As I was doing some last minute Christmas shopping with my best friend in Shibuya, we accidentally stumbled upon the Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory Cafe on the 2nd floor of Shibuya Loft. I had heard about the new Kingdom Hearts rhythm game that had recently been released, but didn’t realize that there was a new cafe for for it. Additionally, I later read online that the story was told from Kairi’s point of view and featured a new scene at the end that set things up for the next game in the series. Though at first I thought the game sounded like a more theatrical Theatrhythm with KH characters, as someone who has played the series from adolescence and still loved the music I was sold. I bought the game for Switch and made a reservation for the cafe online for the following Monday evening with my friend.
The Kingdom Hearts Cafe in Shibuya Loft is running from December 11th, 2020 – January 11th, 2020, but the featured menu at the Square Enix cafes in Tokyo and Osaka are running until March 12th, 2021. To make a reservation, please see the Cafe Homepage (I highly recommend making a reservation).
The entrance to the Shibuya Loft KH Cafe is adorable and features artwork of the 4 teams and gameplay trailers on several large monitors. To prevent spread of the corona virus, you are asked to sanitize your hands and write down your order at the entrance as well as wear as mask until you are seated. We booked the final slot at 19:20 and were lucky because we almost had the cafe completely to ourselves!
The menu from this cafe has some magical entrees. We ordered Kairi’s Memories of Cream Stew that came with rice in the shape of a paopu fruit and Mickey’s Tuna Sandwich with his little emblem stamped on the bread. There were also rice dishes that bared a resemblance to the Agrabah and Neverland stages, but we decided to focus on the themed character dishes this time. We ordered the Friendship Strawberry Tea that came with a lot of fruit and a plastic cutout of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy and made a toast. Kingdom Hearts food is not only elaborate but also very good! Please see the full menu on the Cafe Homepage.
There are a lot of neat souvenirs available for purchase here, but some of these things were already previously available for purchase in the Square Enix shop. I would mainly recommend coming here to collect the coasters as they will only be available for the duration of the cafe. And most importantly; enjoy the music! All of the remixed songs in the new game sound really amazing!
My only complaint with this cafe is that they didn’t have a large variety of desserts like previous Square Enix Cafe collaborations. They had seasalt ice cream popsicles which are iconic to the series, but I really wished they had a cute music note parfait that I could order too!
For previous reference, here was the seasalt ice cream I had during the KHIII event at Artnia:
The little star-shaped sprinkles really added to the ambience and it was cool to be served ice cream on a mini platter. Definitely high-class service here.
I also ate Cloud’s sword during the FF7R event. Hilarious how this parfait is banana-flavored, of all things:
Though a lot of fans have mixed feelings about the direction that Nomura is taking the KH and FF7R series, both have been a huge part of my life since childhood and I look forward to going to more events for them now that I live in Japan. I am super excited for the next installment in the World Ends with You and hope to go to that cafe too.
Over the recent three-day holiday known as “Labor Thanksgiving Day” in Japan, I decided to venture to Kyoto once more in hopes of capturing the beauty of the red maple leaves on camera. The previous weekend I traveled to Ginzan Onsen and had a lovely experience there, but unfortunately since it is located in the north of Honshu most of the leaves from the red maples had already fallen. Since Kyoto is more to the south, I figured that mid-November would be the ideal time to visit. Fortunately I was able to do a ton of photography with both my new iPhone 12 Pro’s camera and my trusty GoPro Hero too. I also managed to eat at a lot of cute cafes and meet up with some old friends while experiencing the true Autumn essence of Japan. Yet another great adventure for the archive!
Nanzenji Architectural Temple
I departed from Tokyo immediately after my job on Friday via the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to avoid the holiday rush. After spending a quiet night at a guesthouse near Nijo Castle (read further below), I made my way to Nanzenji Temple, one of the most famous Zen temples in Japan that practices Buddhism. I’ve been to numerous temples and shrines in Kyoto already, but what drew me to Nanzenji was its aesthetic brick aqueduct that is frequently used as a photoshoot location for visitors wearing kimonos and weddings. During the Meiji Period it was actually used as part of a canal system from Kyoto to Lake Biwa in Shiga. Now its colors and architecture have weathered and faded making it look like a beautiful backdrop with the surrounding forest looming behind it.
I spent about an hour here doing self-portrait photography then wandered through the large complex of temples and gardens that are around here. I highly recommend visiting Tenjuan Temple because it has both a rock garden and a pond garden that make it look lovely in Autumn. I finally got to see the bright red maple leaves that I was dying to see here! The entrance fee is only 300 yen.
If you are interested in additional sightseeing, Kinkakuji and the Philosopher’s Path are really close to Nanzenji. But after all of this walking, I was hungry so I decided to grab some dessert!
Kotoba no Haoto
Since my next destination was located in the mountains north of central Kyoto, I decided to stop at a cozy bookshop that also serves adorable parfaits called Kotoba no Haoto. They have quite the impressive collection of books from everything from Kyoto guidebooks to cat-themed novels and are very welcoming to guests. I decided to order the seasonal parfait which consisted of a cat crafted out of vanilla ice cream and chocolate shavings and fresh fruit. It tasted even better than what I had imagined and was completely refreshing. I liked this cafe because I didn’t feel rushed here and could peacefully enjoy my dessert. After feeling fulfilled, I made my way to Mt. Hiei with renewed energy.
Originally I passed by the base of Mt. Hiei while I was on my way to the famed Rurikoin Temple. This temple is situated in a forest and has a pool of water inside that perfectly reflects the surface of its surroundings. The best time to go is in Autumn when the red maple leaves match the same red color of the interior of the temple. However, unbeknown to me entrance required prior online reservation from the months of October to December and I was not able to enter. Since I had traveled an hour by bus to get here, I decided that I would ride the cable car up Mt. Hiei instead and do some photography in the mountains. Fortunately it was only a 5 minute walk from the queue to Rurikoin so I did not lose much time. This is actually the longest cable car in Japan so I’m happy I went for the experience!
Mt. Hiei actually has both a cable car and a ropeway. To ride both roundtrip it costs around 1800 yen which is a bit expensive but the view is overall worth it. At the top you can see Garden Museum Hiei and also hike to see some temples in the mountains. I loved this museum because it had a lot of beautiful oil paintings that were carefully placed around groups of wild flowers and bushes. There was also a pond and you could see all of the mountains surrounding Kyoto and Shiga. The natural lighting and cool mountain air really added to the experience. If you come this far out it’s definitely worth the ascent because it gives you an entirely new view of Kyoto.
I descended around 4pm which was just in time to catch the golden hour when the sun shines through the trees and gradually begins to set. The path around the base of Mt. Hiei started to gleam with the flicker of lanterns and I felt as if I had been transported to a beautiful red world. Luckily I caught it all on camera. I loved how the Eizan Railway train I took back to the city center was marked with a red leaf too. This entire day went better than how I had originally envisioned it despite the minor setback.
Celebrations at L’Escamoteur
After experiencing the golden hour and feeling satisfied with the photos I had taken for the day, it was finally time for celebration! Coincidently one of my friends from Yamanashi was also in Kyoto and invited me to come to L’escamoteur with her. This bar is near Kawaramachi and is named after the French word for “magician” or “illusionist”. As the name implies the bartenders can whip up some pretty mysterious cocktails here. My friend and I have the same taste so we both ordered chocolate cocktails with brandy first. After kicking back the first round, we next ordered matching Kyoto-themed matcha cocktails that kind of look like おっぱい when placed side by side. We laughed at that and shared stories of our experiences in Kyoto. She also tried to go to Rurikoin Temple and could not get in without a reservation. Small world! We vowed to both see it next year during Autumn.
This bar definitely had the perfect atmosphere for catching up with old friends and I am happy I went here. Next time I would like to try a cocktail with an egg and this mysterious concoction I happened to capture on camera:
Due to the reduced prices of the hotels that are participating in the Go To Travel Campaign, I was able to stay at a backpackers guesthouse called Hostel Mundo for less than 1000 yen for 2 nights. I liked this guesthouse because it was located in a quiet area away from the crowds, but still had easy access to Kawaramachi and Kyoto buses. The rooms had cozy futons and the interior decor made me feel like I was in Thailand, but Hostel Mundo simulates the feeling of staying at a traditional Japanese house. Bike rental is also available and there are many hot springs nearby. Only a few other woman were staying here so I was able to sleep peacefully each night and wake up early for my next adventure. I would recommend this place to most people as it is very affordable and clean.
Thank you for reading Part 1 of my Autumn Adventures in Kyoto! Part 2 is already being drafted so please look forward to reading more from me soon~
After my recent encounter with Totoro in Miyazaki Prefecture, I just can’t seem to escape the Ghibli universe! But hey, I’m not complaining at all. Just recently a new Ghibli-themed cafe called Osu no Mori Cafe Kodama (大須の森カフェ コダマ) opened in the bustling Osu Kannon district of Aichi Prefecture. This place was recommended to me through my Instagram algorithms since I am an aesthetic food enthusiast. It’s still relatively unknown because it’s tucked away on the 4th floor of a building next to a trading card game store making it easy to pass by. The first time we tried to come here it was sadly closed for obon holiday. However, this time we were luckily able to enter and relive the nostalgia of these films once again while feasting on delicious food.
Because we had gone to the Higashiyama Zoo right before, we were just as hungry as these characters when we first walked in…
Immediately we were treated with outstanding service as the waiter gave us complimentary konpeito (star-shaped candy) and fans with Ghibli patterns to borrow so we could cool down from the vicious heat. We already felt at home here.
Onto the main event: The Food. Each dish is priced around 800 – 1200 yen and themed drinks are around 600 yen. Soft drinks and alcohol is also available for a relatively cheap price. We couldn’t believe how well-prepared everything was here:
“Sorry to eat your hat, Mei-chan…” – Me
“I hope your bacon burns.” – Howl’s Moving Castle
“Hold your [drink], commoner. You are in the presence of the king of Laputa.”
– Castle in the Sky
I appreciated all of the careful detail put into these menu items—they are truly one of a kind. I loved the cheese ribbon on my omurice and how they customized my order to be vegetarian. My boyfriend loved his super thicc bacon and how much the eggs resembled those from Howl’s Moving Castle. The drink I ordered was Laputa-themed and had a glowing ice cube that activated when you poured the mixer into the glass. How cool is that? Every menu item had some kind of figure or plush doll laying around so that you could associate it with what you were eating. Though the cafe is small in size, I’ve never seen any place so intricately decorated. This is an experience like nowhere else around here.
Here are a few more shots of the cafe. There are framed pictures, books, a little fireplace where Calcifer sits, and motifs everywhere you look. Additionally, Totoro requests that you sanitize your hands before entering!
In addition to what we ordered, there are also pancakes with a small cat print that resemble Jiji from Kiki’s Delivery service. There are also a ton of themed drinks based on the films that you can choose from. I would really like to order a bunch when I come back so I can experience them all!
Is it worth it?
Although I’ve had a number of wonderful dining experiences in Nagoya, this was by far one of the best themed cafes that I have ever been to. The service was top tier and the portion sizes were extremely generous for the price. Unlike the official cafe at the Ghibli Museum, Kodama has more creative dishes that resemble actual food from the movies. The interior design really brought the scenes to life as there were plush dolls and figures from every film surrounding you. The soundtracks from the movies playing softly overhead also brought back a lot of memories. I hope to see them expand their menu in the future to add some things from Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Porco Rosso! Overall it was completely worth the money we spent. My only real criticism is that they didn’t have many desserts (only pancakes and a cake that resembles a potted plant), but hopefully that will change with time.
After exploring the Kaiyukan Aquarium and meeting a fire bender on our first day in Osaka, we decided to take our second day at a more leisurely pace. Or so we thought. Despite all the drinking we did the night before, we surprisingly weren’t hungover so it was somewhat of a miracle. Craving Mediterranean and Halal food, I found a Michelen Star restaurant called Ali’s Kitchen right near our hotel. They have a large assortment of Pakistani and Arabic food that we heartily feasted on.
I ordered the Arabic salad and the Baba Ganoush that tasted like nothing I had ever eaten before. It was clear that a lot of special ingredients were used in this style of cooking to give it such an amazing taste. Plus it was extremely healthy too! My boyfriend ordered the keema curry and I could tell by the look on his face that he thoroughly enjoyed it too. This restaurant definitely deserves 5 stars:
Feeling satisfied, we decided to walk around American Street (also called Ame Mura) to see some of the latest Osaka streetwear and colorful architecture. Honestly, the aesthetics here were off the chart. Some of my favorite things that we found was a coffee shop called W/O Stand with a fake vending machine door, a shoe brand called “Dr. ASSY”, colorful fashion and logos, random shrines, and a giant mall with jungle-like foliage called Big Step. I snagged an ASICS jacket for half-off here and they had neon bathrooms too! Plus free table hockey! The highlight was when my boyfriend lost the game by ricocheting the puck off my side and directly into his goal. Good times.
We then decided to explore the “Kyoto of Osaka” and see Mizukake Fudo, a beautiful Buddhist statue that has been covered in moss. This temple is very small but is surrounded by a lot of unique restaurants and bars. The path is connected by Dotonbori’s central streets but it has more of a Gion feel to it. While we were here a small ceremony was going on. Monks were humming and chanting prayers. We left a donation to show thanks and then quietly made our way to our next destination.
My boyfriend decided we should first see Denden Town (the central otaku hub), and then proceed to the old arcades in Shinsekai. I remember going to a maid cafe in Denden Town years ago while I was interviewing for jobs in Osaka. However, I don’t think I had ever seen Shinsekai before because usually I stay in Dotonbori (for sake of parties). Fortunately the two areas are close enough that you can easily walk between them on foot. I was so happy to experience Shinsekai because it preserves the old 80s feel of Japan with its smokey Mahjong parlors and 50 yen arcades. The claw machines here are absolutely hilarious too.
We played Street Fighter and Time Crisis 3 here for a long while and walked around the illuminated streets. There were less people around due to the pandemic but this place still had a lot of charm. I could see Tsutenkaku Tower here and snap some really good pictures. I would really like to come back here and try some sushi in the future! Maybe even spend a night here too!
As we were walking back up Dotonbori to go to the famous hammock cafe called Revarti, we came across a completely random, unannounced matsuri here. Gotta love the Osaka life.
Sadly to our dismay the hammock cafe’s hours had been drastically changed due to the pandemic. Instead of staying open until midnight, they now only stay open until 5pm. Closing at happy hour should be a crime but I vow to come back here some day when they are open. We decided to initiate our backup plan which was the 200 yen bar called Moonwalk and drink cheaply to our heart’s content. The entrance fee is 500 yen, but every drink you order after that is only 200 so you can drink like a sultan. They have all sorts of liqueur that you can experiment with too. My personal favorites are the Dalgona Coffee made with Kahlua and the ice cream grasshopper. Each drink has stats like a Jojo character so you can strategically plan out how shit-faced you’re going to get:
After about an hour of this we were tipsy and ready for the next destination. Our friend who owns the best gaming bar in Osaka, Space Station, invited us out and we drank more coffee drinks and an original cocktail called “Ecco the Dolphin”. We then plopped in the most Australian Bomberman (Bomberman 3) and also played some Nidhogg. I enjoyed looking out the Slime-tinted windows and into the night. The design of this bar is iconic.
After chatting for a good while, we were invited to a music party at Sound Garden. The genre was supposed to be house and techno so I was totally down. The best part about this bar was it had a super comfy couch with a pillow that said “Fuck Tokyo. I [heart] Osaka”. We sat on the couch and laughed about this for a good while. It’s really true.
I was talking about music in Michigan and right as I mentioned Eminem, the DJ started playing “Sing for the Moment“. That was our cue to get up and dance. I was completely lost in the moment and let go of my fears and anxiety. I can’t believe how amazing this trip had turned out! Though our initial plans had slightly derailed, I was so happy that we were here together. A sensation of euphoria came over me and after a while I wanted to wander by the river outside. The music ended around 3am and we decided to make our way there. There was a light rain in the air but it felt fantastic on our skin after dancing that long. The river in Dotonbori had the most beautiful reflections that night:
As the sun rose we cuddled and listened to “P.S. You Rock My World” by Eels. There were kids blasting EDM under the bridge and their playlist accidentally shuffled to “Last Christmas”. It kind of felt like Christmas in July, in a way. I really didn’t want for that night to end but eventually we drifted off to sleep. What happens in Osaka stays in Osaka.
We left a few hours later at 11:30am via the Willer Express Bus and headed back to Nagoya. However, we couldn’t leave without first picking up a souvenir:
This was hands down the best trip to Osaka that I have ever had. There was never really a dull moment—all of it was a highlight reel. I hope to travel again with my boyfriend to Kyoto in the fall and hopefully make another trip back here. Thank you all for reading up to this point! Since we are currently unable internationally, this is the best alternative we could have asked for.
For the duration of the 4 day consecutive summer holiday known as “Marine Day” in Japan, my boyfriend and I decided to take our very first trip together to bustling city of Osaka! We chose this destination because it’s much more laid-back than Tokyo and there is a myriad of things to do and see here. You can walk by the river and sip on a Strong Zero while being right in the heart of the city where there’s never a dull moment. I’ve traveled to Osaka about 10 times (mainly for music events), but I still haven’t seen it all. This time I was most excited to see the Kaiyukan Aquarium and go to the old school arcades with my boyfriend who is a fighting game fanatic. Along the way we discovered so many delicious restaurants and made heartfelt memories that I’ll never forget.
We departed from Nagoya via the Willer Express Bus at 8:30am. This was a good move because it was cheaper than the shinkansen and we could peacefully sleep on it. We arrived to the Umeda Sky Building (in central Osaka) around 11:30 where we walked to La Tartine for coffee and some sweets. I found this cafe through my Instragram algorithms and wanted to try the dog macaroon because it reminded me of Pasocom Ongaku Club’s mascot. I also tried a cookie with a beach design that tasted amazing. All of the desserts were intricately made here. Incidentally, we also got a free coffee jelly as a gift for discovering this cafe through Instagram. How nice♫~
Next we made our way towards our hotel in Shinsaibashi and decided to get some okonomiyaki for lunch at Hanahana since it was nearby. Not only was this place absolutely delicious, but it was dirt cheap too. I ordered shrimp okonomiyaki and my boyfriend got a mix of pork and seafood in his. It was such a satisfying meal:
Since our hotel wasn’t quite ready to check in to, we dropped off our stuff and headed straight to Kaiyukan Aquarium which I had never been to before! This is one of the most famous aquariums in Japan so I figured it would be the perfect date spot. Unfortunately since it was a holiday, a lot of other people had the same idea so we had to wait an hour to enter. Luckily it was worth the wait. I had been to Japan’s largest aquarium in Okinawa years ago, but I hadn’t been to another one in ages so this was refreshing. In addition to colorful schools of fish, smiling stingrays, and the “Silence Brand” crab, they also had capybara which is my favorite animal there too! My boyfriend most enjoyed the waddle of penguins (yes, a group of penguins is actually called a “waddle”):
We were very impressed with the large variety of sea creatures here! I also loved seeing the “Keep distance” penguin sign, though it was an impossible challenge for the over-excited Japanese children here. I also liked the message that said “all things are connected” at the end. It really had me thinking for a while. By the time we finished seeing all of the exhibits here, we were exhausted. This aquarium is quite huge compared to other underwater exhibits in Japan.
Admission Fee: 2,550 yen (worth in in my opinion)
Not wanting to miss out on every food opportunity that life presented us, we stopped for ramen and ice cream. The two main food groups. I bought a capybara souvenir at the aquarium so I could forever remember this moment. This isn’t the first time this has happened. My boyfriend chose to eat ramen at Zundoya which has a branch in Osaka. He said it was some of the best that he’s had in a while. I tried the Pokemon ice cream flavors at Bakin Robbins, but unfortunately they didn’t live up to the hype. I give them a 6/10 because they taste like sugary melted soda. They would be much more satisfying if they contained vodka. Fortunately that’s what we had next…
Yet another bar that ended up in my Instagram algorithms was called Mixology Bar Factory & Gear. And boy, it did not disappoint. It was here that we met a fire bender and drank magical cocktails from the galaxy. My boyfriend also ordered a Tuxedo Mask-esque drink and another drink that was wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer. I ordered the “Little Planet” (pictured above) and a mysterious pineapple drink with a bubble that you can pop. Watching the video is easier than explaining it. This is peak aesthetic:
The taste of all of these drinks can be described as “works of art” but this Tweet sums our experience up the best:
Condensing an entire late night astrology program into a glass and lacing it with acid has been the most fun my mouth has ever had. Dope ass cocktail. https://t.co/rT2DIkts5Z
If you have time, please check this bar out! The average cost of drinks is 1300 yen but I promise that you won’t be disappointed. There’s also some “Viagra Liqueur” (the opposite of whiskey dick) for those who are feeling adventurous. We will remember this bar for the rest of our lives.
Where to Stay
Normally I stay at Asahi Capsule Hotel when I’m alone since it’s one of the cheapest places in Osaka, but since I came here with someone special I wanted to stay somewhere a bit nicer.
This time I chose Felice Hotel because it was only 5000 yen per night for 2 people. This was within walking distance of Dotonbori and all of the bars we wanted to go to so it was the perfect choice. Our bed was huge and extremely comfy. There is also a public onsen bath and a rooftop bar that you can visit. I would honestly love to stay here again!
The worst days will end. The best days will end. Remember that. From 6/25/2020 – 7/12/2020, there is a special MOTHER exhibit featuring works by Americart and 35 different manga artists on the 8th floor of the Shibuya Parco building. As an avid fan of the series, I had to go the very first day the gallery opened up. It’s completely free so if you live in Tokyo you have no excuse not to check it out. You won’t be disappointed!
Though I wasn’t initially familiar with the artists, the artwork on display has a tasteful style that fits the theme of the games. You will see familiar characters from all of the series and be lost in nostalgia as familiar music from the series is plays overhead. Seeing this really made me want to go back and play all of the games again:
There are photo spots where you can pose with Ness’s hat and various characters from the series. I love how the hand sanitizer was creatively incorporated into this exhibit too. It definitely gave me a laugh! There is a monitor where you can see the speed paint process of Americart’s work too. There was a ton of effort put into this and it really shows:
In addition to the Pollyanna art book and comic anthologies, there are T-shirts, bags, pixel charms, jewelry, and plushies for sale. Unfortunately the giant Mr. Saturn plushies on display are not for sale, but you can purchase a miniature one that comes with a house for 2500 yen. I picked up the Mr. Saturn bag for a mere 600 yen. It has amazing quality and is super stylish. I can’t wait to wear it out! I am so happy I had the chance to experience yet another nostalgic videogame exhibit.
Since I’ve finished my Jeju Island article series, I’m going to write about some of my favorite places to hang out in Seoul next. It’s hard to structure this article because there are literally so many cool areas of the city! My two favorite districts in Seoul are by far Itaewon and Gangnam. Both have extremely different vibes but are perfect for a night out depending on what my mood is. Itaewon is friendliest and most international while Gangnam is the fanciest district is Seoul. Even though I can’t speak Hangul, I never have trouble making friends in this city. Spontaneously getting invited to a bachelor’s party while staying here was one of the coolest things that have ever happened to me in a foreign country. I’ve been to Korea three times and hope to visit again when international travel is possible again.
Without further ado, here are the most fun places that I’ve discovered:
Common Ground is an urban mall that was built out of containers and is really fun to explore. Unlike other malls, there’s not a huge mob of annoying shoppers here because those type of people usually go to the fancier malls in the center of the city. Common Ground features small designer stores and also has restaurants and live music. A lot of stores here import brands too. No matter what your price range is, you can usually find something that fits your taste here. I actually didn’t buy much but I had fun doing photography with the winter illuminations outside. There was also a statue of an astronaut outside and some replicas of Roman statues inside the main building when I visited. How aesthetic!
While I was walking around here, a Korean student came up to me and interviewed me for a university project. Since I didn’t have a strict itinerary during my first trip, I happily participated. She asked me various questions about my country and also gave me some Korean snacks. Though it was a simple project, I was happy that I could help out. Common Ground is close to many universities so it’s great for socializing and meeting people!
Lotte World is one of the most famous amusement parks in Korea. In fact, it’s the largest indoor theme park in the world—which is why I had to go! It’s located in the massive Lotte Mall that has hundreds of shops and food from all around the world. If you are looking for top tier shopping in Seoul, then this is the place. I came after the start of the new year so the park had a winter theme. Fortunately it wasn’t very crowded and I could ride all of the rides that I wanted! There are carousels, roller coasters, haunted houses, and my personal favorite: The Balloon Ride. You can see the entire indoor park and mall from the top which makes it an amazing experience.
Even though Lotte World is owned by Lotte Co. Ltd., there are actually a lot of parallels between it and Disney Land. For example, the outside of Lotte World resembles the Disney World Castle. It also has a beautiful lake that you can view by walking across a bridge that leads to the artificially created “Magic Island” which is a lot like Disney Sea. Despite these similarities, the attractions are quite different and the entrance to Lotte World is considerably cheaper. If you like one park, you’ll probably like the other too.
I would recommend checking out Lotte World as opposed to other amusement parks because you can come here in any kind of weather thanks to the indoor park area.
Entrance Fee: 32$ for adults (cheaper than most amusement parks in Japan so it’s overall worth it)
The Jogyesa Temple in Insadong, Seoul is probably my favorite temple of all time in Korea. I first came here during the Lotus Festival in April and many bright hand-crafted paper ornaments were hung around the entire complex. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was! Jogyesa is actually the center of Buddhism in Korea and many rituals and ceremonies are held here. There are private prayer rooms as well as places that you can make public offerings. The Chinese Scholar Tree was planted on the temple grounds because it is said to convert negative energy into positive energy and happiness. Though I’m not particularly religious, I definitely felt in high spirits here. Please check this place out if you ever get the chance. The monks are very friendly and welcoming.
I enjoyed seeing the English pack of M&Ms being used as an offering when I went:
Entrance Fee: Free
Myeongdong is essentially the Shibuya/Harajuku of Seoul. You can come here at any time of day and find something fun to do. It has street food, hilarious fashion (“say no to kids, drugs”), recreational parks, and cafes galore. The street and night markets have knock-off Gucci and Supreme which you can score for a low price. I enjoyed eating octopus and drinking sochu while I walked through all the streets and alleyways.
Some of my favorite places I found around Myeongdong Station were:
Artbox – An adorable mall with art supplies, cosmetics, and accessories. It reminded me of the LINE Friends store in Japan but had way more variety.
Stylenada 3CE – A pool-themed shopping mall and cafe with beautiful pink decor. It has amazing desserts!
Bbongsin – An amazing restaurant with cold noodles and calzones. Some of the best Korean food I’ve ever had!
Milky Bee – An ice cream shop with flower-shape gelato.
Myeongdong has bars that stay open late, but not much of a club scene. Continue reading to see my recommendations for clubs:
Ever since the song “Gangnam Style” became a hit song, I feel like this district doesn’t really need an introduction but I’ll give it a go anyway. Gangnam is the most upscale district in Seoul but you can enjoy the nightlife here with almost any budget. In addition to some of the most reputable clubs, it has secluded parks you can walk through by the river side and amazing cafes. Gangnam itself is pretty spread out so people don’t normally drink in the streets like in Itaewon. It’s classy and has a club area as well as a quiet upscale residential district as well.
My first memory of Gangnam was meeting up with some of my old college friends here and going to Octagon, where we got invited to VIP tables and drank champagne. If you’re a girl then it’s really easy to meet people that will buy you drinks here. The crowds and sound system are pretty insane too. I honestly got too lit my first time here so I’d really like to come back and just focus on the music next time.
Last year I decided to get my eye bags removed at JK Plastic in Gangnam. I had sunken eyelids that were caused by genetics so the veins under my skin would show and create permanent eye bags. I always looked tired and wanted to fix the issue so I opted for eye surgery. I chose JK Plastic because they are one of the highest-rated clinics in Korea and speak English. It took about a week of downtime in Korea and then six weeks of recovery at home, but the skin beneath my eyelids has been fully restored now! When I woke up from surgery I nearly cried because they did such an amazing job and I could already see the results despite having a swollen face. During my down time I played visual novels and also watched a lot of anime. It wasn’t so bad—just make sure you have enough time off to take care of yourself!
Plastic surgeons in Korea are the best in the world. The advantage of going here is that if you’re a tourist you can get a tax refund from the surgery when you go to the airport. I would not recommend plastic surgery in Japan because my friends have said the surgeons here are not as experienced or friendly. I would recommend doing research, scheduling an online consultation with a clinic you like, and seeing what options fit you best. I may write a full article on this at a later time!
Itaewon is my favorite place to start my night out in Seoul. I have so many fond memories here. It caters to the late-night international crowd and has small, condensed streets as well as beautiful murals that decorate the walls. You can sit at an outdoor bar or go drinking in the street and easily meet people (both tourists and Korean nationals). You can find pretty much any type of restaurant or dessert shop here too. It has the feel of a college town but is much more upscale and classy. Usually I spend my first night going to various clubs and bars then wake up and soak in Itaewon Land Spa.
My favorite club here is called Cakeshop because it features a lot of independent producers from both Seoul and other countries plus it has a great vibe. It originally caught my eye because Carpainter did a set here in 2015 (unfortunately I was in America at the time or I would have gone). The club is small enough with one DJ booth and bar that it’s easy to converse with people and enjoy the music. I have made a number of friends here that I still stay in touch with. The entry fee usually isn’t more than $25.
Besides Cakeshop, Fountain is a great place to check out. The first floor is huge dance floor that’s always usually packed and the upper floors have tables and arcades for bigger groups. The music here is usually western EDM which disinterests me, but the atmosphere of the club is impressive. I have never paid any entrance fee when I have gone in. What I remember of Club Awesome was awesome too!
Next time I’m here I really want to check out a club called Pumpkin. If it’s actually Halloween-themed like its outer decor implies then I’m in.
Other Interesting Places:
Hongdae – Hongdae is a popular spot for college students and those who love K-pop music clubs. I came here to visit the ADERerror store and also to do some shopping. I didn’t like it as much as Itaewon or Gangnam due to my music taste, but I highly recommend you spend a night exploring here and see what you think.
I found an amazing “Magical Item Shop” called Creamy DD with tons of Sailor Moon and other magical girl accessories here. It’s easy to spot the sign if you walk down the main road:
Ihwa Mural Village – Since I went to Busan and saw Gamcheon I skipped this village, but if you are looking for beautiful murals and art to see then please check this place out! I want to go here in the future.
Secret Garden – A scenic area around Changdeokgung Palace that I recommend checking out if you have the time. It is one of the most beautiful gardens in Seoul!
Nami Island – A scenic island near Seoul where many K-dramas are filmed. Click the link to read my full article on it!
Places to Stay
As a backpacker, I favor cheap hostels but the majority of accommodations in Korea are less expensive than in Japan. You can likely find a nice hotel for $45 USD or less too.
Here are some of the places that I stayed at and enjoyed in Korea. I booked them close in proximity to the clubs I was interested in checking out:
Guesthouse Yacht (Itaewon) – A very inexpensive apartment-style dorm in the heart of Itaewon. This is my go-to place if I’m spending the night there because it’s safe, quiet, and conveniently located.
Kimchee Guesthouse (Gangnam) – A guest house near Gangnam City Office that has private and dorm rooms. I stayed here during my eye surgery recovery period and it was perfect because my room had a shower inside it. This is the cheapest you will get in the fanciest part of the city, I assure you.
Neo Seoul Guesthouse – I wanted to try staying in Hongdae for a night, so I chose this place because of the cool name. It was cheap and I could easily access the airport limousine the next day so I recommend it for its convenience (Itaewon and Gangnam are a bit further away).
This will be the last article about Korea that I write until my next trip! Since I live in Japan, I can sometimes find cheap round-trip flights for under $150 so I come here usually once a year for a week long vacation. Usually new restaurants and venues open, plus cosmetics and beauty clinics are really cheap here so I always have something to look forward to. Until next time, Seoul!
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 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!
After exploring the east and west side of Jeju Island and climbing Mt. Hallasan, I decided to spend my final day on the island relaxing and seeing some of the places that most tours don’t cover (such as the sex museum and private beaches). Since I don’t have an international license, I had my hostel help book me a private taxi driver. The average cost of private taxi drivers in Jeju is about $150 USD per day but hiring one is much easier than trying to use the local buses. The duration of the taxi session is around 9 hours and you can easily see all of the things you want to see without hassle. Hilariously, all the English-speaking drivers were booked already due to high demand but I was able to book a Japanese one. Without further hesitation I set off for my fifth and final day on the island and hoped for the best! Fortunately the weather was on my side.
See Iho Tewoo Beach & Gwakji Beach
Jeju has around eight popular swimming beaches in total, but I chose to travel to the two most photogenic ones. Iho Tewoo Beach is famous for its two horse-shaped lighthouses. I wanted to see them in person so this was the very first destination I chose! Unfortunately it was bit too cold to go swimming, but I just liked being on an empty and relaxing beach. Apparently this beach is extremely popular during the summer because you can go for boat rides here, but during late April when I went it was extremely peaceful and quiet. Just what I wanted after all of the exhausting hiking that I did!
I picked up some amazing octopus at a nearby restaurant here. Raw Korean octopus tastes amazing:
After I had my fill, I decided to head to Gwakji Beach which is much livelier because there are a lot of resorts around it. None of the resorts on Jeju are particularly fancy, but the cafes sure are. I decided to try Mônsant which is owned by G-DRAGON purely because of its flawless architectural design. You can see the ocean through the panes of glass while sipping on delicious coffee. I ordered a strawberry smoothie and couldn’t believe the view that I was seeing:
I tried to go swimming here, but the beach shore was a bit rocky so I was reluctant. Jeju’s beaches are more designed for soaking up the atmosphere rather than actually getting soaked. I didn’t mind though, because Gwakji Beach definitely had a nice vibe. In addition to posh cafes there were squids being sun-dried and local food stalls around. I appreciated the diversity of food here.
One hilarious and slightly creepy trend here I saw was having photos of couples and babies printed onto lattes. I’m usually quite adventurous when it comes to food, but I don’t know if I’d have the courage to drink myself… This is just too realistic:
Nexon Computer Museum
The next stop was my favorite museum of all time in Korea: The Nexon Computer Museum. Nexon is the company responsible for creating Maple Story and the longest running commercial graphic MMO in the world: Baram, also known as Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds. I was really surprised to see that a modest company in Korea had this award; which makes me think that Nexon is seriously underrated so naturally I wanted to learn more.
Ah yes, the infamous Sex Museum of Korea. I’ll admit I was a bit embarrassed coming here by myself, but I was on vacation so I figured why the hell not? Jeju Loveland is an art museum of erotic outdoor sculptures and has an indoor collection of various adult toys. What’s good is that it promotes a safe approach to sex and only admits entry to adults (honestly I’ve seen enough pedophilia in Japan bookstores and this was a much classier attraction). “Various romantic and sexual art works are waiting for you.” the official website says. I liked the ambiguity of the upside-down sculptures submerged in water… But I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination. Definitely see it if it fancies you!
Entrance Fee: $9 USD (not bad)
Jeju Horse Park
Before having my driver drop me off at the airport so I could take my flight back to Seoul, I decided to make one more stop at Jeju Horse Park. I was wearing the most extra outfit because I was shooting pictures on the beach just before, but once again I figured why not! I was on vacation and I wanted to ride a horse one last time. This was the perfect way to end my Jeju Chronicles. I had successfully accomplished everything that I had planned so this was yet another perfect trip to commemorate. The park has a really laidback approach and you can choose multiple routes around the mountains and seaside. I couldn’t use my camera because I was riding, but I had an amazing time! There was a guide who was keeping close watch on me so I felt safe at all times. Horseback riding is a great way to see Jeju Island and is relatively cheap so you should try it at least once while you’re here.
Entrance Fee: $10-$20 USD depending on how long you go.
As this article implies, I had a phenomenal time on Jeju Island and would recommend it to all my friends. There were a few issues with the language barrier here and there, but island people are some of the friendliest people that you will ever meet. I really treasured all of my time here. I was also able to speak Japanese in a few instances and find my way around. Google Maps aren’t always reliable in South Korea so I would do your research on what attractions you want to see before coming here. That’s it really. Once you arrive at Jeju, you’ll find that the island is small enough that you can easily navigate and fit in all the activities you want. Jeju is by far the most beautiful place in South Korea and you should definitely give it a chance because it has activities for everyone!
Over the weekend I decided to re-visit Gifu Prefecture and see if it’s famous water lily pond in Seki was worth the hype. This originally nameless pond has been nicknamed “Monet’s Pond” (モネの池) by the locals because it closely resembles the Water Lilies art series painted by Claude Monet in the late 1800s. Depending on the season and the weather, the scenery of the pond can vastly change. Some online reviews have said that Monet’s Pond is a vibrant place that is a spitting image of the artwork, while others have dismissed it for appearing as murky and overrated. It’s somewhat humorous to see the variety of scrutiny this place gets (both in English and Japanese).
My favorite review comes from “Kevin B” on Google:
“It is nice, but professional photograph[s] ruined it for me. My expectations were too high, don’t trust the pictures on the Internet.” – Kevin B
This could be true of any place, anywhere—don’t trust the pictures on the internet. Kevin B’s review implies if you set your expectations too high, you will be undoubtedly disappointed. Especially since the pond is located in a considerably remote location with infrequent transportation. But as an adventurer, reading that description just made me want to travel here even more so I could see it for myself.
Fortunately I was not disappointed because the photos I captured look complementary to the artwork:
Fun Fact: I didn’t actually look at any of the Water Lilies paintings until after I went to the pond because I didn’t want my expectations to be warped. I only looked at them for reference in order to accurately write this article.
Here is a gallery of photos that I took. The pond is quite small in size, but depending on where you stand you can see an entirely different reflection in the water:
I was lucky because I got the chance to see Monet’s Pond in both sunny and cloudy weather in the hour that I was there. During sunny weather the pond perfectly reflects the clouds in the sky giving it that dream-like oil painting aesthetic. During cloudy weather it looks a lot darker, but with the floating water lilies it still appears beautiful. Perhaps in the colder months it looks more bare and devoid of color, thus provoking the negative reviews. Coming in June gave me the perfect experience though. I was extremely satisfied with what I saw.
In this video the Koi look like they’re swimming through the clouds:
If you search for pictures of the pond online, you will see mixed results. Some photos have been purposely edited with filters and textures to look more like the paintings. However, the photos on the Official Gifu Tourism Website look pretty natural. I used both my iPhone’s camera and my GoPro so I could closely compare the detail. I only edited the lighting and shadows slightly in the photos I posted here because the sunlight was already optimal. It is recommended to come in the summer and fall months for the best viewing but the pond is open year-round.
Even if we can’t trust the internet, one thing we all can agree on is that this cheesecake replica of Monet’s Pond is awesome:
Not gonna lie, seeing this cake was another huge inspiration for my journey here. Perhaps Gifu Prefecture will some day replicate this idea and create a cafe with food and souvenirs based on the pond like many other places in Japan. Until then, enjoy this capitalist-free piece of nature.
From Gifu Station take the N83 bus towards ほらどキウイプラザ行き (Horado Kiwi Plaza) and get off at the last stop. I was a bit disappointed to see that there were no kiwis here (this is simply a parking lot on the side of a highway). From the bus stop at the parking lot you will see a small van waiting adjacent to the bus. The van’s time tables are aligned with the local buses so you can take it for free to Monet’s Pond. The bus ride takes about 1.5 hours, and the van ride takes 15 mins, so the total travel time is around 1 hour and 45 mins. Though this is a bit of a journey, the ride only costs 670 yen and the pond has no entrance fee making it one of the cheapest attractions in Gifu.
If you like seeing the country side of Japan and don’t mind riding the bus, then I would recommend this trip to you. Just be sure to watch the weather and get there early so you have enough time to take pictures and return to the station. Besides the pond, there’s really not a lot to do in Seki. There’s a local shrine and a few places to eat, but most of the area is used for farming. After seeing the pond I went to Nagoya to spend time with my friends because there’s much more to do there. This was a great escape from reality though. I was happy to confirm that the pond does indeed resemble the real artwork and is not just a hoax.
If you are interested in seeing more attractions in Gifu Prefecture, please check out my Your Name and Gero Onsen articles!