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!
During Golden Week of 2018 I decided to venture to Korea for the 2nd time and explore its most famous beach resort island: Jeju. This island is extremely unique because not only does it have the best beaches in Korea, but it also has the Nexon Computer Museum with the world’s longest running MMO. There’s also the tallest mountain in Korea (Mt. Hallasan), a folk village with traditional houses, and a fairly famous sex museum. As you can see, Jeju has something for everybody because there is a huge diversity of attractions to see. A lot of people that live close to Korea come here to spend their honeymoons or school vacations, but there are many backpackers like me who travel here too. In this article series I will be detailing my 5 day stay in Jeju in hopes that other people will decide to come in the future.
Traveling to Jeju
The best way to travel to Jeju is to take a direct flight from Seoul. Jeju Air has the cheapest flights that range from $30 – $50 USD roundtrip. The flight only takes about an hour. Jeju is comparable in Okinawa in Japan, but is much smaller and doesn’t have as many islands you can travel to. However, traveling here is much cheaper than most islands in Japan and it has a different vibe. One of the best islands you can visit in Jeju is called Udo which is the very first place I went.
Udo Island Day Trip
Udo Island was my first destination once I reached Jeju Airport. Fortunately you don’t need to fly here and can instead take a relaxing 15 minute ferry. The reason I wanted to go to Udo is because it is the perfect cycling destination. The island was named for its somewhat rectangular shape that looks like cow lying down. I also chuckled because the name reminded me of U-DO in Xenosaga. You can see most of the attractions on Udo within 3 – 4 hours via electric bike. E-bikes can be rented for around $10 per day and are extremely worth it. This was my very first time riding an e-bike, but fortunately it wasn’t scary! You can see the ocean from any point in Udo making it a wonderful spot for photography. Everyone rides slow so they can stop to take pictures.
Since I was starving, I stopped at a local seafood restaurant near the bike rental shop. I couldn’t speak much Hangul but I was able to place an order. They whipped me up some spicy crab and muscle stew which tasted amazing. For dessert, I decided to try the peanut ice cream that Udo is famous for. They placed two adorable teddy bear crackers on it too. The salty and sweet combination makes it worthy of all the praise that it gets. You can find this food literally all over the island and it’s much cheaper than food in Seoul.
Finally feeling full, I decided to make my way down to the beaches. Gwakji Beach and Hamdeok Beach were my two personal favorites. Both can be reached via e-bike in less than 30 minutes and are found on the north side. Exploring these beaches can take up to an hour. I came here in late April so it was a bit cold to swim but the weather was near perfect. Korea’s weather is similar to Japan’s but is slightly more mild.
Besides the swimming and biking, there are many other exciting things to do on Udo. You can go horseback riding for a short time if you talk to someone near the stables. If you like art, most of the buildings are painted in bright colors and there are murals all over the island. The food here never disappoints. The octopus-shaped bread I tried was filled with cheese and absolutely amazing. Just the atmosphere of being on a small beach island is awesome too. I enjoyed walking inside the the giant shells that were near the pier and also petting the store owner’s dogs. Everyone here is extremely friendly so you don’t have to worry about the language barrier.
On my way back to return my e-bike, I stumbled upon one of the best DJ booth turned ice cream shop ever. The chef was spinning some fresh island beats as he was whipping up ice cream. This was an extremely rare vibe that I was not expecting:
The store Udo Prince Story (우도왕자이야기) has both phenomenal food and music. If you come all the way out here, be sure not to miss out. This was the best instant dance party I ran into here and was the perfect way to end my day trip.
After an exciting first day in Udo, I rode the ferry back to the main island where my accommodation “GreenDay” was. There are a few hotels on Udo, but there is much more selection and nightlife on the main island of Jeju.
I chose GreenDay because I thought the name was hilarious and the dorms are only $15 per night. I couldn’t pass up staying in this colorful little house:
GreenDay Address: 251-9 Samdoi-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
I took a cheap taxi to Seongsan Port, then a 15 minute ferry to reach the island. The ferry ticket is only $10 one way. Please see the Udo Ferry Time Table for reference.
In my next article, I will be talking about some of the quirky museums that I explored. Please stay tuned for more!
If you’ve ever heard of the PS1 cult classic LSD Dream Emulator, then you might already recognize this art. It was created by the game’s producer: Osamu Sato. This trippy exploration game has gained quite the reputation over the years for its aesthetic visuals and for the fact that it rejects most common game principles such as having a clear objective for the player to accomplish. At the start of the game the player is given a diary based on the dreams that director Hiroko Nishikawa recorded for a decade (see Lovely Sweet Dreams). The music and environment changes completely based on your actions making it so each playthrough is entirely unique. Depending on what objects you interact with, you can see very psychedelic dreams or dark and catastrophic ones.
Each time you do an action in the game (such as running into a moving object or falling off the map), your progress on the dream chart is recorded and a day advances. The chart has four labels that produce different visuals: Upper, Dynamic, Downer, and Static. Different cutscenes and pages of the dream diary will be unlocked depending on your actions. There is a “Flashback” option in the menu where you can review your progress.
Many players try to see the dark parts of the game by running off the map and “killing” their character, but this won’t necessarily produce a downer dream—sometimes an upper one is generated instead. People have tried to write guides on this but how exactly the game evaluates your actions is unknown. Still to this day there is much unknown about LSD…
Since the game was never officially localized outside of Japan, physical copies are quite rare and coveted. LSD Revamped is a popular fan-made version of the game that tweaks the original in a more user-friendly way. The web author describes it as:
“The genre isn’t adventure, it’s not action, and it’s not even an RPG. If I had to define a genre, it would be a ‘walking dream emulator’.”
Osamu Sato is a graphics designer and photographer originally from Kyoto that has created digital art exhibitions and also worked as an artist for Sony. He has traveled abroad and used many of his photos as design materials for his works. He also produces music. In his website biography it states his ideas are drawn from both consciousness and unconsciousness in his intellectual level. These ideas are clearly reflected in this exhibition as some pieces appear to have a sense of identity.
“GRATEFUL IN ALL THINGS” is not only the name of this art gallery, but also his latest music album which I managed to purchase along with a T-shirt:
I am very grateful that I could make it to this exhibition. I respect artists that reject the principles set before them and seek to create things in their own methodical way. I hope to attend more of his events in the future and continue to deconstruct the human mind.
As Japan slowly starts to re-open its museums and recreational facilities, I figured I’d write an article on some of the most psychedelic museums I’ve been to in Tokyo! Earlier I wrote an article on the Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums I’ve been to in Asia, but today I want to share my experience at some of my runner-up choices. All of these places should be re-opening soon, but I will include links to the websites so you can verify it for yourself. Prepare yourself for some rich neon aesthetic visuals:
Dive into a sea of colors at Nihombashi’s gallant Art Aquarium! This is a seasonal exhibition that is typically held at the end of each year and attracts a large number of gatherers. Many tanks are elaborately decorated with jewels reminiscent of the Edo period and illuminated with neon lights. You can see a number of kingyo (goldfish) here as they swim in a vivid motion that is beautifully captured with the layout of the aquarium. There are projections on the wall that create a mirror-like effect with the intricate glass designs. I’ve been to a number of museums in Asia before, but I’ve never seen anything as captivating as this.
It’s hard to describe this in words, so here is a video I took back in 2017:
Admission Fee: 1000 yen*
*The location and time of this museum changes each year, so be sure to check their official website for more information.
If you’ve researched any museums in Japan, teamLab probably appears at the top of the list. Hands down, this team consists of some of the most creative and innovative designers in the world. They have created cutting-edge visuals that represent many familiar environments but take you to a whole another planet. If you are interested in seeing the latest art and technology exhibits in the world then their current exhibits are something you should definitely check out!
Borderless is a relatively new museum in Odaiba that defines itself as “a museum without a map”. The very first room is like a maze with floral patterns projected all over the walls and the ceiling. As you explore the rooms, you will find somewhere that looks like a forest with visuals of falling rain and lily pads. It truly feels like you’ve entered a cyberpunk world as you navigate through various virtual structures. I pictured “The Wired” from Serial Experiments Lain, but fear not because Borderless is far more colorful and welcoming.
You will eventually reach a room full of flickering lanterns which is one of the most popular attractions here. You only have around 2-3 minutes to take pictures, so be sure to use your time wisely. After you exit, you will be released into what seems like a giant planetarium, but also has an art aquarium and places for children to play. Unlike the art aquarium I mentioned above, you can draw your own fish on paper then have them scanned and displayed in a virtual fish tank that is projected on the wall:
I truly can’t decide which aquarium I enjoyed the most—this or the one in Nihombashi! The Doraemon and Luffy fish here are definitely a rare find. I was happy to see that there were attractions for people for all ages to enjoy.
The con of this museum is the time limit in the lantern room (which you cannot re-enter once you exit), and the fact that so many people choose to do photoshoots and take selfies here that sometimes it feels more like a tourist attraction than a place to appreciate art. However, the museum is so big you can easily wander to a place where there are less people and find peace. Plus the soothing music played from the speakers drowns out idle chatter. I found that some projections are so immersive that you completely forget the people around you too. I’m still amazed by everything I was able to see here.
Critics online joke how this is one of the most-photographed museums in Japan and that they’re tired of seeing photos here, but you can’t deny how genius the exhibitions here are. This museum has overall received numerous praise and is a place that I’d recommend to most people who are interested. You’ll never forget your experience here.
Admission Fee: 3200 yen*
*You MUST select a timeslot and purchase a ticket online in advance to enter the museum. See the official website for ticket sales (it is best to buy from them directly).
DMM.Planets is an older teamLab exhibit that I first visited in 2016 in Odaiba, but it later got moved to Toyosu as a permanent museum. Once again, this is one of the most popular museums in Japan as it takes you through a psychedelic journey in space:
When you enter the museum, you are asked to take off your shoes and put them in a locker because some exhibits completely prohibit shoes. Oh boy, what an adventure! The very first room you enter simulates a black hole. The lights are dimmed and you must climb over beanbags that threaten to suck you into the void. Fortunately, this is quite a fun challenge. Once you climb over them (many people choose to sit and relax in them first because they are quite comfy), you will reach a room full of mirrors and dazzling hanging lights. This is the most popular attraction, because the lights simulate falling stars and you can take really beautiful pictures with them. This really reminded me of a Kirby game!
After the lightshow comes the infamous psychedelic pond that you will walk through to reach the next area. Here you can see projected koi fish swimming around your ankles and other beautiful LSD-inspired works of art. I had a blast taking photos here because it was so interactive that I felt like I was part of the exhibit. You will be asked to wash your feet before and after you enter this area so everything stays sanitary. The water isn’t that deep at all so you really don’t have to worry about getting wet. Just be sure to project your phone!
The last room simulates a small planetarium with beautiful floral aesthetics and star shapes projected on the ceiling. You can lay down and look up at the sky as if you were star-gazing. The best part is you can stay here as long as you want. I stayed for quite a while because it was very relaxing!
Between Planets and Borderless, it’s really hard for me to choose a favorite because I have wonderful memories at each of the exhibits. I would almost say I like Planets more because there are no time limits and there are less people now that the museum has been here for a while. However, if you are only in Japan for a short while, I would recommend Borderless because the Odaiba area has more to see than Toyosu. I would research both of them first and see which one strikes you as the most interesting before choosing.
Admission Fee: 3200 yen*
*You MUST select a timeslot and purchase a ticket online in advance to enter the museum. See the official website for ticket sales (it is best to buy from them directly).
If you are interested in any of my other art museum articles outside of Tokyo, please see my Naoshima article! I will continue to check out museums and review them as more of places re-open!
If you’ve ever looked up day trips from Tokyo on the internet, Hakone will be one of the most prominent results. With it being the real-life location of Tokyo-3 from Evangelion and having many hotsprings, temples, and a great view of Mt. Fuji, that status is well-deserved. It’s also home to one of my favorite museums in Japan which has sculptures that resemble vaporwave visuals called the Hakone Open Air Museum. You should also try swimming in the famous red wine onsen at Yunessan to smooth your skin. Wherever you go you’re bound to discover something interesting here because the nature is vast.
I’ve been to Hakone five times by myself and also with friends so I’ve seen all its major attractions. Here are some of the coolest things that I’ve found:
Eva-Ya: The Evangelion Goods Store
As you exit the station and begin your wonderful journey here, one of the first things you’ll come across is Eva-ya; Hakone’s own original Evangelion Store. Here you will find a number of goods from the anime including water bottles based off the characters’ designs, food with the NERV logo on it, and a life-sized Rei Ayanami. Asuka fans don’t fret because she has plenty of merchandise too! One of my best purchases here was Misato’s cross-shaped necklace (not pictured). I also enjoyed the Unit 01-colored ice cream. Of course you can visit the official Evangelion stores in Tokyo too, but this is the one located where the anime takes places and has slightly different merchandise.
Owakudani is Hakone’s volcanic crater that has sulfur vents and hotsprings making it a beautiful mountain getaway. The sulfide causes the rocks to gain their lovely red hue. In order to reach Owakudani, you must take a cable car ride from Hakone Ropeway. There are black eggs sold here that are said to increase your lifespan. I bought a four-pack of them and thought they were very delicious! Only time will tell if their effect is really long-lasting. Unfortunately due to the danger of the volcanic gas some of the hiking trails have been roped off here, but watching the plumes of smoke form from the main viewpoint is an amazing sight. This crater is definitely worth seeing!
Cable Car Fee: See discounts on the Hakone website (I recommend getting the one with the pirate ship fee included too).
Yunessan is my favorite onsen in all of Hakone because of its famous red wine onsen you can bathe in among many other unique hotsprings and pools. This is a mixed-gender hotspring so swimsuits are required in most areas unless you rent a private onsen or pay to enter the gender-segregated bath called Mori no Yu. The plus side is that you can enjoy Yunessan with all of your friends! Last time I went they had coffee, sake, and pearl-water baths too. Some of the baths rotate while others are permanent additions. The outdoor area has water slides, a mystical cave that you can explore, and various hot springs positioned so you can get a clear view of the mountains. This is always the most relaxing part of my trip. During certain times they serve free glasses of red wine too so be sure not to miss out!
Entrance Fee: 2,900 (a bit expensive, but worth it for the variety here)
I’ve already mentioned that the Hakone Open Air Museum is by far my favorite museum here (see my article The Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums for more information), but I also want to point out beautiful Hakone Venetian Glass Museum. This forest of glass has beautiful Venetian-inspired designs and adornments like nowhere else I’ve ever seen. Outside you can find trees and a bridge intricately decorated with glass ornaments as well as a miniature pond. Inside there are many hand-crafted glass sculptures and jewels as well. I was very impressed with the aesthetic here:
The Okada Art Museum is also worth checking out. Though I don’t have any recent pictures, they have many beautiful sculptures in the mountains and footbaths you can use too. There are some traditional Japanese handcrafts and artifacts displayed too.
Entrance Fees: Varies on the museum, but I would research beforehand and budget 3000 – 5000 yen depending on what you want to see. Keep in mind these are some of the best museums outside of Tokyo and have that awesome mountain view!
Hakone Shrine & Pirate Ship Tours at Lake Ashi
A trip to Hakone isn’t complete without seeing Lake Ashi and the famous Hakone Shrine along the shores. I first saw it in the winter when snow was on the ground, but the summer is the ideal time to go if you want to experience the lake. My friend and I decided to buy the tickets to ride the pirate ship and drank a bottle of Captain Morgan on it in true spirit. The ship was very spacious and we could feel the gentle breeze of the lake while staring at the view of Mt. Fuji in the distance. It was exhilarating—an experience like nowhere else in Japan! I think the only other place where you can ride a pirate ship quite like this is at Tokyo Disney, but you don’t have the awesome mountain backdrop that you do here.
Cable Car Fee: See discounts on the Hakone website (I recommend getting the one with the cable car fee included too).
From Shinjuku Station, you can take the Romancecar Express to reach Hakone-Yumoto Station in 1.5 hours for 2300 yen.
Once reaching the station, all of the places I listed can be reached via bus within an hour, but I would allow yourself 6-8 hours here at least. It took multiple trips in both the summer and the winter for me to see everything here, but you could probably see these things in approximately 2 days.
If you decide to stay here overnight, Hakone Japan has some good choices. I plan to stay at a ryokan in the future and will write about my experience.