March 12 – April 12 on Universal-Doll is going to be all about Spring Japan travel (with the occasional fashion update thrown in because #fashionblogger). I’m especially going to talk about some more unexpected destinations like this Castle in the Sky along with travel tips. But I’ll also have some Osaka and Kyoto news as well.

 

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My best photo that shows how it feels to be at Takeda Castle and it’s the first photo. May as well stop the blog post now.

I found out about Takeda Castle in Hyogo (竹田城 Takeda-jo) through rocketnews. Never did I think I would travel somewhere because of a site that mainly posts photos of whacky Japan and plastic surgery. But it was their one rocketnews post in a few about how pretty some things in Japan are.

Takeda Castle is known as Japan’s Machu Pichu because of how it an old ruin that nests above the clouds. It’s known as Takeda Castle, but really it’s just ruins from a leftover castle built in the 1400s on a mountain. It doesn’t have a big foreign tourist draw, but when I was there a lot of Japanese tour groups were visiting.

 

kMjoprlHere’s a fancy helicopter shot from Infojepang

I showed the post to my man and he was really interested to so we decided to make a day trip of it from Osaka. It’s a very easy day trip from Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe. It took about two hours from Osaka, we stopped at the Wadayama train station for Yoshinoya.

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Travel tip: Looking for cheap and quick? A gyu-don restaurant such as Nakau or Yoshinoya. My meal was 490 yen or $4.50. I ordered the Meat with green onions and egg or top right.

My man was mainly interested because we could hike it, he’s like half-goat so the idea of scaling anything fills him with happiness. I on the other hand love a good hike but hate unstable heights, like it’s my #1 fear (dark water #2). I took a medicine for a long time that left me feeling dizziness with heels above 3 inches, much less a mountain. But I heard hike and agreed. I even bought sensible shoes and pants for the endeavor. And wore eyelashes and full makeup, because I’m me. :smiley:

Takeda Station in Hyogo is the drop off point and Takeda area itself was really pretty!

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If this is the first thing you see when you get off a train, you know you’re in for a treat.

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A little warning about the train, check out that Takeda Castle mascot “Takeji” so cute!!

TakejiSo cute!! (from the Asago City website)

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Takeda station is in the town of Asago and wow the main drag was pretty. New old-style houses that some must’ve been ryokans.

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Koi swimming through the streams lining the main road. Along with cute statues of Mickey Mouse and Doraemon.

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Even Pikachu got in on the action. All the cherry blossoms final road. No editing, they were really that pink.

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If you’re upset you’re going to miss peak time to view the sakura, really don’t be. After is always great. You get to watch them fall and floating down rivers they’re especially lovely.

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And the shrine entrance starts the journey up the mountain.

and there will be no pictures of that.

Remember when I said unstable heights were my number one fear? Well that set off a panic attack.

Really like several panic attacks up the mountain. And because I was on the side of a mountain I couldn’t go down that was just as horrible. So I would have a panic attack, hike up a bit more, panic, hike, panic. And I got asthmatic because I was wasting my energy just freaking the fuck out.

But I got up the mountain and Takeda Castle rocks!

And hiking is not a requirement to see it, most sane rational people who didn’t listen to the whims of a goat man drive up and park or take a taxi. And go up like 3 measly flights of stairs to see the castle. 

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iPhone pano! I never use this but I think it really explains how high up you are.

Takeda Castle’s nickname is “The Castle in the Clouds” you are so high up and the view is just spectacular. Even on an overcast day it’s just uninterrupted and glorious!

We had the bonus of visiting on what a tour guide said that day was full bloom of Takeda Castle. Yup. Sakura in the Sky!

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I bombarded you with a bunch of cherry blossom centric photos and the “castle” is really just raised rocks, it was totally awesome and I’d visit again in another season, during Fall leaves aka koyo it’s supposed to be breathtaking as well. The view is fabulous, the city around it is super cute and it was a very worthwhile day trip. It’s also a place that’s popular with Japanese tourists but still not too busy. Sakura viewing crowds can get suffocating and this definitely wasn’t.

To note: Takeda Castle’s Cherry Blossom season is later than Osaka or Kyoto. We were there on April 10th and Osaka and Kyoto usually are peak times April 1. So if you’re in Kansai later I really suggest getting your blossom on at Takeda!

Bonus! The JR Bantan line from Takeda to Wadayama had super cute trains!

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Man I love wrapped trains. It doesn’t beat the Takamatsu Kotoden train, but it definitely fit its surroundings.

Cost of travel day, because I like to show that traveling Japan doesn’t have to be expensive:

Travel: The trip from Osaka to Takeda is covered within the Japan Rail Pass so that part was included in my original spending. We also went to Hyogo castle on our way back. I walked to the JR Namba stop in Osaka so all travel was included in the Rail Pass. 14 day rail pass is around $30USD a day.

Lodging: My hotel was 7,400 yen a night in Osaka.

Food: Breakfast was bakery breads and canned coffee 500 yen, Lunch was Yoshinoya 500 yen, refilled bottle of waters for hike (free), snack and coffee at ChocoCro was 600 yen, dinner was Takoyaki back at Osaka for 600 yen.

Taxi down: 1,500 yen

Entrance to the castle: 300 yen

Total spent without lodging or travel: 4,300 yen or $40

Total including everything (food, lodging, travel): 14,900 yen or $130 for two people: 22,400 yen or $210.

Other than recommended and out of the ordinary tourist spots for Spring I’ll have advice on packing, ways people overspend in Japan, and Spring tips. So stay tuned  :loveword:

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Sometimes I’ll be walking alongside my man in Japan and he’ll have to turn back to see where I went. Usually because I’ve found something interesting to snap. Either “this could be useful for the blog” or “that’s amusing” goes through my head and I have to stop and take a quick photo. And often they’re good or useful and I share them on the blog or spam twitter or the fancier ones get instagrammed. But then I have a collection of ones that never make it anywhere.

Enjoy some random Japan photos from 2 to 4 weeks ago as the title says.

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Ladies only wrapped train in Osaka for Tokyo Disney. Osaka seems to have the most wrapped trains of any city in Japan.

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The awkward crotch shots and horrible names of Donki underwear.

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Covered shopping area near Shinsaibashi. Yukata and Kimono store on the left is advertising Jelly’s Kimono issue.

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Lovely wa fabrics in Okadaya Shinjuku. Need to be crafty or buy make-up or hairdye? Okadaya in Shinjuku is a great central place.

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Rienda just released their fabric softener and fabric mist both for 900 yen each ($8.50). This ad was in Osaka Shinsaibashi OPA cosmetic store. A little regret I didn’t purchase.

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I absolutely love countryside views from a train. This was on a Shinkansen heading to Osaka.

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Popular Fukuoka ramen chain Ichiran had this crazy set-up of toilet rolls in their Ikebukuro location restroom.

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The lack of daylight savings time in Japan makes twilight early, like here in Hiroshima.

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Or at the base of Sky Tree in Tokyo.

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The forever tacky long standing Love Hotel “Hotel Zebra” in Ikebukuro.

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“Let the kittens drink their milk” Gatchapon from a Hiroshima gamesen.

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The crazy and cool heel at R & E inside Hiroshima Parco.

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Chicano style lowrider in Osaka. There’s an interesting lowrider culture in Japan where the fans also dress in the subculture style (see a video from an Odaiba meet). If you want to see good tricked out cars in Japan, Amemura in Osaka on a weekend is one of the best places to spot them.

Big shoutout to the new readers on Blogluvin’! I’m 15 readers away from 1.4k and I think it’d be cool to do before the New Year so please follow if you like! I really recommend their iPhone app. It’s how I read blogs daily  :loveword: I’ll try to work hard before New Years and make this blog worthy of your read  :smiley:

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Nagano is a really wonderful town with a spectacular temple, the Nagano Zenkoji Temple. Nagano of course is famous for the 1998 Winter Olympics and symbols from that event still remain. It’s also shockingly close to Tokyo. And quite doable if you’d like to simply make a day trip out of it. Tokyo station to Nagano station is only 86 minutes by Shinkansen.

Of course Nagano is a ski resort town and also known for its monkey park (like the one in Arashiyama). But the Jigokudani in Nagano is a hot steam monkey park. English website for the monkey park is here and taking 1 hour and 30 minutes by bus from Nagano station it’s definitely something you’ll have to spend the whole day on.

I went back in 2011 (previous post of getting lost in the apple orchards of Nagano). And figured this was a great time to share because it was koyo time in Nagano (mid November). The Nagano Zenkoji is massive and one of the best temples I’ve been to outside of Kyoto. But instead of all this talking let’s photo and  talk.

 

The walk is one of my favorite things about the Nagano Zenkoji. It’s on high and you’re surrounded by gorgeous mountains in full koyo colors. And the shops are all these mom-and-pop businesses.

Almost to the temple check out those gorgeous koyo colors. Even a cloudy day won’t dim this.

The main temple itself which was massive.

I love when temple ema get cutesy. I’ve blogged about cute ema in Nara that were heart-shaped but Rilakkuma ema?

It’s the simple needs, isn’t it?  :wink:

The Rokujizo statutes six Bodhisattvas, who gave up Buddhist enlightenment, in order to provide salvation to others.

Close-up of one of the Rokujizo

Super cool incense burner

The Sanmon gate which was refurbished in 2007. Now you can see the giant Buddhist statues inside. Obviously that statue did not need to be asked if he lifts.

Just outside the temple is a super fancy building that must house a restaurant. Check that wonderful red maple.

Further down the way all the gorgeous places now turned to nice restaurants.

I stopped by Kinoko & Vegetable to eat. It’s on the Zenkoji road. I highly recommend it! It was an all you can eat buffet of mainly vegetables. Everything was locally sourced and seasonal. It was only 1,400 yen for all you can eat. So many vegetables. I will definitely eat there again.

The crowd down the temple street. Check out the JRock band on the right. I think there were semi-famous because some people were taking pictures. I know 0 about JRock so…

I loved the look of the coffee shops that line the cold Nagano street. See the cute coffee mug?

Another coffee shop offering traditional Zenzai (red bean soup) sweets.

Tiny little stalls that lined the temple road.

And Nagano itself since it’s not just monkey parks, apple orchards and shrines. It’s a bustling town.

This was a day trip for me from Niigata to Sendai. I was able to enjoy Zenkoji easily but not do the monkey park because of staying in Sendai that night.

Traveling Japan can be inexpensive! I spent 1,400 on food. 200 on beverages. And 1,000 on a train ticket because I got lost. The temple was free. So in total 2,600 yen for a detour or $25 USD.

Want more Nagano posts? Only the apple one here

Want more traveling around Japan posts? I’ve got you covered from Sendai to Kagoshima 

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Visiting Japan in the Fall and Winter is amazing. November with Koyo is one of the most beautiful times to be in Japan and its not as tourist rich as sakura season. December is filled with Japan’s madness for Christmas and that Exile cover of George Michael’s “Last Christmas” on repeat. You don’t need to learn the song, it will soak into your bones. January is Hatsumode, snow and onsens.

However it gets really chilly in Japan and here are some travel, packing, purchasing tips to keep you just cozy and stylish during the cold months.

 

Layer

Japan is really good at heating places and not heating them (sarcasm meter to 10). I have no idea how their air conditioning is pathetic, but the heating is always stellar, even when you don’t want it to be. Often the trains in Japan are over heated, but everyone smartly dressed for the temperature outside. It’s like being in a toaster oven, a crowded deodorant poor toaster oven. So you’ll want to take off your coat and maybe another layer.

Wearing a chunky knit sweater only will be your heat downfall. You may find yourself sweating in Winter if not. Stores and restaurants can do the same thing, either over or under heat you.

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Here are some pieces from Fint’s recent Winter collection. All work super cute together, but you can layer and unlayer if you wish. Stash the coat or the cardigan or both in an eco bag if you get warm or layer all for chilly nights.

 

Pay attention to Japanese clothing brand catalogs and magazines they’ll show you how to coordinate for Winter Japan.

Shop Staff and Model snaps from Japanese brands

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All four different styles are ready to deal with the upcoming cold, but all can be easily tweaked for cold weather. But all these girls look trendy and able to add or cool down for temperature changes.

Some examples these shop staff can do to layer for full winter

Fint can add both a cardigan and a coat, and possibly change to thicker socks.

Moussy can either layer over the cardigan or exchange for a short one and coat.

Sly can either go for a nude tights/socks combo or wear warm shorts underneath, she can also top with a coat.

Snidel can go with a tights/socks combo and put a turtleneck underneath the dress. Turtlenecks are really trending right now!

Choose a thin knit over a thick jumper: 

Winter clothes are super cute and cozy but thin sweaters will serve you best in Japan. You can fit a coat over them but not feel overheated if you have to take a coat off.


 

 

Don’t look like a tourist while being one, carry a tote bag with warm essentials:

Many Japanese women carry two bags, one is the normal purse and the second is a reused shopping bag or eco tote. This can keep a variety of things such as a bento, change of shoes, or chunky make-up case. The best reason to carry one in winter is to stash an extra scarf, gloves, cardigan, shirt or hat inside. There’s a reason many magazines (like Sweet magazine) give away tote bags so often.

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Sweet Magazine for this month along with their reversible Cher ECO tote.

As a tourist you can use it as your emergency bag. Copy of your passport, bandaids, change of shoes, extra socks all the random needs you may have.

Being a tourist is different:

You may think you’re used to winter temps in your own country and most of Japan doesn’t get to full snow often, but the act of being a tourist is probably different than your day-to-day life. A lot of times being a tourist you leave your hotel or guesthouse in the morning and don’t plan to go back until late at night. Also you’ll be spending a lot of time outside, more than you probably do in your own country. Japanese temperatures can change +/- 10 degrees F during that time. Once the sun sets the temperature you dressed for in the late morning won’t be the same at night.

Also jet lag can really mess with your body temperature. I find my body runs very warm the first few days of any significant time change.

 


 

Use the Gyaru-style rule of warmth:

What’s that rule? If you’d like to show a lot of leg or cleavage or other bare body part, double and triple layer the other parts.

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Great ways of layering and styling for winter I found in the Duras AW 2014 catalog.


 

Roomwear

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Liz Lisa roomwear. RIP. My favorite set-up.

From overseas you may ask, why I’m inside, the weather is outside. Sadly you’d be wrong. Japan apartments in my experience (I’ve lived in 5), the older the place is the worse off it is for heating insulation.

“Traditional Japanese buildings do not use insulation, and insulation may even be omitted in modern construction, especially in the low-end apartments; nor is insulated glazing traditionally used in windows, with these being generally single-pane” – wiki

What does this mean to you? Typically in hotels you will be fine, but if you’re staying in your own apartment or guesthouse you will be an icicle. Because of this Japan’s roomwear is stellar for keeping you cozy. They know they need to provide you with insulation because your house doesn’t.

I’m really obsessed with Japanese roomwear and it’s practical!

Cute roomwear stores for every price range:

Cheap:

Donki: Megastore of course sells a variety of room wear. It also sells kigurumi which can keep you warm (not recommended if you get up to pee a lot at night). Their sleep sock selection is quite good but quality not as good as tutuanna in my experience.

Shimamura: (site) It’s partner Avail as well offer cheap items and maybe some kawaii roomwear of a slightly high quality than Donki.

GU: Uniqlo’s stab at fast fashion Forever 21 offers roomwear options. I bought a pair of cute pink lace sleep boxer-style shorts for under 800 yen for summer. Not a good quality, but good enough.

Mid-range:

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Tutuanna was awesome last winter. Fluffy moko-moko Mr. and Mrs. Alpaca leggings and cat rocks with ears just for the home.

Tutuanna: (site) The sock store I blogged previously about, also does some of the cuter roomwear. I was obsessed with their fluffy warm alpaca leggings last winter. They’re my main recommendation since Liz Lisa Chambre a Coucher is over.

Spency:

Gelato Pique (site) sister brand of Snidel and Lily Brown it only does roomwear. Often not as kawaii, but good quality albeit at a higher price tag.

Rady: (previous post) Rady has both home and roomwear choices. Home usually means you can walk your dog in it, room is full sleepy time wear. They’re my next choice on roomwear investment because I’m a slug, but a fancy slug. :eyelashes:

 


 

 

Thick tights

Often skirts and dresses in Japan stay short year around, but tights places in Japan are excellent at providing a high denier tight to keep you cozy. Denier is a fancy tights word for thickness. Be sure to keep in the 70 to 100 denier range for tights during wintertime, hosiery.uk has a good graphic about denier. Tutuanna clearly marks their tights in the winter for this reason.

 


 

Heat Tech by Uniqlo

Heat Tech is the best thing ever.

If I had to make a more concise blog entry about staying warm in Japan it would just read Uniqlo Heat Tech in 40pt font. Times New Roman.

Uniqlo Heattech GOAT

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Some of the tops line of Uniqlo Heattech (light colors also available)

Heat Tech line by Uniqlo that makes innerwear basics such as camisoles, tank tops, leggings, t-shirts and long sleeve shirts. The actual material feels like a smooth thin shirt. None of that silly thermal waffling pattern. It’s extremely durable and cheap. I have Heat Tech camisoles ($12) I’ve bought five years ago that even after tons of usage and American machine washing there is no pilling and the threads are all intact.

The tight weave stops a chilly wind but is thin enough to layer. It feels about the thickness or less of a regular cotton t-shirt. Nicola (she has a new style blog, she’s gorgeous and stylish go read it!), Lucie and I were having a nomikai (drinking party get-together) and we ended up waxing poetic on Heat Tech for a good 10 mins.

My ultimate winter rec: Heat Tech. Uniqlo overseas stores stock it as well if you want to buy beforehand. I really recommend the camisoles. They hide under any close-to-the-body clothing item and provide so much warmth for such a tiny garment.

They have a summer version called Airism, it’s not as good.


 

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Kairo

If you’re planning on being outside for a long time like Koyo light-ups, Shrine touring, or Tokyo Disney consider picking up a kairo. Kairo (カイロ) are sticky heat packs and are found at any drug store or conbini, just look for the cute animals and sticky pack image if you don’t read Japanese. They’re quite cheap at 600 yen ($6) for a pack of 30. The most common you stick on your low back, but you can really put them anywhere. They recommend you don’t put on your actual body but on your first layer (like a Heat Tech tank top).

If you get cold easily or you’ll be outside a ton, they’re a great idea.

 

Since I know Fall is a big travel time for Japan I’ll be working mostly on travel items and tips for a little bit, but I’ll sneak back into the Larme series, shop staff snaps and trends interspersed.

In other winter related posts: Check out the Winter Japan coat buying and tips. and back in 2009 a very gyaru post about getting ready for Winter

Fall leaves are coming to Japan, learn and see Koyo here

 

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