I sat on the far back of the bus, away from most people. It was going to be an hour and 5-minute ride from Shin-shimashima bus terminal to Kamikochi— the Japanese version of the Alps. I kept on fidgeting as I wait for the bus to leave.

It was a Facebook post in November by one of my colleagues.  The scenery in the photo amazed me.  I wondered in which country she went.  I looked at the comments under the photo to find some clues. Surprisingly, the place isn’t abroad.  It’s just here in Japan.

It had almost been eight months and I was reminded of the Alps.  I wanted to go somewhere for my birthday weekend.  I’d been attempting to book a flight to Taiwan, but I was torn because the view of nature in Kamikochi was something I could not wait to see.  In the end, I chose to travel domestically.

It was around 10:35 am when the bus finally arrived in Kamikochi.  I must have drunk a lot of water before the journey because right after getting off, I just had to run to the restroom.  I knew I was going to walk for several kilometers in a forest, so I just had to stuff myself with food.  I looked around for a place to eat at the arrival terminal.  I had ramen for lunch and then I was off to find the most important thing in my list — the bear bell.

I scolded myself for forgetting to bring a jacket.  The place is situated on a high ground so it felt cold to just wear a simple blouse which doesn’t even have long sleeves. In the end, I did manage as the long walks kept me warm. In situations where I couldn’t see a single hiker in view, my heart rate would go faster and I made sure my bear bell tinkled louder.


How To Get There:

From Matsumoto Station, take the ALPICO Line for SHINSHIMASHIMA and get off at SHINSHIMASHIMA station.  It takes 30 min and costs ¥700. From SHINSHIMASHIMA station, take the bus bound to Kamikochi.


Matsumoto Castle

I waved my hand at the Indian man across the street.  He was wearing a huge backpack and his wife and three kids were trailing behind him.  He stopped and crossed the street again to my direction.  “The bus stop that I was referring to is here,” I said pointing to where I was standing.  “We’re actually planning to just walk there,” he uttered.  Seeing that he has children with filled backpacks strapped on each one of them, I managed to make him decide to wait for the bus going to Matsumoto castle. As the bus had not arrived, yet, his family walked to the Mos Burger restaurant which was just a few steps away from the bus stop.

I sat on the bench while waiting for the bus. I felt impatient.  I was already running out of time.  I still needed to go to two museums and it was almost three in the afternoon.  I might not make it before the closing time.  I checked the bus timetable and realized that it was a better idea to walk.  I would even be like ten minutes ahead of the scheduled bus bound for the castle.  I crossed the street heading in the direction where the Indian man was supposed to go before I waved at him.  I walked hurriedly as a skift of snow was already falling.


This is the facade of the Matsumoto station.


This is a Yayoi Kusama bus.  Yayoi Kusama is a famous Japanese artist from Matsumoto City known for the polka dot trademark in her artworks.



Matsumoto Castle late in the afternoon




The Former Kaichi School Building — the oldest elementary school in Japan


Within the Kaichi School premises


Matsumoto castle at night



Early morning view from my room at Richmond Hotel in Matsumoto


Resident swans at the castle waters


Matsumoto Castle early in the morning


Halloween at Universal Studios, Osaka

I stood for less than an hour on my shinkansen trip from Nagoya to Osaka.  I stood near the door exit and just enjoyed the sight of the rice fields and the small typical Japanese houses that we passed by.  There were times when we got a glimpse of wide cosmos flower fields for a matter of a few seconds and all I could do was long for it and daydream about running across those fields. Every time I ride the shinkansen/bullet train, I can’t help but be amazed at the speed and convenience that it provides passengers especially those who get dizzy from long distance travels.  After a short stop over at Kyoto, I couldn’t help but feel excited to arrive in Osaka in a matter of a few minutes.

I decided to go to Osaka to experience Halloween at Universal Studios (USJ).  Halloween Horror Night was at the back of my mind for a long time already. So I was ecstatic that my friend was more than willing to travel for more than six hours from where she lives just to go to USJ.  She was more interested in seeing the Harry Potter attraction while I was filled with excitement to see the zombies roam the streets in USJ come night time.  I was also looking forward to seeing the Death Eaters at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

My friend and I decided to visit Osaka Castle just before heading to Universal Studios.  I was thinking that since we were going to stay until night time at USJ, it would be much better to see other sights in Osaka in the morning.  I actually got confused with the train rides in the Osaka Loop Line.  For instance, we were supposed to take the train running in the clockwise direction, but we ended up getting on the train in the counterclockwise direction. It happened twice, so it added to our travel time.

I enjoy more the area outside the castle than the castle itself.  I’ve already gone to many castles across Japan, so I know what to expect.  But since my friend wanted to see what’s inside, we decided to go in.  The interior of the castle has been transformed into a modern museum.  I was more pleased with the view offered from the top part of the castle where you can see some parts of Osaka.  There’s also this modern building in the area with mirror windows that reflect the sky.  I really find it stunning.

After a few hours in Osaka Castle, we headed to USJ.  It was really really crowded and mostly everyone was in costume.  I admire the effort that everyone exerted on their make-up and costume. I wished I wore a costume, too, but I ran out of budget.  When we got in, we directly headed to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the timed entrance.  To our disappointment, the only available schedule was around 9 pm.  We could not take that schedule because my friend’s bus departure going home was an hour after that.  I could tell she was extremely disappointed and I felt sorry for her.  Ooops, I shouldn’t have suggested going to Osaka Castle.  So if you ever plan to enter the world of HP, make sure you go there the moment USJ opens just to be sure!

My friend and I just decided to roam around, eat, and take pictures until night time.  We couldn’t enter any attraction because the lines were long.  Waiting time consisted of two to three hours.  Halloween Horror Night was such a famous and crowded event at USJ.  When the clock struck six, different types of zombies came out.  They were really scary and made us run away or scream when they came near.  I was really satisfied with my Halloween experience.  It was what I expected minus the Death Eaters.

Spending Halloween at Universal Studios with your friends is a good idea just as long as you don’t mind the crowd.  You can wear a costume and admire other people’s costume, too.  If you really stand-out, people would want to take a photo with you.  My friend and I enjoyed having our photos taken with ordinary people in costume.  They were such a sight to behold— interesting, weird, cool, scary, awesome!