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 Fukui: The Land of Dinosaurs and Castle in the Clouds (Part 1)

A trip to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum—arguably one of the coolest field trips in Japan!

Over the last two days, I decided to take a solo trip to Fukui Prefecture, one of the 6 prefectures of Japan I had yet to visit. My main two reasons for going were to see the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum and Ono Castle, which appears shrouded in clouds under certain weather conditions. The best time to photograph it is during the fall season so I decided to seize the opportunity in mid-October. Though very rural, Fukui has a rustic charm to it and also has delicious seafood since it is close to Kanazawa. I would recommend coming here after you have explored all of the major cities of Japan and are looking for something different as there is a lot of history here. The dinosaur museum is definitely the major draw for tourism but there are a lot of temples and castles to see too!

Getting to Fukui

Fukui is quite remote from Tokyo, so I flew from Haneda Airport to Komatsu Airport for around 25,000 yen through JAL Airlines then took a local bus to central Fukui. The flight took around one hour, and the bus ride took an additional hour. From Tokyo Station, the trip to Fukui Station is 3.5 hours and costs 15,000 yen one way, so flying is the cheaper option especially if you can book in advance.

While at Fukui Station, I enjoyed seeing all of the dinosaur themed foods, including sushi! Of course the sushi was mackeral flavored and not dinosaur flavored, but they really went hard with the marketing here and I respect the hustle. I treated myself to a crab ekiben which tasted amazing and went outside to see the giant dinosaur at the station square. It sure was a sight to see! Afterwards I decided to head directly to the city’s prized dinosaur museum.

Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

From Fukui Station, I took the local train to Katsuyama where the dinosaur museum was located. On the way there, a the train attendant offered me a discount ticket to the museum which included roundtrip train and/or bus fare. The ticket cost 2600 yen but she subtracted my train ticket expensive from it so I only paid 1900 yen for it. This offer is currently available until the end of the year and I highly recommend it!

I was surprised to find that the dinosaur museum was larger than I expected with 4 floors, 2 cafes, and outdoor parks with large dinosaur models and a safari. There is a huge collection of fossils, dioramas, and skeletons that really do a good job in showing how these magnificent creatures came to life and evolved. My favorite part was the animatronics which looked shockingly realistic:

Out of all of the prefectures in Japan, the most dinosaurs have been unearthed from Fukui, including the Fukuititan! For a full list of everything that has been discovered here, please check out the Katsuyama City website. Additionally, each season a temporary exhibition is held, and during the time I came here it was sea dragon themed. It was really cool to learn that sea dragons actually existed in the form of the Gurifoderuma Kangi that was originally discovered in China. They really put a lot of effort into making their exhibits interactive and appealing to all ages which is why I give this museum a high rating.

Before leaving, I decided to grab a bite at the Saurus Kitchen and Dino Cafe. Both have very similar menus, but I wanted to try the dino pancakes and the tyranno parfait which are exclusive items. I was not disappointed because these two desserts really hit the spot and looked aesthetically pleasing. There’s also dino curry, ramen, and other dishes you can try here. You really can’t go wrong with this menu:

Overall I spent around 1.5 hours at this museum and could see why it was so hyped up. The dinosaur exhibits truly are massive and immerse you in a jurassic world. I have a newfound appreciation for Fukui Prefecture after seeing how much history it has!

Thank you for reading the first part of my Fukui article series. In my next article I will be talking about Ono Castle, more food, and accommodations so please stay tuned!

Cruising through the Whirlpools of Naruto City

View from a whirlpool cruise in Naruto City during the strongest tidal current.

After completing my ninja training at the Naruto x Boruto Theme Park, I decided the next logical thing to do on this vacation was set off on a whirlpool cruise in Naruto city. The Naruto Whirlpools are located underneath the bridge that connects Awaji Island to Shikoku. I used to live in this area nearly 6 years ago when I first moved to Japan. Though it was only for a short time, it felt nostalgic coming back here after all these years where my journey first began. You can see the whirlpools from the bridge but the best way to photograph them is on a whirlpool cruise. The tidal current can change depending on the time of year, so be sure to look at what is recommend from the booking website before you make a reservation. We decided to book a tour at 11:15 on an Aqua Eddy boat from Uzusio because it has an upper and lower deck where you can see the whirlpools from underneath the water. The cruise lasts for about 30 minutes and costs 2400 which was suitable for me.

Using my GoPro I managed to catch some pretty neat footage of the Naruto Whirlpools:

Being on this cruise was fantastic because the weather was perfect and I could feel the coolness of the ocean breeze. I reflected on my life a lot and thought about how much I had changed since I last saw these whirlpools. They really are something else! They definitely looked best from the top deck but it was fun to see the fish from the windows underneath the boat too. Be sure to make a reservation in advance because this cruise is quite popular.

Address: 264-1 Oge, Tosadomariura, Naruto-cho, Naruto- City, Tokushima 772-0053

Izanagi Shrine

One of the most famous shrines in Awaji is Izanagi, which is the oldest shinto shrine in Japan that houses Izanagi and Izamami. If you have played the Persona series then you may already be slightly familiar with the mythology. Izanagi is said to be a god of creation so this shrine is very sacred and is beautiful to see. There is a red bridge and miniature garden that make it very scenic. The ema here are shaped like peaches which I thought was pretty unique. I am grateful to have had the chance to finally visit!

Address: 740 Taga, Awaji, Hyogo 656-1521
Entrance Fee: Free

Swimming at Tsushi Beach

Before heading back to our ryokan, we decided to take a quick swim at Tsushi Beach which was walking distance from where we were staying. This beach was really unique because there were so many fish jumping out of the water! I had a couple close encounters with them but they were completely harmless. We were later told that this beach was designated for fishing by someone who spotted us from the shore, but we still had an amazing time here seeing the sunset and I got a really good workout in.

Staying at Yodoso

While I was looking at hotels close to the beach, I found a ryokan called Yodoso that was only 4000 yen per night. On an island famous for its fancy and upscale resorts which get to be pretty pricey, this felt like that ultimate deal. Score! Unfortunately my room was extremely simple and did not contain a private bathroom or shower, but it was okay for what it was; especially since we were only staying here for one night. The seafood breakfast we had was absolutely amazing here and was only 1000 yen extra. I definitely recommend trying the fish here! 1-2 night in Awaji is enough to experience the island.

Yumebutai Gardens

The Yumebutai Gardens of Awaji were designed by Tadao Ando, whose work I had previously seen on Naoshima Island. I was very interested in these gardens due to their unique square shape. This area was previously destroyed in 1998 by a huge earthquake, so it’s amazing to see how much was reconstructed. While we were here we ran into a photoshoot for a wedding and it was fun to see! The architecture here is breathtaking and it is completely surrounded by flower gardens that you can visit. For me the square one was by far the most aesthetic.

Address: 656-2306 Hyogo, Awaji, Yumebutai, 2−番地
Entrance Fee: Free

Final Meal

Before driving 6 hours back to Yamanashi where I would catch a local train to Tokyo, we decided to have our last meal on the island at a restaurant called Kitora located inside of the gardens. I decided to order a seafood platter and really appreciated how they put a cherry on top of the salmon roe. Not only did this look beautiful, but the taste was out of this world. I will never forget how much fun I had on this island! Fortunately I was able to 100% complete everything on my itinerary so I was satisfied.

My next trip is currently undecided as I will be temporarily leaving Japan to visit my home country next month now that I have my vaccine passport. However, I have my sight set on Fukui and would really like to sneak a trip in before I leave. Fingers crossed! When I return to Japan I will likely go to Sapporo in the winter so I can take pictures of the snow. I am very excited to see how the rest of this year unfolds.

Venturing to the Theme Parks of Awaji Island: Hello Kitty Smile & Naruto x Boruto Shinobi-zato

The great Hokage watch over Awaji Island.

After we had a fantastic stay in Kobe visiting Rokko Island, Chinatown, and Harborland, we decided to take a road trip to Hyogo Prefecture’s Awaji Island—a rural tropical paradise boasting resorts, farmland, and iconic amusement parks. There are also many beaches here that you can use for recreational fishing and swimming. The main reason I wanted to come here was to see the Naruto x Boruto theme park and also go on a whirlpool cruise, which I will detail in my next article. What I liked most about Awaji is that it had a variety of fascinating attractions enjoyable for all ages. I originally debated about solo tripping and taking the local bus around here, but Awaji is best explored by car. Fortunately my friends were on board with my itinerary and we were able to split the highway tolls while having an amazing vacation here!

Getting to Awaji

Awaji is connected to Kobe and Tokushima by bridge so you can reach the island by car or bus. There are no airports or trains on the island making it hard to get around, so I would recommend renting a car. From Kobe we drove about an hour to get to the central part of the island and were able to see quite a lot during our two day stay. I recommend staying 2-3 days so you have enough time to see all of the attractions you want and spend time on the beach.

For more information on the Awaji buses, please see the official Awaji Tourism website.

Naruto x Boruto Shinobi-zato

Naruto x Boruto Shinobi-zato is a permanent theme park that is part of Nijigen no Mori, a forested area of attractions and events on Awaji Island. This theme park originally opened in 2019 but was temporarily closed due to the effects of the pandemic in 2020. It reopened in 2021 and is now fully operational but requires all visitors to wear masks. As an avid fan of the series in middle school, I simply had to go. I really wished I would have brought my Naruto headband I brought from ebay when I was 12 years old, but it is sitting somewhere at my parents’ house in Michigan. When I visit home later this year I might break it out for old time’s sake. Though I’ve moved on to other anime, Naruto will always have a special place in my heart. I really wish I could show my middle school self these pictures so she could see how badass I am in my twenties.

After purchasing your ticket at the door, you will be handed a small sack containing two ninja scrolls. Basically the whole premise is a giant stamp rally where the aim is to find as many of your ninja allies as possible and collect stamps to master ninjutsu. As soon as you enter the park you will be greeted by cardboard cutouts of all the main characters and see the iconic monument of the great Hokage. If this isn’t weeaboo paradise, I don’t know what is! You can line up on either side of the monument to start an obstacle course. We chose the Uzumaki side, but the Uchiha side is also an option. The course was pretty fun and involved light climbing, door puzzles, and had a slide. The hints are written in Japanese, English, and Chinese so we were able to get through them without issue. The weather was really hot so we were sweating at the end, but collecting our first stamp was ever so satisfying.

After the first course we decided to explore the whole entire park. Past the Hokage monument are the Akatsuki, a large statue of Kurama, and a tiny cave area you can walk through. As you walk through these areas, you can hear character voices giving you hints on where to go. If you keep walking you will eventually loop around to the food and souvenir shop near the entrance of the park. You can order ramen, drinks, and sweets that your favorite characters eat from the series. My favorite thing that I saw in the gift shop was the coconut Kakashi chapstick. As a kid I would have absolutely loved this theme park, but as an adult it was fun looking back on all of the memories this series gave me.

Overall I would recommend spending 1-2 hours here. The entrance fee is a bit pricey but honestly the pictures I took here made it worth it. I really liked how they made half of this park an obstacle course so it felt more like real ninja training instead of something with roller coasters because it wouldn’t be as fitting. I would definitely come here for the meme factor if you are an anime fan.

Address: 2425-2 Kusumoto, Awaji, Hyogo 656-2301
Entrance Fee: 3300 yen (basic admission—shows and additional obstacle courses are more money)

Hello Kitty Smile

Originally we tried to enter a pancake restaurant for breakfast this morning, but since it was located near the central resort area it was too crowded for us to enter. Instead we went to get high tea and seafood at Hello Kitty Smile, which turned out to be a super magical experience even better than our original plan!

Hello Kitty Smile consists of a resort with a fancy cafe, seafood restaurant with an ocean view, and museum of underwater themed Hello Kitty characters. We decided to split the high tea set and order caramel lattes which was a great move. I really enjoyed all of the little cakes and Hello Kitty manjuu that they included in the set. For lunch we went downstairs to the main restaurant and all ordered garlic shrimp plates. The portion sizes were absolutely HUGE!! Awaji is famous for its seafood, namely shrimp, and I can definitely see why. I am happy that we were able to have both cute and hearty meals here.

Afterwards we decided to enter the Hello Kitty “Under the Sea” area which contained a lot of projection mapped images similar to teamLab but on a much smaller scale. It was still very fun to experience and there were a ton of photo ops—namely the trippy room filled with Hello Kitty plush dolls. Additionally I loved seeing the vintage car under the neon lights, the sparkly guitar, and meeting Hello Kitty herself! There was also an arts and crafts area for kids with a bunch of carnival games. I could see this as the ideal vacation for young children, but walking around the museum as an adult was fun too. Plus the view of the ocean was simply beautiful. I felt very relaxed here and was happy with what I saw.

Address: 985-1 Nojimahikinoura, Awaji, Hyogo 656-1721
Entrance Fee: 2300 yen

Godzilla Zipline

One of the best things I saw on this trip was people casually zipling into Godzilla’s mouth outside of the Naruto x Boruto Park:

DOOM!

Unfortunately I was wearing a short skirt so I couldn’t partake, but just watching this was absolutely hilarious! You gotta appreciate the strange things you stumble upon on these rural islands. For more information, please see the Godzilla Interception Operation website.

Thank you for reading the first part of my Awaji Island article series! In my next article, I will be talking about the whirlpool cruise, beaches, and my accommodation. Please look forward to it~

Exploring Ogawa Falls and Kanoya City in Kagoshima

Ogawa Falls in Kanoya, Kagoshima.

While looking for destinations I wanted to travel to in Kagoshima after Amami Island, the two that stood out to me the most were Ogawa Falls and Sakurajima. Ogawa Falls are located remotely in a forest in the city of Kanoya, directly southeast of Sakurajima. Getting to Kanoya is a challenge because there are no trains that run through the city—you have to either take a bus from Kagoshima Airport or rent a car to get here. I opted to take the bus which was around 1.5 hours and 2100 yen. Though the city of Kanoya is quite rural, it is considered a nice town to stay in and has a number of delicious restaurants, shrines, and beautiful nature spots. I enjoyed my time here because it was very quiet and relaxing.

Here are my top recommendations that you can do over the span of two days!

Jintoku Inari Shrine

My first stop was Jintoku Inari Shrine, which I ran to from my hostel in the morning. This is a small shrine but has over 100 red gates and many fox deity statues. I also enjoyed seeing the fox-shaped ema with people’s wishes written on them too! When I arrived here at 9am (which is the opening time), I was the only person here which was quite relaxing. I really enjoyed the privacy of this shrine and felt at peace here.

Address: 1771-4 Shineicho, Kanoya, Kagoshima 893-0063
Admission: Free

Ogawa Falls

Ogawa Falls is a remote waterfall located south of Kanoya City with beautiful shades of water and rock formations. It takes about 45 mins to reach by car. I had my hostel call a taxi here and back because there is no other way to reach it by public transport. It’s really a shame that there’s not a local bus from Kanoya City that goes here, but I suppose there are not enough travelers that come to the city to justify the cause. The taxi here cost around 8000 yen one way which is quite expensive, but trust me the views were extremely worth the price! The hike to the falls is roughly 20 mins on pretty even terrain and there is a viewing deck with 2 floors you can stand on to see them. This place really didn’t feel like Japan because it looked more like a destination from Thailand or the Philippines. However, this truly shows how beautiful places in Kagoshima can be and I really encourage more people to make the journey here!

Additionally, there is a lovely cafe called aqua base by the parking lot where you can try fresh juice and sweet potato flavored monkey-shaped pastries. It truly was a dream come true for an aesthetic food lover so I bought their earrings of the pastry too! I will never forget my time here because it was truly unique and once again, I was the only person here which made it special!

Address: 5876-2 Tashirokawahara, 錦江町 Kimotsuki District, Kagoshima 893-2402
Admission: Free

Take Bakery and Cafe

While looking for pescatarian-friendly places in the area, Take Bakery and Cafe was one of the very first that popped up so I figured I would check it out. For breakfast before I went to Ogawa Falls, I decided to try their salmon and cream cheese bagel with a soy latte. It gave me just the energy I needed to hike through the falls and was delicious so I would highly recommend it. Since I was curious about their salads, I came back here for lunch after my trek since their bread and cheese was so amazing. I also started day drinking while I waited for my bus back to the airport and I can’t recommend their local wine enough! They recognized me from this morning and generously thanked me for coming twice. I would have gladly come for dinner too had I stayed another night here!

Address: 5-5 Kitadacho, Kanoya, Kagoshima 893-0007

Accommodation

Since my stay here was very short and I spent a good chunk of money on my resort in Amami, I opted to stay in Hotel & Hostel Haru. Rooms are around 2000 yen per night and I was the only person staying in my dormitory so it was a comfortable stay. Not only were the rooms extremely clean, the staff was very friendly and gave me free sake and helped me call my taxi to Ogawa Falls too. I was lucky to have found such a nice place in a remote city! In my opinion 2 days is all you need to see the highlights of Kanoya.

Another fun point of interest close to this hostel is Wadaiseki Park which has a statue of a kappa. I enjoyed being friends with him during my time here and we really vibed. Look forward to reading about Sakurajima in my next article!

Exploring Amami Island: The Rich Paradise of Goats & Pristine Beaches

A warm welcome from Kurasaki Beach!

After raving in the mountains of Gunma for three days, I realized the end of summer would soon be upon us so the first week of September would be the ideal time to knock of a few places on my Kyushu bucket list—mainly Amami Island, Sakurajima, and the first crater of Mt. Aso. Since I already had a phenomenal vacation in Okinawa just before Golden week, I was craving one more long beach trip before it became too cold to swim. Fortunately for me, I found a number of discount one-way airline tickets and was able to string them together to create the ultimate bargain vacation throughout Kyushu. A number of my friends and coworkers asked me how I did it so I will try to explain my itinerary as thoroughly as possible. If you fly during certain times through Peach and Skymark airlines from Narita airport, you can find discount flights for almost 1/3 of the price all year round in Japan! It just takes some time analyzing Google Flights but really anyone can create the perfect vacation if they put enough heart and research into it.

The dates I chose to travel were 8/30 – 9/5. My completed itinerary was:

Tokyo (NRT Airport) → Amami → Kagoshima → Sakurajima (via ferry) → Kagoshima → Kanoya (for Ogawa Falls) → Fukuoka → Kumamoto → Mt. Aso → Kumamoto → Fukuoka Airport ↺ Tokyo

Since I don’t have an international driver’s license, I relied completely on buses, local trains, taxis, ferries, and even rented bikes too! I spent a lot of time on the road but I listened to music, played my Switch, and did a lot of GoPro editing on my phone too. This was my first time traveling in quite a long time due to the pandemic and the typhoons that hit Japan during Obon season, but I’m happy to say it was another huge success! I learned a lot about the rural life of Kyushu, swam in onsen and oceans, and made many friends along the way (both human and goat). It’s been a while since I last updated Resurface to Reality so I hope you enjoy reading all about my latest Kyushu adventures in this latest article series.

Getting to Amami Island

I chose Amami Island as my first destination because it is one of the most popular remote islands for water activities in Kagoshima. It is not technically part of Okinawa, but it is extremely close to some of its island chains and the weather is almost exactly the same. Amami is a place you go to getaway from the crowds and doesn’t have nearly as many people as Naha, but it does have a bustling downtown shopping area where you can interact freely with the islanders. I spent most of my time swimming at my resort and biking around beaches, but there are a number of wonderful things you can see here!

The easiest way to get to Amami Island is by plane, and fortunately all of the best resorts and beaches are near the airport too! You can also travel by ferry from Kagoshima and Okinawa, but these trips can take up to 11 hours which you could be using to relax during your Kyushu vacation. I departed from Narita Airport around 10am on a Monday and my ticket was only 7040 yen, which beats the long 9000 yen ferry! The plane ride was only 2.5 hours and I slept for over half of it. When I reached the airport, I could already feel the tropical breeze and the bright rays from the sun as soon as I went outside. A free shuttle bus was waiting for me outside too, and driver smiled at me and said “Let’s gooooo!” in English. The adventure was about to begin!

Accommodation: Caretta Resort Amami

While looking for accommodations in Amami, I wanted something on the beach preferably with a pool or a hot tub for the ultimate relaxation. Fortunately I found my ideal hotel match at Caretta Resort! Not only did this hotel have a gigantic pool, inflatables, and a hot tub, but it also had friendly goats and was located directly on Kurasaki Beach. This was the closest resort I found in Japan that resembled Koh Samui, one of my favorite islands in Thailand due to the proximity of the ocean and the huge pool. The hospitality was truly amazing and the people were so kind. There were a bunch of kids in the pool roleplaying Pokemon which really brought me back to my childhood too. The view from inside of the rooms is really beautiful too. If you book far enough in advance, you can get a room for under 10000 which truly is a steal for a resort of this quality. I splurged a bit but treating myself was truly worth it! This hotel has everything you need, including free bike rentals too.

I recommend staying in Amami for at least 3 days like I did so you can fully enjoy the beaches and also choose to go snorkeling, kayaking, or paragliding which I will get into in my next article!

Eating a Heart-shaped Donut at Heart Rock

After checking in at my lovely resort and greeting the goat that lives outside of it, I decided to rent a bike from my hotel and bike to the famous Heart Rock that was just 10 mins away. This heart-shaped pool appears most visible during low tides, but you can see it year-round. It is said to have some kind of healing property so it attracts a number of visitors each day.

Before going to Heart Rock, you can stop at Healthy Island Cafe and buy heart-shaped donuts that come in different flavors and also try goat milk ice cream! I enjoyed how creamy it was plus meeting all of the goats outside that had helped make it. You can purchase other products like goat soap, cheese, and mascots as well. The goat culture on Amami Island is truly amazing and everyone loves them!

I really enjoyed walking through the mini jungle area on the path to the beach and met a stray cat on my way to the rock. A lot of Amami is completely untouched making it the perfect place for adventurers to explore!

Heart Rock Address: 1346-1 Akaogi, Tatsugo, Oshima District, Kagoshima 894-0411

Trying Amami Foods & Sake

Amami Island is famous not only for its goat milk ice cream, but also its seafood and black sugar shochu! Due to the pandemic, a number of restaurants were closed so I just kept calling random ones near the beach until I found out that one named Restaurant AMAnesia was open until 7pm. I got extremely lucky because this restaurant was near a famous hotel and had a huge selection of seafood!

I decided to go with the mini steamed lobster set that came with local island specialties, rice, and vegetables. I also ordered a mini assortment of black sugar shochu. To my surprise it was very strong and not very sweet at all, but I still enjoyed it! After enjoying this delicious meal, I went outside to the beach to enjoy the ocean breeze. Boy this sure beat Tokyo!

AMAnesia Address: 1246-1 Kasaricho Oaza Yoan, Amami, Kagoshima 894-0508

I really enjoyed the privateness of Amami Island this day and reflected on my thoughts. This was an incredible first day with perfect weather and I was very excited for the rest of the week!

In my next article, I will be going into detail about various activities you can do on Amami such as paragliding and kayaking through the mangrove. Please look forward to my next article!

From the Archives: Memories of Fuji Rock 2018

My first time to Fuji Rock at Naeba Ski Resort in 2018 was quite the experience.

Though Japan has an abundant amount of quality music events, Fuji Rock is widely accepted as the best outdoor music festival. Not only does it have rock music, but it also has techno, electronic, and retro music that plays homage to the past. Fuji Rock is held every August at Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata Prefecture. In 2018 I attended the festival for the first time and was blown away by how organized it was. Not only that, but people respected the rules and kept the outdoor area clean. Unlike festivals in America and the party islands of Thailand, there was no trash or wrappers left on the ground. Not to mention the forest and all of the stages were decorated so beautifully!

In this article I will be recounting my experience of Fuji Rock so that others can take my advice on how to prepare. Fuji Rock will be held on Aug 20 – 22nd this year but unfortunately I will be unable to attend. I look back to my experience with fond memories, however, and may decide to go in the future!

Getting to Fuji Rock & Accommodations

From Tokyo Station you can take the Josetsu shinkansen directly to Echigo Yuzawa Station and then take a 500 yen shuttle ride to Fuji Rock or a taxi. The trip is less than two hours and the shinkansen ticket costs 7,000 yen one way which is quite cheaper than traveling to other cities in Japan.

Since the festival lasts for 3 days, you have the choice of buying individual tickets for the day you want to go or a 3 day ticket. Since this was my first time going, I only went for one day and stayed at a net cafe near Niigata Station. The majority of my Japanese friends went for multiple days and chose to camp at the festival though. A one day ticket costs around 19,000 which may seem expensive, but it is worth it for the lineup and overall experience. The ticket to camp at the festival is 3,000 yen for the whole duration of the fest which will save you a lot of money on hotels. There are some accommodations near the ski resort but they are extremely expensive and sell out fast.

If you are unsure of what you want to do, I would recommend buying a one day ticket in advance and seeing how you feel. Though the early bird tickets always sell out on the Fuji Rock website, there is a chance you can still buy one during the time of the festival.

Pregaming at Echigo Yuzawa Station

Echigo Yuzawa Station is famous for its Ponshukan, which is a facility with walls of mini sake vending machines you can sample and actually get pretty buzzed on. The way it works is you are given 5 tokens for 500 yen and can go around and try 5 flavors of sake. I did this twice so I could get a little tipsy and save money on drinks at the festival. There are almost 100 brands that are all produced in Niigata so sampling them will bring you closer to being a true sake connoisseur. People called this “sake heaven” and I can see exactly why because you can taste everything from sweet to strong. However, if sake is not your thing you can buy other alcohol from surrounding souvenir shops or stop at a convenience store too.

I honestly packed pretty light with my purse, a backpack with a change of clothes, and a water bottle. Obviously if you are camping you will have a heavier load but this festival is convenient enough so you can pick up anything you forgot at the station. After I felt prepared enough I waited for the free shuttle to make its rounds. Since I arrived around 2pm because the artist I wanted to see the most was closing the festival, it was very easy to get a seat.

Experiencing the Fuji Rock

Once you get off the bus the entrance to Fuji Rock is pretty much straight ahead. There are seven main stages and tons of small performance areas scattered throughout the woods. Since I was here mainly to see Skrillex and Maximum the Hormone who were playing at the end of the festival, I had a lot of time to kill so I wandered around to every stage that I could find. The woods were absolutely beautiful and although the festival was huge I never felt over-crowded. I passed by Avicii’s fan-made memorial site and paid my respects. I also made some friends at the bar while looking for Dragondola, which is the longest gondola ride in the world that you can use to reach certain stages but I ended up having too much fun with them and stayed by the main stages. If I go back to Fuji Rock again in the future, I’ll be sure to ride it and take pictures! But for the most part, Fuji Rock is extremely laid back and it’s really easy to make friends and enjoy yourself.

In 2018 Skrillex closed the Green Stage which holds up to nearly 50,000 people. I still remember how hilarious his performance was because he opened it with a meme. The music brought back a ton of memories to back when I was in college and first started listening to EDM. I have never seen him in America, but the Japan crowd was extremely lit and respectful at the same time. I sadly missed the chance to see him perform at WOMB in 2017 but I am so happy I had the chance to see him here at Fuji Rock in 2018. It really meant a lot to me.

Here is an old video I took from my IG:

After this amazing performance ended, it started pouring rain so I decided to take a taxi back to the station but damn was this amazing! I really wished that I could have stayed for another day, but I had plans to go to Sadoshima the next day so in the end this was the best itinerary for me.

Best Food

I would say Fuji Rock has the best food vendors out of all fests in Japan due to the sheer variety of stalls and also because the fried tofu topped with avocado I tried was out of this world. I’ve never been able to find it at any other music event I’ve been too and really miss it. There’s also a ton of fried food, sandwiches, and ice cream you can try as well. Cocktails were only around 700 yen making them about the same as price what you’d pay at clubs. Although you are not allowed to bring in your own food or cooking equipment, everything here is fairly priced and there are vegetarian and organic options too.

The weirdest ice cream I’ve ever tried in Japan was salty shrimp ice cream at a souvenir shop outside of the festival called Uonuma. The saltiness balanced out the sweetness and I was impressed with how delicious it was. If you’re looking to kill time on your way back to Tokyo then this is a great place to stop!

Final Impressions

Like every music event I’ve been to in Japan, Fuji Rock left me with a great impression. I loved the openness of the forest, friendliness of the people, and diversity of the music. Not to mention how good the food was. Depending on what future artists they bring out in the future, I think I will consider going again, especially since the shinkansen ticket is so cheap. Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic are definitely my favorite music fests that are unique to Japan and I can’t wait to experience more!

Exploring Sadoshima: The Island of Gold Mines, Washtubs, and the Japanese Crested Ibis

Remember the washtub scene from Tales of Symphonia? On Sadoshima you can live the dream!

After seeing Skrillex close the first night of Fuji Rock in 2018, I decided to spend the next day sailing to Niigata’s obscure island with dark past: Sadoshima. Through a large portion of history this island was used as exile for heinous criminals but also for free thinkers who had critical opinions of the emperors at the time. Many people were contained in detention centers, but after the discovery of the gold mines on the islands they able-bodied were used as forced laborers. People from the mainland were also selected to help mine the gold. Nowadays the island is filled with luscious nature and the mines and prisons have been turned into museums. There are a number of activities that you can do on Sadoshima including swimming and taking a boat tour, but my main reason for coming is so I could ride in the washtubs (also known as hangiri or tarai bune).

Getting to Sadoshima

I purchased a ferry tickets from Sado Kisen for 2380 yen in advance and rode the car ferry. There are multiple boarding points, but I boarded at Bandaijima Ferry Terminal because it is closest to the shinkansen station. I would definitely recommend booking in advance so you can better plan your trip because only certain time slots are available.

The boat ride to Sadoshima from Niigata takes one hour and is a pretty smooth trip. I would recommend doing a day trip unless you plan on swimming a lot because most of the island can be seen in a day. There are various Sado Bus Tours you can reserve from the official website that take you to the main points of the island. You can also try renting a car or take a taxi, but the bus tours have the best value. I took the half-day course that included the gold mines, wash tubs, and Toki Forest Park for 4900 yen. I can happily say that my experience was worth the time and money because I got to witness a lot of rare sights!

Boarding the Ship

I boarded the ship at 6am and was surprised to find out that it was ginormous with a total of 6 floors. I booked second class seats because they were cheaper but the first class tickets come with small beds you can nap in. The ship even had anime mascots and cosplay that you could wear and take pictures in! Not to mention you could buy a lot of food and alcohol from the vending machines and staffed stalls. The view of the ocean from the top was amazing too and I still remember the gentle summer breeze. After backpacking in Asia for 3 years I was really getting used to the no frills ferries, but this was maybe the most luxurious boat I have ever ridden in my life. Even 3 years later while writing this I still remember how amazing it was!

Riding the Washtubs from Tales of Symphonia

As a child I adored Tales of Symphonia, and specifically remember there being a washtub scene in the game. In this scene the characters heroically board washtubs at the pier and sail to their next destination, some characters enduring the ride better than others making it comedic. Little did I know that I would get to experience the same thing here on Sadoshima! Fortunately the washtubs here are extremely pleasant to ride and you have your own captain to steer for you. A true luxury that is unique to this island.

In the past these boats were extremely popular for fishing due to their durability and low cost, but now there are much more powerful tools available so only remote villages are keeping this tradition alive. In Ito, Shizuoka, the Matsukawa Washtub Races are sometimes held, but these washtubs are leaner and meant for sports. Sadoshima is the best place to experience them and fortunately you can reserve them on the same day you arrive to the island. The ride is only for around 15 minutes but you can choose to ride multiple times. I had a blast reliving a scene from one of my favorite games!

Here is a video I took on my old camera. Sadly this was before my GoPro days but I remember how fun this was:

Kinzan Gold Mine

According to Japan Guide, Sadoshima’s Kinzan Gold Mine was the most active gold mine in Japan that produced over 400kg of gold and also silver and other metals too. It has two main paths that you can walk down and read the history while you explore the inner tunnels. One path has tiny robotic workers that reenact some of the activities in the mine and another has restored tunnels from the Edo Period. There is a gift shop that sells all sorts of crazy gold souvenirs including gold sake and sponge cakes with specks of gold in the frosting. It looks kind of tacky now but at the time I really enjoyed these kinds of places! I still have a gold necklace that I occasionally wear out that I bought from Sadoshima. I’d say the gift shops here are pretty top notch and it is always fun to look around~

Toki Forest Park

The Toki, or Japanese Crested Ibis, is an endangered species that is kept under special watch at Sadoshima. At Toki Forest Park you can learn all about them and observe them from a safe distance. The park is very beautiful and contains various facilities. There is an outdoor area where you can take a stroll through the garden and may have the chance to meet the costumed Toki mascot. There is an indoor area where you can see different pictures of Toki and learn all about their characteristics. I personally loved the distinct red color around their eyes. Sadly the Toki are on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss and starvation during the winter, but the preservation center here is aiming to take care of them and eventually release them into the wild. There were 6 birds here when I visited in 2018 and I am hoping there are more now. I bought the Toki change purse as a souvenir and as a reminder to not forget them.

Overall my experience to Sadoshima was very vivid and I definitely recommend coming here during the summer in Niigata. One day on the island was enough for me to do everything that I wanted, but if I come with a friend or a group of people I may consider staying longer. I hope to visit Niigata next year for the sake festival!

Hiking through the Wonders of Kamikochi

Besides Yakushima, nothing else compares to the pure colors of this scenery!

Kamikochi, located in the mountains of Nagano with a clear river and perfect view of the Japanese Alps, is one of the most beautiful hiking destinations in Japan and this year I finally made it there! After spending a day seeing Narai and staying at a lodge in Nagano, I drove with my friends to the national park area and we started our trek just before 10am. You can hike the entirety of Kamikochi in about 6 hours and see the forest, bridge, and shrine by the river. The most beautiful part is seeing the reflection of the mountains in the crystal clear water. If you’re lucky you may even run into some monkeys on the way back like we did! Besides my trip to Yakushima, the island that inspired Princess Mononoke, no other view in Japan really compares. Against all forecasts we encountered perfect weather which truly was a miracle. I am writing this article in hopes that other people will make it out here too!

Kamikochi painted by an unknown artist on the day of my trip.

Getting to Kamikochi

You can get to Kamikochi by taking the shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano Station and then taking a bus. I would recommend staying more than one day and seeing the monkey onsen in Nagano too. There are also multiple express buses that go from Shinjuku to Kamikochi but some have been suspended due to the pandemic. We decided to drive to the parking lot outside of Kamikochi and take a taxi because only chartered buses and taxis are allowed inside of the park. I would budget around 30,000 yen for this trip.

The official opening period is from April 17 – November 15 because in winter this area is usually covered with snow. The weather was absolutely perfect for hiking when we arrived in June, so I would recommend going then! All I brought with me is my dress, hiking jacket and shoes, my backpack, and some water so you really don’t need to bring that much. After walking about 3km you will reach the main area with the bridge where there are many shops and restaurants so you can buy food and water as needed. There are a number of hotels you can stay at inside of the park, but they are super expensive so I would just recommend spending the day here and finding a place closer to Nagano Station to stay.

Starting the Hike

Once getting off the bus, the hike through the forest officially starts and you can see the peaks of the Alps right from the beginning. The guideposts are pretty straightforward in showing where things are located. The path to the famous Kappa Bridge is the one I recommend following because you can see almost all of the main points of interest on the way. The distance to the bridge is around 3km and is on even ground so you can relax and go at your own pace. All of the hikers we passed by were friendly and I was happy to see that the park was so clean!

Exploring Kappa Bridge and Nearby Restaurants

After about an hour we reached the main area of Kamikochi where the famous Kappa Bridge is at. If you look at photos of Kamikochi, you will see this giant wooden suspension bridge featured quite a lot! The water is very clear and nice to dip your feet it. There are various restaurants, souvenir shops, and bathrooms around so you can walk around and relax. The best thing to do here is honestly just enjoy the view. The Alps look beautiful from all angles of the park and this is your chance to see them during the best season!

Kamikochi Food

One of the most famous foods of Kamikochi is soba, so I decided to try it at a restaurant on the right side of the bridge. It was a very hearty meal that contained a variety of fresh mushrooms so I enjoyed it. You can easily find ramen and curry around here too. I also tried a steamed bun full of vegetables since I’m vegetarian but they sell them with meat and other flavors as well. Basically everything I ate was great for hiking so you really can’t go wrong with what you eat in this area!

Myojin Pond and Shrine

After resting and walking around the bridge for an hour, we decided to go deeper into the forest and see Myojin Shrine. This is another 3km from the bridge area but it intersects with paths that go back to the entrance so it really isn’t that far away. The scenery makes it worth the extra miles. To our surprise, Myojin Shrine was not a building but a single torii on a dock by the lake with a donation box. Though we have traveled all over Japan, this was one of the most unique shrines that we had ever seen and we highly recommend it to other travelers!

Also, Myojin Pond is so clear you can see the reflection of the mountains in it. Here are two photos I captured during my hike:

Admission Fee: 300 yen

Hiking Back and Meeting the Monkey Pack

After seeing all of the major points of interest and feeling happy with our experience, we started to hike back through the forest when we heard a screeching sound and a monkey mom and her baby dropped from a nearby tree! It was quite the surprise but these monkeys were friendly and just passing by. Signs in parks always warn you not to make eye contact with monkeys because they take it as a form of aggression, but fortunately we did not get mugged by these guys. They probably chose the same trail as us because it was shaded and near their food source. Very keen!

Final Thoughts

Overall I was very satisfied with my trip to Kamikochi because I got to see entirety of it including the monkeys! The biggest challenge is the timing with the weather but fortunately we lucked out. I would recommend staying in Nagano for multiple days like we did so you can choose the best day for Kamikochi. No matter where you go you’ll surely appreciate the view of the mountains.

So far my top 3 hiking destinations in Japan are:

  1. Yakushima
  2. Kamikochi
  3. Mt. Fuji

Though I’ve already been to a lot of places, I hope to do more hiking like this in the future! Although, I am taking a break from hiking recently and am focusing on music events. I just went to a rave in Hinode this weekend and my next trip will be to Osaka for a tofubeats show. If I have time, I will finally make it to the Super Mario World exhibit in Universal Studios too! Please stayed tuned for more of my adventures!

Aesthetic Dining Experiences in Kyoto, Japan Vol. 2

Entering the alternate noodle dimension at Vegan Ramen UZU.

Whenever I travel to a new place, I like trying a combination of the local cuisine and the craziest places that I can find.  In Vol. 1 of my Aesthetic Dining Experiences series, I wrote about unique variations of Kyoto ramen, my top picks of vegan food, and matcha sweets (which includes green tea-flavored ice cream, parfaits, and more).  Fortunately I have discovered even more extradorinaiy restaurants and cafes since since I last published that article!

Here is a list I have compiled of the most unique dining experiences I have had in Kyoto recently, as well as my custom Totoro birthday cake from last year!

Patisserie Lulu

The most original dining experience I have ever had in Kyoto was hands down at Patisserie Lulu on my birthday in October last year. Since this was one of the rare months that Japan was in-between emergency states, domestic travel and alcohol was allowed so I brought my party to Kyoto and it was a smashing success. Patisserie Lulu is famous for its custom cakes with anime characters and I decided to request a pink Totoro rose theme since I love Ghibli and heaps of frosting. The cake turned out better than I could have ever imagined because it was light and fluffy but had a lot of icing. You can request these cakes using their online form and they will give you a price quote for your design. I had originally found them on Instagram and they had a lot of beautiful designs in their gallery.

Here is my cake featured on their official Instagram account:

The caption is hilarious because it says “A Totoro and rose [design] for a foreigner who came to Japan on her birthday.” As if I haven’t have lived here for over 5 years and flew to Japan during a pandemic just to order this cake. I absolutely love it and would easily give it 5 stars. It’s going to be hard to come up with a design that tops this for next year!

Address: 27-10 Uzumasa Goshonouchicho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8157

Cafe attmos.

If you’re looking for super thicc pieces of toast with beautifully crafted toppings, then look no further. Cafe attmos. or “Big Bread Experience” as my friend calls it is a lovely cafe that specializes in large portions of dessert toast with fruit, ice cream, and cream. There is a menu with seasonal food and drinks and I decided to order the apple toast because the shavings were cut to resemble a rose. Believe it or not, this is what I had for breakfast on my birthday before the Totoro cake and I can’t recommend it enough. My friends ordered the other pieces on the menu so I could take photos of them which was very sweet. I look forward to seeing the future designs they come up with because this was the fanciest toast I have ever eaten in my life!

Address: 490 Shimoumacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0873

Vegan Ramen UZU

One of my Kyoto friends on Twitter recommended me Vegan Ramen UZU because it is vegetarian friendly and the food does not contain as many preservatives as regular ramen does. Usually I prefer soba because it is the healthiest form of noodle and goes great paired with wasabi, but every so often I’ll get a craving for a bowl ramen. The dining experience here was truly like no other ramen restaurant because the lights were dimmed and swirling projections were displayed on the wall making it feel like we had entered another dimension. Being here was very relaxing and my vegan tomato ramen was delicious! I also ordered some vegan gyoza to split with my friend and was amazed by the quality. Kyoto actually has a lot of vegan options due to the amount of monks that are around here, but this is definitely the best vegan ramen in town. Yet another delicious birthday dinner for the books!

Address: 146 Umenokicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-0905

Trentanove

Yet another amazing cafe recommendation I got in my Instagram algorithms was pasta stuffed into a melon. I kid you not, fruit pasta is actually becoming a popular trend in Japan. I loved the little pieces of melon and the flowers they used to decorate it. At first glance it looks like an ice cream dessert but as soon as you stick your fork into it you get noodles. If this isn’t aesthetic food, then I don’t know what is! If you want to try some of the most unique pasta in Japan, make a reservation at Trentanove so they can prepare this exquisite melon for you. The unlikely combinations of taste might take some getting used to but you can easily separate the pasta and the fruit so you can eat them separately. This is definitely a challenge for the brave but I enjoyed it.

Address: 602-0855 Kyoto, Kamigyo Ward, Kamiikesucho, 200

cafe cherish

For those of you that adore vintage cafes with mermaid themed drinks, cafe cherish is the perfect place for you! I enjoyed seeing all of the antiques in here including the fake bird in the bird cage and the sofa chair that looked like it had came from my grandma’s basement. It has an extremely western theme which is why it felt nostalgic for me. I ordered the strawberry milk with whipped cream and chocolate butterfly as well as the mermaid soda. In addition to drinks they also have waffles, salads, and small lunch items like risotto and pizza on the menu. The atmosphere is very unique so I am sure that you will “cherish” your time here!

Address: 4-6 Tojijicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-0956

Usagi no Nedoko

Have you ever dreamed of eating Final Fantasy crystals? Well now you can. After you’ve killed chaos, hop on over to Usagi no Nedoko to get your Aetheryte fix. This is the most aesthetic parfait that I’ve ever eaten in my life and that’s really saying a lot. The crystals have a gummy texture but the flavor isn’t overly overpowering. They look almost like real crystals under the lights. Additionally the blueberries and ice cream they used were very light on the stomach which I appreciated because I had many other dining plans this day. Overall I give this place a 10/10 because they nailed the Final Fantasy aesthetic but aren’t even affiliated with Square Enix. They also sell crystal jewelry here so they are very authentic.

Address: 604-8432 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Nishinokyo Minamiharamachi, 37

Mushroom Stuffed Bread

On my way back to Tokyo last week I noticed an ordinary bread store right outside of the shinkansen gate. I don’t know what prompted me to go inside, but I guess I was just trying to kill time before the next train and see if they had anything that piqued my taste buds. All of the bread looked pretty standard to me until I noticed one that was shaped like a mushroom. It had little powdered circles on the top to make it look authentic so immediately I wanted to try it. After biting into it I was surprised to find there was some mushroom cream inside of the stem that tasted amazing! The taste reminded me of how truly delicious bread really is and I should go to bakeries more often.

Address: Kyoto Station (before the shinkansen gate)

I cannot remember the name of this bread shop but the next time I go to Kyoto I will take note of it.

Thank you for reading the the 2nd Volume of my Aesthetic Dining in Kyoto Series! If you have any suggestions, please feel to leave them in the comments. I always have my eye on new cafes and restaurants and am sure that there will be plenty more entries in the future~