Pocheon Art Valley & Herb Island in South Korea

img_1747
Pocheon Art Valley in South Korea looks out of this world.

After spending an amazing 5 days on Jeju Island, I decided to fly back to Seoul and explore the places that I had overlooked on my first trip to Korea back in 2018.  Pocheon Art Valley and Herb Island caught my eye because they seemed up my alley.  Both places were slightly outside of the city and had a lot of fantastic nature to see with other quirky exhibits.  Every day tour that I’ve taken outside of Seoul has been well-organized and was easier than taking public transportation, so I booked a package that included both of them and strawberry picking for around $60 USD on Klook.  The tour has amazing ratings and gives you enough time to explore both places.  Entrance fees are included as well so it saves you both time and money.

Pocehon Art Valley

I started off my tour by completely going to the wrong station to get picked up my by tour guide.  That’s what happens when you’re jetlagged, can’t read Hangul, and are just ignorant in general from all the traveling you do abroad.  Fortunately I called Klook and my guide waited for me because our tour was only about 5 people.  I apologized to everyone and we made our way to the strawberry farm in a small van.  It was nice being in the Korean countryside.  The people on the tour were all in their twenties so it was easy to make friends with them.  I picked a ton of strawberries because I was starving.  After our baskets were full, we made our way to the art valley!

Pocheon Art Valley is a garnite quarry and geopark that has been transformed into a creative art valley.  In addition to stunning natural scenery you will see sculptures, planted flora, and even live concerts here.  There are arts and crafts workshops you can participate in as well.  I mostly came here for the exploration and aesthetic art aspect.  After our tour guide finished his explanation, we all set off in our own direction.  You can choose to ride the monorail or hike up the valley on your own (it doesn’t take that much time).  I hiked around the valley and saw many amazing sights!  You can see the silhouettes of the mountains once you get near the summit of the climbing area.  This was much easier than climbing Mt. Hallasan like I did the week before.  I had so much fun taking pictures here and can see why so many Korean dramas are filmed here.

After about 90 minutes, we met back at the van and drove to Herb Island.

Herb Island

Herb Island is perhaps one of the funniest memes I’ve come across in Korea (at least I thought it was very amusing).  First of all, it’s not actually an island━it’s a Christmas-themed amusement park with hundreds of Mediterranean herbs planted around it.  Plus it has a mini-zoo, soap-crafting workshop, and lavender ice cream which I highly recommend trying.  Everywhere you look there’s strange visuals.  I loved seeing the jellyfish and heart illuminations alongside the statues of Santa.  Walking through the gardens and the sea of Christmas lights in the summer was surreal.  The bakery with the herb cookies was also amazing.  This is my favorite amusement park in Korea because it’s just so random:

When you get through the sea of lights, you’ll come across a pen with miniature donkeys.  As if this “island” couldn’t get weird enough:

If I ever come back here, I swear to god I am crafting some herb soap.  I’ll also buy some more herb cookies for my friends as souvenirs.  Keep on staying weird, South Korea!

Overall I had a pleasant experience on this tour.  The traffic was heavy due to a public holiday I wasn’t aware so we were late coming back, but that was also my fault for initially being late to the tour.  I would like to re-visit Pocheon when I come back to Korea in the future.  I hope more people decide to come here because it’s the perfect day trip from Seoul!

Journey to Yakushima: The Real-life Princess Mononoke Forest (Part 2)

After two awe-inspiring hikes through the forest that inspired Princess Mononoke and to Japan’s oldest tree, I decided to spend my final day in Yakushima relaxing at beaches and hot springs.  Though I went on this trip nearly three years ago, I still remember how breathtaking it was to this day.  This island undoubtedly has some of the best nature in Japan because it’s so remote from civilization.  This is the perfect place to reflect on life and also do meditation.  Please see Part 1 of my adventures in Yakushima for reference.

Day 3: Beach and Hotspring Adventures

Since I didn’t rent a car and was backpacking my way around, I decided to book a private tour through Yes Yakushima so I could see more of the island.  The main advantage of doing this is you’ll have an experienced guide to show you around and they can cater the tour to fit your interests.  I chose the Island Tour since I had already had my fill of hiking, but there are many other options available.  What’s amazing is their guides can take you almost anywhere on the island; even to the most difficult mountains that not many people have climbed.  Solo tours start at 27000 yen per person, but the price is worth it for what you get to see.  The money you spend also goes to environmental maintenance.

Distilleries, Beaches, Crabs & Hotsprings

My guide Brian was also from the US, but he married a Japanese native on Yakushima and hiked there for years so his knowledge of the island was vast.  My tour started off with a bang when we visited a Yaksuhima sake distillery and I knocked back a few samples.  Sweet potatoes are very famous here so some breweries use them as a base for sake.  We also drove past some mini farms where you could insert coins into a post box and take vegetables.  The stores are completely unmanned so it shows there is a high level of trust between people on this island.

After eating a vegetarian bento by the beach, we drove to Hirauchi Sea Spa where you can go swimming and also wade in the tidal hot springs.  The best time to visit is during low tide which usually your tour guide can predict.  You can come here during high tide too, but the hot springs will be too deep to enter.  I spent a good 2 hours here swimming and wading in the hot springs.  The hot springs are unisex so you can choose to wear your swimsuit or jump in naked (I wore my swimsuit since I was on a tour).

IMG_5018
Hirauchi Sea Spa during low tide.

While I was walking on the beach, I saw some amazing sea crabs chilling in the rocks:

Here’s an extremely old video I took of them.  Their eyes are over-sized and adorable:

I will never forget how vibrantly blue the water was here.  Out of everywhere in Japan, Iwami and islands in Kyushu like Yakushima have the best beaches.  I also saw Yakushima-todai Lighthouse which is painted white and looks like a small chapel.

After having my fill of swimming, we decided to drive to some waterfalls next.  The following waterfall is the most beautiful waterfall that I’ve seen in Japan:

Ohko Waterfall

22366302_10212759965825409_5246968459206308628_n
A rainbow is reflected in the emerald pool of Ohko Waterfall.

We arrived at the perfect time of day because I got to see a rainbow reflected in the water of Ohko Waterfall!!  This was such an amazing sight to behold!  Plus there were hardly any other people around so you could only hear the splash of the water.  I sat on the rocks and mediated for a few minutes as cool water droplets splashed my back.  As I was meditating, a piece of bark from a Yaku Cedar tree fell from the cliff and drifted towards me.  Brian carefully picked it up from the water and held onto it.  He informed me that under no circumstances are people of the island allowed to strip bark from trees, but if the bark is removed by natural causes then people are allowed to take it.  Since he said he was skilled in instruments, farming, and other outdoor activities, I figured he would think of the perfect use for it.  He let me hold it and see it up close which was very special to see.  It really is as if the gods were smiling upon us here.

Senpiro Waterfall

Though there were no rainbows here, this was still an amazing waterfall to see.  While Ohko is best viewed from sea level, Senpiro is best viewed from the mountains.  The granite valleys here were quite the sight.  Hiking up to the level where you can see them only takes a few minutes and is way easier than the hike to Jomonsugi.  I am continually impressed by the harmony of land and water you can see on Yakushima!

Gajumaru Banyan Tree

After our waterfall treks, we drove to a mysterious forest in Nakama Village.  At first glance, it looked similar to the Shiratani Unsuikyo which I explored the other day.  However, Brian informed me that this is home of the Gajumaru Banyan Tree—a magical tree that grows by dropping down roots from its limbs into the ground!  The roots can also sprout onto existing trees which give this forest its twisted shape.  Yakushima is unique because a lot of the island is still uninhabited and these trees can grow wild.  Perhaps one day the Gajumaru Banyan Tree limbs will engulf the entire island.  No one knows for sure, but it sure was fun to ponder about what could happen in the future.

At this point the journey was gradually unwinding.  I felt completely satisfied with what I had seen in the three days that I spent here.  On our way back to Miyanoura Pier where I planned to sail back to Kagoshima, we passed by some wild monkeys and a tree that resembles Cthulhu.  The more time you spend here, the more aesthetic things you’ll start to notice:

Final Thoughts

Though this may sound a bit hypocritical, any pictures you see of Yakushima online don’t do it justice.  The island is extremely vast and beautiful and the only way to truly see this is to embark on the long journey and see it for yourself.  That being said, my trip here was absolutely perfect minus not packing enough food during my hikes.  The first two days I spent almost entirely by myself hiking and seeing Japan’s oldest tree.  This was great because it gave me the chance to create my own personal connection with the island.  I didn’t feel lonely because I was on a journey.  The last day I reflected with an experienced guide and spent a lot of time relaxing.  I realized from talking to him there is still so much of Yakushima that is unexplored.  Was three days enough for what I wanted to see?  Definitely.  Would I want to come back in the future and see more?  Also yes!  3-5 days is what I would recommend to most people.  Be sure to respect nature and to also treasure your time here.

More Information:

Journey to Yakushima: The Real-life Princess Mononoke Forest (Part 1)

On my 24th birthday in October nearly two years ago, I decided I travel all the way from Tokyo to Yakushima so I could see the lush island that inspired one of my favorite movies of all time—Princess Mononoke.  This journey took nearly 10 hours and involved a lot of hiking, but it was one of the best experiences of my life.  Yakushima has so much unspoiled nature and is also home of Japan’s oldest recorded tree in history: Jomonsugi.  There are numerous hiking trails and endless adventure to be had here.  In this article I will be retelling the tale of my 3 day stay and also my recommended hiking spots and tours.  I would plan on staying here for 3-5 days if possible so you can fully enjoy the nature!

About Yakushima

 

Yakushima is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Kyushu, Japan.  The island is mostly mountainous with 16 main hiking trails.  Many of them intersect so you can choose the path that best fits what you want to see.  There are mountain huts scattered in the forest that you can stay at for free overnight, but it is possible to complete most hikes within 6 – 12 hours.  Yakushima is close to Okinawa giving it a subtropical climate (in October I could still go swimming).  You can travel here any time of year, but I would recommend avoiding the rainy season (early June-July) as the forest can get flooded.

What’s amazing is that  even today many parts of this island remain unexplored.  Some areas outside of the trails are so steep it is not recommended to climb them without a guide or special equipment.  Fortunately the main trails are marked well enough that you can navigate them without a guide.  Just be sure to bring enough food and be cautious when climbing over rocks, steep areas, and places with low visibility.

*Maps are courtesy of Yakumonkey (a really handy guide for exploring).

Reasons to go:

  • Arguably one of the most beautiful forests to hike through in Japan.
  • If you are a Princess Mononoke fan, exploring Yakushima is a dream come true.
  • You can see rare wildlife (both plants and animals).
  • The freshwater streams are so clean that you can drink out of them.
  • The beaches are wonderful for swimming.
  • This island is extremely remote and still has a lot of things to be discovered.

The downside is that transportation is limited, and if you are not an outdoors person then you may find some of the hikes a bit difficult.  However, people of all ages have completed the hike to Jomonsugi and there are hiking groups available for all experience levels.  You can also choose to hike completely alone without a group like I did.

Here are the main spots that I hiked to:

Day 1: Shiratani Unsuikyo

Shiratani Unsuikyo is a dream-like world full of lush green mosses and some of Japan’s oldest cedars that inspired the setting of Princess Mononoke.  The lead artist of the movie, Oga Kazuo, spent quite a long time here sketching scenes that were used in the film.  You can easily see why this setting was chosen, as it is unspoiled and far from civilization making it the perfect home for creatures of the forest.  The water that runs from the stream here is so fresh that you can re-fill your water bottle with it and drink it while you hike.  I had never been to a place so clean and beautiful in my life, so this was one of the best places to spend my 24th birthday!

Three of the oldest cedar trees here are: Nidaiosugi, Kugurisugi, and Yayoisugi.  Though it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of the forest, there are clear signs and markings around to guide you.  Keep your eyes out for deer too!  You’re likely run into other tour groups going around but they are easy to avoid.  This hike is not particularly strenuous; just remember to watch out for rain that makes the stones and moss slippery.

I arrived on a foggy day, so this was the view I got from the highest point of the forest:

22221845_10212742775835670_204262497031678554_n
Shiratani Unsuikyo covered in a mysterious blanket of fog.

I was not disappointed by this view because it looked like I was walking through the clouds!  The fog gave the forest an eerie glow and you could still make out all of the main sightseeing points.  Fortunately my other two days here were completely sunny.

Duration: 4-6 hours of hiking
Admission Fee: 500 yen

My Recommendation: There are two main paths you can use to enter, but I recommend entering from the Miyanoura side because there are more frequent buses that lead there and back from the port.  You do not need a guide to hike through this area as it is pretty straightforward.  I came here by myself and did not have a single dull moment.

Day 2: Jomonsugi (Japan’s Oldest Tree)

JOMON
Behold, the oldest tree in Japan (around 7,200 years old)!

One of the most magical hikes in Japan is to the oldest tree in this country: The Legendary Jomonsugi.  Upon reaching the tree, you will receive its holy blessing and have explored much of Yakushima’s beauty.  You can actually access a route to Jomonsugi from the Shiratani Unsuikyo, but it is a strenuous hike so I recommend seeing them on separate days.  I enjoyed this hike much more than I did Fuji due to the beautiful cedar scenery.  Jomonsugi is quite massive in size (standing at 83 feet) and is like no other tree I’ve ever seen.  Besides the tree, there are many other aesthetic things to see on your way there:

22228579_10212750504948893_5757080740051792223_n
Wilson’s Stump: The heart-shaped stump.

The main points of interest on the way there are Wilson’s Stump and the abandoned logging village of Kosugidani.  Wilson’s Stump mysteriously formed a heart shape after the tree was cut down.  It was discovered by Ernest Henry Wilson who was an English botanist that came to Yakushima in the early 1900s.  Little remains of the old village (I thought it was a series of old storehouses when I first saw it), but historically it had a major impact on the development of Yakushima.

The hike starts off very easy.  You walk on what looks like railroad tracks into the forest and go through a few tunnels.  The hike is 22km but doesn’t get steep until you are much deeper in the forest.  I saw some wild mushrooms on the way there.  A tour guide told me that there’s a possibility that magic mushrooms may exist here in the wild though I didn’t try eating any.  The most difficult part is climbing up the narrow trails that lead to Jomonsugi.  Fortunately hiking through the Shiratani Unsuikyo the other day prepared me for that.  I reached Jomonsugi in around 3.5 hours and was stunned by its beauty.  I turned around and saw people of all ages smiling.  We had made the mythical trek!

22366824_10212755116824187_3577127832654623071_n
As I gazed at Jomonsugi, I was reminded of the World Tree from Tales of Symphonia.

As I gazed at Jomonsugi, I couldn’t help but think about the World Tree from one of my favorite videogames of all time: Tales of Symphonia.  This tree is what keeps the world alive in the game, and I felt a similar power from Jomonsugi.  It is the heart of Yakushima that keeps the forest safe.  Or keeps tourism alive.  Something like that.  I couldn’t think straight because I was so hungry.  Fortunately I had some riceballs prepared for me by my hotel:

22540139_10212836007486403_1945475989967058946_n
Riceballs from Suimeiso.

On the way down I noticed I was starting to get fatigued and my legs started to hurt.  The last two hours of this hike were the worst.  I run every day and am in shape, but I am not used to these forest hikes as I live in the city.  At one point I started to get spots in my vision, but fortunately I was not in danger of passing out.  I listed to Geofront by Carpainter and focused on climbing down to the rhythm.  I vowed if I survived this then I would someday see this artist in person (which I did a month later).  When I got back to the train track part of the trail, I was able to sit down and rest for a bit.  I think the hike only took me around 7 hours.  It was worth it for everything that I got to experience.

Duration: 6-10 hours of hiking (including travel to the trail head by bus)
Admission Fee: 1000 yen

My Recommendation: Get up as early as you can (preferably around 4am) and take the earliest bus to Arakawa Trail from where you are staying.  Your accommodation can help you as this is the most popular destination in Yakushima.  Most buses will arrive around 6am-7am.  PACK LOTS OF SNACKS!  The bus was full when I returned so I had to wait for the next one back.  I killed time with photo editing and it was alright, but I wish I had prepared more.  Regardless, this is one of the best hikes you’ll find in Japan and is extremely rewarding.  Do it if you get the chance!

Where to Stay: Suimseiso Minshuku

If you came here because of the movie like myself, then staying at Suimeiso Minshuku is your best bet!  This backpackers-styled hostel is only 3500 yen a night, includes some meals and snacks, and has signed Miyazaki drawings that are framed and displayed in the common room.  That is because Miyazaki was actually a former guest here!  The friendly staff are extremely hard-working and will make you feel welcome here.  I had trouble initially figuring out the bus routes, but they took the time to assist me.

Address: 1 Anbo, Yakushima, Kumage District, Kagoshima 891-4311

If tatami rooms are not your style, you can either send an inquiry to one of the Yakushima tour websites or check what’s available on Booking.  There are resorts available, but I would recommend saving that money for a more famous beach area like Okinawa.  When you’re in Yakushima, you’re going to want to be exploring nature as much as possible so staying inside is not ideal.

Food

To avoid the mistake I made of not having enough food while hiking, I HIGHLY recommend placing an order for breakfast and snacks from your accommodation in advance.  Since the majority of people that come to Yakushima are hikers and backpackers, almost all hotels will do this for you.  Tours will usually include a meal too.

After being famished from my hike to Jomonsugi, I found a restaurant called Smiley near my hotel that had delicious sandwiches, soup, ice cream, and cookies shaped like the island.  Now that was a satisfying meal!  There are other small restaurants and convenience stores around the ports too, but usually they are not open in the early morning when it’s recommended to start your hike.  It gets dark on the island around 7pm, so be sure to be careful of time.  Packing snacks is ideal and will save you a lot of time.

Access & Transportation

From Tokyo Haneda Airport, I flew to Kagoshima Airport the night before I sailed to Yakushima.  This cost around 20,000 yen and takes 2 hours.  I stayed at a cheap net cafe called Jiyu Kukan by Kagoshima Port which is fortunately close to the station.

cat1
A stray cat in Kagoshima that decided to follow me around.  Will I become a magical girl now?

In the morning, I bought a roundtrip ferry ticket to Yakushima for 16,600 yen (the return trip must be used within 7 days but I was only staying for 3 days).  There are around 8 ferries that go to Miyanoura Port daily.  You can choose to stay somewhere here, but more backpackers stay in the Anbo Port area (which is where I stayed).

If you have any questions or would like to purchase a ticket in advance, I would recommend checking out Yes Yakushima’s website because they have updated time tables that change per season.  You can also fly here, but I decided to go by boat because I thought it would be more fun.  The ride takes around 2-3 hours.

Once on the island, you can get your accommodation to help you book a taxi or take the buses around.  I decided to go buy bus because it was extremely cheap.  You can rent a car, but some of the roads go deep into the mountains and are a bit dangerous for a driver who is inexperienced.  I would leave it to the bus drivers personally.

In my next article, I will be talking about a private tour that I went on during my final day here exploring beaches and hotsprings around the island.  Please look forward to it!

Yet Another Perfect Weekend in Nagoya

 

img_6591-1
In the Heart of Nagoya: The silhouettes of the mountains gently fade into the sunset.

As I’ve noted countless times before, Nagoya is one of the most underrated cities in Japan.  It is here that I first attended the World Cosplay Summit back in 2017, went to Legoland and Nagashima Spa Land, and also met my first boyfriend at a gaming bar (which is a legendary story I’ll save for later).  Though Osaka and Kyoto undoubtedly overshadow this city with their hotspring getaways and large amusement parks like Universal Studios, Nagoya has a cozy atmosphere that can’t be beat.  There are far less tourists here but still a lot of interesting things to see.  As much as I love living in Tokyo, I often find it hard to relax so I try to escape to Nagoya at least twice a month.  Every time I travel here, I discover something completely new and amazing.  Be it a cafe, park, or meeting a new friend—I’m always left with fond memories on my way home.

I’ll be noting some of my recent discoveries in this article.  Please see Aesthetic Food Finds in Nagoya for my recommended foods.

Yamazaki River

I had planned on flying to Aomori Prefecture earlier this year because it was ranked as the best place to see the cherry blossoms in Japan, but the festival was sadly cancelled due to the COVID-19.  Fortunately my boyfriend took me to a semi-secluded area in Nagoya where the Yamazaki River runs through and you can see a perfect view of the cherry blossoms in this prefecture.  Since the branches hang over the river, the petals gently fall into the water creating that dream-like Japan aesthetic you see in anime or printed on postcards.  The sakura donut I picked up at Lyrical Coffee Donut only added to the already perfect scenery.  Fortunately we could come here and still practice social distancing while enjoying the best season in Japan.  It was a small moment of peace amidst the chaos around the world that I’ll never forget.

On our way back, we stumbled upon a very interesting restaurant called “Not Curry“.  The menu consisted of some sort of soup pairing with rice.  What interesting advertising!  Also, the internet pointed out that my shadow looked like Isabelle from Animal Crossing when I uploaded it to social media.  I haven’t played the game due to wanting to devote my free time to research and writing, but who would have thought!  All sorts of magical things were happening here.

Yamazaki River Access

2 Chome Murakamicho, Mizuho Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 467-0008

Tsurumai “Pokeball” Park

This park became a meme in Nagoya due to it’s circular Pokeball-like shape and the fact that it’s a Pokemon Go hotspot.  Besides Shiratori Park, Tsurumai is one of the most beautiful parks in Nagoya.  I loved seeing the beautiful European-esque fountain, life-sized bird cages and gardens, and railings shaped like birds.  Not to mention there was tall grass where you could seemingly hunt Pokemon.  I imagine this is a popular photoshoot location for Pokemon cosplayers during World Cosplay Summit.

Our favorite activity here was live-Tweeting turtles.  We sat by the pond and watched in awe as a turtle from underwater swam up to join its friend on the rock.  Being a turtle and living in complete ignorance of the COVID crisis must be blissful.

Tsurumai Park Access

1 Chome-1 Tsurumai, Showa Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 466-0064

In my next article, I will be exploring more aesthetic food finds in Nagoya.  Please stay tuned for more updates~

Riding Camels through the Tottori Sand Dunes in Japan

The pictures you see above look like they might have been shot in the desert—or at the very least somewhere barren like Mongolia in East Asia.  However, they were actually taken in Tottori Prefecture on the west coast of mainland of Japan.  As a person who loves exploring unusual places, I had to research this place and plan a trip here immediately.  I was especially excited to meet the camels (who I naively thought were native to Japan at the time, but one of my Japanese friends informed me that they were likely imported from India).  I tried to research the origin of the camels online, but gathered that nobody really knew where they came from or how they got here like some kind of ominous mystery.  Regardless of their origin I was extremely stoked to see the!

Much to my delight, I found out that Tottori was the real-life location of the anime Free! and discovered the first ending song was inspired by the Tottori Sand Dunes.  This series was one of my favorite anime in college so traveling here was like a dream come true.

Free!.600.1675760
Free! cast in the desert of Tottori with their non-native-to-Japan camels.

Tottori is almost a six hour journey by train from Tokyo, but flying here only takes one hour and is half the price (see the “Access” section for more information).  These are the biggest sand dunes open to the public in Japan so I would definitely recommend coming here if you have the chance.  This place is just too bizarre not to see and it has a lovely beach!  In addition to the camels, there are cable cars you can ride, specialty pear ice cream you can try, and a sand sculpture museum.  Sandboarding is also available for the adventurous!  Please see the official tourism website for more info.

Climbing the dunes was a bit of a challenge, but was worth it to see the gorgeous beach at the other end.  I had never experienced a desert-like landscape in my life and was amazed at how far the dunes go down.  Walking from the entrance to the park and climbing them took around a half an hour, but you can easily spend 2-3 hours here enjoying the views that are unlike anywhere else in Japan.  The cable car ride is only 300 yen and will help you save energy if you get too tired.

Here is an old video I took of the camels in August of 2017.  There were only a few of them around but they seemed to be kept in good care.  It costs 1300 yen to ride them and 100 yen for just a photo with them.  It was a very surreal sight for Japan:

After camel watching, I made my way to the beach a sip on some specialty sake I bought from the souvenir store.  It definitely felt like some kind of weird scene out of an anime:

After fully enjoying the sand dunes and the camels, my last stop was the Sand Museum.  Similar to the snow festival in Sapporo, there is a sand sculpture festival in Tottori.  The Sand Museum is open year-round but some exhibits change.  When I was there a sand sculpture of the detested president Trump greeted me at the entrance.  Regardless of my strong dislike of his presidency, I thought it was hilarious to see this here in the “desert” of Japan, of all places.  There was also a recreation of the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty, and several sculptures with inspiration from Hollywood and outer space.  You really can’t miss out on this place because it’s too iconic.  The admission fee is only 600 yen.

Access

From Tottori Station, take the Tottori Sakyu Bus to the very last stop which is the sand dunes (you can clearly see them from outside your window).  This takes 20 mins and only costs 380 yen.

A roundtrip flight from Tokyo to Tottori only takes one hour and costs around 20,000 yen.  However, I didn’t know this at first and road the train one way 6 hours for 18,000 yen (making it almost double the price round trip).  Unless you have the JR Pass, I would recommend flying there.

In my next post I will be talking about how to get to Iwami; another bug location from the anime Free!  Please look forward to it~

Aesthetic Food Finds in Nagoya Vol. 1

Here is a collection of aesthetic food finds in Nagoya, Japan (Volume 1). ♥

This country has no shortage of of aesthetic foods so I will continue to share cafes that I stumble across in future posts!  Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, most dessert cafes in Nagoya remain open as of March 2020.

Ai Cafe

On the very first day of my recent trip to Nagoya, my best friend and I decided to rise up to the challenge and order all 3 bears on the “Spring Fair” menu at Ai Cafe.  This included sakura ice cream bear soda, strawberry bear toast, and a whopping king bear parfait.  This challenge is not recommended for the weak due to the large amounts of aesthetic food you will receive—we were completely unprepared for the massive pink ice cream and extra thicc toast and waffle dishes all shaped like bears that stared back at us.  But with careful strategy and pacing, we defeated them all and washed them down with a Kenshiro Coffee.  The staff was super accommodating to take the time to make this for us.

A professionally Tweeted summary of the 3 bear challenge:

Interestingly enough, Ai Cafe’s closest station is Gokiso Station, which I made a hilarious Japanese pun of: ごきそさまでした!

You may not think it’s funny, but I do.

Psychedelic Pattern Smoothies at Tuwl’s

While exploring the charming little shopping area of Osu Kannon, we stumbled upon a very small smoothie stand called Tuwl’s that sells psychedelic pattern smoothies.  Unfortunately this place does not seem to be on a map yet, but it’s easy to find if you are walking towards the Taito Station.  The smoothies are not only intricately designed, but they also taste out of this world.  You can choose the fruit juice you want with a base of seeds, tapioca, or granola.  I chose avocado juice with the seed base and was happy to find it was mixed with chopped strawberries too.  My friend got the raspberry banana version which looks very similar to mine but has a different taste and pattern.  All I can say was that the smoothie trip was worth it and it’s worth trying at least once.

Lyrical Coffee Donut

At one point during my trip to Nagoya, I thought I woke up in an alternate universe where coffee and donuts were “lyrical”, flowers grew from the ceiling, and it was snowing in Tokyo during sakura season but still sunny and pleasant in Aichi Prefecture.  However, I learned that this was just every day life at Lyrical Coffee Donut (almost).  This little cafe and flower workshop is tucked away near Kamejima Station making it still somewhat central to Nagoya.  We ordered the sakura and coconut donuts (which we shared with our son, Waddle Dee), and also tried a floral jelly drink with the sandwich set.  It tasted beyond delicious, and because it was sakura season the flower donuts were quite popular.  I hope to come back here and try some more variety in the near future.

Yama Coffee

Not wanting to completely break our bear diet, we set off to Yama Coffee near Osu Kannon to try the infamous marshmallow coffee set.  The marshmallows come in various shapes and sizes, but I had my heart set on the panda ones because they were the most aesthetic.  I was delighted to see that they had added pink ones to the set to commemorate sakura season.  I ordered a latte and they drew a macha leaf pattern on it which added to the panda theme.  I feel like I can never drink coffee without marshmallows again because they add a perfect fluffy texture that packets of sugar can’t obtain.  Yama Coffee is a coffee experience that I think everyone should have.

Queen’s Healthy Diner

img_5521

Soy Chicken is Best Chicken.

After experiencing a sugar-induced coma from consuming all the bears, we realized we should eat something a little more healthy for dinner.  My friend introduced me to Queen’s Healthy Diner which is not far from Sakae Station.  This little diner is owned by a nice woman who prepares much of the food all by herself.  I had a vegan salad and soy milk macha drink with alcohol, and my friend ordered the soy karaage (fried chicken) with homemade mayonnaise.  I have to say that they karaage was by far the best thing on the menu.  It tasted like like fried tofu and had the texture and appearance of karaage but was much healthier and easier to digest.  In addition to this, there are vegan burritos, pizzas, and pastas available.  This restaurant is every vegan in Nagoya’s dream come true.

Ogura Toast at Cafe Gentiane

35302430_10214686196339968_5468045305465274368_n

I’m not sure who exactly came up with the strange idea to spread azuki bean paste on top of buttered French toast, but it somehow became a popular dish in this region after the first World War movement.  Bean paste isn’t the first thing I’d think to add to my toast, but it surprisingly makes a delicious topping.  The texture is a bit thicker than jam or jelly, but it’s just as sweet and usually comes with a side of butter or whipped cream as well.  This dish is dubbed “Ogura Toast” and can be found all over Nagoya and other places in Aichi Prefecture.  Since we were short on time, we settled for a place called Cafe Gentiane in Nagoya Station, but you can find Ogura Toast in a lot of other cafes here.  You really can’t go wrong with French toast in Japan because it has a lot of rich variety.

Now Closed: Little Baby Dogs

When I first attended World Cosplay Summit dressed as Futaba from Persona 5 in 2017, I stumbled upon a small ice cream place in Sakae called “Little Baby Dogs“.  The beautiful chocolate-dipped ice cream cones and heart-shaped toppings made this place a real charm (not to mention the name).  Unfortunately this shop is now closed, but my memories of cosplaying and eating ice cream here will last forever.

Bonus: Balllls

img_5553
http://www.balllls.com

Have you ever had a craving for Balllls?  Though most tapioca places in Japan seem to be closing due to the trend dying off, Balllls Tapitera in Osu is actually just moving to a new location.  I look forward to its grand re-opening and seeing more strange places like this in the future.

Thank you for reading Volume 1 of my aesthetic food journeys in Nagoya.  If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the comments!  I will be writing more volumes in the future.

Adventures in Arashiyama (Kyoto)

21106474_10212424504239079_3534490303559010146_n
Arguably one of the best views this forest has to offer.

With its vast nature including a bamboo grove, the Oi River which you can go sailing on, and a monkey park, Arashiyama is hands down one of the most popular day trips from Kyoto City.  Though this area attracts a large number of tourists each year, it’s easy to avoid them by taking side trails off the bamboo grove trail.  I was able to find complete bliss in solitude while hiking to several areas and listening to my favorite music.  I originally traveled here in 2018, but came back to try the delicious chilled soba noodles at a famous restaurant last year.  In this article I will be writing about the highlights of my Arashiyama hiking adventure and hopefully will inspire more people to visit!

Floating Down the Oi River

When you get off at Arashiyama Station, one of the first things you’ll notice is the gently flowing Oi river.  There are several shacks where you can rent boats and go on tours down the river and into the forested area.  This is one of the best ways to explore Arashiyama, so I opted for a private boat tour for 3000 yen.  Group tours are also available for a lower price.  The wooden boat has padded seats so its quite comfortable, and you can see beautiful scenes from floating down the river that you can’t see on foot!

While we were sailing a food boat (food truck but in boat form) sailed up to us and offered to cook me something.  I decided I wanted grilled squid and they made it right in front of me.  It was truly and amazing experience!  I’ve explored a floating village in Cambodia before which was quite large, but this river is much smaller and more relaxed.  If you love boating then there are a lot of amazing places in Asia that are worth checking out.  I aim to explore as many as I can.

I didn’t have the best camera on me at the time, but here is some footage of me sailing down the river on a wooden boat.  It was a pleasant trip that only takes about 30 mins:

Sunset at the Kimono Forest

If you come to Arashiyama, then you definitely need to stay and watch the sun set slowly on the mountains before you leave.  First the sky will flash to a bright gradient of red, orange, and yellow, then fade to a gentle magenta and pink hue.  Afterwards there is a garden of kimono-patterned pillars near Randen Arashiyama Station that becomes illuminated at night.  I had a fantastic time walking through here and taking pictures—it felt as if I had slipped into another world with all of the colors!  These memories still burn very bright in my mind today.

Bamboo Forest and Monkey Mountain

The main tourist attraction of Arashiyama is the bamboo forest which is about a 10 min walk from the station.  The massive stalks of bamboo that surround you are truly astounding.  Back in America I had never seen anything like this before, so I was very impressed by this area.  There are normally a lot of tourists on the main path, but you can find paths that lead into the mountains like the one pictured on the right to avoid them.  If you aim your camera towards the sunlight that is partially blocked by the bamboo stalks you can get some really nice pictures here.

When I hiked up the path shown above, I spotted a very interesting building structure from afar and zoomed into it.  It looks like either a shack with clothes hung out to dry or small shrine.  Climbing to that area seems like quite a feat because it is not connected to the main path of Arashiyama.  “Who lives here?” I wondered 2 years ago, and I still think about it to this very day:

After exploring the paths around the bamboo forest which really don’t take that much time to climb, I recommend checking out the Monkey Park atop a small mountain called Iwatayama.  The climb takes about 10-15 mins and you can see a nice view of Kyoto from the top as well as several enthusiastic monkeys.  Be sure not to make direct eye contact with them as they can be quite aggressive!  However, a barrier will protect you from being attacked my them.

Compared to the monkeys in Thailand, the ones in Kyoto are actually quite nice.  However, if you are in Japan for a long time and are able to go to Hokkaido, the Monkey Park in Hakodate is actually much more fun to see.  You can watch them bathe in a hotspring and have a clearer view of them with less tourists around you.

Chilled Soba Noodles at Tempura Matsu

While searching for aesthetic food in Kyoto (which is not that difficult to find), I stumbled upon a tempura restaurant that serves soba noodles in a one-of-a-kind bowl made out of ice.  As far as I know, no other restaurant besides Tempura Matsu serves soba quite like this.  The egg topping mixed with soy sauce gives it an amazing taste.  It is best eaten in the summer because it will cool you down.  Amazingly even in the warm temperature the ice bowl will hardly melt.  I was impressed with the craftsmanship of this dish:

Since I had a long journey here, I decided to reward myself with the course meal that was around 12,000 yen at the time.  This is quite expensive, but I believe you are able to order individual items off the menu if you request them.  From my experience, it was well worth the price.  Carefully prepared seafood, soup, rice, vegetables, soba, and dessert were served to me in this course.  Vegetarian options are available as well.

Getting to Arashiyama

Kyoto Station take Sagano Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station.  This takes about 15 mins and costs only 240 yen making it an extremely cheap trip.

Please note that accommodations here are quite popular, so you might want to book 2 months in advance if you want to stay in a nice onsen resort.

If you are a solo traveler or are on a budget, I recommend day tripping here from Kyoto City since accommodations there are cheaper.  If you want to use a day hotspring in Arashiyama, consider trying Fufunoyu.  It is only 1000 yen to enter and has a lovely outdoor hotspring that you can use.

I will be writing more about my adventures in Kyoto and accommodation options in my next few posts.  Please stay tuned for more info~

Falling Down the Capybara Hole at Izu Granpal Park (Shizuoka, Japan)

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0336.JPG
Granpal Park is the perfect Capybara Onsen after party.

On my way back to Atami after meeting the friendly capybara at Izu Shaboten Zoo, I couldn’t help but notice an advertisement on the train with a picture of illuminated capybara in a garden full of LED lights (much like the photo I took above).  I was completely captivated by the image.  What was this magical place with LSD visuals and sparkling wonder doing in rural Japan?  Being the spontaneous adventurer that I am, I had to investigate!

With a quick Google search, I discovered that it was Izu Granbel Park, located adjacent to the capybara zoo I went to earlier that day.  Fortunately the park was open until 9:30pm, so it made the perfect after party location for my trip.  I immediately got off at the closest station and rode the Ito train line to Futo Station.  On the way I bought a mini bottle of wine from the nearby Family Mart and walked 20 minutes to the park (because illuminations are way more fun to watch with alcohol).

What’s hilarious is that Google Maps directs you to the back entrance of the park (which was closed when I reached it) so I had to jump a small fence to get inside.  However, my efforts of navigating a dark and solemn back road to reach my destination would be rewarded with a brilliant lightshow over a global atmosphere of twinkling bulbs:

I had definitely fell down the capybara hole and landed in some strange wonderland.  When I walked through the back entrance, I was greeted by giant neon candies and an endless field of glowing flowers as far as the eye could see.  Upon descending a hill in that area, a sea of radiant fish and a luminous backdrop of Mt. Fuji greeted me (only in Japan).  When I turned to walk up towards the front entrance, I stumbled upon a garden of lollipops with capybara and red pandas frolicking in them.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  There was a photo opportunity here with literally every step.  This felt like something that I had made up in a dream because it was so bright and beautiful!

This was the best illumination I had ever seen in Japan.  Previously I had visited Aichi’s Floral Oasis, but this park’s lightshows were much more elaborate.  In addition to the global atmosphere of lights, they also had a mini zoo with gerbils and other small animals.  In the summer there is a waterpark and various rides open too.  Besides the LED (LSD?) capybaras, my favorite attractions were the Tunnel of Dreams and the unexpected dinosaur exhibit.  There’s also a glowing pirate ship and pirates restaurant that is dog-friendly.  If I had a dog, I would definitely bring them here!

This park really expanded my mind and put me in a good mood, so I would recommend it to everyone that visits Shizuoka!  You’ll find that the illuminations outside of the city are much more fun to see, plus this is probably the only place in the world where you can see real capybaras bathe at hotsprings during the day and illuminated ones at night.  A real fantasy come alive.

Address and Admission Price

Address: 1090 Futo, Itō, Shizuoka 413-0231

Entrance to the park is only 1300 yen (much cheaper than what I’ve paid to enter other illuminated parks).

img_4527
Capybara bathe in Devilman: Crybaby.

If you are interested in reading more about capybara bathing in hotsprings, please see my Izu Shaboten Zoo article.

Entering Capybara Heaven at Izu Shaboten Zoo (Shizuoka, Japan)

img_4193
Capybara freely bathe in an orange-filled hotspring at Izu Shaboten Zoo.

Last weekend on my backpacking journey through Shizuoka prefecture to see Carpainter perform in Hammamatsu, I decided to stop in Izu to see the infamous hotspring-loving capybara of Japan.  Izu Shaboten Zoo is one of the few places in the world where you can get up close with these large adorable rodents and see them bathe in a natural hotspring filled with oranges (which are a specialty of this prefecture).  Native to South America, capybaras are mammals with webbed-feet that are quite well-mannered around humans and other animals.  Like platypuses, capybaras enjoy being both on land and in water with a diet consisting of mostly grass and dried plants.  The ones at Izu Shaboten are easy to approach and very entertaining to watch in the bath!

Exploring Izu Shaboten Zoo

In addition to capybaras, there are also a number of other rare animals housed here including red pandas, kangaroos, unique species of birds, and reptiles.  I’ve been to a lot of zoos in Asia, but I highly recommend this one because it’s less like a zoo and more like a wildlife conservation area.  The natural habitat of each animal is preserved as much as possible and they all seem to be in great health.  Being up close to kangaroos reminded me of my trip to Australia last summer!  This place truly didn’t feel like Japan because other zoos in this country are comparably small in size.

I spent the most time in the Capybara Rainbow Pen (an area separate from the bath) feeding and petting the ones that wanted attention.  You can purchase capybara grass for 200 yen and they will be eternally grateful for your kindness!

Outside from the capyabaras, I enjoyed watching the red panda diligently march on its tree branch.  A Japanese couple beside me describe its movements as “ゴロゴロ” (I love accidentally overhearing people so I am able to learn new words everyday).

Another of my favorite places was the cactus garden, because you can purchase cheap capybara pots and customize your favorite cacti to take home.  Just all of the detail that was put into this attraction amazes me:

You can also take a boat ride around the park because it has a small river that runs through it and leads to other areas, but I chose to explore most of the park on-foot so I could capture more angles with my GoPro.  I would recommend spending at least 3 hours here because there is a lot to see and do━especially if you are a photographer.

Eating a Capybara Burger

At the Gibbon restaurant found near the entrance of the zoo, no one eats alone!!  That’s because there is a huge stuffed capybara sitting at every table to keep you company.  I came here on Valentine’s Day, so this cabybara date made it the most memorable one of my life.  Getting back to the food—the burger was made of fresh bread and was delicious (I customized mine to be vegetarian).  If I had more room for food I would have tried the omelet rice duck because it looked pretty aesthetic from the menu picture.  For a full list of restaurants, please see the official site.

Buying Capybara Souvenirs

My apartment in Tokyo is already full of stuffed animals that friends have won for me, but I could not pass up the chance to buy an adorable stuffed capybara holding an orange here.  I also bought some chocolat baumkuchen (cake) for my friend.  Everything here was extremely well-priced compared to other zoos because I only payed around 1200 yen for the plushie and 800 yen for the cake.  I already want to come back in the summer to buy more capybara merch!  Also, the restaurant signs here made me laugh:

img_4207

Mt. Omuro

Right beside the Izu Shaboten Zoo stands Mt. Omuro, which is an inactive volcano you can take a lift up for 700 yen.  Since I decided to go to the ropeway in Atami, I skipped this attraction, but it is worth seeing if you have time.  There are cute little shops you can look at while you’re waiting for the bus too.

Getting to Izu Shaboten Zoo

From Tokyo Station I took the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Atami, then the Ito Line to Ito Station, and finally a local bus to the zoo.  This costs around 5000 yen and takes 2.5 hours.  You can easily do this as a day trip, but I spent 3 days in this prefecture because there are a number of things to see besides the capybara (which I will get into in my next articles).

Entrance to the zoo is 2300 which may seem expensive, but with the diverse number of animals they have here I think the price is fair.

Address

Izu Shaboten Zoo, 1317-13 Futo, Itō, Shizuoka 413-0231

Final Remarks

Izu Shaboten Zoo was by far my best experience with animals in Japan because I got the chance to pet capaybaras in addition to seeing other rare species.  The zoo has a adorable theme with the hotspring and petting zoos which makes it a suitable attraction for all ages.  Since it’s more remote from the major cities of Japan that means it’s less crowded.  If I decide to go again, I will combine this with a trip to Shirahama Beach which is a little further south of here.  I will be writing more about my adventures in Shizuoka Prefecture over the next coming days, so please look forward to them because this is only the beginning!

Exploring the Colorful City of Kaohshiung & Cijin Island (Part 2)

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0164.JPG
View from atop the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

After fully exploring Pier 2 and Cijin Island, I decided to spend my 2nd day in Kaohsiung seeing some of the major landmarks.  Since I rented a bike for 24 hours, I biked 8 km from where I was staying at the pier to reach the famed Dragon and Tiger Pagodas.  It was a little scary biking on the highway for the first time in Taiwan, but I managed to survive and catch some neat sights on the way there.  The pagodas are surrounded by a lotus pond and are seven stories high, so visiting them is quite the experience.  Once you climb all the stairs, you will get the perfect view of the Zuoying District of the city:

The symbolism of the dragon and tiger is a bit ambiguous, but they both represent a balance of power although they have contrasting characteristics.  According to Shaozhi, in Chinese culture dragons are said to control water and have great strength, whereas tigers symbolize righteousness and harmony.  I was amazed at how both entrances were designed to fit their appearances.  Here is some footage I took from atop the Dragon Pagoda:

According to a sign outside, if you walk through the dragon’s mouth and walk out the tiger’s, it is said to bring good luck.  So that’s exactly what I did!  It still has yet to come, but it’s only the beginning of the year.  Inside you will find illustrations of various Buddhist and Taoist characters:

Surrounding the pagodas are other temples and Buddhist statues that you can easily reach on foot.  I didn’t stop to see them all, but you could easily spend a few hours in this district of the city seeing them all.  People are very laid-back and friendly too.

Next, I biked to Formosa Boulevard Station so I could see its famous murals.  From what I read online, it’s one of the most beautiful stations in Taiwan.  It did not fall short of my expectations:

The Dome of Light within the station is the largest glass work in the world and was designed by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata.  I was amazed by how beautiful it was!  Various astrological figures are depicted in this glass (some human-like and some creature-like), as well as very intriguing patterns.  To me it looks like a galaxy riddled with the mysteries of our origin:

Another amazing part of Kaohsiung City is its hyper-realistic dog ice cream:

img_3027

I made a separate post on Aesthetic Food Finds in Taiwan, so please check it out if you are interested!  This is my last article in my Taiwan series, but I will be writing a bonus article on the nightlife I experienced here.

From what I’ve experienced, most cities in Taiwan only require 2-3 days of time to see all the major sightseeing spots.  I spent around 5 days total in Taipei doing day trips and other activities, but 2 days of full activity worked for me in all the other areas I visited.  I hope that everyone can visit this beautiful country and have the same wonderful adventures that I did!