It’s been quite a long time since I last paid visit to Nagoya—one of the most charming cities in Japan as I see it—but with the emergency state now lifted in several prefectures outside of Tokyo and the sakura in bloom, I figured last weekend would be the ideal time to visit. One museum that I’ve had my eye on for quite a long time is the Mikawakougei Glass Art Museum that houses Japan’s largest kaleidoscope. This museum is roughly an hour and a half outside of Nagoya city and is comparably small in size to other art galleries, but the vivid colors of stained glass and the wondrous kaleidoscope that shows the origins of the universe made it worth the journey.
In year 2000 this kaleidoscope, called “Sphere”, even held the Guinness World Record for the largest kaleidoscope in the world. Though others have surpassed it now, it is still the largest kaleidoscope in Japan and walking inside of it creates a euphoric sensation that I have never felt before. In addition to the kaleidoscope, there are many other fantasy themed glass works that you can enjoy. One of my favorites was an army of frogs on a record player that mimicked a swimming animation when you hit a switch. This place definitely had an air of mystery to it and it was fun to watch other visitors’ reactions as I walked through. There are many different concepts that you could take away from this place, but the theme that I thought was most prominent was “things aren’t always what they seem”.
Entering the kaleidoscope is quite an unforgettable experience because it plays an animation that simulates the big bang and then turns into a series of bright psychedelic colors that reflects off of all surfaces. During this time your body will appear completely silhouetted against the neon glass making it the perfect photo opp. Your time inside of the kaleidoscope is limited, but you can keep lining up until you are satisfied with your photos. I think I entered it around 3 times and the wait time was only around 5-10 minutes each time. I even made a short dance video of it! Que the Persona Dancing All Night music because a new character has been unlocked (the song I actually used in this video was Point by Perfume):
Since it was hard to predict the lighting prior to visiting, the video quality isn’t the best but I will never forget the sensation of dancing inside of Japan’s largest kaleidoscope to one of my favorite songs! I look forward to seeing what other photos and videos people take because it truly feels like a theater in here.
From Meitetsu Nagoya Station, take the Meitetsu-Nagoya Line Express to Nishioguchi Station then wait for the Rokumangoku Kururin Bus 4 that will take you directly to the museum. You can also take a taxi from the station if you do not wish to wait for the bus. This journey takes roughly an hour and a half but only costs 1010 yen.
The entrance fee is only 700 yen which is a deal for what you can experience. This is way cheaper than what I am normally used to paying for a museum!
After experiencing some amazing visuals inside of Japan’s largest kaleidoscope, I decided to meet my Japanese friend in central Nagoya for some mouthwatering eel. I had forgotten that besides Shizuoka, Nagoya is also extremely famous in Japan for its freshwater eel. According to my friend who is a local, the eels in Shizuoka have more of a light and fluffy texture while the eels in Nagoya are more charred. After tasting both, I can happily say that each cooking style has its merits. I wasn’t sure if I would like the thoroughly cooked Nagoya eel at first, but when paired with a fluffy omelette on rice the taste is out of this world! The eel and egg are best eaten together because not only do their textures balance, but their flavors do too!
The restaurant we chose to eat at was Unagi Kashiwa Nanatsuboshi near Issha Station, but you can find a number of eel restaurants around here. This restaurant also has chicken and fish for those who are not up for trying the eel/egg combo, but I highly recommend it!
Overall this was a perfect first day back in Nagoya. Seeing a noteworthy museum + fine dining = always a win in my book. I would recommend the Glass Museum to those who have already seen most of the museums in Nagoya and are looking for something different, as it is a bit far from the city but was a pleasant ride. It feels so great to finally be traveling again!
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!
After my fantastic first day of exploring architectural shrines, climbing a part of Mt. Hiei, photographing the vibrant red maple leaves, and trying delicious parfaits and cocktails, I woke up early and set out for my second day in Kyoto! The goal of today was to see as many shrines as possible and also experience the indie music scene while eating delicious food along the way. Fortunately I was able to accomplish all of that and and learn more about one of my most favorite cities in Japan. There is truly always adventure to be had here!
The highlight of my Autumn Adventures in Kyoto was seeing the beautiful illuminations at Kiyomizudera and surrounding temples. This temple is beautiful year-round, but fall is when its colors truly come to life. As you climb the steps you can see an awesome view of Mt. Otowa and Kyoto Tower in the distance that are partially obscured by the bright red leaves. There are light bulbs carefully placed beneath the maple trees so you can clearly make out the colors. The best place to take pictures is at the stage of Kiyomizudera which was built over 1000 years ago and has been the center of many kabuki shows and performances. In old times there was a legend that said if you jumped off this 4-story building and survived, your wish would be granted. Now you can simply make an offering at the shrine for your wish to be granted, and from my personal experience, sometimes wishes do come true!
After walking around the series of shrines and pagodas here, I also visited Kodaiji so I could see the dragon illumination. This temple has a zen garden and a picturesque pond so it is also another key spot for photography. If you continue to walk through the streets of Kiyumizudera, this temple is extremely easy to reach referencing the guideposts around the area. There are also food and souvenir shops galore so the atmosphere here is never dull!
While looking up unique dining options in Kyoto online, I came across teori zushi—which means “hand-woven sushi” at a restaurant called awomb. This healthy meal set is served with sushi rice and seasonal hand-picked fruits and vegetables so you can create your own customized maki rolls. The toppings are placed in a beautiful way that looks like art and you can use a fine-tipped brush to carefully apply soy sauce to your rolls. My personal favorites were the pumpkin and egg toppings because they were so light and delicious. Although some of these combinations may seem strange at first glance, you can season everything in a way that fits your own personal tastes so eating teori zushi is very fun! I would highly recommend this restaurant to people who love sushi and are looking for a new experience because this set gives you a way to experiment with flavor. I also ordered the sweet sake set so I could enjoy it with my meal.
awomb requires reservations in advance, but you can easily book a seat on their English website. The price for this meal set was around 3000 yen and the quality was well worth it. Please note their are two branches in Karasu and Nishikiyamachi so you can choose the location that’s most convenient for you. Overall this is the most delicious sushi I’ve tried in Kyoto!
Unique Kyoto Desserts
Though Kyoto has no shortage of mouth-watering food, two of my favorite desserts I tried on this trip was a flamingo egg waffle and dango topped with ice cream.
I first tried an egg waffle when I was in Hong Kong in 2017, but I had never seen one that looked like a flamingo before! You can try this delicious raspberry-flavored egg waffle with edible flowers at a teahouse called 京花果茶 圓-en-. The best part was honestly the the sweet cream they hid inside the waffle. I would gladly come back here and try another flavor if it was available! There is also flower tea available here for tea enthusiasts.
After I ate my teori sushi, I walked to Japanese Ice Ouca to try their famous “mitrashi dango”. You can choose between white or green dango and then select your favorite flavor of ice cream to go on top. I chose white dango with vanilla ice cream because I thought it would taste good with the sweet soy glaze and it did! This is such a simple concept (literally a scoop of ice cream on dango) but this is the first dessert place that I’ve seen it offered. I highly recommend trying it because it melts in your mouth and has the perfect combination of sweetness.
Both of these places are located in central Kyoto so they are pretty easy to access by bus or train. I look forward to the new dessert spots that pop up next time I visit!
“Pyramid” @ West Harlem
Whenever I travel to a different city in Japan, I try to immerse myself in the nightlife unique to that location as much as possible. West Harlem has become a reputable club in Kyoto that a number of my music friends have talked about. On the night I decided to check it out, the Kyoto-born label known as No Collar 4 Kicks (NC4K) was throwing their monthly event called “Pyramid”. This is a house, soul, and R&B free-for-all that starts at 10pm and goes on into the early hours of the morning. After doing all that sightseeing and photography I was ready to get my drink on.
As soon as I entered the club I was greeted by my friend 芽田ぱに子 who is a singer and trackmaker that moved to Kyoto to pursue her dream of music. I met her previously at a music workshop that was held in Kyoto the previous year. Though she was not performing tonight, it was great to see so many artists hanging out in one space and supporting one another. I also ran into two of my DJ friends who also came from Tokyo for the holiday weekend, any many rounds of drinks ensued. Within the first hour of my time here at West Harlem I felt extremely welcome!
The first DJ up was Lomax, also known as Magochi. Not only is he a talented DJ but he also makes delicious tacos under the name “Magobell”. Another artist from NC4K I really like is Stones Taro, who is the boss of the label and produces a lot of old school house music. My favorite song on NC4K is “New Old School” which they both made together. I heard it first when they performed at Batica in Tokyo in 2019:
This event was really cool because the DJs experimented with a lot of vinyl and the crowd had no idea what song was coming up next but almost everyone was on their feet dancing. At one point during the night I had a vodka tonic in one hand and a taco in the other while vibing to the beat so this event gets a solid 10/10 from me. Because I was dancing so, I didn’t take a lot of videos but here is a noteworthy one that shows the general atmosphere of West Harlem. Please check this venue out if you get the chance. Whatever night you go you’re sure to have a good time:
With the perfect mix of sightseeing, food, and music this day really couldn’t have been better. Whenever I first wake up in Kyoto, I always run to the Kawaramachi River from my hotel and skip across the turtle-shaped rocks while reflecting on life and preparing for the day ahead. Not only is this an exhilarating workout, but it also helps me get prepared for the day ahead. My music of choice while running here is in the blue shirt because he is also well-known in Kyoto and his music captures the essence of the city. I look forward to the next time I can travel here for another event!
In my next article I will be writing about the Evangelion sword exhibition I went to at Toei Animation amusement park. I will hopefully have more time to write this month because my projects are gradually slowing down. Please look forward to it!
Over the recent three-day holiday known as “Labor Thanksgiving Day” in Japan, I decided to venture to Kyoto once more in hopes of capturing the beauty of the red maple leaves on camera. The previous weekend I traveled to Ginzan Onsen and had a lovely experience there, but unfortunately since it is located in the north of Honshu most of the leaves from the red maples had already fallen. Since Kyoto is more to the south, I figured that mid-November would be the ideal time to visit. Fortunately I was able to do a ton of photography with both my new iPhone 12 Pro’s camera and my trusty GoPro Hero too. I also managed to eat at a lot of cute cafes and meet up with some old friends while experiencing the true Autumn essence of Japan. Yet another great adventure for the archive!
Nanzenji Architectural Temple
I departed from Tokyo immediately after my job on Friday via the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to avoid the holiday rush. After spending a quiet night at a guesthouse near Nijo Castle (read further below), I made my way to Nanzenji Temple, one of the most famous Zen temples in Japan that practices Buddhism. I’ve been to numerous temples and shrines in Kyoto already, but what drew me to Nanzenji was its aesthetic brick aqueduct that is frequently used as a photoshoot location for visitors wearing kimonos and weddings. During the Meiji Period it was actually used as part of a canal system from Kyoto to Lake Biwa in Shiga. Now its colors and architecture have weathered and faded making it look like a beautiful backdrop with the surrounding forest looming behind it.
I spent about an hour here doing self-portrait photography then wandered through the large complex of temples and gardens that are around here. I highly recommend visiting Tenjuan Temple because it has both a rock garden and a pond garden that make it look lovely in Autumn. I finally got to see the bright red maple leaves that I was dying to see here! The entrance fee is only 300 yen.
If you are interested in additional sightseeing, Kinkakuji and the Philosopher’s Path are really close to Nanzenji. But after all of this walking, I was hungry so I decided to grab some dessert!
Kotoba no Haoto
Since my next destination was located in the mountains north of central Kyoto, I decided to stop at a cozy bookshop that also serves adorable parfaits called Kotoba no Haoto. They have quite the impressive collection of books from everything from Kyoto guidebooks to cat-themed novels and are very welcoming to guests. I decided to order the seasonal parfait which consisted of a cat crafted out of vanilla ice cream and chocolate shavings and fresh fruit. It tasted even better than what I had imagined and was completely refreshing. I liked this cafe because I didn’t feel rushed here and could peacefully enjoy my dessert. After feeling fulfilled, I made my way to Mt. Hiei with renewed energy.
Originally I passed by the base of Mt. Hiei while I was on my way to the famed Rurikoin Temple. This temple is situated in a forest and has a pool of water inside that perfectly reflects the surface of its surroundings. The best time to go is in Autumn when the red maple leaves match the same red color of the interior of the temple. However, unbeknown to me entrance required prior online reservation from the months of October to December and I was not able to enter. Since I had traveled an hour by bus to get here, I decided that I would ride the cable car up Mt. Hiei instead and do some photography in the mountains. Fortunately it was only a 5 minute walk from the queue to Rurikoin so I did not lose much time. This is actually the longest cable car in Japan so I’m happy I went for the experience!
Mt. Hiei actually has both a cable car and a ropeway. To ride both roundtrip it costs around 1800 yen which is a bit expensive but the view is overall worth it. At the top you can see Garden Museum Hiei and also hike to see some temples in the mountains. I loved this museum because it had a lot of beautiful oil paintings that were carefully placed around groups of wild flowers and bushes. There was also a pond and you could see all of the mountains surrounding Kyoto and Shiga. The natural lighting and cool mountain air really added to the experience. If you come this far out it’s definitely worth the ascent because it gives you an entirely new view of Kyoto.
I descended around 4pm which was just in time to catch the golden hour when the sun shines through the trees and gradually begins to set. The path around the base of Mt. Hiei started to gleam with the flicker of lanterns and I felt as if I had been transported to a beautiful red world. Luckily I caught it all on camera. I loved how the Eizan Railway train I took back to the city center was marked with a red leaf too. This entire day went better than how I had originally envisioned it despite the minor setback.
Celebrations at L’Escamoteur
After experiencing the golden hour and feeling satisfied with the photos I had taken for the day, it was finally time for celebration! Coincidently one of my friends from Yamanashi was also in Kyoto and invited me to come to L’escamoteur with her. This bar is near Kawaramachi and is named after the French word for “magician” or “illusionist”. As the name implies the bartenders can whip up some pretty mysterious cocktails here. My friend and I have the same taste so we both ordered chocolate cocktails with brandy first. After kicking back the first round, we next ordered matching Kyoto-themed matcha cocktails that kind of look like おっぱい when placed side by side. We laughed at that and shared stories of our experiences in Kyoto. She also tried to go to Rurikoin Temple and could not get in without a reservation. Small world! We vowed to both see it next year during Autumn.
This bar definitely had the perfect atmosphere for catching up with old friends and I am happy I went here. Next time I would like to try a cocktail with an egg and this mysterious concoction I happened to capture on camera:
Due to the reduced prices of the hotels that are participating in the Go To Travel Campaign, I was able to stay at a backpackers guesthouse called Hostel Mundo for less than 1000 yen for 2 nights. I liked this guesthouse because it was located in a quiet area away from the crowds, but still had easy access to Kawaramachi and Kyoto buses. The rooms had cozy futons and the interior decor made me feel like I was in Thailand, but Hostel Mundo simulates the feeling of staying at a traditional Japanese house. Bike rental is also available and there are many hot springs nearby. Only a few other woman were staying here so I was able to sleep peacefully each night and wake up early for my next adventure. I would recommend this place to most people as it is very affordable and clean.
Thank you for reading Part 1 of my Autumn Adventures in Kyoto! Part 2 is already being drafted so please look forward to reading more from me soon~
Having survived the harsh sun and rain of the first two days, we next set off for our motorbike adventure deep in the mountains of Nara Prefecture! On the way there we decided to stop at the famous cemetery in Koyasan and also make our way to some viewpoints so we could experiment with skyline photography. I had a lot of fun testing out the Canon EOS M I was lent for this trip and it turned out to be quite the relaxing day. Though some of the parts of the mountain were steep, they were overall smooth and easy to ride on. The main motivation for riding here was the luxury ryokan awaiting us upon completion of this trail. This trip was going by so fast that I couldn’t believe it was halfway over…
The 3rd day began on August 3rd at 6:30am. I took one last dip in the river onsen before we departed because it was the perfect way to start the day. We definitely got our money’s worth at Kawayu Ryokan! Our original plan was to go to Awaji Island on this day but due to the rain our itinerary changed. Tonight our final destination was a ryokan designed by a famous architect in the mountains of Nara (Yoshinoyama) which took approximately 4 hours to reach (with breaks included). We decided to spend more time in Wakayama and see some extremely rare sites that are only accessible by vehicle while making our way through the deep mountain paths.
Our updated map travel map looked like this:
Mt. Tamaki & Tamakijinja Shrine
Our first destination was a viewpoint on Mt. Tamaki that was approximately 45 mins away from Kawayu Onsen. It conveniently had a free parking lot for motorbikes since it’s located next to Tamakijinja Shrine. The sun had already rose so we stood here and took pictures of the clouds cascading over the mountains. The cedar trees in the forest were beautiful too! They brought back fond memories that I had hiking through Yakushima. How nostalgic.
We next walked 15 minutes to the World Heritage Site of Tamakijinja Shrine. The area was partially shaded by foliage so it was an easy hike. The morning breeze felt lovely too.
Tamakijinja Shrine is small in size but is located in one of the most beautiful areas of the mountain. The cedar trees that surround it are estimated to be about 3000 years old. If you ever get the chance to visit this area of Nara, I highly recommend this forest! I would have never even known about it if it wasn’t for my experienced driver.
Tanize Suspension Bridge
Tanize Suspension Bridge is located near Mt. Tamaki and is one of the longest suspension bridges in Japan. It connects the villages of Uenochi and Tanize and has a gorgeous pale blue river underneath it. My driver thought I would appreciate the photo op so we stopped here to take a break. The bridge was extremely stable and safe to walk across. I didn’t get much of a thrill from it but I did love looking at the river below. The construction that went into this is quite impressive.
Other than the bridge, there’s really not a lot to do here. But I did try some strange-looking sushi wrapped in cabbage because that’s apparently the specialty here. It was vegetarian-friendly and quite healthy. The taste was a bit different than what I was used to but it gave me the energy I needed to power through the rest of this day:
Our next stop was Koyasan (also known as Mt. Koya), which is a quaint little town in Nara filled with temples and one of Japan’s most famous cemeteries: Okunoin. The mausoleum here is where is where Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, lies in eternal meditation. He is one of the most prominent figures in religious history making this area a sacred pilgrimage site. In addition to him, many monks and feudal lords have been buried here. You’ll also find some interesting looking tombstones dedicated to animals and science figures. There are numerous bridges that you can cross to reach the mausoleum which make the journey interesting. I also noticed that the leaves on the trees here were already turning red even though August had just began!
This is a place that I would not normally choose to go by myself because I am not religious or that well-versed in history, but my driver guided me through it which made the experience a lot more enriching. A curious thing that I noticed here was that many statues were wearing red bibs. I asked my driver why, and he didn’t know off the top of his head so we both researched it while we were resting.
According to Tadaima Japan, these statues are called Jizo and have two main roles:
“Their main role is to protect children. They also protect the souls of children who passed away and unborn babies. […] The other main role of Jizo is to protect the travelers, which is why you will often find Jizo statues on the side of the roads.”
I’ve seen these statues before in other areas of Japan, but I never understood the true symbolism until now. It makes sense that parents would want to wish a safe journey to their children in the afterlife by praying to Jizo. I’ve also encountered some in my mountain hikes and am glad that they are watching over me. Koyasan is a really great place to learn more about these kinds of subjects if you are interested.
After cooling off at the rest center here, we took a 2 hour ride towards Yoshinoyama to reach our final destination for the day:
Chikurin-in Gumpeon Ryokan
Our final destination was the famous Chikurin-in Gumpeon ryokan in Yoshinoyama. This ryokan was originally a temple that housed high-ranking monks who appraised the mountain. The former Emperor of Japan, Hirohito, has even stayed here! Now it servers as a famous hotspring resort that is open to the public but much of the original architecture has been preserved. A famous ikebana artist designed the garden outside and you can tell that a lot of articulate work was put into the aesthetic here. Due to the pandemic, there was only one other guest staying at the time so we got upgraded to a family room for free. That is literally the best hospitality we could have asked for. It really was an honor staying here!
Here is a video tour of our upgraded family room. This is hands-down the most fancy resort that I have every stayed at and I am eternally grateful to my sponsor for the trip:
Since the sun was going down and we were starving, we grabbed a healthy meal from a restaurant across the street. The roads of Yoshinoyama are extremely narrow but you can easily find food and drinks near wherever you are staying. Just be careful because some places close around 6pm. This area designed for relaxing at your hotspring and is remote from the city so I recommend staying here overnight. You will thank yourself later.
This was a seasonal food set that consisted of vegetables, soup, tofu, salad, tempura and rice. It was so healthy and delicious. You can find a lot of these meals in Yoshinoyama!
At this point we were exhausted and headed off to bed in our family-size ryokan, but I will be writing more about this area in my next and final article of this series!
Day 3 Itinerary: 80% Completion
It’s hard to score our completion due to us completely skipping over Awaji Island, but in hindsight I’m happy we did. This was a full day that was packed with activity so I give us another 80%. This gave us more time to explore the mountains of Nara and area around our famed ryokan. Had we gone to Awaji, we would have missed out on seeing the shrines and learning about the history of Koyasan. The best thing is that we agreed to go to Awaji on another trip over dinner so we wouldn’t be rushed with our activities. That is the perfect compromise!
I will be writing my final article tomorrow as soon as I wake up. Thank you to everyone that has been reading and supporting me! There are many more adventures to come.
The worst days will end. The best days will end. Remember that. From 6/25/2020 – 7/12/2020, there is a special MOTHER exhibit featuring works by Americart and 35 different manga artists on the 8th floor of the Shibuya Parco building. As an avid fan of the series, I had to go the very first day the gallery opened up. It’s completely free so if you live in Tokyo you have no excuse not to check it out. You won’t be disappointed!
Though I wasn’t initially familiar with the artists, the artwork on display has a tasteful style that fits the theme of the games. You will see familiar characters from all of the series and be lost in nostalgia as familiar music from the series is plays overhead. Seeing this really made me want to go back and play all of the games again:
There are photo spots where you can pose with Ness’s hat and various characters from the series. I love how the hand sanitizer was creatively incorporated into this exhibit too. It definitely gave me a laugh! There is a monitor where you can see the speed paint process of Americart’s work too. There was a ton of effort put into this and it really shows:
In addition to the Pollyanna art book and comic anthologies, there are T-shirts, bags, pixel charms, jewelry, and plushies for sale. Unfortunately the giant Mr. Saturn plushies on display are not for sale, but you can purchase a miniature one that comes with a house for 2500 yen. I picked up the Mr. Saturn bag for a mere 600 yen. It has amazing quality and is super stylish. I can’t wait to wear it out! I am so happy I had the chance to experience yet another nostalgic videogame exhibit.
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 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 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)
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:
Entrance Fee: Free
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.
Myeongdong has bars that stay open late, but not much of a club scene. Continue reading to see my recommendations for clubs:
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 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).
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!
After spending an amazing 5 days on Jeju Island, I decided to fly back to Seoul and explore the places that I had overlooked on my first trip to Korea back in 2018. Pocheon Art Valley and Herb Island caught my eye because they seemed up my alley. Both places were slightly outside of the city and had a lot of fantastic nature to see with other quirky exhibits. Every day tour that I’ve taken outside of Seoul has been well-organized and was easier than taking public transportation, so I booked a package that included both of them and strawberry picking for around $60 USD on Klook. The tour has amazing ratings and gives you enough time to explore both places. Entrance fees are included as well so it saves you both time and money.
Pocehon Art Valley
I started off my tour by completely going to the wrong station to get picked up my by tour guide. That’s what happens when you’re jetlagged, can’t read Hangul, and are just ignorant in general from all the traveling you do abroad. Fortunately I called Klook and my guide waited for me because our tour was only about 5 people. I apologized to everyone and we made our way to the strawberry farm in a small van. It was nice being in the Korean countryside. The people on the tour were all in their twenties so it was easy to make friends with them. I picked a ton of strawberries because I was starving. After our baskets were full, we made our way to the art valley!
Pocheon Art Valley is a garnite quarry and geopark that has been transformed into a creative art valley. In addition to stunning natural scenery you will see sculptures, planted flora, and even live concerts here. There are arts and crafts workshops you can participate in as well. I mostly came here for the exploration and aesthetic art aspect. After our tour guide finished his explanation, we all set off in our own direction. You can choose to ride the monorail or hike up the valley on your own (it doesn’t take that much time). I hiked around the valley and saw many amazing sights! You can see the silhouettes of the mountains once you get near the summit of the climbing area. This was much easier than climbing Mt. Hallasan like I did the week before. I had so much fun taking pictures here and can see why so many Korean dramas are filmed here.
After about 90 minutes, we met back at the van and drove to Herb Island.
Herb Island is perhaps one of the funniest memes I’ve come across in Korea (at least I thought it was very amusing). First of all, it’s not actually an island━it’s a Christmas-themed amusement park with hundreds of Mediterranean herbs planted around it. Plus it has a mini-zoo, soap-crafting workshop, and lavender ice cream which I highly recommend trying. Everywhere you look there’s strange visuals. I loved seeing the jellyfish and heart illuminations alongside the statues of Santa. Walking through the gardens and the sea of Christmas lights in the summer was surreal. The bakery with the herb cookies was also amazing. This is my favorite amusement park in Korea because it’s just so random:
When you get through the sea of lights, you’ll come across a pen with miniature donkeys. As if this “island” couldn’t get weird enough:
If I ever come back here, I swear to god I am crafting some herb soap. I’ll also buy some more herb cookies for my friends as souvenirs. Keep on staying weird, South Korea!
Overall I had a pleasant experience on this tour. The traffic was heavy due to a public holiday I wasn’t aware so we were late coming back, but that was also my fault for initially being late to the tour. I would like to re-visit Pocheon when I come back to Korea in the future. I hope more people decide to come here because it’s the perfect day trip from Seoul!
After exploring the east and west side of Jeju Island and climbing Mt. Hallasan, I decided to spend my final day on the island relaxing and seeing some of the places that most tours don’t cover (such as the sex museum and private beaches). Since I don’t have an international license, I had my hostel help book me a private taxi driver. The average cost of private taxi drivers in Jeju is about $150 USD per day but hiring one is much easier than trying to use the local buses. The duration of the taxi session is around 9 hours and you can easily see all of the things you want to see without hassle. Hilariously, all the English-speaking drivers were booked already due to high demand but I was able to book a Japanese one. Without further hesitation I set off for my fifth and final day on the island and hoped for the best! Fortunately the weather was on my side.
See Iho Tewoo Beach & Gwakji Beach
Jeju has around eight popular swimming beaches in total, but I chose to travel to the two most photogenic ones. Iho Tewoo Beach is famous for its two horse-shaped lighthouses. I wanted to see them in person so this was the very first destination I chose! Unfortunately it was bit too cold to go swimming, but I just liked being on an empty and relaxing beach. Apparently this beach is extremely popular during the summer because you can go for boat rides here, but during late April when I went it was extremely peaceful and quiet. Just what I wanted after all of the exhausting hiking that I did!
I picked up some amazing octopus at a nearby restaurant here. Raw Korean octopus tastes amazing:
After I had my fill, I decided to head to Gwakji Beach which is much livelier because there are a lot of resorts around it. None of the resorts on Jeju are particularly fancy, but the cafes sure are. I decided to try Mônsant which is owned by G-DRAGON purely because of its flawless architectural design. You can see the ocean through the panes of glass while sipping on delicious coffee. I ordered a strawberry smoothie and couldn’t believe the view that I was seeing:
I tried to go swimming here, but the beach shore was a bit rocky so I was reluctant. Jeju’s beaches are more designed for soaking up the atmosphere rather than actually getting soaked. I didn’t mind though, because Gwakji Beach definitely had a nice vibe. In addition to posh cafes there were squids being sun-dried and local food stalls around. I appreciated the diversity of food here.
One hilarious and slightly creepy trend here I saw was having photos of couples and babies printed onto lattes. I’m usually quite adventurous when it comes to food, but I don’t know if I’d have the courage to drink myself… This is just too realistic:
Nexon Computer Museum
The next stop was my favorite museum of all time in Korea: The Nexon Computer Museum. Nexon is the company responsible for creating Maple Story and the longest running commercial graphic MMO in the world: Baram, also known as Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds. I was really surprised to see that a modest company in Korea had this award; which makes me think that Nexon is seriously underrated so naturally I wanted to learn more.
Ah yes, the infamous Sex Museum of Korea. I’ll admit I was a bit embarrassed coming here by myself, but I was on vacation so I figured why the hell not? Jeju Loveland is an art museum of erotic outdoor sculptures and has an indoor collection of various adult toys. What’s good is that it promotes a safe approach to sex and only admits entry to adults (honestly I’ve seen enough pedophilia in Japan bookstores and this was a much classier attraction). “Various romantic and sexual art works are waiting for you.” the official website says. I liked the ambiguity of the upside-down sculptures submerged in water… But I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination. Definitely see it if it fancies you!
Entrance Fee: $9 USD (not bad)
Jeju Horse Park
Before having my driver drop me off at the airport so I could take my flight back to Seoul, I decided to make one more stop at Jeju Horse Park. I was wearing the most extra outfit because I was shooting pictures on the beach just before, but once again I figured why not! I was on vacation and I wanted to ride a horse one last time. This was the perfect way to end my Jeju Chronicles. I had successfully accomplished everything that I had planned so this was yet another perfect trip to commemorate. The park has a really laidback approach and you can choose multiple routes around the mountains and seaside. I couldn’t use my camera because I was riding, but I had an amazing time! There was a guide who was keeping close watch on me so I felt safe at all times. Horseback riding is a great way to see Jeju Island and is relatively cheap so you should try it at least once while you’re here.
Entrance Fee: $10-$20 USD depending on how long you go.
As this article implies, I had a phenomenal time on Jeju Island and would recommend it to all my friends. There were a few issues with the language barrier here and there, but island people are some of the friendliest people that you will ever meet. I really treasured all of my time here. I was also able to speak Japanese in a few instances and find my way around. Google Maps aren’t always reliable in South Korea so I would do your research on what attractions you want to see before coming here. That’s it really. Once you arrive at Jeju, you’ll find that the island is small enough that you can easily navigate and fit in all the activities you want. Jeju is by far the most beautiful place in South Korea and you should definitely give it a chance because it has activities for everyone!
Over the weekend I decided to re-visit Gifu Prefecture and see if it’s famous water lily pond in Seki was worth the hype. This originally nameless pond has been nicknamed “Monet’s Pond” (モネの池) by the locals because it closely resembles the Water Lilies art series painted by Claude Monet in the late 1800s. Depending on the season and the weather, the scenery of the pond can vastly change. Some online reviews have said that Monet’s Pond is a vibrant place that is a spitting image of the artwork, while others have dismissed it for appearing as murky and overrated. It’s somewhat humorous to see the variety of scrutiny this place gets (both in English and Japanese).
My favorite review comes from “Kevin B” on Google:
“It is nice, but professional photograph[s] ruined it for me. My expectations were too high, don’t trust the pictures on the Internet.” – Kevin B
This could be true of any place, anywhere—don’t trust the pictures on the internet. Kevin B’s review implies if you set your expectations too high, you will be undoubtedly disappointed. Especially since the pond is located in a considerably remote location with infrequent transportation. But as an adventurer, reading that description just made me want to travel here even more so I could see it for myself.
Fortunately I was not disappointed because the photos I captured look complementary to the artwork:
Fun Fact: I didn’t actually look at any of the Water Lilies paintings until after I went to the pond because I didn’t want my expectations to be warped. I only looked at them for reference in order to accurately write this article.
Here is a gallery of photos that I took. The pond is quite small in size, but depending on where you stand you can see an entirely different reflection in the water:
I was lucky because I got the chance to see Monet’s Pond in both sunny and cloudy weather in the hour that I was there. During sunny weather the pond perfectly reflects the clouds in the sky giving it that dream-like oil painting aesthetic. During cloudy weather it looks a lot darker, but with the floating water lilies it still appears beautiful. Perhaps in the colder months it looks more bare and devoid of color, thus provoking the negative reviews. Coming in June gave me the perfect experience though. I was extremely satisfied with what I saw.
In this video the Koi look like they’re swimming through the clouds:
If you search for pictures of the pond online, you will see mixed results. Some photos have been purposely edited with filters and textures to look more like the paintings. However, the photos on the Official Gifu Tourism Website look pretty natural. I used both my iPhone’s camera and my GoPro so I could closely compare the detail. I only edited the lighting and shadows slightly in the photos I posted here because the sunlight was already optimal. It is recommended to come in the summer and fall months for the best viewing but the pond is open year-round.
Even if we can’t trust the internet, one thing we all can agree on is that this cheesecake replica of Monet’s Pond is awesome:
Not gonna lie, seeing this cake was another huge inspiration for my journey here. Perhaps Gifu Prefecture will some day replicate this idea and create a cafe with food and souvenirs based on the pond like many other places in Japan. Until then, enjoy this capitalist-free piece of nature.
From Gifu Station take the N83 bus towards ほらどキウイプラザ行き (Horado Kiwi Plaza) and get off at the last stop. I was a bit disappointed to see that there were no kiwis here (this is simply a parking lot on the side of a highway). From the bus stop at the parking lot you will see a small van waiting adjacent to the bus. The van’s time tables are aligned with the local buses so you can take it for free to Monet’s Pond. The bus ride takes about 1.5 hours, and the van ride takes 15 mins, so the total travel time is around 1 hour and 45 mins. Though this is a bit of a journey, the ride only costs 670 yen and the pond has no entrance fee making it one of the cheapest attractions in Gifu.
If you like seeing the country side of Japan and don’t mind riding the bus, then I would recommend this trip to you. Just be sure to watch the weather and get there early so you have enough time to take pictures and return to the station. Besides the pond, there’s really not a lot to do in Seki. There’s a local shrine and a few places to eat, but most of the area is used for farming. After seeing the pond I went to Nagoya to spend time with my friends because there’s much more to do there. This was a great escape from reality though. I was happy to confirm that the pond does indeed resemble the real artwork and is not just a hoax.
If you are interested in seeing more attractions in Gifu Prefecture, please check out my Your Name and Gero Onsen articles!