Sunday, August 30, 2015

Japan trip Summer 2015 part 7 - Airbnb & accomodations
My friend introduced me to Airbnb for another trip we have upcoming at the end of the year. I've heard about it before, but I haven't personally known anyone who tried/trusted it before, so I had never considered it a serious option. Since S and I were paying for this trip entirely ourselves (previously when we traveled with my parents, they'd foot some of the bills like lodging or some meals that we'd eat together but not everything either obviously), we decided to check out what our options were in our price point with Airbnb since the hotels we usually stay at were a bit out of our price range, and our stay would be a bit longer which would mean higher accommodation cost in general as well.

We had a lot of discussion about where we wanted to stay and what our priorities were, but these options were all easy to assess and view with Airbnb's search features. They don't give you the exact address of the apartment (I think for safety reasons), but you do get a circle on a map with the location contained inside of it which is reasonably good enough. The listings usually give you an idea of how far away they are from the station as well.
The reservation process is pretty simple and it might vary with different hosts. The site isn't complicated though, and you can easily figure it out without having any prior experience with it. We picked one apartment in Tokyo and one in Osaka. Both hosts contacted us very quickly after making the reservation with more instructions specific to their listings, and prior to leaving for Japan, we felt well prepared and comfortable with the choices we made.

Osaka Airbnb apartment -

Sorry, I know I didn't take very good pictures wtf. We were just so eager to get in and take a break lol. And S unloads his stuff so fast, it's hard for me to take pictures that don't have his stuff in it.
This was where we were staying directly after getting off the plane. We decided to pick this apartment in particular because we liked the price and the location of the apartment in relation to the station. There were other options that we looked at in Umeda and Tennoji, but since we were definitely planning on catching the shinkansen and wanted to deal with luggage as little as possible on the trains, Shin-Osaka wasn't a bad choice for the price. It also worked out because we were able to catch a Haruka express train straight to Shin-Osaka from the airport and there was plenty of space for our bags.

The host had provided detailed instructions with pictures for how to get to the apartment from Shin-Osaka station. It wasn't very complicated, but I'm glad I had them printed out because we were not in the mood to get lost after a long flight, a long wait in immigration, a long train ride and then melting in the heat. We were able to find the apartment quickly and followed the instructions to retrieve the key from the mailbox. That took two or three tries to figure out, but it was probably because we were trying to rush it lol.

Inside the apartment was as described, although I think the pictures made it seem bigger than it is. That's not really anyone's fault though, and I think if you're familiar with the average hotel room size in Japan, this apartment size shouldn't be a surprise to you. The entrance hallway was a bit narrow though, and we weren't sure where to put all of our bags. We ended up having one in the closet, one in the entranceway and one in front of the washing machine. Thankfully we didn't have many things at that point.

We wanted to try and use the pocket wifi immediately. For some reason, we had a lot of trouble connecting to it. I don't think it was a typo error because we literally each tried it at least ten times and neither of us could get it. I ended up trying to connect to wifi in a 7-Eleven down the block to try to contact the host to help troubleshoot us. The host responded pretty quickly for it being almost midnight but he wasn't able to help us because the information provided is pretty much all there is. In the meantime, I restarted my phone because I accidentally started an app update. When I tried the pocket wifi password again, it miraculously worked on the first try. Wtf.

I think the bed is supposed to be a double, but it's a small double by American standards. S and I both fit on it, but it ended up being more comfortable for me to sleep on the side on one of the extra sets of bedding from the closet for most of the nights lol. Thankfully, that was an option. I think there was actually bedding for 3 people total (including the bed). 

During our stay, the host definitely made us feel welcome and asked if we had any questions. We were only staying for four nights, but everything we needed, we pretty much had. The only thing I could use more of was counter space but that's probably specific to me. I'm not sure how other people deal with it but there was no place to put anything in the bathroom because it's essentially a large shower room with a sink. I guess you just have to bring your things out and in with you when you need it. That's also where the only mirror is in the room as well and it's pretty small. If we had stayed longer, I would have considered buying another mirror.

All in all, we considered our stay in the Osaka Airbnb apartment pretty successful. We had a bit of a bumpy start with the pocket wifi, but that was through no fault of the host and he did try his best to help when I messaged him. The check in and check out process was easy and clear, as were the general instructions. Our host was enthusiastic without being annoying, and we felt welcome in his apartment which was in a good location at a great price.

Tokyo Airbnb apartment -
Sorry so few pictures again. I swear, we are always just drenched in sweat by the time we get in and I can't be fussed with the photos before all of our stuff is sprawled everywhere.
The apartment we rented in Tokyo was in Shinagawa. We stayed in Shinagawa during our two previous trips at the Prince Hotel and really liked the location in Tokyo. We knew this apartment was perfect for us when we saw the listing, and I already had a general idea of where it was located before we even got there because we were familiar with the area and the station. It was a little pricier than the Shin-Osaka apartment but also in a better location imo. We were planning to arrive a little early, so I had messaged the host to ask if we could check-in a few hours early knowing that no one had booked the room before us based on the listing availability, and he allowed it.

The instructions the host provided to us upon reservation were brief but effective. The location is fairly straightforward anyway, so you don't need lots of instruction. The actual apartment guidebook was printed in hardcopy inside the room with specifics about sorting trash, using the AC, water temp and tv remotes, etc etc. Our host also had signs posted inside the apartment with extra reminders about smoking and things like that. I actually liked that there was so much guidance because I didn't have to guess about whether I was doing something right or not. He also had English labels on the shampoo, conditioner, body wash and hand soap which would be really useful if we weren't able to read Japanese.

This apartment is actually a bit bigger than the Osaka one, and we preferred the layout of this one better as well. We had more luggage by this point, but there was still easily space for everything. There was also more counter space in the bathroom and flat storage areas throughout the apartment (although same in the mirror being only in the bathroom). It also came with pocket wifi which we were able to connect to with no problem. We had a slight blip on Day 8 when it died, but I doubt that that was the wifi's fault and definitely not the host's fault. It was probably user error in some way or just a glitch.

Like in the Osaka apartment, the bed was on the small side. Instead of being squished during the night, I decided to use the extra bedding and the convertible lounger and sleep separately lol. I really didn't mind it too much, and we did so much during the day that I usually slept pretty well at night.

This host definitely had a slightly different style than the previous host, but still effective, and we still felt welcome. We didn't run into any problems, and he had good communication and response times. We had asked if it would be possible to get items mailed to the apartment during our stay, but unfortunately we could not. Apparently, he had some bad experiences with guests and mail before. (I'm sure this varies by host.)

I would definitely look to stay in this apartment again if I wanted to stay in Shinagawa. I really liked the location. It was close to the station, but we didn't have to deal with train noise. There was also a 7-Eleven immediately downstairs which was incredibly convenient. The only downside (and this isn't necessarily mentioned in the listing) is that there's one flight of stairs that you have to use in order to access the elevator which starts from the second floor. This isn't a problem if you're able bodied, but it could be an issue otherwise. It's also an issue if you're like me and have a hard time getting two unwieldy 50lb suitcases up and down since they're not exactly ADA compliant and actually slightly steep lol. S was able to help me, but otherwise, I might have ended up taking 10 minutes to get down them carefully to avoid falling. (Going up and down was hard actually because the weight is so unevenly distributed when I'm carrying them and the steps are so small and steep.)

The Westin Osaka (again) -

For our last night in Japan, we chose to stay at the Westin Osaka. We stayed there for the first time during our spring trip for 3 nights and really enjoyed it. The location is not the best, but the shuttle to and from Osaka station makes up for it. Well actually, the room size is what makes up for it lol. The rooms are huge. I was able to take better pictures in this room because S has enough space to start taking up himself, and I still have the opportunity to take photos before he gets his things in them because there's so much space available lol. Our room had a king bed and a bathroom with a tub and a shower. It's such a dramatic change from the apartments we stayed in, but also ofc, there's a price difference as well.

Besides having a great experience last time, the main reason we picked the Westin over any other hotel in Osaka is because of the airport shuttle. KIX is pretty far from Umeda, and we definitely didn't want to hassle with our luggage in a crowded train or station, so we knew we would want to catch a shuttle. The Westin is the first stop that the airport shuttle makes so it's not hard for us to get a seat and we don't have to worry about there being room for our baggage underneath. Plus, we knew we would be able to leave our luggage in the lobby after checking out. There are other hotel stops along the way but those hotels were either expensive or already booked, so even more reason to go with the Westin lol.

Our check-in time was 02:00pm, but we were able to get into our room about 20 minutes early which was really great. We had forwarded our luggage from Shinagawa and it had arrived one day before us, but the hotel was able to receive and store it without issue. Also sent in the mail was S's fishing rods that he purchased in Tokyo. Instead of having to deal with it himself, he elected to have the store ship it to the Westin as he had done previously. These were all waiting for us when we arrived and were brought up to our room by an employee.

There wasn't really anything extraordinarily different than our last stay except that we had a room with 1 king bed instead of 2 double beds lol. I've never slept in a king bed before. It's so huge lol. We received great customer service again from every employee, and we took full advantage of whatever we could for only staying one night lol.
Full length mirror ++++
After a good night's sleep in a huge bed, we checked out a bit early, left our stuff at the bell desk and was able to explore for our last remaining hours carefree. Familiarity is really a huge feature for me, and I know I can trust the Westin Osaka.

Pros and cons of Airbnb based on our experience. Some of these might be specific to apartments in Japan though, especially in comparison to getting a room at a hotel. It's not meant to be an exhaustive list for all Airbnb lodgings.

Airbnb pros:
  • Price - Cheaper than hotels we usually stay at but still has similar features.
  • Amenities - Washing machine and kitchen appliances. The washing machine in each place was a life saver because our clothes were a mess at the end of each day with how much sweating we were doing. We didn't use the kitchen areas as much, but it was really nice to have them as options. I used the microwave once or twice. 
  • Pocket wifi - This is technically an amenity but very important to us so it gets its own bullet point. On our previous trip, we rented a pocket wifi from a company and paid X amount of money for it based on how many days we used it. For this trip, we made sure each apartment had pocket wifi included in the reservation. That was a cost and detail that we no longer had to worry about or deal with. Since we were already happy with the price of each apartment on their own, the pocket wifi being included was like the icing on the cake.
  • Location choice - While we were doing our initial search, we noticed that there were a lot more choices because they can be in any residential area, whereas hotels are usually more just in major hubs. There's nothing wrong with that, but that usually means they're more expensive as well. Locations is less "popular" areas tend to be cheaper.
  • Personal interaction - Both hosts were extremely receptive, easy to reach and apologetic if they took more than a few hours to respond. I think this is because a lot of reservations rely on reviews, and they want to do their best so you leave them positive feedback. And that's great. Hotels tend not to care as much in my experience. One negative review out of a thousand isn't going to make a lot of difference to them but it's not the same for many Airbnb hosts. I also knew that both hosts had good English language skills (ahead of time) based on their listings (Airbnb usually has some indication of language proficiency). At some hotels, it can be hit or miss depending on what staff is working.

Airbnb cons:
  • Keys - There's only one key. This may be different for other lodgings, but for the apartments we stayed at, there was only one key and that was the only way to access the room. This isn't a huge deal if you're traveling alone. However, if you're traveling with a companion or more people, then you have to all be together in order to access the apartment. We were unable to split up very much because our fall back plan (if someone gets lost) is to meet back at the hotel usually because you can just sit and relax in the room and wait - no big deal. But with only one person having access and it being really hot in the summer, you don't want to go back to the apartment and wait downstairs in the heat for an hour or something until the other person potentially comes back. This might have been a specific problem for us because we also only had one pocket wifi and if we were separate, only one person would have it and the other wouldn't have a way of contacting them without international charges. This may not be an issue for other people, but it was definitely something that affected our stay. We were able to work around it a few times, but in comparison to staying at a hotel where you can easily get two room keys for two people, this was definitely an inconvenience worth noting for us. Also, if you lose the key, that's a HUGE problem lol.
  • Extra careful - I mean, we're not assholes or anything when we stay in hotels, but I just feel like we have to be extra considerate when we stay in the Airbnb rooms. There's lots of instructions that the hosts would like you to follow and you, as a visitor, get feedback too, so you likely feel extra pressure to be a respectful guest. We always did our best to make sure we turned off electrical appliances, locked up, etc before leaving.  
  • Trash - In Japan, you have to sort your trash. In a hotel, there's staff to do that for you. When you stay in an apartment, you have to do that yourself. One host's instructions mentioned that it was very important to do this correctly or he could receive a harsh penalty for it. I'd say that this is a very small grievance compared to others, but we did stress a little about making sure we'd get it right.
  • Larger parties - When we travel with my parents, we usually stay in two different rooms in the same hotel. If we wanted to rent two different apartment rooms, it might be kind of hard to get two in the same building. It's not impossible, but it's not as easy as just getting two rooms from a hotel. An alternative would be for us to rent an entire house or something, but then that brings a different price and for Japan, it probably wouldn't be as convenient. 
  • Strict cancellation policy (varies by host) - Both hosts had a strict cancellation policy where once we reserved, the most money we'd be able to get back if we cancelled was 50%. Hotels usually offer more leniency. 
  • Luggage - Because our flights leaving Japan are late in the day, we usually ask to leave our bags at the hotel past check-out until we come back. This is precisely why we felt the need to get a hotel for the last night. If we weren't able to leave them at the hotel, we would have had to either drag them around with us or put them in lockers. Neither of those are good options for us because we have so many bags and a number of them were heavy and big. You can't do this with Airbnb unless you book an extra night. Once you check out, you're done.
The cons list seems a little long but I think it's because it needed more explanation. But the factors in the pros hold more weight imo (like price). Honestly, all in all, we had a good experience with Airbnb and our specific hosts. I do definitely see Airbnb as a valid option for travel accommodations in the future, and I would recommend that others at least check it out to see what their choices are regardless of where you're traveling to. I don't think I'm ready to give up hotels completely, especially because there are definite perks to staying in one, but I'm really glad we tried it out and don't have any regrets with how we booked. Based on what my personal needs are, in the future, I would likely do something similar where we stay the bulk of the trip in an Airbnb apartment and the last night at a hotel for convenience.

Tips: Print out your instructions from your host (one copy per guest in case you get separated for some reason)
Restart your phone if you can't connect to pocket wifi, especially if you're trying to connect when you're first entering the country
Download the Airbnb app (at least during your stay) because it's easier to communicate with your host that way
Take note of the address & phone number of your first accommodation (regardless of Airbnb or hotel) for the customs/immigration form that you have to present upon entering the country. I usually save it on my phone in my calendar in the notes for the dates that we stay there or something. It's also good to have besides filling out the form, just in case.

  Japan trip Summer 2015 posts:
Part 1 - Osaka & Kobe: Day 1 - 2
Part 2 - Kyoto & Namba: Day 3
Part 3 - Tokyo-based: Day 4 - 6
Part 4 - Sendai: Day 7
Part 5 - Tokyo-based: Day 8 -9
Part 6 - Osaka: Day 10 - 11
Part 7 - Airbnb & accommodations
Part 8 - Liz Lisa purchases
Part 9 - Other shopping
Part 10 - Travel notes

  Japan trip Spring 2015 posts
  Japan trip Summer 2014 posts

Friday, August 28, 2015

Japan trip Summer 2015 part 6 - Osaka: Day 10 - 11

We were set to leave Tokyo on August 10, Day 10, to head back to Osaka. The night before, we had tried to reserve tickets for several different Hikari shinkansen bound for Shin-Osaka, but again, there were no seats wtf. We wanted to arrive at around 01:00 - 02:00pm because we wanted to make the most of our time in Osaka without rushing too much in the morning in Tokyo, but the soonest train we could make a reservation for was arriving after 03:00pm, and we weren't even going to be able to sit together. We reserved the tickets anyway because there wasn't really any harm in doing so because it's included in the Rail Pass fee, and we decided to use it as a fall back.

On Monday morning, we ate a quick breakfast and then packed up our remaining bags. Instead of aiming for the Hikari at noon which we had seats for, we wanted to try and get in an unreserved car for a sooner one at around 10:10am or 10:40am. We checked out of the apartment and headed down to Shinagawa station and bought lunch. We got to the shinkansen tracks at around 10:00am, and it didn't seem really busy, so we had a bit of hope that we'd be able to get on. We weren't worried about getting seats next to each other because we weren't going to be sitting together with our later reserve seats anyway. Our goal was just to get seats period lol.
Thankfully, there was actually a number of seats on the 10:10am train, and we just had to sit a few rows apart on the aisle seats of already full rows. Eventually, the car emptied a bit after Shizuoka and we were able to shift and move to two new seats next to each other. We arrived in Shin-Osaka just after 01:00pm and headed straight for the Westin near JR Osaka station.

We arrived just in time to catch the shuttle to the hotel (from the station) which was great because we weren't looking forward to waiting in the heat lol
and although we were twenty minutes early for check in, we didn't have any issues with that and were shown to our room right away. Our luggage had arrived on time (before we got there) and that was brought up to our room as well.

First order of business after settling in and exploring the room was taking stock of our purchases up to that point lol. It was pretty much the end of the trip with just one night left. Our suitcases were already pretty full, and we were both kind of close to the weight limit for what we had. I completely filled my duffle and left myself a bit of room in the other suitcase for mochi that my mother wanted me to purchase which I knew couldn't be smashed too much but would add a lot of weight. Actually, rearranging my suitcases didn't take me very long at all. S, on the other hand, had to do a lot of juggling lol. He only had one check in suitcase and he was really close to the weight limit before you have to pay fees lol. Anyway, he ended up unpacking everything he had and repacking it lol.

We didn't head back out until a little after 03:00pm.
Good thing we had arrived early otherwise we'd just be arriving at Shin-Osaka at this time and would have still had to waste time doing all of that lol. Having a good idea of what we would still have room for, we took a Kyoto line train back up to Kyoto station to purchase the yatsuhashi that we didn't buy on Day 3 because of the 7 day shelf life. The store that we wanted to go to is in the shinkansen section of Kyoto station on the lower floor by the Hachijo Avenue/exit? There are actually a lot of omiyage shops in the area but we wanted to visit the exact brand's store location because we knew it would have better selection. Thankfully, we still had our Rail Passes (it was the last day they were valid), so we didn't have any problems entering or exiting the gates and didn't have to worry about properly navigating the station because of that. I'm actually not extremely sure how you get to that area otherwise. You'd probably have to exit and go around lol.
We took our time picking out what we wanted and then since we were already in that section and the timing was right, we hopped on a Kodama shinkansen to ride one stop back to Shin-Osaka and then quickly transferred to get back to Osaka station.

Back at the hotel, we packed and repacked based on what we bought in Kyoto and weighed our bags several times to make sure we'd be under the weight limit lol. 
And I still had more mochi to buy wtf. My mom wanted this particular kind of kinako mochi that she bought on the last trip from Umeda station. I think S also wanted to revisit a fishing store in Umeda as well, so we once again, headed back out.

After we went to 1Ban, looking for the mochi was the next priority. My mom said it was either in the Hankyu or Hanshin Umeda station. Tbh that doesn't narrow it down much at all. But we started at the fishing store because it was was close to Hanshin station and I figured I could try and ask someone or look around for the store since at least my mom had a picture of it. We went into the department store and didn't see it anywhere or on any floor guide. Luckily, there was an information desk and the woman there actually knew that the store that I wanted was in Hankyu station instead. Thank goodness. It didn't end up taking very long at all to knock out Hanshin station completely lol.
We walked over to Hankyu Umeda station which is also quite expansive but at least we were able to narrow it down to one station. My guess was that the best place to look was the Hankyu department store which isn't too hard to navigate to because there's lots of directional signs in the station. There was a floor guide right next to the door and I was able to find the mochi place right away. It's on the ground floor which sells a lot of other food products as well. I ended up buying four boxes and then the next task was to figure out where to eat dinner.

There are lots of places to eat in and around Umeda/Osaka station. Especially if you just have two people (and not like a party of 8 or something) - it shouldn't be too hard. And yet I still don't know of very many places I like to eat there despite how many times I've visited. I knew there was a row of restaurants down in an area that kind of looked like a back hallway so I tried to find that. But ended up in some place slightly different lol. In the end, we just picked a ramen place that seemed safe (for me as a picky eater). 
I'm not super sure what all the different types are or what the restaurant's specialty was but I think it has something to do with garlic. The one I ordered was some kind of shoyu ramen. I really enjoy eating shoyu ramen at home. It's like the only kind of ramen I order, and in general, I like to eat ramen. In Japan, I hardly ever really enjoy ramen because I really only want to eat the noodles and all the other garnishes and toppings sometimes ruin it for me or I just end up with a broth I'm not in love with. But this was probably one of the best tasting ramens I've had on a trip. I think it's probably because I prefer simpler flavors? I'm not sure. I mean, I don't think the broth was necessarily simpler, but there was just something I really enjoyed about it. I'm really not a food person so I'm not going to be good at explaining it, but basically, I was happy with my dinner.

After that, S felt pretty much done for the day, but I still wanted to go to Hep Five to take one last look at Liz Lisa. They didn't have anything that I wanted, but they did have the last thing that Berri wanted that was previously sold out (I bought the last one earlier o__o). Pretty lucky! I quickly purchased it before anyone else had a chance without thinking that I'd have trouble packing it lol. I also went to the Daimaru in Hankyu station to check for a Jill Stuart nail polish for her just as the store was closing, but apparently that had quickly sold out, so no luck there lol.

I had still wanted to go to Don Quixote, but S didn't and I wasn't sure how much room I'd have in my suitcases at that point, so I decided that I'd go the next day if there was still space for more omiyage. We caught the shuttle back to the hotel from the station, picked up a few things from the 7-Eleven and then called it a night.
I bought this chocolate cookie ice cream -
Not bad for like $1 lol. And a decent amount of ice cream because I could barely finish it. Although I was pretty full still from dinner.

No purchase pictures from this day because anything bought had to be stuffed into a suitcase immediately so I could know how much more I could shop next lol. The only thing I have is this proof picture for Berri lol.
The last navy dress for Berri lol

It seems that we didn't do a lot, but we were just trying to finish up a lot of last minute things. That travel time from Tokyo to Osaka actually soaks up a lot of time, but we were lucky to get on an earlier train and check in right away, so that worked out pretty well. Nothing too fun or special, but we were already getting excited to go home and unpack all the things we were packing lol.

We really weren't sure what to do on Day 11, August 11, the last day of our trip. Our flight was leaving at around 09:15pm from KIX, and we'd have to check out of the hotel by at least noon, so we didn't want to do anything that would definitely involve sweating lol. But we also didn't want to do anything that would cost a lot of money. We wanted something cheap, entertaining and in AC lol. It would also have to be something that wasn't too far or complicated because we didn't have the pocket wifi anymore and didn't want to get lost and miss the airport shuttle later that afternoon.

After giving it some thought, we agreed on an activity and then went about gathering up all of our things and getting ready to check out. Our check out time was noon, but I wanted to get going and make the most of the day since we'd have to be back at the hotel before 05:00pm which meant pretty much getting back to Osaka station by around 04:00pm to be on the safe side.

We called down to have someone come to the room and help us bring down all of our bags lol. I had 4 and S had 4 items of his own lol. And I definitely can't really manage my check in bags by myself. Luckily, the Westin has great customer service. The bags were brought down to the lobby, and then we left them at the bell desk to be picked up upon our return to catch the airport shuttle.

Then, we caught the Westin shuttle to Osaka station and went to find something to eat for breakfast. The shuttle drops you off right outside the Eki Marche section which does have some restaurants so that was an obvious first place to look. S picked a conveyor belt sushi place that was just opening with a few people who had been waiting outside. It's a pretty decent sized restaurant actually. We'd never been to one of these on our own in Japan, so we weren't sure exactly how everything worked. And S was being a huge noob and put tea powder on a wasabi plate and when they corrected him and he realized what it was, we all had a bit of a laugh and he was super embarrassed lol. Each station has the tea powder and a hot water dispenser lol.
To order at this restaurant, you can just tell the chefs in the middle what you want, and they either make it themselves or pass your order on to someone else who has the right ingredients/components by shouting across the restaurant lol. It's a bit intimidating because we usually prefer to order by pointing, but S knew what he wanted to eat so reading the kanji wasn't too bad, and he knew how to pronounce everything I guess? I played it safe and just had a cucumber maki. It was really nice and friendly in there anyway.
When we were done, I signaled to an employee, and actually they have this electronic thing that scans the plates somehow to get your total. So she just pressed a button and held/maneuvered it over our plates lol. And then the receipt printed from a dispenser at her waist lol. Super handy.

We left the restaurant in search of the Tourist Information Center in the JR Osaka station to buy this -
The Osaka Kaiyu ticket. Since our JR Rail Passes were no longer valid, I figured this was a good solution because it offers unlimited access to Osaka city subway lines for the day + it comes with admission to the aquarium (for that same day). Also the ticket is super cute. We used it to catch the Osaka City Subway Midosuji line to Honmachi and then transfer to the Osaka City Subway Chuo line to get to Osakako station.

I've visited Kaiyukan twice before (once during my study abroad in summer 2012 and once with my family in summer 2014), but this was an activity that I knew would be able to soak up several hours at least and allow us to be out of the heat, so that's why I suggested it. My family had actually gone to Kaiyukan in spring 2015 without S and me because we were in Tennoji waiting for me to check out in Liz Lisa wtf. And although we'd both been to this aquarium before, it was when there wasn't a whale shark! And there are two whale sharks currently at Kaiyukan, so it wouldn't be a complete waste to go again since there was definitely two new things to see that we wouldn't be able to easily see anywhere else.

When we arrived, we noticed there was a HUGE crowd of people waiting to buy tickets. You can kind of see them in the picture below if you zoom in on the middle right-ish area but I didn't get a picture of it specifically. But seriously, the crowd was huge and the lines were all in the sun and it was already amazingly humid by that time in the day.
BUT THANK GOODNESS WE HAD THE KAIYU TICKET because that meant we didn't have to wait in that line and were able to go up to the gate immediately and just be scanned through because we had already paid for admission. Phew.
When I ask S to take photos for me -__-

We didn't have to wait in the ticket line, but actually the entrance to the aquarium and the first maybe 10 exhibits were all extremely crowded. And although the space is air conditioned, there were just so many people, that it was really hot still lol. There were just so many people trying to funnel into one very limited route and each person wants a good view and there's also a lot of kids and ugh omg. We weren't expecting such a crowd on the inside too. The good thing about having visited before is that we could skip the exhibits in the beginning that we weren't really interested in and just bypass to areas with less people and better air conditioning which was a real priority lol. I didn't take any pictures during that part because I s2g it would have just been pictures of the back of other people's heads or backs. Selfie sticks aren't allowed in the aquarium so I couldn't use that to get a better view or anything lol.

Here are the pictures I took when we finally got around to actually looking at the exhibits and figuring out what was the best way to manuever around in there -
Can you spot the capybara?

By the time we got to the big tank which is the central attraction, it really did thin out a lot after the first few viewing areas.

Once there were less people crowding, it was nice to walk around and just enjoy the place lol.

There's so much more there than just what I got semi-decent photos of lol.
Once we were finished with most of the fish in the tanks, we kind of skimmed through the rest of the exhibits. But I definitely wanted to stop at the gift shop!
Giant capybara price went up since last time :O
No capybara for us this time since I have no idea how we would have gotten it on the plane, but I did shop around for a stuffed whale shark because I think they're adorable in plush form. I had a hard time deciding between a few but I'm happy with my final choice.

I think it might have been around 02:30pm by the time we started leaving the aquarium? Something like that.
Fully eyelashed lego giraffe on the way out of the aquarium area
We did expend quite a bit of time in there which is what we intended. So much time that there wasn't much else we could do too far from the hotel lol. (I was secretly hoping we'd have time to go to Namba or Tennoji lol.) There were still things we could occupy the time with in the Umeda area though, and we headed back to the way we came - Subway Chuo line, transfer at Honmachi and then Subway Midosuji line back to Umeda.

At this point, we were pretty hungry. We looked briefly at the food court by the aquarium before we left but S didn't want to eat anything there. Back in Umeda, we somehow ended up at the same little alley of restaurants as the day before....and ate in the restaurant right next to the ramen restaurant from the night before.
But guess what?? They also had that same restaurant's ramen on their menu as options as well lol. They share a wall and I guess can pass food in between? It was actually an okonomiyaki restaurant lol. S was going to order okonomiyaki but ended up ordering yakisoba. I was pretty happy to eat the shoyu ramen again lol.

We didn't want to go to far from the station and S kind of just wanted to go back to the hotel at that point to just relax and wait, but I insisted that we go to Don Quixote since I still had some space in my bags and things I wanted to buy from there since the Shibuya one didn't have what I wanted. I was a tiny bit nervous that I wouldn't find it straightaway since I'd only been there once before with Google Maps guiding me (and we didn't have the wifi anymore) but actually it's really close behind Hep Five. (That's how I remembered the Donki behind Shibuya 109 and still yet I couldn't find that one -__-.)
I bought the things I wanted, and then we headed back to the station. The Westin shuttle leaves about every fifteen minutes starting at the top of the hour, so we generally had an idea of how much time we'd have and intended to get something to eat for the plane or the airport shuttle ride. Somehow S and I ended up getting separated, but we met up at the shuttle stop when it picked people up at 04:15pm.

We got back to the Westin shortly before 04:30pm and went to 7-Eleven to get water or anything else that we wanted last minute. Then, we went back to the lobby, claimed our bags so that I could pack what I had bought into what little space I had left, and then we just waited for the airport shuttle which was set to leave at 04:58pm.
We were the only people who boarded at the Westin which is the first stop anyway. The airport shuttle then goes around the Umeda area picking up at other locations before we head out to KIX. I think it takes about 1.5 hours to get there including all the other pick ups. The ride was pretty comfortable because there weren't that many people on the shuttle and you could lean your seat back lol.

I think we got to KIX Terminal 1 at around 06:30pm. I'm not extremely sure because I didn't bother checking my watch since I knew we'd be arriving much earlier than needed for our 09:15pm flight lol. We checked in, went through security and then just went straight to our gate. It's always the same one, so we're pretty familiar with it. The airport does have a number of restaurants and shops, but we felt pretty done spending money by that point, so we just chose seats at the gate near an outlet and waited.

We also used the time to change our clothes and just shuffle things and prepare for the flight. Unlike last time where the plane arrived late, this time, the plane was early!
Supposedly we were going to leave like 7 minutes ahead of schedule lol. We didn't really notice that making much of a difference. However, what was really noticeable was that the video screens (on the back of the headrest in front of you) did not work for the first three hours +. Also, I feel like they usually shut the lights off on the plane for this night time flight, but they remained on for a while which was kind of annoying bc I was trying to sleep and it makes the most sense to sleep on the flight anyway since it's night in Japan when we leave and mid-morning in Hawaii when we land? But whatever lol.
Last picture "in Japan" - on the plane

I slept through most of the flight, and we touched down in Honolulu after about 7.5 hours.
We were a little ahead of schedule, but because there were two medical emergencies on the plane that had to get taken care of first, so that delayed us a bit from getting off. I understand that they have to take care of those people as a priority, but I always get so antsy when I'm practically home, and I just want to jump off the plane lol. The downside of international flights is that you still have to go through all the customs and immigration stuff, and you can't just go straight to baggage claim. Luckily the U.S. citizen line wasn't that long though and an employee even let us go in this other line because S and I are not on the same declaration form (not married so we're singles) and we got through even faster! 

But by the time I actually made it to baggage claim, all of the items from our flight were already pulled off the carousel and on the side. Easier for me, I guess because I don't really like pulling them off the conveyor anyway lol.
I was so, so happy to be home. But instead of going to my house and unpacking my bags...I went to work lol. I had to take a lot of leave for the trip and wanted to start making up my hours ASAP, so that meant go straight to the office after picking up something for lunch lol.

And that was the end of our trip! A very humid 11 days in Japan - Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Tokyo, Yokohama, Chiba and Sendai! We had fun, but we spent pretty much all the money we had allocated for the trip and were glad to be back in Hawaii by the end of it.

It took me a bit longer to put together these blog posts as compared to last time even though I split up the posts a bit differently for that trip lol. For some of these, I ended up writing entire essays lol. (For Part 1 - 6, I wrote 26,500 words wtf.)  There's still a few more posts to come which are going to be much more interesting imo because it's going to be all of my purchases that I deem worthy of sharing lol. It might take me a bit to finish them though because I still need to take photos for them, and since we've been having back-to-back storms here, there hasn't been much sunlight, and even when there is, it's extremely humid and I don't want to lock myself in my room and suffer while taking the photos.
Also yet to be added are a post about our travel accommodations because we used Airbnb for the first time, and then kind of a "catch all" last post with travel notes - things that I just want to remember and want to have all in one place that didn't necessarily belong with one of the other posts.
For this trip's blog posts, I really felt like I was kind of writing/blogging in a style that felt more like a travel diary for myself with lots of inane details in a way that's not very entertaining that probably don't appeal to most other people lol. I do think that these will be great references for me for future trips though, so that's why I wanted to record the days this way. If it can help other people in some way, that would be great as well, but I know how S and I travel isn't the same way that others necessarily want to lol. Hope it wasn't too unbearable & thanks for reading!

  Japan trip Summer 2015 posts:
Part 1 - Osaka & Kobe: Day 1 - 2
Part 2 - Kyoto & Namba: Day 3
Part 3 - Tokyo-based: Day 4 - 6
Part 4 - Sendai: Day 7
Part 5 - Tokyo-based: Day 8 -9
Part 6 - Osaka: Day 10 - 11
Part 7 - Airbnb & accommodations
Part 8 - Liz Lisa purchases
Part 9 - Other shopping
Part 10 - Travel notes

  Japan trip Spring 2015 posts
  Japan trip Summer 2014 posts