What to love about Osaka and Kyoto trains and stations

With Osaka as our base all throughout our trip to Japan last March, we spent an ample amount of time in trains and train stations, going to Kyoto, and around Kyoto and Nara. Aside from the Japanese railways’ efficiency, these are some of the things that made my train-loving heart geek out: some cool-looking trains, delicious station eats, and abundant opportunities to people watch.

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Osaka Loop Line. In Tokyo, there’s the Yamanote Line. Osaka also has its own loop line, which has stops in major stations Umeda/Osaka and Tennoji. The line also stops in Osakajokoen, which is the closest JR station to Osaka Castle; and Bentencho, which is two stops away from Osakako (Osaka Aquarium) on the Chuo line.

Hankyu Kyoto Line to Arashiyama. We decided to take the Hankyu Kyoto Line from Umeda (Hankyu) station in Osaka to Arashiyama just because it was the most direct route from where we were staying (in Kita-ku). And the minute I saw the train, I was happy with our decision. It was an old maroon four-car beauty. A Hankyu 6300 series, I found out later on, that has been around since the 1970s and was supposedly refurbished five years ago. Continue reading

How to get to Osaka from Kansai International Airport

So there we were with our one large luggage, between platforms 4 and 5, wondering whether we should jump in the train at platform 5 when the JR person informed us a few minutes earlier that the Kansai Rapid Service was going to be in platform 4. My husband pointed out that the train had  Rapid Service blinking across it. Being it our first time to land in KIX and to ride the Kansai Rapid Service, we were not sure if it was the one going straight to JR Osaka Station in Kita-ku or if there were other types of rapid services. It was on a different platform. What if it was the right train? The next train would be another thirty minutes and it was already getting late. We jumped inside with only a few seconds to spare before the door closed.

As we pulled out of the airport station, I was still not sure if it was the right train until the monitor showed station names that I could see in the Osaka Railway and Subway map I got from one of the airport information counters. I could now stop gripping my husband’s hand.

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If you’re heading to Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe and other parts of the Kansai region from outside Japan, then you’ll most likely be flying into the Kansai International Airport (KIX). From KIX, you have several ways to get to your destination.

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Make your own cup of noodles at the Instant Ramen Museum

Open lid. Pour powder from the packet into cup. Pour hot water. Close lid. Wait for three minutes. Open lid again and have a quick and hot filling cup of instant ramen.

This was how I was introduced to ramen. Since our comforting noodle soups here in the Philippines are of the batchoy and mami varieties (both must-tries if ever you find yourself in the Philippines), my first slurp of the Japanese noodle soup was from a styro Nissin Cup. I didn’t love it but I thought it was genius. No cooking involved! It’s like being 16 and letting that boy you sort of like hold your hand just because you think holding hands is the best thing ever. (That’s acceptable behavior, right?) And then you get to taste the real thing. Authentic ramen from its motherland, fresh noodles, broth that has been deliciously boiling for hours, mouthwatering slices of chashu, the seductive aji tamago… And you fall in love.

On the trip to Japan last March, we made the pilgrimage to Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. As the name suggests, it’s a museum dedicated to instant noodles and cup noodles and to its creator Momofuku Ando. For all my current indifference to instant ramen, I have to admit, it has provided many bellies (mine included) sustenance in a fast and cheap way. We had to pay our respects! Also, my husband likes the stuff to this day.

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Located in Osaka, the museum is around a five-minute walk from Ikeda Station (directions below). We went there on a Sunday and the streets leading to the museum were quiet, empty, and in typical Japanese fashion, very clean. There was just a number of families coming from the museum (the giveaway was that they were lugging around the plastic bag with the instant ramen cup). When we got inside, there were even more families–Japanese parents with their little ones in tow. I guess, the education about instant ramen has to start early on. Continue reading

Ninjas, anime, and film shoots at Toei Kyoto Studio Park

Ninjas on rooftops, samurais and sword fights, super robots. These were just some of the things my husband and I were looking forward to when we made the trip to Japan last March. Him especially. And we found them all at Toie Kyoto Studio Park.

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By the entrance and ticket booth of Kyoto Studio Park. Oh look, ninjas.

If Kyoto is referred to by guide books as the the Japan of your imagination (what with its dizzying number of historic temples and shrines, teahouses and tradition), then Toei Kyoto Studio Park is place you want to go to if your imagination is keen to include anime, manga, ninjas and samurais.

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Welcome to Queens

With a bulky luggage and a backpack to lug around between train stations and platforms, I knew my commute from Jersey City to Manhattan to Queens was not going to be easy. Lack of upper body strength, meet several flight of stairs. You’re not going to like each other. (Actually, stairs won’t really care.)

When I reached Midtown, my friend F who just came from a run in Central Park told me to stay put in the train station where I was and that she would just meet me there. I was so happy to see her because (1) I hadn’t seen her for a couple of years and (2) extra pair of arms! Take that, subway stairs! (Nope, not really. The luggage lugging on the stairs was still not the most convenient morning activity.)

Finally, when we got to 30th Avenue Station in Astoria, Queens, my friend and I decided to let the other luggage-less folks go down the flights of stairs ahead of us so that two tiny Filipinas carrying one luggage won’t block their way. We waited a few meters away from stairs, letting other people pass ahead of us when a guy asked us if we needed help. After two stations,  four flights of stairs (yes, I counted) and throngs of train passengers you try not to block, when this guy asked us if he could help us, I must have looked like I had just seen the birth of Jesus. I nodded, while I picked up my jaw from the floor. My friend from Queens just smiled sweetly, nonplussed, and said a chirpy, “Okay, thanks!”

The guy carried our bag down two flights of stairs onto the sidewalk. I thanked him profusely and I think I bowed at one point. He waved his hand, which we all know is the universal language for ‘Don’t worry about it’ and went on his way.

And with that, my friend turned to me and said: “Welcome to Queens.”

From the track

From the track in Astoria Park

To say that my friend loves her neighborhood (and the NYC borough she now calls home) was an understatement. And with that kind of ‘welcome’ I wasn’t surprised why.

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