunately, when you’re travelling with a toddler, sometimes you really have to cave and pay extra for comfort.
After lunch, we walked to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. It was so HOT. Max had rosy cheeks the whole time because it was hot. Walking towards the temple was fun for Max because there were pigeons everywhere and he kept chasing after them. When we got to the shrine, there was a lady lying on the floor almost passing out because of the heat. Max had a blast at the temple though. The floor was made up of stones and Max loves stones. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to walk up the steps and see the famous troii gates because we had a stroller and the coin locker was so far away. Mikey and I were already sweating like crazy.
After an hour or so, we decided to head back to Osaka. We figured we’d come back and see more of Kyoto when Max is older (and hopefully when it’s cooler). We decided to take the rest of the day to finish up all the shopping we wanted to do. We wanted to hit a book store, a supermarket, and Don Quixote (a giant discount store).
We found a book store and a supermarket in a complex near our hotel. Bookstores in Osaka are a lot more quiet and library-like than bookstores over here. Max is used to being allowed to run around in our local bookstores here. But over there, everyone is so quiet. He actually got shh’ed by a salesperson. But I’m glad we went because we found the perfect books! ❤ We left with Polar Bear’s Underwear by tupera tupera and Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake. We love that we found English books by Japanese authors! They’re so cute and the humor is reminiscent of all the manga I used to read as a tween.
After the bookstore, Max was getting really, really fussy. He was sleepy and when we finally found a place to breastfeed him, he fell asleep right away. When he fell asleep, I tried to put him in a carrier so that we could go on with our shopping. 10 minutes into the grocery store and he started freaking out. He was still super sleepy, but he couldn’t breastfeed himself back to sleep because he was strapped in. It was kind of a nightmare at first. I struggled to unstrap him and then I let him latch while walking around. It was uncomfortable for the both of us. Finally, he hit his limit and had the meltdown of the century. He just kept crying and screaming and we couldn’t console him in any way. And bonus: he was trying out this new high pitch scream that seemed one million times louder in calm and quiet Osaka. We took turns taking him outside. Eventually, he relented and we breastfed while I sat on the sidewalk. I was spent.
We decided to go back to the hotel to drop stuff off before heading to Don Quixote. After decompressing and cooling down for a bit in our room, we were off again. We went to Don Quixote and Max spent most of the time in his stroller watching shows/movies/YouTube clips on the iPad (we seriously abused screen time on this trip). Mikey and I took turns with him so that we could explore each floor. By the time we reached the top floor, our shopping basket was full and Max was ready to run around again. So, we let him.
We walked around Dontonbori for a bit, but Max was reaching crazypants level again, so we decided to have dinner at the hotel. On our walk back to the hotel though, we witnessed something pretty amazing. While we were waiting for the stop sign to turn red, a huge group of go-karters dressed up like Mario Kart characters came down the street. It was so cool! We waved at them and they waved back and even smiled for a photo. Most of the Japanese people we met so far were very meek and polite. It was great to witness firsthand the famously quirky side of Japan.
When we got to the hotel, Mikey left right away to buy our dinner. I specifically requested for Sushi, but it turns out that not a lot of restaurants do take out in Japan. So Mikey ended up getting sushi from Family Mart and a bunch of other things. It turned out pretty well and we were tired from the day so it was nice to be able to relax at the hotel.
A few weeks before our trip, I kept tweaking our itinerary and budget. As I revised my excel sheet for the nth time, it became clear to me that the largest “experience” expense we would have would be Universal Studios Japan (USJ). Max would get in for free, but our ticket would’ve been Y7,900 each (Php 3,814.00 or USD 72.00 each).
Two weeks before our trip, I was ready to forgo USJ. It felt selfish to go because it was just for me. The only attraction I was really excited about was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Mikey was barely a fan (he finished the first three books and refers to the fourth book as the boring one with the intrams) and Max had no idea who Harry Potter was.
When I told Mikey that I thought we should remove it from our itinerary, he disagreed. He knew that I was a huge fan and that I really wanted to go for a long time. He said that it would be a waste not to go and that we didn’t know when we would be back. Dramatically, he said: “why are we even going to Osaka if you won’t be able to see Hogwarts?” I appreciated his heart, but I wasn’t convinced, so he spent a few days trying to change my mind.
I knew Osaka would be pretty hot and I couldn’t imagine dragging Mikey and Max to an amusement park just so I could geek out. Thankfully, we talked to our friends who visited Osaka earlier this year (HI RAM AND DARM!) and they changed my mind. They said that they absolutely LOVED USJ and spent the whole day there. And more importantly, they said that Max would love it too! They told us that there was a Minions and Sesame Street area. And while Max wasn’t exactly a huge fan of either, I knew he would definitely have something to do there! So, I changed my mind and USJ was back on our must-do list!
Our friends also told us that USJ is usually packed from Friday-Monday, so we decided to go on Tuesday. We were also told to try to get to the park before it opened. Since it was summer, the park was scheduled to open at 7:30 AM that day.
One way to keep sane while traveling with a toddler is to learn to manage your expectations. For me, that meant not letting myself get excited (it made letting go easier if Max didn’t cooperate). But I couldn’t help it. I WAS SO EXCITED. I was so excited that I was up at 5:00 AM. I hurried through my bath and bought breakfast while Mikey and Max slept soundly in bed. I think I returned to the room at around 6:00 AM and just in time for Max to wake up.
We were on the train by 7:00 AM and we arrived at Universal City Station a few minutes past 8:00 AM. When we arrived, the line for tickets wasn’t too long. I got our tickets after a few minutes. The park didn’t seem so crowded, but it was much bigger than I expected! Max didn’t mind sitting in his stroller while we figured out where we were in the park. Mikey and I were looking through our maps trying to figure out how to get the Hogwarts when a USJ employee approached us and asked us if we needed help. I asked him if we needed a timed entry ticket to get into Harry Potter (our friends said that this might be needed) and he said that the park wasn’t crowded that day so we could just walk in. Hooray!
It was so hot, but I didn’t really notice yet. I was so excited! We walked across the park and got to the huge replica of the shark from Jaws. We were a little confused at first because the map said that we should have hit Harry Potter before Jaws. Right next to Jaws, there were three huge stones and path way surrounded by trees. Mikey asked me if there are three stones in any of the Harry Potter books. Honestly, I didn’t think there were, but there was nowhere else to go so we decided to take our chances. After a few minutes, I knew we were heading to the right direction because I could hear the Harry Potter music. Before we even hit the main entrance, I spotted a blue Ford Anglia! YUP! We were definitely at the right place!
We walked through the huge gates and we were magically transported to Hogsmeade! The first thing I saw was the Hogwarts Express and then all the little shops. I wanted to go in each shop and explore, but Max wasn’t having any of it. He sat in his stroller for too long and he wanted to explore too. So we let Max down and Mikey chased after him while I took the stroller and looked around. It was amazing! I felt like I stepped into the movies. It was pretty hot and Mikey was thirsty, so I offered to get him a Butterbeer. I was standing in a really long line when I noticed a lady waving at me on the other side of the stall (it was as big as a trailer). They had just opened up another window to take orders. I was so excited! I ran to her before anyone noticed and I ordered my Butterbeer. In my excitement, I pointed to a silver medieval beer mug. She asked me to make sure: “premium?”, she said. I didn’t know what that meant, but I nodded and said “yes! One Butterbeer please!” When I got to the cashier she asked for almost Y4,000.00 (Php 1,933.00 or USD 37.00) and I was so shocked. Then it dawned on me that this is what my friends warned me about. They said that you could get Butterbeer in a paper cup, in a plastic mug, or in a premium metal mug that was really expensive. I remember telling them that I would totally go for the paper cup.
I walked back to Mikey in shame. I told him what happened and he laughed. He said that that explains the text message he got from Citibank alerting him that I had just purchased something for Y3,900++. Mikey drank the Butterbeer in our expensive cup (which now sits proudly on our shelf) and I took over chasing Max around. Max was wearing a Harry Potter t-shirt that I got for him last Christmas and he was going up and down a low cobblestone stage where the house banners were showcased. I couldn’t believe I was at Hogwarts with my little boy.
I looked around the different shops. It was kind of clear that neither of us would get to try any of the rides because the lines were at least 45-minutes long. But we were lucky enough to do the walking tour of Hogwarts. Max didn’t really like it because it was dark, so he hugged me almost the entire time. Mikey encouraged me to pick out a souvenir from one of the shops, but everything was so expensive and I was still feeling guilty about the whole Butterbeer mistake. It was getting hotter and hotter, so I suggested that we check out other (hopefully air conditioned) attractions.
We decided to head to Universal Wonderland which had all sorts of toddler friendly activities. The first area was the Hello Kitty one. As we were walking by, Max saw a twirling cupcake ride and he really wanted to go on it. We asked the attendants and they said that Max could go on the ride and there was barely even a line! Max was really excited when we were choosing a cupcake to ride in and he was really excited when we got in, but as soon as Mikey and I sat down with him, all he wanted to do was breastfeed! So he was under my shirt the whole time! I think he thought the ride would be longer because he kind of cried when we were walking away.
The next area we went to was Snoopy Land. There was another ride there and Max really wanted to try, but he was too short to go on the ride. It would’ve been heart breaking, but he quickly forgot about it because there was an indoor play area. And hallelujah, it was air conditioned! We let him run around for a while. There was a small playground and replica of Charlie Brown’s house. He was so happy! After an hour or so in Snoopy Land, we took him to Sesame Street world. That’s where Max really went wild! It was like Kidzooona on steroids. There was a huge ball pit with a slide where giant Bert and Ernie were taking a bath, there was an area where kids could throw around giant balloons, there was a building area with large foam pieces that you could put together, and a sort of jungle gym area made out of rope and foam where you could climb and crawl. Max was so happy and it really tired him out because he didn’t even want to get out of his stroller to meet Elmo on our way to lunch.
We walked across the park to have lunch at a pizza parlor. It was so hot, so we didn’t really stop to check things out. Mikey and I had pizza and Max happily ate his risotto balls while watching a video. After lunch, we were thinking of exploring Minion Land with Max, but it was so hot. And even though Max seemed ok, Mikey and I were melting. It was getting difficult with Max because he wanted to run after the confetti on the floor and we would’ve totally let him, except the sun was so unforgiving and we were worried that he might get a sun burn. We walked around to try to find a shaded area, and we eventually spent some time in the carnival area. Mikey then played one of the ball tossing games and won a large Snoopy stuffed toy on his first try. But after that, it became clear that we were just killing time and that it might make more sense to leave USJ.
I was okay with leaving USJ after spending the morning and the afternoon there. Except, I really wanted to visit Hogsmeade one more time before leaving. When we got there, Max and Mikey had some ice cream. After that, Max wanted to breastfeed, so I actually breastfed him while he was sitting on his stroller. He eventually fell asleep and that was the perfect time for me to go around one more time by myself while Mikey took a break and looked after Max. I went around the different shops and returned to Mikey several times to let him know that I couldn’t find anything. I toyed with the idea of getting a wand (it was just a little bit more expensive than the Butterbeer), but I thought it would just spend most of its time in a drawer. I thought about getting Max a shirt, but it was so expensive and he would grow out of it so quickly. I tried getting Mikey a shirt, but they didn’t have anything in his size. I settled on the cheapest shirt in the shop—a red Hogwarts Express shirt with a 9 ¾ logo on it. I recently Marie Kondo’ed my closet and I remembered that I didn’t have any red shirts left. We need red outfits for certain Chinese occasions (i.e. birthdays and new year). I was so glad that I finally had a red shirt that I would actually enjoy wearing (I’m wearing it as I type this right now!).
With Max soundly asleep in his stroller, I said my last goodbyes to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade with my best friend by my side. He gave me a moment to take it all in again and we even walk towards Hogwarts so that we could take one last photo together. I can’t believe I almost talked myself out of experiencing all of that.
Max was still asleep when we were exiting the park and it turned out to be the right decision because a Minion water parade was just about to start as we walked out and we knew that if Max woke up, he would want to join the fun and his parents were already pooped (and didn’t have extra clothes). The train station was nice and almost empty on our way out. We decided that we would go back to the hotel to freshen up and re-group.
Walking back to our hotel in Shinshaibashi, I saw a small restaurant in one of the side roads that looked interesting. I’m not sure if it was the heat or the day’s activities, but even after a full lunch, I was famished. So, we had another full rice meal at the restaurant. Mikey had ramen, I had a beef rice bowl, and Max had gyoza.
After eating, we walked back to our hotel and Max was happy to be reunited with all of his toys (most of them from those egg vending machines all over Osaka) while Mikey was comfortably lounging in bed. When I realized that they would be that way for a while, I decided to make most out of the day (and my energy) and try to find the Daiso near our hotel. I shopped for about an hour when Mikey said that they were ready to go again. I walked back to the hotel with my shopping bags (it turns out, the Daiso was located in the street behind our hotel—again, we love our hotel’s location!) and we headed for another shopping excursion—this time to the nearby department store: Tokyu Hands. We spent about an hour and a half there picking out all sorts of things. Mikey went nuts with their Hario coffee equipment, and I bought a bunch of stickers, make-up, and cooling pillow cases. Max was pretty cooperative for the first thirty minutes or so. He watched a little bit of Monsters Inc. and then some ABC Kids TV on YouTube. When Max got tired of the iPad, Mikey and I took turns running around with Max.
We weren’t sure where we were going to have dinner, but we figured we’d find a restaurant on our way home. Walking back, we saw a restaurant that caught Mikey’s eye. It was called Enzo and the sign on the store was a familiar giant black bear logo. Mikey recognized the bear and thought that it was the same restaurant as the yakiniku place he wanted to try in Dohtoburi. When we went inside, the place was still pretty empty, but we were welcomed by very nice waiters. They led us to a private room upstairs and they were very nice to Max. Honestly, I don’t know very much about meats. In Manila, when Mikey tells me that we’re eating really good meat, I can’t really tell the difference. But I could definitely tell this time. The meat was so light and flavorful at the same time. It was perfectly marbled—the fat wasn’t concentrated in just one area so it wasn’t overwhelming. So each bite was perfect. It was the best meat I’ve ever had. Mikey says it was the meal of his life. And Max really liked it too. In fact, I had to order an extra bowl of rice because he ate most of mine!
We walked back to the hotel with happy hearts and full stomachs. We had to fight the sadness that came with the realization that we were already halfway through this trip. We still had three days left but we already missed Osaka.
On Monday, Day 3, our Thing of the Day was going to be our visit to Nara Park in Nara Prefecture, where wild deer mill about. The deer are famous for being polite, bowing to curious and happy humans who feed them the deer cookies you can purchase at every corner of the park. But we also read some reports that said that they were aggressive and rude, acting very spoiled and entitled to those deer cookies, to the point that they would literally bite the hands that fed them.
We wanted to find out. And we thought Max might have a blast.
We started off the day by having breakfast outside our hotel room for the first time. We chose McDonald’s (yes, we are those kind of tourists)—Char and Max had a boring old Sausage McMuffin with Egg, and I had a strange burger-muffin hybrid with a kind of spicy-garlicky sauce. It was excellent. Their orange juice was excellent, too—Char later admitted that that was what she was curious about in McDonald’s, more than the food.
McDonald’s was just a few meters up the road from Apple Store Shinsaibashi, so we decided to drop by since it was only 5 minutes to opening. When we got to the door, they asked us to choose one of two queues: shopping, or Genius Bar. We queued up on the shorter shopping line. I planned on zipping in and checking out the second floor, picking out an Apple Watch band, paying for it, processing my tax refund, and heading on out of there. What happened instead was one of the greatest moments of my life:
We took the train and arrived at Nara station at around 11, and we decided to head to the park before having lunch. At the information center, when we asked for directions to the park (it’s supposed to be a 5 minute from the station), they warned us that it was going to be very hot, and that we should drink water. They were right—it was crazy hot. I had Max on in my hipseat carrier, and I held an umbrella over us. Poor Char had her hands full with the stroller so she didn’t use an umbrella. It was just ridiculously hot. Thankfully, the shade of the trees from the park were only a few minutes away.
The first deer we saw seemed so majestic: the deer was seated a short distance from the fence, beyond the reach of regular humans. It was a magical moment—I mean, how often do you see wild dear just hanging out a few meters away from you? But it was also short-lived: a few more steps and suddenly deer was everywhere. And so were the little stalls that sold the cookies. Char quickly bought us a set of cookies, and Max and I tried to feed a few. Whenever we did, it was such a thrill for Max. We kept walking and feeding deer who were just hanging out on the sidewalk, surrounded by tourists.
Char had to follow us and keep pushing the stroller, so she didn’t get to feed any of them. Max enjoyed feeding them, but we couldn’t get them to bow. Honestly, it was probably because it we were also very tense. I was worried that these wild animals would suddenly just pounce on Max, or pounce on Char, or pounce on the stroller, or pounce on me. So we just tried to feed as many as we could. When the cookies ran out, we decided to head back to the station to figure out where we could have lunch.
Nara station is connected to a kind-of strip-type mall, with food places galore showing off “classic Kyoto specialties”. We chose a place that advertised a really good-looking set meal that included unagi, which is what I ended up ordering. It was excellent, but I forgot that unagi was only my favorite thing as a child, and not as an adult. Char had salmon and lean tuna sushi, which were just sublime. For dessert we found a place that offered matcha (green tea) soft serve. Char and I generally don’t like matcha (it tastes like leaves), but to me, this one was great. We each had a milk/vanilla and matcha twirl on a cone. Japanese soft serve is the best in the world. (Char still didn’t like it though, and wished she just got plain milk/vanilla flavored soft serve.)
After lunch, we went to Daiso, the JPY100 store, and we took a quick shopping trip. There are also Daiso and Japan Home stores here in Manila, but it was just so exciting to be in a Daiso in Japan! They had things we would have a hard time finding here: wooden fridge magnets, a hose that made water transfer from aquariums so much easier, and even a straw tool that made it easy to make two-layer dessert drinks! Needless to say, we freaked out. (Char more than I.)
At around 2PM we decided to try and feed the deer again. We kept the stroller and our shopping bags in a coin locker (JPY500 for 24 hours!) so that Char would have her hands free to feed the deer. On the intensely hot walk back to the park, we saw a family off to the side—a man and his young son rubbing sunblock all over his wife. It was like taking a peek at our silly future.
When we got to where the deer were, all of three of us got to try feeding them, and we got them to bow too. Max was just delighted. Our nerves were a little calmer so we fed them a little more actively, but then that also led us to encounters with more aggressive deer. One of them, after being fed twice, tried to search for more cookies on my person, and ended up biting the strap of my hipseat carrier (that Max was on!). It was fun, but freaky. Max loved it. Also the part where they bit it smelled like poop.
We walked deeper into the lovely Nara park where some families having picnics, and the deer were just grazing around, ambivalent to the non-wild human creatures hanging out around them. It was nice to have some fresh air and delight in the beautiful non-consumerist touristy part of the Kansai region.
Afterwards, of course, we decided to dive straight into consumerism all over again. Our next stop was back in Osaka, to Denden Town—Osaka’s answer to Tokyo’s Akihabara, and the hub of otaku culture in the prefecture.
We arrived in the area at around 4PM, and one of the first things I saw was a wrestling-focused store, proudly proclaiming they had products that featured WWE’s Asuka. I geeked out at the paraphernalia (a RING of HONOR Championship replica!) and large selection of DVDs, and I wanted to buy a shirt or two, but unfortunately they had nothing that fit me.
We then went to have a quick snack at a hybrid legitimate-restaurant-and-heat-your-own-food-yourself-shop, and then after few minutes of confused navigating, we found what had come for: JOSHIN Denden Town Kids Land! I went nuts. Kids Land is a 5-story toy store. The first floor featured character toys, Lego, and puzzles; the second featured plastic models (Gundam, etc.); the third was called “Tamiya Corner”; the fourth featured model vehicles and weapons; and the fifth featured train and railroad models. We were so excited to take Max to the train floors, but honestly, I was more excited for myself. Unfortunately, we found out that the train and railroad models were those for serious hobbyists, and the locomotives were insanely detailed replicas—not toys at all. We ended up getting Max a car wash set, and I bought some Star Wars and Dragon Ball “Figure Rise” plastic models that were on sale.
At about 7PM, we checked out a few more giant Joshin stores (cosmetics, home appliances, and electronics), but there wasn’t much to them besides being giant awesome Joshin stores—there wasn’t really anything else for us to shop for. We knew that there was more to Denden Town, but we were pretty tired and hungry by then, and we figured we had had our fill of the place with our huge shopping bags in tow. Max was also getting a little fussy. We decided to get some dinner and then head back to the hotel. We chose to have dinner in Yoshinoya, which served fast-food Japanese cuisine. Yoshinoya stores can also be found in Manila, and, frankly, they’re not very good. But our friends told us that Yoshinoya was excellent in Japan, and it was comfort food to them.
Char had a gyudon (beef on rice in a bowl, topped with egg), and I had a gyudon topped with curry sauce. Max had some of Char’s food while watching YouTube videos on an iPad. I must say that our friends were right. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about their curry sauce.
It was then off to the train and back “home” to our hotel. When we got home, Max immediately fell asleep and didn’t even give us a chance to bathe him and brush his teeth. Char curled up and watched Twilight on Netflix—it’s still one of the things I don’t really understand about her. It’s like the universe’s way of compensating for her amazing-ness. I decided to assemble my Super Saiyan Son Goku model on the hotel room floor. Assembly took about an hour, and the succeeding photo shoot and social media posting took about 30 more minutes.
By 12:45AM, I was falling asleep, with happiness in my tummy, thinking about Son Goku, Denden Town shopping, my dorky Twilight-loving wife, and my son squealing in delight as he fed those entitled deer.
Mikey woke up early this time. He was energized from the massage (and antihistamines) from the night before. He left me and Max to grab us some breakfast from Family Mart. We decided to take Sunday slow. In our original itinerary, we planned on going to Den-den Town, Osaka’s tech and toy hub. But we decided to stay in Shinshaibashi and explore the area.
We took our time in the hotel that morning. We had our FamilyMart egg salad sandwich, prosciutto di parma (!), cheese, and baked rice breakfast. I enjoyed two cups of coffee from the 2ndfloor.
The first thing we needed to do that day was to visit the Pixar exhibit. We promised Max the night before that we would do it first thing. When we got to Daimaru, there was a bunch of people heading towards the exhibit. We didn’t think it would be a crowded thing since it wasn’t too crowded the night before. But we forgot that it was a Sunday and that most families with young children would probably visit on a Sunday.
The exhibit was on the 14thfloor. The elevator to the 14thlooked like it was going to be crowded, so we decided to take the one to the 13thand take the escalator up. While waiting, a lady from the concierge led everyone to take this same elevator instead. When we were inside waiting for the doors to close, the lady bowed apologetically, and stayed bowed until the the doors closed.
When we got to the 13th floor, they roped off a path heading towards the escalator to the 14th, to the ticket booth, the stroller parking area, and then finally the exhibit. We were so excited for Max. The exhibit was pretty cool! There were “life-sized” exhibits of all of his favorite Pixar movies. And just like Max’s Pixar obsession, the exhibit started with Toy Story. They made a huge replica of the Woody’s Roundhouse record player, Buzz Lightyear on RC, and a standee of Bonnie holding all of Andy’s old toys.
Very quickly, the whole draw of the place dawned on to us. There were lines for each exhibit and the whole point of the place was to take photos with them. That meant that you had very little time to explore the exhibit up close. My curious toddler did not understand this at all. He was finally seeing all of his favorite things in this huge scale and he wasn’t allowed to linger and play. On top of that, we had to wait in line for most of them to even get up close. Towards the end, we had said “no” and “wait” and “later” so many times that he was so frustrated. We actually left the exhibit with Max crying hysterically because he couldn’t play with Sulley and Mike Wazowski. It was kind of heartbreaking. Mikey carried him like a sack of rice to the gift shop and tried to distract him with the toys. He picked out a few things, but he was still in a bad mood.
He wanted to breastfeed his troubles away (and he was also teething—two lower front teeth were erupting), but it was hard. Eventually, I told Mikey that I thought we should have lunch in the hotel. So, Mikey went shopping in the food grocery in the basement while I breastfed Max in the bathroom (I did this a lot during our trip). We walked back to our hotel and when we got there, Max fell asleep right away. Mikey and I had a picnic and ate our take-out on the bed while Max slept. Mikey got a steak/beef bento box, gyoza, fired rice, and sushi for lunch. It was excellent.
Since Max was sleeping, I decided to go out on my own to explore Shinshaibashi. I ended up spending all of my time (a little under an hour) in the first drug store I saw. Japan has really great skin care products, make-up, and seemingly random items for various ailments, so I loved exploring their drug stores. I was on the third (out of four) floor when Mikey messaged me to tell me that Max was awake and having lunch. I knew that it meant that I had to go soon, so I rushed through the last two floors and walked back to the hotel with my spoils.
We didn’t spent too much time in the hotel, we went out again to explore Shinshaibashi. It was kind of crazy. We took turns with Max whenever one of us wanted to explore a store. We went to Three Coins, the Disney Store, and I got to go to another GU (this one was bigger). Mikey got to spend some time in a tech and toy store, but he decided to hold off on his purchases until Den-den Town.
When Max was getting too nuts-o (I don’t think he understood why we kept stopping, he was just sitting in his stroller and got very bored), we took refuge at a Milky café. I had pasta, Mikey had pancakes, and Max had ice cream. Mikey also ordered an ice cream, but Max thought it was his again so he ate most of it. After Milky, we decided to just keep walking so that Max wouldn’t get annoyed. We just took note of stores that we wanted to hit at a better time. I guess this was the beauty of staying so close to Shinshaibashi. It would be easy to come back again.
We kept walking down the shopping lane and then eventually, we hit open air again. I looked up and gasped because right in front of us was the Glico Man sign. We had made it to Dohtonbori without knowing it! We didn’t realize that Shinshaibasi was connected to Dohtonbori.
Dontonbori is a street full of food (restaurants and street food). Mikey got an order of grilled king crab legs from the famous Kani Doraku (the restaurant/take-out place with the giant mechanical crab on the sign) and Max ate a lot of it again. We spent some time (and money) letting Max run around in two arcades we saw along the way. We decide that it wasn’t really the best day to eat in Dontonbori since it was Sunday and there were a lot of people. Max was also still pretty cranky.
So we walked back to our hotel. We took another route and we got back in less than 10 minutes! We were seriously loving our hotel’s location. Max and I settled in while Mikey went out to get us dinner. He hit up a few places and came home with tokayaki, okonomiyaki, a huge butter garlic crilled oyster, fried oysters, rice, and drinks and dessert from Family Mart. Our room smelled like food, but it was an excellent dinner.
It wasn’t the easiest day with Max, but we felt like we got to know the lay of the land. I was starting to doubt how much we would be able to do on this trip since Max was having an extra fussy day, but without really trying, we just stumbled onto one of the spots we really wanted to hit. The universe was schooling me and my inner planner. She was saying: chill and let the magic find you.