Journey to Amanohashidate: Kyoto’s Picturesque Sandbar

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View of Amanohashidate from Kasamatsu Park’s ropeway.

Due to the abrupt school closure and cancellation of public events put into effect by the Japanese government as prevention of the Corona Virus spread last week, I suddenly found myself with an abundance of free time.  Not wanting to waste this newfound freedom, I decided to hit up my friends in Kansai and see what the situation was like in the west.  As predicted, they informed me that there were noticeably less tourists around Kyoto and the prices of hotels had dropped drastically.  This was my chance!  Avoiding the public areas where the usual masses occupy (and now an increase of students too), I set my sights on a remote sandbar located in northern Kyoto: Amanohashidate.

If you follow my adventures, you’ll know that I went to Amanohashidate last year after Nanoboro Festa in August (see An Eerily Beautiful Beach in Northern Kyoto).  However, because I visited the fishing village of Ine first that day, it was already dark when I reached Amanohashidate and I could only take pictures of the highly aesthetic neon-colored beach.  It was definitely worth the trip, but this time I wanted to arrive during the day time so I could take pictures from the top of the ropeway.  The ropeway is at the north end of the sandbar located in Kasamatsu Park, so you must arrive before 5pm if you want to get to the top.  Fortunately I made it there early and managed to take a lot of awesome photos!

I arrived at Amanohashidate Station from Kyoto Station around 2pm and decided to walk on the beach for a while.  It was windy and a bit chilly, but the coast was still beautiful to see because the sun was out.  All shops still seemed to be in operation here, and it was easy to ask people at the tourist center for directions.  A few Japanese tourists were here in addition to myself, but the numbers were considerably less than the summer.  I was happy because that meant I had the optimal photo opportunity.  I found it funny how Amanohashidate has an anime girl personification in addition to a cute pinecone mascot!

For lunch I grabbed a kani meshi (krab rice) bento and a small selection of sushi from Kyoto Station.  See my Tentacle Bento Article for more information about the best on-the-go lunches in Kyoto.  In addition to octopus, crab here is also amazing (sorry, Mr. Krabs)!

To cross the sandbar, you can either rent a bike for 200 yen/2 hours and ride 20 mins to the other side, or take a boat ride for 600 yen and cross it in 10 mins (from the Amanohashidate Official Tourism website).  I’m normally a biker, but since it was windy I opted for the boat ride.  A family and their dog joined me so I wasn’t alone.  Kasamatsu Park is just a short walk from Ichinomiya Pier and the chair lift is very fun to ride.

Here is footage from my GoPro of the sandbar and the chairlift.  It’s really amazing to see how big Kyoto is:

At the souvenir shop at the top of the mountain I found some nice oddities.  The pinecone nuts were very interesting, and even more so were the pastries with a design of a person staring at you while bent over.  Apparently this is the pose many people use in their photos with the sandbar when they reach the top.  I guess it looks cool because you can see the sandbar inbetween your legs but… why?  Stay weird, Japan.

After riding back down the chairlift, I spent my remaining time on the beach as planned.  I highly recommend coming here in the summer if you have time because it gives you some of the best views of Kyoto.  I would like to come in the summer again and attempt to go swimming here!

Access

Monju, Miyazu, Kyoto 626-0001 (from Amanohashidate Station)

Directions: From Kyoto Station, take the Hashidate Limited Express 5 towards Toyo-Oka.  This costs around 5000 yen but it has the fewest transfers and will get you there in 2 hours.  The express train also has an antique vibe to it and is fun to see.

I will be writing about fun places in Kansai as well as the all you can drink capsule hotel I found in central Kyoto next.  The fear of the virus has not stopped my traveling or events organized by my friends even though large scale events such as Anime Japan have been cancelled.  Please remember that it’s safe to travel in Japan if you continually wash your hands, use sanitizer, and practice good hygeine.

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

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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).

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Capybara bathe in Devilman: Crybaby.

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

Houtong: Home of the Cat Village and Taiwan’s Tastiest Pineapple Cakes

After hiking Elephant Mountain and paying a visit to Laomei Reef, I decided it was time to travel to Houtong━a village in Taiwan renowned for its high population of cats.  Similar to the origin of the rabbit island I visited last month in Japan, this was originally an old mining town that has attracted hundreds of cats (the former was a nuclear testing ground that is now overrun by rabbits).  Fortunately there are a number of residents, volunteers, and tourists that look after these cats every day.  If you are an feline lover, this is simply a day trip that cannot be passed up in Taiwan.

Getting to Houtong from Taipei is quite easy; from Songshan Station you can take a cheap 40 minute train directly to Houtong Station.  When you get off at the station, you will notice there are two exits; one goes up into the hillside of the village where most of the cats lounge around and play, and the other leads to the roadside with nearby souvenir shops and restaurants.  If you are eager to see the cats like I was, I would recommend taking the stairs to the hillside first.  In fact, you may even see some furry friends lounging around in the station!

There are a number of things about this village that really charmed me.  First of all, I loved how the cats acted like they owned the place.  They weren’t afraid of humans at all and some of them were actually very friendly despite having to put up with us invading their space every day.  I also loved the Neko Atsume cookies and pineapple cakes they were selling here.  The shops had so many free samples that I tried every flavor (the chocolate pawprint-shaped pineapple cakes happened to be my favorite).  I was informed by the shop owner that apparently these are the most delicious cakes in Taiwan, so I decided to bring back some souvenirs for my roommate and friends in Japan.  They definitely had the cutest shape out of all of the pineapple cakes that I had seen here!

I also enjoyed the simple decor of the village.  You could tell that the volunteers put effort into making helpful signs and guides for tourists as well.  These adorable cat-like ornaments were hung in the station:

It really doesn’t take that long to explore the village; I spent about an hour and a half doing photography and exploring the shops.  However, cat-watching is definitely something that you could spend all day doing.  You can purchase food for them at any of the shops or cafes (I stopped by one to order a vodka latte for myself so I could warm up).  I enjoyed watching this kitty run across the souvenir table:

Houtong truly reminded me of a mountain town in Japan because it was peaceful and had the same kind of atmosphere.  Other than the cats, there is a river and a number of temples that you can see nearby.  It is considered to be rural but the trains run here pretty frequently.  On the way back to Taipei, I decided to stop by the Golden Waterfall that you can reach by bus from the nearby Ruifang Station.  You could also combine this with a trip to the Jiufen lantern town if you want!

Unfortunately it was pitch dark when I reached the Golden Waterfall, but this is the best picture I managed to take:

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The Golden Waterfall at dusk.

Afterwards, I decided to go back and relax at my hotel.  This is trip is a great way to see the countryside east of Taipei and also see the unforgettable village run by cats.  Since Jiufen inspired Spirited Away, I can’t help but wonder if Houtong inspired The Cat Returns

Making a Wish and Getting Spirited Away: Exploring Lantern Towns in Taiwan

After exploring Yehliu Geopark, I traveled to the small railroad town of Chifen where I was able to paint my wishes on a lantern and set it off into the sky.  Chifen was originally used as a hub to transport coal, but it has now been re-purposed into a district of lanterns and shops that travelers can stop by on their way to Jiufen.  It’s a very quaint town, but is definitely worth seeing as it has a lot of history.

Most lanterns are available for purchase at 200 Taiwanese dollars.  You are then handed an ink brush by the shop keeper and are free to write whatever you wish on your lantern.  I was surprised at how large the lanterns actually were!  The staff will assist you with safely lighting it, then it will gradually inflate and soar into the sky.  Here is a video of me with my lantern just before it flew away (it was a very happy time for me):

Although this activity definitely falls into the tourist category, it was an extremely fun experience for me after living in Asia for over 4 years, not to mention a great beginning to 2020.  I like to spend my New Year’s doing different things each year and this was definitely unique.

The colors of the lanterns have slightly different meanings which you can see below.  You can choose to customize the colors of your lantern if you have enough time:

Afterwards, I took the bus to the nearby town of Jiufen that inspired the famous movie Spirited Away.  This mountain town actually resembles a lot of places I’ve traveled to in Japan, but the illuminated lanterns at night make it an entirely new experience.  It was once a prosperous area of Taiwan filled with gold mines but was then abandoned shortly after WWII when the gold rush ended.  It went through a period of depression, but now it has grown into a bustling area full of shops, street food, hotels, and sightseeing.  There are a number of places that you can hike to from here as well (I recommend seeing the Golden Waterfall which I’ll talk about later).  Arriving here at night/dusk is ideal so you can see all of the illuminations:

I was amazed at how much this town resembled scenes from Spirited Away!  They had Miyazaki souvenir shops everywhere to pay homage which was cute.  It’s truly inspiring how much this place has transformed.  Since I came here on the 2nd day of January, it was extremely crowded and difficult to move up the hills due to the sheer amount of people, but fortunately I was able to see the majority of the town within 2 hours.  If I ever come back to Taiwan, I definitely want to come to Jiufen again.  It’s actually quite small, but each time you climb the hill you start to notice new things so I think it takes multiple trips to see it all.

Now when I watch this movie trailer, I can’t un-see all of the sights I saw in Taiwan:

I definitely had my Chihiro moments as I wandered aimlessly around the illuminated streets, looking for a way out but also captured by the charm of this beautiful new world.  Last year I went to Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama, Japan, which also inspired Spirited Away.  One reason I love traveling in Asia is because it brings back so many memories of things I watched in my childhood.  I never want to leave!  One of my unwritten wishes is to continue immersing myself in culture so I can continue to learn more about the world and about myself.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Miracle Romance! A trip to Tokyo’s new Sailor Moon Restaurant: Shining Moon Tokyo

With its beautiful character design and story that have captured the hearts of people from around the world, it’s no wonder that Sailor Moon is still a popular series today.  As someone who grew up with the English dub of the anime in America, I am proud to say it is still one of my all time favorites.  Though there have been a number of pop-up Sailor Moon cafes that last for a limited time, a new and permanent theater show restaurant called Shining Moon has permanently opened this year.  I decided to check it out with one of my best friends and I genuinely enjoyed my experience here.  The live performances definitely added a lot to it!

During dinner time two immaculate shows with professional actors are performed.  One is recordable and the other is non-recordable.  Both will keep you on your toes because they feature a lot of fighting, singing, and dancing with colorful visuals.  One began with Usagi dancing at a ball with Tuxedo Mask, only to wake up and find it was all a dream!  Another was completely original and showed the girls visiting different areas of Tokyo (like Harajuku and Asakusa), then being swarmed by villians that they need to defeat.  The shows did a good job in showcasing each girl’s abilities and giving them equal time on stage.  It really felt like I was watching a live version of the anime.

At this time the restaurant only features the inner senshi and it is unknown if other characters will be featured.  I see it being possible in the future as long as this restaurant continues to attract customers (which it is).

Before entering the cafe, you must make a reservation online in advance (we did a few days before) and pay by using credit card.  This cafe is a bit more expensive compared to the other themed ones; dinner is 8500 yen for S seats and 7500 yen for A seats.  The lunch time option is only 3500 yen but doesn’t include the show.  However, a drink and a meal is included in all of these prices.  Here are some of the things that we ordered:

I genuinely enjoyed the Jupiter Seafood Pasta and Venus Crepes I ordered.  They had drinks for all of the Sailor Scouts too!  Every food item that you order comes with a free Sailor Moon plate which makes the entry fee worth it.  They also have a gift store you can buy special goods from.  The menu items seem to rotate every month, so please check the online menu in advance to see what’s available.  Fortunately they had some vegetarian options available.

At the end of the shows, all of the actors will come out and wave at you!  It was amazing to see them up close.  Their outfits were very detailed and they stayed enthusiastic until the very end.  It was a very memorable experience!

Address

〒106-0045 Tokyo, Minato City, Azabujuban, 1 Chome−10, ジュールA

Pop-up Sailor Moon Cafe (2017)

Earlier in 2017 I went to a pop-up Sailor Moon Cafe that was available for 2 months in Omotesando.  Here are some old photos that I took.  I really enjoyed the design of the Usagi and Mamoru pancakes, and the cotton candy Luna drink:

This cafe is now closed, but sometimes they have themed collaboration cafes that open in this rental space and it’s possible there will be another Sailor Moon one in the future.  I will be sure to write about it if it happen!

Visiting Shirakawago: A Traditional Japanese Village (Real-life Hinamizawa)

On my trip back home from Kaga Onsen Festival, I decided to stop at a traditional Japanese village called Shirakawago (白川郷) located in the mountainous Gifu Prefecture.  This village is extremely historic because it consists of traditional farmhouses that are over 250 years with the handwork of Japanese architecture that has been honed for many generations.  Visitors are free to explore and enter some of the houses for a small entrance fee, and there are several restaurants as well.  Remote from any major metropolis, this village is also the location of the fictional mystery/horror series Higurashi no naku koro ni called Hinamizawa.

“A flower raised in a greenhouse is still beautiful, even though it knows no adversity. But a flower growing in the field that has braved wind, rain, cold, and heat possesses something more than just beauty.” – Rena Ryuugu, Higurashi no naku koro ni

Since I was close to Kanazawa Station, I was fortunate to take only a two hour bus ride directly here.  From Tokyo, this village can take around 4-5 hours to reach depending on the train schedule (some trains only run once per hour).  The village gets dark at night, so most places close around 6pm-7pm for safety.  There is lodging available for those who wish to stay overnight, though I only stayed for around 3 hours which was plenty for me.

My biggest recommendation in Shirakawago is the Gasshozukuri Minkaen Outdoor Museum.  When you first get off the bus stop, the majority of shops you see are all aimed at tourists and only have souvenirs.  However, the outdoor museum is about a 15 minute walk away from this area and contains all preserved houses and a beautiful creek.  There are a total of 26 buildings you can see here, and the Jin Homura Art Museum is nearby so stop by for an inside look at some of his hand-painted works!

For lunch, I stopped by the Soba Dojo and had some delicious handmade buckwheat noodles–probably the best I had ever tasted!  I also tried some pumpkin bread from a bakery nearby, which wasn’t very sweet but was very wholesome made with all natural ingredients grown on the farm.  There are a number of places that serve traditional Japanese food in addition to soba.

Another place of interest is the nearby shrine, better known as Furude Shrine in Higurashi.  You can see the school and bridge from the anime as well.  The resemblance of the building structures is truly uncanny so those who have enjoyed the series, though the overall atmosphere of the village is very pleasant and welcoming!

On my way back, I decided to enter the Kanda and Wada houses, because they are two of the most famous.  Inside of the houses, you can climb all the way to the top, see the tools that they used in the past (you may see the inspiration for Rena’s hatchet design), and also enjoy some complimentary tea.

The last place I recommend is the Shirakawago Observatory, which is just a short hike up the hill next to the bus stop.  You can see the most amazing view of the village from this point (captured in the first image).

Unlike the eerie sensation the village gives off in the series, the actual Shirakawago is not haunted or fearsome.  It’s actually a great place to relax and take a great from the city, and the people are very friendly too.  All of the tourists that make the journey here are usually interested in history, so I’d rate this as a very good tourist attraction overall.

Sailor Neptune Nails from Nail Salon Glory (Tokyo)

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Since I decided to cosplay a swimsuit version of Michiru Kaioh/Sailor Neptune for a photoshoot, I wanted the most suitable nails for this character.  I looked at various nail catalogs online, but no design fit the one I had in mind so I decided to create my own.  Fortunately, most nail salons in Tokyo are able to create original nail designs using stencils, hand-drawn art, studs, and various gradients of polish.

I booked an appointment at Nail Salon Glory through Hot Pepper, and these were the amazing results I got:

My nails were absolutely gorgeous!  Since I have short nails, I requested the scalp nail course that will extend your tip to a custom length.  The nail artist used a combination of beige and turquoise glitter polish to create a gradient that looks like an ocean.  After painting a shiny coat over it, she added sea shells and pearl studs, as well as hand-drew the insignia on Neptune’s mirror that I requested.  I was almost speechless when our session ended because I was so impressed!

Most fancy nail courses start at 10,000 yen ($93), but they are worth the price for the amount of detail and effort that is put in.  There are various coupons that can be used to lower the price, like the ones featured on HotPepper.

Scalp nails last for typically 3 weeks and are perfect for every occasion.  Not only did I use them for my photoshoot, but they also matched the color of the ocean when I was swimming in Thailand.  I’m sure I’ll be back in the future once I think of more anime-based designs!