Finding Paradise Within a City: Exploring Kobe

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

Dick Bruna Table

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

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

Dessert at Kobe Milk

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

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

Exploring Rokko Island

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

China Town

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

China Town Food

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

Kobe Harborland

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

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

Access & Accommodation

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

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

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

Wandering through Neon Aesthetic Paradise in Naha

Lost in paradise in the infinity pool at Hotel Aqua Citta.

After an extremely fulfilling first day in Naha sipping on premium fruit cocktails and chilling at the Sanrio Resort, I planned to wander through neon aesthetic paradise at two recent attractions that had been added to the city since my last trip: Stem Resort and DMM Kariyushi Aquarium. I also wanted to hit the infinity pool at my new resort and reflect on life before flying to Miyakojima the next day.

I had a busy day ahead of me but fortunately was able to accomplish everything on my itinerary and meet many new friends in the process! If you come to Okinawa, you will never forget the friendliness of the people or the vividness of the city. I’m happy to say that day two of my trip was another brilliant success.

Stem Resort

Stem Resort is a 4 floor amusement park that just opened last year consisting of the Hitasura Kawaii Museum, a dinosaur park, a waterpark with inflatables, and a rooftop bar with hot tubs. No matter what age you are you’re bound to find something here that strikes your interest here. Given my love for neon colors, the Hitasura Kawaii Museum is what attracted me here the most. When I first walked in I was greeted by a wall of donuts and rainbow popsicles dangling from the ceiling. There was a room with a giant high heel you could sit in and watch looping BLACKPINK music videos. The lip-shaped couch in the adjacent room was definitely relaxing to sit on and the room full of lanterns made me feel like I was back at the teamLab Borderless museum. Holy nostalgia. The neon sides and donut slide were also a great touch but I think my favorite room was the final one that had a ball pit full of rainbow alpacas. I took a nap in there and replenished my MP. I am so happy I could finally experience this new museum because it’s been on my bucket list for quite a long time.

Since it was still raining this day I was unable to check out the outdoor attractions, but I was extremely satisfied with what I saw indoors. I have already been to a dinosaur park in Okayama and plan on going to the unicorn inflatable park once I can finally enter the Philippines, so the Kawaii Museum was what I was truly most interested and fortunately got a ton of pictures there. For all of my life I will never forget the ball pit full of rainbow alpacas.

Address: 901-0225 Okinawa, Tomigusuku, Toyosaki, 3-35 屋上
Entrance Fee: Depends on what you want to see but I paid 1800 yen to enter and thought the experience was worth it!

DMM Kariyushi Aquarium

Have you ever dreamed of walking through an LSD aquarium filled with jellyfish tanks? Well look no further! And believe it or not, this is just one small exhibit that makes up the DMM Kariyushi Aquarium.

Though the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium that I visited in 2016 takes the crown for being the biggest and most diverse aquarium in Japan, the DMM Aquarium combines art with underwater life and also has a rainforest area. Its creative visuals and lighting definitely enhance the experience and almost make you feel like you are part of the exhibit! There is a room where you can take off your shoes and walk on a sealed panel to view all of the fish and sting rays swimming beneath your feet. I also got to see a sloth up close for the very first time in the rainforest area, and they even had a rare species of turtle here too!

I highly recommend trying the churros at the cafe. I bought them for the cute packing because I love tiny eels. This experience was so fun and had the best jellyfish exhibit that I had ever seen. If you’re looking for an artsy aquarium that is centrally located in Naha then this is your place!

Address: 3-35 Toyosaki, Tomigusuku, Okinawa 901-0225
Entrance Fee: 2400 yen

Vegan Omurice and Falafels at Ukishima Garden

Continuing my theme of trying new vegan restaurants, I decided to stop at Ukishima Garden to try some vegan omurice stuffed with rice and vegetables and order some falafel on the side. Instead of egg they used tofu to give this dish the classic fluffy texture. It was so creative and tasted even better than the usual omurice. I think this was actually the best dish that I had on the island! It was home cooked and made with love! They also have vegan burgers and taco rice on the menu as well as organic teas and wines. Check it out if you ever get the chance because this food is top notch!

Address: 2 Chome-12-3 Matsuo, Naha, Okinawa 900-0014

Accommodation

Although I adored the Sanrio Hotel I stayed at the night before, I really wanted to stay somewhere with a pool so I chose Naha Aqua Citta which is rated as one of the top city resorts. With its beautiful infinity pool, free welcome drink tickets, and friendly atmosphere, I can definitely see why! I met so many amazing people on the rooftop bar that invited me to play drinking games because I was alone. We even ended up going to a hookah bar called Silver Ren which had the best hookah that I’ve ever smoked in Japan. People of all ages, races, and cultures were here so it was truly an international experience. The cheapest rooms are around 6800 yen per night which are more than worth it for the amenities. I would definitely stay here again just so I could mingle and meet more awesome people.

In my next article I will talk about my trip to Miyako Island! Thank you for reading and please look forward to it~

Exploring Aesthetic Art Galleries in Melbourne

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Upside-down kanji has never looked better in this florescent lighting.

While traveling on my spontaneous two week trip to Australia, I decided to peruse the National Gallery of Victory (NGV) in central Melbourne to see some aesthetic works of art.  Needless to say with their large collection of traditional paintings, sculptures, stained glass, and pottery, I was not disappointed by their selection.  Most of the exhibitions here are completely free to enter.  Only the rotating featured exhibit has an entrance fee.  Since it was one related to Asia (where I currently reside), I decided to skip it and see the other permanent parts of gallery instead.  Most of them were pretty awe-inspiring with pieces of art from all around the world:

The first room we entered had European oil canvas paintings that I found to be quite thought-provoking.  Some of the art were beautiful portraits of woman and landscapes, but others depicted quite sad themes like war and death.  I really liked how the portraits were juxtaposed on the bright red wall–I had to walk around this room several times so I could fully let the context of it all set in.

In the connecting hallways were displays of pottery from various centuries (I was especially fond of the vase with booty painted on it), sculptures, a rocking chair, and other interesting works; like a horse with a lamp on its head.  On the top floor is a beautiful stained glass window that illuminates the performance hall.  They also had some really derpy paintings of animals, and one wall of art depicted a hint of bestiality, but it was discrete and as tasteful as possible.

My favorite exhibit was definitely the neon upside-down kanji room.  It only exemplifies the difficulty of learning kanji as a westerner:

The final room we entered had shapes made completely out of pages from books which gave them a unique texture.  There was also the “Ship of Time” exhibit you could walk through to find the inner peace depicted in Zhuangzi’s parable.  Once again it was a lot to take in at once, but I managed to successfully cross over:

Overall this was probably the best free museum I have stumbled upon in my travels.  I was impressed with all of the diversity it had to offer, and despite my initial jetlag I had a lot of fun reading about the exhibits.  Be sure to check out the NGV if you ever are in Melbourne!  There is also the Eureka Skydeck nearby where you can see a beautiful view of the the city.

Invading Australia: Exploring the Picturesque Melbourne City

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Beautiful view from Albert Park in Melbourne.

For the past 2 weeks I’ve been invading Australia; starting from the southern picturesque city of Melborune to the charming countryside of Adelaide.  Since a number of my Japanese friends have studied abroad or traveled to this country, it’s always been on my radar.  Unlike my previous trips to Asian countries where I have a set itinerary for each day, this trip was a lot more easygoing and spontaneous.  A friend I met at a beach party in Japan kindly let me crash at their place near the center of the city, so together we decided to hit the city while catching up and also experience the seemingly endless nightlife.

A lot of my American friends have asked me what Melbourne was like, and I told them: “Picture a cleaner, safer, version of your favorite American city with slightly less people, and that’s pretty much it!”  One thing I notice about most Australians is that they are pretty laidback and travel more frequently outside the county than a lot of Americans do.  Australia is very affordable to live in, and the tuition fees for education are greatly subsidized by the government compared to America.  The only downside is that eating out is somewhat expensive, but on the plus side, there is no tipping like in the US.

This trip initially started out very rough because I negligently forgot to apply for my ETA to enter the country (I thought I could do so upon arrival), so Jetstar had to reschedule my flight a day later after I applied for it.  Essentially all you need to do is fill out a form online and pay $30 to enter the country so it’s extremely easy, but make sure to do this before your flight!  I have never had issues with tourist visas until this trip, but it was only a small bump in the road because I still was able to do everything I wanted.

Once I landed, I took the Sky Bus to Southern Cross Station to meet my friend.  Immediately he recognized me due to my flamboyant blonde hair despite us not seeing one another for over two years.  We first got some lattes at Mid Town Coffee which I highly recommend, then immediately proceeded to go day drinking at Melborune’s famous rooftop bar.  The coffee and the White Russians somehow helped me fight off the jetlag as we walked around Chinatown and other parts of the city.  What I liked most about Melbourne is that almost all of the downtown area is walkable and there are inexpensive trams available as well.  The system is very easy to figure out.

 

Being in Australia felt like being in an alternate universe America.  Instead of GameStop, they still have EB Games, which seems to have more selection and be far more superior.  Forget about Burger King–it’s called Hungry Jack’s here.  Porn Hub should cum and get their pizza8bit burgers is also a great place to eat out (I love their logo design).  Lord of the Fries is not only a good pun, but they also has an entire vegan menu.  Despite living in Tokyo, I tried a lot of Japanese places here that were a little expensive but overall delicious.  Wagaya was one of my favorites due to its large sake list, but Japanese Gyoza Bar deserves an honorable mention.  Those are just a few of the places that we visited, but there are many more!

 

My favorite dessert places were Chokolait, where I had amazing rainbow pancakes made with pavlova, and a cakeshop called Glace where I had an amazing mushroom pastry.  They also had a really cute marshmallow one I wish I could have tried, but was too full!

 

There are a number of bars along the Yarra river that runs through the city, but my favorites were Storyville where I ordered Butterbeer, and the Croft where one of my Japanese friends DJed.  They also have syringe drinks available that are very tasty and fun to share with others.  All of these places had really friendly and welcoming atmospheres, and I even managed to make friends in the bathroom!

One event I recommend checking out is Delight because they run really fun music events with Smash Bros. tournaments at various locations in central Melbourne.  I met some very nice people here, and was impressed with the quality of music.

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それを考えぬく – EMBRACE

One of my favorite memories in this city was drinking Korean sochu while watching Kenny Beats & Zack Fox with two friends in an office building.  I felt like I was reliving my college days and it was extremely nostalgic.  The above poster I shot inspires you to let go of your thoughts and embrace your surroundings, which is exactly what I did during this trip.  It was really beneficial for my mental health.

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Seeing this Shelter poster hanging in my friend’s room only continued to add to the nostalgia.

Overall I was very impressed with this city and felt like I could finally escape from my high-stress life in Tokyo.  Some people refer to Melbourne as the “hipster” area of Australia, but I think it has a lot more to offer than just chic cafes and murals like other places that have that label.  I will be writing more about the art galleries and wildlife reserves I visited in my future posts so you can get a better feel about what this country is like, but I recommend that you visit it if you ever get the chance!

Exploring Kuala Lumpur: Temples, Caves, and Chinatown

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The city of Kuala Lumpur comes alive at night.

Malaysia is a country where you can find an abundance of places such as remote beaches, penthouses with infinity pools, markets, skyscrapers, temples, and more amazing architecture.  I loved the diversity that the city of Kuala Lumpur had to offer.  Though the center of the city is quite fancy, the country itself is actually very affordable to travel in, making it a popular destination for backpackers.  I traveled here via bus for three days after exploring Singapore, and was extremely happy with all the sights I was able to see.

I recommend staying at least three days in KL to make sure you have time to see everything.  Much of the city is reachable on foot or via train, but since it was cheap I used the Grab app to call taxis around the city.  With the tropical weather, delicious food, and affordable accommodations, you really can’t go wrong traveling here!  Here are the places that I definitely recommend seeing:

Petaling Street & Chinatown

The Chinatown district of KL is always very lively and has a ton of cultural aspects to enjoy.  When exploring a new country, my strategy is always to usually start with the local market to see what the downtown area was like.  That is why I chose to come here early in the day, though most places are usually open until around 11pm or later.  The market on Petaling Street had an array of knockoff handbags and interesting items.  I managed to score a seemingly authentic-looking Ted Baker bag for less than $50.  Prices here are open to negotiation, and I recommend that you look around!

If you’re not into shopping. there is still a lot to see around this area because it’s very close to KL’s central transit station.  I explored the local Sri Mahamariamman Temple, which is the oldest Hindu temple in the city.  I also got some local street food that tasted amazing!  I recommend that you try the local fried rice dishes and curry here.

I also tried “ABC Ice”, which is a very unique Malaysian spin on shaved ice:

The top of it tasted like traditional shaved ice you find in Japan–it was topped with condensed milk which made it extremely sweet and delicious.  However, at the bottom it was filled with jelly cubes, sweet beans, and this mysterious green noodle sweet I had never tasted before!  It was refreshing, but the texture of the toppings they placed at the bottom as a bit too much for me…  However, I was happy that I tried it!

The Batu Caves

The Batu Caves is a beautiful area with rainbow stairs leading to a limestone cave with temples inside.  There are actually a total of five caves, but the central ones with the golden statue of Lord Murugan are the most frequented.  Though the hill looks steep, it actually only takes approximately 8 minutes to climb.  The caves are extremely gorgeous, and this trip is a relaxing escape from the city that only takes approximately 30 minutes to reach.  I enjoyed sipping on some fresh coconut juice while going on this short hike.  To reach the Dark Cave, it is required you book a tour, but you can see the majority of the area without one.

Petronas Towers

The Petronas Towers are an iconic landmark of KL and are currently the tallest twin towers in the world.  At night they light up and you can find groups of people gathered around them because they are in the heart of the city.  When you first enter them, you will find an upscale shopping district called Suria KLCC.  However, on the 41st and 42nd floor, you will find the skybridge that connects the two towers.  You can go up to the top and take some stunning photos.  This is an ingenious design because it saves a ton of time walking through here rather than from one building to the other.  This very well could be the future of architecture!

Bukit Bintang

Bukit Bintang is the main bar street of KL, and there’s a lot of adventures to be had here!  Though I only had two nights to explore it, I came across this upscale Asian bistro called Opium that I really enjoyed.  They had a ton of Asian cuisine (Thai, Maylasian, Japanese, Vietnamese), as well as some fascinating cocktails.  I tried the spiced rum and coffee cocktails.  Though they were a bit pricey, just two of them got me pretty tipsy.

I then briefly popped into the club called Zion (Sieg Zion)!  The pro was that it was free, the con was that it played mainly American hiphop music with no variety, but I was bought a handful of drinks by locals so it was a night well spent.  The club was big enough to dance, and I’m curious to know what the music selection is like on other nights.

Final Thoughts

Though this might not be the first trip on your itinerary, as someone who’s lived in Asia for a while, I can definitely say traveling here is like a breath of fresh air.  The country is extremely safe, and I enjoyed experiencing the culture of the people that live here.  It feels familiar because everyone speaks English, but also extremely foreign at the same time.  The biggest culture shock for me was that people eat rice with their bare hands!  However, people were extremely polite and kind to me, and it reminded me of Thailand at times.  Please consider taking a trip here.

 

Staying at a Backpacker’s Penthouse in Malaysia

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Ever heard of infinity pools?  Though the sleek concept involving cityscapes and a seemingly endless body of water is popular in some countries, coming from Tokyo, it was a brand new experience for me.  After exploring some remote beaches in Mersing and near Singapore, I took a 6 hour bus ride to Malaysia’s bustling metropolis; Kaula Lumpur, and stayed in a penthouse with other backpackers for the duration of my trip.  During this time I connected with other people from around the world that I’ll never forget.

After browsing a few places online, I settled on Sky Society, a backpacker’s penthouse boasting both a high quality stay and a stunning rooftop infinity pool.  I figured I’d have to try staying in a penthouse at least once in my life, and with dorm prices going as low as $15 per night, who could complain?

My stay there was incredible.  The Regalia Tower in which Sky Society is located has high security making you feel safe at all times, and it feels like a homestay because the hosts take extremely good care of you.  There’s free breakfast every morning, plus they have clean private showers.  Despite staying in the cheapest dorm room, everyone was quiet and respectful of one another.  However, I was able to socialize with other backpackers out on the balcony even after midnight and that’s where I met some of my best friends on this trip.  No matter how social you want to be, you can have a great time here.  Did I mention the pool?

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View from my penthouse room in Sky Society.

That just shows the basic swimming pool.  Here’s the grand infinity pool on the top floor:

It was a bit narrow, but the breathtaking view made up for it.  You can see all of the most iconic buildings, including the Petronas Towers, from this pool.  The number of people up here was just right too.  There’s a minibar, though I recommend pregaming in your room first like I did.  Overall, this is an experience that I think everyone should have.  I will be writing about exploring the city of Kuala Lumpur next.