Camping during the Autumn Leaves Festival in Yamanashi

A gradient of beautiful foliage surrounds Minami Inagi Lake in Yamanashi.

After returning to Japan from the Philippines, I decided to go camping in a cabin in the woods with my friends in Yamanashi so I could see the vivid red leaves that this prefecture is famous for. The Red Leaves Festival of Yamanashi is typically held mid-October to late November each year and there are food stalls in some of the central areas that serve warm dishes. Yamanashi is a great place for an Autumn getaway because in some locations you can see a clear view of Mt. Fuji with the changing foliage as a beautiful decoration. I have been to Yamanashi at least two times, but I was happy to visit some lakes and parks I had never seen before during this trip. This was the first time I had been camping in this area, and although it was cold I really enjoyed it!

For information on how to get to Yamanashi from Tokyo, please read my previous Yamanashi article series. For this trip we drove around to the following locations because they were really spread out.

Hiking around Minami Inagi Lake

The first destination on our list was Minami Inagi Lake because it is a beautiful forested area with many trees, a huge lake, and small hiking paths. I loved seeing the natural contrast of green and red leaves as I was doing photography. There are also swans that frequently swim around the lake. Fortunately we came at a time when we were lucky enough to see one! This is by far one of the best lakes to enjoy the Autumn leaves in Yamanashi so I would recommend coming here during this season for the prettiest scenery. Even though this is one of the most popular times to visit, there were still not too many tourists around so it was a peaceful visit.

Address: 1760, Kami-Ichinose, Minami Alps, Yamanashi Prefecture, 400-0317

Seeing Mt. Fuji at Chureito Pagoda

Our second stop was Chureito Pagoda where you could see a great view of Mt. Fuji peaking through the red leaves. Fortunately my friends who used to live in Yamanashi knew the perfect angles to get the best photos of the mountain! Though this pagoda is small, the view makes it worth coming to thisarea. We only spent around 20 minutes here but that was enough to enjoy it. The entrance fee is free so you have no reason not to check it out!

For more pictures of the pagoda during daylight, please check my previous Yamanashi article! Sakura season is a popular time of year to visit too!

Address: 2-chome-4-1 Asama, Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi 403-0011

Kubota Itchiku Museum

Kubota Itchiku Museum has a beautiful outdoor area with Japanese gardens and stone architecture, and an alluring indoor area with tea rooms and silk dyed kimonos on display. This is a place that I missed on my first two trips to Yamanashi so I’m so happy I had the chance to visit. The main building exterior is made out of Okinawan coral and limestone, while the inside is made out of timber wood giving it an architectural design completely unique to itself. I loved taking pictures of the stone gates outdoors and seeing the beautiful patterns of the kimonos. Unfortunately photography of the kimonos was not allowed, but if you visit the museum and look closely, you can see images of Mt. Fuji and various Japanese landscapes which are beautiful. We tried gold wagashi at the tea room and it was the perfect way to end our visit here.

Address: 2255 Kawaguchi, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi 401-0304
Entrance Fee: 1300 yen

Red Leaf Illumination

Conveniently located walking distance from the Kubota Itchiku Museum was the location of the 2022 Red Leaf Festival that has lovely illuminations at night. I enjoyed seeing how the bright lights caught the colors of the leaves. The lanterns that lined the walkways were also a nice touch. Though this illumination was much smaller than the Kyoto Autumn Illuminations I saw previously, I liked how natural it looked Yamanashi isn’t nearly as crowded as Kyoto during this time of year which was truly relaxing. If you come to this festival then before to check out the food stalls scattered throughout the park.

Accommodation

After a full day of sightseeing, we retreated to our cabin by the lake in Saiko Kohan Campsite. The major advantage of staying here was that they gave us a discount for being vaccinated three times, so the cabin only cost 3000 per person for the three of us. The downside was they were sold out of cabins with heaters, so we had to huddle by the campfire and pile on blankets to stay warm at night. However, you can rent blankets and pillows from the front desk so you don’t need to worry about bringing extra camping equipment. Though it was cold, we survived by making s’mores and drinking wine so we would be less cold. I would recommend booking a cabin with a heater far in advance for the best experience. You can also book cabins with air conditioners in the summer too.

Address: 207-7 Saiko, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi 401-0332

Food Recommendations

Though more remote than other areas, Yamanashi never has a shortage of delicious food. On the first day, we stopped at Tree – Anthony’s Kitchen for some satisfying brunch. I ordered an open sandwich with Greek yogurt, mushroom, and eggs on top with a glass of house wine to go with it. I really liked all of the protein they packed into this meal because I needed it for energy!

For dinner we stopped at Shaw’s Sushi Bar and I ordered a vegetarian sushi set that featured a lot of avocado. Avocado sushi is one of my all time favorites and I was so happy that I could order it here, as it’s much more popular in western countries than Japan. I also ordered Junmai sake which made the perfect pairing for this sushi. You really can’t go wrong with any restaurant here!

The next day we stopped for breakfast and coffee at Cisco Coffee that serves up dishes inspired by San Francisco restaurants. The caramel latte was out of this world because it it was topped with a heaping amount of whipped cream, and the egg breakfast sandwhich I had was also very fulfilling. This place also has chicken and waffles if that’s your thing. They really nailed all of the western dishes here!

Before heading back to Tokyo, we stopped at another restaurant called Alpaca Mix that had a lot of Hawaiian themed dishes and Japanese ones too. I ordered a cheese bagel that came with fries and a sweet potato smoothie. My only complaint was that they didn’t blend the ice in the smoothie, otherwise the taste was perfect! My friends ordered omelet rice and garlic shrimp which they both enjoyed. I really liked all of the alpaca themed merchandise here and am very happy that I had the chance to visit.

Thank you for reading my Yamanashi camping article! Next week I will be flying to Bali, so I will be starting another tropical article series soon! Thank you so much for your support.

Chasing Sunsets in Puerto Princesa and El Nido

A timeless sunset at Nactan Beach in El Nido, Palawan.

After spending a lovely four days at the Philippines’s #1 party destination, Boracay Island, I took a plane to to Palawan Island, which was the final destination on my itinerary before heading back to Tokyo. I decided to stay one night in Puerto Princesa and two nights in El Nido so I could explore some of the best beaches on the island. I expected Palawan to be somewhat similar to Boracay with a vibrant part atmosphere, but it is actually much more remote and private. There is a lot of farmland and lagoons in this area making it an interesting place to see. There are some good parties around the Nactan area at night, but during the day it’s quite peaceful. Nactan Beach was my favorite beach to go swimming at because the water was so crystal clear. Getting there is a bit of a journey, but you won’t regret seeing the beautiful sunsets there every night. Not to mention the happy hour specials on the beach are amazing!

Getting to Puerto Princesa & El Nido

From Boracay’s Godofredo Airport, I took a plane to Puerto Princesa Airport which had a short layover in Manila. The one-way flight was about $80 through Air Asia which was fair for the distance.

Getting from Puerto Princesa to El Nido is a bit of a long haul because it takes 5-6 hours by bus or van. I booked a van through 12goAsia for around $12. Fortunately there are a few rest stops and the van is air conditioned so it wasn’t a bad ride at all. Please note that El Nido has an airport too, but it is currently not possible to fly there from Puerto Princesa—everyone in Palawan travels there by bus. However, it is possible to fly to El Nido from other islands in the Philippines so that’s something to keep in mine while planning your itineraray.

I recommend spending at least 4-6 days in Palawan if you want to see both Puerto Princesa and El Nido. If you are short on cash or aren’t up for the long ride between the two, then I recommend choosing the one you like the most. El Nido was my favorite because it had better beaches and parties, but I’m happy that I had the chance to see both!

Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour in Puerto Princesa

I booked a Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour through KKday so I could see some of the loveliest beaches in Puerto Princesa. This group tour was around $30 and included lunch so it was a great deal. The island hopping tour explored 3 islands in Honda Bay which were all about 30-45 minutes away from one another, so it was an easier journey than to my favorite diving spots in Cebu. I would recommend this tour because it is cheap and my guide was super friendly. You get roughly 45 minutes – 1 hour at each beach so you can relax and fully explore them. These islands are quite tiny but have a lot of interesting characteristics.

Please note that the lifeguards are strict about where you swim in Palawan, so there are designated swimming areas on each island. This did not bother me because I was able to cover a lot of ground on each island even with the limitations in place.

Honda Bay’s Starfish Island

Seeing Starfish Island was actually my #1 reason for coming to Puerto Princesa. I’ve been to a lot of tropical countries in Asia, but have never seen so many starfish in the wild before! The tides on this island are usually pretty low so they are easy to spot both on the beach and in the water. Snorkeling equipment was provided on this tour, so I used my GoPro to swim underwater and take their photographs while having the time of my life. These starfish are known as Protoreaster nodosus, but are nicknamed chocolate chip starfish due to pointed projections on their bodies that resemble chocolate chips. I will forever treasure my memory with the chocolate chip starfish on Honda Bay!

Luili Island

Our next stop was Luili Island, which is another small island with beautiful waters and many tropical fish. The swimming area here was deeper than the shallow waters of Starfish Island, so I enjoyed wading in it and seeing all of the aquatic wildlife beneath the sea. One funny thing I noticed here was a starfish with four legs. At first I was a bit concerned for it, but I later I learned that starfish have the ability to grow their limbs back. I sure wish I could do that too! After swimming for a bit, I relaxed in a hammock before we went to our final destination: Cowrie Island.

Cowrie Island

Cowrie Island was the biggest of the three islands that we explored and had the largest swimming area of them all. This island also has a mini bar that serves frozen cocktails and shakes, so I immediately ordered a Long Island. By this time I was pretty exhausted from swimming, but I did go in the water for a little bit to feed the fish some bread I had bought for them. Watching them scramble to eat it was a fun experience. After the tour was over, I had the tour van drop me off at the bus terminal so I could catch my night bus to El Nido. I recommend buying some drinks for the ride because it’ll make the trip much easier.

Living it up on Nacpan Beach

I arrived to Nacpan Beach around 11pm and checked into my accommodation so I could drop off my things. As I was walking around the beach area at night, I heard dance music blaring down the street so I decided to go check it out. Turns out there is a free dance party in El Nido every Saturday where the locals gather and share drinks with one another. I was invited by a friendly group of Filippinos to join their table so I did and had a fun time talking with them. They even gave me free drinks which was too kind of them. The music the DJ played was a mixture of Filippino songs and western dance music. I heard Eminem at one point and cracked up. One Filippino girl invited me to dance with her and ended up introducing me to her entire family. I really think Palawan has some of the nicest people!

The next day I spent nearly all day swimming on Nactan Beach. This ended up being my favorite beach in the Philippines because it was such a pretty shade of blue and very fun to swim in. In the evening I partook in the happy hour specials and watched the sunset with one of my local friends who rode up to see me off. I was only in El Nido for two nights, but between the dance party and the beach I feel like I got the chance to experience a lot.

Recommended Food & Drink

Since Nacpan Beach is so remote, there are limited restaurants but almost all of the resorts have places you can eat. Since my hotel didn’t include breakfast, I had some cheap toast and eggs at Mad Monkey Hostel which was a good deal. I also had vegan goulash and buy one get one free banana daquiris at Sunmai Sunset Restaurant which was the best meal I had in El Nido. The tropical cocktail I had in an owl-shaped glass was also refreshing. I was impressed with the variety of drinks they had here. On my final day, I had cookies and cream ice cream from a stand located next to Sunmai Sunset. I really wish I could have tried every restaurant on the beach because everything I ate on this trip was satisfying.

Accommodation

While in El Nido, I rented a green cottage at Valine Grace Cottages which is a place that I’ve been looking forward to staying at since I first planned my trip to the Philippines in 2020. Prices start at $25 per night which is extremely affordable. The perks of staying here is it’s right on the beach and very quiet. I was actually the only person staying here and I couldn’t believe that I had the entire place to myself! The downside is there is no wi-fi here and sometimes the roosters and wild dogs barking will wake you up in the morning. However, you can ask for free wi-fi from the Mad Monkey Hostel around the corner from this place so don’t worry.

Final Thoughts

Overall two weeks was the perfect amount of time to explore four islands in the Philippines. I really covered a lot of ground on this trip and am proud of myself for accomplishing it. The weather in November was mostly sunny with minimal rain so it was the perfect time to come. The food was inexpensive and delicious, and I was happy to see there were so many vegan options around. My biggest regret was not seeing the lagoons in El Nido due to the distance from where I was staying. If I come to the Philippines again, I definitely want to see the lagoons and the Coron area because they have beautiful waters. I also wish to explore more culture festivals and music events so I can make more local friends. I am grateful for all of the Filippino friends I made because they showed me amazing hospitality and I will not forget their kindness.

Overall, the Philippines is a great destination if you enjoy warm weather and being on the beach! If you are unsure if you’ll like it, then I recommend traveling to Phuket in Thailand first to see what you think. Thailand has more sightseeing than the Philippines so it is a great place to start if you’re new to Asia.

Thank you for reading the final article in my Philippines article series! This two week trip was a blast and I hope to continue traveling like this so long as I can. My next article will be about going to an Autumn festival in Japan. Please look forward to it!

Finding Paradise on Boracay Island

After spending a relaxing weekending in Manila, I decided to fly to the Philippines’s #1 getaway and party destination: Boracay Island. Boracay is a small island located in the Western Visayas that boasts beautiful beaches and and arguably the best night life in the country. The majority of travelers stay on the main beach strip, known as White Beach, that is lined with restaurants, bars, and shopping centers and is always bumping. Most accommodations on White Beach are fairly priced, and the shore is just a few minutes by foot away. However, if you would like to book a more private accommodation, you can look into hotels further north of White Beach where less tourists flock. I decided to stay on White Beach to get the most out of the party life!

Getting to Boracay

Please note that getting to Boracay is a bit of a journey and there are no airports on the island. You need to fly to either Godofredo or Kalibo Airport, then take a taxi to the northern ferry port to sail to Boracay. Fortunately most hotels will offer a travel package that includes the taxi and ferry fare from the airport. I recommend flying to Godofredo since it is much closer than Kalibo (fortunately most roundtrip Air Asia tickets from Manila are under $50). Either way, the trip is worth it because Boracay is one of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines and it’s very easy to make friends there.

During my first night in Boracay, I mostly went swimming on White Beach and drank Long Islands under the sunset. My top recommendations for bars with a club atmosphere are Epic and OM. Some locals invited me to a place called Exit Bar where all of the drinks were under a dollar. The liquor quality wasn’t the best but it sure was a great place to drink cheap! Most bars are open from 10am – 3am or later, so no matter what time you feel like going out there is something to do. This is by far the best party island I have been to in Asia, besides Koh Phangan in Thailand. I liked Boracay better because the beaches were prettier and there were less tourists here. I would definitely come back here to try more drinks if I had the chance!

Island Hopping

On my second day in Boracay, I decided to book an island hopping tour through KKday. This group tour was only $12 which was a killer deal. Please note that you can book tours from various agencies on the island when you arrive, but they may be more expensive than if you reserve online in advance.

The tour included the following points of interest plus a free lunch:

  • Puka Beach
  • Balinghai Beach
  • Snorkel at Coral Garden
  • Crystal Cove Island
  • Lunch at Tambisaan Beach

Besides White Beach, Puka Beach was the best beach I went swimming at. Since it is located at the northern tip of the island, the waves are much stronger, but I loved how remote and private it was. The coral garden we went snorkeling at was also beautiful and I was happy to see that it was in healthy state. We only had 30 minutes to snorkel there, but I enjoyed seeing all of the aquatic wildlife because the visibility underwater was amazing.

Crystal Cove Island was also a treasure because it had two beautiful caves you can explore. I enjoyed taking a break from the sun and wading in the cool water there. Getting around the island is a bit of a hike, but I enjoyed working up an appetite before lunch!

The lunch at Tambisaan Beach was a bit disappointing because they only had prawns as a pescatarian option, so I mostly ate prawns and rice. Fortunately after this we headed back to central Borcay so I could eat some vegan food on the beach! Overall I highly recommend this tour, just be aware that your lunch options are pretty limited if you don’t eat meat.

Mermaid Swimming

A popular activity/photo opp on Boracay Island is mermaid swimming with a rentable tail. The tail has two flippers inside which makes it possible to swim in deep waters. When I arrived earlier this month, there were two shops that offered it. One was a small Korean-themed cafe on White Beach that offers fin rentals for photos only. The price was around $13 dollars for this activity. The place that I booked was the Mermaid Swimming Academy in D’Mall which was further up the main road. This shop offers both photos and a private swimming lesson that I wanted to try. The price was $35 dollars for this class, but I was able to wear the fins for much longer. My instructor, Megan, was very kind and taught me different strokes. I ended up hanging out with her later that night because she works at Epic too. If you have never tried this activity and are interested, then Boracay is the perfect place because it’s so relaxed!

Food Recommendations

Due to its tropical atmosphere by the ocean, there is no shortage of fresh fruit and fish on Boracay, plus the restaurants on White Beach have cocktails galore! I was delighted to see that a number of restaurants included vegan options too. Please note that some of the food here is pricey due to it being located in a resort area. To find the best deals, I would walk up and down White Beach in the morning and read the chalkboards that list happy hour specials in front of the shops you want to try. I was able to find some killer deals, like buy one get one free drinks before 8pm and rainy season specials. If you befriend the locals, they can help you find great places too.

Nonie’s

Out of all of the restaurants in Boracay, Nonie’s was by far my favorite! The cocktails and entrees here are to die for. The first time I went here, I had a tempeh bowl with banana pancakes and their award winning ube liquor cocktail. This was hands down the best meal I had in the Philippines because all of the ingredients were on point. I came back here another day and tried a tuna quinoa bowl with some vegetarian siopao and the taste was out of this world. The cocktail I had with coconut shavings in it really complimented my meal too I really wish I would have had time to try everything on the menu, because everything I ate blew my mind. Vegan restaurants in tropical locations rarely disappoint.

Café Maruja

Café Maruja is a mermaid-themed coffee shop and restaurant located on White Beach with amazing décor. I loved the boat-shaped bar table, the neon lights, and the floral seat designs, not to mention the mermaid-themed cups and silverware. I had rose coffee and an acai bowl here for breakfast one morning, and also tried a poke bowl one of the nights after I went swimming. Though a bit pricey, the food here has generous serving sizes and is pretty good. I would still say that Nonie’s is better, but this was my second favorite spot and a great spot to people watch.

Ice Cream & Yogurt

While walking back from the island hopping tour, I found a coconut ice cream place called Coco Mama’s that served coconut ice cream out of a shell. I really liked how refreshing it was. I also found an avocado ice cream shop near Nonie’s and had to try it out. Just like the place I went to in Manila, this stand had absolutely delicious avocado frozen yogurt topped with fresh pieces of the fruit. On my last day, I found a shop on White Beach that serves smoothies in a bottle! You really can’t go wrong with any dessert you order here because all of it is worth trying.

Accommodation

Since I love little island huts, I decided to book one with a single room at Roy’s Rendezvous. I loved this place because it was 5 mins away from White Beach by foot and had hammocks on the balconies of the huts. The average price of these rooms are $40 per night which I think is pretty fair because it includes breakfast too. I stayed for 4 days and 3 nights which was more than enough to see the entire island. The staff was extremely accommodating and helped me book my taxi and ferry ticket back to the airport in advance. I would highly recommend this place because it’s quiet at night too.

Overall I had a fantastic stay with sunny weather and minimal rain. The only thing that was annoying was all of the vendors that tried to sell me things while I was walking from the beach to my hotel, but I expected as much here. It’s important to note that in 2018 that Boracay was closed due to the destruction of ecosystems by tourists, but it reopened the same year with an entry restriction. The island has a capacity of only 55,000 people (and over half are residents) so I would recommend booking your stay here at least a month in advance, especially if you go during the high season.

Thank you for reading my Borcay article. I hope you have the chance to go here and enjoy the nightlife too! My next article will be the last of my Philippines article series and will detail my experience in El Nido. Please look forward to it!

Spending the Weekend in Manila

After seeing Bohol and exploring two of Cebu’s best diving spots, I decided to kick back and take it slow in Manila for a weekend. I’ve heard both good and bad things about this city which is why I wanted to experience it for myself. I booked a nice hotel on Adriatico Street near the Baywalk so I could relax. The main reasons I wanted to come to this city is to see the Dessert Museum and try delicious food. Fortunately both missions were easily accomplished. Though Manila was a bit more dirty and lackluster than what I had hoped, I stilled enjoyed getting some R&R here.

If you have to choose between Cebu and Manila due to time constraints, I would definitely choose Cebu because there is much more nature to be seen. Manila has some interesting history, but isn’t as pretty as Hanoi or flashy as Kuala Lumpur. However, I did the best to enjoy and make the most of my time here. Two days was definitely enough for me.

Here are my top recommendations in Manila. Fortunately there is good food to be found everywhere no matter what your diet is.

Dessert Museum

The Dessert Museum is located next to the Mall of Asia south from where I was staying, and is perfect for spontaneous photography. There are several rooms that resemble foods such as donuts, marshmallows, and bananas, as well as piñatas! I also saw the human claw machine in the tapioca room but decided not to try it because it didn’t have many prizes. If you come alone, there are workers that will help you take your pictures, but you can bring in your own tripod too. The entrance fee is $14 and includes a stamp card so you can collect free desserts in certain area. I went on a Friday afternoon and there were barely any visitors present so I had the chance to take many memorable pictures. Overall I would recommend this place because it’s fun and in a cool part of town.

Manila Baywalk

When first reading about the Manila Baywalk online, I pictured it to be a festive place with a long beachfront and many street vendors around. In reality, it’s a tiny beach with brittle sand littered with plastic waste and the food vendors are limited. To me it wasn’t very clean or fun to be at, but it’s a popular place where locals gather to watch the sunset. If you’re nearby you can check it out to see what you think, but if your accommodation is far from here I would say skip it altogether. There are far more interesting spots in town you can check out, even the malls!

Fort Santiago

Fort Santiago is a large outdoor museum of ruins and monuments that represent the Spanish power in Manila. It served as a powerful fortress in the 1500s and now serves as an important reminder of Manila’s history today. Since Fort Santiago was located roughly 4km from my hotel, I decided to go running there in the morning. The entrance fee is less than $2 and you can easily spend a lot of time exploring the sprawling ruins. I thought the area near the Pasig River was the most beautiful, and that this area had a lot more interesting things to see compared to the Baywalk. Definitely don’t skip this place if you’re in the area!

Food Recommendations

The very first restaurant I tried was a vegan place called iVegan because it had high ratings. Their black bean jalapeno sandwich was to die for and their acai bowls were very refreshing too. I liked this place because it had a mixture of Asian and Western dishes and had great service too. I wish I would have had more time to try their other dishes because they all looked absolutely amazing!

While exploring the Robinsons Mall near my hotel, I found an amazing stand that serves a large variety of avocado desserts. Being a huge avocado lover, I decided to order two different versions of avocado ice cream. One dessert was avocado-flavored frozen yogurt topped with fresh avocado pieces, coconut, and chia seeds which I highly recommend, as it is their best seller. The other dessert was avocado ice cream molded in a pericarp (real avocado shell) with custard used as the mesocarp (center of the avocado). I thought both were insanely creative and also very inexpensive too. If you come to the Philippines, definitely try avocado ice cream or an avocado shake for the experience!

The next day I tried another vegan dish, which was vegan ramen, at a restaurant called Cosmic Poblacion just to see how it compared to ramen in Japan. The ingredients were a bit bland but the noodles and broth were delicious. For dinner I tried pita bread and hummus from a halal restaurant called الشام للمأكولات العربية across from my hotel. It’s been forever since I had authentic pita bread and boy did it hit the spot. One thing Manila has over Cebu is the amazing variety of food you can find. Cebu has mostly local foods that can get tiring after a while.

Accommodation

I stayed at 1775 Adriatico Suites for two nights which included a clean room with basic amenities, breakfast, and one of the fanciest pools I have ever seen in Metro Manila. The room prices start around $43 dollars per night depending on which dates you book. I enjoyed taking it easy and going for a relaxing swim every day during my stay. The hotel was very secure and had a guard on duty at all times so you can feel safe here. I’ve heard stories about pickpockets and gang violence in Manila, but you don’t need to worry about that around here. I felt safe going out at night even though I was a solo traveler and overall had a good experience here though it wasn’t as cool as other cities in Asia I had visited.

Thank you for reading my Manila article! In my next article I will be writing about my getaway to Boracay Island. Please look forward to it!

Exploring two of Cebu’s Best Diving Spots: Oslob & Moalboal

Swimming next to a whale shark is a memory you’ll hold for a lifetime!

During my stay in Cebu, I decided to book snorkeling tours to two of the best diving spots on the island: Oslob and Moalboal. In Oslob you have the once in a lifetime opportunity of swimming up close with whale sharks, and in Moalboal you can see beautiful coral reefs, the sardine run, and turtles. I highly recommend booking a local guide for the best experience because they will help you find the ideal spots to swim. These beaches are quite far from Cebu City, so be prepared to wake up early for a long trip. Your effort will reward with the memory of swimming next to some of Cebu’s most interesting aquatic wildlife, however!

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Oslob

On my third day in Cebu, I woke up at 5am for a whale shark tour that I booked through Island Trek Tours on Klook. I liked this tour because it included hotel pickup and had snorkeling as an add-on for those who just want to watch the whale sharks from the boat (of course, I chose the snorkeling option). The average cost of the whale shark tours is $55-$75 depending on how much fuel you need to get to Oslob, but the money is more than worth the experience.

The journey to Oslob took about 3 hours but I slept for more than half the way and was the only person in the vehicle. When I arrived in Oslob, I checked in and received my snorkeling gear, then sat down for a short presentation on the rules of swimming with whale sharks. Basically they ask that you do not touch or feed them and also do not wear sun screen because the chemicals from it can harm them. Your swimming time with them lasts around 30-45 minutes because there are multiple tour groups, but that is more than enough time to take pictures and video. After agreeing to the instructions, I boarded a long paddle boat and arrived at the swimming location in mere minutes. I was astonished at how the whale sharks swim so close to shore, because if you have fins you could easily reach them.

It is suggested that you swim beside the whale sharks and not above or below them to keep them from being distressed. Fortunately whale sharks are patient creatures and will usually swim away if they become overwhelmed. I did not feel any discomfort or fear during this experience and would gladly do it again.

Here are some more pictures of the whale sharks and beachfront that I captured with my GoPro.

Whale sharks are endangered and are currently a protected species in the Philippines. If you book one of these tours, please be sure to be respectful of them.

Tumalog Falls

After the whale shark experience, my driver took me to Tumalog Falls where I had the chance to swim in a waterfall! The water was very clean and refreshing. I have never had the chance to swim in the pool of a waterfall before, so this was another first for me that I will treasure for a lifetime. Cebu truly is a haven for beautiful nature.

Food

Since there were limited restaurants by the whale shark beach in Oslob, I decided to just have snacks for lunch and go to Cebu City for dinner on the way back to my accommodation. I found this amazing upscale cocktail bar and restaurant called Circa 1900 that is located in a restored colonial house near the JY Mall. They have both western and Filippino dishes on their menu and the food and drinks are high quality. I ordered grapefruit and mango cocktails with two different appetizers. This was the best food that I had in Cebu and I can’t recommend this place enough!

Swimming in Moalboal

The next day I decided to book an Moalboal island hopping tour through KKday. This tour was pretty pricey due to the fuel cost needed to reach Moalboal, so I paid around $139 for it. However, the package included 3 different snorkeling spots on a private boat so the price was pretty fair for it. One thing to keep in mind is Moalboal used to be one of the best beach destinations in Cebu, but in 2021 a typhoon caused severe damage to some of the reefs and beaches here. The ecosystem has not been the same since and some areas of the beach are quite grainy. The water was not as crystal clear as I had hoped, but I still had fun venturing out here and seeing the sardine run and turtles.

The first dive spot was a beautiful coral reef near a rocky island. I saw a clown fish which was super cute and my guide helped me take videos of me diving with my GoPro. I was happy to see that this reef was in relatively good condition and that there were so many fish swimming here!

The second dive spot was Moalboal’s famous sardine run. Right off the shore of Panagsama Beach there are huge schools of sardines that gather every day. Their scales shimmer in the sunlight and they constantly move in a flowing motion, so they truly are a sight to behold. I had so much fun swimming with them because I had never seen so many tiny fish at once. Though I wished the water visibility was a bit better, I was happy with my experience here.

The last destination was swimming with turtles in the shallow waters of Panagsama Beach (which was very close to the sardine run). I loved seeing the turtles because they were huge and friendly. They didn’t seem to mind people swimming nearby them at all. The sad part was I noticed there was plastic waste in the water and the visibility here was pretty terrible. I had a way better time seeing turtles in Okinawa because the waters were pristine and there was no waste at all. In retrospect, I really wish I could have come to Moalboal before the typhoon but there was no way I could have done that during the height of the pandemic. I still recommend coming to Moalboal if you like swimming and diving, but be aware that the water quality is not always the best here.

Food

For lunch I asked my boat driver what he recommended, and he said to try The Boundary which was really close to the starting point of the tour. The restaurant had so many delicious entrees and drinks I didn’t know where to begin, so I ordered noodles, seasoned eggplant, and rice with a pina colada. Everything tasted amazing. The noodles reminded me of yakisoba in Japan and the drinks were as tropical as ever. Definitely don’t skip this place if you’re in Moalboal!

Thank you for reading my Cebu article series! I had a fantastic four days staying on this scenic island and it was overall a great starting point for my diving adventures. In my next article, I will be writing about my stay in Manila. Please look forward to it!

Cebu City Highlights & Bohol Island (Part 2)

A tiny Bohol Tarsier clings to a tree at the conservation area.

After an adventurous day of getting acquainted with all of the major sights of Cebu City, I decided to take a ferry from Cebu Port to Bohol Island so I could see the precious Tarsiers and the Chocolate Hills. Bohol is a popular tourist destination because it has a lot of unique wildlife and geographical features. There are many lush forests, beaches, and conservation centers for animals too. I would highly recommend visiting this island in person because it will leave a lasting impression on you.

Getting to Bohol

One-way tickets to Bohol are around $9 for a high-speed ferry and the journey only takes around two hours (I booked mine in advance through 12goAsia). Though you can stay overnight on the island, a day trip is usually sufficient.

Since I wanted to know more about the history of the island, I decided to book a private tour with a local through Wow Bohol Tours. The tour was $50 and included the following things:

  • Blood Compact Shrine
  • Baclayon Church Ruins                                    
  • Python Viewing
  • Tarsier Viewing
  • Man-made Forest
  • Butterfly Garden
  • Chocolate Hills
  • Souvenir Shop

Overall I had an amazing experience day tripping to Bohol and doing photography, so I encourage my friends to do the same.

The Chocolate Hills

The Chocolate Hills are Bohol’s most famous nature attraction because they have a unique color and shape. During the dry season they turn completely brown and resemble Hershey’s Kisses, but I came during the wet season in November when they were completely green. I think they look beautiful during all seasons regardless of color. You can see them best from viewpoints at Chocolate Hills Complex (where I visited) and Sagbayan Peak.

According to an article I read, the hills got their shape through a rare type of weathering:

Geologists believe that the hills were formed through weathering carving marine limestone on top of a clay layer. Its color is the main reason it’s called Bohol Chocolate Hills.

Unfolding the Majestic Beauty of Chocolate Hills in Bohol by Cielo Fernando

I would love to come back during the dry season and see them in their chocolate form too!

Tarsier Conservation Area

The second place we stopped was the Tarsier Conservation Area which is safe haven to the world’s smallest primates. The Bohol Tarsier is an endangered species due to having many predators in the wild so they protected here. Another interesting fact is that they can only have one offspring per year making it hard for them to keep their numbers up. Tarsiers are very shy but safe to approach them as long as you do not disturb them. Unfortunately you cannot hold or get super close to them, but the staff will take amazing photos from a safe distance if you lend them your camera. I was pleased with the quality of this conservatory and so happy that I got to see them. Hopefully they can continue to thrive in this jungle area and live a peaceful life.

Butterfly Garden

After the cute Tarsier overload, my driver took me to a small butterfly garden/conservatory. There were quite a lot of them fluttering around and some of them even landed on my head! The garden had an overhead net which protected the butterflies from bad weather conditions. I was informed by one of the butterfly keeps that sometimes the heavy rain damages their wings so they are unable to fly. This information made me sad, but fortunately they are able to reproduce enough so their livelihood can survive.

There were pythons you could hold here, but some had just eaten and looked sleepy so I opted not to hold them. Sometimes it’s better just to watch!

Lunch on a Floating Restaurant

After all of these exciting activities, my driver took me to an all-you-can-eat buffet at a boat restaurant called Rio Verde! The experience was fun because the turtle-shaped boat sailed down the river and there was live music that really brightened the atmosphere. I had a lot of fun trying different Filippino foods, especially the curry and fish. I was happy to see that they had vegetarian options as well.

The price was around $14 which was worth it for the amount of food you can eat.

Blood Compact Shrine

Our last stops were the Blood Compact Shrine and the Baclayon Church Ruins before returning to the Bohol ferry terminal. I was expecting the Blood Compact Shrine to have an altar, but actually it’s just a monument. This monument symbolizes the old ritual of cutting hands with an ally and mixing the blood in a cup with wine to drink as the sign of a treaty or close friendship. Many tribes in Bohol performed this ritual in the olden days, but it is not used anymore.

I sadly couldn’t go inside the Baclayon Church Ruins due to time constraints, but seeing the outside of them was sufficient enough for me. Additionally, I didn’t take many pictures of the man-made forest because there was a paved road for vehicles going through it, but it was fun to drive through. The trees were planted there as a reforestation project making the scenery look more green and I was happy to see them growing. Overall I was extremely satisfied with this tour, especially that I got to see the Chocolate Hills and the Tarsiers! My guide was very kind and let me wander freely around all of these attractions. If you are interested in seeing beaches or islands during your time on Bohol, there are other tours that you can choose from.

In my next article, I will be writing about the two best diving spots in Cebu. Please look forward to it, and thank you for your support as always!

Cebu City Highlights & Bohol Island (Part 1)

Standing at the very top of Cebu City in Sirao Garden!

Now that borders have finally opened in Japan and international travel isn’t as discouraged as it was earlier this year, I’ve finally achieved my goal of visiting the Philippines! Over the last two weeks I traveled to Cebu, Luzon, Boracay, and Palawan because they have some of the best beaches and sightseeing. I planned on visiting this country in early 2020, but during week that I was supposed to fly out, the rising covid numbers caused the country to go into lockdown.

Fortunately I still had my flight voucher and itinerary saved, so once borders opened for vaccinated travelers earlier this year, I decided to go during the low season in Autumn to avoid tourists. I began my trip in Cebu because it has some of the best diving spots, including Oslob where you can dive with whale sharks, and Moalboal where you can see the sardine run and turtles near the shore. Overall I had an amazing experience and enjoyed living on the beach every day. If you love tropical countries that have a bit of a rustic touch to them, then the Philippines might be a great travel recommendation for you! There are a lot of private beaches that are remote where you can relax and feel close to nature. I recommend visiting at least two islands because each has a slightly different vibe.

Since this is going to be a long article series, I will start with the Cebu City and Bohol highlights and then get into the best diving spots. I hope you enjoy reading my latest article series!

Getting to and around the Philippines

I booked a super cheap ticket from Tokyo to Cebu through Jeju Air for $322. There was a 3 hour layover in Korea, but the airport was relaxing so it wasn’t so bad. Direct flights post-pandemic are now usually over $500, so if you want a good deal from Japan definitely fly to Korea first. November is the end of the rainy season, so it is a pretty good time to come before the high season starts. During my 15 day stay, it only rained briefly for 4 of the days and was otherwise filled with sunshine.

The good thing about the Philippines is that English is an officially recognized language and frequently used throughout the country. This is because the some of the islands have different dialects and it is easier to understand. Since Filipinos are very hospitable, you should have no trouble asking for assistance if you need it. Though parts of the country are dangerous due to high crime rate, I did not feel unsafe at all during my visit.

When traveling around the city, I recommend using the Grab app because it will always give you the lowest fairs. Since traffic is very heavy in the city and some roads are narrow and dangerous to navigate, I do not recommend renting a scooter or vehicle in Cebu. You can also find a large number of taxis and motorcycle drivers on the street, but their prices will always be a bit higher than what Grab will offer you.

Cebu City Tour

I arrived to my hotel, Eloisa Royal Suites, around 6am and decided to book a city tour through the hotel staff that went to all the main highlights of the city. This hotel is located on Mactan Island near the airport so I thought it would be a good location, but in retrospect I wish I would have stayed closer to central Cebu because there are many more bars and things to do at night over the bridge. However, Eloisa Roya Suites is only $42 per night and includes hotel pickup/drop-off, breakfast, and has a pool so it was a very accommodating place to stay at.

The city tour I booked was completely private and only cost $43 for the day. The main sights we saw were Sirao Garden, The Temple of Leah, the 10000 Roses Café, Little Kyoto, and Cebu Taoist Temple. I was overall very pleased with my driver because getting to these places on my own would have been tough because some of them are located high in the mountains.

Sirao Garden & The Temple of Leah

Sirao Garden was my favorite place that I visited in Cebu City because it was nestled in the mountains and had so many beautiful flowers in the bloom. I really liked how this attraction resembled features of Bali because I’m actually traveling there next month! My favorite pieces of the garden were the giant hands with stairs you could climb and the human-sized birds nests. You can really see a beautiful panoramic view of Cebu from up here which is breathtaking.

I found out from my driver that there was actually a huge landslide that occurred here from heavy rain the weekend before I arrived, so only motorbikes can reach the top. Fortunately I was able to get out of the van and there were many motorbike drivers waiting to take me to the top for a very small fee. I recommend coming here so you can see the mountains of Cebu, and the famous Temple of Leah is nearby!

The Temple of Leah is a Roman-style shrine with beautiful architecture built in the mountains near Sirao. When I arrived it started downpouring, but fortunately I was able to take shelter here! There was live music and a number of people taking photos of the altar. The temple apparently represents a husband’s eternal love for his wife which is super romantic.

Little Kyoto & Cebu Taoist Temple

You’ve heard of Little Tokyo in LA, now get ready for Little Kyoto in Cebu! Since I told my driver I lived in Japan, he took me here without hesitation. Though this theme park is very tiny, I liked how it included some of the key aspects of Japan such as the deer in Nara, the daruma and beckoning cats, and even a statue of Hachiko, which I thought was hilarious! Definitely come here for the charm if you can. I enjoyed seeing the Halloween skeletons cosplaying from Naruto and hearing Christmas music over the radio as I walked through Filippino Japan.

On our way back into town, we also stopped by the Cebu Taoist Temple real quick. There wasn’t a lot to see here compared to temples I’ve visited in other countries, but it was interesting to witness one of the most famous temples of the city and I enjoyed the view even though it was still very cloudy.

10000 Roses Café

The 10000 Roses Café is a beautiful spot by the ocean with white roses that light up at night. There is also a small café that sells coffee and beer. We stopped here to rest before heading back to my hotel and I had the chance to pose with a skeleton. I really dig how they left their Halloween decorations up for my visit! The garden was a bit smaller than I originally thought but it was still a very fun place to see.

Dinner on Mactan Island

Since I didn’t have a lot of time to eat while I was exploring all of these destinations, I decided to try a local eatery near my hotel on Mactan Island called Tuna Republik. I absolutely loved how the fresh sashimi tasted, and how the staff wrote “Tuna” with a heart in my ketchup that came as a side with my cheesy tuna rolls. Very classy! I also tried Sol’s Halo Halo Desserts that was located right down the street because I really wanted to try Filipino ice cream. It tasted like condensed milk with gelatin toppings which was pretty refreshing after all of the sightseeing I did on this day. I would recommend trying it at least once, though avocado ice cream here is the best!

Thank you for reading the very first article of my Philippines article series! In my next article I will be writing about my lovely day tip to Bohol Island to see Tarsiers and the famous Chocolate Hills. Please look forward to it!

Spending a day in Morioka City, Iwate

The quiet shopping streets of Morioka City in Iwate Prefecture.

After spending the night at a hot springs resort on the lake in Akita Prefecture, we decided to take a road trip to the very last of the 47 prefectures of Japan on my travel list: Iwate Prefecture. Iwate actually has the lowest population density of all prefectures on the main island of Japan (Honshu), so you’ll definitely feel like you’re in the countryside if you travel here. Taking advantage of the country roads, we decided to stop at a farm and one of Iwate’s nicest museums, Ishigami-no-Oka, before spending the night in the largest city named Morioka. Traveling to all 47 prefectures of Japan has been extremely rewarding, and though Iwate felt a bit less exciting than other cities I’ve been to, I’m very happy that I had the opportunity to visit.

Koiwai Farm

Koiwai Farm is a very tranquil ranch with animals, various dairy products for sale, and a fantastic view of Mt. Iwate. This farm is located between Akita and Morioka City, so we decided to stop here first because it was on the way to our hotel. Before even checking out any of the attractions, we bought some creamy vanilla ice cream because it was fresh and delicious. We mostly spent our time walking around the fields and gazing at the mountain in the distance, but it was fun to see all of the activities you could do here. One of the most interesting nature spots of Koiwai is a sole cherry blossom tree in it that’s ideal for photography in the spring, but unfortunately it wasn’t in bloom this season. What’s also interesting is that you can sign up for lessons on how to milk a cow! During certain times of the year there are festivals and illuminations, so be sure to see what’s in season when you visit.

Address: 36-1 Maruyachi, Shizukuishi, Iwate District, Iwate 020-0507
Entrance Fee: 800 yen

Ishigami-no-Oka Museum

Since I love art and nature, Ishigami-no-Oka Museum was the perfect destination in Iwate for me. Boasting a huge flower garden and abstract sculptures of animals with aerial views, this is a great place to enjoy a stroll and do photography. My favorite piece of art was the seahorse-like creature that looked like it was eating grass from a funny angle. I also liked the bear that was seated at the observatory point. What makes these kind of open air museums so unique is how the light and shadows hit the sculptures, and also how the surroundings change as the seasons change. I would love to come back and visit this museum again during another time of year if given the chance.

Address: Dai 10 Chiwari-121-21 Itsukaichi, Iwate, Iwate District, Iwate 028-4307
Entrance Fee: 500 yen

Exploring Morioka

Morioka is much smaller and more rural than what I initially imagined it to be, but here are some of my favorite recommendations in the city. Please remember that some businesses and attractions may close early since this is the countryside. One of my biggest regrets was not having enough time to make it to Jodogahama Beach because it was over two hours away from the museum, but I’ve also seen a lot of pretty beaches in Okinawa!

Morioka Castle Site Park

Since Morioka’s Castle Site Park was walking distance from our hotel, we decided to check it out before dinner. However, unlike Akita’s Senshu Park, there was sadly no castle here anymore because it was demolished in 1874 with the end of the samurai area. But the area that remains is quite lovely and you can see a nice pond and views of Morioka City by ascending the stairs here.

Food & Drink Recommendations

About 10 minutes walking from the park, I found an amazing vegan restaurant called Karakoma. I ordered a vegan teishoku set served with beet soup, brown rice, and an assortment of vegetable dishes and it tasted beyond amazing! They also have organic wine and vegan desserts. If I was more hungry at the time, I would have ordered more dishes, but what I had was filling enough!

Before calling it a night, we decided to head to a cocktail bar called esprit for some sweet drinks. I ordered a tiramisu cocktail and a White Russian. As you can expect from a bar like this, the quality was top notch and the drinks were just as good as the vegan meal I ate before. I really hope this bar gets more recognition because it clearly deserves it!

Accommodation

We stayed in Hotel Ace Morioka because it was centrally located and around 5000 yen per night, but I would not recommend it because the rooms were tiny and smoky. I would look at non-business hotels for a better stay because this one landed a bit below my standards.

This ends my adventure of exploring all 47 prefectures of Japan, but fear not! I have plans to still stay in the country and explore various culture festivals and other things I have yet to experience. I will likely be revisiting many of my favorite prefectures, like Kyoto and Osaka, again this year and look forward to what the future brings. My next trip is coming up in about a week and will be in the Philippines! Please continue to look forward to more exciting adventures from yours truly.

Meeting Akita Dogs and Seeing the Fall Colors of Akita Prefecture

A gradient of Fall colors in Senshu Park.

It’s been quite a while since my last update due to being busy with work, but I am happy to announce that as of yesterday I’ve traveled to all 47 prefectures of Japan; the last two being Akita and Iwate which I finally visited this week. Each trip took a lot of time and money, but they were worth the effort because I had the opportunity to meet many people and experience different lifestyles in this country.

This moment feels very bittersweet because when I first came to Japan over 7 years ago, everything felt so new and magical to me, but now it feels a lot more like home. There’s still a few cultural festivals I haven’t been to that I want to travel to next year, but other than that I’ve been to virtually all of the places I want to be here. Thank you everyone for supporting my dream of fully traveling the country! In this article series I will be talking about my journey to see the northernmost prefectures of Honshu. They are extremely rural but have some interesting features, including Akita dogs and wonderful soba!

Getting to Akita Prefecture

Akita Prefecture is a one hour flight from Haneda Airport or four hour train ride from Tokyo Station. The shinkansen ticket costs 18000 yen one way, so flying is definitely more cost efficient and saves time. We paid around 30,000 for a roundtrip JAL plane ticket, but you can definitely find better deals if you book in advance. Though keep in mind that JAL and ANA are the only two airlines that fly to Akita Station, so there are no discount airlines available.

When you travel around Akita, you’re definitely going to want to rent a car. Similar to Aomori, the trains are very infrequent and driving makes the trip a lot more convenient. We rented a car near Akita Airport through Times Car Rental for three days for around 20000 yen. We found this was one of the cheapest ways to get around and are very grateful we did it!

Our first stop on the list was Senshu Park in central Akita. Our mission was to see as many Akita dogs as possible and eat delicious food! If you are interested in learning more about the preservation of Akita dogs, then please check out the One for Akita Project for events and ways to help out. Fortunately there are many volunteers involved in Akita Prefecture.

Senshu Park

Senshu Park is a beautiful area in central Akita with gardens, a castle, and Akita dogs that you can see during certain times of the day. The red leaves start to show in mid-October and there are sakura trees that bloom in the spring here too. The changing scenery around Kubota Castle is very relaxing to see during the four seasons and attract many tourists. Since we came on a weekday, the park was virtually empty and we were two of the first to see the gray Akita dog in the main square at 11am. On this particular day, we were not allowed to pet the dog but it was very fun seeing it. Akita dogs are very strong and sometimes wary of strangers, but can be affectionate and make great companions. They are such a unique breed and it was fun to see the prefecture where they originate from.

For more information on how to meet Akita dogs, please see the Senshu Park website.

Address: 1 Senshukoen, Akita, 010-0876
Entrance Fee: Free

Tea at KouFuu

Before heading off to our next destination, we decided to stop at a tiny tea shop that’s part of the Akita Museum of Art called KouFuu. Not only was the view from the shop fantastic, but the tea and sweets were very high quality. I ordered matcha and wagashi while my friend ordered affogato. I also bought an Akita dog plush from one of the nearby gift stores. Right next to this tea shop is the Akita Dog Station which is another place you can sometimes see Akita dogs, but unfortunately it was closed. Be sure to check it out if you ever get the chance!

Godzilla Rock

After spending some quality time in the park, we decided to drive to Godzilla Rock for the memes. This rock is on the west coast of Akita and uncannily resembles the kaiju himself. The formation of the  lapilli tuff naturally occurred from a volcanic eruption about 30 million years ago attracting a number of photographers to this obscure area of Akita. The best time to see this attraction is during sunset when the sun falls behind Godzilla Rock’s mouth and it looks like he’s breathing fire from the front. However, we still had many destinations to see so we came during the day. It was very fun to see this place because there are a number of other cool rock formations around, including one called Godzilla’s Tail. Although it was a bit of a drive, it was worth it for the pictures.

Address: Oga, Akita 010-0535
Entrance Fee: Free

Akita Dog Visitor Center

Yet another fantastic place to see Akita dogs and buy cute souvenirs is the Akita Dog Visitor Center! I was surprised to see that they not only had a towering tree of Akita dog plushies here, but also sold sake and beer made as an homage to the dogs. I bought Akita dog wine and a container of chocolate cookies. We were able to see two Akita dogs behind glass here and also a bunch of fun Halloween decorations. Our biggest regret is we got here too late to visit the Akita Dog Museum next door, but overall relaxing here was very pleasant and there weren’t that many people. This prefecture is extremely countryside but they sure love their dogs here!

Address: 1 Chome-13-1 Onaricho, Odate, Akita 017-0044
Entrance Fee: Free

Lake Tazawa

Our final destination of the day was Lake Tazawa, which is Akita’s most iconic lake and the deepest lake in Japan. Many people cycle and take boats out on the lake when the weather is nice, and the water is so crystal clear you can see many fish swimming in it. At the main shore of the lake stands the golden Statue of Tatsuko, who was a girl who wished to preserve her beauty forever so she drank from a sacred spring but turned into a dragon. After this she became the guardian of the lake. Though this is just a legend, this statue was actually one of my most anticipated spots to see in Akita because the view is so stunning. I decided to book my accommodation near the lake too!

Address: Katajiri Nishikicho Saimyoji, Semboku, Akita 014-0511

Food Recommendations

Due to short staff and the ruralness of Akita Prefecture, sometimes finding good restaurants is difficult while driving around. However, we managed to stumble upon two amazing places that I would happily recommend to all of my friends. The place we went to lunch for was a udon shop near Senshu Park called Satoyosuke Akitaken. Akita is famous for its udon noodles which are thinner and flatter than other types of noodles used in udon, but are chewy and taste amazing with a variety of ingredients. I ordered mushroom udon and my friend ordered a bowl of curry udon. I was impressed with how good my meal was, especially on a chilly fall day!

Before heading back to our accommodation near Lake Tazawa, we stopped at a seafood donburi place called Urashima near the Akita Dog Visitor center. I ordered salmon roe and sea urchin donburi and told my friend (in English) how much I wanted to eat egg, and to my surprise the waiter understood me and brought out a mini plate of rolled omelettes! How lucky was that? I appreciated the complimentary service and would give this place a high rating. Donburi is certainly cheaper here than in Tokyo, and it always amazes me when people in the countryside understand my Midwest accent!

Accommodation

Because it’s been quite a while since I’ve stayed at a hot springs resort, I decided to splurge on a room at Tazawako Lake Resort & Onsen which was 13000 yen per night but absolutely amazing. There were expansive indoor and outdoor hot springs with a sauna and breakfast included. I stayed in the hot springs for over an hour both morning and evening and felt like an entirely new person when I got out. This is definitely one of the nicest options in the area, but there are cheaper accommodations around central Akita if you’re on a budget. I think staying by the lake is the best place to stay in Akita, but let me know in the comments if you find somewhere else that’s this scenic!

Overall, this was a very travel heavy day but the food, the dogs, and the lake made it worth it! I am not sure if I would recommend Akita to everyone, as it is quite remote and expensive to get to, but I sure had a lot of fun on this day. In my next article I will be writing about the nearby Iwate Prefecture which is also very rural and was the final prefecture on my list to visit. Please look forward to it!

Exploring the Wonders of Teshima Island

A very vibrant Japanese garden displayed outside the Yokoo House.

After a successful two days of sightseeing on Naoshima and Shodoshima, our final destination was Teshima, the smallest of the three islands we visited. This island is famous for its art museum that contains a single sculpture called “The Matrix” and also has houses that were turned into art projects like on Naoshima. Teshima is ideal for a day trip because it is close to the other two islands, but I don’t recommend staying overnight here because it’s extremely rural and there aren’t as many food options available compared to the other islands. However, Teshima is just a 30 minute ferry ride from Naoshima making it very easy to access. You can easily see all of the majors sights within 4 hours so take that into consideration when booking a trip here. The buses here are limited but there is much less ground to cover so you can see things easily.

This is the final article of my art island series, so I hope you enjoy it!

Teshima Art Museum

The Teshima Art Museum is the most famous destination here and contains a single piece of art which is a giant shell called “Matrix” nestled in the hills of the island. This concrete shell has two oval openings at the top so streams of light can reach the inside and you can here the sound of the wind and the ocean when you enter the Matrix (pun intended). Little droplets of water continually trickle from the ground and are pulled by gravity towards the oval openings. The composition of this building is like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life and is said to represent the passing of seasons and flow of time. Though this was the only exhibition in the museum, it was truly awesome.

The disappointing thing about this attraction is that no photography is allowed inside, but it is definitely worth seeing if you come to this island because its architecture is one of a kind.

Entrance Fee: 1570 yen

Finding Food on the Island

We tried to go to two restaurants on the island, but they were full of reservations and had a waitlist which was really surprising because we went on a random weekday. Thankfully right outside of the Teshima Art Museum there was a pizza truck, and the gift shop had bagels and rice gelato (which had quiet the interesting texture). If you want to eat a proper meal at one of the restaurants here, be sure to call in advance or consider packing your own food for Teshima!

Yokoo House

The Yokoo House is a traditional Japanese house that has been completely transformed into one of the trippiest art museums you’ve ever seen. Some of the windows are tinted red which makes the outside area look very neon and retro. The outdoor garden has a golden turtle and the stones have been splashed with bright red, yellow, and green colors. Inside of the house photography is prohibited, but all of the works are worth seeing. There is a room full of mini waterfall tiles, DMT inspired artwork that depict various entities hanging on the wall, and clear glass on the floor so you can see fish swimming below you in the main room of the house. There are a lot of things to take in here. Even the outdoor toilets have metallic surfaces making them extremely aesthetic. The Yokoo House was my exhibition on Teshima for sure!

Entrance Fee: 520 yen

Art House Project (Your First Color)

“Your First Color” is an art house project that has an orb-shaped projector inside and flashes trippy images of flowers and different colors. It is very small and only contains a single room, but it is worth seeing to kill time while waiting for the bus. I personally enjoyed its visuals.

Entrance Fee: 300 yen

Dinner in Takamatsu

After 100% completing our travel itinerary, we decided to head back to Takamatsu via ferry so we could catch our evening flight back to Tokyo. We found a delicious seafood restaurant called Tenkatsu near the port and decided to get a teishoku set there. The meal was so delicious and looked even better than the picture online. In the center of the restaurant is a giant pool of fish that they use in their cooking. While we were eating, one of the larger fish jumped out of the pool, but fortunately one of the workers was able to help it get back in the water. What a way to end our long journey! I would recommend this place to people who love sushi and sashimi.

Final Thoughts

Visiting Naoshima after 5 years and seeing Shodoshima and Teshima for the first time made this trip worth it, because these islands have a lot of unique art that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world! The coexistence between art and nature is forever present in all of the works here, and all of the architects have such beautiful messages to deliver. Additionally, the architecture of the exhibits on these islands teaches you how beautiful natural lighting can be. It is up to you on how you interpret the true message of the artwork on these islands, but to me it shows how minimalism can have a huge impact on the way we view things. The Art House Project also shows how old and abandoned spaces can be completely transformed into something vinrant and new.

My favorite part of the trip was seeing the garden from Kiki’s Delivery Service on Shodoshima, but every day we spent on these three islands was memorable. I would recommend them to people who really love Japanese art and are down for a long adventure. I also would recommend traveling to Okinawa before coming to these islands because it is more accessible and there are more activities to do there.

My next destinations are Akita and Iwate later this month, which are the final two prefectures of Japan I haven’t seen yet! Please look forward to me writing about seeing the entirety of Japan!