Nara National Museum: Buddhist Art Galore!

 Just beyond Kofukuji, in Nara Park, the Nara National Museum holds Buddhist statues, scrolls, paintings, and ceremonial objects from all over Japan and abroad.
 The original building, built over 100 years ago, is still used, though you couldn't tell from the outside. Once inside, though, you are treated to a great collection of interesting Buddhist works spread over two buildings. The entrances are covered to protect the works inside, removing sunlight and opportunities for dust to enter the building and damage the artifacts. You can enter this building from the opposite side, or you can enter via an underground passage that leads to the other wing.
Many artifacts are posted on the museum's English website, but for those into Asian, religious, or Buddhist art, I highly recommend this spot. That's saying a lot, because I am not very interested in historical Asian or religious art. (I live in Japan. Go figure.)
The museum is open 9:30-17:00 (sometimes later), closed on Mondays. Admission is 520 yen for both wings. Simply walk straight from Kintetsu Nara Station toward the park; getting around Nara is pretty easy.

Nara's Kofukuji Temple: Old and Beautiful

 Kofukuji was established in 710. Yes, 710. 1300 years ago. At one point, when the Fujiwara clan was at its most powerful, the temple was so large that the grounds held over 150 buildings!
 The Eastern Golden Hall, one of two buildings that require an entry fee, holds a large wooden statue of the Yakushi Buddha.
 I visited on a Golden Week holiday, so the line to get in was quite long! The other building that requires admission is the National Treasure Museum, full of the best, most important Buddha art in Japan. The collection includes a three-faced, six-armed Ashara Statue, one of the most celebrated Buddhist statues in the country.
 The five-storied pagoda is the second tallest in Japan, was built in 730, and was most recently rebuilt in 1426.
 There are two octagonal halls, each holding a few more artifacts. These buildings are open only a few days a year. As you can see, my visit coincided with an opening date, so I was able to peek inside!
 There are some beautiful flowers here.
 I tried to make "homemade" macaroni and cheese tonight. These flowers are much nicer.
Here's the other octagonal hall. I'm surprised that lines weren't long for the halls, though it was mid afternoon by the time I reached them. The tour groups must have moved on to the Eastern Golden Hall and the other temples in Nara.

The main building, the Central Golden Hall, is being reconstructed, but it won't be completed until 2018. Kofukuji is certainly still worth a stop.

Nara is a very important cultural location, and Kofukuji might be the most important site in town. Nara itself is just a short train ride from Kyoto (about 45 minutes by Kintetsu Railways) or Osaka (about 30 minutes by Kintetsu Railways). You save a few minutes using Limited Express trains but I don't think they're worth the extra charge over the regular express service.

Kofukuji is the first important destination you'll reach when walking east from the Kintetsu Nara Station - about five minutes away. The museum and Eastern Golden Hall are open daily 9:00-17:00, though the grounds are open 24 hours a day. Admission for the museum is 600 yen, the hall is 300 yen, and a combination ticket for both is 800 yen.

Trip Report: Universal Studios Japan

Disney is King in Japan - movies, merchandise, and theme parks. It's a distant number two, but Universal Studios Japan gets the silver medal for popularity in the country of cute.
 I arrived in the late morning on a rainy day, starting with a stroll from the train station down City Walk. It's similar to the American versions, with restaurants and shops selling souvenirs and brand goods. The takoyaki (octopus ball) "museum" (collection of restaurants) is on one of the upper floors.
 After spending the past two years at non-themed amusement parks, it was nice to be fully immersed in a fantasy world.
 Universal has hotels, too - this is Hotel Kintetsu.
 Finally, the entrance!
 There's the familiar globe!
 The main entrance street is covered, which was great as the rain started to pass.
 Hollywood Dream is the park's premier coaster, but due to the weather it was closed at this point in the day.
 That's okay. There is plenty more to explore in the park.
 I really enjoyed just wandering around taking pictures of the buildings!

 I didn't see any of the shows. I had a fairly limited time at the park, and many of them I have seen before.
 I found myself in the kids area as I worked my way around the park.
 Spinning Snoopy!
 This looked pretty fun. I think I wouldn't have made the height requirement.
 There's a large building with several attractions in this portion of the park.
 One of those attractions is a small but fun coaster! This was my first coaster in the park, and for a kids ride it was enjoyable.
 The sun was out and started drying everything up, making this Hello Kitty-themed portion of the park stand out even more.
 Driving School!
 I'd like to drive on that course! The coaster isn't running yet, though.
 A small portion of the park looked a bit like San Francisco.
 Fisherman's Wharf?
 Hey! I bet I know what's back here! But something's missing...
 Ahh, there's the DeLorean.
 Yes, Back to the Future, The Ride. Dubbed in Japanese.
 I ran into Shrek and Fiona!
 Jaws still exists here!
 Photo op.
 Yeah, Amity looks safe.
 Shark for dinner tonight? Sure.
 Welcome.. To Jurassic Park! High schoolers on a field trip? This can't be good.
 Due to the rain, people didn't want to ride the water ride. I don't understand.
 It's pretty fun, similar to the US versions. Maybe it's the same. I'm not a Universal Studios addict, after all.
 Let's go on a water ride and wear our rain coats! It amazes me how many people go on water rides but avoid getting wet. I ended up riding several times without a poncho, and other than a single rogue splash on one of my go-rounds, I just got a light shower each time.
 New York City!



 Random street performance!

 New York has the Spider-Man attraction, like the US version. It's not my favorite ride, but it is fun.
 Are those buildings real or just paintings? You decide.
 I don't remember the Brooklyn Bridge looking like that.
 I managed to catch the Spidey photo-op alley from behind... on accident! There was a surprisingly long line of people who wanted a photo with a statue.
 The theming here is great, just like Universal in Orlando and Los Angeles.
 I skipped the Terminator 2 show too, because I saw it in the States.
 Space Fantasy is a spinning roller coaster ride, and it was fun enough that I rode it at least half a dozen times. They have a single rider line so I was able to bypass the 30-minute queue over and over again.
 What's that I see? Is Hollywood Dream running? Yes, it is!
Does something look wrong here? It should. The train's going backwards. Due to its late opening, the ride had a very long line in the afternoon. I waited about an hour for the forward-running ride; the backwards seats had a wait time at least double that. No single rider line here, which is a shame - I would have totally gone on this coaster a dozen times or more.

One thing about USJ and several other theme parks in Japan to make note of: lots of people come early to see the shows and ride the rides, but a second wave of admissions happens when the park's "night time" discount kicks in (this may not be available anymore), and by about 5 PM the park was pretty crowded. I had more experiences to have anyway, and I saw and did everything I intended, so I bid the park adieu.

Universal Studios Japan will have a Harry Potter world with another family roller coaster and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, taken from the US parks. This portion of the park opens in mid-July. Expect massive crowds, especially because it's right in the middle of summer vacation!

Tickets at the time of this writing are around 7000 yen for one day, 12,000 yen for two days. There are "front of the line" passes for 4 or 7 rides (~3000 and 5000 yen additional, respectively). The park has varied hours based on how busy it expects to be. Access is via JR's Universal City Station on the Yumesaki Line; some trains on the Loop Line from Osaka Station go to the park (about 10 minutes), or transfer at Nishikujo Station (5 minutes).