Exploring Aesthetic Museums and Glass Shrines on Naoshima

Glass shrine floating on a pond at the Benesse House Art Site.

Over the last three days I have been traveling through a chain of tropical art islands in Shikoku with a friend and seeing a lot of aesthetic architecture. The main island we’ve been staying on is Naoshima, which I first visited roughly five years ago. The other two islands we visited are called Shodoshima and Teshima, which you can reach from Noashima by ferry. Naoshima is known for its works by artists like Tadao Ando and Yayoi Kusama which showcase the “coexistence of nature, art and architecture“. Shodoshima is famous for its Olive Park that inspired the location of Kiki’s Delivery Service. Teshima is famous for its large concrete shell called “Matrix”. In this article series I will be talking about the best things I’ve discovered on them all, starting with Naoshima!

Getting to Naoshima

The best two ways to get to Naoshima are to fly to Takamatsu or Okayama and take a ferry to Naoshima from their respective ports. Since tickets from Narita Airport to Takamatsu Airport were cheaper, we decided to fly there for around 27000 yen. However, you can purchase airline tickets at a much cheaper price if you buy them in advance. The ferry ride from Takamatsu Port is about an hour and costs 550 – 1200 yen depending on if you take the high speed ferry or not. The entire trip takes about 3 hours from Tokyo so plan to leave early and reference the ferry time table so you get their early. Most things on Naoshima Island close by 7pm. I recommend renting a bike near the port so you can cover the most ground.

Slowpoke is the unofficial mascot of Takamatsu, so be sure to keep an eye out for his vending machine and airport limousine (which fortunately was on time)! There is also Slowpoke Udon (called Yadon Udon) you can purchase in select omiyage stores.

Art Sites around Miyanoura Port

We arrived to Naoshima’s Miyanoura Port at 11am and decided to take some pictures of the Red Pumpkin and the Naoshima Pavilion, which are both two free exhibits that you can climb inside! Much like some of the art we saw in Aomori earlier this year, these works were vibrant and interactive. After snapping some photos, we rented electric bikes from a nearby store for the three days we were staying and decided to make our way around the island. The best thing about Naoshima is that it can be fully explored by bike so you don’t need to wait for any buses!

Go’o Shrine

The Go’o Shrine is a small wooden shrine atop a hill with very intricate stairs made out of glass. This was my first time seeing a shrine like this so it was very awe-inspiring. Go’o Shrine is actually part of the Art House Project that turns abandoned or destroyed places into works of art and is considered to be a real Shinto shrine. You should definitely stop by and pay your respects if you have the time because the entrance is free.

Entrance Fee: Free
Address: 〒761-3110 Kagawa, Kagawa District, Naoshima, 宮ノ浦820

Benesse House & Benesse Art Site

The Benesse House is arguably Naoshima’s most famous museum complex designed by Tadao Ando. My favorite work of art here is a neon sign that illuminates several phrases that have to do with living and dying. I first visited this museum five years ago, but it was so great to finally see it again! This time we decided to eat wagashi and green tea at the tea house attached to the Benesse Hotel. The tea was the best I’ve ever had in Shikoku so I definitely recommend it to my fellow tea enthusiasts. I also liked how they had a miniature model of the Go’o Shrine here! It felt so neat seeing it after seeing the real thing! There is also a glass shrine floating on top of water outside of the teahouse which was one of my favorite things that I discovered on this trip. The walkway has colorful sculptures of various animals you can see. The whole composition of the Benesse House is unrivaled, making it one of my top museums in Japan.

For a comprehensive list of Naoshima museums, please see my previous Naoshima article.

Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden

Outside from the Benesse House Museum is a garden full of metal balls called the “Narcissus Garden” designed by Yayoi Kusama. What I found amazing is how they were made of stainless steel and were resistant to the weather. Seeing them balanced on stairs and floating in the lake was quite impressive, especially with the natural lighting. Within this garden you will also find 88 Buddha statues made of industrial waste designed by Tsuyoshi Ozawa. These statues are said to inspire prayer within visitors to the garden. Since this exhibit is free if you have purchased a ticket to the Benesse House museum, you should definitely see it!

Lunch at the Benesse Cafe

While at the Benesse House, we decided to stop at the Benesse Cafe for lunch. Not only does it have a fantastic view of the outdoor sculptures, but the food is delicious too! I ordered the tomato pasta which was completely vegetarian, and a lemon float with served in an iconic Naoshima glass with a Yayoi Kusama print. Both tasted amazing, and the glass is purchasable in the shop if you would like to take it home as a souvenir.

Beach & Dinner at New Olympia

After a full day of sightseeing, we decided to relax at Gotanji Beach near the Benesse House and go swimming. When I first came to this beach 5 years ago, it was full of foreign tourists and quite happening, but since the pandemic it is more quiet and serene. We bought drinks from a nearby grocery store and spent quite a while watching the sunset. It truly felt like a private beach!

Afterwards we stopped at a nearby teishoku place called New Olympia for a sashimi set. When you’re by the ocean, you gotta have sashimi! I ordered grilled fish with my set and some cold sake too. I was not disappointed because the quality of this seafood was top notch.

I ❤ Yu

On the island there is only one bathhouse called I ❤ Yu that is perfect for taking a long soak after sightseeing. What makes this bathhouse so unique is it is designed with mosaic patterns and has a giant elephant statue mounted above the bathing area. The floor of the bath has a unique collage of old Japanese artwork that is semi-erotic and includes Angkor beer seals from Cambodia and images of animals too. I really enjoyed seeing the glitzy mesh of cultures while I reflected on everything that I had done this day. I recommend stopping by here if you get the chance!

Address: 2252-2, Naoshima, Kagawa District, Kagawa 761-3110
Entrance Fee: 660 yen

Accommodation

Last time I visited Naoshima I only did it as a day trip, but this time I wanted to try staying overnight on the island. We picked a small Japanese Inn called Oyaji no Umi that was roughly 4800 yen per night. The location was great because it was next to Naoshima Port and the Ando Museum. The Benesse House and the other art sites were easily reachable by bike. The rooms were very traditional with tatami floors and Japanese style, but it made the experience all the more wholesome. Breakfast was included in the price so it was very good deal! I enjoyed eating the warm toast with eggs, salad, and yogurt while I was here because there were not many breakfast places on the island. Some accommodations on the island are a bit pricey, but this one was perfect for our budget.

Thank you for reading my Naoshima artice. I will be publishing an article on Shodoshima next with instructions on how to reach the Kiki’s Delivery Service park.

Osaka Summer Highlights: Tsukenkaku and Unique Gourmet Experiences

Braving the skies of Shin Sekai at Tsutenkaku Tower!

After spending a lovely two nights in Kyoto and revisiting one of my favorite temples, I decided to take the local train to Osaka so I could climb the Tsutenkaku Tower and continue my aesthetic food journey around Kansai for two days. I have been to Shin Sekai and seen the iconic Parisian-like tower many times but never ascended to the top until this trip. The panoramic view of Osaka from the 5th floor is absolutely amazing, so I would recommend it to those who love seeing city skylines and aren’t afraid of heights. I also visited many unique restaurants and cafes this time around that I wish to share with others because you can’t find them anywhere else in Japan!

Tsutenkaku Tower

Located in Shin Sekai, Tsutenkaku Tower is comparable to both Tokyo Tower and the Eiffel Tower with its steel beams and breathtaking view of the entire city. Like Tokyo Tower, you can choose to ascend to different observation decks (both the 4th and the 5th), but I would recommend buying a ticket to the 5th because the open air deck is definitely worth seeing. There is a glass platform you can peer down from if you’re not afraid of heights, and the view from it truly is a thrill. One thing I absolutely loved here were the neon rainbow lights attached to the wall between the 4th and 5th floors. They definitely gave the interior of the tower its own retro vibe. There were also disco balls hanging from the 4th floor as well as golden statues you could touch for luck. On top of that, there’s a slide that you can ride down that simulates an amusement park ride! I didn’t try it this time, but it’s on the list for next time I come to Osaka!

When you exit the tower, there is a souvenir shop and a really neat display of various companies that started in Osaka, such as Glico. If you’ve been to downtown Osaka then you’ve definitely seen the iconic Glico Running Man!

Address: 1 Chome-18-6 Ebisuhigashi, Naniwa Ward, Osaka, 556-0002
Entrance Fee: 800 ~ 1000 yen (depending on which observation deck you choose)

Osaka Castle

Since Osaka Castle is another place that I haven’t visited since my study abroad trip, I decided I would see it again on this time! Like Tsutenkaku, this castle is an important landmark of Osaka with its iconic golden fish placed on the roofs and gates that are said to help protect the castle from fires. What’s interesting about this castle is that it’s surrounded by a moat, but part of the moat is dry and now grows green vegetation. You can see the best angle of the castle when you exit the park with the way the sun shines down on it and the trees frame its adorned structure.

I was surprised to see boats floating around the castle when I visited because I did not remember them before. You can book a boat tour through Gozabune Boat if you are interested in riding in a replica of Hideyoshi Toyotomis’s original vessel. He was the warrior who built this castle and was also obsessed with gold.

Address: 540-0002 Osaka, Chuo Ward, Osakajo, 1番1号
Entrance Fee: 600 yen

The Latest Aesthetic Gourmet Experiences in Osaka

As a lover of aesthetic food, I had quite a long list of places that I wanted to try in Osaka! Here are the best ones that I’ve came across during this trip:

Dogyan

Dogyan is a pop-up shop near Osaka castle that serves ramen and Ghibli inspired shaved ice. What makes the shaved ice so unique here is that they use a lot of frosting instead of just syrup to create the shape of the character. I tried the Calcifer one from Howl’s Moving Castle because I found his face hilarious. I would recommend that my friends try Totoro and No Face ices to tell me how they taste! The Calcifer one I tried tasted similar to a frozen cake and was very sweet. I would like to come back and try their noodles when I have more of an appetite.

Dogyan has very specific operating days so be sure to check their Instagram for more information.

Egg Takoyaki

Located underneath Umeda Station, there is a takoyaki shop called Takonotetsu that sells takoyaki with all sorts of different toppings such as cheese, egg, and different flavors of mayonnaise! I have eaten takoyaki in Osaka many times before, but never with egg on top. I was happy I tried it with my Japanese friends because the egg gives the fried part of the takoyaki a creamier texture and contains a lot of protein. Cheese takoyaki is also very good, but the cheese melts fast so you have to watch out! I can’t wait to eat takoyaki again next time I’m in Osaka!

W Osaka

W Osaka is a new upscale hotel that was just constructed last year and boasts a wonderful restaurant and café! The café I visited was called MIXup, and if you go early enough then you don’t usually need a reservation. I was enamored by their aesthetic statues that looked like they got splashed with rainbow paint and their placemats the resembled records. I decided to try their award winning pastry, the “Bouteille de Grand Marnier”, which the creator of the pastry herself served to me! The delicate orange, chocolate, and caramel combination of it completely blew my mind. In addition to this, they have macarons, parfaits, and other pastries you can try. You can order food too if you make a reservation. I will definitely come back here one day to try more gourmet pastries!

Sushi at Tiffany’s

And I said, what about sushi at Tiffany’s? While browsing Instagram, I was recommended a peculiar restaurant that serves caviar out of Tiffany’s glassware, and I knew immediately I had to go. Located close to Umeda, “Kitashinchi Sushi Tsu” (北新地 すし通) is a unique sushi restaurant that serves its sushi on Tiffany dishes and is very high-end. I absolutely adored the decor here, and the quality of fish was the best I’ve ever had in Kansai. I booked the “Anniversary Course” through Tabelog which was around 10,000 yen, but it was completely worth the price. If you come here, expect to pay a lot but prepare to have your mind blown by how good the food is. Sometimes you just need to be a fancy bitch and eat an anniversary course by yourself!

Moonkery

Moonkery is just your everyday Taiwanese tea shop with a giant moon on the 2nd floor that makes the perfect photo opp. This is actually the coolest tea shop that I’ve ever been to because it has a futuristic space scene and also serves desserts. I tried the coldbrew herbal tea and was a huge fan of it! The tea leaves in the bottle really gave it an ample flavor. I hope to come back here and try one of their pastries next time because I would like to support their business. I hope more aesthetic cafes like this continue to pop up!

Accommodation

Since I was seeing Night Tempo on his Showa Groove Tour on this trip, I decided to stay at a travel hotel called Hotel Morning Box in Shinsaibashi near the venue. I really liked this place because it had a public bath, a nice cafe where you could relax, and the cheapest rooms were around 3000 yen. I was sad because Asahi Plaza, the famous sauna and capsule hotel, closed during the pandemic, but at least this hotel as a wonderful warm bath you can use and the prices are very similar. Though I usually stay in different hotels when visiting Kansai, I truly want to stay in this one again because I enjoyed how new the rooms were and the central location.

Thank you for reading about my super aesthetic journey to Osaka! I still have one more article to write in this series about Nagoya’s World Cosplay Summit, so please look forward to it!

Revisiting Kinkakuji and the Latest Aesthetic Gourmet Experiences in Kyoto

Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, shines beautifully in the scorching summer of Kyoto.

It’s been over three months since my last article, but I happy to announce that I have safely returned to Japan and am officially off my work hiatus now! Over the last few weeks I was preparing for the 20th Anniversary of Nagoya’s World Cosplay Summit (which I will cover in another article), but this latest article series will document my recent adventures in the Kansai region, starting with Kyoto.

Since Kyoto and Nagoya are relatively close by shinkansen, I decided to spend two nights at a business hotel in Shijo after the final day of the Summit and revisit some of my old favorite places. One temple that I haven’t seen in over 6 years is Kyoto’s Kinkakuji that was recently under construction, so I decided to visit it while hitting up some of the most delicious vegan and dessert shops in town.

This article will cover my top summer picks for Kyoto (2022). Please be aware that the heat is intense during August, so it is recommended to drink lots of water and limit your exposure to the sun.

Kinkakuji

Kinkakuji is one of Kyoto’s most famous temples due to its shining gold leaf architecture and the beautiful pond it overlooks. It used to be the former place of retirement for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, but now serves as a symbolic landmark of Kyoto. Around the temple are various gardens with statues of prominent Buddhist figures and a pond that is said to never dry up. Kinkakuji holds a lot of history as well of lore, so if you have ever studied abroad or gone on a group trip to Kyoto, this place is probably at the top of your itinerary. I first visited this temple during my study abroad trip in 2013, then again on a trip in 2016. I am happy that 6 years later it is just as beautiful and well-preserved as I remember.

There are city buses that go to the entrance of Kinkakuji directly from Kyoto Station for a mere 230 yen, so it’s pretty easy to reach. You may also be interested in checking out Ginkakuji (also known as the Silver Pavilion) which is a short bus ride away, but in my humble opinion it’s not as pretty as the gold one!

Address: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361
Entrance Fee: 400 yen

If you are curious where I rented my yukata, please see my previous kimono and yukata rental article.

The Latest Aesthetic Gourmet Experiences in Kyoto

As a lover of aesthetic food, I had quite a long list of places that I wanted to try in Kyoto! Here are the best ones that I’ve came across during this trip:

Egyptian Noodles at Pelgag

Pelgag is a Japanese owned “spice restaurant” that serves delicious ethnic food and alcohol with organic ingredients. Their dishes are made with a lot of exotic herbs and spices that the owner discovered while traveling through Central and South America as well as Asia and Europe. Though there are many unique things on their menu (including vegetarian and vegan options), I was most interested in the Egyptian Noodles because I had never tried them before. The noodles had the texture of ramen and tasted similar to Pad Thai which made me feel nostalgic of my days in Thailand. I was happy to have such a delicious vegan meal during my first night here and also ordered a glass of organic white wine to go with it. If you like curry and spicy food then you will most definitely enjoy this restaurant!

Choco Mint Ball with Creamy Foam at Atelier de Godiva

From early summer to fall of this year, Atelier de Godiva located in the Daimaru shopping mall of Kyoto has a very special mint chocolate menu! This chocolate mint ball that I ordered is filled with mint cream that you can drink through a chocolate straw. Now that’s what I call aesthetic food! I like the concept of food and desserts being served in bowls that are fully edible because it helps eliminate plastic and paper waste in addition to being delicious. I am excited to see what other seasonal menus this store introduces, because you can only order this at the Kyoto location!

Peach Cloud Cakes at Kumonocha

One of the latest trending cafés in Kyoto is this tea and cake shop called Kumonocha in Higashiyama that serves cloud-shaped cakes with various drink pairings. You can choose to order a hot matcha latte with a cloud pattern or an iced one with a beautiful green gradation with the cake as a set, or purchase them individually. I was delighted to see they were selling both peach and matcha flavored cloud cakes when I arrived, so I decided to try to peach one! Both the cake and the tea suited each other very well, and I thought it was unique that they served them to you in a wooden basket. Be sure to check the outdoor area of the store if you have the chance because there was a beautiful lantern and windchime display when I visited.

Cloud Parfait at Piu

Because one cloud dessert clearly wasn’t enough for me, I decided to try a cloud parfait at a small cafe near Kinkakuji called Piu. This parfait was unique because it mainly consisted of ramune-flavored jelly instead of ice cream or yogurt, but with the granola at the bottom, it still undoubtedly tasted like a parfait. The macarons and the while chocolate on top was definitely a nice aesthetic touch and I loved eating whatever the clouds were made of. I would recommend this to people who like ramune-flavored desserts. In addition to sweets, Piu also serves pastas, pizzas, and cakes so I would check it out if you go to Kinkakuji like I did!

Vegan Hot Pot at Vegetarian Cafe Ren

Even though the weather was scorching hot, for some reason I still felt like eating hot pot during this trip just for something different. Finding places that serve hotpot sets that are 100% vegetarian is usually very difficult, but Cafe Ren near Kinkakuji has a delicious miniature set! I especially loved the mushrooms and the fried tofu that was included in this meal. The red bean rice also complimented the flavor. The portion size was perfect for me so I would recommend this place to my fellow vegetarians, but it’s probably better to come here during the winter!

Goma Noodles at Gomacro Salon

Because I was craving noodles on my last day in Kyoto, I decided to stop at Gomacro Salon and try their noodles basked in a sesame paste-based rich soup. What I like about this dish is you can balance out the level of spice by adding sesame oil and more goma paste with condiments at your table that you can choose for no additional cost. What is pictured is the summer dish with seasonal vegetables, but the menu changes every season. I would like to come back in the winter and choose their black goma soup as my base next time! In addition to noodles, there is curry, rice, and salad sets you can choose from. I really like how healthy and organic everything was here. The goma paste was also very filling!

Bonus: Porco Rosso & Sugitora

As I was waiting for the bus to Kyoto Station, I noticed a funny Italian restaurant called Porco Rosso, and I can definitely see the resemblance to the movie! Though it was closed during the time that I went, I would like to come back and try it again for the meme.

I also visited this adorable parfait place called Sugitora that has takeout tiger gelato! I tried the mango flavor because of course the matcha flavor was already sold out. It tasted so refreshing! I would like to make a reservation for one of their more elaborate parfaits in the future!

Accommodation

Every time I travel somewhere in Japan, I look at the best deals on Booking.com because I have a Genius discount. This time I stayed at a business hotel with a public bath called AB Hotel that was 5000 yen for 2 nights which was a killer deal. During previous Kyoto trips I used to stay closer to the Kamo River so I could go running there as a morning workout, but this time prices there were more expensive likely due to more people traveling this year. I decided to choose an accommodation that was about 1km away from the river and it turned out to be cheaper. This hotel was quiet and easy to relax in so I would recommend it, but also don’t be afraid to shop around!

Thank you for reading about my wonderful experience in Kyoto! I will never forget all of the delicious food that I tried this time. In my next article I will be talking about my top recommendations in Osaka, so please look forward to it!

Visiting Two of Aomori’s Most Aesthetic Art Museums

After an action-filled day visiting sakura parks, shrines, and real life anime movie locations, we decided to spend our final day in Aomori seeing two of the most aesthetic museums in the prefecture: Aomori Museum of Art and Towada Art Center. What drew me to these museums were their life-sized open air exhibits that fuses Japanese and Western art together in creative ways. Though places like Tokyo and Naoshima have many notable museums, I have never seen anything quite like the works here, which is another huge reason I wanted to visit Aomori. Please continue reading for my full review of these museums, and see for yourself what you think! If the weather is rainy during your trip like it was for us, visiting places like this is an ideal way to spend time.

Aomori Museum of Art

The Aomori Museum of Art is one of the craziest modern art museums I have ever visited in Japan, and that’s really saying a lot! What struck me the most was how random some of the permanent galleries here were. First we walked from the entrance to a room full of tribal paintings to a room full of Ultraman sketches by Tohl Narita himself. Next we walked through a hallway with pictures of ears on the wall into a room filled with stars. Finally the path lead to an outdoor area with a gigantic sculpted dog standing over a bowl filled with flowers. This dog is known as the “A to Z Memorial Dog”, which is considered to be a symbol of Aomori Prefecture. It was created by a Japanese artist named Yoshitomo Nara who projects the loneliness of his childhood into his fiberglass sculptures, creating a new wave of aesthetics. His artistic vision and personal experience growing up is much like my own, which is why I wanted to see his works in person so much.

Here is a handy excerpt from Public Delivery explaining the symbolism of his dog sculptures:

Yoshimoto Nara’s dogs evoke a myriad of emotions in the audience, including joy, anxiety, fear, insecurity, hope, playfulness, and confidence. His figures seem to exist in only a dream-like state where reality becomes what you make of it. His mixture of vulnerability, rebellion and hopefulness within his artworks connects intimately with people worldwide.

Throughout his career, he has incited a deep sense of childhood memory and the allure of youth while concurrently leaving a relentless reminder of the fundamental issues and problems of adulthood. This figure symbolizes a defiant spirit associated with youthful hopefulness and belief that we have what it takes to change the world.

Yoshitomo Nara’s shining dog sculptures – What you should know

In addition to dogs, there are also other sculptures of his in the museum including faces of people and a house with three children reading a book inside. The scene is a bit creepy at first, but after viewing the scene from multiple angles you’ll see that it is more cartoonish than it is scary. His works are much better seen in person than online, so I would encourage those who are interested to please come to Aomori to see them!

Address: Chikano-185 Yasuta, Aomori, 038-0021
Entrance Fee: 510 yen (may be extra for special exhibits)

Towada Art Center

Towada Art Center is an interactive art museum geared for both children and adults with a number of hands-on exhibits. I was really impressed with the variety of high-quality art that was placed outdoors including Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin that you can climb into, a horse made out of sculpted flowers, a giant ghost, and a big puffy car next to a puffy house. All of these things were life-sized and very eye-catching. Plus they were scattered around the museum and not just in front of it so there was really a lot to check out. Hilariously, we spent all of our time photographing the free outdoor exhibits and only went into the gift shop because we were satisfied with everything we had seen. I ordered an apple dessert at the cafe that was a replica of one of the sculptures outdoors because I thought it was unique. It tasted as exquisite as it looked because the “apples” were actually blueberries with red chocolate melted over them. Touché because that is art in itself.

Address: 10-9 Nishi2bancho, Towada, Aomori 034-0082
Entrance Fee: 800-1800 yen depending on what exhibits you want to see (outdoor exhibitions are free)

Eating Curry at unbreakable

While looking for cafes between the two museums, one name really caught my eye: unbreakable in Towada City. What exactly is it about this cafe that makes it unbreakable? Perhaps it’s the zestiness of the green curry or the size of the garlic shrimp? Whatever it was, it was definitely good. Of all of the cafes around, this one had the best assortment of rice dishes and latte flavors. I tried a vanilla one and it really hit the spot—I was caffeinated and ready to appreciate more art! This was yet another random find that really made my day. I hope these cafes can continue to stay in business because they truly make amazing food and drinks.

Address: Osaka-72-1 Osaka, Towada, Aomori 034-0041 (Note that this is in Aomori and not in Osaka)

Final Thoughts

While it was quite the long haul to and from Tokyo, Aomori was definitely worth the visit! Although it rained a bit during our trip, the scenery and cherry blossoms were lovely, the food and art museums were extremely diverse, and the city and shops had a lot of charm. The best time to visit this prefecture is probably during sakura season (like we did) and in the summer for the Nebuta Festival, but I imagine with all of the pretty trees Autumn would be a great time to visit too! If you can get a rental car, I would definitely recommend it as the parks and museums here are quite spread out and hard to reach with public transportation. Three days was enough to complete everything on our itinerary and we left Aomori feeling extremely satisfied.

This will be my last article for a while as I am heading to Hawaii next week, but when I return to Japan I plan on visiting the 2 prefectures that I haven’t been to yet: Akita & Iwate. Please look forward to reading more articles from me this summer, and I might decide to write a Hawaii series too!

Freediving at the Kerama Islands: Aka Island and Zamami Island Edition (Part 1)

Free diving with a turtle at Hizushi Beach on Aka Island.

After an amazing two days of dining and chasing sunsets in Naha and Okinawa City, I decided to take a ferry to the Kerama Islands and spend my next two days there focusing on freediving. The Kerama Islands consists of a cluster of 20 big and small islands, but the main 3 that people travel to are Aka Island, Zamami Island, and Tokashiki Island. I chose to go to Aka Island and Zamami Island because they have 2 dog statues that have quite a famous love story together; Shiro and Marilyn. Shiro (found on Aka Island) and Marilyn (found on Zamami Island) are known as “the Hachiko of the sea” and inspired the Japanese movie I want to see Marilyn. Hiking to the statues is a fun experience as outside of Shibuya’s famous Hachiko statue, I have not seen many other statues that are similar in Japan. Funny how these two dogs ended up in Okinawa!

On top of that, the coral reefs on Aka Island are said to be the most beautiful of Kerama so that’s where I decided to start. I was not disappointed because I got the chance to swim with turtle on my very first day there! I also enjoyed getting acquainted with the culture of the Kerama Islands because they are very small and the people that live there friendly and wholesome. Since I came here right before Golden Week, the islands were peaceful and quiet too. I will never forget the two days I spent here!

Getting to the Kerama Islands

From Naha’s Tomari Port, I took a high speed ferry that reached Aka Island in about one hour. Please see the monthly ferry time table to plan your trip and see the ticket cost. Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the day of your trip but they may sell out.

Tomari Port Address: 3 Chome-25-1 Maejima, Naha, Okinawa 900-0016

From Aka Island’s Port, I was able to walk to my hotel in under 5 mins and rent a bike to get around the island. All of the best beaches on Aka Island and Zamami Island are accessible by bike so there is no need to rent a car. You can even walk or run to some of the main sightseeing spots too.

Please note that the Kerama Islands are mostly for swimming and aquatic sports. There are not many restaurants or bars on the island, so you will probably want to eat at your accommodation (most hotels include meals). If you are interested in beaches with more of a nightlife, the main island of Okinawa is better to stay at (you can still day trip to one of the main Kerama Islands and have enough time for sightseeing). However, if you wish to see multiple Kerama Islands then it is best to stay there. I think Aka Island has the best selection of hotels so that is where I decided to stay. Please keep reading for more details.

Freediving on Aka Island

I arrived to Aka Island around 10am, checked into my accommodation (see details further below), rented a wetsuit and bike from my hotel for 2000 yen total, then decided to explore the 3 best beaches for swimming and diving which are: Aka Beach, Nishibama Beach, and Hizushi Beach. These beaches are within 10 – 15 mins of biking from each other and you can visit all of them in the day if you start around 1pm. Aka Beach is where I started since it was near my hotel, but the swimming area is roped off so you can only see a small portion of the coral reefs. I stayed here for about an 40 minutes and was able to see some tropical fish, but after that I decided to pack up my gear and bike to Hizushi Beach where I had the best luck because it is not roped off. After about 10 minutes of swimming, I found not only multiple schools of colorful fish, but also a sea turtle!

Here is a video I took on my GoPro of me swimming above the turtle:

This experience was absolutely magical given that the waters were so crystal clear and I felt comfortable swimming at this depth. The beaches of the Kerama Islands are so beautiful and pristine that they are often referred to as the “Kerama Blue” because they are some of the clearest in the world visited by many tourists who love the ocean. As I was diving, I felt like my vision was enhanced because I was able to see so many different shades I would never be able to see anywhere else other than underwater. Diving is an experience that will definitely change your perspective, so I recommend trying it or snorkeling at least to get a feel for it so you can experience the “Kerama Blue” as well.

Swimming and diving at the Kerama Beaches is typically safe, but do be careful of black and white branded sea snakes because they are extremely venomous. I saw 4 of them during my 2 days here, but they mostly stick to the bottom of the reef and only one came near me. Fortunately I was wearing a wetsuit and was able to swim away. I am guessing that the snake was coming up for air and was pulled by the current towards me, but you never know—it’s better to be safe than sorry! Despite this, I did not feel scared and continue to dive after waiting 15 minutes. Fortunately there were no more close encounters with snakes. Unlike land snakes, sea snakes slither much more slowly through the water so they are easier to avoid from my personal experience.

After about and hour and a half of swimming and diving at Hizushi Beach, I rode my bike to Nishibama Beach. This is more of an aesthetic beach for photography and sunbathing and has several cafes as well, but the coral reefs here are beautiful. I did not see any turtles here, but I did see a lot of unique fish and enjoyed the atmosphere. I spent about an hour here, but not all of it was spent diving. I spent time doing photography on the shore and also found a shell here that I took home as a souvenir so I could remember this day forever. This day felt completely and I was extremely satisfied with everything I saw here.

Please note that the peak turtle season is May – August but you can see them year round.

Staying at Hanamuro Inn

Out of all of the accommodations that I looked at on Aka Island, Hanamuro Inn was without a doubt the most fun and unique one to stay at! With its cheap rental gear (including snorkeling gear and bikes) it had a great system that was more of a deal than other rental shops on the island. It also had rooms with both and air conditioner and a fan, “hot tubs”, and delicious meals, so I think it was well worth the experience. The “hot tubs” were little bath tubs that you could wade and sun bathe in at any time of the day. They were ideal for relaxing in before and after the beach. The dinner I was served was a Japanese/American styled bento box with curry and french fries—the perfect combo. I loved how accommodating the staff was throughout my entire visit.

Please note that there are two Hanamuro Hotels on the island. There is a fancier one with a pool for those who are interested! Please see their website for more information as prices can change with the season. I paid around 12,000 yen for one night but it was worth it for the experience I had.

Hanamuro Inn is very close Maehama Beach where you can see wild deer roaming around the island! Unlike the deer in Nara, these deer are a little more timid but mostly seem to be calm around humans. Instead of senbei, they eat green grass on the island and it is advised that you do not feed them. The statue of Shiro the dog is very easy to find because it is directly north Aka Island’s Port. I think Shiro was the very first picture I took on this island, and I will hold it as a fond memory. At night you can see the stars shine brightly in the sky so I highly recommend staying overnight here if you can.

Other Dining Options

Since my hotel only served dinner and breakfast, I decided to have lunch at Hahna Cafe, which was just a short walk away from my hotel. They had delicious seafood pasta served with bread which I found to taste amazing because island food does not disappoint. They also have Okinawan soba and frozen cocktails and smoothies here. For dessert, I found a tiny cafe around the corner called guu guu that served some rice dishes, cakes, and desserts. I ordered no sugar coconut ice cream with azuki beans as the topping, and as expected it really hit the spot! I think since there are not very many restaurants on Aka Island, each one has a special charm.

Running to Geruma Island

Aka Island has a bridge that connects to Geruma Island where the Kerama Airport and elementary school is so I decided to explore this small and rural island before going to Zamami. Flying to Kerama Airport is typically more expensive, but perhaps is you wanted to come to the Kerama Islands directly without taking a ferry from Naha it would be to your advantage. Geruma was about 3.5 km from my hotel so I decided to run here. Walking here would take around 35-40 mins but if you run you can easily get here in 20 mins. Geruma has the lowest population of there Kerama Islands so there is not a lot to see here besides the main road that connects to the bridge, more coral reefs, and residential housing. The scenery did make it an interesting run though. My only complaint was that there seemed to be now vending machines to buy water at around, so be sure to stay hydrated if you come here! The beaches on this side appeared to have some washed up plastic on the shores so I would recommend not swimming here. Geruma is just something to check out if you are very curious like myself!

Thank you for reading my first article on the Kerama Islands! In my next article, I will talk about my experience exploring the next island I went to; which is Zamami. Look forward to reading more about my tropical adventures later this week!

Revisiting the Tropical Cities of Naha and Okinawa-shi

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

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

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

Exploring New Cafes in Naha

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

DAISY

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

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

LaLa Zorba

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

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

Heading to Moon Beach & Toguchi Beach for the Sunset

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

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

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

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

Moon Beach Sushi

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

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

Barhopping in Okinawa-shi

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

Accommodation

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

KEEP HOPE ALIVE: Journey to the Hill of Hope

Continuing on from my backpacking trip through Yamaguchi Prefecture, I next ventured to Hiroshima where my main destination was the white marble Hill of Hope on Setoda Island. This beautiful sculpture garden was designed by an architect named Kuetani Ittou who was born in Hiroshima and all of the marble materials were actually mined and transported from Italy. Visitors can freely climb around the walls and up the pristine stairs to see a beautiful view of the ocean. There is also a little cafe here that sells delicious sakura gelato on the way up to the top. Hope is still very much alive here, and this monument beautifully ties it together in harmony with the surrounding area.

Address: 553-2 Setodacho Setoda, Onomichi, Hiroshima 722-2411
Entry Fee: 1400 yen (includes entry to Kosanji Temple and the Kongo Gallery as well)

Getting to Setoda Island

From Hiroshima Station, take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Mihara Station, then take a short ferry ride to Setoda Island and you can walk directly there. This trip takes about 2 hours depending on the ferry time table at Mihara Port. You can also visit the rabbit island from here. These islands make ideal day trips because they are small and you can cover most of the area on foot.

For information on how to get to Hiroshima and my recommended sightseeing points, please see my previous Hiroshima and Onomichi articles.

Other Points of Interest

Right before the Hill of Hope is a beautiful temple complex called Kosanji that you will see on your way there. I enjoyed seeing its striking colors and the beautiful lilies in the water. This is definitely the most gorgeous temple in all of Hiroshima Prefecture. Setoda Island is also very famous for its lemons and you will see various shops selling lemonade here! Though small, this island is the perfect half-day trip and you can easily combine it with a trip to Hiroshima City or Okayama. I decided to take the train to Kurashiki in Okayama because I was meeting a sponsor in the evening. This ended up being a great idea because I got the chance to go on another boat ride and see the gorgeous canal town again!

Revisiting Kurashiki

I first visited Kurashiki years ago while hitch-hiking through Okayama and really enjoyed the rustic charm of the canals. Unfortunately the day I went was a holiday and the canal boats were fully booked, but this time I made it just in time for a boat tour! The ride is only around 15 minutes but you can see the town from a lovely angle while feeling the soft breeze from the canal. I was happy to finally experience this, because it felt similar to the settings of one of my favorite anime called Aria.

Address: 1-4-8 Chuo, Kurashiki City (Kurashiki Tourist Information Center)
Ticket Fee: 500 yen

Afterwards it was around 6pm so we decided to eat some delicious seafood at a nearby restaurant called Hamayoshi. I cannot recommend it enough because the squid and sashimi especially were amazing!

Accommodation

Last time I was backpacking in Okayama I stayed in a net cafe near the station, but this time I stayed at the Royal Park Hotel in Kurashiki. Upgrade much? This hotel is around 8000 yen per night but that is a fair price for this area and it has a public onsen plus breakfast included. For the amenities it was more than worth the price.

The next article will be the final part of this series where I will be visiting Shimane Prefecture for the first time. Thank you all for supporting me on this long and crazy journey.

Exploring Fukuoka’s Frog Temple: Nyoirinji (Kaeru-dera)

Last week I decided to go on a spontaneous backpacking trip starting in Fukuoka and ending in Shimane Prefecture. The purpose of this trip was to explore 2 prefectures I had never seen before–Yamaguchi and Shimane–and also see some shrines, islands, and monuments in other prefectures that I had previously missed or not known about until earlier this year. Since Japan is gradually easing its entry restrictions for international students and business travel, my goal is to knock out as many destinations on my travel list between now and when tourists are allowed in again. When exactly that will be is currently unknown, but as long as covid cases don’t spike again like they did earlier in January, I think it could be possible later this year!

In this article series, I will be talking about some rare and little-known places in the 5 prefectures I visited in under 4 days. This trip went at an extremely fast pace since I had already been to some of these areas before, but it was extremely rewarding because I learned a lot about southern Tohoku and met up with friends along the way.

For information on how to get to Fukuoka from Tokyo and my recommended sightseeing points, please see my previous Fukuoka article from last year. I decided to start in Fukuoka just because there are a lot of discount flights there from Narita Airport, and it was convenient to take the shinkansen from Hakata Station to travel to other places on my list.

When I landed at Fukuoka Airport around noon, my best friend here came to pick me up in her car and we decided to go to Nyoirinji, aka the frog temple, which might be one of the most elaborate temples in the entire prefecture. Upon entering the grounds of this temple, over 5,000 frogs will welcome you!

First of all, I should note that this temple has influences from not only from Japan but other East Asian countries as well. It reminded me of some of the temples I had seen in Thailand and Vietnam long ago because it had a lot of foreign architecture. What I liked about it most was that it was very hands-on and had an amazing atmosphere being nestled in the countryside. You can crawl through and write messages on the metal frogs near the entrance which was very fun and interactive to me. There is also a giant frog that spits bubbles near the main entrance to the temple. How amazing is that!? If you walk through the gift shop and towards the back window, you will see a large variety of frogs from around the world. I spotted more than one Kermit plus a Beanie Baby from my childhood. I was not expecting to reconnect with my past like this, but I am so happy I did because these frogs brought back a lot of memories!

If you exit and keep walking around towards the back of this building, you can go downstairs to an area with neon lighting and hundreds of tiny Shinto statues. I thought this hidden part was so unique. I also recommend walking through the moss garden and up to the pagoda for a stunning view. This shrine truly has a lot for visitors to discover and that’s what makes it a special destination.

Address: 1728 Yokoguma, Ogori, Fukuoka 838-0105

Please note that you can get here by local train/taxi but traveling by car is the most efficient way.

Admission Fee: Free

Special Frogs & Monuments

While walking around the premises of Nyoirinji, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for special frogs and monuments! We spotted 2 Pikachu, a frog holding a 5 yen coin, Kumamon, and some lowkey frogs with their genitalia hanging out. These are just a few of many crazy but awesome things that you can see here!

Meet Nyoirinji’s Cat

When I was looking at pictures of this temple online, I saw this cat come up a lot and was very happy I had the chance to meet him in the flesh! He reminded me a lot of my own cat because he was very charming and cuddly. He seemed to enjoy all of the people coming to pet him at Nyoirinji while he basked in the sunlight. I’m quite envious of his lifestyle!

Fresh Eats in Fukuoka

While heading back to my accommodation, we decided to stop at some delicious shops on the way. Our first stop was at Kaisen Donburi Hanabi in Ropponmatsu, which is a really cool neighborhood just outside of central Fukuoka with a number of small coffee shops and music cafes. At Hanabi we ate mouthwatering seafood rice bowls that were probably the best I’ve ever had in this prefecture. I ordered shrimp topped with salmon roe and egg and couldn’t believe how huge the shrimp were! My friend and I joked that they must massage the shrimp here like they do the cows in Kobe to produce their famous beef!

For dessert we stopped at a CBD cafe called Green Life and had some really sweet CBD smoothies. CBD became really popular in Japan last year when the government restricted alcohol being sold at bars in efforts to stop covid from spreading. I don’t take it often but when I do, I definitely feel a bit more relaxed. The chocolate banana smoothie I had was blended very smoothly and I appreciate the large amount of chocolate sauce they used in their recipe too.

The next morning I stopped at a food truck called MEETS which sells coffee, bread, and delicious dessert waffles shaped like the moon. I absolutely loved the design of my moon waffle because not only did it have caramel, nuts, and chocolate on it, but also an oatmeal cookie! I thought this idea was so creative. On this trip I noticed a number of new food trucks have started popping up around the city and I’m excited to see what other delicious foods and desserts are sold in the future.

Spot the Cherry Blossoms

On my way to Hakata Station the next morning, I saw cherry blossoms blooming at Tochoji Temple! Unfortunately I didn’t have time to check out all of the major cherry blossom viewing spots, but please see Fukuoka Now’s Guide for more information on them.

In my next article, I will be exploring all the major sights of Yamaguchi Prefecture. Please look forward to it!

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

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

Ono Castle

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

Conditions for the clouds to appear:

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

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

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

Coffee at “coffe&cake紫おん”

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

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

Oshozu

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

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

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

Accommodation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting to Lune Lapin

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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