Naoshima, Japan’s Avant-garde Island of Art

Welcome to Naoshima—Japan’s obscure avant-garde island full of art museums, beaches, and outdoor sculptures.  Since I am a lover of all things aesthetic, I couldn’t pass up the chance to go here while I was traveling through Okayama.  This island is very small but has a lot to see.  It’s well-known among art enthusiasts and travelers that like to go off the beaten path.  The most iconic piece of art you’ll find is the giant yellow pumpkin at the pier designed by Yayoi Kusama, but there’s an artistic sense all around here.  Even if you’re not a huge fan of art, it’s really fun to go cycling and swimming here because it’s quite secluded from the rest of Japan.  This island is actually part of Shikoku though you can access it from Honshu too.  I’ll be detailing my full experience in this article!

Getting around Naoshima

From the net cafe I was staying overnight at (Jiyuu Kuukan), I walked to Okayama Station and rode the Seto-Ohashi Line to Chayamachi Station, then took the Uno Line to Uno Station for 50 mins total.  From Uno Station, I walked to the nearby port and rode a ferry for 30 mins to Naoshima island.  These ferries are frequent and leave almost every hour (see time table here).  It was a very fun ride and the weather was perfect too!

I rented a bike for 500 yen/day because cycling is the best way to see all of Naoshima.  The whole island takes about 2.5 hours total to cycle around and is pretty easy to navigate because it’s circular.  However, it’s easy to spend a whole day here because there are so many museums to see.  There are many hostels and resorts you can stay overnight at too.  I didn’t stay overnight here, but I really want to next time!

I started my trip by riding my bike to Gotanji Bathing Beach where the giant yellow pumpkin is.  I spent around an hour here swimming and seeing all of the Picasso-esque statues that line the beach area.  I met a mix of both Japanese and international travelers who were very friendly.  There was a giant raft in the middle of the swimming area where I actually took a nap on!  That’s how relaxing it is here~

After feeling refreshed from the ocean, I decided to make my way around to the major museums.  Some are free to enter but others have admission fees.  I would research them beforehand budget around 3000 – 6000 yen depending on what you want to see.

Exploring the Museums

The main museums worth seeing on the island are:

  • Benesse House – Museum by the beach with indoor and outdoor exhibits.  They combine their hotel with the “coexistence of nature, art and architecture” and are responsible for many projects on the island.
  • Chichu Art Museum – An ambient museum built mostly underground.  The natural light plays a huge role in seeing the artwork here.
  • Lee Ufan Museum – A contemporary art museum consisting of stones and two-dimensional paintings.  His art has a tranquil feeling when paired with the seaside viewpoint.
  • Ando Museum – A traditional wooden house that uses creative architecture to contrast light and shadow and the past from the present.
  • Teshima Art Museum – This is a famous art museum located on the nearby Teshima Island that resembles a water droplet and is perfect for photography.
  • Art House Projects – A series of small houses with a variety of different art from different artists.  For a full list, please see the Benesse Art Project Site.

*Please note that photography is not allowed at all museums, but is okay outside most places.

One of the most interesting things I saw was the light-up ‘Live & Die’ piece at Benesse House (pictured in the very top photos).  The words on the boards all have different associations with life and death.  While the lights faded, a Japanese man walked up and spread his arms out, as if embracing the words it had projected.  It was one of the coolest reactions I have ever witnessed at an art museum in my life.  I also saw a graveyard outside of the Lee Ufan museum.  Its juxtaposition with the art made me think more on the concept of life and death.  I did a lot of reflecting this day and it was very good for my mental heath.  That’s why I’m planning to come back here in the summer again and see all the spots that I missed!

Food & Drinks

There are restaurants, bakeries, and cafes all over the island so you can easily find a place that catches your interest.  I had cold soba noodles and matcha bread with anko for lunch at a place called Aisunao.  It was all homemade food and tasted amazing!  When I got back to Okayama, I drank a drink that smiled back at a Tiki Bar.  You seriously can find great selection here wherever you look!

Bathing in a Artsy Bath

Before I took the ferry back, I decided to bathe at the artsy bath called I♥湯 (I love you).  The outside of the bath house has an aesthetic mosaic design that looks like no other bath house in Japan.  The indoor area has equally beautiful architecture.  It was a great way to end the trip.  The entrance fee is only 660 yen.

Exploring other Islands

One regret I have is that I didn’t look into exploring the two smaller art islands you can access from Naoshima: Inujima & Teshima.  Both islands can be reached from Naoshima in less than 20 mins.  Benesse has a nice two-day itinerary where you can see all the major works of the three islands.  I will be going back hopefully later this year to see the small things that I missed!

Access

I mentioned the route that I took above, but there are multiple ways to get to Naoshima.  Please see the Benesse site for more information.

If you are interested in reading more of my art articles, please see my Yayoi Kusama and Innovative Art Museums in Asia articles!

Swimming in the Gorgeous Beaches of Iwami from Free!

After riding camels through the desert of Japan, I decided to take a day trip to Iwami—a beautiful beach town on the west coast of Japan; also known as the real-life location of the swimming anime Free!  Iwami is a small and rural town, but doing sightseeing around the beaches will keep you busy for hours.  This place is perfect for people who love water sports and fishing that need a break from the city.  Besides Okinawa, I think Iwami has some of the best beaches in Japan.  If you rent a bike and ride around the coast it’s quite easy to find your own private beach to relax on.  It truly felt like a hidden oasis to me.  Plus I got to see yet another inspiration for one of my favorite series!

When I arrived at Iwami Station, I was thrilled to to find a mini Free! shrine dedicated to all of the characters.  A life-sized version of the bird-like school mascot also greeted me.  There were framed photos, guestbooks that you could draw in, and a whole desk of fan-made items dedicated to Rin’s birthday.  Seeing all of the time that went into this made me happy that I could be a part of it too.  Iwami is definitely a gem even if you aren’t a fan of the anime.

In addition to all of the character goods, they also had maps that mark all of the major sightseeing points from the anime (they hilariously said “Take Free” on the front):

I decided to rent a bike at the Iwami Tourism Office located next to the station for 500 yen per day.  Biking is the best way to see the entire town and saves you a lot of time and money.  I would allow 4-6 hours here depending on how long you want to go swimming.

The old-school road bike I rented wasn’t half-bad.  I also bought some cookies as an offering to my favorite character Haru.  After checking my map, I decided to head to the Uradome swimming area because that is the main beach featured in the anime.  It’s fortunately just a short ride from the station, and seeing all of the rock formations that surround the town on the way there is amazing.  I spent about an hour here swimming then road my bike to a rockier area with less people.  Treading the rocks hurt my feet a bit, but once you get in the water you will feel the best adrenaline rush.

This was my favorite beach that I found (you can search “Uradome Coast Oguri beach beaches” on Googles Maps to find the exact location):

Please swim here with caution because there aren’t as many lifegaurds here as the main swimming area.  There are literally beaches all over the town so you can find the one that suits you the best.  There are sandier ones in central Uradome you can easily access.

In Uradome you’ll also notice an island with a torii which is quite a famous lookout point.  Near it is Tajiri Port which is used for fishing and transporting goods.  These places were referenced in the anime as well:

After swimming to my heart’s content, I decided to explore more of Iwami by going on a boat tour at Uradome Coast Island Tour.  The “Pleasure Boat” boat tour is 1400 yen and around 40 mins.  I highly recommend this tour because you can get up and close to the unique rock formations that this area is famous for.  Plus it feels like an adventure:

After my little boating excursion, I decided to end my trip by hiking to Tajiri Shrine.  Luckily it’s not too far from the port.  One of the most unique parts of the town is you can actually see Makoto’s house here!  It is located near the top of Tajiri Shrine:

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The real-life version of Makoto’s house from Free!

When I reached the top of the shrine, I was surprised to find a Rin cosplayer there! Like me, she was a huge fan of the series and decided to spend her time here during the summer. We talked and actually became really good friends. I still stay in touch with her though I traveled here nearly 3 years ago.  I really regret not staying in Iwami overnight so I could see the sunset and the sunrise, but I plan on coming back here in the future!

Access

From Tottori Station, take the Nikko Bus for either Iwai/Kabushima or Iwai/Nagatanibashi and get off at Iwami Station.  This takes around 50 mins and costs 700 yen.

If you are coming from a larger city, I highly recommend flying to Tottori Station because you will save a lot of money.  Please see my previous article for more information.

While I was in Tottori, I stayed in a net cafe that is now permanently closed because I was short on cash.  However, there are more net cafes and better places that you can stay in.  Please see booking for better options!

 

 

The Best of Taichung: Visiting Rainbow Village & Sun Moon Lake (Part 2)

After visiting the eye-popping Rainbow Village, I decided to take a cheap local bus from Taichung Station to the famous Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan (its name immediately made me think of Pokémon Sun & Moon).  After an hour and a half ride, I was dropped off at Shuishe Pier, which is part of the central hub of Sun Moon Lake.  There are a number of restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops that you can browse around, although the real adventure lies elsewhere!  From here you can ride ferries and buy tickets to attractions around the lake.  The ferry will take you to Ita Thao Pier and Xuanguang Pier which both have a number of hiking trails and sightseeing spots to explore.  If you are unsure of what to do, the official Sun Moon Lake website has a number of itineraries available.

Originally I was thinking of going to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village and ropeway (which is a huge amusement park with a waterpark), but due to the mild and foggy January weather, I opted to do some hiking instead.  My favorite viewpoint that I discovered was the Ci-en Padoga built by Chiang Kai-Shek in memory of his mother.  This was about a 40 minute hike through a bamboo forest but was easy to access thanks to the English guideposts.  The ferries depart from pier to pier every half hour, so you can see the majority of sights in one day.  However, if you wish to see the smaller islands and go to the amusement park that I mentioned above, you will definitely need two full days.

Unfortunately due to the fog it was hard for me to capture good footage of the hike I took, but the mountains surrounding the lake were breathtaking and gorgeous.  I would say this was the 2nd most beautiful place that I have been to in Taiwan; the 1st being Taroko Gorge.  I wish I could have spent two full days here, but I was happy with all of the scenery I was able to see in one day.  Getting between the piers only takes around 15 minutes, so you can definitely make the most of your time here if you plan it out.

When you purchase your ferry ticket (mine was only 250 TWD because they thought I was a student), you are given a map with all the major landmarks on them.  If you are a seasoned traveler, I would just follow your instinct and go wherever looks most interesting to you.  The guideposts make it pretty straightforward, and there are always usually hikers around to ask in case you get lost.  Sailing around and feeling like I was in an RPG was honestly the best aspect for me.  It was so nice getting out of the city and into this amazing world of nature:

In my next article, I will be writing about Taiwan’s southern city Kaohsiung and Cijin Island.  Thank you to all those who have kept up with my wild adventures!

Running Around the Kyoto Imperial Palace

As someone who’s been a cross country runner for over 10 years, I have a tradition of going on an average length run (around 5km) every time I’m in a new place. Not only does it help me get better acquainted with the area, but it also gives me an incredible endorphin boost that will keep me in a good mood throughout the day. If you do this, just be sure to take your phone along so you don’t get lost!

The hilarious part about my 5 day trip to Kyoto was that my shoes randomly broke while I was hiking. Fortunately I was able to borrow some cheap ones from my hotel, but I really need shoes with good support to continue to high level of activity.

I found a shoe store chain called ABC Mart near Nishiki Market in central Kyoto. They have Nike, Puma, Converse, and a variety of brands but my favorite is the Japanese brand ASICS. I settled on this pair of red ones so I could continue my streak of running around the city:

ASICS is a reliable brand with gel support, and they tend to last for a while. I set off for the Kyoto Imperial Palace which has a beautiful park that you are free to roam around in outside of the gates. It’s so peaceful and quiet here, and you can choose to do laps around it or run down the street nearby towards Nijo Castle. I love the sense of peace I get coming here in the morning. Even if you’re not a runner, this is an area I definitely recommend checking out!!

Secret Agent Woman: Going to James Bond Island in the Rain & Getting Jumped by a Monkey

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James Bond island, also know as Khao Phing Kan, is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand due to its appearance in “The Man with the Golden Gun”.  Though it is somewhat overrated, I wanted to go for the sake of photography and also to learn more about its unique geology.  I learned during my tour with Phuket Sail Tours that its Thai name means “hills leaning against one another” because that is how it is thought to be formed.

The rock floating in the middle is called “Ko Ta Pu” and was originally thought to be a barrier reef that eroded by natural causes including wind, waves, and tides. All of these formations around the island and their limestone caves are actually a part of Ao Phang Nga National Park, which is a picturesque place to sail through and go swimming.

According to Geology Page, the legend surrounding the island is:

Once upon a time, there lived a fisherman who used to bring home many fish every time he went to the sea. However, one day he could not catch any fish despite many attempts and only picked up a nail with his net. He kept throwing the nail back into the sea and catching it again. Furious, he took his sword and cut the nail in half with all his strength. Upon impact, one half of the nail jumped up and speared into the sea, forming Ko Tapu.

Curious to learn more, I set sail from Phuket on a group tour just before the sunset.  The advantage to going later is you avoid most of the crowds, and on clear days you can get golden lighting while photographing these landscapes.

The tour began with a trip to Phanak Island where we got off the boat, and explored the hidden caves and lagoons via kayak.  It was quite a pleasant trip, as the caves were like nothing I had ever seen before!  I met some interesting wildlife there, including a tiny blue crab.

On the way through the lagoon, a wild monkey jumped from a rock formation and onto my canoe!! Fortunately I had left most of my belongings on the main boat so he didn’t have anything to ransack.  He seemed to be merely curious; maybe he thought my blonde hair was a banana.  I tried to keep on rowing slowly while taking a video, and eventually he got bored and hopped off.  Though our encounter was brief, it was an experience that I’ll never forget!  It is wild moments like these that make me really love going on these adventures in Thailand.

After saying goodbye to my monkey friend, I headed back to the main boat and onwards our main destination: James Bond Island.  I was happy to find that there weren’t many tourists there when we arrived–just monks, vendors, and a few other people.  I was able to get a few good pictures right before the rain started to fall!  I took cover in a nearby cave, and despite the weather I felt like I was on a legitimate mission.  It was actually kind of fun being there on a cloudy day because it fits the atmosphere of a secret hideout.

The captain then called us back to the ship for dinner.  We had some very delicious grilled fish, curry, vegetables, and beer with the same name as my cat, Leo!

Even though it was raining, the tour still continued.  On our way back to shore, we stopped at Hong Island and the bat caves.  Within the caves you can also see rare blue plankton.  It is a chemical reaction that scientists hypothesize is possible due to the plankton wanting to confuse their predators with a a bioluminesce glow.

Though many people slam James Bond Island for being too touristy, I would recommend it because the destinations around it are beautiful, and it’s actually very fun to see!  This trip is perfect for those looking to see the limestone caves up close and learn more about the unique geology this country has.  Just be sure to watch out for the monkeys!

Swimming through the Picturesque Phi Phi Islands (Thailand)

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I started the first day of my trip to Thailand during Golden Week by traveling to the picturesque Phi Phi Islands in the Krabi province. These islands have been used as film locations for several movies due to their beautiful formation consisting of many beaches and caves, and also are a popular resort destination. Whereas my first trip to Thailand focused on seeing 3 major cities of the country (Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai), this trip focused on exploring tinier islands and beaches for their unique charm.

To get to Phi Phi, it is easiest to take a speedboat from Phuket so I booked a group tour through Phuket Sail Tours to reach the chain of islands.  This tour was awesome because all of the people were around my age (mid-twenties), and the tour guide provided us with free beer.  It felt amazing to go diving off the boat and get lost within the Emerald waters of the Andaman Sea!

The first stop was Maya Bay, which was used as a film location in the movie “The Beach”. Unfortunately this beach has been closed until mid 2021 by the The Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation according to Bangkok Post due to it being overcrowded with tourists, but most tours will stop so you can take pictures of the island.

We then stopped at Pileh Lagoon for swimming and diving, and headed towards Phi Phi Don for snorkeling.  I was able to see a colorful assortment of fish and even swim with some!  I also saw tiny sting rays and sea urchins at the bottom of the ocean.  The time allotted for each location was adequate for seeing a lot of amazing sights. The bright atmosphere, bountiful schools of marine wildlife, and colorful assortment of boats really makes this a pleasant trip!

Next we sailed by Viking Cave, which we were unfortunately unable to enter due to the preservation of bird nests inside of it (according to our tour guide), but it was still interesting to see.  One of the most amusing stops was Monkey Beach, where we swam and watched monkeys ransack kayaks and backpacks for bananas.

The monkeys in Thailand are a lot like the ones in Japan–usually non-violent, but definitely handsy!  These monkeys were self-trained to open backpacks and knew exactly where to find the bananas.  Fortunately I did not get anything stolen, but it is advised to keep your luggage with you or on the boat so they do not ransack it.  Regardless, I had a lot of fun watching the monkeys here skillfully snatch food while relaxing on the beach!

To end the trip, we had a buffet lunch and chilled on the white sands of Bamboo Island.  Most tours have curry buffets with mixed vegetables, chicken, seafood, and rice because they are easy to make and are very filling.  I only eat seafood and vegetables, but fortunately I still found a lot of options.

For more information, please watch this video by Phuket Sail Tours, and please keep an eye on my future posts!

ASICS Gel Quantum Infinity Launch Party in Tokyo

Have you ever walked into a shoe store with interactive light fields, DJs blasting house music, and been immediately offered free alcohol by smiling salesman? I was not expecting this series of events when I walked into my favorite shoe store in Tokyo after work, desperately needing new shoes for my trip to Thailand. But here I was, drinking “Gel” berry flavored cocktails and trying on the latest Gel Quantum Infinity Series. Have a look below:

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As an avid runner, I have always been a huge fan of ASICS. When I participated in 5k cross country races in the US, I always used the Gel Noosa series. I love both the design and how comfortable these shoes are, I even wear them to work! It’s hard to think about owning another brand of running shoes since I have trusted this brand for so many years. That is why I was happy that I coincidentally walked into the launch party for the Gel Quantum Infinity release party! I have been to many parties in Tokyo, but this is one of the first that I have accidentally walked in on.

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With the “tech midsole” and the full length gel, the cushioning on this shoe is state of the art not to mention has a futuristic design. After I tried on these shoes, I could definitely feel the difference of the Gel when I stood up. I could also feel a bounce in my step when I started jogging in the store. Figuring that stumbling into this release party was destiny (and because I really liked the feel of the gel), I happily bought the shoe for 20,000 yen ($180).

Some of the highlights of the Gel Quantum Infinity include its lightweight and multipurpose usability. Though in America ASICS are mostly branded for running, I think a lot of Japanese people like them for fashion as well as I saw a lot of families shopping there. After finding the perfect fit (a size 25.5 in Japan), I happily decided on this shoe. I am excited for the future places that I travel with these sweet kicks (next being Bangkok)!

The only real negative point I’ve seen brought up about these shoes is the gel insole wearing down after 6 months of use. I am hoping since Tokyo mostly has fair weather without snow, that these will last a long time. Regardless, I will never forget going to this launch event because they really hyped it up.