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Universal Studios Osaka Japan: guide to buying tickets, Express passes & Halloween horror nights!

where's waldo costume, minions girls

Universal Studios Japan rocks! You’ve got to visit this theme park at least once in your lifetime — ideally, during the Halloween season.

Getting express tickets is a bit complicated, so here’s a detailed guide to the theme park, which features Harry Potter, Minions, Hello Kitty, Resident Evil, Jurassic Park and other favorite characters.

wedding zombies, bride groom undead

Every September/October, Universal Studios Osaka turns into a zombie fest (literally, they send out walkers to attack!) For a limited time, there are frightening special attractions dedicated to Japanese horror — including Sadako of the Ring.

zombies halloween universal japan

Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights are brilliantly produced, with the right balance of fear and fun. (But there are themed events all year round, which match the seasons.)

If you only have a day to explore, I highly recommend getting entry tickets in advance, as well as Express Passes to bypass long lines. The online process is more than a little complicated — so read on for a detailed guide to purchasing Universal Studios Osaka tickets from their Japanese booking website.

universal japan entrance, directions subway

First, directions. To get to Universal Studios Japan, take the direct 15 minute train ride from Osaka Station to Universal City Station, on the JR Yumesaki Line (aka JR Sakurajima Line). You can use a JRailPass (unlimited Japan Rail Pass for 1-3 weeks) to ride all these trains, which saves costs and makes the trip even easier.

If you have a “timed entry” ticket and need to arrive by a certain hour, give yourself plenty of time to walk from the train station to the theme park. You might need an extra 30 minutes to purchase food outside the gates, or check your bags in the coin lockers (larger suitcases can be stored at Guest Services for a fee).

universal studios halloween horror nights

The amusement park goes all-out with seasonal decorations. Since I was there in late September, I got to see Hello Kitty, Elmo and Snoopy in spooky Halloween costumes!  (Shop for Sanrio goods below with a click:)

As for my outfit: I’m wearing a devilish T-shirt from Dead Gallery Iceland, and my tote bag is from Territory, DJ Taiki’s occult store in Osaka. 

I recommend wearing good shoes for walking around all day, and shielding your eyes with sunglasses and a hat (my cap is from the Drop Dead Clothing x Sonic the Hedgehog collaboration.)

flying snoopy ride, universal osaka

Now, a guide to buying tickets and making the most of your visit!

Osaka’s Universal Studios is compact, and it doesn’t long to walk between the various districts. However, this is a popular theme park. To avoid the crowds, try to come early, and on less busy days (avoid weekends and holidays).

While it costs more to buy Express and Special Passes, I highly suggest that you do. Otherwise, you’ll wind up waiting 1-3 hours in line for rides, and you might not be able to see the special attractions at all (as they require advance passes that sell out fast).

sailor moon group cosplay girls japan

If you’re going with a group of friends, I encourage you to designate one person to purchase tickets and advance entries. Otherwise, you won’t be able to coordinate the timed entrances, and “slowpokes” may not be able to get in at all.

Universal Osaka has an English-language sales website, but the available options in English are very limited (for example, when I checked, there was only 1 Express option and no Horror pre-sales).

Instead, you should purchase advance tickets from their website in Japanese. Let me warn you — this process is rather complicated and “Google translate” won’t work well, so ask a friend who is fluent in Japanese to help you (and reward them for their efforts!).

japanese suicide squad cosplayers cosplay

I can’t describe the entire process step-by-step because the Japanese website changes constantly, as the theme park updates attractions and passes.

However, I can give you a general overview. I recommend that you purchase three things well in advance, from the Japanese language site (or if you’re in Japan, you can go to any Lawson to order them):

1) An Entry Ticket ($75), which everybody need just to get inside the theme park. If you don’t get this ticket in advance, you may need to line up outside the gates for 1-2 hours. (If you decide to only get the basic entry ticket, you can purchase this on their English site. There’s also a cheaper evening-only entry price.)

2) An Express Pass, which lets you skip the lines on certain rides. The Japanese language site gives you a variety of Express options, which range in price. I suggest that you figure out which rides/attraction you want to see, and then pick the pass that matches. I personally went for the $55 “15th anniversary Express pass,” which let me access Harry Potter and 3 rides. A steep fee, but this lets you go straight to the front of the line instead of waiting 2-3 hours for the popular rides. Worth it, especially if you only have a day to explore.

3) Advance tickets to Special attractions that you’re keen to see. Again, this will change with the seasons; in my case, I did the $75 package to skip the lines at three Japanese horror attractions. These special events require advance/extra passes regardless, and they sell out fast — so advance entry may be the only way you’ll be able to get in. 

halloween wreath, skull

Ready for another layer of challenges? The Express and Special attraction passes have timed entries — meaning that you have to pick the exact “time window” for going to the front of the line.

Some of these “windows” sell out — so you’ll have to compare time-charts in Japanese, and do some juggling to figure out a schedule that works. For example, I chose an 11-11:20am entry for Harry Potter, and a 1:10pm entry for the first Japanese Horror attraction, followed by a 2-3pm window for the Jurassic Park rollercoaster, and so forth. The attractions may be in different areas of the park, so give yourself enough time to walk over.

prisoner striped costumes halloween

Final puzzle: How to pay for Universal Studios advance tickets? If you’re in Japan, you can go to any Lawson within a day to pay. If you’re outside the country, you must use a credit card to check out from the Japanese website.

Here’s the trick: you need to input a Japanese address AND phone number, or else your credit card won’t go through. You can try putting your Osaka hotel’s address and phone; it took me a few tries, but I finally managed to get through to the confirmation page.

universal studios japan theme park

Complicated? Expensive? Yes, but it’s worth it for guaranteed timed entries and to avoid waiting in queue. I’m glad I splurged on the Express and Japanese Horror passes, and booked weeks before so that I had many timed entry options to choose from.

You can also save money by bringing in outside food (just keep it hidden in your bag) rather than eating the theme park food, and resisting the merchandise. 

jaws ride osaka universal theme park

All right — now we’re inside, and ready to explore Universal Studios Osaka!

The park is divided into different sections: Jaws, Jurassic Park, Terminator, Spiderman, Waterworld, Harry Potter, Snoopy and more. The attractions are constantly changing; there previously were Resident Evil and Evangelion features.

ユニバーサル・スタジオ・ジャパン

From September to October, Universal dresses up its characters in Halloween costumes. Since this is my favorite holiday, I was excited to visit during this time.

universal studios osaka amusement park

As you can see in the photos above, many visitors come in groups, and dress extravagantly (even when it’s not Halloween).

It’s a terrific opportunity to cosplay as your favorite Universal mascot. However, keep comfortable footwear and sun protection in mind, or else you may wind up at Universal’s First Aid office (they have one near the front gate).

super mario cosplay, nintendo costume

I saw a lot of Suicide Squad and Minion outfits. Since this is Japan, I was happy to see Nintendo represented — “It’s me, Mario!” — and a bad Japanese schoolgirl in a sailor uniform.

harry potter entrance osaka japan

I was excited to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time. My heart raced when I saw “Please respect the spell limits,” and the pointed, snow-capped rooftops of Hogsmeade village. Universal recreates Harry Potter’s world magnificently, with swells of music and meticulous attention to detail.

hogwarts express train universal studios

All aboard the Hogwarts Express! In every area of the park, you’ll find the Universal Japan staff smiling and welcome guests. In Wizarding World, they helped children perform magic tricks with wands (a few gestures made it rain candy). There was also a Harry Potter choir and stage show, performed in both English and Japanese.

You can easily spend an hour or more exploring Harry’s home. A barrel dispenses Butterbeer, a sweet non-alcoholic beverage that is a bit like butterscotch. Personally, I didn’t enjoy the taste…

hogwarts entrance winged boar statues

Hogwarts Castle looms high over the village. Stroll past the winged boars, and into Hogwarts’ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This is the site of the uber popular ride, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.” (Average wait time is 3 hours… but with my timed entry Express pass, I got to go straight in.)

The anticipation builds as you pass Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor common room and Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. Then, you put on special goggles and get strapped into a moving chair — for a “4K 3D” ride that makes you feel as if you’re soaring through the skies with Harry, on a broomstick.

harry potter roller coaster, flight of hippogriff

There’s also a small roller coaster called “Flight of the Hippogriff,” which dives past Hagrid’s hut. I was impressed by the moving recreation of the half-eagle half-horse creature, which you pass on your way up the tracks.

owl post, dogweed deathcap, harry potter world

Shops, shops everywhere. You can purchase Harry Potter goods inside the various themed stores, such as Owl Post and Dogweed & Deathcap (which had a moving plant in the window.)

harry potter magic wand store, universal

Inside Ollivanders, you can choose from an array of magic wands, including replicas of the film characters’ personal wands. They’re intricately carved out of wood and decorated, and are in the $50 range.

japanese cosplayers, universal studios osaka

The staff does a fantastic job at immersing you in a fantasy world. I watched a little girl purchase a stuffed owl, and the shopkeeper gave her gentle instructions on how to care for the creature (“she needs lots of hugs, and to have her feathers brushed”).

I snapped a photo of these Japanese girls in front of Honeydukes, which sells sweets from the Harry Potter stories, including Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans and Chocolate Frogs.

snoopy mascots, universal studios parade

I couldn’t help but smile as I strolled through the different parts of the park. Universal broadcasts holiday music, so I got to groove along to The Monster Mash and Time Warp.

Many of the live attractions appear at random. I caught a few Minions performing on a fire truck. Then, it was time for the parade.

hello kitty parade, sanrio theme park

Dancing Hello Kitties, and pumpkin-folk giving out free candy… How can this day get better?

asian matching couples kawaii costumes

Many visitors wore impressive costumes. Some couples dressed up together, such as this pair of Minions, and Hello Kitty and Daniel. 

cute japanese girls halloween costumes

Naturally, “kawaii” cute is a frequent theme. In the “San Francisco” section of Universal Studios Osaka, I came across three Little Red Riding Hoods.

resident evil hunk costume, cosplay mask

Behold — it’s Hunk from Resident Evil! If anyone can survive the zombie apocalypse, it would be this guy.

jason, nightmare elm street toys

As a horror movie fan, I was thrilled to see Jason Voorhees (Halloween) and Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street). They’re strung up as prizes, in the games section.

zombie blood bags, universal studios halloween

The zombie attacks and Japanese horror-shows start when the sun sets… you simply must read on to see what happens.

More here!

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A royal stay at ParkRoyal Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar! Mohinga buffet, Bogyoke Aung San Market longyi.

burmese musical instruments xylophone patala

Long time no see… Yukiro and La Carmina are back!

At the end of 2016, we journeyed to Yangon, Myanmar — and it turned out to be one of our most meaningful trips to date.

There’s so much to share from this beautiful Buddhist country. We met creative locals, volunteered, and immersed ourselves in Burmese culture. (Above: Yukiro sits in front of a patala, or traditional xylophone, and I’m wearing the traditional longyi skirt and thanaka face paste).

monks Myanmar tourism

Until a year or two ago, Myanmar was difficult for tourists to access. Now, the country  has changed its government (with Aung San Suu Kyi in power) and opened its doors. Visitors can easily get an E-Visa: we filled out the government application online, paid $50 US, and were approved in a day.

More airlines have also launched routes to the newly-built Yangon Airport. We flew on my long-time favorites, HK Express: they have a direct, fast and inexpensive flight from Hong Kong to Yangon. In just over three hours, we were in the land of Buddhist monks.

parkroyal hotel myanmar rooms, suite

We were treated like queens at ParkRoyal Hotel Yangon, our home base for this trip. The hotel sent a BMW to pick us up from the airport, and later take us around the city. The staff greeted us at the door, and showed us to our rooms on the exclusive Orchid Club level. 

Yukiro and I loved the old-world charm of this luxury hotel. As you can see above, ParkRoyal gracefully incorporates Burmese art into the design. The location is also ideal: right by cultural attractions including the golden Shwedagon Pagoda.

parkroyal hotel bakery, desserts

As part of the Orchid Club privileges, we were spoiled with freshly-baked treats every day. Such a joy to come back from sightseeing, and find little sandwiches and sweets awaiting us.

parkroyal hotel resorts yangon room

It’s a relief to visit a country without any tourist trappings (such as fast food chains and tour buses). However, this also means Myanmar can be a challenging place for some travelers to navigate (for example, streets and numbers are not easy to find). We were glad we had the ParkRoyal staff to assist us, and these comfortable rooms to return to.

● You can book a room at ParkRoyal Yangon here, at a discounted rate.

● Here’s where you can get a black off-the-shoulder top like the one I’m wearing.

myanmar travel guide book

In our rooms, we found these cute primers on the local etiquette. The illustrations explain regional quirks that everyone should respect, such as not pointing to objects with one’s feet, or taking photos of pregnant women without permission. (I thought the above cartoon was common knowledge… until I saw someone grab a monk to “pose” him for a photo!)

burmese sculptures, burma art

Local art and music fills the hallways of ParkRoyal Yangon. We watched a lady play the saung (national string instrument) in the lobby, and admired these traditional Burmese carved wood panels.

The hotel staff even provided us with longyi, or long single cloth skirts that are tied at the waist, and worn by both men and women in Myanmar.

parkroyal hotels orchid club concierge

As Orchid Club guests, we were privy to additional benefits including a concierge desk right on our floor. Every day, the kind staff helped us coordinate our itinerary and car/driver. They were wonderful at answering our questions about local culture, and giving us off-the-beaten-path travel tips.

parkroyal club lounge buffet drinks

We also had access to the lounge, which is always stocked with complimentary drinks and snacks. During cocktail hour, we tried Red Mountain, a Myanmar wine that comes from the hills of the southern Shan State. Yukiro took a few bottles back as gifts for friends and family (very few people have tried Burmese wine!)

parkroyal yangon spa massage

On our first day, we relaxed at the hotel spa. I lay down on this inviting bed, and got a traditional Myanmar Thanaka massage that worked out all my knots.

swimming pool myanmar luxury hotel

It’s hot year-round in Yangon, and the ParkRoyal swimming pool beckoned us to dive in… but it was time to explore the city.

(Hotel photos by Sniper Chau, city photos by La Carmina. My black top is similar to this.)

rangoon burma market vendors

Our concierge suggested that we walk to the nearby Bogyoke Aung San Market. A staff member took us there by foot, and pointed out a few neighborhood attractions on the way.

overhead bridge to bogyoke market

There’s an overhead bridge leads to the market, with vendors selling fruits and dried seafood on the wooden planks.

Safety note: While some outskirt regions of Myanmar are in conflict, Yangon (the biggest city and former capital) is considered one of the safest cities in all of Asia, with very little crime. All the locals we met were friendly, and no touts approached us. It’s important to stay cautious wherever you travel, but let me assure you that Yangon is not a dangerous destination.

yangon railroad tracks walking

The bridge to Boygoke spans these railroad tracks. Locals walk right on them, balancing objects on their heads.

superman car decal customization

Yangon’s infrastructure and development were better than I expected. There are a lot of Japanese and Korean electronics here, including cars and smartphones.

It’s easy to spend an hour or more exploring what was originally known as Scott Market, established in 1926 during the British rule. Upon Burmese independence in 1948, the market was renamed after Bogyoke (General) Aung San.

yangon flower vendor

After the coup d’état of 1962, the country became a military dictatorship, ushering in years of violent suppression. In 2011, the junta was dissolved; in 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won a majority in both houses, and she is the democratic leader today.

(In 1989, the military government changed many official names — Rangoon became Yangon, and Burma became Myanmar. There’s some contention over the official name, but Aung San Suu Kyi stated in 2016 that foreigners could use either. J. Peterman from Seinfeld put it best: “You most likely know it as Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me.”)

burmese street food market

You can find all sorts of local food at Bogyoke Aung San Market. However, be careful about eating street food, if you aren’t accustomed to it.

bogyoke aung san market

So many sights and smells to behold. Isn’t the Burmese alphabet beautiful? The written language dates back to the 11th century. (Myanmar is bordered by China, Laos, Thailand and India — hence some of these influences).

myanmar bazaar night markets

“Langorous” was our word of the day. In Myanmar, do as the locals do: slow down, hang out, enjoy the moment.

traditional burma hairstyle ponytail

The market has hundreds of vendors, lined up on cobblestone paths. You can find all types of antiques, jewelry, clothing, Burmese art, handicrafts, you name it.

Long, silky hair is a trademark of Burmese beauty. Yukiro and I loved this futuristic-looking hairstyle worn by “Aunty Mary.”

longyi skirts bogyoke market

Bogyoke market is the best place in Yangon to pick up a longyi, or Burmese long skirt. You can choose from the various embroidered silky fabrics, and get the garment custom-tailored to fit you like a glove. The ladies can also help you match it with a sleeveless top and sheer scarf.

yangon longyi market fashion

The shops are a rainbow of intricate, elegant fabrics. Longyis are worn by both men and women, and are a perfect mix of style and function. (The airy fabric keeps you from overheating, and protects you from mosquitoes).

burmese traditional skirts shop

As I mentioned, Burmese vendors aren’t aggressive — they don’t run up to you or try to rip you off. Shopping at this market was easygoing and enjoyable.

bogyoke market jewelry shops

We went indoors to look at the gems and jewels. This cyber disco Buddha greeted us at the entrance

burmese carved buddha statues

Myanmar is known as the world’s most Buddhist country. Close to 90% of the population practices Theravada Buddhism, which certainly contributes to the peaceful, welcoming, compassionate nature of the locals we encountered.

annabelle creepy doll antique

In a country that was formerly isolated, you’re bound to find some oddities. I did a double-take at this store window. Is that… Annabelle? (The haunted doll and horror movie star must have escaped from her locked case at the Warren’s Occult Museum!)

burmese comics, cartoons

These funky faces reminded me of Japanese daruma. Underneath, notice the Burmese comic strips, with speech balloons in the local script. 

aung san suu kyi poster painting

Many vendors put up images of The Lady, Aung San Suu Kyi. During the time of military rule, she was placed under house arrest and it was forbidden to publicly display her photo. Now that she’s the leader of the country, locals can have her smiling from their walls.

hotel lobby christmas tree

Since it was humid (even around Christmas), we tended to go out for a short period, and then return to our hotel to rest before heading out again. ParkRoyal’s central location and car/driver service made all this possible.

kawaii cute gingerbread house chocolates

One time, we came back to gingerbread houses and cute chocolates in our room! The pastry chef is a maestro; we gobbled everything up, like Hansel and Gretel.

parkroyal yangon restaurants

We dined with the General Manager at Shiki-Tei, an exquisite Japanese restaurant inside the hotel. We started with sake-tinis and warm sake…

Shiki-Tei japanese restaurant myanmar

… followed by the freshest sashimi, yakimono (fish and steak grilled right at the table), and nabemono (hot pot with fish and vegetables in a subtle yet complex broth). A meal to remember.

parkroyal yangon buffet, food

Every day, we looked forward to the breakfast / brunch buffet, which is one of the best in Yangon. There’s all types of international food, but I focused on the Burmese dishes, such as spiced salads, curries…

best mohinga myanmar yangon cafe

… and one or more bowls of the national dish of Myanmar, mohinga. This is a fish and rice noodle soup — but it’s so much more than that. Mohinga is heartwarming, with every flavor and texture (salty, sour, crunchy, sweet) in perfect balance.

At first, there may be a “fishy” smell, but once you get in a few spoonfuls, you won’t be able to stop. It’s a little like laksa and pho, but uniquely Burmese. I hope you can try mohinga for yourself, as it’s a game-changer.

yangon myanmar 5 star luxury hotel

We’ll miss the friendly staff of ParkRoyal Hotel Yangon, who always greeted us with a “Min Gā Lar Ba!” Without them, we wouldn’t have had such a magnificent time in Myanmar.

(Find out more about this hotel here.)

burmese writing, buddhist poster

Isn’t Myanmar a fascinating country? I hope this first post got you intrigued about Burmese history and culture.

There’s a lot more to come from this fascinating destination — including monks and punks. Let’s just say… you won’t be disappointed!

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Hipster Helsinki travel guide: steampunk bar Hell-Sinki! Kallio district, coffee shops, modern design stores.

spider goth print biker jacket

For those who love alternative subcultures… Helsinki is one “hell” of a travel destination!

In part one of my “Finlandia” journey, I took you to a mod furniture exhibit, and sauna / restaurant by the water. Now, I’ll show you around the coolest restaurants and shops in the hipster Kallio district. We’ll end up in a Steampunk bar that looks like an airship, complete with jets of steam.

(I’m wearing this Spider bomber coat. It’s one of my favorites, and currently on sale.)

best blog of year award, blogger awards

But first, some quick happy news: La Carmina is nominated for the Best Blog Award!

I was wondering if you’d be willing to take 10 seconds to vote for me? Every bit of support counts, and you can vote once a day.

Just click here to vote for La Carmina – I’m at the end of the check list. Thank you so much for believing in me, I really appreciate your kindness over the years!

gay friendly helsinki lgbt guide

Helsinki is one of the world’s most liberal and progressive cities — to the point where the pamphlets say, “We are not gay friendly. We are gay!”

My film team and I spent an afternoon in the Kallio district of Helsinki, where young artsy types tend to congregate.

hipster helsinki, kallio neighborhood

Quite a few readers recommended Good Life Coffee, in the heart of Kallio. I was sold by their motto:  “Avoid Bad Coffee.”

This coffeeshop chooses high grade beans, and takes a “no bull” approach to roasting and brewing (in their words). The result is simple, honest and delicious.

hipster cafe, coffee shop scandinavia

Good Life is a cozy spot for meeting up with friends, and flipping through design magazines. They also sell baked goods from local bakers; the restaurant / bar Sandro next door is also highly rated.

good life coffee helsinki finland

There’s a similar “Coffee Is Always a Good Idea” wood wall art available here.

I’m wearing the Joanie Mule shoe, which comes in black and marble white (like the exact ones I’m wearing).

If you’re digging my purse, you might like these Sanrio bags and platforms below:

black metal finland, heavy metal store

A city with “hell” in its name has to have a dark subculture, right? At the rock shop Hell-Sinki, we found Scandinavian death metal soundtracks that would be perfect for a Viking invasion.

steam hellsinki bar

Then, it was time for a drink at the Steampunk bar, Steam Hellsinki. 

The bar is a futuristic, fantasy vision of the Victorian era meets the Wild Wild West. Old fashioned steam technology is reimagined in creative ways, and displayed all throughout the space.

helsinki steampunk bar, club

It’s amazing to see how Steampunk has spread all over the world. (Remember when we went to a steam punk coffee shop in Cape Town, South Africa?)

The decor at Steam Hell Sinki is on point. We saw Gothic types hanging out on the retro couches, beneath vintage bicycles and lamps.

airship steampunk bar design

The piece de resistance… is a giant zeppelin airship that doubles as a bar! Colored lights dance over the blimp, giving the impression of movement. Every so often, fog spews out from the hull. 

victorian steampunk piano

Flowers, old pianos and vintage Victrolas add to the retro-fantasy Steampunk theme.

tea cocktails steam hell sinki

The resident dog is trained to put his paws up on the bar, upon command. Good boy.

Steam HellSinki has almost 100 types of gin available. The famous gin and tonics are garnished with berries and spices, and the special menu includes cocktails that come in teapots and cups.

world's weirdest coolest theme bars

We loved spending a relaxing evening under the chandeliers. Steampunk fans, don’t miss out on this “hell” of a bar.

artek furniture design store helsinki

No doubt, Finland is a world leader for interior design. I’m obsessed with Scandinavian and mid-century modern, so it was a joy to visit the Artek store. (They carry designs including the ones below).

kay bojesen monkey ape toy

I smiled when I saw this Ape by Kay Bojesen, which comes in small and medium size.

eero aarnio artek ball chair, trolley

I couldn’t resist sitting in Eero Aarnio’s iconic ball chair (available here). On the right is this Tea Trolley by Alvar Aalto, one of the founders of Artek and masters of Finnihs modern design.

If you’re as much of a design fangirl as I am, don’t miss out on the DesignMuseo (where I caught the Eero Aarnio retrospective) and nearby Design District Helsinki.

why join navy when you can be pirate cafe

Helsinki has innovative interiors everywhere, including restaurants. I had lunch at the wonderfully named cafe, Why join the navy when you can be a pirate. Good question, arr.

I love eating clean, and feasted on the fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies, juices, and healthy wraps. Since we’re pirates, we ordered a round of local gin (try Fevertree or Napue), garnished with rosemary and cranberries, and mixed with local tonic.

(My Spider bomber coat is fit for the captain of a pirate ship.)

southpark theme restaurant helsinki

We had dinner with a view at Southpark Restaurant. You might be thinking “Omg they killed Kenny” — but this is not actually a theme restaurant based on the South Park cartoon. It’s a “ravintola” named because it is in the south end of Helsinki’s Sinebrychoff park.

(Find my Joanie Mule sandals in black or marble white here.)

finland modern design restaurant

Southpark has a wonderful atmosphere filled with light, and walls decorated with modern art. The hashtags say it all: #HellaGoodFood, #SoCalSoCool.

A lot of regulars come here, which give the room a neighborhood vibe. We loved how the owners personally took care of us, and came by the tables to chat with their guests.

tom of finland gay art exhibit

All the cocktails get my top marks, especially the 1919 Sour. (They’re pictured with postcards of Tom of Finland, who pushed the boundaries of gay art in the mid 20th century.)

I know Californian food well, and Southpark nails it. The tacos were magnificent (and I’m picky), and their recipes fuse this style of cuisine with local catch and produce.

helsinki modern hip restaurants

For a meal that’s fresh and full of color, and served by a friendly staff — come to Southpark, “Mmm-kay?”

nudge rulla boutique helsinki

For a hip combination of fashion and food, visit Nudge (clothing shop) and Rulla (cafe), located side by side in the centre of Helsinki.

bird print kimono bathrobe

Both share a passion for sustainability and organic production. In Nudge, you’ll find one-of-a-kind clothing made by Finnish designers, like this dreamy bird kimono.

helsinki hipster fashion, jewelry

All the designs come from independent creators: you’ll find natural cosmetics, eco-friendly accessories, and Finnish children’s items. (The bat necklace was calling out to me.)

rulla cafe, rice paper rolls

Located in the same space is Rulla, where you can feast on hand-made healthy rice rolls with a Scandinavian twist. The options include salmon and shrimp with herbs, and side of tangy sauces.

scandic paasi hotel

Time to wind down at the hippest hotel in Helsinki, Scandic Paasi. The building overlooks the water, and is located next to a lovely park.

cool scandinavian design hotels

A picture is worth a thousand words… Scandic Paasi has outstanding modern design, in the lobby and spacious rooms.

We’re big fans of Scandic Hotels, which give great service and luxury at an affordable price point. (Remember our stay in Stockholm’s Grand Central by Scandic?)

scandic hotels helsinki finland paasi

The color-blocked bar was a mod dream. I encourage you to book a room Scandic Paasi if you’re going to Helsinki.

“Kiitos” (thank you in Finnish) to BorderlessMedia.tv for all the photography.

south park restaurant cafe

Helsinki is a city full of creativity — wouldn’t you agree?

● PS thank you for taking a few seconds to vote for me in the Best Blog Awards! It’ll make a huge difference in the final round (ending Jan 20), and I really appreciate your support over the years.

Click to VOTE now for La Carmina – Thank you!

I stayed at Tokyo’s Godzilla Hotel! Gracery Shinjuku, Japanese theme hotel review, Akihabara Washington.

godzilla hotel tokyo japan

Skreeeonk! Watch out, Tokyo. It looks like Godzilla is taking over the city once again.

Did you know you can stay at a Godzilla monster themed hotel: Hotel Gracery ShinjukuOnly in Japan, of course!

hotel gracery shinjuku kabukicho

Let’s kick off 2017 with a roar. I’ll take you inside Gracery Shinjuku, a wonderfully idiosyncratic hotel in the best possible location. (Godzilla’s claw points over Kabuki-Cho, the host club and nightlife district where most of the Goth / alternative events take place.)

● You can book a discounted room at the Godzilla hotel here, using my special link.

godzilla hotel ホテルグレイスリー新宿

On the terrace of the hotel is a towering Godzilla statue — it doesn’t get more epic than this. The monster even moves and roars, with flashing eyes!




toho cinemas shinjuku tokyo movie theater

Where is this bizarre Japanese hotel located? From Shinjuku station’s East Exit, walk towards Kabukicho and go down the street near Don Quixote. Look up — you’ll see the Hotel Gracery sign, and Godzilla atop a skyscraper!

It makes sense that he’s towering over Toho Cinemas, which releases all the Japanese Godzilla movies. (Address: 1-19-1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Japan.)

hotel gracery shinjuku rooms review

The hotel has 30 storeys, which meant I had these soaring views of Shinjuku from my window. Gracery’s rooms are simple yet spacious, which provides great value (prices are around $100 a night). I spent over an hour soaking in the large bathtub, using the free red bath salts that I got when I checked in.

godzilla theme room, gracery japan

For fans of “dai kaiju”… There’s a Godzilla room that you can rent. Keep reading to see photos of the “monstrous” interior.

long clothing skirt, tokyo fashion

Hotel Gracery only opened in 2015, but already, it has become a Shinjuku landmark — thanks to the Godzilla perched menacingly over its ledge.

I’m wearing a Long Clothing Infinity Clip skirt. See more from this designer below:

godzilla teeth roar sculpture

If you’re a guest of the hotel, you can access the terrace where Godzilla lives… that is, if you dare.

hotel gracery shinjuku cafe lounge

Hotel Gracery’s convenient location makes it a perfect hangout. John and I invited our friends to join us for drinks and snacks at “Café Terrace Bonjour,” located on the eighth floor.

life size godzilla statue tokyo

The cafe is guarded by a life-sized version of the monster, similar to this 1995 Godzilla statue that you can put in your home.

godzilla cake, theme menu, dessert

The relaxing lounge has an adjoining outdoor terrace, and large selection of snacks and cocktails. There’s even a Godzilla cake that you can bite into.

absinthe ghost marshmallows

However, my friend Caro (who runs a Gothic baking blog) brought her own homemade spooky sweets for us to share. These are marshmallow ghost cookies are made with white chocolate and absinthe, in colors that match her green liquid lipstick

goth scene tokyo japan

Everyone grabbed a ghoul to eat. By the end of the evening, they had vanished into thin air.

(Many of us are wearing Killstar, Long  Clothing and other Gothic styles that you can get on this site.)

roaring moving robot godzilla

In the evening, Godzilla awakens at the top of each hour (6pm, 7pm, etc). For a few minutes, he shakes his head and his eyes flash like lightning. The creature bares his pointed teeth and spits out fog — or rather, his secret weapon of “atomic breath.”

ゴジラ fans, shin-godzilla movie

We did our own impression of the scary beast. I think Goths and Godzillas get along rather well together.

godzilla themed hotel review tokyo japan

Beneath the behemoth, there are carvings of Godzilla from his films over the years. The monster’s design changes every time they release a movie, such as with the latest “Shin-Godzilla.”

strathberry scotland mini tote bag

Some of the depictions are more goofy-retro than frightening.

The sea-monster tries to take a bite out of my Strathberry of Scotland midi leather tote, which I decorated with a Devilish 666 bow.

giant godzilla monster sculpture

For those who aren’t familiar with “Gojira,” (ゴジラ), the monster first appeared in Ishirō Honda’s 1954 film, Godzilla (more info here). He’s a raging, gigantic prehistoric sea monster whose powers were awakened by nuclear radiation.

godzilla hotel gracery rooftop

Japan’s Godzilla quickly became a legend, and his name is now known all over the world. To this date, he’s the star of over 20 films, as well as video games, manga and spin-offs featuring his allies, rivals and juniors.

nu goth dark fashion blogger

John, Atsushi and I are fans of Godzilla, even though he’s destroyed Tokyo over and over. My skirt is a Long Clothing Infinity Clip design; find more from this label at:

godzilla store, merchandise tokyo

For super-fans, Hotel Gracery has two special suites dedicated to Godzilla! One gives you the perfect view of Godzilla’s head, from your window.

book godzilla theme hotel room

The other, called “Godzilla Room,” lets you get immersed in the monster’s universe. Everything is decorated playfully, such as trick walls that reveal art in black light, and a mega-statue that greets you when you enter.

mothra flying over tokyo

The suite’s windows have decals of his frenemies such as Mothra, who appears to be spreading his wings over Tokyo.

big hand godzilla hotel rooms gracery

High five to Gracery Shinjuku, for the creative Godzilla room decoration. Would you be able to sleep with his scaly hand on the wall, looking like it’s about to grab you?

shinjuku gracery hotel reviews, rooms

One of the walls is decorated with his movie posters, from the 1950s to today. I enjoyed seeing the concept evolution over time. (Photos by John S and me.)

space godzilla window

SpaceGodzilla came down from the stars. Such a creative window design — from this angle, it looks like he’s about to tear this skyscraper out from the ground. 

godzilla road sign kabuki cho

The Japanese love their home-grown monster, and even named this Godzilla road after him (leading from Meiji-doori to Hotel Gracery).

godzilla building shinjuku skyscraper

I always recommend that travelers stay in Shinjuku, since it’s close to everything. Hotel Gracery is in the best possible location: near Decabarz (the alternative Goth club), Golden Gai, host clubs, bizarre theme restaurants, cat cafes, and all types of delicious food. In the area underneath the hotel for example, there’s takoyaki, okonomiyaki, sushi, and Krispy Kreme.

godzilla roaring, mouth

Hotel Gracery did a spectacular job in executing the Godzilla theme. There’s impeccable attention to detail…

retro gojira posters, japanese godzilla movies

… and tributes to the “kaiju” all over the lobby, such as this mural leading up to the elevators. 

godzilla enemies, rivals

Fans of Godzilla, King Ghidara and Mothra — you’ve got to check out this unique hotel.

akihabara hotel washington tokyo

While in Tokyo, I got to rest my head at yet another theme hotel, Washington Akihabara. (Japan’s Washington Hotels are under the same umbrella as Gracery.)

Located in the “otaku” district of Japan, this is the only hotel in the world with a room dedicated to train aficionados. One of the walls contains a glass case, filled with miniature re-constructions of railway stations. (Above, can you spot No Face?)

train themed hotel, tokyo

Washington Hotel is once again in a convenient location: a 1-minute walk from JR Akihabara Station. (Address: 1-8-3 Kanda Sakumacho, Chiyoda, Tokyo)

Train fans can reserve Room 1304, which has a huge train track with professional levers. You can borrow one of the hotel’s model trains, put it on the rails, and use the gears to make it whizz around at different speeds. 

washington hotel akiba tokyo room

Above, you can see a blue and green train looping around on opposite tracks. The model set includes the city’s landmarks, including Tokyo Tower.

pokemon go nail polish, nail art designs

Once again, the rooms are clean and spacious, and excellent value (book a room for under $90 here). Hotel Washington also has a terrific included breakfast: I ate my fill of hiyayakko (chilled soft tofu), pickled vegetables, tamago and miso soup every day.

tokyo godzilla tour

You can also find out more about Hotel Gracery Shinjuku and book a room here (you can request the Godzilla suite).

godzilla theme restaurant

Have you watched any of the Godzilla movies? Would you stay in this eccentric theme hotel?




Coming up – a travel video and more posts from my JR Rail Pass trip through Japan. If you’re planning to come in the spring for cherry blossom season, it’s a great idea to get one of these unlimited passes, which let you ride the rails at a fraction of the cost.

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