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~

Hiking through the Wonders of Kamikochi

Besides Yakushima, nothing else compares to the pure colors of this scenery!

Kamikochi, located in the mountains of Nagano with a clear river and perfect view of the Japanese Alps, is one of the most beautiful hiking destinations in Japan and this year I finally made it there! After spending a day seeing Narai and staying at a lodge in Nagano, I drove with my friends to the national park area and we started our trek just before 10am. You can hike the entirety of Kamikochi in about 6 hours and see the forest, bridge, and shrine by the river. The most beautiful part is seeing the reflection of the mountains in the crystal clear water. If you’re lucky you may even run into some monkeys on the way back like we did! Besides my trip to Yakushima, the island that inspired Princess Mononoke, no other view in Japan really compares. Against all forecasts we encountered perfect weather which truly was a miracle. I am writing this article in hopes that other people will make it out here too!

Kamikochi painted by an unknown artist on the day of my trip.

Getting to Kamikochi

You can get to Kamikochi by taking the shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano Station and then taking a bus. I would recommend staying more than one day and seeing the monkey onsen in Nagano too. There are also multiple express buses that go from Shinjuku to Kamikochi but some have been suspended due to the pandemic. We decided to drive to the parking lot outside of Kamikochi and take a taxi because only chartered buses and taxis are allowed inside of the park. I would budget around 30,000 yen for this trip.

The official opening period is from April 17 – November 15 because in winter this area is usually covered with snow. The weather was absolutely perfect for hiking when we arrived in June, so I would recommend going then! All I brought with me is my dress, hiking jacket and shoes, my backpack, and some water so you really don’t need to bring that much. After walking about 3km you will reach the main area with the bridge where there are many shops and restaurants so you can buy food and water as needed. There are a number of hotels you can stay at inside of the park, but they are super expensive so I would just recommend spending the day here and finding a place closer to Nagano Station to stay.

Starting the Hike

Once getting off the bus, the hike through the forest officially starts and you can see the peaks of the Alps right from the beginning. The guideposts are pretty straightforward in showing where things are located. The path to the famous Kappa Bridge is the one I recommend following because you can see almost all of the main points of interest on the way. The distance to the bridge is around 3km and is on even ground so you can relax and go at your own pace. All of the hikers we passed by were friendly and I was happy to see that the park was so clean!

Exploring Kappa Bridge and Nearby Restaurants

After about an hour we reached the main area of Kamikochi where the famous Kappa Bridge is at. If you look at photos of Kamikochi, you will see this giant wooden suspension bridge featured quite a lot! The water is very clear and nice to dip your feet it. There are various restaurants, souvenir shops, and bathrooms around so you can walk around and relax. The best thing to do here is honestly just enjoy the view. The Alps look beautiful from all angles of the park and this is your chance to see them during the best season!

Kamikochi Food

One of the most famous foods of Kamikochi is soba, so I decided to try it at a restaurant on the right side of the bridge. It was a very hearty meal that contained a variety of fresh mushrooms so I enjoyed it. You can easily find ramen and curry around here too. I also tried a steamed bun full of vegetables since I’m vegetarian but they sell them with meat and other flavors as well. Basically everything I ate was great for hiking so you really can’t go wrong with what you eat in this area!

Myojin Pond and Shrine

After resting and walking around the bridge for an hour, we decided to go deeper into the forest and see Myojin Shrine. This is another 3km from the bridge area but it intersects with paths that go back to the entrance so it really isn’t that far away. The scenery makes it worth the extra miles. To our surprise, Myojin Shrine was not a building but a single torii on a dock by the lake with a donation box. Though we have traveled all over Japan, this was one of the most unique shrines that we had ever seen and we highly recommend it to other travelers!

Also, Myojin Pond is so clear you can see the reflection of the mountains in it. Here are two photos I captured during my hike:

Admission Fee: 300 yen

Hiking Back and Meeting the Monkey Pack

After seeing all of the major points of interest and feeling happy with our experience, we started to hike back through the forest when we heard a screeching sound and a monkey mom and her baby dropped from a nearby tree! It was quite the surprise but these monkeys were friendly and just passing by. Signs in parks always warn you not to make eye contact with monkeys because they take it as a form of aggression, but fortunately we did not get mugged by these guys. They probably chose the same trail as us because it was shaded and near their food source. Very keen!

Final Thoughts

Overall I was very satisfied with my trip to Kamikochi because I got to see entirety of it including the monkeys! The biggest challenge is the timing with the weather but fortunately we lucked out. I would recommend staying in Nagano for multiple days like we did so you can choose the best day for Kamikochi. No matter where you go you’ll surely appreciate the view of the mountains.

So far my top 3 hiking destinations in Japan are:

  1. Yakushima
  2. Kamikochi
  3. Mt. Fuji

Though I’ve already been to a lot of places, I hope to do more hiking like this in the future! Although, I am taking a break from hiking recently and am focusing on music events. I just went to a rave in Hinode this weekend and my next trip will be to Osaka for a tofubeats show. If I have time, I will finally make it to the Super Mario World exhibit in Universal Studios too! Please stayed tuned for more of my adventures!

Exploring Narai in Kiso Valley

A rainy yet beautiful day in the mountain town of Narai.

A place that’s been on my bucket list for quite a while is Kamikochi, a beautiful hiking area nestled in the valleys of Nagano, and this year I finally had the chance to go! I was actually planning to go last year, but the main camping area was attacked by a wild bear that tore a tent to shreds and stole a camper’s curry, so unfortunately my trip was cancelled. Fortunately this year they had the bears under control and no other attacks have been reported. However, this year we encountered wild monkeys during our hike but they were extremely friendly!

I will be covering my trip to Kamikochi in two separate posts since this trip lasted two full days. On the first day I rode from Tokyo to Enzan Station to meet my friends in Yamanashi which was on the way. From there we drove to Narai in Nagano by car which was roughly two hours away. This was an extremely smart move since the weather was rainy the first day but sunny for our hiking trip on the second day.

Narai is reachable by both car and the Chuo Line making it cheaper than taking the shinkansen. If you have the chance you should definitely check this town out because it has a lot of history and delicious food!

Getting to Know Narai

After parking or getting off at the station, all of the main strip of Narai can be explored by foot. The very first thing that I noticed was the Narai Kiso Bridge that will take you over to the shops and restaurants. In the Meiji Period, Narai was a famous post town and you can see why by how easy it is to get around here. The town is extremely condensed and features a lot of antique wooden buildings and cafes that you can explore. There are small art museums, soba and teishoku restaurants, as well as a stone path that will take you to Joryuji, a temple with a painting of a dragon inside. This was actually my favorite part of the town because I wasn’t expecting to see such a beautiful mural! Narai can be explored in about 1 hour and is the perfect place to stretch your legs before making it to other destinations in Nagano.

Shirahone Onsen

Before heading to our ryokan, we decided to stop by Shirahone Onsen which is a natural sulfur hot spring located in the mountains. It’s about a 45 minute drive from Narai but was completely worth the trip! For the entire day the weather was chilly and raining, but a soak in the onsen definitely put us back in high spirits. This is probably the best onsen I’ve been to in Nagano besides the fancy resort I stayed at in January. I just appreciated how simple but highly effective it was. Natural hot springs definitely have a healing property!

Address: Azumi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-1515
Admission Fee: 520 yen (the baths are gender segregated)

Narai Food

Since Narai is located near the river, ayu (sweet fish) are one of the most popular meals here! When I first moved to Japan, I honestly didn’t know what to think of freshwater fish but recently they have really grown on me. For lunch I had a teishoku set which included ayu, miso, tofu, and rice in the town we visited earlier. The meal was simple but I couldn’t believe how amazing it was! For dinner we drove to a restaurant called Mominoki where I had vegetables with miso, another grilled ayu, and some delicious caramel and azuki ice cream topped with jelly cubes. I mentioned this in my last Nagano article, but the people here have the longest life span in Japan and you can easily see why. This prefecture is filled with onsen and beautiful nature and has wonderful food too! There are a lot of options for both meat lovers and vegetarians too.

Lodge Fumoto

After a full day of hiking, food, and hot springs, we decided to spend the night at Lodge Fumoto. Unbeknownst to us, we were the only 3 people staying that weekend so it was the ultimate party! The reason for that is a lot of buses to Kamikochi have reduced service due to the pandemic and you really need a car to get around. The hotel, or “lodge” is really no frills and has limited amenities but it has amazing hot springs. There is a shared indoor bath and a private outdoor one you can freely reserve. You can tell by the sulfur debris that sticks to the wood that these hot springs are legit and the surrounding outdoor scenery is absolutely breathtaking. I had an amazing stay here and am happy that we didn’t go camping so we could avoid the rain. The rooms here are around 6000 yen which is average for most ryokan too.

Thank you for reading the first part of my summer Nagano adventure! In my next article I will be writing about how we hiked through the entirety of Kamikochi and met the monkeys. Now is a really good time to travel here because there are far less people than usual!

Aesthetic Dining Experiences in Kyoto, Japan Vol. 2

Entering the alternate noodle dimension at Vegan Ramen UZU.

Whenever I travel to a new place, I like trying a combination of the local cuisine and the craziest places that I can find.  In Vol. 1 of my Aesthetic Dining Experiences series, I wrote about unique variations of Kyoto ramen, my top picks of vegan food, and matcha sweets (which includes green tea-flavored ice cream, parfaits, and more).  Fortunately I have discovered even more extradorinaiy restaurants and cafes since since I last published that article!

Here is a list I have compiled of the most unique dining experiences I have had in Kyoto recently, as well as my custom Totoro birthday cake from last year!

Patisserie Lulu

The most original dining experience I have ever had in Kyoto was hands down at Patisserie Lulu on my birthday in October last year. Since this was one of the rare months that Japan was in-between emergency states, domestic travel and alcohol was allowed so I brought my party to Kyoto and it was a smashing success. Patisserie Lulu is famous for its custom cakes with anime characters and I decided to request a pink Totoro rose theme since I love Ghibli and heaps of frosting. The cake turned out better than I could have ever imagined because it was light and fluffy but had a lot of icing. You can request these cakes using their online form and they will give you a price quote for your design. I had originally found them on Instagram and they had a lot of beautiful designs in their gallery.

Here is my cake featured on their official Instagram account:

The caption is hilarious because it says “A Totoro and rose [design] for a foreigner who came to Japan on her birthday.” As if I haven’t have lived here for over 5 years and flew to Japan during a pandemic just to order this cake. I absolutely love it and would easily give it 5 stars. It’s going to be hard to come up with a design that tops this for next year!

Address: 27-10 Uzumasa Goshonouchicho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8157

Cafe attmos.

If you’re looking for super thicc pieces of toast with beautifully crafted toppings, then look no further. Cafe attmos. or “Big Bread Experience” as my friend calls it is a lovely cafe that specializes in large portions of dessert toast with fruit, ice cream, and cream. There is a menu with seasonal food and drinks and I decided to order the apple toast because the shavings were cut to resemble a rose. Believe it or not, this is what I had for breakfast on my birthday before the Totoro cake and I can’t recommend it enough. My friends ordered the other pieces on the menu so I could take photos of them which was very sweet. I look forward to seeing the future designs they come up with because this was the fanciest toast I have ever eaten in my life!

Address: 490 Shimoumacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0873

Vegan Ramen UZU

One of my Kyoto friends on Twitter recommended me Vegan Ramen UZU because it is vegetarian friendly and the food does not contain as many preservatives as regular ramen does. Usually I prefer soba because it is the healthiest form of noodle and goes great paired with wasabi, but every so often I’ll get a craving for a bowl ramen. The dining experience here was truly like no other ramen restaurant because the lights were dimmed and swirling projections were displayed on the wall making it feel like we had entered another dimension. Being here was very relaxing and my vegan tomato ramen was delicious! I also ordered some vegan gyoza to split with my friend and was amazed by the quality. Kyoto actually has a lot of vegan options due to the amount of monks that are around here, but this is definitely the best vegan ramen in town. Yet another delicious birthday dinner for the books!

Address: 146 Umenokicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-0905

Trentanove

Yet another amazing cafe recommendation I got in my Instagram algorithms was pasta stuffed into a melon. I kid you not, fruit pasta is actually becoming a popular trend in Japan. I loved the little pieces of melon and the flowers they used to decorate it. At first glance it looks like an ice cream dessert but as soon as you stick your fork into it you get noodles. If this isn’t aesthetic food, then I don’t know what is! If you want to try some of the most unique pasta in Japan, make a reservation at Trentanove so they can prepare this exquisite melon for you. The unlikely combinations of taste might take some getting used to but you can easily separate the pasta and the fruit so you can eat them separately. This is definitely a challenge for the brave but I enjoyed it.

Address: 602-0855 Kyoto, Kamigyo Ward, Kamiikesucho, 200

cafe cherish

For those of you that adore vintage cafes with mermaid themed drinks, cafe cherish is the perfect place for you! I enjoyed seeing all of the antiques in here including the fake bird in the bird cage and the sofa chair that looked like it had came from my grandma’s basement. It has an extremely western theme which is why it felt nostalgic for me. I ordered the strawberry milk with whipped cream and chocolate butterfly as well as the mermaid soda. In addition to drinks they also have waffles, salads, and small lunch items like risotto and pizza on the menu. The atmosphere is very unique so I am sure that you will “cherish” your time here!

Address: 4-6 Tojijicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-0956

Usagi no Nedoko

Have you ever dreamed of eating Final Fantasy crystals? Well now you can. After you’ve killed chaos, hop on over to Usagi no Nedoko to get your Aetheryte fix. This is the most aesthetic parfait that I’ve ever eaten in my life and that’s really saying a lot. The crystals have a gummy texture but the flavor isn’t overly overpowering. They look almost like real crystals under the lights. Additionally the blueberries and ice cream they used were very light on the stomach which I appreciated because I had many other dining plans this day. Overall I give this place a 10/10 because they nailed the Final Fantasy aesthetic but aren’t even affiliated with Square Enix. They also sell crystal jewelry here so they are very authentic.

Address: 604-8432 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Nishinokyo Minamiharamachi, 37

Mushroom Stuffed Bread

On my way back to Tokyo last week I noticed an ordinary bread store right outside of the shinkansen gate. I don’t know what prompted me to go inside, but I guess I was just trying to kill time before the next train and see if they had anything that piqued my taste buds. All of the bread looked pretty standard to me until I noticed one that was shaped like a mushroom. It had little powdered circles on the top to make it look authentic so immediately I wanted to try it. After biting into it I was surprised to find there was some mushroom cream inside of the stem that tasted amazing! The taste reminded me of how truly delicious bread really is and I should go to bakeries more often.

Address: Kyoto Station (before the shinkansen gate)

I cannot remember the name of this bread shop but the next time I go to Kyoto I will take note of it.

Thank you for reading the the 2nd Volume of my Aesthetic Dining in Kyoto Series! If you have any suggestions, please feel to leave them in the comments. I always have my eye on new cafes and restaurants and am sure that there will be plenty more entries in the future~

Exploring a Kyoto with no People

A sunny day in the deserted Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.

Due to the nature of my job, I sometimes spontaneously find myself with consecutive days off so I try to take advantage of it by going on as many trips as possible. Since I had some web design clients to see in Nagoya, I decided to stop there first then make my way to Kyoto on a Tuesday morning so I could experience it with minimal tourism—the complete opposite of my cherry blossom trip in March! Though I thoroughly enjoyed my last trip to Kyoto because I was able to see the full moon with fully blooming sakura, this time I was able to see Arashiyama’s iconic bamboo forest more deserted than I had ever seen it before as well as hike to Daihikaku. If you want to travel throughout Kyoto without the interruption of tourists, then now is definitely the time! During my two day trip I spent a lot of time reflecting on myself and my recent projects which was very beneficial to developing my future goals for this year. I also managed to go to some nice cafes I didn’t have the chance to visit last time and snag a Miffy omelette sandwich from the Sakura Kitchen! Even though I’ve been to Arashiyama over 5 times, this view still amazes me:

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest Path

The path to Arashiyama’s bamboo forest is usually always bustling with tourists, food vendors, and rickshaw drivers desperately trying to get your business, but last Tuesday it was practically vacant. I passed by a few old Japanese people on their way to the onsen, but the normally crowded paths were empty and I was able to capture some amazing photos with the sun peaking out of the bamboo stalks. The dream Japan aesthetic.

Witnessing emptiness of Arashiyama made me feel both lucky and melancholy. Seeing it in this state is a rare opportunity indeed, but it also felt like a ghost town. I hurt for all of the small businesses struck by the effects of the pandemic. Fortunately my favorite clubs, bars, and venues have all been saved by online fundraisers but I worry for the lesser known places that heavily rely on tourism. I hope my small contribution of buying food from local restaurants and writing about them can help in some way!

Another place I love walking through is the Kimono Forest near Saga Arashiyama Station! I remember the first time I saw it I was completely amazed. The colorful patterns and artistic water fountain really stand out and are extremely inspiring to me. Sadly I didn’t have time to rent a kimono this time, but I hope to rent one and do a photo shoot during my next trip here!

Cafe Style Resort Saganoyu: The Onsen Cafe

One of my coworkers posted about a lovely cafe in Arashiyama that had the same interior decor that you would find at a local hot spring, so I just had to go and see it for myself! Saganoyu is not only famous for its one of a kind onsen decor, but also for its pasta dishes and pancakes. I decided to order the trademark pancakes with the onsen insignia because that was the most aesthetic dish on the menu. The pancakes were served up American style with less fluffiness and more substance which I liked. Sometimes the souffle-styled pancakes just have too much air in them but these were extremely filling. While I waited for my order I decided to walk around the cafe and admire all of the detail that was put into it. I loved the mirrors and little shower heads attached to the wall as well as the vintage shoe locker! They also had some really good chocolates that look like gold pieces of soap. Definitely come here if you are looking for a fun and creative atmosphere!

Address: 4-3 Sagatenryuji Imahoricho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8366

Hiking to Daihikaku

During my first ever trip to Arashiyama nearly 5 years ago, I hiked to the spot with cherry blossoms and noticed a mysterious hut with bright awnings standing out across the river. At first I thought it was perhaps someone’s house as people own property in the mountains here, but during my last trip I Googled it and found out it was a temple called Daihikaku. Last week I finally made the 20 minute trek up the mountain to see it in person for myself and I can happily say that the view was worth it. From the windows you can see the Oi River and the beautiful mountains that surround Kyoto. Being up close to the colorful flags flapping in the wind felt surreal because I had previously only seen them from the opposite side. The temple also is unmanned giving it a feeling of solitude. I can proudly say I have hiked up both sides of Arashiyama now!

What makes this temple even more meme-worthy is that it has its own official manga you can read on your way up. The page I zoomed into almost completely sums up my initial experience here.

The expression of the girl who turns around and notices the mysterious temple peaking out of the forest was exactly the same as mine when I first traveled to Arashiyama many years ago. Even now sometimes it’s sometimes easy to forget that this temple exists, but when I remember it I always feel happy. ☺️

If you have the time and energy, consider seeing Daihikaku from both sides of the river because the views are unique and change based on the season. The fall is usually the best time of year to go because you can see the bright red leaves contrast against the river.

Address: 62 Arashiyama Nakaoshitacho, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-0004
Entrance Fee: 400 yen

Accommodation

Every time I go to Kyoto, I like to try a new city hotel by the Kawaramachi River so I can drink by it at night and gaze at the stars. This time I stayed at Hotel Resol Trinity, which is an upgrade of the hotel that I stayed at on my birthday because it has its own public onsen and nicer rooms. Since I came randomly on a weekday I only paid 4300 yen for my “Hollywood” style room. I slept here for almost 10 hours because I was exhausted from hiking and work so I would give it a 10/10 for its comfort. You can definitely find cheaper options but this is first class for the discounted price.

Address: 604-0943 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Kamihakusancho, 249

2 flower parks not to miss out on in Japan

Before setting off on my Okinawan adventures, I visited two famous flower parks in late Spring: Hitachi Seaside Park & Hitsujiyama Park. Hitachi Seaside Park is located in Ibaraki and is known for its beautiful blue nemophila that match the color of the ocean and sky. Hitsujiyama Park is known for its pink moss field and is also the real life location of the Anohana anime! If you are in Japan for an extended period of time then I really recommend checking out both places. They will blow you away with their beauty and also introduce you to more rural prefectures that surround Tokyo. Though the pandemic has eliminated my international travel, I was fortunately able to travel safely to a lot of places domestically.

Hitachi Seaside Park

Hitachi Seaside Park faces the Pacific Ocean in Ibaraki Prefecture and is very famous for its blue nemophila that bloom every Spring. These flowers look like they have a star shape when you see them up close and I was amazed by how well they matched the sky and ocean! There is a winding trail that you can climb up to the top to see a grand view of the entire park. From there you can see a ferris wheel and ships setting sail from the harbor so this is truly is an experience that you can’t get in the city. They even have blueberry nemophila yogurt smoothies for sale which I thoroughly enjoyed because they cured my hangover from the night before. Besides the nemophila area, there are other large gardens with seasonal flowers such as tulips, poppies, roses, and sunflowers. There are also illuminations depending on the time to the year.

Best time to visit: April for the blue nemophila

Address: 312-0012 Ibaraki, Hitachinaka, Mawatari, 字大沼605-4

From Ueno Station, I took the Hitachi and Tokiwa Limited Express to Katsura Station, the called a taxi there. You can also take a local bus that goes directly there. The trip takes about 2 hours and 40 mins and costs around 5000 yen one way. It is a bit far for a day trip but I had an amazing time seeing the ocean and all of the local scenery.

Hitsujiyama Park & Jorin-ji Temple

If you have ever watched the anime Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, then you may recognize Hitsujiyama Park for its distinctive pink flora! Though this park is smaller than Hitachi, in my opinion it is just as lovely. The beautiful rows of pink and white mosses will surely make your heart soar and there is a beautiful mountain with unique architecture off in the distance. Additionally, you can visit the Jorin-ji Temple that has custom Anohana ema with all of the main cast! I bought the adorable Menma one as a souvenir so I would always remember this day.

Best time to visit: Late April / Early May for the pinkest flowers

Park Address: 6360 Omiya, Chichibu, Saitama 368-0023ka, Mawatari, 字大沼605-4

From Ikebukuro Station, you can take the Seibu Ikebukuro Line Limited Express directly to Seibu-Chichibu Station and walk 17 minutes to the park. This takes about an hour and a half and costs 1500 yen.

Shrine Address: 21-3 SakuragIcho, Chichibu 368-0025 Saitama Prefecture

Conveniently the shrine is located very close to the park! I took a 10 min taxi ride there.

Whatever your taste is, you can surely find a flower park in Japan that suits it! In my next article I will be writing about my recent trip to the mansion from Umineko, so please look forward to it~