Tuesday, April 30, 2024

April 2024 recap - Harry Potter studio tour, sakura runs, in-Laws visit, S Korea trip, teamLab Borderless

April started strong (as had March and I hope to say that going into May as well haha). A lot of stuff going on this month!

Warner Bros Studios Tour Making of Harry Potter 
Our ticket reservation was at 16:00 and we arrived just a few minutes before by car (with prepaid parking with our ticket). Parking garage had a lot of space on a Monday afternoon. It's a short walk from the parking to the entrance and there are a few displays outside. We stopped to take a look while there was still sunlight. 

Ticket times are constantly being looked at by staff and there is also a bag check before you enter. They didn't seem to have any issue with the sealed candy and chocolate in my purse lol. 

Upon immediate admittance into the ticketed area, there is a large sitting space, the gift shop on the left and the food hall on your right. The "tour" begins straight ahead where you'll need to show your ticket again (time matters). 

There are a few displays in the first area where there's additional queuing because the next room has an introductory video that plays that seems specific to the Tokyo tour. It doesn't really matter too much where you stand. From there, there's a larger cinema screen (photos/recording not allowed) with closer to classic theater seating for more general information from the actors in the film. 

Once the cinema screening is over, you'll move forward into a waiting area with a door to the Great Hall set up and this is where people will start to disperse and move around freely at their own pace.

In the marble staircase area, there is an interactive video experience which is pretty quick (no line for us). Your video will be displayed on one of the frames in this area. It might take a little while to spot it but it will play a couple of times at least I think.
us in the vertical frame ^
If you sign up for the QR code inside the tour (staff will have lots of signs for it), you'll get a copy of the video. 

The crowds definitely space out a bit, but it seems like it would be unlikely for there to be a time when you'd be completely alone in any one of the areas. Everything has a placard with information about which movie its from and often fun facts. 

There's also lots of more informative displays that aren't just straight set recreations and video explanations from people who worked on the movie. 

We waited in line to get a picture in the mirror of erised but I'm really not sure why this had a line lol. It's just a regular mirror. 

To my surprise, there were some portions of the tour that were "outside" or exposed including Hagrid's House. When we first got outside it was POURING rain but there is a way to see the display from a covered walkway.
Queued for the flying Ford Anglia, but this looks super fakey to me and because there's windows and lights, the reflection is a bit bad. Most people were taking photos from the open door side but that didn't look right to me either 🤷

The Backlot Cafe and Butterbeer Bar are at the "halfway" point of the tour and it's a good place to take a break. When we went, there was pretty much no line to pay and order and we didn't have any trouble finding a table. (It seems like you can sit in the Backlot Cafe even if you order something from the Butterbeer side.) The cake we ordered did take a long time, but at least we were seated.

You'll also find a wizard's chess board, the bridge and the Knight Bus outside in the backlot along with Dursley's Privet Dr home. This had a small queue to enter for us. You can see Harry's room under the stairs. 
And a display from the living room and the inflating aunt incident lol. 

Continuing back inside, taking a picture with the front of the train had a rather large queue but there's also 3 places to pose with the cart. I recommend going to the furthest line so you don't have other people from the first two lines in the background of your photo. 

We settled for a photo with the side of the train, which has its own displays inside with recreations of scenes from each of the movies.

This Ministry of Magic display was quite impressive as well and very large, including all of the offices. 

One of the biggest lines we saw was for the broomriding video. We opted out of this one but did watch one person's video which is displayed just above. It's very green screen lol. 

This Diagon Alley was one of our favorite areas and it is nice and bright but the lights will change and have more of a "night" look occasionally as well. 

My husband also particularly enjoyed the graphic design exhibits. 

One of the last things you'll see from the tour is the model of Hogwarts which is nicely displayed in a dark room. Good for getting pictures of the castle but not as good for selfies lol. 

And last, before spitting out back into the gift shop, is the wand room! You're not meant to touch these and they aren't for sale.

The gift shop is extensive with 6 or more different rooms and sections. Lots of general HP stuff, lots of stuff for the houses, lots of specific niche HP items, some Studio Tour items and some options for personalization. I was pretty impressed with the selection here and you'll take some time to go through everything. 

We still needed to eat dinner, so we went over to the Food Hall. I think the Backlot Cafe has slightly more impressive selection (maybe that's on purpose?) so if you want something a bit more themed and picturesque, I recommend ordering from the Backlot Cafe! We decided on the Great Hall Feast, which feeds 2-4, and we each also got a dessert from the Frog Cafe which is co-located in the same space. 

We made two small purchases at the gift shop and then went home!
If you enjoy the Harry Potter MOVIES, I think this is well worth a visit. There's really no references to the books since it's a studio tour and it's all about what was done for the films. There's lots of photo opportunities and plenty of things to buy. Food and merch was a little on the expensive side, but absolutely expected for what this was. There's English alongside the Japanese everywhere and most of it is visual anyway. I would allocate at LEAST 4 hours for this but make it 5-6 if you want to do all interactive videos and eat here as well because it does take some time to be served. Due to the location in Nerima, that can make this a full day activity depending on where you're starting from. We left our house at 14:30 and didn't get home until nearly 22:00, but about 3.5 hours of that was travel time. This is a one and done kind of activity for me, but I'm glad we went!

in-Laws visit - Yamanashi & Hiroshima
I actually got the accompanying posts published in a timely manner, so if you've been keeping up, you've already seen the two detailed posts about these weekends!
For the first weekend, we drove over to Fuefuki in Yamanashi to check out the hanamomo but actually got a great sakura experience as well! After a fabulous hotel stay, we also did strawberry picking and visited FujiQ oway home. Full post here!
The second weekend was spent in Hiroshima where we met up with my in-laws extended family who lives there, went to Rabbit Island and then I finally saw the floating torii at high tide! Full post

Running with the sakura
With the sakura blooming a bit later this year (we had incorrectly expected early lol), I actually enjoyed a lot of cherry blossom viewing during my runs in early April! Here's a photo dump so I can remember this since it's definitely not something we get in HI. 
It is 100% better in person and when I'm trying to compose a nice picture instead of something I can easily snap mid-stride, but this is still a decent representation of what we were so lucky to experience for a week or so. Pink flowers everywhere!

South Korea work trip
Final work trip and I finally made it over to the site in South Korea. This would be my first visit to this site and also first time to this part of South Korea. I flew out on Sunday from Narita to Busan at Gimhae Airport and then caught a taxi about an hour away to where I'd be anchored for the week. Thankfully taxis aren't too expensive despite the distance!
This was a work trip that ended up being mostly solo, so I don't have a lot to show for it. I didn't go out every day after work because I wasn't in a big city area and there just wasn't a lot to do within walking distance that wasn't eating/basic living needs related. The train station nearby was even permanently closed, so I didn't have a quick way to get very far. 
It was a nice area to stay in and made it easy to get to my work site. I was doing a lot of walking and standing (basically all day field work), so most days I was coming back to the hotel exhausted anyway. Since I don't speak any Korean, the best meal experiences were when my local coworker took me out to lunch and recommended what to get. 
Since I didn't have to accommodate anyone else, I did take the opportunity to go running 3 times (when I wasn't exhausted from the day itself) and had a little bit of fun exploring that way. 
I got a little braver at the end and also remembered I could catch the bus if I wanted to get around (walking and cab weren't my only options without a train). I already had a Tmoney card from our visit last November and I remembered that I could add money at convenience stores (since there's no train station). It wasn't the most convenient time-wise, but I did get to one store that I was able to get some omiyage from and I didn't get lost! 
I don't see myself going to South Korea again for self-motivated reasons, so this will likely be my last visit to the country unless I get sent again for work. It was a very different experience from being in Seoul and I think it was kind of nice to get the two perspectives during two completely different trips.

teamLab Borderless at Azabudai Hills
My husband wanted to get tickets for this after my parents and his mom & sister recommended it after visiting during their trips. It was until a week after I had already gotten the tickets and paid for them that it occurred to me that this Borderless could be the same as the one we already went to in Odaiba in November 2018. No, not Planets (which we also went to), but the Borderless original one. Why didn't I think of it sooner? I'm not really sure except that we were just going with the strong, strong recommendation we were getting to go to it not really thinking that the people who recommended it hadn't been to the original Borderless themselves (but did have Planets to compare it to). Anyway, that's why there wasn't a lot of hype in this visit for me. 
I do acknowledge that there are definitely some differences aside from just the location and the building itself, and I didn't remember 100% of the first visit but a lot of it just did seem "familiar".
We visited on a Monday during Golden Week (11:30 entry slot) and it wasn't crazy crowded but there were definitely people everywhere and we did have some small waits for the limited/smaller spaces but nothing too irritating. 
I was feeling very fatigued this day and we almost skipped the whole thing all together since it would be a big time suck (including the commute back and forth), but I insisted that we go to see it for ourselves. 
Not too many crazy photos and a super tame outfit from me for the occasion because I barely even made it there at all, but it did help us to just enjoy the installations in person and not worry about getting Instagram content. Since it felt like 90% was old news to us anyway, we snapped just a handful of photos and just concentrated on trying to ensure we saw as much as we could. 
It is quite maze-like which can be pretty disorienting but I think we got to everything and left in about 90 minutes, not rushing too much. This is without waiting in line or buying anything from the fish drawing activity. You'd probably spend more time in there if you're trying to get nice photos/content at each spot (especially without other people in it) or if you're experiencing everything for the first time. 
pain smile but glad we are done lol
IMO, unless you're specifically looking for new/fresher IG content, if you went to the original Borderless, I do NOT recommend you go to the new one as a casual digital art appreciater. It's a little different and the building is cool, but not different and cool enough for me to allocate time and money to this a second time. I say this as someone who has been to the Osaka Aquarium probably 5 or 6 times now though so I guess you can tell where my tolerance for repetitive experiences lie lol. I enjoyed the original Borderless a lot and I think it's great the first time for sure (regardless of which location you go to). With the crowds and pricing (and location from our house), this just wasn't worth it for a second time for us.  

What we ate

WB Studios Making of Harry Potter Tokyo - Backlot Cafe 

WB Studios Making of Harry Potter Tokyo - Food Hall

Ramen Hasegawa

Yatsushiro Furusato Park matsuri food trucks

Shingen Mochi Factory matsuri & cafe

Meiseki No Yado Kagetsu (hotel) dinner

Meiseki No Yado Kagetsu (hotel) breakfast

FujiQ Highland Pizza-la Express and food hall

Beef Cutlet Restaurant koushuya 牛かつ専門店 甲州家




Tonkatsu Wako

Japanese Restaurant Setouchi


Assorted airport lounge snacks from Narita and Gimhae airports

Assorted food in South Korea

Ippudo Ramen

Miscellaneous/personal life
This has been our second to last month living in Japan! Writing this at the end of the month, it's really started to sink in but I had no cares in the world about it at the beginning of April because there was so much going on between then and now.

Outfits from this month have been posted here. There was really an assortment of weather and a bunch of traveling (including no outfits captured in Korea lol), but I guess that's spring!

I did end the month on a bit of a sour note because I got hit with food poisoning that took me out of commission for a couple days (before I could do activity at a normal rate/without feeling so tired or sore and eat regular food). This was the day after I got back from Korea, and I don't know exactly what caused it but I'm just glad I was in my own home. That was why I wasn't feeling very good at teamLab (which I forced myself to go to after the food poisoning hit in the evening the day before). So May can only look better from here!