Wandering through Neon Aesthetic Paradise in Naha

Lost in paradise in the infinity pool at Hotel Aqua Citta.

After an extremely fulfilling first day in Naha sipping on premium fruit cocktails and chilling at the Sanrio Resort, I planned to wander through neon aesthetic paradise at two recent attractions that had been added to the city since my last trip: Stem Resort and DMM Kariyushi Aquarium. I also wanted to hit the infinity pool at my new resort and reflect on life before flying to Miyakojima the next day.

I had a busy day ahead of me but fortunately was able to accomplish everything on my itinerary and meet many new friends in the process! If you come to Okinawa, you will never forget the friendliness of the people or the vividness of the city. I’m happy to say that day two of my trip was another brilliant success.

Stem Resort

Stem Resort is a 4 floor amusement park that just opened last year consisting of the Hitasura Kawaii Museum, a dinosaur park, a waterpark with inflatables, and a rooftop bar with hot tubs. No matter what age you are you’re bound to find something here that strikes your interest here. Given my love for neon colors, the Hitasura Kawaii Museum is what attracted me here the most. When I first walked in I was greeted by a wall of donuts and rainbow popsicles dangling from the ceiling. There was a room with a giant high heel you could sit in and watch looping BLACKPINK music videos. The lip-shaped couch in the adjacent room was definitely relaxing to sit on and the room full of lanterns made me feel like I was back at the teamLab Borderless museum. Holy nostalgia. The neon sides and donut slide were also a great touch but I think my favorite room was the final one that had a ball pit full of rainbow alpacas. I took a nap in there and replenished my MP. I am so happy I could finally experience this new museum because it’s been on my bucket list for quite a long time.

Since it was still raining this day I was unable to check out the outdoor attractions, but I was extremely satisfied with what I saw indoors. I have already been to a dinosaur park in Okayama and plan on going to the unicorn inflatable park once I can finally enter the Philippines, so the Kawaii Museum was what I was truly most interested and fortunately got a ton of pictures there. For all of my life I will never forget the ball pit full of rainbow alpacas.

Address: 901-0225 Okinawa, Tomigusuku, Toyosaki, 3-35 屋上
Entrance Fee: Depends on what you want to see but I paid 1800 yen to enter and thought the experience was worth it!

DMM Kariyushi Aquarium

Have you ever dreamed of walking through an LSD aquarium filled with jellyfish tanks? Well look no further! And believe it or not, this is just one small exhibit that makes up the DMM Kariyushi Aquarium.

Though the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium that I visited in 2016 takes the crown for being the biggest and most diverse aquarium in Japan, the DMM Aquarium combines art with underwater life and also has a rainforest area. Its creative visuals and lighting definitely enhance the experience and almost make you feel like you are part of the exhibit! There is a room where you can take off your shoes and walk on a sealed panel to view all of the fish and sting rays swimming beneath your feet. I also got to see a sloth up close for the very first time in the rainforest area, and they even had a rare species of turtle here too!

I highly recommend trying the churros at the cafe. I bought them for the cute packing because I love tiny eels. This experience was so fun and had the best jellyfish exhibit that I had ever seen. If you’re looking for an artsy aquarium that is centrally located in Naha then this is your place!

Address: 3-35 Toyosaki, Tomigusuku, Okinawa 901-0225
Entrance Fee: 2400 yen

Vegan Omurice and Falafels at Ukishima Garden

Continuing my theme of trying new vegan restaurants, I decided to stop at Ukishima Garden to try some vegan omurice stuffed with rice and vegetables and order some falafel on the side. Instead of egg they used tofu to give this dish the classic fluffy texture. It was so creative and tasted even better than the usual omurice. I think this was actually the best dish that I had on the island! It was home cooked and made with love! They also have vegan burgers and taco rice on the menu as well as organic teas and wines. Check it out if you ever get the chance because this food is top notch!

Address: 2 Chome-12-3 Matsuo, Naha, Okinawa 900-0014

Accommodation

Although I adored the Sanrio Hotel I stayed at the night before, I really wanted to stay somewhere with a pool so I chose Naha Aqua Citta which is rated as one of the top city resorts. With its beautiful infinity pool, free welcome drink tickets, and friendly atmosphere, I can definitely see why! I met so many amazing people on the rooftop bar that invited me to play drinking games because I was alone. We even ended up going to a hookah bar called Silver Ren which had the best hookah that I’ve ever smoked in Japan. People of all ages, races, and cultures were here so it was truly an international experience. The cheapest rooms are around 6800 yen per night which are more than worth it for the amenities. I would definitely stay here again just so I could mingle and meet more awesome people.

In my next article I will talk about my trip to Miyako Island! Thank you for reading and please look forward to it~

Evangelion Sword Exhibition at Toei Kyoto Studio Park

In between photographing the Autumn leaves and seeing illuminations at Kiyomizudera, I decided to stop by Kyoto’s Toei Studio Park for the chance to pilot an Eva Unit. This animation amusement park showcasing Toei’s treasures has been around for quite some time, but just this October a permanent life-sized Evangelion ride was added to the outdoor area. You can stand in its giant outstretched hand and take awesome pictures or make the decision to pilot it yourself. Once you climb into the entry plug of Unit 01, a simulated battle will occur as you synchronize with the Eva. There’s also a pool of L.C.L. surrounding the Unit adding to the realness. Even if you’re not a diehard fan of the anime, you have to admit that this exhibit is pretty impressive.

I first started watching Neon Genesis Evangelion when I was 14—the same age as Shinji and the rest of the pilots. This is one of the best ages to watch it because you are most impressionable and can relate to the daily lives of the pilots. Like the majority of people when they first watch the anime, I was awestruck by the deep psychological themes and did not expect the ending to be such a beautiful tragedy. For about 10 years this was my favorite anime, but now as an adult I can see some of the flaws in the series; such as key points and motives that were deliberately left unexplained. Despite Rebuild throwing the story into further chaos, I am excited for the final movie and Evangelion and its unique characters still hold a special place in my heart.

From 10//03/2020 – 12/20/2020 there is a special Evangelion Sword Exhibition on display. The swords are beautifully crafted with characteristics that will remind you of the characters and story. I personally loved seeing the NERV logo carved into the sheath. There is even a life-sized Lance of Longinus should you run into any angels in the museum. They really thought of everything here.

Seeing all of these Eva-themed swords really brought me back. Childhood me would have been absolutely thrilled to see this. Despite the criticism the series has received, it truly is a masterpiece. The insane amount of collaborations it has received is also impressive. Since this sword exhibit is ending this year, I am excited to see what they add here next!

Access & Admission Fee

From Kyoto Station, take the San-In line towards Sonobe and get off at Hanazono Station. The park is about a 10 minute walk from here and the total time it takes is less than 30 mins. The transportation cost is 200 yen.

The entrance fee to the park is 1600 yen which is fair because it has a large indoor and outdoor area. In addition to the Evangelion exhibits, there is an Edo-styled village with restaurants and other animation displays. Coming here was definitely worth it for the full Eva pilot experience!

Super Aesthetic Adventures in Osaka (Day 1)

For the duration of the 4 day consecutive summer holiday known as “Marine Day” in Japan, my boyfriend and I decided to take our very first trip together to bustling city of Osaka!  We chose this destination because it’s much more laid-back than Tokyo and there is a myriad of things to do and see here.  You can walk by the river and sip on a Strong Zero while being right in the heart of the city where there’s never a dull moment.  I’ve traveled to Osaka about 10 times (mainly for music events), but I still haven’t seen it all.  This time I was most excited to see the Kaiyukan Aquarium and go to the old school arcades with my boyfriend who is a fighting game fanatic.  Along the way we discovered so many delicious restaurants and made heartfelt memories that I’ll never forget.

We departed from Nagoya via the Willer Express Bus at 8:30am.  This was a good move because it was cheaper than the shinkansen and we could peacefully sleep on it.  We arrived to the Umeda Sky Building (in central Osaka) around 11:30 where we walked to La Tartine for coffee and some sweets.  I found this cafe through my Instragram algorithms and wanted to try the dog macaroon because it reminded me of Pasocom Ongaku Club’s mascot.  I also tried a cookie with a beach design that tasted amazing.  All of the desserts were intricately made here.  Incidentally, we also got a free coffee jelly as a gift for discovering this cafe through Instagram.  How nice♫~

Next we made our way towards our hotel in Shinsaibashi and decided to get some okonomiyaki for lunch at Hanahana since it was nearby.  Not only was this place absolutely delicious, but it was dirt cheap too.  I ordered shrimp okonomiyaki and my boyfriend got a mix of pork and seafood in his.  It was such a satisfying meal:

img_7633
Okonomiyaki: The staple Osaka meal.

Since our hotel wasn’t quite ready to check in to, we dropped off our stuff and headed straight to Kaiyukan Aquarium which I had never been to before!  This is one of the most famous aquariums in Japan so I figured it would be the perfect date spot.  Unfortunately since it was a holiday,  a lot of other people had the same idea so we had to wait an hour to enter.  Luckily it was worth the wait.  I had been to Japan’s largest aquarium in Okinawa years ago, but I hadn’t been to another one in ages so this was refreshing.  In addition to colorful schools of fish, smiling stingrays, and the “Silence Brand” crab, they also had capybara which is my favorite animal there too!  My boyfriend most enjoyed the waddle of penguins (yes, a group of penguins is actually called a “waddle”):

We were very impressed with the large variety of sea creatures here!  I also loved seeing the “Keep distance” penguin sign, though it was an impossible challenge for the over-excited Japanese children here.  I also liked the message that said “all things are connected” at the end.  It really had me thinking for a while.  By the time we finished seeing all of the exhibits here, we were exhausted.  This aquarium is quite huge compared to other underwater exhibits in Japan.

Admission Fee: 2,550 yen (worth in in my opinion)

Not wanting to miss out on every food opportunity that life presented us, we stopped for ramen and ice cream.  The two main food groups.  I bought a capybara souvenir at the aquarium so I could forever remember this moment.  This isn’t the first time this has happened.  My boyfriend chose to eat ramen at Zundoya which has a branch in Osaka.  He said it was some of the best that he’s had in a while.  I tried the Pokemon ice cream flavors at Bakin Robbins, but unfortunately they didn’t live up to the hype.  I give them a 6/10 because they taste like sugary melted soda.  They would be much more satisfying if they contained vodka.  Fortunately that’s what we had next…

img_7737
Drinking the galaxy at Mixology Bar Factory & Gear.

Yet another bar that ended up in my Instagram algorithms was called Mixology Bar Factory & Gear.  And boy, it did not disappoint.  It was here that we met a fire bender and drank magical cocktails from the galaxy.  My boyfriend also ordered a Tuxedo Mask-esque drink and another drink that was wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer.  I ordered the “Little Planet” (pictured above) and a mysterious pineapple drink with a bubble that you can pop.  Watching the video is easier than explaining it.  This is peak aesthetic:

The taste of all of these drinks can be described as “works of art” but this Tweet sums our experience up the best:

If you have time, please check this bar out!  The average cost of drinks is 1300 yen but I promise that you won’t be disappointed.  There’s also some “Viagra Liqueur” (the opposite of whiskey dick) for those who are feeling adventurous.  We will remember this bar for the rest of our lives.

Where to Stay

Normally I stay at Asahi Capsule Hotel when I’m alone since it’s one of the cheapest places in Osaka, but since I came here with someone special I wanted to stay somewhere a bit nicer.

This time I chose Felice Hotel because it was only 5000 yen per night for 2 people.  This was within walking distance of Dotonbori and all of the bars we wanted to go to so it was the perfect choice.  Our bed was huge and extremely comfy.  There is also a public onsen bath and a rooftop bar that you can visit.  I would honestly love to stay here again!

Spending my 25th Birthday at a Hut in Vietnam (Part 3)

After going on a grand tour of Phu Quoc Island on the day of my birthday, I decided to spend my final day in Vietnam going to Hon Thom Sun World amusement park.  To reach this amusement park, you must go to the south end of the island by taxi and ride the world’s longest cable car to another island.  You will pass over a cluster of fishing markets on your way there so it really is worth it for the view.  I remember the ocean looked so beautiful from above.  I’m really grateful I got the chance to swim in it when I landed!

As soon as I entered the park I noticed I was starving, so I ordered some vegan spring rolls, a seafood noodle dish, and a strawberry smoothie.  I was surprised at how big the serving sizes were!  There are restaurants all over the place so you’ll never go hungry:

Next I decided it was time to explore the park.  I’ll admit that my main reason for coming here was to ride the cable car.  I didn’t put much research into what attractions there were, but I figured I’d go and have fun no matter what.  I looked at a local guidepost for direction, except there was only one destination on it:

44169730_10215546160518535_8006554647382720512_n
There is only one direction!! ONE!

I thought this was some kind of joke until I looked on Inspirock and realized others had run into this same situation:

review1

So okay, Trao Beach it was!  At least I could ride a air-conditioned van there from the park for free.  Since it was October, there wasn’t many people there so I could relax and enjoy it all I wanted.  It was essentially a private beach.  This was one of the scenarios where it was not about the destination, but they journey.  I had a lot of nice time thinking to myself and listening to all my favorite music.  The tiki statues and chairs made out of tires that I saw here also added to the ambiance:

Even though there wasn’t a lot to see at Sun World, being on a remote tropical island was more fun than being stuck in the city.  What’s interesting is that some pictures of the park online show a water park, but it only seems to be open during certain seasons.  There was no mention of it when I went in 2018 so I wonder if it’s under renovation.  I saw all sorts of construction going on in the main pavilion near the restaurant I was eating at.  I would guess that there is some plan to expand this park because it is in a beautiful area that has a lot of nature.  It really could become something amazing!

Is it worth it?

The cost for the cable car ticket is around $15 USD (roundtrip) and entrance to the park is around $25 USD.  This actually isn’t that bad for a day on an island in Vietnam, but you could definitely go cheaper.  If you have an extra day to kill this excursion is great because of the unique cable car view—especially if you have a camera.  However, there may be only one destination available when you reach the island… you won’t know until you get there!

Upon further research, I noticed there is another amusement park called Sun World Ba Na Hills in Vietnam with the same logo (so they must be owned by the same company).  Search engines are likely confusing them in English.  Perhaps Phu Quoc’s Sun World (the one I visited) is going to be designed as a miniature version of the larger one.  Who knows?  I hope to return to Vietnam and visit the other, larger, park when it’s safe so I can expand this article!

My favorite places to hang in Seoul

Since I’ve finished my Jeju Island article series, I’m going to write about some of my favorite places to hang out in Seoul next.  It’s hard to structure this article because there are literally so many cool areas of the city!  My two favorite districts in Seoul are by far Itaewon and Gangnam.  Both have extremely different vibes but are perfect for a night out depending on what my mood is.  Itaewon is friendliest and most international while Gangnam is the fanciest district is Seoul.  Even though I can’t speak Hangul, I never have trouble making friends in this city.  Spontaneously getting invited to a bachelor’s party while staying here was one of the coolest things that have ever happened to me in a foreign country.  I’ve been to Korea three times and hope to visit again when international travel is possible again.

Without further ado, here are the most fun places that I’ve discovered:

Common Ground

Common Ground is an urban mall that was built out of containers and is really fun to explore.  Unlike other malls, there’s not a huge mob of annoying shoppers here because those type of people usually go to the fancier malls in the center of the city.  Common Ground features small designer stores and also has restaurants and live music.  A lot of stores here import brands too.  No matter what your price range is, you can usually find something that fits your taste here.  I actually didn’t buy much but I had fun doing photography with the winter illuminations outside.  There was also a statue of an astronaut outside and some replicas of Roman statues inside the main building when I visited.  How aesthetic!

While I was walking around here, a Korean student came up to me and interviewed me for a university project.  Since I didn’t have a strict itinerary during my first trip, I happily participated.  She asked me various questions about my country and also gave me some Korean snacks.  Though it was a simple project, I was happy that I could help out.  Common Ground is close to many universities so it’s great for socializing and meeting people!

Lotte World

Lotte World is one of the most famous amusement parks in Korea.  In fact, it’s the largest indoor theme park in the world—which is why I had to go!  It’s located in the massive Lotte Mall that has hundreds of shops and food from all around the world.  If you are looking for top tier shopping in Seoul, then this is the place.  I came after the start of the new year so the park had a winter theme.  Fortunately it wasn’t very crowded and I could ride all of the rides that I wanted!  There are carousels, roller coasters, haunted houses, and my personal favorite: The Balloon Ride.  You can see the entire indoor park and mall from the top which makes it an amazing experience.

Even though Lotte World is owned by Lotte Co. Ltd., there are actually a lot of parallels between it and Disney Land.  For example, the outside of Lotte World resembles the Disney World Castle.  It also has a beautiful lake that you can view by walking across a bridge that leads to the artificially created “Magic Island” which is a lot like Disney Sea.  Despite these similarities, the attractions are quite different and the entrance to Lotte World is considerably cheaper.  If you like one park, you’ll probably like the other too.

I would recommend checking out Lotte World as opposed to other amusement parks because you can come here in any kind of weather thanks to the indoor park area.

Entrance Fee: 32$ for adults (cheaper than most amusement parks in Japan so it’s overall worth it)

Jogyesa Temple

The Jogyesa Temple in Insadong, Seoul is probably my favorite temple of all time in Korea.  I first came here during the Lotus Festival in April and many bright hand-crafted paper ornaments were hung around the entire complex.  I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was!  Jogyesa is actually the center of Buddhism in Korea and many rituals and ceremonies are held here.  There are private prayer rooms as well as places that you can make public offerings.  The Chinese Scholar Tree was planted on the temple grounds because it is said to convert negative energy into positive energy and happiness.  Though I’m not particularly religious, I definitely felt in high spirits here.  Please check this place out if you ever get the chance.  The monks are very friendly and welcoming.

I enjoyed seeing the English pack of M&Ms being used as an offering when I went:

img_1856

Entrance Fee: Free

Myeongdong

Myeongdong is essentially the Shibuya/Harajuku of Seoul.  You can come here at any time of day and find something fun to do.  It has street food, hilarious fashion (“say no to kids, drugs”), recreational parks, and cafes galore.  The street and night markets have knock-off Gucci and Supreme which you can score for a low price.  I enjoyed eating octopus and drinking sochu while I walked through all the streets and alleyways.

Some of my favorite places I found around Myeongdong Station were:

  • Artbox – An adorable mall with art supplies, cosmetics, and accessories.  It reminded me of the LINE Friends store in Japan but had way more variety.
  • Stylenada 3CE – A pool-themed shopping mall and cafe with beautiful pink decor.  It has amazing desserts!
  • Bbongsin – An amazing restaurant with cold noodles and calzones.  Some of the best Korean food I’ve ever had!
  • Milky Bee – An ice cream shop with flower-shape gelato.
  • Happy Pills – Candy prescriptions.

Myeongdong has bars that stay open late, but not much of a club scene.  Continue reading to see my recommendations for clubs:

Gangnam

Ever since the song “Gangnam Style” became a hit song, I feel like this district doesn’t really need an introduction but I’ll give it a go anyway.  Gangnam is the most upscale district in Seoul but you can enjoy the nightlife here with almost any budget.  In addition to some of the most reputable clubs, it has secluded parks you can walk through by the river side and amazing cafes.  Gangnam itself is pretty spread out so people don’t normally drink in the streets like in Itaewon.  It’s classy and has a club area as well as a quiet upscale residential district as well.

My first memory of Gangnam was meeting up with some of my old college friends here and going to Octagon, where we got invited to VIP tables and drank champagne.  If you’re a girl then it’s really easy to meet people that will buy you drinks here.  The crowds and sound system are pretty insane too.  I honestly got too lit my first time here so I’d really like to come back and just focus on the music next time.

Last year I decided to get my eye bags removed at JK Plastic in Gangnam.  I had sunken eyelids that were caused by genetics so the veins under my skin would show and create permanent eye bags.  I always looked tired and wanted to fix the issue so I opted for eye surgery.  I chose JK Plastic because they are one of the highest-rated clinics in Korea and speak English.  It took about a week of downtime in Korea and then six weeks of recovery at home, but the skin beneath my eyelids has been fully restored now!  When I woke up from surgery I nearly cried because they did such an amazing job and I could already see the results despite having a swollen face.  During my down time I played visual novels and also watched a lot of anime.  It wasn’t so bad—just make sure you have enough time off to take care of yourself!

Plastic surgeons in Korea are the best in the world.  The advantage of going here is that if you’re a tourist you can get a tax refund from the surgery when you go to the airport.  I would not recommend plastic surgery in Japan because my friends have said the surgeons here are not as experienced or friendly.  I would recommend doing research, scheduling an online consultation with a clinic you like, and seeing what options fit you best.  I may write a full article on this at a later time!

Itaewon

26195351_10213465610706090_665561559694358007_n
The inside of Fountain, one of my favorite watering holes in Itaewon.

Itaewon is my favorite place to start my night out in Seoul.  I have so many fond memories here.  It caters to the late-night international crowd and has small, condensed streets as well as beautiful murals that decorate the walls.  You can sit at an outdoor bar or go drinking in the street and easily meet people (both tourists and Korean nationals).  You can find pretty much any type of restaurant or dessert shop here too.  It has the feel of a college town but is much more upscale and classy.  Usually I spend my first night going to various clubs and bars then wake up and soak in Itaewon Land Spa.

My favorite club here is called Cakeshop because it features a lot of independent producers from both Seoul and other countries plus it has a great vibe.  It originally caught my eye because Carpainter did a set here in 2015 (unfortunately I was in America at the time or I would have gone).  The club is small enough with one DJ booth and bar that it’s easy to converse with people and enjoy the music.  I have made a number of friends here that I still stay in touch with.  The entry fee usually isn’t more than $25.

Besides Cakeshop, Fountain is a great place to check out.  The first floor is huge dance floor that’s always usually packed and the upper floors have tables and arcades for bigger groups.  The music here is usually western EDM which disinterests me, but the atmosphere of the club is impressive.  I have never paid any entrance fee when I have gone in.  What I remember of Club Awesome was awesome too!

Next time I’m here I really want to check out a club called Pumpkin.  If it’s actually Halloween-themed like its outer decor implies then I’m in.

Other Interesting Places:

  • Hongdae – Hongdae is a popular spot for college students and those who love K-pop music clubs.  I came here to visit the ADERerror store and also to do some shopping.  I didn’t like it as much as Itaewon or Gangnam due to my music taste, but I highly recommend you spend a night exploring here and see what you think.

    I found an amazing “Magical Item Shop” called Creamy DD with tons of Sailor Moon and other magical girl accessories here.  It’s easy to spot the sign if you walk down the main road:

  • Ihwa Mural Village – Since I went to Busan and saw Gamcheon I skipped this village, but if you are looking for beautiful murals and art to see then please check this place out!  I want to go here in the future.
  • Secret Garden – A scenic area around Changdeokgung Palace that I recommend checking out if you have the time.  It is one of the most beautiful gardens in Seoul!
  • Nami Island – A scenic island near Seoul where many K-dramas are filmed.  Click the link to read my full article on it!

Places to Stay

As a backpacker, I favor cheap hostels but the majority of accommodations in Korea are less expensive than in Japan.  You can likely find a nice hotel for $45 USD or less too.

Here are some of the places that I stayed at and enjoyed in Korea.  I booked them close in proximity to the clubs I was interested in checking out:

  • Guesthouse Yacht (Itaewon) – A very inexpensive apartment-style dorm in the heart of Itaewon.  This is my go-to place if I’m spending the night there because it’s safe, quiet, and conveniently located.
  • Kimchee Guesthouse (Gangnam) – A guest house near Gangnam City Office that has private and dorm rooms.  I stayed here during my eye surgery recovery period and it was perfect because my room had a shower inside it.  This is the cheapest you will get in the fanciest part of the city, I assure you.
  • Neo Seoul Guesthouse – I wanted to try staying in Hongdae for a night, so I chose this place because of the cool name.  It was cheap and I could easily access the airport limousine the next day so I recommend it for its convenience (Itaewon and Gangnam are a bit further away).

Dessert Recommendations

Please see Desserts that will make your heart melt in Seoul Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.

This will be the last article about Korea that I write until my next trip!  Since I live in Japan, I can sometimes find cheap round-trip flights for under $150 so I come here usually once a year for a week long vacation.  Usually new restaurants and venues open, plus cosmetics and beauty clinics are really cheap here so I always have something to look forward to.  Until next time, Seoul!

 

Adventures in Nikko: Waterfalls, Igloos, and Walking in an Edo Wonderland

27750607_10213770949059358_4463311580879202149_n
The snow on the mountains behind Nikko Station give it a scenic winter look.

Yesterday I wrote about the popular mountainous hotspring getaway Hakone, so today I’m writing about Tokyo’s other most popular day trip: Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture. Like Hakone, Nikko is also a famous hotsprings area located in the mountains that has stunning nature, temples, and a lot of parks as well.  Between the two of them, Hakone is my favorite because the hotsprings and museums are easier to reach by bus.  Nikko is more spaced-out than Hakone and some of the hot springs take over two hours via bus to reach.  That is a lot of traveling to do if you’re just coming for the day, but if you really like hiking you may find Nikko more interesting.  Both are worth seeing at least once.

I’ve been to Nikko twice (once in the summer and once in the winter for the snow festival) so I will be detailing my favorite discoveries in this article.  All of these places can be reached via bus from Nikko Station:

Kegon Falls & Toshogu Shrine

Kegon Falls is one of the most gorgeous waterfalls in Tochigi Prefecture.  It was formed by lava that rerouted a river into Lake Chuzenji.  We came here in the dead of winter when the surrounding area was covered by snow and slightly frozen, but the waterfall was still freely falling from the mountains.  I will never forget how beautiful this scenery was.  No matter what time of year you visit you will have an unforgettable view!

In the summer I visited Nikko’s most famous shrine: Toshogu.  This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a good reason.  This shrine serves as remembrance for Tokugawa Ieyasu who ruled the Tokugawa Shogunate for over 200 years.  This shrine complex consists of several buildings with the main one being adorned in golden architecture that gleams in the sunlight.  The shrines are located in a forested area so visiting each of them is quite a nice hike.  I’m glad that I’ve traveled here during both the summer and winter so I can see the lovely change of scenery.

Kegon Falls has no admission fees, but it costs 550 yen to go to the observation deck (which is worth it in my opinion).

Toshogu Shrine Entrance Fee: 1300 yen

Yuba Udon

Nikko is famous for yuba which is literally tofu skin.  That might not sound very appealing by itself, but it’s quite delicious when paired with or added to other dishes.  I tried Yuba udon with my friend and it tasted amazing!  The soft texture of the yuba paired with the noodles and broth gave the dish a unique texture.  I also tried some yuba slices on the side just so I could fully analyze the taste.  They are not as solid as tofu and are easier to eat.  My favorite tofu of all time is fried tofu or spicy tofu since they have the most flavor.  Yuba is rather flavorless, but it’s good for your health if eaten in small amounts.  We went to the restaurant across from the station called ゆば料理, but you can try it almost anywhere in Nikko.

Yumoto Onsen Snow Festival

Each year in February, Yumoto Onsen has a snow festival in which igloos with ice sculptures are illuminated similar to the Sapporo Snow Festival.  However, since this hotsprings resort is secluded, there are not as many people here and you can fully enjoy the illuminations to your heart’s content.  It was quite a long journey from Tokyo, but my friend and I managed to arrive here and back within a day.  The journey took 3.5 hours one way, but Yumoto Onsen is one of the best hotsprings in Nikko.  After doing some photography here, we used the hotsprings for under 1000 yen.  Similar to Gero Onsen and Kusatsu, you can choose from a large variety of onsen.  Many were available for day trippers like us.  The snow festival is free to see.

Here is a video I took in early 2018 of the igloos.  I hope to take higher quality footage of another illuminated snow festival in the future:

Tobu World Square

Because I’m a fan  of museums and architecture, I had to check out Tobu World Square.  This is a theme park at Kinugawa Onsen (another famous hotspring) that has over 100 scales models of iconic places from around the world.  My personal favorite was the pyramids from Egypt.  If you stand in front of them and take a picture of yourself, it looks like you’re actually in the desert!  The coliseum from Rome is also aestheically pleasing to see.  I loved the mini recreation of the Dragon and Taiwan Pagoda as well.  Now that I’ve been there, it hold much more meaning to me.  The more you walk through the park, the more you want to travel!  Summer is the ideal time to come here in my opinion.

Entrance Fee: 2500 yen (a bit expensive, but this is one of the most interesting museums in Nikko).

Walking in an Edo Wonderland

Since I was already near Kinugawa Onsen where many museums are located, I figured I’d go walking in an Edo Wonderland.  As the name implies, this is an amusement park dedicated to the Edo period of Japan.  If you’ve studied Japanese history, then you’ll know that this was a revolutionary time for the country.  There were samurais, economic growth, and a lot of development across Japan.  Many anime and novels are based off this time period.  Edo Wonderland plays homage to that and gives visitors the chance to step back into that world.  You can visit ninja houses and temples here, dress up in formal Edo clothing, take a boat cruise down the river, and see all sorts of performances.

Since I’ve been living in Japan for while, the most interesting part was simply exploring the Edo town for me.  However, there’s a lot more you can do here!  There is an archery dojo, countless restaurants, and museums where you can get even further lost in time.

Entrance Fee: 4800 yen before 2pm, 4100 after 2pm (it’s best to come in the afternoon as this is quite expensive)

Access

The best way to access Nikko is from Tokyo’s Ueno Station.  At the tourism office, they have often have discounts and deals as Nikko is a popular destination.  From Ueno, you can take the Hibiya Line to Kita-senju Station, then the Tobu Limited Express to reach Tobu-Nikko Station.  This takes approximately 2 hours and costs 3500 yen.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never stayed overnight at Nikko before but it’s something I’d like to try in the future.  Kinugawa Onsen is one of the centrally located and seems like a good option because you can reach the other areas of Tochigi Prefecture quite easily from it.

Riding a Bike through the Sky in Okayama (Washuzan Highland)

After hitch-hiking around Okayama and seeing all of the major sights it had to offer, I decided to make my way to Washuzan Highland so I could ride the “most terrifying rollercoaster in all of Japan” (that’s really not so terrifying).  Washuzan Highland is a Brazilian-themed amusement park about an hour from Okayama Station.  The park has everything from roller coasters to swimming pools to petting zoos.  Because it’s located in the countryside of Japan, it has a huge amount of attractions but not nearly as many tourists as other amusement parks.  With the tropical plants, Brazilian performers, and the vibrant atmosphere, I really did feel like I was in a different country here!

The terrifying rollercoaster, called the “SkyCycle”, is actually a pedal-powered roller bike that’s extremely high up in the sky.  Although I didn’t find it scary, the fear likely stems from the fact that it’s not automated like other rollercoasters; the bike is entirely in your control and you go around at your own pace.  Looking down might cause panic for those who are afraid of heights, but this is a great ride for people like me who love adventure.  The ride is only about a minute long but you get an awesome view of Okayama Prefecture and Shikoku Island from it:

I was a little disappointed that the ride wasn’t a bit longer, but I understand that people may get scared over time if it were.  The bike has two seats but you can ride it alone.  I rode it twice so I could experience it from both the inward and outward seats.  The outward seat is definitely more thrilling because it faces the edge and you can feel the motion of the turns more.  Though it looks a bit dangerous from all of the media exposure, SkyCycle is completely safe because each chair has a seat belt, so you don’t have to worry about falling off.  You should be careful of dropping your camera though!

After surviving the most terrifying rollercoaster, I decided to go swimming for a while in the pool.  It’s not very deep but it’s extremely refreshing on a hot day in August!  Next I did some rollerskating at the roller rink.  I specifically remember that the song Cookie by banvox started playing on a loudspeaker, and I picked up the pace.  It was really cool to hear one of his rare older songs played in his home prefecture!  By that point I was exhausted, so I bought a melon and hung out at the petting zoo.  I enjoyed seeing the white hens and hamster tree.  I ate some nice egg sushi from a place nearby as well (the tamago sushi here is ginormous).  Though this happened nearly three years ago, I still remember what an exhilarating experience this was!

Unfortunately I didn’t take many pictures of the park, but trust me it’s worth riding the SkyCycle for this view:

20139721_10212099713159505_5526190530322620188_n

I may come back here again with my GoPro if I have time in the future.  If you have the time, consider checking out Okayama!  It’s such an under-rated city and has much for you to discover.

Access

303-1 Shimotsuifukiage, Kurashiki, Okayama 711-0926

Admission Fee: 2800 yen (worth it because there’s hardly any wait time for the rides)

Traveling to the Real-life House from Totoro (Nagoya)

During my first trip to Nagoya for the World Cosplay Summit, I made sure to book tickets to see the real-life Totoro house because it had been a lifelong dream of mine to visit.  Located in the east part of the city, the Satsuki and Mei House is a perfect replica of the setting in My Neighbor Totoro from my childhood memories.  You can enter the house and explore it to see what living in the 1950s was like in Japan.  It has everything from the palm trees planted outside the veranda to the exact shape and size of all the furniture within the house.  The clothing of the characters can be found inside the closet adding to the realness.  Photography inside is strictly forbidden, but photos from the outside are allowed so it’s fun to create comparisons to the movie.

What I like most about Totoro is much of the story is told from the viewpoint of children but everyone watching can relate to their imagination.  It’s a story that focuses on exploration and not fear or conflict.  Totoro is a mysterious creature but his over-sized and fuzzy design give him a friendly aura.  This house doesn’t have any replicas of Totoro himself, but you can easily imagine that he’s there beside you.

Reserving Tickets

I originally used a Loppi machine at the Lawson convenience store chain to book my tickets 2 months in advance.  If you make a reservation on a weekday, you should have a chance of getting in faster.  If you are overseas, you can try sites like Voyagin to buy tickets (I’ve tried this in the past for tickets I can’t get and it works).

Admission Fee: 510 yen for 30 mins

30 minutes is more than enough time to see everything in the house, and there is a huge park that you can wander through once you’re finished.  As I’ve said before, Nagoya is a seriously underrated city.

Access

Yazako, Nagakute, Aichi 480-1103

From Nagoya Station, take the Higashiyama Line to Fujigaoka Station, then take the Yakusa Line to Ai-Chikyuhaku-Kinen-Koen Station.  This takes around an hour and costs 670 yen.

 

A Ninja Village & Various Amusement Parks Around Nagoya (Part 2)

35671619_10214706414525410_2460049755527446528_n
View from Iga Ueno Castle overlooking the city of ninjas.

Yesterday I talked about visiting Legoland Japan and Nagashima Spa Land in Part 1, so today I’d like to talk about my expedition to the Ninja Village of Iga.  Though the historic practice of Ninjutsu is now considered a dead art, this village houses a large museum showcasing its origin.  There are also ninja shows performed by professional actors, shops and shrines, and a large castle you can enter.  Since this village is very remote, the number of tourists is usually lower than other attractions in Kansai.  Iga is located in Mie Prefecture but the whole city can be seen during a day trip from Nagoya or Osaka.

Riding the train from Iga-Kambe Station to Iga-Ueno Station is a one-of-a-kind experience because the train artwork was done by Reiji Matsumoto, most famous for Galaxy Express 999.  There are also ninjas poised to attack inside the train car, so you are best off practicing your defense techniques beforehand (jokes aside, the short ride through the mountainous terrain in this two-car train is incredible).

When you get off at Iga Ueno Station, you have the option to rent bikes or walk.  You can see the major points of attraction within 3 – 4 hours on foot, so I would just recommend walking.  You can pick up a map at the tourism center next to the station so navigating the city is self-explanatory.  I started my trip by eating some some ninja udon at a noodle place called Kyuan (I greatly appreciated the shape of the toppings) then headed to Iga Ueno Castle so I could get a nice view of the entire village:

After doing some photography, I made my way to the gates of the ninja museum.  There are ninja shows almost every hour that you can see for 400 yen.  Unfortunately they are not allowed to be recorded, but they are worth seeing if you come all the way out here.  I enjoyed seeing the cute tiger mascot of Iga and some of the weapons that ninjas used in ancient times.  There is some English guidance so you can read about the history of the city at your leisure.  The village museum is designed for all ages and there are some really interesting artifacts there.  There are also handmade ninja charms you can buy.

Is it worth it?

Iga is roughly 2.5 hours from Nagoya and is quite a long day compared to the other attractions I mentioned in the first part of my article.  The city itself is quite small and can be seen within 4 hours.  Some of the attractions seem a bit gimmicky, but like most rural places I’ve visited I still enjoyed my time here.  As someone who lives in one of the busiest cities in the world, I have great appreciation for places like this.  Much of the now-abandoned ninja culture has been preserved here, so this is a rare chance to see it if you are interested in the history of Japan.  Not to mention Iga is a peaceful place with friendly people so your time will be valued here.

If you are interested in reading about the history of the Iga Ninja online before you go, please check the Koka Ninja House website.

Access

117 Uenomarunouchi, Iga, Mie 518-0873

From Kintetsu Nagoya Station, take the Kintetsu Limited Express to Nabari Station, then transfer to the same express going to Iga-Kambe Station.  From there you can ride the special ninja train to Iga Ueno Station and get off to reach the ninja village.  This costs 4210 yen one way and takes 2.5 hours, but was overall worth it in my opinion.

Admission Fee: 500 yen

A Ninja Village & Various Amusement Parks Around Nagoya (Part 1)

Earlier this year I wrote about the Floral Oasis amusement park I visited in Aichi Prefecture, so today I’d like to highlight 3 of my other recommended day trips from Nagoya: Legoland, Nagashima Spa Land, and the Ninja Village in Iga.

Nagoya is a seriously underrated city because its central location makes it the ideal place to explore surrounding prefectures.  You can easily access Mie and Gifu by using the JR lines and also can get to Kyoto and Osaka by bus or shinkansen.  There is a lot of nature, hotsprings, and obscure amusement parks that can be found by venturing to the outskirts of Aichi and beyond.  I’ve definitely had my fair share of adventures here.

Legoland Japan Resort

20663733_10212279927864760_1050922235458129608_n
Everything is awesome.

Legoland Japan is a relatively new theme park that opened in April 2017 making it only 3 years old of today.  I’ve been to many Legolands in the US, but I had never been to a Legoland Amusement Park until August 2017 shortly after this park opened.  Originally this park was criticized for its high admission fee (4600 yen), but from my experience it’s worth the money.  A lot of work went into constructing this park and its intricate attractions.  Unlike other amusement parks in Japan, it’s quite spacious and there was almost no waiting time even for the most popular rides even though we went on a weekend.  As a kid who used to play with Legos and construct anime characters with them, being here in Japan was absolutely surreal.

My favorite attraction was the Submarine because you dive into an underwater ecosystem constructed of Legos and real fish and sharks!  I was impressed to have such a thrilling experience here because it reminded me a lot of Disney Sea.  There is also another attraction you can ride with boats equipped water guns!  Even though this isn’t a water park, it had a lot of attractions that are well-suited for the hot days of summer.  The Lego-shaped fries are also worth trying!  There is also an awesome recreation of the major cities in Japan and Mt. Fuji built with (you guessed it) Legos.  This is undoubtedly the biggest Lego display in Japan:

Though I would rank this as one of the top amusement parks in Japan, the main con of Legoland is that is it is mostly aimed at families—the roller coasters aren’t that thrilling and about half of the rides are designed for kids.  However, after living in Japan longterm I’ve really come to appreciate this place.  Maybe my childhood nostalgia is part of the factor, but I liked the creativity that was put into this park.  The good news is that it has expanded once since I’ve visited, and has the potential to add new attractions in the future (much like a real Lego town).  Coming here was worth it for the aesthetic experience.

Access

455-8605 Aichi, Nagoya, Minato Ward, Kinjofuto, 2 Chome−2−1

Entrance Fee: 4600 yen

Nagashima Spa Land

Nagashima Spa Land is an amusement park combined with a hotspring—the Japanese dream.  Unlike Legoland, it actually has some really thriller rides.  The Steel Dragon 2000 is the longest roller coaster in the world so it’s worth visiting just for that factor!  My biggest issue with amusement parks in Japan is that I feel like they are too small for the large amount of visitors and that the rides are not adrenaline-filled enough.  However, Nagashima Spa Land and Fuji Q Highland impressed me with the intensity of their rides.  There are non-thriller roller coasters and attractions for children here as well.

I spent a lot of time in the hotspring which explains the lack of pictures, but I did come back out for the fireworks show at night.  The park has limited attractions but it’s definitely worth a day trip for the Steel Dragon 2000.  If you combine the amusement portion with a trip to the hotspring, then you can definitely make this a full day experience.  Like Legoland, the waiting times for rides are not so bad.  The downside is a lot of surrounding schools take field trips here, so be sure to avoid Japanese holidays if you come.

Access

333 Nagashimacho Urayasu, Kuwana, Mie 511-1192

Entrance Fee: 4100 yen for unlimited rides / 1600 yen pay per ride (100 yen-300 yen)*

*I honestly recommend paying per ride because likely you will just want to ride the roller coasters.

In my next article I will be talking about the Ninja Village in Iga I visited.  Please see Part 2 next.