A Yuru Camp-inspired Trip to Yamanashi: Fujiyoshida (Part 1)

Just west of Tokyo lies the scenic Yamanashi Prefecture—home of Mt. Fuji and its famous amusement park, Fuji-Q Highland, that holds a several world records for its thrilling roller coasters. After climbing the mountain during my first summer in Japan and visiting the theme park a few months later, I thought I had seen everything this prefecture had to offer. However, after watching the comfy camping anime Yuru Camp (localized as “Laid-Back Camp”), I realized that there were many amazing places I had overlooked. Aside from Mt. Fuji, Yamanashi has beautiful campsites by the lake, hiking trails, kind locals, and an abundance of delicious food too!

In the first season of the anime, Shima Rin, the main protagonist of Yuru Camp, explores several campsites around Fujiyoshida on her scooter and meets other interesting characters through her adventures. In later episodes she explores the surrounding prefectures of Nagano and Shizuoka which I have both traveled to for music events so seeing them featured in the anime felt nostalgic. Though she prefers traveling alone, she eventually realizes that group camping can be extremely fun and rewarding. I relate to this feeling in many ways. Through the anime I have learned a lot of random facts about Japan and discovered a number of destinations I would like to travel to which is why it is one of my favorite series. I recommend it to everyone as it is extremely relaxing to watch!

Over the past weekend I decided to plan a three day trip to Yamanashi to see some of the spots mentioned in Yuru Camp and also meet up with some friends that live near Kofu Station. I decided to spend the first day sightseeing in Fujiyoshida solo so I could get acquainted with the area (Shima Rin style), then take the local train to Kofu and see my friends the next two days. This turned out to be a phenomenal idea because I was able to cover a lot of ground with the help of a kind local and my friends who own two cars. Though it is definitely possible to see Yamanashi by local train and bus, having a car is nice to reach the hiking trails and waterfalls.

Getting to Yamanashi (Shimoyoshida Station)

Since Yamanashi is the prefecture directly west of Tokyo, there are a number of ways to travel there by both train and bus. Because I am a pretty spontaneous person, I decided to hop on the local trains around 10am because they are pretty cheap and require no reservation. I rode the Chuo Line to Takao Station, then transferred on the same line to Otsuki Station where I took the Fujikyuko Line to Shimoyoshida Station. This journey took roughly 2 hours and cost under 2400 yen. This is nothing compared to the price of taking the shinkansen to Kyoto or Osaka!

You can also look into booking a bus ticket from Fuji Express or purchase one at the Shinjuku Bus Station if you don’t want to deal with transfers. These are around the same price as the trains but may be cheaper if you book them in advance.

Kofu Station is another popular destination in Yamanashi which I will be covering in my next article. Shimoyoshida Station is closer to the Five Fuji Lakes and Fuji-Q Highland which is why I came here first. It also is a great are for viewing sakura in the spring.

Trying Curry at “Little Robot”

As I usually do my morning workout before I travel anywhere so I can enjoy my food guilt-free, I was quite peckish when I arrived at Shimoyoshida Station. I decided to walk to a vegetarian-friendly curry restaurant called Little Robot that was 8 minutes down the road. Here they have delicious Indian curry sets for both veggie and meat lovers as well as vegan desserts. I tried a vegetable lunch set that had 3 mild curries, lightly fried vegetables, and a healthy portion of yellow rice. The combination of spices here was simply amazing and it gave me the energy I needed for hiking! I also ordered the vegan coconut balls because I was curious what they tasted like. Once again, they were powdered to perfection and you could tell that they were baked with love.

The owner and waitress were super friendly and invited me to a yoga class at their restaurant that night, but unfortunately I did not have time to go. However iff I come back here in the future to see the sakura, I would love to come! Yamanashi people definitely have a reputation for being genuinely friendly which I’ll get into under my next heading…

Chureito Pagoda

Out of all the places in Fujiyoshida, the Chureito Pagoda observation deck is one of the most iconic viewpoints in the city. Unfortunately since I came here in February there were no sakura or red leaves on the tress, but during the late spring and early fall seasons this area is picture perfect. The best thing is regardless of the time of year you can get the perfect view of Fuji up here. The hike is roughly 25 mins from Fujiyoshida Station and is fortunately a leisurely one. This pagoda is located in Arakurayama Sengen Park and has several trails and gardens you can see as well.

As I was setting up my tripod to take pictures, an older Yamanashi local approached me a started a conversation with me. He asked me the usual questions I get daily like where I was from, what I like about Japan, etc., then offered to drive me around the area. Since I saw him talking with other people around me and thought he was trustworthy, I took him up on his offer because there were a number of places that I wanted to see. This wasn’t the first time I hitch-hiked around rural Japan, anyway, and I was down for the adventure.

Kaneyamano Falls

Though Kaneyamano Falls haven’t been featured in Yuru Camp yet, they were still a destination that I really wanted to check out. Luckily they are a simple 15 minute drive from the pagoda and a 3 minute walk from the parking lot. To be honest I was expecting more of a hike to reach them, but they weren’t disappointing in the slightest and I got my hiking in later. Seeing a waterfall during the winter is a beautiful experience. In February there is not as much snow in the Fujiyoshida area, but the tiny patches of it lingering around the falls made it a wonderful spot for photography.

Local Shrines

As most Japanese guides are quite fond of showing tourists their local shrines, I couldn’t turn down my driver’s enthusiastic proposal to see Kitaguchi-hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine and Arayayama Shrine. I was impressed with the beautiful pine forest that lined the entrance to Sengen Shrine. Since we came here on a quiet Friday afternoon there weren’t many people here and we could enjoy our time here in peace. Both of these shrines are close to the falls and are easily reachable by car or local bus.

Lake Yamanaka

I woke up at 6am this morning to watch episode 5 of the currently airing Yuru Camp Season 2 before I departed, and was thrilled to see that they featured Lake Yamanaka near where I booked my hotel. This scenic lake is simply a 10-15 min drive from central Fujiyoshida and is absolutely breathtaking to see. I came in the afternoon and the sun was shining creating a beautiful sparkling effect over the water. This was pure bliss.

Here is a screenshot of Lake Yamanaka the anime which accurately depicts the patches of snow that I saw around the lake:

The anime version of Lake Yamanaka.
The real thing looks almost better than anime.

In the summer I would consider camping here so I could see the beautiful sakura around this area and the Fuji Five Lakes. In the winter I would recommend staying in a hotel or ryokan because the chill is simply too cold. Please see my recommendations at the bottom of this article.

Oshino Hakkai

Oshino Hakkai is a small village with interesting architecture that is just a short 10 minute drive from the aforementioned shrines and lake. It has 8 ponds and of course a clear view of Fuji year-round making it a popular destination. Unfortunately most of the vendors were closed for the winter, but we had fun walking across the bridge and seeing the koi swim in the pond. The roofs of the houses here reminded me of Shirakawago and were fun to see. The building structure in Yamanashi is definitely more exciting than houses found in Saitama or Chiba surrounding Tokyo.

Traveling during the off-season definitely means less is open, but you have the whole place to yourself which is the best!

After doing photography at all of these destinations I was fully satisfied and politely asked to be returned to my hotel. My driver kindly bought me chocolate bread and wine from Family Mart and dropped me off. What an amazing day, and this was only the 1/3 of the entire trip!

Accommodations

There are a number of affordable ryokan and hotels in this area, but if you are a backpacker like me then I definitely recommend staying at a guest house because it has everything you need. I chose Fuji Hostel YOU and got a private twin bedroom all to myself for 3200 yen per night. This guesthouse is located between Fujiyoshida Station and Mt. Fuji Station and has plenty of restaurants and convenience stores around it so it was the perfect choice for me. I would gladly recommend it to all of my friends.

Overall, Fujiyoshida is simply remarkable because you can see Fuji from anywhere you look. You can access Fuji-Q Highland and many beautiful parks and trails while feeling extremely close to the mountain in the heart of Japan. If you are a nature enthusiast then you cannot simply pass this place up. It’s crazy that it’s taken me this long to explore this area, but better late than never. I am happy that anime inspired me to travel here.

In my next article I will be writing about Minobu and Kofu—two areas in Yamanashi that are frequently referenced in Yuru Camp. Please look forward to my continued anime-inspired adventures through Fuji Town!

“A Knight Out in Nagoya”: Aesthetic Food Finds Vol. 2

 

8e4ed79c-81ca-476c-a88c-5b2d153bd7b2-1
Bis-Tria Gatsby, Nagoya: A sparkling suit of armor keeps watch over us as we feast like kings and queens.

If you told us that we’d be dining at a rooftop bistro in the presence of shining suits of armor adorned with jewels, we wouldn’t have believed you. But since the burger place that we wanted to go to was sadly closed, this was where we ended up.  Nagoya food and restaurants are seriously underrated, which is why I’m writing Aesthetic Food Finds Vol. 2 today.  This is just the beginning of greater food adventures that are yet to come.

I’ll be expanding this list as I find more places, but feel free to suggest any you recommend in the comments!  Please see Vol. 1 for reference.

Bis-Tria Gatsby

Bis-Tria Gatsby is by far the fanciest restaurant I’ve been to in Nagoya, but it’s surprisingly welcoming and affordable.  As we walked in we were amazed by the huge collection of wines on display and the rare Dark Souls DLC suits of armor.  Despite us being in casual wear (because we were only planning on eating burgers before), we were politely seated and handed three different menu.  After some careful thought, we decided to order the tomato and cabbage pasta, a platter of octopus and marinated vegetables, a fancy pineapple frozen cocktail, and some chocolate cake for dessert.  This was the best meal I had in Nagoya and we only paid around 3000 yen when we split the bill.

I will never forget these aesthetic suits of armor:

This bistro is ideal for dates and birthday parties (we saw two Japanese girls celebrating their birthdays here).  I would gladly come back again given the occasion.

ANDY CURRY

I was going through food recommendations on Instagram when this giant glorious egg caught my eye.  ANDY CURRY offers some of the most satisfying curry dishes in Nagoya with a selection of seafood, chicken, and vegetarian options too.  I chose the seafood option and enjoyed the mussels in my curry sauce.  The egg on top is perfectly prepared so it melts into the rice giving it a zesty flavor right as it is served to your table.  You can customize the level of spiciness in your order as well.  I was very impressed to see that they offered takeout options during the emergency state of Japan.  We chose to eat in, but in the future I would love to grab a curry that I could take on the go or eat in a park!

THANK YOU, BAKE

THANK YOU, BAKE was yet another spot-on recommendation that came up in my feed.  The cute crocodile mascot totally sold me on coming all the way out to Kanayama to try the delicious vanilla ice cream topped with strawberry sauce.  They have delicious cookies, cakes, and pastries you can order to go as well!  The crocodile on their packaging bears and uncanny resemblance to the popular Japanese web comic “The crocodile who dies in 100 days” that ended just as the COVID pandemic started.  It’s definitely worth a read as it adds a layer of irony to this bake goods shop.  All the more reason to come out here and try their food!

Menya Hanabi

Menya Hanabi is a seriously amazing noodle joint that I had no idea existed until my boyfriend pointed it out.  The store originated from Taiwan and specializes in mazesoba which consists of noodles mixed with soy sauce, vinegar, minced pork, and other toppings that you can choose.  Since I don’t eat meat, I opted for raw egg and as many vegetables as they had on their menu.  The flavor it packs is out of this world.  The broth is extremely light so you can focus on the taste of the toppings.  I would say that mazesoba tastes a lot better than ramen, but I would still recommend trying both!

Vegi Kitchen GuGu

curryfix
You literally can’t go wrong with star-shaped curry.

Vegi Kitchen GuGu is a healthy vegan restaurant located on the outskirts of Nagoya.  I had my very first meal in Nagoya here after World Cosplay Summit dressed as Futaba from Persona 5 so it was extremely on-point.  Their star-shaped vegan curry is to die for!  I still remember the taste even though it was nearly 3 years ago.  Unfortunately due to the emergency state, the restaurant is only offering takeout options.  Fortunately there is a Campfire Fund for small businesses in Nagoya that has already met its goal, so hopefully in the future this restaurant will offer its full menu again!  When it does, I’ll be sure to go back and eat there again.

6/30/2020 EDIT: The full menu has returned to the restaurant and you can dine in now!  The vegan curry I ordered with my boyfriend earlier this month looks even better than before:

Antico Caffeé

Antico Caffeé is a modest cafe located in the Dai Nagoya building near the main station, but it never disappoints.  Their spinach and mushroom sandwiches, coffee, and canolis are all very fulfilling.  If you are looking to grab a quite bite to eat on your way out that’s affordable, then this is one of your best options.  Though quite simple, this cafe will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first place that my boyfriend and I went on a date together.  I think it will always be a place I come back to!

Critical*Hit

I saved the best for last—Critical*Hit is one of my favorite gaming bars in Japan and also the a place I always make my rounds to each time I’m in Nagoya.  Whenever I’m here, I either make a new friend, discover a new game, or having extremely invigorating discussions with other people.  There are a number of console games plus rare games (such as LSD and other classics) that you can choose to play, or you can sit and converse with others which I usually do.  I still stay in contact with a lot of the people I’ve met here because Nagoya has a really close-knit community.  There are a mix of foreigners and Japanese people as well that frequent here.  I am really fortunate to have met my first boyfriend here on a night when he was playing Metal Gear Solid!

That’s all the aesthetic food finds for this week.  As more places in Japan open up, I’ll hopefully have a lot more to write about!

Aesthetic Food Finds in Kansai Vol. 1

Here is a collection of recent aesthetic food finds in the Kansai region of Japan focusing on Kyoto and Osaka (Volume 1). ♥

This country has no shortage of of aesthetic foods so I will continue to share cafes that I stumble across in future posts!

AKICHI

While wearing a butterfly-patterned dress, I managed to find butterfly ice cream at AKICHI in Namba (Osaka) that perfectly matched my drip.  This colorful little alley functions as both a photo space covered in murals and a nook full of bakeries and cafes.  I tried the strawberry and vanilla milk-flavored ice cream from Deglab; the “soft cream laboratory”.  Not only was it topped with an elegant white chocolate butterfly and edible pearls,  but it was also mouthwatering delicious!  It felt like a dream come true.  There is also a tapioca shop and bakery upstairs if you are looking for other desserts, but the ice cream is some of the best in town.

Wagurisenmon Saori

There’s nothing like eating a bowl of noodles in Kyoto.  Or a Mont Blanc ice cream dessert disguised as noodles, because that makes perfect sense.  At Wagurisenmon Saori in downtown Kyoto, you can confuse your taste buds by digging into these dessert noodles with a spoon and tasting a thick layer of cake and ice cream below.  Kansai cooking is nothing short of amazing:

The taste of this dessert was average due to the “noodles” being somewhat tasteless, but as an aesthetic food enthusiast I could not pass this opportunity up.  Definitely try it if you like the concept, but regular Mont Blanc sold in French bakeries throughout Japan taste a lot better and are cheaper.  I will never forget this experience though.

Jinen Sushi

img_5109

All of my Japanese friends that travel to Osaka continually talk about butter unagi (eel) sushi, so I wanted to see what all the hype was about.  I’ve eaten eel many times and think that it’s tasty and a good source of protein, but the downside is it’s considerably expensive compared to other foods.  However, Jinen Sushi offers a pretty good deal on their nigiri and sushi rolls and you can order them individually.  I eagerly ordered the unagi butter and confirmed that it was worth the hype.  Eel normally has somewhat of a tough texture, but the sticks of butter add a softness to it that you normally wouldn’t expect.  Because you can only get this in Osaka, I ordered another round.  In America butter is a normal topping found in mass quantities, but here it’s far less common so you really treasure moments like this.

Happy Labo Popcorn

While I was going to a show in Osaka one day, I noticed mysterious steam coming from a street vendor.  Curious to see what it was, I was surprised to find that it was actually frozen rainbow popcorn that turns your breath white!  Happy Labo Popcorn definitely has a unique theme going for it and sells some interesting ice cream too.  Usually I’m not a fan of flavored popcorn, but when frozen it actually has a sweet but still mild taste.  It’s definitely attention-grabbing and fun to walk around with.

Cocochi Cafe

I was browsing Instagram one day when I came across an orange on my feed, but it wasn’t just an ordinary orange.  It was an orange (wait for it)… WITH A FACE.  Not just any face, but it had googly eyes and mustache.  Truly blessed with poise and perfect symmetry.  Whatever it was, I had to order it.  My aesthetic food journey took me to Cocochi Cafe in Kyoto which is a cozy dessert place near the Imperial Palace.  I can proudly say that drinking orange juice out of an orange with a handsome face is one of my biggest life accomplishments.  There is also a cute dog at this cafe that is happy to greet you!

JTRRD Cafe

JTRRD Cafe started out as a small restaurant in Osaka that eventually became so popular that it opened branches in Kyoto and Nagoya mainly due to its patterned rainbow smoothies.  Unfortunately the day I went they were out of ingredients for the smoothies, but I still enjoyed the paprika curry and omelet rice (which I shared with a friend because the serving size was so big).  It was probably some of the best curry I have ever tasted due to the way it was seasoned.  Paprika is truly an underrated ingredient.  Next time I come back to this area, I will make an effort to try the famed smoothies too!

Panbo

By this point I’ve experienced a lot of unique desserts in Japan, but pancake skewers are a new thing to me.  At Panbo Osaka, you can choose the size of skewer you want (which consists of mini pancakes and fruits on a stick) then add chocolate, sprinkles, and other toppings to flavor it.  The mini pancakes are surprisingly filling, and the marshmallow at the top makes me feel like I’m at a campfire.  Speaking of camping…

Hammock Cafe

Picture a hammock cafe where you can relax and drink with your friends in hammocks.  Now picture that same cafe with all you can drink alcohol.  Welcome to Revarti Osaka, maybe one of the best watering holes in all of Japan.  I’ve been to hammock cafes in Tokyo before, but they sure didn’t have the all you can drink option (maybe they will in the future, but this place was way more relaxed).  I was brought here with my bartender friend from Space Station, and with a group of 4 people I’m pretty sure we only paid around 1500 yen each.  They had everything from wine to high balls to vodka cocktails too so I indulged in everything.  We also tried dunking crackers into chocolate fondue with huge marshmallows baked into it.  This was by far one of my best drinking experiences in Osaka that was followed by a 12 hour party at club dapnia.  A night I will never forget!

The Longest Softcream in Japan

At Long Softcream on American Street in Osaka, you can eat the longest soft-serve ice cream in Japan standing at a whopping 40cm.  But be quick~  It will melt fast if you try to eat it during the summer.  The irony is perhaps compared to the average size of American desserts, it’s not so long after all.  The taste is pretty ordinary, but I bought it mainly for the meme factor.  I will be writing more in detail about the wacky things you can find on American Street in the future because this is just the beginning!

BONUS: Individually Sealed Sliced Pieces of Bread

img_5106

I can’t remember exactly where this place was, but the fact that it sells individually sealed sliced pieces of bread is simply amazing.  All it needs is a side of unagi butter!

EDIT: The location is Sakimoto Bakery in Osaka.

Thank you for reading Volume 1 of my aesthetic food journeys in Kansai.  If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the comments!  I will be writing Volume 2 focused on Nagoya in the near future.

 

 

Aesthetic Dining Experiences in Kyoto, Japan Vol. 1

IMG_5574
Soft mochi and iced green tea at a traditional sweets store in Gion.

Whenever I travel to a new place, I like trying a combination of the local cuisine and the most crazy places that I can find.  Kyoto is known for its tofu, noodles, kaiseki (vegetarian dishes), and of course; matcha sweets (which includes green tea-flavored ice cream, parfaits, and more).  Here is a list I have compiled of the most unique dining experiences I have had in Kyoto:

Gold Ramen at Zundoya

Zundoya is an extremely popular ramen chain in Japan because of their affordable and delicious bowls.  In their Tokyo and and Kyoto branches, they have the option to purchase gold flakes which you can sprinkle on any ramen dish on their menu.  This comes with a hefty extra 5000 yen charge, but was fun to do just for the aesthetic purpose of eating golden ramen.  You can buy these gold flakes at souvenir shops in Kyoto and Kanazawa.  They can be used as a topping for virtually any food due to them being flavorless.

The regular bowls of ramen are also packed with flavor!  The funny thing was I came here after a music workshop with some of my Japanese friends per their recommendation.  That’s when you know it’s a good place to eat!

Kichi Kichi Omurice

Omelette and rice dishes (dubbed omurice) are an extremely popular food combination in Japan, and this restaurant does it best!  When you see the head chef, Yukimura Motokichi, slice a freshly baked omelette and have it perfectly melt over the rice in an almost cinematic fashion, you’ll understand why this restaurant is so popular.

This meal was seriously the best omurice I had ever tasted because the omelettes are cooked to be extremely fluffy.  Since this website is so popular, it is recommended to make a reservation on their website.

Kitten Company Cafe

As the name implies, this cafe has cat-themed sweets, and is extremely vegan-friendly.  I tried their vegan curry, chocolate cake, and kitten cookies.  All of them were scrumptious, and I was delighted to see the curry arranged in the form of a happy cloud!  No reservation is required for this restaurant, but you can see their website here.

Menbaka Fire Ramen

NO RAMEN NO LIFE” is the English slogan that greets you at this ramen restaurant.  I immediately liked the atmosphere the minute I entered.  Menbaka puts a large amount of green onions and pours oil right over the dish before it is served to create an explosive fiery effect.  Just watch the video of me seconds before the fire starts to burn:

The taste of the ramen is quite ordinary; maybe a little more oily but otherwise unnoticeable.  It is worth going to once just to see the fire!  This restaurant does not accept reservations; you must lineup and take a numbered ticket.  You can explore other places in Kyoto while you are waiting, so it’s not so gruesome of a wait.

Green Tea Soba Noodles

Tsujiri Teahouse offers one of the most unique noodle dishes I’ve ever seen in my life: green tea soba and tofu in a white milk-like broth.  Though that doesn’t sound appetizing at first, it actually has a refreshing taste!  I ordered mine chilled and they really hit the spot.  If you are feeling adventurous, this is definitely a good thing to try!  In additional to noodles, there are many parfaits and sweets here.  Next time I come to Kyoto, I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for more unique food like this!