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After a long wait the Harry Potter area of USJ opened on July 15th!

As you can imagine it’s super busy, so USJ are implementing a timed entrance ticket system. 10,000 free tickets are issued a day. See here.

We got there for opening at 9am and went straight to the ticket machine!

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By 10:30 they were definitely all gone.

We went on Space Fantasy and Jaws, ate some ice cream and then waited for 1:30.

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Wow.

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Our first stop was for some Butterbeer!

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I got the frozen type with glass (¥1100) and J got a cup of regular (¥500). It was really sweet, like caramel.

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I preferred the frozen type to the original one, it really looked like beer, and was surreal to see lots of children drinking ‘beer’ from tankards.

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The shops!

The street looked amazing, the attention to detail was immense, and all the shops had wonderful shop displays.

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Zonkos joke shop.

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Honeydukes sweet shop.

Sadly both had massive queues just to get in, so we decided to skip them for now.

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Though we went in the Owl Post and sent a postcard to England.

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Next to it was a covered area with toy owls in the rafters.

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And a real owl too!

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Even the bathrooms were on theme.

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Inside they were just like my old school toilets in England!

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The Three Broomsticks pub, we didn’t go in as there was a bit of a queue, instead we went next door to the Hogs Head.

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We got a glass of original Hogs Head ale.

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What they didn’t tell us until after we paid ¥800 was that it was take out only, we weren’t allowed to sit and drink it.

Behind the shops is Hogworts itself!

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Inside is the 4D Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction, but yes, you guessed it there was a long queue! 120 minutes.

Next to it was the Flight of the Hippogriff ride.

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With a smaller 60 minute wait.

As we have year passes we weren’t in a rush to try any rides or spend huge amounts of time waiting in line. We can go back and enjoy Hogsmeade as often as we like in the next 6 months or so, and I expect we will go a lot! But I think we will wait until summer and all the hype has finished!

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SLYTHERIN WILL WIN!

I look forward to going back when it’s quieter, trying Fish’n’Chips in the Three Brooms Sticks, shopping in Zonkos and Honeydukes and riding the attractions.

Again I had to work the same day as Tenjin matsuri, I did get lucky though and had an early finish on the 24th so I could go to the evening festivities before the main day.

I watched some dancing in Tenmangu Shrine, then walked along the stalls towards the river.

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First we scooped for coloured balls!

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Then J tried a nerf gun range and won a Kumamon beach ball!

After that we sat in a food area by the river and had a drink where I saw…

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Fugu karage! Deep fried pufferfish!

I’m not an adventurous eater, but I’ve always secretly wanted to try fugu. Usually you only get fugu in special fugu resturaunts as it needs careful preparation, so you don’t ingest too much toxin and die! Because of this it can be quite expensive and then if you don’t like it, it’s going to be really offensive to the chef and his special fugu cutting skills.

For ¥300 I wasn’t going to risk lots of money, maybe just my health… Oh well I decided to go for it!

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I don’t know what type of fugu it was, but not the same as the one usually seen in fugu resturaunts, a much smaller version (and so maybe safer?!).

Here I go!

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It was delicious! Just like gourmet fish ‘n’ chips back home!

Only on two mouthfuls did I feel a tingling in my mouth! It was fun!

I’d definitely be up for trying fugu properly now.

Out of all the strange foods in Japan I’ve tried unagi (eel), ikura (fish eggs/roe), uni (sea urchin) and now fugu (pufferfish).

This was my third time going to at least some part of Gion festival, this year I visited on the Yoiyoiyoiyama night. Sadly I couldn’t attend the main day Thursday 17th due to work.

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The event was pretty typical for us, I rented a yukata and had my hair styled (post here!) which made it a bit more special and we went on a parade float for the first time!

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During the 3 evenings leading up to the parade the Yamaboko floats are displayed around Kyoto, you can walk among them and enjoy the music.

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As well as the usual festival stalls of food, drink, fish and amusements.

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For the low price of ¥1000 you can gain access to a parade float!

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Just pay at the small counter selling goods by the float, take off your shoes and on you go up!

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The view was fantastic, looking down on the busy streets.

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The music was so so loud when I got in the float itself. I thought my ears were going to start bleeding!

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It’s pretty big inside actually, there were maybe twenty people in it!

We stayed a while taking it all in about 15 minutes, but then more people came so we moved on.

As a memento we got a fan and booklet about the parade as part of the entrance fee.

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I’m glad we finally got to visit a float!

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Gion matsuri: http://www.gionmatsuri.jp

We went to USJ one evening at the beginning of July just to see the electrical parade!

I love Disneyland’s parades so much I didn’t expect the USJ parade to compare at all, but I was happily surprised.

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The floats were very big, detailed and impressive! The music irritatingly repetitive and catchy (just like Disney!). The dancing flamboyant and cheesy. It was great!

As well as the usual USJ characters like Elmo, Snoopy and Hello Kitty some old classics were featured such as Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland.

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The high point was when one of the many Mad Hatters poured imaginary tea into Js cup.

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The parade lasted about 30minutes, much longer than I expected.

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After it was finished the park was pretty much closed so we followed everyone else out…via the gift shops.

Harry Potter opened July 15th but they already had some HP goods in the gift shop when we visited.

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These every flavour Bertie Botts beans were ¥1500! Everyone was trying on the robes and scarves from the movie, but at ¥11,000ish I won’t be getting one!

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I did buy a keychain of the beans though for ¥1,200 (the blue light up Mickey isn’t part of it, J won that at Aizen festival!).

USJ Magical Starlight Parade: http://www.usj.co.jp/e/attraction/msp.html

After watching 5 games and having two cancelled due to heavy rain this season I finally watched a winning match – against the Giants no less!

The Yomiuri Giants are number 1 in the league and Hanshin Tigers are number 2, so it was an important game.

Before the game we stopped by the Hanshin department store Tigers shop to buy balloons and I picked up a new shirt in pink!

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The game started at 6 but we headed over early to take in the atmosphere at about 4.30pm.

We saw the infamous Hanshin dog!

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She wouldn’t look at the camera for me! Too cute!

About 5.30pm we took our seats and watched the opening ceremony, they had the ceremonial first pitch by veteran player Tabuchi and the cheerleaders danced with Lucky.

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Our seats were really good, right inline with the batter. As usual the Hanshin fans were really welcoming and when we got our first home run we all jumped up and high fived!

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The 7th inning balloon release!

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We were lucky to be introduced to this lady, the Tigers oba-chan. I hear she travels to every Tigers game around Japan!

The Giants didn’t even get one home run and we won 3-0! Woohoo. To celebrate we set off more balloons!

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We sang every Tigers song in turn, and then did it all again!

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At the end they named the best player of the game, there were two actually Iwata and S.Oh and they gave a small speech and interview.

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On our way to the station a large crowd of fans were gathered under the bridge singing Tigers songs together in the dark so we stopped and joined in for a while.

Then at the station we bumped into some fans we met in June when we went who remembered us, one said he couldn’t believe we’d won and I’d been there as I’m such bad luck!!

I hope we can go to another game before the season finishes! A special thank you to the lovely lady who got J the tickets, I had so much fun, thank you!

As part of the Space Series mega release there was a special area open in Chara Park Umeda (details here).

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There were lots of space series goods, sky tree items and a few other San-X characters, an area to make window stickers, face painting and keychain making.

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By the time I arrived about 2:45 the line for meeting Rilakkuma was already full. But I could stand in the crowd and watch!

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Can’t say I’m a big fan of the Dr.Yellow series so I didn’t mind too much.

I bought a few things, but largely resisted going crazy with the plushies. I just got the JAXA guy (my fav!).

My small haul -

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I filled in a quiz and got a free fan! :D (Actually I saw completed copies behind the counter and copied the answers C, C, D to get it!).

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I love this series!

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I had a quick trip to Tokyo at the weekend, just 18 hours!! I met with Sarah, Sarah and Aviva and we went to the Tower Records Rilakkuma Cafe in Shibuya.

It opened at 10am, and we arrived a little after that, we arrived from the right hand side of the shop, and looking at the cafe on the second floor we were surprised it didn’t look full. The sign said it was the exit of the cafe so we walked all the way around to the other side, then spotted people sitting on stools by the entrance. We turned the corner and there were more people, around that corner were more people queuing up the stairs….and more….and more…! Omg. The queue ended on the 3.5F staircase. There were about 75 people in front of us.

It’s a good job we love you Rilakkuma!

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The queue move steadily, and despite the heat and our hunger we made it to the front of the line 2 hours later!

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In the cafe!

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The cafe itself is already nice and it was lightly decorated with Rilakkuma posters, banners and plain plushies of different sizes. Personally I would have liked more Rilakkuma!

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I ordered the curry alone for ¥1500 as did Sarah, and Aviva and Sarah got the cake set. The cake came straight away almost and the curry not long after.

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He’s relaxing in a sea of curry sauce on an omelette pillow! He tasted pretty nice, an average curry rice with added cuteness.

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There was an hour limit for tables, so we didn’t hang around much after eating and we had to get to the tea party with Misako Aoki for dessert!

I’ve worn yukata a few times in Japan, but I never feel that confident in it, I wish I could put it on professionally.

At Gion matsuri about half the people are in yukata and they all look stunning, perfectly pressed and coiffed. I decided to get professional help and found the website for Yumeyakata.

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They had a special Gion festival offer to have full yukata rental for ¥3500 and better yet you could keep the yukata afterwards. Seeing as an average yukata can cost this much anyway it’s a very good deal!

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The shop also offers the option to have an up do for ¥1500 more, so I decided to get that too.

Reserving was easy, I just filled in the online form in English and got confirmation via email right away.

The store is just one subway stop (or 15min walk) from Kyoto JR station, and easy enough to find.

On the first floor I had to take my shoes off to enter and register at the counter. I got given a receipt and ushered up to the second floor. Here there were racks and racks of yukatas to choose from.

I took about 10 minutes choosing as there was so much choice! I wanted one with a type of stripe in it, and not too light. I couldn’t choose between two but one of the many staff members was on hand to give me advice. She also helped pick a contrasting yellow obi for it.

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After that I took my selection to the till and paid (¥3500 + ¥1500 + tax) then went up to the next floor.

The third floor was the dressing floor, a smiley lady helped me with my bags, opened my yukata and gave me a slip to change into. Then started dressing me. It took about ten minutes from start to finish, and another lady came to tie the obi.

Onwards to the fourth floor to choose a matching purse or drawstring bag and check in my other bag and clothes.

After that I was directed to the 5th and final floor for hair!

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Someone was available and started styling right away. You can choose between 6 styles for medium to long hair. I chose the middle left style as I can’t French braid to save my life.

Then all the way back down to retrieve my husband and choose some sandals from racks and racks of them.

My transformation took 40 minutes which I didn’t think was bad at all, including choosing, paying, getting dressed, transferring my belongings and having my hair styled. The husband thought it was too long though. Lol.

The staff were really friendly, efficient and the service great. I was the only westerner I saw but I didn’t feel uncomfortable and some of the staff spoke a little English, but I got by with my very basic Japanese.

The final result!

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At Gion festival and walking around Kyoto.

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About 8.30pm I returned to Yumeyakata to get changed into my normal clothes and return the obi, bag, under garments and sandals. A kind lady folded my yukata neatly and presented it to me. The yukata had an original price tag of ¥7500 and I got it for free!

Sorry there aren’t any pictures of inside, but of course people were getting changed and it was private. In any case I had my hands full choosing and getting ready! I had a positive experience renting a yukata in Kyoto and I highly recommend it, especially for a festival!

Aizen Festival is one of the first festivals of the summer in Osaka. It lasts from June 30th till July 2nd, but we only visited on June 30th.

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The festival started with a parade from Tennoji to the shrine, it celebrates the pretty girls of Aizen and the cutest ones are carried to the shrine!

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There was a really fun atmosphere, and lots of smiling and singing. Although most of the crowd were middle aged men.

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At the shrine the girls posed for photos and then carried on singing and selling good luck charms to people.

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We stayed for a while, people watched and browsed the stalls.

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We had a great time and it was a nice warm up for the bigger festivals in a few weeks time.

Aizen festival at Aizendo: http://www.aizendo.com/festival.htm

In June you can visit baby deer at Kasuga Shrine in Nara.

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It’s only ¥300 to enter.

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Some are kept in the arena and others at the back in separate areas.
There was a small display explaining about the work they do taking care of the deer.

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And you could feed some!

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Aw this guy was so wobbly on his feet!

The event is over now but you can visit again next year, and there are still lots of young deer wandering around Nara park at the moment.

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