Exploring the Wonders of the Ghibli Bakery in Fukuoka: Lune Lapin

Would you risk being spirited away for a taste of this bread?

On the last day of my vacation, I decided to stop at a Ghibli-themed bakery on the outskirts of Fukuoka called Lune Lapin before flying back to Tokyo. This was yet another place that was recommend to me through my IG algorithms and it was definitely on point. Since this bakery is away from the central Hakata Canal area, it is a place that not many people may know about but it has the reputation for baking insanely delicious bread. After taking a combination local buses and trains, I arrived here at 10am on a Sunday morning when the character bread was just being taken out of the oven. As I entered the bakery I was greeted by a statue of a Laputian Robot and there also was a life-sized Totoro bus stop inside before the queue. Fortunately I arrived just in time to get a table and there was a lot of selection!

Though it was truly a tough decision on what to order, here is the bread that I chose to eat:

In my opinion, the bread filled with chocolate tasted the best! The Totoro and Jiji pieces had a lot of chocolate in them and almost tasted like freshly baked cookies so I would highly recommend them to everyone. The Catbus and Porco Rosso ones were filled with honey which wouldn’t be my first choice of filling but was also very sweet and addictive. The Calcifer one was filled with red jelly which I am not always a fan of, but it was only a small amount and the quality of bread was very high so I was able to enjoy it. I had probably consumed a lot of calories this morning, but I was going to a rave this night so I wasn’t particularly worried. This choice was 100% worth it.

The fun part about choosing the bread is each piece has a slightly different design so they are all very unique. For example, some pieces of the Totoro and Calcifer bread had their eyes and mouths open while other pieces didn’t. I liked the careful detail that went into preparing each one. Most pieces range from 200-400 yen so you can eat a lot for a small amount of money!

Here are some more photos I took of the interior decor. I was impressed with all the cells of Kiki’s Delivery Service they had hanging on the wall, plus the custom-made Laputa robots. Though this is not an official Ghibli Cafe, with all the merch they had I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t have some kind of connection to the studio. Their collection was extremely immense and I am excited to see it grow:

Getting to Lune Lapin

From Fukuoka’s Hakata Station, take the Kagoshima Line to Ongagawa Station. Then you can either take a taxi or ride the local bus from the front of the station to Hakusaoki and walk to the bakery. This journey takes about 1.5 hours and costs 1200-1700 yen. It is a bit far from the city center but is worth the journey in my opinion.

Address: 1 Chome-22-5 Denen, Onga, Onga District, Fukuoka 811-4343

Though the bakery is quite popular, people come and go a lot so no reservation is required. I would only recommend making a reservation if you are coming during a busy holiday or have specific bread that you wish to order. If you come in the morning there is much more selection available too!

Final Thoughts

Thank you for reading my latest article on one of the best bakeries that I’ve ever been to in Japan! In my final article in this series I will be talking about my trip to Sakurajima, a volcanic island in Kagoshima. This weekend I will be going to Kobe and Awaji so I will be starting my next article series next week. It sure feels good to be on the road and writing about my adventures again! I am excited to do a reflection post at the end of the year and look back on all of my progress. Thank you for all of your support!

Exploring Ogawa Falls and Kanoya City in Kagoshima

Ogawa Falls in Kanoya, Kagoshima.

While looking for destinations I wanted to travel to in Kagoshima after Amami Island, the two that stood out to me the most were Ogawa Falls and Sakurajima. Ogawa Falls are located remotely in a forest in the city of Kanoya, directly southeast of Sakurajima. Getting to Kanoya is a challenge because there are no trains that run through the city—you have to either take a bus from Kagoshima Airport or rent a car to get here. I opted to take the bus which was around 1.5 hours and 2100 yen. Though the city of Kanoya is quite rural, it is considered a nice town to stay in and has a number of delicious restaurants, shrines, and beautiful nature spots. I enjoyed my time here because it was very quiet and relaxing.

Here are my top recommendations that you can do over the span of two days!

Jintoku Inari Shrine

My first stop was Jintoku Inari Shrine, which I ran to from my hostel in the morning. This is a small shrine but has over 100 red gates and many fox deity statues. I also enjoyed seeing the fox-shaped ema with people’s wishes written on them too! When I arrived here at 9am (which is the opening time), I was the only person here which was quite relaxing. I really enjoyed the privacy of this shrine and felt at peace here.

Address: 1771-4 Shineicho, Kanoya, Kagoshima 893-0063
Admission: Free

Ogawa Falls

Ogawa Falls is a remote waterfall located south of Kanoya City with beautiful shades of water and rock formations. It takes about 45 mins to reach by car. I had my hostel call a taxi here and back because there is no other way to reach it by public transport. It’s really a shame that there’s not a local bus from Kanoya City that goes here, but I suppose there are not enough travelers that come to the city to justify the cause. The taxi here cost around 8000 yen one way which is quite expensive, but trust me the views were extremely worth the price! The hike to the falls is roughly 20 mins on pretty even terrain and there is a viewing deck with 2 floors you can stand on to see them. This place really didn’t feel like Japan because it looked more like a destination from Thailand or the Philippines. However, this truly shows how beautiful places in Kagoshima can be and I really encourage more people to make the journey here!

Additionally, there is a lovely cafe called aqua base by the parking lot where you can try fresh juice and sweet potato flavored monkey-shaped pastries. It truly was a dream come true for an aesthetic food lover so I bought their earrings of the pastry too! I will never forget my time here because it was truly unique and once again, I was the only person here which made it special!

Address: 5876-2 Tashirokawahara, 錦江町 Kimotsuki District, Kagoshima 893-2402
Admission: Free

Take Bakery and Cafe

While looking for pescatarian-friendly places in the area, Take Bakery and Cafe was one of the very first that popped up so I figured I would check it out. For breakfast before I went to Ogawa Falls, I decided to try their salmon and cream cheese bagel with a soy latte. It gave me just the energy I needed to hike through the falls and was delicious so I would highly recommend it. Since I was curious about their salads, I came back here for lunch after my trek since their bread and cheese was so amazing. I also started day drinking while I waited for my bus back to the airport and I can’t recommend their local wine enough! They recognized me from this morning and generously thanked me for coming twice. I would have gladly come for dinner too had I stayed another night here!

Address: 5-5 Kitadacho, Kanoya, Kagoshima 893-0007

Accommodation

Since my stay here was very short and I spent a good chunk of money on my resort in Amami, I opted to stay in Hotel & Hostel Haru. Rooms are around 2000 yen per night and I was the only person staying in my dormitory so it was a comfortable stay. Not only were the rooms extremely clean, the staff was very friendly and gave me free sake and helped me call my taxi to Ogawa Falls too. I was lucky to have found such a nice place in a remote city! In my opinion 2 days is all you need to see the highlights of Kanoya.

Another fun point of interest close to this hostel is Wadaiseki Park which has a statue of a kappa. I enjoyed being friends with him during my time here and we really vibed. Look forward to reading about Sakurajima in my next article!

Hiking to Mt. Aso’s Nakadake Crater

We finally made it, Totoro!

Roughly a year ago, Mt. Aso’s Nakadate Crater became safe enough to re-open for viewing after the earthquake in 2016 that destroyed the ropeway and made it inaccessible for years. I first visited Mt. Aso in 2017 during Golden Week, but unfortunately there was not a lot I could do besides visit the surrounding parks and zoos. However, after my vacation to Amami Island, I decided I would fly to Kyushu and visit Kagoshima, Kumamoto, and Fukuoka before flying back to Tokyo.

Each day at 8:30am the official Aso Crater website updates listing the restricted areas of the crater. On days where it rains and the fog is heavy, or when the volcanic gases reach a certain level of intensity, entry will be restricted. However if the weather cooperates, usually no zones are restricted and you can see one of the world’s largest calderas! At one time there was a lake in the crater, but unfortunately now it has dried up. Scientists predict it may reform in the future, however. If you look at old pictures, the color of the blue water looks similar to an onsen with an extremely high temperature.

Here is some footage that I caught on my GoPro of Mt. Aso’s Nakadate Crater:

Getting to Mt. Aso’s Nakadate Crater

From Kumamoto Station, the trip to Mt. Aso take about 2.5 hours by train and bus and costs around 3000-3500 yen one way. You can also rent a car and drive here because the area before the crater has a parking lot. Getting to the crater is a bit of the gamble because there is a slight chance that the gases could change and make some areas restricted as you’re traveling there, but I like to take calculated risks. I thought the trip was worth it because I got to see an extremely rare and beautiful area of Japan. I rode the Hohi Line to Aso Station and then stopped for vegetable udon on the station. It was a hearty and delicious meal.

From the station there are two buses that will take you up to the crater. On your way up you will pass many fields filled with roaming cows and see how beautifully green the mountain is. The first bus will stop at a gift shop where you can buy some interesting souvenirs. My favorite were the oppai sake cups and the Kumamon ice cream, but the rocks from the crater were pretty neat too. You can choose to walk to the crater from here which takes around 30 mins, or take another bus which is just a short 10-15 minute ride. Seeing the Kumamon-themed bus was definitely a perk of using public transport.

On average, viewing the crater of Mt. Aso takes roughly 30-45 mins depending on how many photos you wish to take. There are 5 different zones that you can walk around and see it the crater emitting volcanic gases from. Entry into Zone A is always prohibited, but entering the other 4 zones (B1-D) will give you some amazing views. The experience was extraordinary and very memorable to me. I am happy that I made it all the way up here this time because I crossed another item off of my Japan bucket list!

Other Activities in Aso

Getting to Mt. Aso’s crater and back takes almost a full day, but there are other activities around the mountain that you can do if you’re interested. I took a bath at Aso Bochu Onsen while I was waiting for my train back to Kumamoto which felt amazing after all the distance I traveled to reach the crater. There is also Aso Cuddly Dominion for those who enjoy seeing bears. I visited during 2017 and unfortunately don’t have many good pictures but I had a fun time. I also passed by a horseback riding farm on my way up to the crater. If I would have had more time I would have definitely stopped by!

Thank you for reading about my expedition to Mt. Aso. The article series is officially halfway done! In my next article I will be talking about some activities that I did in Kagoshima. Please look forward to it!

Sailing through the Skies of Amami Island – First Paragliding Experience

Seeing northern Yo Beach from a new perspective via paragliding!

On my second day on Amami Island, I decided to knock out paragliding on my bucket list because it’s something I had wanted to do for years and it felt like the ideal time. Out of all the locations you can try it in Japan, Okinawa and Kagoshima are the most recommended due to their stunning ocean views. I first tried to go paragliding on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa 5 years ago on my birthday, but unfortunately the winds were too strong and my reservation was cancelled. This time the opposite problem occurred—the winds were initially too weak but picked up after an hour of waiting. Paragliding is simple in the fact that all that you need to do is run and jump in time with when you’re instructed to and the motor will do the rest. Before you know it you’ll be up in the sky staring down at the distant scenery below you. In case you fall there is a soft cushion of sand beneath you which is why I highly recommend paragliding on the beach. The beautiful hues of the ocean below my feet glittered in the shining sun and I felt as if I was truly alive!

Here is some footage from my GoPro over Amami Island’s most northern beach (Yo Beach). I originally thought the white building was a lighthouse, but it is actually a government office!

I booked my paragliding experience through パラグライダーハッピースカイ (Paragliding Happy Sky) online for 10,500 yen and had an incredible experience. Though this might be a bit more expensive compared to other countries like Thailand or the Philippines, Japan is probably the safest country to learn in as their instructors are very cautious and well-trained. I appreciated how they waited an hour with me for the winds to pick up an even offered to show me around the island so I could see the stars at night. The experience lasts for around 15 minutes and you can freely use your camera equipment while a license professional controls the motor and direction. The company will contact you with the best meeting point the night before and fortunately all of the paragliding locations are easy to reach by taxi.

To me it was an extremely exhilarating experience that increased my love for the ocean so I can’t recommend it enough—if you’re an adventurous person then you need to try paragliding!

Kayaking through Amami Mangrove Forest

Immediately after kayaking, I set off for the Amami Mangrove Forest via local bus because I really wanted to try kayaking there. This is one of the top destinations in Amami and the second largest mangrove in Japan. The waterways will take you deep through the forest so you can see various wildlife and the experience was very relaxing to me after paragliding. Renting a kayak is 1500 yen for an hour, but I noticed they were pretty lax on time. I had the opportunity to explore a lot of canals and was very satisfied with the experience despite the long 2 hour bus ride. If you rent a car then you can get around Amami Island much faster, but this mangrove is still somewhat remote from the main resort area. However, I passed through the downtown area on my way back and stopped for delicious Indian food at Durga Dining before heading back to relax at my resort!

Chasing Sunsets

Another fun activity I enjoyed was waking up with the sun and falling asleep with the moon. Every day and night I would watch the sun fall over the ocean and the landscape magically change color. As the land of the rising sun, Japan has a lot of neat places where you can chase sunsets but I definitely prefer it at the beach!

Other Activities

Snorkeling and diving is also extremely popular on Amami Island, but since I did this in Okinawa earlier this year I opted to try new things mentioned in this article. When it all comes down to it, appreciating nature and wildlife and relaxing is really the best thing you can do on this island. All of the resorts are extremely affordable and you can bike around to a number of attractions easily so Amami is a great destination for people who have already been to Okinawa and are looking for something more. I can proudly say that booking my trip here was my best decision of the year because I got the chance to see and experience so many things. Three days was the perfect amount of time to spend here too.

Though this was my last day on Amami Island, my adventure through Kyushu still continues! In my next article, I will talk about exploring the volcanic island, Sakurajima, in Kagoshima. Please look forward to it!

Exploring Amami Island: The Rich Paradise of Goats & Pristine Beaches

A warm welcome from Kurasaki Beach!

After raving in the mountains of Gunma for three days, I realized the end of summer would soon be upon us so the first week of September would be the ideal time to knock of a few places on my Kyushu bucket list—mainly Amami Island, Sakurajima, and the first crater of Mt. Aso. Since I already had a phenomenal vacation in Okinawa just before Golden week, I was craving one more long beach trip before it became too cold to swim. Fortunately for me, I found a number of discount one-way airline tickets and was able to string them together to create the ultimate bargain vacation throughout Kyushu. A number of my friends and coworkers asked me how I did it so I will try to explain my itinerary as thoroughly as possible. If you fly during certain times through Peach and Skymark airlines from Narita airport, you can find discount flights for almost 1/3 of the price all year round in Japan! It just takes some time analyzing Google Flights but really anyone can create the perfect vacation if they put enough heart and research into it.

The dates I chose to travel were 8/30 – 9/5. My completed itinerary was:

Tokyo (NRT Airport) → Amami → Kagoshima → Sakurajima (via ferry) → Kagoshima → Kanoya (for Ogawa Falls) → Fukuoka → Kumamoto → Mt. Aso → Kumamoto → Fukuoka Airport ↺ Tokyo

Since I don’t have an international driver’s license, I relied completely on buses, local trains, taxis, ferries, and even rented bikes too! I spent a lot of time on the road but I listened to music, played my Switch, and did a lot of GoPro editing on my phone too. This was my first time traveling in quite a long time due to the pandemic and the typhoons that hit Japan during Obon season, but I’m happy to say it was another huge success! I learned a lot about the rural life of Kyushu, swam in onsen and oceans, and made many friends along the way (both human and goat). It’s been a while since I last updated Resurface to Reality so I hope you enjoy reading all about my latest Kyushu adventures in this latest article series.

Getting to Amami Island

I chose Amami Island as my first destination because it is one of the most popular remote islands for water activities in Kagoshima. It is not technically part of Okinawa, but it is extremely close to some of its island chains and the weather is almost exactly the same. Amami is a place you go to getaway from the crowds and doesn’t have nearly as many people as Naha, but it does have a bustling downtown shopping area where you can interact freely with the islanders. I spent most of my time swimming at my resort and biking around beaches, but there are a number of wonderful things you can see here!

The easiest way to get to Amami Island is by plane, and fortunately all of the best resorts and beaches are near the airport too! You can also travel by ferry from Kagoshima and Okinawa, but these trips can take up to 11 hours which you could be using to relax during your Kyushu vacation. I departed from Narita Airport around 10am on a Monday and my ticket was only 7040 yen, which beats the long 9000 yen ferry! The plane ride was only 2.5 hours and I slept for over half of it. When I reached the airport, I could already feel the tropical breeze and the bright rays from the sun as soon as I went outside. A free shuttle bus was waiting for me outside too, and driver smiled at me and said “Let’s gooooo!” in English. The adventure was about to begin!

Accommodation: Caretta Resort Amami

While looking for accommodations in Amami, I wanted something on the beach preferably with a pool or a hot tub for the ultimate relaxation. Fortunately I found my ideal hotel match at Caretta Resort! Not only did this hotel have a gigantic pool, inflatables, and a hot tub, but it also had friendly goats and was located directly on Kurasaki Beach. This was the closest resort I found in Japan that resembled Koh Samui, one of my favorite islands in Thailand due to the proximity of the ocean and the huge pool. The hospitality was truly amazing and the people were so kind. There were a bunch of kids in the pool roleplaying Pokemon which really brought me back to my childhood too. The view from inside of the rooms is really beautiful too. If you book far enough in advance, you can get a room for under 10000 which truly is a steal for a resort of this quality. I splurged a bit but treating myself was truly worth it! This hotel has everything you need, including free bike rentals too.

I recommend staying in Amami for at least 3 days like I did so you can fully enjoy the beaches and also choose to go snorkeling, kayaking, or paragliding which I will get into in my next article!

Eating a Heart-shaped Donut at Heart Rock

After checking in at my lovely resort and greeting the goat that lives outside of it, I decided to rent a bike from my hotel and bike to the famous Heart Rock that was just 10 mins away. This heart-shaped pool appears most visible during low tides, but you can see it year-round. It is said to have some kind of healing property so it attracts a number of visitors each day.

Before going to Heart Rock, you can stop at Healthy Island Cafe and buy heart-shaped donuts that come in different flavors and also try goat milk ice cream! I enjoyed how creamy it was plus meeting all of the goats outside that had helped make it. You can purchase other products like goat soap, cheese, and mascots as well. The goat culture on Amami Island is truly amazing and everyone loves them!

I really enjoyed walking through the mini jungle area on the path to the beach and met a stray cat on my way to the rock. A lot of Amami is completely untouched making it the perfect place for adventurers to explore!

Heart Rock Address: 1346-1 Akaogi, Tatsugo, Oshima District, Kagoshima 894-0411

Trying Amami Foods & Sake

Amami Island is famous not only for its goat milk ice cream, but also its seafood and black sugar shochu! Due to the pandemic, a number of restaurants were closed so I just kept calling random ones near the beach until I found out that one named Restaurant AMAnesia was open until 7pm. I got extremely lucky because this restaurant was near a famous hotel and had a huge selection of seafood!

I decided to go with the mini steamed lobster set that came with local island specialties, rice, and vegetables. I also ordered a mini assortment of black sugar shochu. To my surprise it was very strong and not very sweet at all, but I still enjoyed it! After enjoying this delicious meal, I went outside to the beach to enjoy the ocean breeze. Boy this sure beat Tokyo!

AMAnesia Address: 1246-1 Kasaricho Oaza Yoan, Amami, Kagoshima 894-0508

I really enjoyed the privateness of Amami Island this day and reflected on my thoughts. This was an incredible first day with perfect weather and I was very excited for the rest of the week!

In my next article, I will be going into detail about various activities you can do on Amami such as paragliding and kayaking through the mangrove. Please look forward to my next article!

From the Archives: Memories of Fuji Rock 2018

My first time to Fuji Rock at Naeba Ski Resort in 2018 was quite the experience.

Though Japan has an abundant amount of quality music events, Fuji Rock is widely accepted as the best outdoor music festival. Not only does it have rock music, but it also has techno, electronic, and retro music that plays homage to the past. Fuji Rock is held every August at Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata Prefecture. In 2018 I attended the festival for the first time and was blown away by how organized it was. Not only that, but people respected the rules and kept the outdoor area clean. Unlike festivals in America and the party islands of Thailand, there was no trash or wrappers left on the ground. Not to mention the forest and all of the stages were decorated so beautifully!

In this article I will be recounting my experience of Fuji Rock so that others can take my advice on how to prepare. Fuji Rock will be held on Aug 20 – 22nd this year but unfortunately I will be unable to attend. I look back to my experience with fond memories, however, and may decide to go in the future!

Getting to Fuji Rock & Accommodations

From Tokyo Station you can take the Josetsu shinkansen directly to Echigo Yuzawa Station and then take a 500 yen shuttle ride to Fuji Rock or a taxi. The trip is less than two hours and the shinkansen ticket costs 7,000 yen one way which is quite cheaper than traveling to other cities in Japan.

Since the festival lasts for 3 days, you have the choice of buying individual tickets for the day you want to go or a 3 day ticket. Since this was my first time going, I only went for one day and stayed at a net cafe near Niigata Station. The majority of my Japanese friends went for multiple days and chose to camp at the festival though. A one day ticket costs around 19,000 which may seem expensive, but it is worth it for the lineup and overall experience. The ticket to camp at the festival is 3,000 yen for the whole duration of the fest which will save you a lot of money on hotels. There are some accommodations near the ski resort but they are extremely expensive and sell out fast.

If you are unsure of what you want to do, I would recommend buying a one day ticket in advance and seeing how you feel. Though the early bird tickets always sell out on the Fuji Rock website, there is a chance you can still buy one during the time of the festival.

Pregaming at Echigo Yuzawa Station

Echigo Yuzawa Station is famous for its Ponshukan, which is a facility with walls of mini sake vending machines you can sample and actually get pretty buzzed on. The way it works is you are given 5 tokens for 500 yen and can go around and try 5 flavors of sake. I did this twice so I could get a little tipsy and save money on drinks at the festival. There are almost 100 brands that are all produced in Niigata so sampling them will bring you closer to being a true sake connoisseur. People called this “sake heaven” and I can see exactly why because you can taste everything from sweet to strong. However, if sake is not your thing you can buy other alcohol from surrounding souvenir shops or stop at a convenience store too.

I honestly packed pretty light with my purse, a backpack with a change of clothes, and a water bottle. Obviously if you are camping you will have a heavier load but this festival is convenient enough so you can pick up anything you forgot at the station. After I felt prepared enough I waited for the free shuttle to make its rounds. Since I arrived around 2pm because the artist I wanted to see the most was closing the festival, it was very easy to get a seat.

Experiencing the Fuji Rock

Once you get off the bus the entrance to Fuji Rock is pretty much straight ahead. There are seven main stages and tons of small performance areas scattered throughout the woods. Since I was here mainly to see Skrillex and Maximum the Hormone who were playing at the end of the festival, I had a lot of time to kill so I wandered around to every stage that I could find. The woods were absolutely beautiful and although the festival was huge I never felt over-crowded. I passed by Avicii’s fan-made memorial site and paid my respects. I also made some friends at the bar while looking for Dragondola, which is the longest gondola ride in the world that you can use to reach certain stages but I ended up having too much fun with them and stayed by the main stages. If I go back to Fuji Rock again in the future, I’ll be sure to ride it and take pictures! But for the most part, Fuji Rock is extremely laid back and it’s really easy to make friends and enjoy yourself.

In 2018 Skrillex closed the Green Stage which holds up to nearly 50,000 people. I still remember how hilarious his performance was because he opened it with a meme. The music brought back a ton of memories to back when I was in college and first started listening to EDM. I have never seen him in America, but the Japan crowd was extremely lit and respectful at the same time. I sadly missed the chance to see him perform at WOMB in 2017 but I am so happy I had the chance to see him here at Fuji Rock in 2018. It really meant a lot to me.

Here is an old video I took from my IG:

After this amazing performance ended, it started pouring rain so I decided to take a taxi back to the station but damn was this amazing! I really wished that I could have stayed for another day, but I had plans to go to Sadoshima the next day so in the end this was the best itinerary for me.

Best Food

I would say Fuji Rock has the best food vendors out of all fests in Japan due to the sheer variety of stalls and also because the fried tofu topped with avocado I tried was out of this world. I’ve never been able to find it at any other music event I’ve been too and really miss it. There’s also a ton of fried food, sandwiches, and ice cream you can try as well. Cocktails were only around 700 yen making them about the same as price what you’d pay at clubs. Although you are not allowed to bring in your own food or cooking equipment, everything here is fairly priced and there are vegetarian and organic options too.

The weirdest ice cream I’ve ever tried in Japan was salty shrimp ice cream at a souvenir shop outside of the festival called Uonuma. The saltiness balanced out the sweetness and I was impressed with how delicious it was. If you’re looking to kill time on your way back to Tokyo then this is a great place to stop!

Final Impressions

Like every music event I’ve been to in Japan, Fuji Rock left me with a great impression. I loved the openness of the forest, friendliness of the people, and diversity of the music. Not to mention how good the food was. Depending on what future artists they bring out in the future, I think I will consider going again, especially since the shinkansen ticket is so cheap. Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic are definitely my favorite music fests that are unique to Japan and I can’t wait to experience more!

Exploring Sadoshima: The Island of Gold Mines, Washtubs, and the Japanese Crested Ibis

Remember the washtub scene from Tales of Symphonia? On Sadoshima you can live the dream!

After seeing Skrillex close the first night of Fuji Rock in 2018, I decided to spend the next day sailing to Niigata’s obscure island with dark past: Sadoshima. Through a large portion of history this island was used as exile for heinous criminals but also for free thinkers who had critical opinions of the emperors at the time. Many people were contained in detention centers, but after the discovery of the gold mines on the islands they able-bodied were used as forced laborers. People from the mainland were also selected to help mine the gold. Nowadays the island is filled with luscious nature and the mines and prisons have been turned into museums. There are a number of activities that you can do on Sadoshima including swimming and taking a boat tour, but my main reason for coming is so I could ride in the washtubs (also known as hangiri or tarai bune).

Getting to Sadoshima

I purchased a ferry tickets from Sado Kisen for 2380 yen in advance and rode the car ferry. There are multiple boarding points, but I boarded at Bandaijima Ferry Terminal because it is closest to the shinkansen station. I would definitely recommend booking in advance so you can better plan your trip because only certain time slots are available.

The boat ride to Sadoshima from Niigata takes one hour and is a pretty smooth trip. I would recommend doing a day trip unless you plan on swimming a lot because most of the island can be seen in a day. There are various Sado Bus Tours you can reserve from the official website that take you to the main points of the island. You can also try renting a car or take a taxi, but the bus tours have the best value. I took the half-day course that included the gold mines, wash tubs, and Toki Forest Park for 4900 yen. I can happily say that my experience was worth the time and money because I got to witness a lot of rare sights!

Boarding the Ship

I boarded the ship at 6am and was surprised to find out that it was ginormous with a total of 6 floors. I booked second class seats because they were cheaper but the first class tickets come with small beds you can nap in. The ship even had anime mascots and cosplay that you could wear and take pictures in! Not to mention you could buy a lot of food and alcohol from the vending machines and staffed stalls. The view of the ocean from the top was amazing too and I still remember the gentle summer breeze. After backpacking in Asia for 3 years I was really getting used to the no frills ferries, but this was maybe the most luxurious boat I have ever ridden in my life. Even 3 years later while writing this I still remember how amazing it was!

Riding the Washtubs from Tales of Symphonia

As a child I adored Tales of Symphonia, and specifically remember there being a washtub scene in the game. In this scene the characters heroically board washtubs at the pier and sail to their next destination, some characters enduring the ride better than others making it comedic. Little did I know that I would get to experience the same thing here on Sadoshima! Fortunately the washtubs here are extremely pleasant to ride and you have your own captain to steer for you. A true luxury that is unique to this island.

In the past these boats were extremely popular for fishing due to their durability and low cost, but now there are much more powerful tools available so only remote villages are keeping this tradition alive. In Ito, Shizuoka, the Matsukawa Washtub Races are sometimes held, but these washtubs are leaner and meant for sports. Sadoshima is the best place to experience them and fortunately you can reserve them on the same day you arrive to the island. The ride is only for around 15 minutes but you can choose to ride multiple times. I had a blast reliving a scene from one of my favorite games!

Here is a video I took on my old camera. Sadly this was before my GoPro days but I remember how fun this was:

Kinzan Gold Mine

According to Japan Guide, Sadoshima’s Kinzan Gold Mine was the most active gold mine in Japan that produced over 400kg of gold and also silver and other metals too. It has two main paths that you can walk down and read the history while you explore the inner tunnels. One path has tiny robotic workers that reenact some of the activities in the mine and another has restored tunnels from the Edo Period. There is a gift shop that sells all sorts of crazy gold souvenirs including gold sake and sponge cakes with specks of gold in the frosting. It looks kind of tacky now but at the time I really enjoyed these kinds of places! I still have a gold necklace that I occasionally wear out that I bought from Sadoshima. I’d say the gift shops here are pretty top notch and it is always fun to look around~

Toki Forest Park

The Toki, or Japanese Crested Ibis, is an endangered species that is kept under special watch at Sadoshima. At Toki Forest Park you can learn all about them and observe them from a safe distance. The park is very beautiful and contains various facilities. There is an outdoor area where you can take a stroll through the garden and may have the chance to meet the costumed Toki mascot. There is an indoor area where you can see different pictures of Toki and learn all about their characteristics. I personally loved the distinct red color around their eyes. Sadly the Toki are on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss and starvation during the winter, but the preservation center here is aiming to take care of them and eventually release them into the wild. There were 6 birds here when I visited in 2018 and I am hoping there are more now. I bought the Toki change purse as a souvenir and as a reminder to not forget them.

Overall my experience to Sadoshima was very vivid and I definitely recommend coming here during the summer in Niigata. One day on the island was enough for me to do everything that I wanted, but if I come with a friend or a group of people I may consider staying longer. I hope to visit Niigata next year for the sake festival!

Exploring the 7 Hell Hot Springs of Oita

Hell has never looked so tropical and enticing.

During Golden Week of 2017, I decided to fly from Tokyo to Oita Prefecture in Kyushu to see the mysterious Jigoku Onsen (which literally means Hell Hot Springs) in the town of Beppu. Though these onsen are steaming hot and jumping inside them would result in death, this area has many other ones that are safe to bathe in, so rest assured! There are also beautiful beaches, monkeys, and an animal safari that you can see here too. You can most of Beppu in three days which was the duration I stayed for, then I went to Fukuoka to see my friends. It is very easy to access other areas of Kyushu from Beppu by bus or train so you can combine it with trips to other prefectures.

At the time I traveled here I didn’t have a lot of money, so I booked a discount roundtrip Jetstar for around 15,000 yen and stayed at my favorite net cafe chain, Kaikatsu Club, so I could save money. In the end it paid off because I could see everything I wanted to in Beppu and now I have enough money to stay at nicer hotels around Japan!

Getting to know Beppu

As soon as the plane landed and I took the Airport Limousine to the city, I felt right at home here! Fortunately most of the attractions of Beppu are accessible by bus. Plus I loved seeing the smiling little wooden bucket mascot everywhere. I remember there randomly being a beer fest in the middle of the city since it was during Golden week, but since I was craving sugar I decided to get some strawberry pancakes at a cafe called Namiki no Machi Coffee. Later that night I was feeling social so I checked out an international bar called P.E.I. Pub and ended up coming back here every night. This place can serve nearly any kind of cocktail and I ended up becoming really good friends with the bartender, Richie. I really hope to come back to Oita some day and see what my friends here are up too. There is a huge international community of people in Beppu making it very welcoming and fun.

Exploring the Jigoku Onsen

The 7 Jigoku Onsen are very mysterious and it’s no wonder why people travel from all over Japan just to see them. The most prominent one is the red hell onsen because seeing red-colored water is extremely rare and it looks like a volcano. The mud bubble hell is also interesting to see because it swirls and looks like a gray whirlpool. There are various ones that are blue like the ocean but don’t be fooled—their temperature can rise up to over 100°C. One of the onsen even has crocodiles in it who look extremely content and relaxed. If I was a crocodile in Japan, I would definitely choose Oita as my home.

Touring the hells takes about 45 mins – 1 hour but can be done faster if you don’t read through all of the information. If you have time you should definitely try some of the onsen-steamed vegetables and Oita’s famous pudding! I definitely prefer steamed to boiled or fried because it’s healthier. There are also local hot springs that are safe to bathe in around here that you can easily reach.

Address: 559-1 Kannawa, Beppu, Oita 874-0000 (easily accessible by local bus)
Admission Fee: 400 per hell or 2000 yen for all hells*

*Please note there is usually a combined bus ticket and entrance deal. Check with the station or travel agency close to you in Beppu or Oita City.

Monkeys at Mt. Tsurumi

Another huge appeal of Oita are the monkeys at the park at Mt. Tsurumi called Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden. Compared to other monkey parks in Japan, the monkeys here are quite active and have a lot of space to run around in the forest that surrounds them. You can get quite close to them but as long as you avert your eyes they won’t attack. Mt. Tsurumi also has the largest ropeway in Kyushu and the view from the top is quite impressive. It feels very nostalgic writing about my early Kyushu adventures and I already want to book another trip here!

Address: 3098-1 Kanzaki, Oita, 870-0802 (easy to reach by local bus)
Admission Fee: 520 yen

Sand Baths at Shoningahama Beach

One of the most popular things to do in Oita is take a sand bath on the beach. The process is quite simple: you are given a rental yukata to wear while lying down and are gently buried in steaming sand. The appeal of this is the hot sand is said to improve your blood circulation and have healing properties. Also due to the weight and steam of the sand, the effectivity is greater than bathing in a natural hot spring. When you get up you will feel relaxed and extremely refreshed! I have only tried this once but it felt like being in the sauna for a long duration without all of the sweat. This will definitely relieve any muscle fatigue and make you feel brand new.

Shoningahama Beach is easily accessible from Beppudaigaku Station. The beach itself isn’t that impressive but the sandbaths sure are! You can also take a sand bath in other areas of Japan such as Ibusuki Island and Kagoshima. I would like to try it again in the future!

Address: Shoningahama Beppu
Cost: 1500 yen (Please note there is no online reservation form and it is first come first serve)

Other Points of Interest

I’ve named off the three major points of interest, but here are some other places you may want to check out if you have time:

  • African Safari
  • Umitamago Aquarium
  • Oita Art Museum
  • A trip to Kumamoto or Fukuoka
  • Beppu Onsen

I went to the African Safari which takes you on an exciting adventure in a jungle bus where you can feed exotic animals. Unfortunately I do not have that many pictures because my hands were full, but it was quite the thrill at the time. The main point of Oita is enjoying the hot springs and the beach!

One of my goals this summer is to revisit Kumamoto and take pictures of Mt. Aso. This was something that I tried to do in 2017 but unfortunately not all parts of the volcano were accessible. I look forward to challenging it again in the future!

Exploring Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios, Osaka

Luigi is here to save the day!

Last Friday I finally had the chance to explore Universal Studio’s Super Nintendo World in Osaka, Japan, and I can happily say that the experience was worth the trip! This area was recently added to the colossal amusement park back in March, but was temporarily closed shortly after it opened until June due to the extended emergency state. Last week I bought a ticket a week in advance using Universal Studios’s Japanese website (please note that the English website currently does not sell tickets) and was fortunately able to reserve a time slot using the area timed entry ticket machines inside of the park. Though at first this wasn’t high on my priority list, after seeing all of the amazing pictures from my friends I decided I needed to go. Running into Mario and Luigi and getting my photo taken with them is also an experience that I’ll never forget! The bright atmosphere of the park made me feel like I had been transported inside of a Nintendo cartridge and by the end of the day I definitely felt like a winner. ✰

Getting to USJ

Universal Studios is about 30 minutes outside of the city but it is extremely easy to reach if you ride the Osaka Loop Line to Universal-City Station. The ride is smooth and most trips will cost less than 300 yen. This was my 3rd time to USJ so Super Nintendo World was my priority but I was able to see Hogwarts and walk through the other worlds afterwards.

On the particular day that I chose to go it was raining on and off so fortunately the weather scared most of the crowds away. Although there were still some people there, I arrived at 11am and was able to enter Super Nintendo World at 12:20pm which was just over an hour after I arrived. I’ve heard that when the park is crowded there is a much longer wait, but fortunately there are many other places you can explore during that time! There is also an official app you can download to reserve eTickets for certain areas after you check in to the park, but due to low attendance they weren’t needed on the day I was there. Plus by 5pm everyone was able to access all areas and the wait time for most rides was less than 25 minutes, so it was truly a miracle. I also bought a Blooper poncho from the gift shop so I could stay dry!

Please note that you can buy tickets at the park, but it is recommended to reserve one online from the USJ web store so you have faster access. Tickets are 8200 yen with tax included.

Exploring Super Nintendo World

Once you are able to enter Super Nintendo World, you will immediately stumble upon an amazing photo opp with 3 pipes and the logo as the backdrop. I cosplayed Luigi specifically for this moment and nailed it. Afterwards you will walk through a giant green pipe that will lead you to this spectacular view:

If you look behind you, you’ll notice that you just exited the Mushroom Kingdom! And if you gaze over the balcony you can see Bowser’s Castle in the distance as well as a bunch of rideable Yoshi. I decided that my next mission was to ride a Yoshi and try some of the scrumptious themed food so that is exactly what I did. Fortunately I had more than enough time to try everything. Super Nintendo World only has two rides; Yoshi’s Adventure and Mario Kart which is connected to Bowser’s Castle, but you can easily spend 5 hours walking here and enjoying the little details. Be sure to keep your eye open for hidden Pikmin too!

Riding the Rides

The Yoshi’s Adventure ride was hands down my favorite because it was extremely relaxing and takes you through various familiar scenes of the series. Each time you ride you have the chance to ride a different colored Yoshi which is really fun. If you have the USJ app installed you can play various games and match colored eggs on the virtual maps for points but I decided to just enjoy the view. I enjoyed running into Captain Toad on my adventure too! I’ll never forget how fun this was, especially after still being buzzed from the night before at Socore Factory.

The Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge ride is more thrilling and uses VR headsets so you can throw shells at enemies using buttons connected to your seat. Much like the Hogwarts Castle in the Wizarding Word of Harry Potter, you walk through Bowser’s Castle first before you reach the main attraction. I loved seeing his giant statue and the framed picture of Princess Peach sitting on the throne. Bowser still hasn’t gotten over her, huh. Although you cannot accelerate the karts, enemy attacks and how many enemies you hit will control the movement and it truly does feel like you’re racing around a circuit. It’s really fun and addictive so you’ll probably want to ride these multiple times! On the day I went the average wait time was 25 mins so I really lucked out!

Meeting Mario and Luigi

At certain times of the day Mario and Luigi make special appearances at the plaza and you have the chance to take your photo with them. I’ve heard that at Tokyo Disney it often takes over 2 hours to meet your favorite character so I’ve never sought these opportunities out, but since the line was short I decided to go for it. It took around 20 mins of waiting but I got an amazing photo with them and Luigi even complimented me on my outfit! The costumes they were wearing looked extremely realistic and it was fun to talk to them too. They both speak completely in English even to Japanese attendees which was funny. Unfortunately you can’t take the photo on your own camera and have to purchase the professional photo set for 2500 yen. However, you get 2 different poses and both a physical and digital copy which is extremely high quality. I wouldn’t do this kind of thing all the time, but Super Nintendo World is the exception.

Dining at Kinopio’s Cafe

Since I was starving from all of the walking, I decided to get some food at the mushroom-shaped Kinopio Cafe. I had to wait around 45 minutes to get in, but eating the themed food is undoubtedly part of the experience. The menu has quite a lot of options—everything from burgers to spaghetti to dessert—but since I am pescatarian I decided to try Yoshi’s Favorite Salad, mushroom soup, and mushroom pizza bowl, and a mystery tiramisu box for dessert. All of it was very wholesome and filling. I especially liked the bread on the mushroom pizza bowl. There is also a cafe near the entrance of the park where you can buy hat-shaped no-bake cheesecakes so naturally I went for the Luigi one on my way out. That was probably my favorite dessert because it was so creamy! I’ve never eaten green crust on a cheesecake before but I am very glad that I tried it.

Souvenirs

There are Mario gift shops literally all over the park so you never have to worry about missing out. The “must purchase” item for me was the Luigi headband. As I mentioned before, there are also rain ponchos available as well. I bought the Blooper one which has handy because I plan to take it to outdoor raves in the future. I’m actually embracing the long rainy season this year so I have the chance to wear it again!

Final Thoughts

This trip and all of the money I spent (which was near 10,000 yen on food, souvenirs, and photos) was completely worth it. Seeing a video game series that I’ve loved since childhood brought to life is truly a priceless experience. Despite the rain I was able to ride all the rides to my heart’s content and also try the food that I wanted. I was super lucky to meet Mario and Luigi because I think if the rain was heavy then they wouldn’t have been able to appear. I will back at this moment with fond memories:

I am sure when the emergency state ends and borders open, the park will become much more crowded so having days like this will be rare. If you want to go just be sure to buy tickets in advance and have the USJ app installed just in case you need to reserve area tickets through it. I am sure that even with the crowds everyone will be able to enjoy it for what it is. Long live the year of Luigi!

If you have any questions about the park then please be sure to ask me in the comments! I’m not sure where I’m traveling next but more adventures are in the works~

Having a Tea Party at the Umineko Manor (Kyu-Furukawa Gardens)

Another destination that’s been on my bucket list for quite a while is the Kyu-Furukawa Gardens located in western Tokyo, and last month on one of my days off I finally had the chance to visit! These gardens are very famous for their Western meets Japanese design, and the guest house from Umineko no naku koro ni was actually inspired by the manor that acts a as a centerpiece here. You can walk through the interior of the manor and order tea for an extra cost which was extremely worth it. I really felt like I was Beatrice sitting outside on the balcony and gazing upon everyone that walked by!

If this is in Tokyo then you’re probably wondering why it took so long for me to go, but the gardens have been completely closed for over half a year due to the pandemic. From June 4st, 2021, Kyu-Furukawa Gardens have officially re-opened and now everyone can visit! They are limiting the number of visitors but you can reserve a ticket on e-tix for free. I reserved mine three days before and was able to enter without any problem.

Here is a real life to anime comparison of the Western-styled manor I took with my tripod (click to enlarge the images):

To my knowledge the rooms of the manor are occasionally rented out for meetings because I accidentally walked in on one while I was exploring the interior! But without a doubt the main draw is the rose garden outside of the manor and the traditional Japanese garden in the back. Both of these gardens have a lot of rare flowers and I even saw hydrangeas while they were in season. I can see why ryukishi07 chose this location as inspiration for his visual novel series because it is very beautiful and feels like it has an air of mystery to it.

Access

Kyu-Furukawa Gardens are easily accessible by taking the Yamanote Line to Komagome Station and walking 10 minutes. You can walk around the gardens in 1-2 hours depending on if you explore the inside of the manor or not.

Address: 1 Chome-27-39 Nishigahara, Kita City, Tokyo 114-0024

Garden Entrance Fee: 150 yen
Manor Entrance Fee: 400 yen
Tea Set Fee: 500 yen~