Exploring Fukui: The Land of Dinosaurs and Castle in the Clouds (Part 2)

After spending a lovely day at the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, I decided to wake up early on the next day and hike to Ono Castle in hopes of seeing it shrouded in clouds. Besides its prized dinosaurs, Fukui is most famous for its “castle in the sky”. Unfortunately the weather was not cold enough for the clouds to appear as this is a rare phenomenon, but I managed to take some amazing photos from the observatory and try some delicious local food. I have translated some tips from a Japanese blog of how to best see the clouds that many tourism websites have not mentioned, so please continue reading if you’re interested. Overall I’m happy that I spent the night in Ono because it has some of the best hiking spots!

Ono Castle

The city of Ono is nicknamed “little Kyoto” for its rich history and is home to Ono Castle, which appears shrouded in clouds under certain weather conditions. Samurai residences, temples, and traditional shops also line the streets giving this town a unique vibe. Of all the cities I researched in Fukui, this seemed the coolest so this is where I decided to stay the night. The castle is right in the heart of the city and you can see why Fukui takes so much pride in it:

Conditions for the clouds to appear:

  • The sea of ​​clouds appears in the early morning from mid-October to early April. It is most likely seen from dawn to 8am depending on the season but may appear earlier/later.
  • The fall season is when the clouds are most likely to appear around 6:00am – 6:30am due to the humidity. It is best to aim for a day when the temperature falls rapidly.
  • The sea of clouds is most viewable from the ruins of Inuyama Castle which take roughly 25 minutes to hike. Please note that snow may accumulate during the winter season making the mountain harder to climb.
  • If it rains the day before, the clouds are usually still visible but the mountain may be shrouded in mist making them harder to see.
  • The day the sea of clouds appear in Ono, they will not appear on the following day.
  • It is recommended to bring a camera with a lens of at least 70mm to capture the most detail though I only brought my GoPro and iPhone 12 Pro Max camera.
  • Please be weary of wild bears and monkeys in the forest. I saw several monkeys when I climbed but they did not approach me.
  • According to the managers at my hostel, the sea of clouds only appears around 10 times per year and is a rare phenomenon.

For the best hiking route, please see this Google Map link. All of this information was translated from Shirofan and is accurate from my understanding.

Although I wasn’t able to see the clouds, I am still extremely happy with the beautiful photos I took of the castle during the sunrise! I was also able to see it illuminated during my first night in Ono which was really special. I will forever remember my experience here because it was such a fun hike.

Coffee at “coffe&cake紫おん”

Before my flight back to Tokyo, I decided to stop at coffe&cake紫おん to kill time. Yes, this shop hilariously omitted an “e” from their name. Good old Ono. I decided to order the orange Halloween Tart and warm anko bean milk because I was famished from my hike to the castle. The cake had just the right amount of sweetness and really hit the spot. I also enjoyed the added texture from the pie crust. This was my first time having anko milk and it tasted amazing! It was sweet like anmitsu and very filling to me. All of the coffee shops I saw in Ono seemed to have a unique atmosphere, but I am happy that I chose this one for its seasonal sweets. I also grabbed a dinosaur cookie on my way out because why not?

Address: 12-2 Motomachi, Ono, Fukui 912-0081

Oshozu

Oshozu is a natural cold water spring found near Ono Castle. The water is so pure you can drink it directly from the spring. There are funnels that you can use to collect the water and it is structured similar to a shrine. Besides Yakushima, this was one of the few places I could drink water directly from the source. It really is amazing how pure the water is here, and you can tell that the town really takes pride in it.

Address: 5-4 Izumicho, Ono, Fukui 912-0086

Additionally, there are samurai residences, museums, and temples that you can visit around the town if you are keen. Please check the Ono Castle Tourism website for more information.

Accommodation

Since I only stayed here for one night, I decided to stay at a guest house near Ono Castle called Arashima. To my surprise I was the only one here and had a whole room to myself! Arashima is very modest but is centrally located which is important for those who plan on hiking around the area. I accidentally selected the wrong arrival time while booking online, but the staff were kind enough to wait for me and I was met with a warm welcome. They gave me a map and some pretty good bar recommendations, like イチナナバル where I had some nice local wine before I went to sleep. They also informed me that Ono Castle is illuminated at night until 21:00 this season which I never would have known! I was happy that I stayed here because I picked up a lot of good information on Ono from the locals.

My final meal was nishin soba at Fukui Station before I went back to the airport. There is a standing soba restaurant before the ticket gates that is sinfully cheap and has noodles that taste amazing. This bowl contained simmered herring and packed quite the powerful punch:

This will be my last Japan blog for a while as I am getting ready to visit my friends and family in America, but worry not because I will be writing and traveling a ton next year. In 2022 I plan on visiting the remaining 5 prefectures of Japan I have left on my list and whatever Asian countries are safe to visit. Thank you all for your support and thank you for reading. See you in the new year unless plans change!

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~

Finding Paradise Within a City: Exploring Kobe

Over the weekend I went on the ultimate countryside paradise road trip to Kobe and Awaji Island with my friends from Yamanashi who own a car. I have been to Kobe three times total—once during my study abroad trip, another time to Nunobiki Waterfall, and this past holiday weekend because Shin Kobe Station is the closest shinkansen station to Awaji Island. Kobe is a small city you can easily see in a day but it has a beautiful harbor and amazing food. I had a nice stroll down memory lane visiting Chinatown, Harborland, and seeing Spiderman defend the city from atop a Kobe beef store. Glad to know that the city is still safe from heinous crime after all of these years! Without further ado, here are my top recommendations in Kobe:

Dick Bruna Table

When most people come to Kobe they go straight for the beef, but since I don’t eat meat I decided to search for the cutest restaurant in town which I deem Dick Bruna Table. This bunny themed restaurant has delicious entrees, wine, and cute desserts with unique interior decor. I loved how they used giant bunny plushies to help enforce social distancing too. I decided to order the rabbit rice with a fish à la carte for lunch and it was delicious! I notice the sekihan (sweet bean rice) in Hyogo has a defined texture and is less sweet than sekihan I’ve tried in other areas of Japan making it go well with a lot of dishes. Overall the food here was very high quality and even on a weekend I was able to get in without much of a wait. I would definitely recommend this place for lunch, and Chinatown for dinner!

Address: 2 Chome-16-1 Takashima, Nishi Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa 220-0011

Dessert at Kobe Milk

Kobe Milk is an adorable stand outside of the entrance to Chinatown that sells top quality ice cream and pudding. You can customize your order by adding cookies and decorations on top or just order a regular ice cream cone or jar of pudding. I decided to get creative and request the bear and the Kobe Milk jug on top of mine. I’ve been eating a lot of ice cream this summer, and next to goat milk ice cream on Amami Island, I would have to say that this was the best that I’ve had!

Address: 50-0022 Hyogo, Kobe, Chuo Ward, Motomachidori, 1 Chome-1-1 Shinmotomachi Building 1F

Exploring Rokko Island

In hopes of entering the Kobe Artists Museum which I had never seen before, I decided to ride the Rokko-Line to Kobe’s man-made island with beautiful fountains, museums, and restaurants. To my dismay upon arrival I found out that the museum was closed until mid-December due to the pandemic, but fortunately the weather was sunny and there was a lot for me to see. The most shocking part of being on Rokko Island was seeing so many near naked children swimming in the fountain water while their parents idly chatted on the benches like this was some kind of giant onsen. My brain swiftly shifted gears from “shocked” to “I want to set up my tripod and get in too” so that is exactly what I did! Though I just dipped my feet in, the water was very pure and soothing on a warm summer day. Rokko is a lot similar to Odaiba in Tokyo except smaller in scale but it has the same kind of vibe. I would definitely recommend coming here to kill time during the day because it’s prettier than most of the parks that I’ve seen in central Kobe!

China Town

Chinatown is one of the most iconic spots in Kobe and has a lot neat stuff to see. Though there are a lot of Chinese restaurants here, you’ll see Kobe beef specialty shops strategically placed in between them. There are also arcades and souvenir shops here making Kobe’s Chinatown feel like a miniature version of Yokohama’s Chinatown. What makes Kobe’s Chinatown unique is definitely the statues of Spiderman. They’re definitely authentic and add to the culture of the city.

China Town Food

Since we were starving and on a time crunch, we decided to eat at literally the first restaurant we saw which was called 荟華源 and had an all you can eat menu for 1298 yen for an hour. We were the only people in the restaurant and did major damage in terms of how many dishes we ordered. My personal favorite is the shrimp chili, but the dumplings and vegetable tofu dish I ordered were very good too. The only thing I didn’t like was this bamboo wrapped fried rice with meat in it that was listed on the dessert menu by mistake (either that, or the waiter made a mistake with our order) but all the other food we had was amazing. You really can’t go wrong with any food you order here.

Kobe Harborland

After eating to our hearts’ content, we decided to walk to Kobe Harborland and end the night there. Hardborland is the ideal place for a stroll because it has wide paths and a glistening ocean, not to mention a variety of colorful ships. There are ferries here that you can ride to other places of Japan such as Shodoshima and Oita if you’re up for the long journey. There also is a giant ferris wheel that you can ride. I came here again on my morning run because it’s one of my favorite places in the city due to its cheerful atmosphere.

One thing that really surprised me was how well Kobe followed the emergency state guidelines by completely shutting off the majority of lights from shops and attractions at 8pm. Chinatown was a ghost town after we left. Parts of Harborland were still illuminated but it was darker than what I remembered. Additionally, no bars or restaurants on the central street were in operation at night. Though some might find this disappointing, I actually was impressed. I also saved a lot of money by not drinking!

Access & Accommodation

From Tokyo Station, Shin Kobe Station is around 3 hours and 15000 yen one way. Kobe is best seen on a combined trip to Osaka because there is more to see and do between both cities and they are very close.

Usually I always spend the night in Osaka, but since we were panning on going to Awaji Island early the next day we decided to stay in Kobe Luminous Hotel which was 5000 yen per night. This was a tad expensive compared to what I am normally used to paying, but it was close to the station and ideal for travel. My room was very high quality, extremely quiet, and I slept well here which was important because I had a lot of activities planned for the next day.

Please look forward to my next article on all of the best places to see on Awaji Island!

Exploring the Wonders of the Ghibli Bakery in Fukuoka: Lune Lapin

Would you risk being spirited away for a taste of this bread?

On the last day of my vacation, I decided to stop at a Ghibli-themed bakery on the outskirts of Fukuoka called Lune Lapin before flying back to Tokyo. This was yet another place that was recommend to me through my IG algorithms and it was definitely on point. Since this bakery is away from the central Hakata Canal area, it is a place that not many people may know about but it has the reputation for baking insanely delicious bread. After taking a combination local buses and trains, I arrived here at 10am on a Sunday morning when the character bread was just being taken out of the oven. As I entered the bakery I was greeted by a statue of a Laputian Robot and there also was a life-sized Totoro bus stop inside before the queue. Fortunately I arrived just in time to get a table and there was a lot of selection!

Though it was truly a tough decision on what to order, here is the bread that I chose to eat:

In my opinion, the bread filled with chocolate tasted the best! The Totoro and Jiji pieces had a lot of chocolate in them and almost tasted like freshly baked cookies so I would highly recommend them to everyone. The Catbus and Porco Rosso ones were filled with honey which wouldn’t be my first choice of filling but was also very sweet and addictive. The Calcifer one was filled with red jelly which I am not always a fan of, but it was only a small amount and the quality of bread was very high so I was able to enjoy it. I had probably consumed a lot of calories this morning, but I was going to a rave this night so I wasn’t particularly worried. This choice was 100% worth it.

The fun part about choosing the bread is each piece has a slightly different design so they are all very unique. For example, some pieces of the Totoro and Calcifer bread had their eyes and mouths open while other pieces didn’t. I liked the careful detail that went into preparing each one. Most pieces range from 200-400 yen so you can eat a lot for a small amount of money!

Here are some more photos I took of the interior decor. I was impressed with all the cells of Kiki’s Delivery Service they had hanging on the wall, plus the custom-made Laputa robots. Though this is not an official Ghibli Cafe, with all the merch they had I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t have some kind of connection to the studio. Their collection was extremely immense and I am excited to see it grow:

Getting to Lune Lapin

From Fukuoka’s Hakata Station, take the Kagoshima Line to Ongagawa Station. Then you can either take a taxi or ride the local bus from the front of the station to Hakusaoki and walk to the bakery. This journey takes about 1.5 hours and costs 1200-1700 yen. It is a bit far from the city center but is worth the journey in my opinion.

Address: 1 Chome-22-5 Denen, Onga, Onga District, Fukuoka 811-4343

Though the bakery is quite popular, people come and go a lot so no reservation is required. I would only recommend making a reservation if you are coming during a busy holiday or have specific bread that you wish to order. If you come in the morning there is much more selection available too!

Final Thoughts

Thank you for reading my latest article on one of the best bakeries that I’ve ever been to in Japan! In my final article in this series I will be talking about my trip to Sakurajima, a volcanic island in Kagoshima. This weekend I will be going to Kobe and Awaji so I will be starting my next article series next week. It sure feels good to be on the road and writing about my adventures again! I am excited to do a reflection post at the end of the year and look back on all of my progress. Thank you for all of your support!

Exploring Ogawa Falls and Kanoya City in Kagoshima

Ogawa Falls in Kanoya, Kagoshima.

While looking for destinations I wanted to travel to in Kagoshima after Amami Island, the two that stood out to me the most were Ogawa Falls and Sakurajima. Ogawa Falls are located remotely in a forest in the city of Kanoya, directly southeast of Sakurajima. Getting to Kanoya is a challenge because there are no trains that run through the city—you have to either take a bus from Kagoshima Airport or rent a car to get here. I opted to take the bus which was around 1.5 hours and 2100 yen. Though the city of Kanoya is quite rural, it is considered a nice town to stay in and has a number of delicious restaurants, shrines, and beautiful nature spots. I enjoyed my time here because it was very quiet and relaxing.

Here are my top recommendations that you can do over the span of two days!

Jintoku Inari Shrine

My first stop was Jintoku Inari Shrine, which I ran to from my hostel in the morning. This is a small shrine but has over 100 red gates and many fox deity statues. I also enjoyed seeing the fox-shaped ema with people’s wishes written on them too! When I arrived here at 9am (which is the opening time), I was the only person here which was quite relaxing. I really enjoyed the privacy of this shrine and felt at peace here.

Address: 1771-4 Shineicho, Kanoya, Kagoshima 893-0063
Admission: Free

Ogawa Falls

Ogawa Falls is a remote waterfall located south of Kanoya City with beautiful shades of water and rock formations. It takes about 45 mins to reach by car. I had my hostel call a taxi here and back because there is no other way to reach it by public transport. It’s really a shame that there’s not a local bus from Kanoya City that goes here, but I suppose there are not enough travelers that come to the city to justify the cause. The taxi here cost around 8000 yen one way which is quite expensive, but trust me the views were extremely worth the price! The hike to the falls is roughly 20 mins on pretty even terrain and there is a viewing deck with 2 floors you can stand on to see them. This place really didn’t feel like Japan because it looked more like a destination from Thailand or the Philippines. However, this truly shows how beautiful places in Kagoshima can be and I really encourage more people to make the journey here!

Additionally, there is a lovely cafe called aqua base by the parking lot where you can try fresh juice and sweet potato flavored monkey-shaped pastries. It truly was a dream come true for an aesthetic food lover so I bought their earrings of the pastry too! I will never forget my time here because it was truly unique and once again, I was the only person here which made it special!

Address: 5876-2 Tashirokawahara, 錦江町 Kimotsuki District, Kagoshima 893-2402
Admission: Free

Take Bakery and Cafe

While looking for pescatarian-friendly places in the area, Take Bakery and Cafe was one of the very first that popped up so I figured I would check it out. For breakfast before I went to Ogawa Falls, I decided to try their salmon and cream cheese bagel with a soy latte. It gave me just the energy I needed to hike through the falls and was delicious so I would highly recommend it. Since I was curious about their salads, I came back here for lunch after my trek since their bread and cheese was so amazing. I also started day drinking while I waited for my bus back to the airport and I can’t recommend their local wine enough! They recognized me from this morning and generously thanked me for coming twice. I would have gladly come for dinner too had I stayed another night here!

Address: 5-5 Kitadacho, Kanoya, Kagoshima 893-0007

Accommodation

Since my stay here was very short and I spent a good chunk of money on my resort in Amami, I opted to stay in Hotel & Hostel Haru. Rooms are around 2000 yen per night and I was the only person staying in my dormitory so it was a comfortable stay. Not only were the rooms extremely clean, the staff was very friendly and gave me free sake and helped me call my taxi to Ogawa Falls too. I was lucky to have found such a nice place in a remote city! In my opinion 2 days is all you need to see the highlights of Kanoya.

Another fun point of interest close to this hostel is Wadaiseki Park which has a statue of a kappa. I enjoyed being friends with him during my time here and we really vibed. Look forward to reading about Sakurajima in my next article!

Hiking to Mt. Aso’s Nakadake Crater

We finally made it, Totoro!

Roughly a year ago, Mt. Aso’s Nakadate Crater became safe enough to re-open for viewing after the earthquake in 2016 that destroyed the ropeway and made it inaccessible for years. I first visited Mt. Aso in 2017 during Golden Week, but unfortunately there was not a lot I could do besides visit the surrounding parks and zoos. However, after my vacation to Amami Island, I decided I would fly to Kyushu and visit Kagoshima, Kumamoto, and Fukuoka before flying back to Tokyo.

Each day at 8:30am the official Aso Crater website updates listing the restricted areas of the crater. On days where it rains and the fog is heavy, or when the volcanic gases reach a certain level of intensity, entry will be restricted. However if the weather cooperates, usually no zones are restricted and you can see one of the world’s largest calderas! At one time there was a lake in the crater, but unfortunately now it has dried up. Scientists predict it may reform in the future, however. If you look at old pictures, the color of the blue water looks similar to an onsen with an extremely high temperature.

Here is some footage that I caught on my GoPro of Mt. Aso’s Nakadate Crater:

Getting to Mt. Aso’s Nakadate Crater

From Kumamoto Station, the trip to Mt. Aso take about 2.5 hours by train and bus and costs around 3000-3500 yen one way. You can also rent a car and drive here because the area before the crater has a parking lot. Getting to the crater is a bit of the gamble because there is a slight chance that the gases could change and make some areas restricted as you’re traveling there, but I like to take calculated risks. I thought the trip was worth it because I got to see an extremely rare and beautiful area of Japan. I rode the Hohi Line to Aso Station and then stopped for vegetable udon on the station. It was a hearty and delicious meal.

From the station there are two buses that will take you up to the crater. On your way up you will pass many fields filled with roaming cows and see how beautifully green the mountain is. The first bus will stop at a gift shop where you can buy some interesting souvenirs. My favorite were the oppai sake cups and the Kumamon ice cream, but the rocks from the crater were pretty neat too. You can choose to walk to the crater from here which takes around 30 mins, or take another bus which is just a short 10-15 minute ride. Seeing the Kumamon-themed bus was definitely a perk of using public transport.

On average, viewing the crater of Mt. Aso takes roughly 30-45 mins depending on how many photos you wish to take. There are 5 different zones that you can walk around and see it the crater emitting volcanic gases from. Entry into Zone A is always prohibited, but entering the other 4 zones (B1-D) will give you some amazing views. The experience was extraordinary and very memorable to me. I am happy that I made it all the way up here this time because I crossed another item off of my Japan bucket list!

Other Activities in Aso

Getting to Mt. Aso’s crater and back takes almost a full day, but there are other activities around the mountain that you can do if you’re interested. I took a bath at Aso Bochu Onsen while I was waiting for my train back to Kumamoto which felt amazing after all the distance I traveled to reach the crater. There is also Aso Cuddly Dominion for those who enjoy seeing bears. I visited during 2017 and unfortunately don’t have many good pictures but I had a fun time. I also passed by a horseback riding farm on my way up to the crater. If I would have had more time I would have definitely stopped by!

Thank you for reading about my expedition to Mt. Aso. The article series is officially halfway done! In my next article I will be talking about some activities that I did in Kagoshima. Please look forward to it!

Sailing through the Skies of Amami Island – First Paragliding Experience

Seeing northern Yo Beach from a new perspective via paragliding!

On my second day on Amami Island, I decided to knock out paragliding on my bucket list because it’s something I had wanted to do for years and it felt like the ideal time. Out of all the locations you can try it in Japan, Okinawa and Kagoshima are the most recommended due to their stunning ocean views. I first tried to go paragliding on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa 5 years ago on my birthday, but unfortunately the winds were too strong and my reservation was cancelled. This time the opposite problem occurred—the winds were initially too weak but picked up after an hour of waiting. Paragliding is simple in the fact that all that you need to do is run and jump in time with when you’re instructed to and the motor will do the rest. Before you know it you’ll be up in the sky staring down at the distant scenery below you. In case you fall there is a soft cushion of sand beneath you which is why I highly recommend paragliding on the beach. The beautiful hues of the ocean below my feet glittered in the shining sun and I felt as if I was truly alive!

Here is some footage from my GoPro over Amami Island’s most northern beach (Yo Beach). I originally thought the white building was a lighthouse, but it is actually a government office!

I booked my paragliding experience through パラグライダーハッピースカイ (Paragliding Happy Sky) online for 10,500 yen and had an incredible experience. Though this might be a bit more expensive compared to other countries like Thailand or the Philippines, Japan is probably the safest country to learn in as their instructors are very cautious and well-trained. I appreciated how they waited an hour with me for the winds to pick up an even offered to show me around the island so I could see the stars at night. The experience lasts for around 15 minutes and you can freely use your camera equipment while a license professional controls the motor and direction. The company will contact you with the best meeting point the night before and fortunately all of the paragliding locations are easy to reach by taxi.

To me it was an extremely exhilarating experience that increased my love for the ocean so I can’t recommend it enough—if you’re an adventurous person then you need to try paragliding!

Kayaking through Amami Mangrove Forest

Immediately after kayaking, I set off for the Amami Mangrove Forest via local bus because I really wanted to try kayaking there. This is one of the top destinations in Amami and the second largest mangrove in Japan. The waterways will take you deep through the forest so you can see various wildlife and the experience was very relaxing to me after paragliding. Renting a kayak is 1500 yen for an hour, but I noticed they were pretty lax on time. I had the opportunity to explore a lot of canals and was very satisfied with the experience despite the long 2 hour bus ride. If you rent a car then you can get around Amami Island much faster, but this mangrove is still somewhat remote from the main resort area. However, I passed through the downtown area on my way back and stopped for delicious Indian food at Durga Dining before heading back to relax at my resort!

Chasing Sunsets

Another fun activity I enjoyed was waking up with the sun and falling asleep with the moon. Every day and night I would watch the sun fall over the ocean and the landscape magically change color. As the land of the rising sun, Japan has a lot of neat places where you can chase sunsets but I definitely prefer it at the beach!

Other Activities

Snorkeling and diving is also extremely popular on Amami Island, but since I did this in Okinawa earlier this year I opted to try new things mentioned in this article. When it all comes down to it, appreciating nature and wildlife and relaxing is really the best thing you can do on this island. All of the resorts are extremely affordable and you can bike around to a number of attractions easily so Amami is a great destination for people who have already been to Okinawa and are looking for something more. I can proudly say that booking my trip here was my best decision of the year because I got the chance to see and experience so many things. Three days was the perfect amount of time to spend here too.

Though this was my last day on Amami Island, my adventure through Kyushu still continues! In my next article, I will talk about exploring the volcanic island, Sakurajima, in Kagoshima. Please look forward to it!

Exploring Amami Island: The Rich Paradise of Goats & Pristine Beaches

A warm welcome from Kurasaki Beach!

After raving in the mountains of Gunma for three days, I realized the end of summer would soon be upon us so the first week of September would be the ideal time to knock of a few places on my Kyushu bucket list—mainly Amami Island, Sakurajima, and the first crater of Mt. Aso. Since I already had a phenomenal vacation in Okinawa just before Golden week, I was craving one more long beach trip before it became too cold to swim. Fortunately for me, I found a number of discount one-way airline tickets and was able to string them together to create the ultimate bargain vacation throughout Kyushu. A number of my friends and coworkers asked me how I did it so I will try to explain my itinerary as thoroughly as possible. If you fly during certain times through Peach and Skymark airlines from Narita airport, you can find discount flights for almost 1/3 of the price all year round in Japan! It just takes some time analyzing Google Flights but really anyone can create the perfect vacation if they put enough heart and research into it.

The dates I chose to travel were 8/30 – 9/5. My completed itinerary was:

Tokyo (NRT Airport) → Amami → Kagoshima → Sakurajima (via ferry) → Kagoshima → Kanoya (for Ogawa Falls) → Fukuoka → Kumamoto → Mt. Aso → Kumamoto → Fukuoka Airport ↺ Tokyo

Since I don’t have an international driver’s license, I relied completely on buses, local trains, taxis, ferries, and even rented bikes too! I spent a lot of time on the road but I listened to music, played my Switch, and did a lot of GoPro editing on my phone too. This was my first time traveling in quite a long time due to the pandemic and the typhoons that hit Japan during Obon season, but I’m happy to say it was another huge success! I learned a lot about the rural life of Kyushu, swam in onsen and oceans, and made many friends along the way (both human and goat). It’s been a while since I last updated Resurface to Reality so I hope you enjoy reading all about my latest Kyushu adventures in this latest article series.

Getting to Amami Island

I chose Amami Island as my first destination because it is one of the most popular remote islands for water activities in Kagoshima. It is not technically part of Okinawa, but it is extremely close to some of its island chains and the weather is almost exactly the same. Amami is a place you go to getaway from the crowds and doesn’t have nearly as many people as Naha, but it does have a bustling downtown shopping area where you can interact freely with the islanders. I spent most of my time swimming at my resort and biking around beaches, but there are a number of wonderful things you can see here!

The easiest way to get to Amami Island is by plane, and fortunately all of the best resorts and beaches are near the airport too! You can also travel by ferry from Kagoshima and Okinawa, but these trips can take up to 11 hours which you could be using to relax during your Kyushu vacation. I departed from Narita Airport around 10am on a Monday and my ticket was only 7040 yen, which beats the long 9000 yen ferry! The plane ride was only 2.5 hours and I slept for over half of it. When I reached the airport, I could already feel the tropical breeze and the bright rays from the sun as soon as I went outside. A free shuttle bus was waiting for me outside too, and driver smiled at me and said “Let’s gooooo!” in English. The adventure was about to begin!

Accommodation: Caretta Resort Amami

While looking for accommodations in Amami, I wanted something on the beach preferably with a pool or a hot tub for the ultimate relaxation. Fortunately I found my ideal hotel match at Caretta Resort! Not only did this hotel have a gigantic pool, inflatables, and a hot tub, but it also had friendly goats and was located directly on Kurasaki Beach. This was the closest resort I found in Japan that resembled Koh Samui, one of my favorite islands in Thailand due to the proximity of the ocean and the huge pool. The hospitality was truly amazing and the people were so kind. There were a bunch of kids in the pool roleplaying Pokemon which really brought me back to my childhood too. The view from inside of the rooms is really beautiful too. If you book far enough in advance, you can get a room for under 10000 which truly is a steal for a resort of this quality. I splurged a bit but treating myself was truly worth it! This hotel has everything you need, including free bike rentals too.

I recommend staying in Amami for at least 3 days like I did so you can fully enjoy the beaches and also choose to go snorkeling, kayaking, or paragliding which I will get into in my next article!

Eating a Heart-shaped Donut at Heart Rock

After checking in at my lovely resort and greeting the goat that lives outside of it, I decided to rent a bike from my hotel and bike to the famous Heart Rock that was just 10 mins away. This heart-shaped pool appears most visible during low tides, but you can see it year-round. It is said to have some kind of healing property so it attracts a number of visitors each day.

Before going to Heart Rock, you can stop at Healthy Island Cafe and buy heart-shaped donuts that come in different flavors and also try goat milk ice cream! I enjoyed how creamy it was plus meeting all of the goats outside that had helped make it. You can purchase other products like goat soap, cheese, and mascots as well. The goat culture on Amami Island is truly amazing and everyone loves them!

I really enjoyed walking through the mini jungle area on the path to the beach and met a stray cat on my way to the rock. A lot of Amami is completely untouched making it the perfect place for adventurers to explore!

Heart Rock Address: 1346-1 Akaogi, Tatsugo, Oshima District, Kagoshima 894-0411

Trying Amami Foods & Sake

Amami Island is famous not only for its goat milk ice cream, but also its seafood and black sugar shochu! Due to the pandemic, a number of restaurants were closed so I just kept calling random ones near the beach until I found out that one named Restaurant AMAnesia was open until 7pm. I got extremely lucky because this restaurant was near a famous hotel and had a huge selection of seafood!

I decided to go with the mini steamed lobster set that came with local island specialties, rice, and vegetables. I also ordered a mini assortment of black sugar shochu. To my surprise it was very strong and not very sweet at all, but I still enjoyed it! After enjoying this delicious meal, I went outside to the beach to enjoy the ocean breeze. Boy this sure beat Tokyo!

AMAnesia Address: 1246-1 Kasaricho Oaza Yoan, Amami, Kagoshima 894-0508

I really enjoyed the privateness of Amami Island this day and reflected on my thoughts. This was an incredible first day with perfect weather and I was very excited for the rest of the week!

In my next article, I will be going into detail about various activities you can do on Amami such as paragliding and kayaking through the mangrove. Please look forward to my next article!

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!

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!