Revisiting the Tropical Cities of Naha and Okinawa-shi

Though it’s called “Moon Beach”, you can definitely soak up the rays here!

Exactly one year ago before the Golden Week rush, I decided to fly to Okinawa to visit Naha and Miyakojima for the purpose of practicing underwater photography and traveling to newly opened dream destinations such as the Sanrio Hotel. The trip was a total blast and later helped me discover my love for free diving while I was in Hawaii this winter. Since I am planning another trip to Hawaii this month and am going to be diving with an experienced friend, I decided to book a spontaneous trip from Tokyo to Naha, Okinawa, last week so I could get some practice in. I am happy to say that this year’s trip was also a success and I saw a lot of aquatic wildlife all by myself! It’s fantastic to see such an improvement in my diving ability in just a year while travel was extremely limited. I am excited to dive in other Asian countries in the future as the world starts to open up!

If you live in Japan, then Okinawa is hands down the best place to enjoy beaches, surf, and dive. Last year I flew to Miyakojima during my trip so I could go scuba diving tour in a pumpkin-shaped limestone cave. This year I decided to focus on the Kerema Islands that are just a short ferry ride away from Naha’s central Tomari Port. They have beautiful beaches that are easily accessible and great for seeing turtles. Like last year, I decided to stay in Okinawa for 6 days so I could both practice diving and spend time with friends. Roundtrip tickets from Tokyo to Naha are between 15,000 – 20,000 yen this time of year. Please read my previous Naha article on how to best travel to Okinawa from Tokyo. This year due to there being no state of emergency, I noticed more travelers than last year, but the weekdays were still pretty quiet.

Exploring New Cafes in Naha

I arrived to Naha Airport around 12:00pm and was hungry so I decided to hunt for the most aesthetic food on the main island. Since I wanted my first day to be relaxing, this article will mostly focus on cafes, beaches, and restaurants I explored in the major cities before setting sail to the Kerama Islands. Here are my top discoveries for 2022:

DAISY

Like the name implies, DAISY encompasses all food that is aesthetic and floral. I loved the pastel walls and hanging lightbulbs from the ceiling because they definitely added a flair to the dining experience. My very first meal in Okinawa was flowery pizza topped with lemon and lime, a flowery grapefruit drink, and flowery ice cream for dessert! This cafe popped up in my recommendations on Instagram and in all my days I have never seen a pizza in Japan that looked this crazy. It tasted like naan topped with melted cheese and a hint of fruity flavor (and yes, the flowers on top are edible too). Would I recommend this to my friends? Oh, absolutely! If you love cheesy bread then this is the perfect starter for you. The grapefruit drink complimented its tropical taste too. And let me tell you, ordering the ice cream for dessert was a very satisfying way to end this meal. It was a combination of vanilla and raspberry flavors that really hit the spot on a sunny day. After this I had all the energy I needed to set off to my next destination!

Address: 2 Chome-28-24-103 Ameku, Naha, Okinawa 900-0005

LaLa Zorba

Another wonderful restaurant I recommend is LaLa Zorba, which serves ethnic food that is 100% vegan. The shop is owned by a female chef who cooks everything from scratch. I went here as soon as it opened on my second day in Naha and ordered the curry platter which included soy meat curry, rice, vegetables, fruit, and tofu. I could tell all of the food was organic because I felt very clean and healthy after eating it. They also have vegan desserts available for purchase that change daily, though I was too full to eat anything else! I am happy to see that more high quality vegan restaurants have opened here since my initial visit to Okinawa in 2016!

Address: 〒900-0014 Okinawa, Naha, Matsuo, 2 Chome−2−32 2階

Heading to Moon Beach & Toguchi Beach for the Sunset

Moon Beach is a popular resort area near Onna Village that a lot of travelers rave about, so I decided to drive there with a friend for a private photoshoot. Fortunately even if you are not staying at the resort, you can still visit the beach and use the facilities. I was mostly here to catch the aesthetic sunset because I have already seen the beaches in southern Okinawa, and I think the ones to the north are much more beautiful. Though the beach is small and not ideal for swimming or diving, the surrounding scenery is luscious and ideal for photography. We spent around 45 minutes here and decided to drive south to Toguchi Beach after.

Toguchi Beach is rockier and sometimes has low tides during this time of year, but has an amazing arch rock fromation and private areas where you can swim and take photos. The reflection of the clouds on the water was absolutely breathtaking and I had never seen such a beautiful sunset in Okinawa before. I think the scenery here is unrivaled and this was a fantastic place to end the night (though we planned to go barhopping afterwards).

Address: 1203 Maeganeku, Onna, Kunigami District, Okinawa 904-0414

Though we had a car for this trip, you can take a city bus towards Matsuo from central Kokusai Street in Naha to reach the Moon Beach Bus Stop. This trip takes about 1.5 hours and costs 1200 yen but is worth the price.

Moon Beach Sushi

After witnessing arguably one of the best sunsets on the island, we decided to stop at Chinuman for some mouthwatering sushi. This is a wonderful izakaya-styled restaurant with high quality fish that is perfect to relax at with your friends. I ordered a California Roll with a traditional Japanese 10 piece nigiri set, then some extra octopus and eel sushi because I love Okinawan sushi. The fish here hit differently than back in Tokyo. To understand you’ll just have to travel here and try it for yourself! Whatever fish you order here, you really can’t go wrong.

Address: 〒904-0414 Okinawa, Kunigami District, Onna, Maeganeku, 73

Barhopping in Okinawa-shi

Since one of my good photography friends was leaving Japan this week, we decided to go hard by pregaming then barhopping in Okinawa-shi (also known as Okinawa City). This area is more north from Naha and close to the beach resort areas of the central island, but you can still find accommodations here that are cheap. Since I am a lover of fancy cocktails, I decided to order an alcoholic avocado smoothie with a side of sweet azuki beans and a blue cheese Kahlua milk drink at a high-end bar called Bobby’s. Like the cafes I listed earlier, these cocktails were right up my ally because not only were they extremely aesthetic, but the quality was top notch too. We next wandered to an Italian Gyoza restaurant a little ways down the street that had just opened. They had a lot of unique entrees like mozzarella gyoza, Spanish omelettes, and herb fries. By this time we were pretty lit so we just ordered a ton of food and drinks and enjoyed the atmosphere. I can’t stress enough how much I love Okinawan restaurants because the owners here are never afraid to try new things. Italian Gyoza is definitely something that shouldn’t be slept on!

Accommodation

This year I mostly stayed with friends living near Moon Beach, but I highly recommend staying at Hotel Aqua Citta Naha like I did last year because it has free drinks during certain times and a beautiful infinity pool on the top floor. A standard room is around 6000 yen and this hotel is located near Tomari Port so you can reach other islands easily. Naha Airport is also close to this area as well as many bars and clubs. I will be detailing other hotels in my next articles where I visit the Kerama Islands. Please look forward to more island adventures from yours truly!

Venturing to Nara to see the Tiger Temple (Chogosonshi-ji) and Tsubosakadera

Tsubosakadera during the beginning of sakura season.

Last week I decided to venture to Nara to see various temples during the beginning of its sakura season and also stay in a cottage surrounded by wild deer. Fortunately the deer of Nara are very friendly creatures who love humans—especially if you buy senbei crackers to feed them. I first visited Nara when I was 19 years old during my study abroad trip and remember how vivid the central area was. Though I traveled to Yoshino and stayed at a ryokan 2 years ago while on a motorcycle trip, this was my first time returning to the central city of Nara in quite a long time. Nara is very close to both Kyoto and Osaka and makes the ideal day trip if you are visiting the Kansai region for a few days. I took some time off work so I could do photography here for two days and it was absolutely lovely, minus being lightly headbutted by deer for more crackers!

In this article series I will be highlighting some of the nicest temples in Nara, talking about my experience staying in the deer park, and also my day trip to Kyoto to see its sakura too.

Getting to Nara

The fastest way to get to Nara from Tokyo is to take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Kyoto, then the local Nara line to Nara Station. This trip takes around 3 hours and costs about 15,000 yen one way.

From Nara Station, there are many local buses and train lines you can take to get around the city. I would recommend staying here 2-3 days to see everything. I stayed in Nara for 2 days on this trip.

The Tiger Temple (Chogosonshi-ji)

The first stop on my Nara itinerary was Chogosonshi-ji, aka the Tiger Temple! Since 2022 is the year of the tiger, this temple has gained a lot of popularity. Chogosonshi-ji is south of central Nara but is definitely worth visiting because it has a huge complex of temples, hiking spots, and lots of interesting places to explore. Upon entering the temple grounds you will see the world’s largest paper mache tiger guarding the entrance! There is also a man selling tiger-shaped manjuu that I definitely recommend you try because they are warm and delicious. You can freely explore the temple at your pace, but I recommend walking through the tiger tunnel, visiting the main hall and looking at the good luck charms (I bought a mini tiger), and hiking to the top of the mountain through all of the tori if you have the energy. Be on the lookout for the striped mailbox as well, because it is right next to a beautiful sakura tree. I spent about 2 hours here and was very impressed with what I saw. Like the frog temple I visited last month, I would say this is one of my favorite temples in Japan because it is very interactive and there is a lot you can do here.

Address: 2280-1 Shigisan, Heguri, Ikoma District, Nara 636-0923
Entrance Fee: 300 yen

Tsubosakadera

The next temple on my list was Tsubosakadera, which is south of the Tiger Temple and extremely popular during sakura season because there are so many sakura trees here. Unfortunately the sakura were not in full bloom when I came, but there were enough of them that I felt satisfied with my visit. Tsubosakadera has not only Japanese but also Indian influences, and a number of the statues here were presented by India thanking the temple for helping people suffering from leprosy (source). I enjoyed hiking around the temple and seeing the giant Buddha from different viewpoints. The white architecture of this temple is truly striking and has a beautiful contrast with the bright pink blossoms. There are various halls you can walk through here too. One of them had a large collection of dolls and there were many statues surrounding the outside area. I spent about an hour here and then decided to head back to central Nara because seeing these two temples will take a lot out of your day. Both were highly worth the experience, especially during the spring season.

Address: 635-0102 Nara, Takaichi District, Takatori, 壷阪3
Entrance Fee: 600 yen

Bonus Food from Osaka

Before coming to Nara, I actually stopped in Osaka the night before to meet friends and eat delicious sweets. At Tokyo Station, one of the bento stands was selling sakura themed bento so I ate that on the way there. I loved the pink sticky rice and the mochi they included with it because it was so sweet and delicious! All of the food in the bento went so well together which is why I love trying seasonal ekiben.

Upon arriving to Osaka, I stopped at season & co in Umeda to eat their flowery bear cheesecake parfait. Not only was it extremely aesthetic, but it was also melt in your mouth goodness. The last place I stopped was daily dose coffee at DD House where I got a creamy latte with my name written on it and a matcha ice cream waffle shaped like a tiger! I love Osaka because it has a lot of creative coffee places that Tokyo doesn’t. If you have time then definitely check these places out because the staff does a really good job managing their cafes and making creative menus.

Thank you for reading the first article of my Nara article series. In my next article, I will be detailing my experience with the deer and the lovely place where I stayed for the night. Please look forward to it!

Exploring the 7 Hell Hot Springs of Oita

Hell has never looked so tropical and enticing.

During Golden Week of 2017, I decided to fly from Tokyo to Oita Prefecture in Kyushu to see the mysterious Jigoku Onsen (which literally means Hell Hot Springs) in the town of Beppu. Though these onsen are steaming hot and jumping inside them would result in death, this area has many other ones that are safe to bathe in, so rest assured! There are also beautiful beaches, monkeys, and an animal safari that you can see here too. You can most of Beppu in three days which was the duration I stayed for, then I went to Fukuoka to see my friends. It is very easy to access other areas of Kyushu from Beppu by bus or train so you can combine it with trips to other prefectures.

At the time I traveled here I didn’t have a lot of money, so I booked a discount roundtrip Jetstar for around 15,000 yen and stayed at my favorite net cafe chain, Kaikatsu Club, so I could save money. In the end it paid off because I could see everything I wanted to in Beppu and now I have enough money to stay at nicer hotels around Japan!

Getting to know Beppu

As soon as the plane landed and I took the Airport Limousine to the city, I felt right at home here! Fortunately most of the attractions of Beppu are accessible by bus. Plus I loved seeing the smiling little wooden bucket mascot everywhere. I remember there randomly being a beer fest in the middle of the city since it was during Golden week, but since I was craving sugar I decided to get some strawberry pancakes at a cafe called Namiki no Machi Coffee. Later that night I was feeling social so I checked out an international bar called P.E.I. Pub and ended up coming back here every night. This place can serve nearly any kind of cocktail and I ended up becoming really good friends with the bartender, Richie. I really hope to come back to Oita some day and see what my friends here are up too. There is a huge international community of people in Beppu making it very welcoming and fun.

Exploring the Jigoku Onsen

The 7 Jigoku Onsen are very mysterious and it’s no wonder why people travel from all over Japan just to see them. The most prominent one is the red hell onsen because seeing red-colored water is extremely rare and it looks like a volcano. The mud bubble hell is also interesting to see because it swirls and looks like a gray whirlpool. There are various ones that are blue like the ocean but don’t be fooled—their temperature can rise up to over 100°C. One of the onsen even has crocodiles in it who look extremely content and relaxed. If I was a crocodile in Japan, I would definitely choose Oita as my home.

Touring the hells takes about 45 mins – 1 hour but can be done faster if you don’t read through all of the information. If you have time you should definitely try some of the onsen-steamed vegetables and Oita’s famous pudding! I definitely prefer steamed to boiled or fried because it’s healthier. There are also local hot springs that are safe to bathe in around here that you can easily reach.

Address: 559-1 Kannawa, Beppu, Oita 874-0000 (easily accessible by local bus)
Admission Fee: 400 per hell or 2000 yen for all hells*

*Please note there is usually a combined bus ticket and entrance deal. Check with the station or travel agency close to you in Beppu or Oita City.

Monkeys at Mt. Tsurumi

Another huge appeal of Oita are the monkeys at the park at Mt. Tsurumi called Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden. Compared to other monkey parks in Japan, the monkeys here are quite active and have a lot of space to run around in the forest that surrounds them. You can get quite close to them but as long as you avert your eyes they won’t attack. Mt. Tsurumi also has the largest ropeway in Kyushu and the view from the top is quite impressive. It feels very nostalgic writing about my early Kyushu adventures and I already want to book another trip here!

Address: 3098-1 Kanzaki, Oita, 870-0802 (easy to reach by local bus)
Admission Fee: 520 yen

Sand Baths at Shoningahama Beach

One of the most popular things to do in Oita is take a sand bath on the beach. The process is quite simple: you are given a rental yukata to wear while lying down and are gently buried in steaming sand. The appeal of this is the hot sand is said to improve your blood circulation and have healing properties. Also due to the weight and steam of the sand, the effectivity is greater than bathing in a natural hot spring. When you get up you will feel relaxed and extremely refreshed! I have only tried this once but it felt like being in the sauna for a long duration without all of the sweat. This will definitely relieve any muscle fatigue and make you feel brand new.

Shoningahama Beach is easily accessible from Beppudaigaku Station. The beach itself isn’t that impressive but the sandbaths sure are! You can also take a sand bath in other areas of Japan such as Ibusuki Island and Kagoshima. I would like to try it again in the future!

Address: Shoningahama Beppu
Cost: 1500 yen (Please note there is no online reservation form and it is first come first serve)

Other Points of Interest

I’ve named off the three major points of interest, but here are some other places you may want to check out if you have time:

  • African Safari
  • Umitamago Aquarium
  • Oita Art Museum
  • A trip to Kumamoto or Fukuoka
  • Beppu Onsen

I went to the African Safari which takes you on an exciting adventure in a jungle bus where you can feed exotic animals. Unfortunately I do not have that many pictures because my hands were full, but it was quite the thrill at the time. The main point of Oita is enjoying the hot springs and the beach!

One of my goals this summer is to revisit Kumamoto and take pictures of Mt. Aso. This was something that I tried to do in 2017 but unfortunately not all parts of the volcano were accessible. I look forward to challenging it again in the future!

Logging into The Wired at Galaxy Harajuku

▷𝙻𝚘𝚐𝚐𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚒𝚗…

After the emergency state was lifted in Tokyo I decided to pick a quiet day and go shopping in Harajuku with my best friend.  I had always passed by the Galaxy Store near the crosswalk but never had gone inside because I thought it was just an average mobile phone store with a cool design.  However, one of my online friends had informed me that it had an amazing photo exhibit so I figured that this would be my next shoot location.  Little did I know that it actually turned out to be one of the best places to shoot aesthetic photos in Harajuku!

Here are some photos from my latest shoot at Galaxy’s Photo Experience (which is a free space that anyone can use but there may be a queue):

The 1st floor sells Galaxy Phones which seem to be gaining a lot of popularity in Tokyo.  I tested one out and they seem to take high quality pictures with their “hands-free” controls.  The 2nd floor has a nice cafe with indoor and outdoor seating. The 3rd floor has a museum with all of the older Samsung models leading up to the latest one plus some promo for the now-cancelled 2020 Olympics (they are probably going to have to re-do this floor soon).  The 4th floor is where the action is at because it’s the photo experience floor!  Here there are 3 main areas you can take photos with—one simulates being in a galaxy with flashy lights, one you can draw shapes with light pens and have it recorded, and the last involves mirrors and terminal screens (my personal favorite).

When you enter the last section of the photo experience floor, you are asked to type your Instagram handle into a terminal.  Upon entering the room in front of it, all of your latest posts will be displayed in an array of mirrors and a robotic voice will read your most-used hashtags.  Mine were “aesthetic” and “Nagoya” (to no one’s surprise).  The posts will be scrambled and magnify at random so it creates a dramatic backdrop with the dark lighting.  It felt absolutely surreal to be here, and also slightly nostalgic.  This must be exactly what being in “The Wired” feels like:

In addition to the latest phones and this futuristic photo exhibit, the Galaxy Cafe on the 2nd floor has some delicious over-sized “DUMBO” donuts and coffee.  I couldn’t resist ordering the sparkly blue one and sharing it with my friend.  It was glazed to perfection and also had tiny chocolate pearls on top of it:

I am happy to see that cafes and museums in Tokyo are gradually opening and are enforcing proper safety protocol.  All attendees are required to use hand sanitizer and wear a mask when entering as well as having their temperature checked by the staff.  We fortunately came during the time of day when the store wasn’t very crowded so we felt safe here.

In my next article, I will be writing about a new MOTHER/Earthbound exhibit coming to Shibuya.  Please stay tuned for it!

Access

〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jingumae, 1 Chome−8−9 宝エステートビルディング

The Jeju Chronicles: Venturing Around the East Side

In my last article I wrote about fully exploring the west side of Jeju Island.  This included riding a horse on a volcanic crater, trekking through Cheonjeyoen Falls, going to some hilarious theme parks, and more awesome activities.  In this article I will be writing about exploring the east side of the island with the same tour guide: Jeju Day Tour.  The East Course runs on odd-numbered days and is the same price as the West Course—roughly $65 USD.  The duration of the tour is 9 – 10 hours but includes lunch and plenty of breaks.  The tour group was also under 10 people which was great too.

As I mentioned before, the local buses only stop at certain places so having a tour guide for thorough exploration of Jeju is ideal.  Especially if you don’t speak any Hangul like me!  I was once again very satisfied with the high quality of Jeju Day Tour because it’s run by a local guide named Mr. Ko and his courses stop at the most places on the island.  With a heart wistful of adventure, I set off for my 4th day on the island!

Manjanggul Lava Tube

 

Our very first stop was the Manjanggul Lava Tube which is one of the longest lava tubes in the world and is also a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site.  It was formed when lava flowed towards the sea and has a cave you can explore.  The cave only takes a couple of minutes to see, but examining all rock formations and detail inside is very interesting.  There are also bat colonies that live in here, but fortunately we didn’t run into any!

Maze Land

 

Maze Land is a self-explanatory theme park with the world’s longest stone maze that is just over 5km.  Look at Jeju, setting those world records!  There are three mazes in total you can challenge here—two of them intersect with a combination of stone and hedge walls.  Most mazes can be completed in 8 – 24 minutes.  This was one of the most relaxing parts of the tour because I was able to walk around the beautiful hedges and listen to music.  Parts of it felt more like a large garden than a maze!  The most hilarious part was watching Korean children climb the walls and give their friends instructions on how to get out.  Fortunately the walls weren’t very steep.  I will admit I got lost a few times though!

Seongsan Ilchulbong

 

Seongsan Ilchulbong, also called “Sunrise Peak”, is one of the best lookout points on the island…  But of course the day I went it was submerged in fog!  The peak was formed by hydro-volcanic eruptions so it has a very unique shape.  If you click on the 2nd picture, you can vaguely make out the beautiful coast of Jeju.  The climb to the top only takes around 25 mins and you can use the wooden stairs.  Fortunately I already had climbed Mt. Hallasan and got clear pictures of the crater lake at the top.  If you run into fog during your tour, I would recommend going to Mt. Hallasan by yourself on a sunny day for a better chance!

Seopjikoji

 

 

From 1410 to 1914, Seongeup was a small village that played a big role in the cultural history and development of Jeju Island.  The village is located at the foot of Halla Mountain and has since turned into somewhat of an open air museum.  Here you can see the huts that people lived in, fortress ruins, stone monuments, and a lot of other interesting things that have made up the history of Jeju.  Outside of museums in Seoul, this was the first time I had the chance to see the history of Korea up close.

Eco Land

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All aboard the Eco Train!

The last stop was at a train-themed amusement park in the forest called Eco Land!  Not going to lie—I was completely exhausted by this point.  After 4 action-packed days of hiking and being exposed to an entirely new culture, I could feel my body craving rest.  Eco Land was a great place to relax though because you can literally ride the train around five different stations without getting off.  Or you can be super active and get off and explore at each station.  Within the forest there are multiple gardens, a lake with a cave and various attractions, and also animals you can see!  This was the only part of the tour that felt a bit rushed, but it was also likely due to my lack of energy.  Even though I was tired, being in the forest was a great way to end this tour.

Final Remarks

What another amazing day!  I enjoyed this tour almost the same as I did the west side of the island and would recommend it to all my friends that are traveling through Jeju.  The East Course seemed to have more nature activities, but that was completely fine by me.  Even if you don’t like hiking, you can choose to go horseback riding or try local food at the stops.  Jeju is so beautiful and has so much to see that it’s extremely hard to get bored here.

My next article will be the last of the Jeju Cronichles.  I will be writing about how I hired a private taxi to go to the few places that weren’t covered by the tour.  Though it’s been two years since I’ve been here, this island still is extremely special to me.  Thank you for reading.

Desserts that will make your heart melt in Seoul (Vol. 2)

Here is a collection of desserts that will make your heart melt in Seoul (Volume 2). ♥

Volume 1 was published yesterday.  I will be writing a full article series on my experience in Korea within the next coming weeks.

Here is a collection of places I stumbled upon which I highly recommend:

Zapangi

Zapangi is by far one of the best not-so-hidden gems in Seoul.  The entrance to the cafe is disguised as a pink vending machine door that you must find the handle to enter (fortunately, it’s quite easy to do so once you get up close).  Inside the cafe you will be greeted by a magical assortment of neon signs and rainbow desserts.  I highly recommend the mermaid cupcake–the tail is just way too photogenic to give up!  I also ordered a rainbow ice smoothie which really hit the spot.  I wish I would have had more room for the unicorn donuts, but alas, I was full.  I recommend coming here twice if you have enough time, because there are just way too many cute desserts to choose from!

Thanks Nature Cafe

If you have internet searched popular cafes in Seoul, then likely this one has already popped up.  Thanks Nature Cafe in Hongdae is infamous for not only its flower tea, but also its fluffy sheep (named Sugar & Honey)!  The sheep are kept outside in a pen and are free to pet as long as you order something from the menu.  This makes waiting way more fun!  You can make a reservation in advance using their website, but I just walked in here without one when I came here in early 2018.  Watching flowers bloom inside of your teacup is an experience I highly recommend seeing:

Milky Bee

While shopping in Myeongdong, I saw a number of people holding this beautiful flower petal ice cream.  Not wanting to miss out on this aesthetic food experience, I had to stop by and try it for myself.  Milky Bee features ice cream and gelato cones that you can customize to your liking.  If my memory is correct, I ordered green tea, vanilla, and strawberry gelato to make my cone look like a lovely bouquet.  It was almost too pretty to eat, but I ate it anyway!

Sulbing Cafe

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If you want to try the famous Korean shaved ice (called patbingsoo), my recommendation is going to one of the Sulbing chains.  They have the most options as far as flavors and toppings go.  I ordered the strawberry cheesecake shaved ice, and even in the winter I thought that it was beyond amazing.  The strawberries tasted so fresh and the cheesecake helped balance the flavor.  I’ve decided I like Korean shaved ice a lot more than the ones sold in Japan, because it has more substance to it and tastes a lot better.  Fortunately a number of Korean dessert cafes have been popping up in Tokyo lately, and Harajuku even has its own Sulbing branch!

REMICONE

REMICONE is a uniquely designed cafe that resembles an ice cream truck in central Gangnam.  There are way too many beautiful sweets to choose from, but I decided on the cotton candy ice cream milk and the moon cupcake (I joked about how this is actually Night Tempo in cupcake form).  There was a mango macaroon ice cream cup that I really wanted to try, but unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to.  If you come to this cafe, please try all of the wonderful desserts for me!

Urban Space Cafe

Last but definitely not least, I recommend that all of my fellow lovers of aesthetic things check out Urban Space Cafe.  Relive your childhood memories by diving into a ballpit and lounging in inflatables with a menu of crazy cocktails.  I ordered some strange concoction that was served to me in a mini shopping kart, and I liked it so much I also ordered a cocktail with sparklers in it.  Came here alone?  No problem at all because there are tons of teddy bears that you can use as your date.  I had so much fun taking photos under the neon lights and swimming through the ballpit.  This is true Seoul Cafe culture.  The original cafe I went to was in a remote district of Seoul, but they recently moved it to central Myeongdong so you can access it more easily now.

Thank you for reading my 2nd Volume of recommend desserts in Seoul!  This is all I have for now, but I will be sure to update with more recommendations in the future.

In my next posts I will be writing about Jeju Island, the DMZ, and some of the gardens and art galleries I visited in Korea.  Please look forward to my future posts~

M3秋2019: Attending M3 for the First Time

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to attend M3, one of Japan’s biggest interactive multimedia events that is essentially the Comiket of music.  M3 is a great opportunity for aspiring artists and record labels because they are able to rent a booth and distribute their music in addition to connecting with other artists and fans.  I like this kind of event because it preserves the culture of physical music distribution and a lot of the music sold here is unavailable online so you won’t be able to find it elsewhere.  The same goes for the merchandise (such as hats and bags) as well.  There is also a space where you can freely listen to select music with your own headphones or have the option of renting some.  It’s very exciting to wander around here because you can literally see the happiness of people as they connect with the artists they love.

Getting to M3

M3 takes place at Tokyo Ryutsu Center, which consists of six exhibition stalls and a conference center with multiple floors.  This complex is actually really close to Haneda airport, so I rode the local Tokyo-Monorail towards Haneda-Airport Terminal 2 to reach it.  The event goes from 11:00 – 15:30, and I arrived at 11:30 just to avoid the initial crowds.  My timing was perfect because it only took me around 5 minutes to register and I was able to visit the 3 booths that I wanted.  The entrance fee is 1500 yen, plus it includes a guide with all of the participants listed and a map which is quite handy.

Navigating M3

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The floorplan of M3秋2019.

Navigating M3 is quite daunting at first, because each booth is identified with a letter and a series of numbers.  The booths are placed side by side and there’s a lot going on so it’s really easy to walk past the one you’re looking for.  Not only do they use all 26 letters of the English alphabet in the booth naming system, but they also use Japanese hiragana and katakana consonants and vowels as well.  There is very little English guidance and I don’t think much of the staff speaks English, so I would strongly recommend researching the artists/circles you’re interested in and finding exactly where their booth is placed before you come here.  It is extremely fun to wander around, but sadly there is not enough time to fully experience each and every artist’s music as this is only a one day event.  I would advise you to plan ahead so you can make the most of your time here.

Buying Music at M3

The CD I was most interested in buying was TVR Compilation Vol. 1, which is from a relatively new independent label in Asia.  One of my favorite artists who I’ve written about before; in the blue shirt, has released a rare song that is only obtainable at M3.

Here is the preview of the compilation that was uploaded a few weeks before:

Fortunately when I arrived there were multiple copies of the compilation I wanted, and the people running the booth were quite friendly and gave me an extra CD along with my purchase so it was an extremely good experience.  The compilation was only 1000 yen and was more than worth the cost.  All of the artists on the compilation have experience in the music industry, so it was quite the noteworthy compilation.

The first time I ever saw in the blue shirt at Lounge Neo in 2017, he played the song 「Dreamin’ of You」as an exclusive song in his set.  I’ve wanted the song for the longest time but I could never obtain it until now.  Finally in 2019 it was officially released as a part of this compilation, and I am very happy to officially have it in my collection now!

In addition to TVR’s booth, I also checked out the booths for Miraicha and Lipgloss Records.  I bought some merch for my friends overseas who couldn’t be here, and also picked up the Departure CD early that a lot of artists I know have collaborated on.  While I was here I saw so many familiar names of Japanese artists like IOSYS and ave;new that I listened to in high school through the internet, so I felt extremely nostalgic even though it was my first time here.  I had an amazing time even though I was only here to purchase a few things.  It truly felt like a dream to be here.

Closing Remarks

Overall M3 is a really friendly event that is perfect for networking and sharing music.  All of the music and merch is extremely affordable (most CDs are sold for 1200 yen on average), and I like knowing that all of the profits go to the artists and record labels (in addition to the booth rental fee).  M3 is quite comparable to Comiket, but not as big and daunting.  The size of the event center was enough to accommodate all of the artists and crowds of people, so I was relieved that I didn’t have to deal with long wait lines or commuter traffic on the trains.  All of the artists I talked to were happy to meet me, so I left the event center with an extremely good feeling.  If you love Japanese music as much as I do, please consider checking M3 out!

*M3 is a seasonal event, so you can check the latest information on their official website here.

Exploring Hikone: A Castle Town with a Mythical Island and Fierce Cat Samurai

Over the weekend I made the amazing discovery that samurai cats are real!  About an hour east from Kyoto lies a quiet castle town called Hikone with the adorable samurai cat mascot you see here: Hikonyan.  Hikone is in Shiga Prefecture and borders Lake Biwa, one of the most famous lakes in Japan due to its lovely scenery.  I decided to start my trip by taking a ferry from Nagahama Port, which is just a few stops north of Hikone Station on the JR Tokaido-Sanyo line, and visit the mythical island in the middle of the lake called Chikubushima.  See the ferry schedule for reference–a roundtrip ferry ticket is around 3000 yen.

Chikubushima is known as the “Island of the Gods” and is said to be imbued with magical powers.  Though I am not a religious person, I appreciate going on journeys like this because it gives me the chance to see rare parts of the world!  You can walk around the whole entire island within 30 mins and see shrines, a beautiful view of the lake, and also try some local cuisine at the cafes (though the selection is very limited).

The main point of interest here is visiting Hogonji Temple and making a wish with a daruma doll.  Daruma Dolls are a special kind of talisman here that you can write your wish on a slip of paper and put it inside the doll for good luck.  The Japanese people at the shrine were extremely kind and helped me do this.  Though this island was tinier than I expected, it was a very nice way to start my trip!

After the pleasant ferry ride back (which only takes 30 mins), I then decided to go directly to Hikone Castle to see the Hikonyan Show!  During this time, the fiercely adorable samurai cat will come out before the castle gates to greet his visitors.  Hikonyan is treated as a celebrity by Japanese people.  I was surprised to see a line of people with cameras out waiting to see him, but he is definitely worth the hype!  He appears every day and you can see the timetables here.

In addition to Hikonyan, you can walk through the Hikone Castle, see the Genkyu-en Gardens, and also visit the Yume Kyōbashi Castle Road that has shops and souvenirs.  I visited all of these places by foot from Hikone Station, but you can also take buses around the city!  By 6pm, I was exhausted from all the travel so I decided to go back to my capsule hotel in Kyoto.  Hikone makes for the perfect day trip from Kyoto because it is easy to access and full of history.

Temple Hopping through Bangkok on New Year’s Eve

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On my very first day in Bangkok, I decided to go on a temple hopping adventure via boat since the roads were traffic heavy due to the New Year’s season.  Though I’ve traveled to many temples in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, I’d say the ones in Thailand are the most beautiful due to their unique architecture, sometimes even featuring a neon backdrop in addition to intricate patterns.  This was my first time being in a tropical country during the winter season, and I definitely prefer the warmer weather because it’s easier to travel in!

For boat tours, I definitely recommend choosing one from Get Your Guide because their prices are way cheaper than what the locals will give you.  I chose to go to the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun and see the Golden Buddha there.  The Grand Palace was once home to the Kings of Siam, who were the previous monarchs of Thailand.  It is now a place where ceremonies are held.  The other temples have famous architecture, and are a must-see for those who are in Thailand.  They are very easy to access and are not far from the city center.

I thought the Golden Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho was unique because he had ancient scriptures inscribed on the bottom of his feet.  This temple is supposedly said to be where the Thai Massage was first put into practice, and is one of the oldest in Thailand.  This Buddha is also the largest in Thailand!  It represents him during his last mortal moments before his entry into Nirvana and is a sacred place.

I’m not particularly a religious person—I believe that you should see yourself as your own god and express your gratitude to the people you love the most instead of a higher power or entity, but I definitely felt a sense of peace and happiness while I was here. I studied Buddhism in college to get my Japanese degree, and I agree with many of the teachings.  The feeling you get when you plan a long trip to a temple and reach your destination is also very inspiring, and I hope to visit many more in the future.