Last October, some colleagues and I had a day off work so we decided to spend a long weekend in Osaka. What we didn’t realize was that Typhoon Lan was about to hit Japan.
The plan for our trip was to visit Universal Studios Japan (USJ), ride some rollercoasters, then have an extra day or two of sightseeing in the city. We managed to get in all the rides before the rains started but our time exploring afterwards was decidedly damp.
Therefore, here’s a list of things to do in Osaka that are relatively typhoon-friendly.
1) Drink Butterbeer until you’re sick
Even with clouds in the sky and some drizzle, Universal Studios did not disappoint. I can see why all my students love it there. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was probably the best part.
You approach via a forest trail that passes the Weasley's crashed flying car and leads to the town of Hogsmeade. There you'll find the Hogwarts Express and plenty of interactive experiences like Ollivander's Wand Shop where the expensive souvenirs choose you. I'm pretty sure dark magic is involved.
Foreigners can’t be trusted to drive in Japan
We waited for a couple of hours to get on the 3D Harry Potter ride which was made more bearable by how the queue goes through Hogwarts school. The castle atmosphere is perfect with the portraits on the wall moving around and talking to you as you pass. Although of course they were speaking in Japanese, so I didn't have a clue what they were saying.
On the plus side, the dubbing made Japanese Dumbledore sound exactly like the teacher from Battle Royale.
"New rules for the Triwizard Tournament: You kill each other off till there's only one left."
In the end, the ride was fun but the 3D element made it really nauseating. After stumbling back out into daylight, I discovered that a chilled mug of sickly sweet Butterbeer was not the right thing to drink to rehydrate.
Butterbeer was a bad choice
It tasted like cream soda mixed with caramel and liquid popcorn. The very first gulp was delightful but it was far too sugary and syrupy to finish. If this was the authentic drink that Rowling imagined, I can only assume Hogwarts was secretly full of obese children we never hear about.
They were probably all in Hufflepuff.
2) Meet the living dead
The lure of USJ at Halloween is that after dark, the streets are overrun by zombies. Or rather, people in costume who wander along the streets, lurch at you if you get too close, and take part in performances. There are burnt-out cars, SWAT teams and people getting their heads cut off by chainsaws.
As long as you haven’t got the Minions ride or a candy floss stand in your peripheral vision, the effect is genuinely scary. Due to the crowds and the number of other people around you behaving erratically, you really can feel the tension in the air. The vibe is freaky before you even come across any zombies.
However, it didn’t scare me in the slightest because I’ve lived in Tokyo for two and a half years and seen the horrendous effect Japanese working culture and too much overtime can have on salarymen. When I want to see real zombies milling around aimlessly, I just ride the subway in the morning.
Dead to the world
3) Meet the Glico man and get a haircut
That might be a bit misleading. The Glico man doesn’t cut your hair - he’s this large colorful advertisement for what I believe is a Japanese energy drink. It’s the most popular place to take a photo in Osaka, like I did below:
By now the rain was really pelting down, so shortly before having this picture taken, I decided to shelter in the Osaka Mr Brother’s Cut Club, the sister branch of my favorite Tokyo barbershop. While my friends were doing some shopping, I got my fade done and featured on Instagram.
The barbershop was a super-cool place to hang out, with the exception of a rude German customer who told me that ‘of course’ I was an English teacher, because it’s the easiest way to get to Japan. He shut up when I told him I worked at a university and even though the staff backed me up, sadly they didn’t give him a mullet as punishment for his insolence.
4) Eat poisonous fish
You know that episode of The Simpsons where Homer eats poisonous blowfish in a Japanese restaurant and has twenty four hours to live? It’s called fugu and Osaka is the perfect place to sample it.
Due to the skill it takes to correctly prepare the fish, Fugu isn’t cheap. And as it technically can be lethal, it’s not the type of thing you’d want to eat from somewhere like Denny's, even if they served it. My friends and I looked for the nicest restaurant we could find that would let us order one serving and share it between us.
"Poison… Poison… Tasty fish!"
Well, it’s pretty good. Nothing to make a fuss about and not as good as other sashimi I’ve had, but it was 100% worth trying. To be honest, the excitement was in the slightly perceived risk of eating it, not the actual taste. In a perverse way, we were a little disappointed that no one in our group dropped to the floor immediately after ingesting it.
We were tempted to ask for a refund.
5) Eat okonomiyaki and see the castle
After surviving the fugu, we nibbled on Osaka’s most popular street food, okonomiyaki. Usually served at Japanese festival stalls, this is octopus balls in flour and it’s one of the few Japanese foods I’m not a big fan of. These were amazing though.
Stomachs full and the rain hammering down, we went our separate ways. I got out my convenience store umbrella and dragged one friend to the castle, determined to see everything I could, another friend who was hungover sheltered indoors in an onsen, and the others headed back home by train.
The next day in Nagoya we woke up to sunshine and a light breeze as the typhoon had passed. Despite the fact that it was pleasant outside, we also had an email saying that our classes had been cancelled due to the weather!
This is quite a rarity for English teachers and the only other time I can recall it happening to me before was in Thailand when the army took over.
Typhoon, military coup, whatever. To us it’s a snow day and we’ll take it.
What you need to know:
Universal Studios Japan: English site
USJ Tickets: Adults 7,600 Yen / £50 / $70
Bus tickets from Nagoya/Tokyo directly to USJ: Expressway Bus English site
What was your favourite part of Universal Studios Japan? Leave a comment below using Disqus or Facebook.