Finding Paradise on Boracay Island

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

Getting to Boracay

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

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

Island Hopping

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mermaid Swimming

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

Food Recommendations

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

Nonie’s

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

Café Maruja

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

Ice Cream & Yogurt

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

Accommodation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Oslob

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

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

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

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

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

Tumalog Falls

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

Food

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

Swimming in Moalboal

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

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

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

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

Food

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

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

Spending a day in Morioka City, Iwate

The quiet shopping streets of Morioka City in Iwate Prefecture.

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

Koiwai Farm

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

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

Ishigami-no-Oka Museum

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

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

Exploring Morioka

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

Morioka Castle Site Park

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

Food & Drink Recommendations

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

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

Accommodation

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

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

Freediving at the Kerama Islands: Aka Island and Zamami Island Edition (Part 2)

Furuzamami Beach on Zamami Island. The overcast weather was actually ideal!

After a successful day of freediving and seeing turtles in Aka Island, I decided to spend the next day on Zamami Island, which is also famous for its coral reefs and is just a short ferry ride away! Zamami is bigger than Aka Island but has a very similar feeling to it. There is a whale monument near the port and also the Marilyn dog statue on the way to Ama Beach which I really wanted to see. Though I thought about spending the night here, I found the resorts on Aka Island to be more charming so I stayed there. However, unlike Aka, Zamami is more famous for whale watching and even has a an entire music festival devoted to it! So if you’re into whales, then this is definitely your kind of island. I decided to skip the whale watching and focus on freediving, but I may come back here in the future for the whale music festival because that just screams awesome!

Getting to Zamami Island

From Aka Island Port to Zamami Island Port, tickets are only 300 yen and the ride only takes 15 minutes which is why you should see more than one Kerama Island—they are very close together and easy to reach! Please see the monthly ferry time table to plan your trip. You can buy tickets on the day of your trip because there is usually always space on the ferries.

I decided to only do a day trip to Zamami Island and take the last ferry back to Naha at 5:45pm because I was able to see everything I wanted to in one day. However, there are a number of great accommodations available on Zamami for those who are interested! At the Zamami Island Visitor Center across from the port, there is a great coffee shop and also a cute Kumamon painted buoy. I love how Kumamon (the Kumamoto mascot) is literally all over Japan!

Renting a Bike

My favorite part of the Kerama Islands is that none of the rental bikes have locks or keys. Either everyone here trusts one another a lot, or likely it would be impossible to smuggle these rental bikes back on a ferry because they are too distinctive and everyone on the island knows one another so any thief would definitely be ratted out. Anyway, like Aka Island everything I wanted to see on Zamami Island was accessible by bike so I rented one at a 24 hour self-service bicycle shop called Rental Miyamura. This concept would not fly in almost any other part of the world, but it fits here perfectly here in the wholesome Kerama Islands.

Address: 156 Zamami, Shimajiri District, Okinawa 901-3402
Price: Depends on how many hours, but cheap.

Freediving on Zamami Island

Zamami Island has two main beaches for swimming and freediving that you can easily reach by bike: Ama Beach and Furuzamami Beach. Ama Beach is more designed for sunbathing than it is for swimming, but I did get some good practice in there. Like the smaller beaches on Aka Island, it still was filled with gorgeous coral reefs that were worth checking out. I asked a tanned man that looked like a local there where the best place to dive was, and he said it was Furuzamami Beach so I rode there after about 40 minutes of swimming at Ama.

I really liked the vibe of Furuzamami Beach more because it had a fantastic beachfront and a shack with food vendors and rental gear in it. I stayed here for about and hour and a half diving and seeing all kinds of tropical fish, then ended my day by eating Blue Seal sweet potato ice cream. Another day well spent! One mistake I made this day was not renting a wetsuit though. I wanted to practice freediving without one, but it was an amateur mistake. My back was badly sunburned (and still is) but fortunately it is getting better with the help of Aloe Vera gel. When I go to Hawaii, I will sure to wear a wetsuit at all times. I am glad I learned this now so I have time to recover!

Here is a video of the the coral reef at Furuzamami that I took with my GoPro:

Because I had a hearty breakfast, I didn’t eat much on this island but if you’re hungry I recommend stopping at sabaidee cafe near the port because they have delicious sandwiches and smoothies. I had one smoothie which I didn’t take a picture of, but I very much enjoyed it!

At around 5pm, I returned my bicycle to the rental place and waited at the port for the ferry to pull up at 5:45pm. I had a smooth ride back to Naha where I checked into my hotel and decided to call it a night. I was satisfied with everything I had seen on both Aka and Zamami Island and was ready for my final day in Naha before heading back to Tokyo. I will never forget the beautiful turtles and aquatic life I saw on the Kerama Islands.

The next article will be the final one in my 2022 Okinawa series where I talk about exploring Umikaji Terrace and my resort at Strata Naha. Please look forward to it!

Freediving at the Kerama Islands: Aka Island and Zamami Island Edition (Part 1)

Free diving with a turtle at Hizushi Beach on Aka Island.

After an amazing two days of dining and chasing sunsets in Naha and Okinawa City, I decided to take a ferry to the Kerama Islands and spend my next two days there focusing on freediving. The Kerama Islands consists of a cluster of 20 big and small islands, but the main 3 that people travel to are Aka Island, Zamami Island, and Tokashiki Island. I chose to go to Aka Island and Zamami Island because they have 2 dog statues that have quite a famous love story together; Shiro and Marilyn. Shiro (found on Aka Island) and Marilyn (found on Zamami Island) are known as “the Hachiko of the sea” and inspired the Japanese movie I want to see Marilyn. Hiking to the statues is a fun experience as outside of Shibuya’s famous Hachiko statue, I have not seen many other statues that are similar in Japan. Funny how these two dogs ended up in Okinawa!

On top of that, the coral reefs on Aka Island are said to be the most beautiful of Kerama so that’s where I decided to start. I was not disappointed because I got the chance to swim with turtle on my very first day there! I also enjoyed getting acquainted with the culture of the Kerama Islands because they are very small and the people that live there friendly and wholesome. Since I came here right before Golden Week, the islands were peaceful and quiet too. I will never forget the two days I spent here!

Getting to the Kerama Islands

From Naha’s Tomari Port, I took a high speed ferry that reached Aka Island in about one hour. Please see the monthly ferry time table to plan your trip and see the ticket cost. Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the day of your trip but they may sell out.

Tomari Port Address: 3 Chome-25-1 Maejima, Naha, Okinawa 900-0016

From Aka Island’s Port, I was able to walk to my hotel in under 5 mins and rent a bike to get around the island. All of the best beaches on Aka Island and Zamami Island are accessible by bike so there is no need to rent a car. You can even walk or run to some of the main sightseeing spots too.

Please note that the Kerama Islands are mostly for swimming and aquatic sports. There are not many restaurants or bars on the island, so you will probably want to eat at your accommodation (most hotels include meals). If you are interested in beaches with more of a nightlife, the main island of Okinawa is better to stay at (you can still day trip to one of the main Kerama Islands and have enough time for sightseeing). However, if you wish to see multiple Kerama Islands then it is best to stay there. I think Aka Island has the best selection of hotels so that is where I decided to stay. Please keep reading for more details.

Freediving on Aka Island

I arrived to Aka Island around 10am, checked into my accommodation (see details further below), rented a wetsuit and bike from my hotel for 2000 yen total, then decided to explore the 3 best beaches for swimming and diving which are: Aka Beach, Nishibama Beach, and Hizushi Beach. These beaches are within 10 – 15 mins of biking from each other and you can visit all of them in the day if you start around 1pm. Aka Beach is where I started since it was near my hotel, but the swimming area is roped off so you can only see a small portion of the coral reefs. I stayed here for about an 40 minutes and was able to see some tropical fish, but after that I decided to pack up my gear and bike to Hizushi Beach where I had the best luck because it is not roped off. After about 10 minutes of swimming, I found not only multiple schools of colorful fish, but also a sea turtle!

Here is a video I took on my GoPro of me swimming above the turtle:

This experience was absolutely magical given that the waters were so crystal clear and I felt comfortable swimming at this depth. The beaches of the Kerama Islands are so beautiful and pristine that they are often referred to as the “Kerama Blue” because they are some of the clearest in the world visited by many tourists who love the ocean. As I was diving, I felt like my vision was enhanced because I was able to see so many different shades I would never be able to see anywhere else other than underwater. Diving is an experience that will definitely change your perspective, so I recommend trying it or snorkeling at least to get a feel for it so you can experience the “Kerama Blue” as well.

Swimming and diving at the Kerama Beaches is typically safe, but do be careful of black and white branded sea snakes because they are extremely venomous. I saw 4 of them during my 2 days here, but they mostly stick to the bottom of the reef and only one came near me. Fortunately I was wearing a wetsuit and was able to swim away. I am guessing that the snake was coming up for air and was pulled by the current towards me, but you never know—it’s better to be safe than sorry! Despite this, I did not feel scared and continue to dive after waiting 15 minutes. Fortunately there were no more close encounters with snakes. Unlike land snakes, sea snakes slither much more slowly through the water so they are easier to avoid from my personal experience.

After about and hour and a half of swimming and diving at Hizushi Beach, I rode my bike to Nishibama Beach. This is more of an aesthetic beach for photography and sunbathing and has several cafes as well, but the coral reefs here are beautiful. I did not see any turtles here, but I did see a lot of unique fish and enjoyed the atmosphere. I spent about an hour here, but not all of it was spent diving. I spent time doing photography on the shore and also found a shell here that I took home as a souvenir so I could remember this day forever. This day felt completely and I was extremely satisfied with everything I saw here.

Please note that the peak turtle season is May – August but you can see them year round.

Staying at Hanamuro Inn

Out of all of the accommodations that I looked at on Aka Island, Hanamuro Inn was without a doubt the most fun and unique one to stay at! With its cheap rental gear (including snorkeling gear and bikes) it had a great system that was more of a deal than other rental shops on the island. It also had rooms with both and air conditioner and a fan, “hot tubs”, and delicious meals, so I think it was well worth the experience. The “hot tubs” were little bath tubs that you could wade and sun bathe in at any time of the day. They were ideal for relaxing in before and after the beach. The dinner I was served was a Japanese/American styled bento box with curry and french fries—the perfect combo. I loved how accommodating the staff was throughout my entire visit.

Please note that there are two Hanamuro Hotels on the island. There is a fancier one with a pool for those who are interested! Please see their website for more information as prices can change with the season. I paid around 12,000 yen for one night but it was worth it for the experience I had.

Hanamuro Inn is very close Maehama Beach where you can see wild deer roaming around the island! Unlike the deer in Nara, these deer are a little more timid but mostly seem to be calm around humans. Instead of senbei, they eat green grass on the island and it is advised that you do not feed them. The statue of Shiro the dog is very easy to find because it is directly north Aka Island’s Port. I think Shiro was the very first picture I took on this island, and I will hold it as a fond memory. At night you can see the stars shine brightly in the sky so I highly recommend staying overnight here if you can.

Other Dining Options

Since my hotel only served dinner and breakfast, I decided to have lunch at Hahna Cafe, which was just a short walk away from my hotel. They had delicious seafood pasta served with bread which I found to taste amazing because island food does not disappoint. They also have Okinawan soba and frozen cocktails and smoothies here. For dessert, I found a tiny cafe around the corner called guu guu that served some rice dishes, cakes, and desserts. I ordered no sugar coconut ice cream with azuki beans as the topping, and as expected it really hit the spot! I think since there are not very many restaurants on Aka Island, each one has a special charm.

Running to Geruma Island

Aka Island has a bridge that connects to Geruma Island where the Kerama Airport and elementary school is so I decided to explore this small and rural island before going to Zamami. Flying to Kerama Airport is typically more expensive, but perhaps is you wanted to come to the Kerama Islands directly without taking a ferry from Naha it would be to your advantage. Geruma was about 3.5 km from my hotel so I decided to run here. Walking here would take around 35-40 mins but if you run you can easily get here in 20 mins. Geruma has the lowest population of there Kerama Islands so there is not a lot to see here besides the main road that connects to the bridge, more coral reefs, and residential housing. The scenery did make it an interesting run though. My only complaint was that there seemed to be now vending machines to buy water at around, so be sure to stay hydrated if you come here! The beaches on this side appeared to have some washed up plastic on the shores so I would recommend not swimming here. Geruma is just something to check out if you are very curious like myself!

Thank you for reading my first article on the Kerama Islands! In my next article, I will talk about my experience exploring the next island I went to; which is Zamami. Look forward to reading more about my tropical adventures later this week!

Flying to the Fisherman’s Town of Kushiro for Birdwatching and Hiking Expeditions (Part 2)

Hiking to the base of Mt. Io where volcanic gases spew from vents.

After a lovely first evening of exploring the central streets of Kushiro and having a whole rental apartment complex to myself, the next I departed on a full day bus tour to all of the major sightseeing points of this area. The White Pirika Bus I selected for this trip runs from January – March and will take you on a journey to see rare species of birds, famous lakes and mountains, and hot springs too! I really recommend this tour because I was able to see everything I wanted and it was cheaper than renting a car. The guides only speak Japanese, but will show you the best spots for birdwatching and hiking so you know exactly where to go without wasting any time. As someone who loves photography and listening to guides to practice Japanese, this was the optimal tour for me. I would advise booking this tour at least a week in advance online because it has limited availability.

The major spots that are covered in this tour are: Tsurumidai (for viewing the cranes), Sunayu (for viewing the swans), Mt. Io, Lake Mashu, and Lake Akan Hot Springs

Afterwards you can request to be dropped of at Kushiro Station, Kushiro Airport, or your accommodation.

If you come during the warmer seasons to Kushiro, you can reserve similar buses on the Akan Bus website, but the swans and cranes rarely appear. I recommend coming here during the winter because you can do and see the most!

Tsurumidai

The very first place we stopped on our tour was Tsurumidai, which is a popular lookout spot for the Japanese Red-crowned Crane (also known as the “Japanese Tanchou”). The Red-crowned Crane is one of the largest East Asian cranes and one of the rarest species of crane in the world. This bird is said to bring good luck and is a prominent symbol in many folklore and legends. It also appears in Japan Airlines’ logo! I enjoyed watching these cranes spread their wings and honk at one another. They seemed completely unbaffled by the presence of so many humans watching them from the other side of the fence. They were a lot bigger than I had initially anticipated, and that made watching them all the more fun. After March they usually migrate to other countries such as Russia and China. I was extremely lucky to catch sight of them this year!

Sunayu

The next stop of this tour was at Sunayu, which is a hot spring that oozes out of the sand for both humans and birds! Sunayu is located on the east side of Lake Kussharo, and is a popular campsite during the warmer months. During the winter, whooper swans flock to the warm waters for comfort and a number of people come to watch them. A few years ago, a group of my Japanese friends came here for photography and one of them created this melodic track called “Whooper Song” that was inspired by the sight of the whooper swan. Since then I wanted to come to Kushiro and see the bird for myself, so I’m extremely grateful I had this opportunity!

Here are more photos I took of the beautiful whooper swans. They truly are serene:

Mt. Io

Our third and perhaps most adventurous stop was at Mt. Io, which is an active volcano in Kushiro. It is famous for erupting sulfur and volcanic gases from its vents, and has a lot of characteristic geological formations. Climbing is prohibited, but you can hike up to the fenced area and get extremely close to the vents. I watched a Japanese couple stick their hands into the fumes and was concerned they were going to get burned, but it is safe to do this at the base! I tried it myself and found that the temperature was comfortably warm; kind of like a steam sauna. You can buy eggs cooked by the steam at the souvenir shop which I highly recommend, because they are healthy and delicious!

Lake Mashu

Our next destination was a brief stop at Lake Mashu, which is a caldera lake formed by an active volcano in Akan Mashu National Park. It has been called “the clearest lake in the world” and is considered Japan’s post beautiful lake. It is also one of the deepest lakes in this country. Visitors are not allowed to go down to the lake, but can view it from multiple observatories. I was thankful to have the tour guide here to point me in the right direction of to where to take the best pictures. Its waters truly were beautiful and reflected the surrounding winter scenery.

Lake Akan Hot Springs (and Lunch)

Our last stop was at Lake Akan Hot Springs where we were given an hour of free time to do whatever we wanted. Here you can choose to ride a banana boat, rent winter sports equipment, go shopping, or bathe in a hot spring bath. If you know me, you know I love hot springs so I naturally went to the nearest one at a hotel adjacent to the bus stop. The entrance fee was only 1000 yen and it included a towel and shampoo. I had the whole outdoor bath to myself so that was a plus! It felt so good to clean up after all the hiking I did this day. I also walked around the hot spring town and looked at the little shops. I enjoyed seeing all of the wood carving places and cafes, but unfortunately not a lot of things were open. I did enjoy how private this area was though; there was hardly anyone here except for our tour group and that was nice!

Right before this stop we were given a delicious bento lunch that contained fish or meat (I chose fish), and I ordered hojicha gelato for dessert. All of the food in Hokkaido is cheap and tastes amazing so you really can’t go wrong with what you eat here!

Final Thoughts

Overall this was one of the best tours I’ve ever been on in Japan because not only did it include lunch and entrance fees to all of the parks, but it also took me to every single place I wanted to see in Kushiro! I had a fantastic time seeing the birds, active volcanoes, and lakes this part of Hokkaido had to offer⁠—not to mention the hot springs! I feel extremely fulfilled to cross yet another dream destination off my list. I would recommend Kushiro to travelers who have already seen all of the major cities of Hokkaido and are looking for something more secluded and unique. I hope to come back to Hokkaido again during the summer for some more photography, because this island has a lot of untouched nature and exciting places to see. I feel so relaxed after getting out of the city for a while too!

Thank you for reading my Kushiro article series. I plan on going to Nara this year to see the cherry blossoms, and possibly Shimane and Yamaguchi too if I have time. Please expect more exciting articles from me!

Cruising through the Whirlpools of Naruto City

View from a whirlpool cruise in Naruto City during the strongest tidal current.

After completing my ninja training at the Naruto x Boruto Theme Park, I decided the next logical thing to do on this vacation was set off on a whirlpool cruise in Naruto city. The Naruto Whirlpools are located underneath the bridge that connects Awaji Island to Shikoku. I used to live in this area nearly 6 years ago when I first moved to Japan. Though it was only for a short time, it felt nostalgic coming back here after all these years where my journey first began. You can see the whirlpools from the bridge but the best way to photograph them is on a whirlpool cruise. The tidal current can change depending on the time of year, so be sure to look at what is recommend from the booking website before you make a reservation. We decided to book a tour at 11:15 on an Aqua Eddy boat from Uzusio because it has an upper and lower deck where you can see the whirlpools from underneath the water. The cruise lasts for about 30 minutes and costs 2400 which was suitable for me.

Using my GoPro I managed to catch some pretty neat footage of the Naruto Whirlpools:

Being on this cruise was fantastic because the weather was perfect and I could feel the coolness of the ocean breeze. I reflected on my life a lot and thought about how much I had changed since I last saw these whirlpools. They really are something else! They definitely looked best from the top deck but it was fun to see the fish from the windows underneath the boat too. Be sure to make a reservation in advance because this cruise is quite popular.

Address: 264-1 Oge, Tosadomariura, Naruto-cho, Naruto- City, Tokushima 772-0053

Izanagi Shrine

One of the most famous shrines in Awaji is Izanagi, which is the oldest shinto shrine in Japan that houses Izanagi and Izamami. If you have played the Persona series then you may already be slightly familiar with the mythology. Izanagi is said to be a god of creation so this shrine is very sacred and is beautiful to see. There is a red bridge and miniature garden that make it very scenic. The ema here are shaped like peaches which I thought was pretty unique. I am grateful to have had the chance to finally visit!

Address: 740 Taga, Awaji, Hyogo 656-1521
Entrance Fee: Free

Swimming at Tsushi Beach

Before heading back to our ryokan, we decided to take a quick swim at Tsushi Beach which was walking distance from where we were staying. This beach was really unique because there were so many fish jumping out of the water! I had a couple close encounters with them but they were completely harmless. We were later told that this beach was designated for fishing by someone who spotted us from the shore, but we still had an amazing time here seeing the sunset and I got a really good workout in.

Staying at Yodoso

While I was looking at hotels close to the beach, I found a ryokan called Yodoso that was only 4000 yen per night. On an island famous for its fancy and upscale resorts which get to be pretty pricey, this felt like that ultimate deal. Score! Unfortunately my room was extremely simple and did not contain a private bathroom or shower, but it was okay for what it was; especially since we were only staying here for one night. The seafood breakfast we had was absolutely amazing here and was only 1000 yen extra. I definitely recommend trying the fish here! 1-2 night in Awaji is enough to experience the island.

Yumebutai Gardens

The Yumebutai Gardens of Awaji were designed by Tadao Ando, whose work I had previously seen on Naoshima Island. I was very interested in these gardens due to their unique square shape. This area was previously destroyed in 1998 by a huge earthquake, so it’s amazing to see how much was reconstructed. While we were here we ran into a photoshoot for a wedding and it was fun to see! The architecture here is breathtaking and it is completely surrounded by flower gardens that you can visit. For me the square one was by far the most aesthetic.

Address: 656-2306 Hyogo, Awaji, Yumebutai, 2−番地
Entrance Fee: Free

Final Meal

Before driving 6 hours back to Yamanashi where I would catch a local train to Tokyo, we decided to have our last meal on the island at a restaurant called Kitora located inside of the gardens. I decided to order a seafood platter and really appreciated how they put a cherry on top of the salmon roe. Not only did this look beautiful, but the taste was out of this world. I will never forget how much fun I had on this island! Fortunately I was able to 100% complete everything on my itinerary so I was satisfied.

My next trip is currently undecided as I will be temporarily leaving Japan to visit my home country next month now that I have my vaccine passport. However, I have my sight set on Fukui and would really like to sneak a trip in before I leave. Fingers crossed! When I return to Japan I will likely go to Sapporo in the winter so I can take pictures of the snow. I am very excited to see how the rest of this year unfolds.

Venturing to the Theme Parks of Awaji Island: Hello Kitty Smile & Naruto x Boruto Shinobi-zato

The great Hokage watch over Awaji Island.

After we had a fantastic stay in Kobe visiting Rokko Island, Chinatown, and Harborland, we decided to take a road trip to Hyogo Prefecture’s Awaji Island—a rural tropical paradise boasting resorts, farmland, and iconic amusement parks. There are also many beaches here that you can use for recreational fishing and swimming. The main reason I wanted to come here was to see the Naruto x Boruto theme park and also go on a whirlpool cruise, which I will detail in my next article. What I liked most about Awaji is that it had a variety of fascinating attractions enjoyable for all ages. I originally debated about solo tripping and taking the local bus around here, but Awaji is best explored by car. Fortunately my friends were on board with my itinerary and we were able to split the highway tolls while having an amazing vacation here!

Getting to Awaji

Awaji is connected to Kobe and Tokushima by bridge so you can reach the island by car or bus. There are no airports or trains on the island making it hard to get around, so I would recommend renting a car. From Kobe we drove about an hour to get to the central part of the island and were able to see quite a lot during our two day stay. I recommend staying 2-3 days so you have enough time to see all of the attractions you want and spend time on the beach.

For more information on the Awaji buses, please see the official Awaji Tourism website.

Naruto x Boruto Shinobi-zato

Naruto x Boruto Shinobi-zato is a permanent theme park that is part of Nijigen no Mori, a forested area of attractions and events on Awaji Island. This theme park originally opened in 2019 but was temporarily closed due to the effects of the pandemic in 2020. It reopened in 2021 and is now fully operational but requires all visitors to wear masks. As an avid fan of the series in middle school, I simply had to go. I really wished I would have brought my Naruto headband I brought from ebay when I was 12 years old, but it is sitting somewhere at my parents’ house in Michigan. When I visit home later this year I might break it out for old time’s sake. Though I’ve moved on to other anime, Naruto will always have a special place in my heart. I really wish I could show my middle school self these pictures so she could see how badass I am in my twenties.

After purchasing your ticket at the door, you will be handed a small sack containing two ninja scrolls. Basically the whole premise is a giant stamp rally where the aim is to find as many of your ninja allies as possible and collect stamps to master ninjutsu. As soon as you enter the park you will be greeted by cardboard cutouts of all the main characters and see the iconic monument of the great Hokage. If this isn’t weeaboo paradise, I don’t know what is! You can line up on either side of the monument to start an obstacle course. We chose the Uzumaki side, but the Uchiha side is also an option. The course was pretty fun and involved light climbing, door puzzles, and had a slide. The hints are written in Japanese, English, and Chinese so we were able to get through them without issue. The weather was really hot so we were sweating at the end, but collecting our first stamp was ever so satisfying.

After the first course we decided to explore the whole entire park. Past the Hokage monument are the Akatsuki, a large statue of Kurama, and a tiny cave area you can walk through. As you walk through these areas, you can hear character voices giving you hints on where to go. If you keep walking you will eventually loop around to the food and souvenir shop near the entrance of the park. You can order ramen, drinks, and sweets that your favorite characters eat from the series. My favorite thing that I saw in the gift shop was the coconut Kakashi chapstick. As a kid I would have absolutely loved this theme park, but as an adult it was fun looking back on all of the memories this series gave me.

Overall I would recommend spending 1-2 hours here. The entrance fee is a bit pricey but honestly the pictures I took here made it worth it. I really liked how they made half of this park an obstacle course so it felt more like real ninja training instead of something with roller coasters because it wouldn’t be as fitting. I would definitely come here for the meme factor if you are an anime fan.

Address: 2425-2 Kusumoto, Awaji, Hyogo 656-2301
Entrance Fee: 3300 yen (basic admission—shows and additional obstacle courses are more money)

Hello Kitty Smile

Originally we tried to enter a pancake restaurant for breakfast this morning, but since it was located near the central resort area it was too crowded for us to enter. Instead we went to get high tea and seafood at Hello Kitty Smile, which turned out to be a super magical experience even better than our original plan!

Hello Kitty Smile consists of a resort with a fancy cafe, seafood restaurant with an ocean view, and museum of underwater themed Hello Kitty characters. We decided to split the high tea set and order caramel lattes which was a great move. I really enjoyed all of the little cakes and Hello Kitty manjuu that they included in the set. For lunch we went downstairs to the main restaurant and all ordered garlic shrimp plates. The portion sizes were absolutely HUGE!! Awaji is famous for its seafood, namely shrimp, and I can definitely see why. I am happy that we were able to have both cute and hearty meals here.

Afterwards we decided to enter the Hello Kitty “Under the Sea” area which contained a lot of projection mapped images similar to teamLab but on a much smaller scale. It was still very fun to experience and there were a ton of photo ops—namely the trippy room filled with Hello Kitty plush dolls. Additionally I loved seeing the vintage car under the neon lights, the sparkly guitar, and meeting Hello Kitty herself! There was also an arts and crafts area for kids with a bunch of carnival games. I could see this as the ideal vacation for young children, but walking around the museum as an adult was fun too. Plus the view of the ocean was simply beautiful. I felt very relaxed here and was happy with what I saw.

Address: 985-1 Nojimahikinoura, Awaji, Hyogo 656-1721
Entrance Fee: 2300 yen

Godzilla Zipline

One of the best things I saw on this trip was people casually zipling into Godzilla’s mouth outside of the Naruto x Boruto Park:

DOOM!

Unfortunately I was wearing a short skirt so I couldn’t partake, but just watching this was absolutely hilarious! You gotta appreciate the strange things you stumble upon on these rural islands. For more information, please see the Godzilla Interception Operation website.

Thank you for reading the first part of my Awaji Island article series! In my next article, I will be talking about the whirlpool cruise, beaches, and my accommodation. Please look forward to it~

Chasing Sunsets on Sakurajima, Kagoshima’s Volcanic Island

View of Sakurajima from the Arimura Lava Observatory.

Right before my expedition to Ogawa Falls in the remote city of Kanoya, I decided to make a brief pitstop at the island of Sakurajima and spend the night at a Japanese ryokan by the ocean. Sakurajima is a volcanic island that has been on my bucket list for quite a while, but I was waiting for the perfect time of year to go which is late summer. While I was here I rented a bike and rode around to various viewpoints, took a bus to the Arimura Lava Observatory, and walked around the magma sand beach on the way back to my hot spring resort. The best part was watching the sunset from my private onsen by the sea. I will never forget the beautiful shades of the pink and orange sky that surround the active volcano. The volcano gently erupts ash every day but is safe to view from the marked viewpoints and observatories. Since Sakurajima doesn’t have much of a nightlife at all, you can really focus on appreciating nature when the sky turns dark.

Getting to Sakurajima

From the Kagoshima Ferry Port that is easily accessible by bus from the airport, Sakurajima is just a simple 15 minute ferry ride away. The ferry runs 24 hours and costs only 200 yen per passenger. Please see the ferry timetable for more information.

There are a number of bus tours you can choose from the Sakurajima Tourism Website, but you can also rent bikes and use a combination of public transport to get the most out of your experience. Here is my recommended itinerary for Sakurajima:

Exploring the West Side of the Island by Bike

As soon as I reached the Sakurajima ferry port, I calculated it would be faster to see the attractions on the west side of the island by bike, so I rented a cheap bike from a rental shop near Tsukiyomi Shrine. I decided I would see the shrine first, then bike to the Yogam Nagisa Footbath area so I could soak my feet in the water and gaze at the sparkling sea. The footbaths are completely free to use and are very relaxing for weary travelers. After snapping a few photos, I rode my bike to the Karasujima Observatory which gave me yet another beautiful view of the ocean. I then rode my bike to the “Portrait of a Shout” monument which is definitely worth seeing. This was my favorite piece of art on the island because it was so random but gladly welcomed. Seeing all these things took around 45 mins by bike which is way easier than walking or waiting for a bus, so I would recommend because it lets you get acquainted with the island.

Biking around the entire island is about 36km and is doable in a day, but since some places on the north side are shut due to the pandemic I would not recommend it unless you are dead-set on seeing all of the island by bike. Please note that most bike rental places want their bikes returned by 5pm too.

Taking a Bus to the Arimura Lava Observatory

After returning my bike, I took a local bus from the ferry port to the Arimura Lava Observatory which was very close to the beach and my ryokan. This was my favorite part of the trip because unlike other observatories, the Arimura one has the most walkways and mini tunnels you can walk through with the best view of the volcano. You can also see the ash from the volcano that looks like black sand around this area. This was the most photogenic spot of the island that I discovered and it was so fun seeing the volcano from multiple heights. If you enjoy hiking and are only here on a day trip, definitely come here first because you’ll enjoy it the most!

If you cross the street from the observatory and walk west toward the hotels, you will be able to see Arimura Beach that has black sand stained from the ash. Fortunately the ash is already dry when it lands on the sand and it is safe to walk on. This was my first time seeing a volcanic beach and I was truly amazed!

Address: 952 Arimuracho, Kagoshima, 891-1545

Staying Overnight at Sakurajima Seaside Hotel

While looking at places on the island, I wanted to stay somewhere close to the ocean with a natural hot spring included. Sakurajima Seaside Hotel fit that description perfectly and was in a great location on Arimura Beach so I booked it without hesitation. This hotel has ryokan style rooms with the option of having meals included. It also has public and private onsen naturally heated by the magma of Sakurajima. The best time to use the hot springs is when the sun starts to set because then it won’t be as hot. When I first got in, the water was extremely warm so it took some getting used to. However, the next day my muscles felt completely relaxed so I decided to go in again before checking out. When you get out of the bath you may notice some orange residue on your skin from the natural ingredients in the water but this is extremely healthy for it!

Taking a Bus or Taxi to Kurokami Buried Shrine Gate

In the morning before catching my ferry back to mainland, I decided to take a taxi to the Kurokami Buried Shrine Gate on the east side of the island. My taxi driver was very talkative and gave me the full history on its destruction that was caused by an eruption in 1914. I have never seen a tori submerged in the earth before, so this was yet another incredibly rare sight that is unique to Sakurajima. You can also come here by local bus—I just decided to use a taxi because I was short on time.

I this area there is also the Kurokami Observation Point, but it was closed due to the pandemic. I wasn’t disappointed because my pictures from the Arimura Lava Observatory turned out very well.

Address: 647 Kurokamicho, Kagoshima, 891-1401
Admission: Free

Trying Sakurajima Food

There are a number of restaurants scattered throughout the island, but I opted to get breakfast at my ryokan which included fresh fish, rice, salad, and miso soup. Food on the island is somewhat limited, but a lot of care went into preparing this breakfast and I enjoyed the variety. At the ferry terminal there is a cafe that sells volcanic ash ice cream cones and I can’t recommend them enough! The “volcanic ash” tastes suspiciously like crushed Oreo, but I will live its taste up to your imagination. I would just try whatever food that strikes you fancy here!

Final Thoughts

I am really glad I solo tripped and stayed overnight on Sakurajima because watching the sunset on this island was absolutely breathtaking! The majority of travelers that I have talked to usually day trip here to save time, but I feel very fortunate I had enough time to experience the volcano at night too. The staff at my ryokan were extremely kind and really took care of me. I also enjoyed having a lot of alone time to myself which is something that I don’t always get in Tokyo. Having a car would have been nice, but I managed to spontaneously figure out the public transport system and rent a bike which I am proud of myself for. Overall this was another 10/10 trip to Kyushu and I cannot wait to come back in the future.

This marks the end of my Kyushu article series, but I will be traveling to Kobe and Awaji this weekend and starting my next article series next week! Please look forward to it and thank you for reading as always!

Exploring Sadoshima: The Island of Gold Mines, Washtubs, and the Japanese Crested Ibis

Remember the washtub scene from Tales of Symphonia? On Sadoshima you can live the dream!

After seeing Skrillex close the first night of Fuji Rock in 2018, I decided to spend the next day sailing to Niigata’s obscure island with dark past: Sadoshima. Through a large portion of history this island was used as exile for heinous criminals but also for free thinkers who had critical opinions of the emperors at the time. Many people were contained in detention centers, but after the discovery of the gold mines on the islands they able-bodied were used as forced laborers. People from the mainland were also selected to help mine the gold. Nowadays the island is filled with luscious nature and the mines and prisons have been turned into museums. There are a number of activities that you can do on Sadoshima including swimming and taking a boat tour, but my main reason for coming is so I could ride in the washtubs (also known as hangiri or tarai bune).

Getting to Sadoshima

I purchased a ferry tickets from Sado Kisen for 2380 yen in advance and rode the car ferry. There are multiple boarding points, but I boarded at Bandaijima Ferry Terminal because it is closest to the shinkansen station. I would definitely recommend booking in advance so you can better plan your trip because only certain time slots are available.

The boat ride to Sadoshima from Niigata takes one hour and is a pretty smooth trip. I would recommend doing a day trip unless you plan on swimming a lot because most of the island can be seen in a day. There are various Sado Bus Tours you can reserve from the official website that take you to the main points of the island. You can also try renting a car or take a taxi, but the bus tours have the best value. I took the half-day course that included the gold mines, wash tubs, and Toki Forest Park for 4900 yen. I can happily say that my experience was worth the time and money because I got to witness a lot of rare sights!

Boarding the Ship

I boarded the ship at 6am and was surprised to find out that it was ginormous with a total of 6 floors. I booked second class seats because they were cheaper but the first class tickets come with small beds you can nap in. The ship even had anime mascots and cosplay that you could wear and take pictures in! Not to mention you could buy a lot of food and alcohol from the vending machines and staffed stalls. The view of the ocean from the top was amazing too and I still remember the gentle summer breeze. After backpacking in Asia for 3 years I was really getting used to the no frills ferries, but this was maybe the most luxurious boat I have ever ridden in my life. Even 3 years later while writing this I still remember how amazing it was!

Riding the Washtubs from Tales of Symphonia

As a child I adored Tales of Symphonia, and specifically remember there being a washtub scene in the game. In this scene the characters heroically board washtubs at the pier and sail to their next destination, some characters enduring the ride better than others making it comedic. Little did I know that I would get to experience the same thing here on Sadoshima! Fortunately the washtubs here are extremely pleasant to ride and you have your own captain to steer for you. A true luxury that is unique to this island.

In the past these boats were extremely popular for fishing due to their durability and low cost, but now there are much more powerful tools available so only remote villages are keeping this tradition alive. In Ito, Shizuoka, the Matsukawa Washtub Races are sometimes held, but these washtubs are leaner and meant for sports. Sadoshima is the best place to experience them and fortunately you can reserve them on the same day you arrive to the island. The ride is only for around 15 minutes but you can choose to ride multiple times. I had a blast reliving a scene from one of my favorite games!

Here is a video I took on my old camera. Sadly this was before my GoPro days but I remember how fun this was:

Kinzan Gold Mine

According to Japan Guide, Sadoshima’s Kinzan Gold Mine was the most active gold mine in Japan that produced over 400kg of gold and also silver and other metals too. It has two main paths that you can walk down and read the history while you explore the inner tunnels. One path has tiny robotic workers that reenact some of the activities in the mine and another has restored tunnels from the Edo Period. There is a gift shop that sells all sorts of crazy gold souvenirs including gold sake and sponge cakes with specks of gold in the frosting. It looks kind of tacky now but at the time I really enjoyed these kinds of places! I still have a gold necklace that I occasionally wear out that I bought from Sadoshima. I’d say the gift shops here are pretty top notch and it is always fun to look around~

Toki Forest Park

The Toki, or Japanese Crested Ibis, is an endangered species that is kept under special watch at Sadoshima. At Toki Forest Park you can learn all about them and observe them from a safe distance. The park is very beautiful and contains various facilities. There is an outdoor area where you can take a stroll through the garden and may have the chance to meet the costumed Toki mascot. There is an indoor area where you can see different pictures of Toki and learn all about their characteristics. I personally loved the distinct red color around their eyes. Sadly the Toki are on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss and starvation during the winter, but the preservation center here is aiming to take care of them and eventually release them into the wild. There were 6 birds here when I visited in 2018 and I am hoping there are more now. I bought the Toki change purse as a souvenir and as a reminder to not forget them.

Overall my experience to Sadoshima was very vivid and I definitely recommend coming here during the summer in Niigata. One day on the island was enough for me to do everything that I wanted, but if I come with a friend or a group of people I may consider staying longer. I hope to visit Niigata next year for the sake festival!