Falling Down the Capybara Hole at Izu Granpal Park (Shizuoka, Japan)

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Granpal Park is the perfect Capybara Onsen after party.

On my way back to Atami after meeting the friendly capybara at Izu Shaboten Zoo, I couldn’t help but notice an advertisement on the train with a picture of illuminated capybara in a garden full of LED lights (much like the photo I took above).  I was completely captivated by the image.  What was this magical place with LSD visuals and sparkling wonder doing in rural Japan?  Being the spontaneous adventurer that I am, I had to investigate!

With a quick Google search, I discovered that it was Izu Granbel Park, located adjacent to the capybara zoo I went to earlier that day.  Fortunately the park was open until 9:30pm, so it made the perfect after party location for my trip.  I immediately got off at the closest station and rode the Ito train line to Futo Station.  On the way I bought a mini bottle of wine from the nearby Family Mart and walked 20 minutes to the park (because illuminations are way more fun to watch with alcohol).

What’s hilarious is that Google Maps directs you to the back entrance of the park (which was closed when I reached it) so I had to jump a small fence to get inside.  However, my efforts of navigating a dark and solemn back road to reach my destination would be rewarded with a brilliant lightshow over a global atmosphere of twinkling bulbs:

I had definitely fell down the capybara hole and landed in some strange wonderland.  When I walked through the back entrance, I was greeted by giant neon candies and an endless field of glowing flowers as far as the eye could see.  Upon descending a hill in that area, a sea of radiant fish and a luminous backdrop of Mt. Fuji greeted me (only in Japan).  When I turned to walk up towards the front entrance, I stumbled upon a garden of lollipops with capybara and red pandas frolicking in them.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  There was a photo opportunity here with literally every step.  This felt like something that I had made up in a dream because it was so bright and beautiful!

This was the best illumination I had ever seen in Japan.  Previously I had visited Aichi’s Floral Oasis, but this park’s lightshows were much more elaborate.  In addition to the global atmosphere of lights, they also had a mini zoo with gerbils and other small animals.  In the summer there is a waterpark and various rides open too.  Besides the LED (LSD?) capybaras, my favorite attractions were the Tunnel of Dreams and the unexpected dinosaur exhibit.  There’s also a glowing pirate ship and pirates restaurant that is dog-friendly.  If I had a dog, I would definitely bring them here!

This park really expanded my mind and put me in a good mood, so I would recommend it to everyone that visits Shizuoka!  You’ll find that the illuminations outside of the city are much more fun to see, plus this is probably the only place in the world where you can see real capybaras bathe at hotsprings during the day and illuminated ones at night.  A real fantasy come alive.

Address and Admission Price

Address: 1090 Futo, Itō, Shizuoka 413-0231

Entrance to the park is only 1300 yen (much cheaper than what I’ve paid to enter other illuminated parks).

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Capybara bathe in Devilman: Crybaby.

If you are interested in reading more about capybara bathing in hotsprings, please see my Izu Shaboten Zoo article.

Entering Capybara Heaven at Izu Shaboten Zoo (Shizuoka, Japan)

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Capybara freely bathe in an orange-filled hotspring at Izu Shaboten Zoo.

Last weekend on my backpacking journey through Shizuoka prefecture to see Carpainter perform in Hammamatsu, I decided to stop in Izu to see the infamous hotspring-loving capybara of Japan.  Izu Shaboten Zoo is one of the few places in the world where you can get up close with these large adorable rodents and see them bathe in a natural hotspring filled with oranges (which are a specialty of this prefecture).  Native to South America, capybaras are mammals with webbed-feet that are quite well-mannered around humans and other animals.  Like platypuses, capybaras enjoy being both on land and in water with a diet consisting of mostly grass and dried plants.  The ones at Izu Shaboten are easy to approach and very entertaining to watch in the bath!

Exploring Izu Shaboten Zoo

In addition to capybaras, there are also a number of other rare animals housed here including red pandas, kangaroos, unique species of birds, and reptiles.  I’ve been to a lot of zoos in Asia, but I highly recommend this one because it’s less like a zoo and more like a wildlife conservation area.  The natural habitat of each animal is preserved as much as possible and they all seem to be in great health.  Being up close to kangaroos reminded me of my trip to Australia last summer!  This place truly didn’t feel like Japan because other zoos in this country are comparably small in size.

I spent the most time in the Capybara Rainbow Pen (an area separate from the bath) feeding and petting the ones that wanted attention.  You can purchase capybara grass for 200 yen and they will be eternally grateful for your kindness!

Outside from the capyabaras, I enjoyed watching the red panda diligently march on its tree branch.  A Japanese couple beside me describe its movements as “ゴロゴロ” (I love accidentally overhearing people so I am able to learn new words everyday).

Another of my favorite places was the cactus garden, because you can purchase cheap capybara pots and customize your favorite cacti to take home.  Just all of the detail that was put into this attraction amazes me:

You can also take a boat ride around the park because it has a small river that runs through it and leads to other areas, but I chose to explore most of the park on-foot so I could capture more angles with my GoPro.  I would recommend spending at least 3 hours here because there is a lot to see and do━especially if you are a photographer.

Eating a Capybara Burger

At the Gibbon restaurant found near the entrance of the zoo, no one eats alone!!  That’s because there is a huge stuffed capybara sitting at every table to keep you company.  I came here on Valentine’s Day, so this cabybara date made it the most memorable one of my life.  Getting back to the food—the burger was made of fresh bread and was delicious (I customized mine to be vegetarian).  If I had more room for food I would have tried the omelet rice duck because it looked pretty aesthetic from the menu picture.  For a full list of restaurants, please see the official site.

Buying Capybara Souvenirs

My apartment in Tokyo is already full of stuffed animals that friends have won for me, but I could not pass up the chance to buy an adorable stuffed capybara holding an orange here.  I also bought some chocolat baumkuchen (cake) for my friend.  Everything here was extremely well-priced compared to other zoos because I only payed around 1200 yen for the plushie and 800 yen for the cake.  I already want to come back in the summer to buy more capybara merch!  Also, the restaurant signs here made me laugh:

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Mt. Omuro

Right beside the Izu Shaboten Zoo stands Mt. Omuro, which is an inactive volcano you can take a lift up for 700 yen.  Since I decided to go to the ropeway in Atami, I skipped this attraction, but it is worth seeing if you have time.  There are cute little shops you can look at while you’re waiting for the bus too.

Getting to Izu Shaboten Zoo

From Tokyo Station I took the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Atami, then the Ito Line to Ito Station, and finally a local bus to the zoo.  This costs around 5000 yen and takes 2.5 hours.  You can easily do this as a day trip, but I spent 3 days in this prefecture because there are a number of things to see besides the capybara (which I will get into in my next articles).

Entrance to the zoo is 2300 which may seem expensive, but with the diverse number of animals they have here I think the price is fair.

Address

Izu Shaboten Zoo, 1317-13 Futo, Itō, Shizuoka 413-0231

Final Remarks

Izu Shaboten Zoo was by far my best experience with animals in Japan because I got the chance to pet capaybaras in addition to seeing other rare species.  The zoo has a adorable theme with the hotspring and petting zoos which makes it a suitable attraction for all ages.  Since it’s more remote from the major cities of Japan that means it’s less crowded.  If I decide to go again, I will combine this with a trip to Shirahama Beach which is a little further south of here.  I will be writing more about my adventures in Shizuoka Prefecture over the next coming days, so please look forward to them because this is only the beginning!

Houtong: Home of the Cat Village and Taiwan’s Tastiest Pineapple Cakes

After hiking Elephant Mountain and paying a visit to Laomei Reef, I decided it was time to travel to Houtong━a village in Taiwan renowned for its high population of cats.  Similar to the origin of the rabbit island I visited last month in Japan, this was originally an old mining town that has attracted hundreds of cats (the former was a nuclear testing ground that is now overrun by rabbits).  Fortunately there are a number of residents, volunteers, and tourists that look after these cats every day.  If you are an feline lover, this is simply a day trip that cannot be passed up in Taiwan.

Getting to Houtong from Taipei is quite easy; from Songshan Station you can take a cheap 40 minute train directly to Houtong Station.  When you get off at the station, you will notice there are two exits; one goes up into the hillside of the village where most of the cats lounge around and play, and the other leads to the roadside with nearby souvenir shops and restaurants.  If you are eager to see the cats like I was, I would recommend taking the stairs to the hillside first.  In fact, you may even see some furry friends lounging around in the station!

There are a number of things about this village that really charmed me.  First of all, I loved how the cats acted like they owned the place.  They weren’t afraid of humans at all and some of them were actually very friendly despite having to put up with us invading their space every day.  I also loved the Neko Atsume cookies and pineapple cakes they were selling here.  The shops had so many free samples that I tried every flavor (the chocolate pawprint-shaped pineapple cakes happened to be my favorite).  I was informed by the shop owner that apparently these are the most delicious cakes in Taiwan, so I decided to bring back some souvenirs for my roommate and friends in Japan.  They definitely had the cutest shape out of all of the pineapple cakes that I had seen here!

I also enjoyed the simple decor of the village.  You could tell that the volunteers put effort into making helpful signs and guides for tourists as well.  These adorable cat-like ornaments were hung in the station:

It really doesn’t take that long to explore the village; I spent about an hour and a half doing photography and exploring the shops.  However, cat-watching is definitely something that you could spend all day doing.  You can purchase food for them at any of the shops or cafes (I stopped by one to order a vodka latte for myself so I could warm up).  I enjoyed watching this kitty run across the souvenir table:

Houtong truly reminded me of a mountain town in Japan because it was peaceful and had the same kind of atmosphere.  Other than the cats, there is a river and a number of temples that you can see nearby.  It is considered to be rural but the trains run here pretty frequently.  On the way back to Taipei, I decided to stop by the Golden Waterfall that you can reach by bus from the nearby Ruifang Station.  You could also combine this with a trip to the Jiufen lantern town if you want!

Unfortunately it was pitch dark when I reached the Golden Waterfall, but this is the best picture I managed to take:

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The Golden Waterfall at dusk.

Afterwards, I decided to go back and relax at my hotel.  This is trip is a great way to see the countryside east of Taipei and also see the unforgettable village run by cats.  Since Jiufen inspired Spirited Away, I can’t help but wonder if Houtong inspired The Cat Returns

Standing at the Edge of the World: Laomei Reef & The Alpaca Cafe

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GoProing in the Reef: Laomei Beach still looks as awe-inspiring as ever in the winter.

Situated at the northern tip of Taiwan, Laomei Reef is a well sought-after location for photographers and beach goers alike with its stunning green scenery and relaxing atmosphere.  Though Taiwan isn’t particularly known for its beaches, I still wanted to experience at least one even though I came here during the dead of winter.  Hoping to capture the best lighting with GoPro, I arrived around sunset by taking the train to Tamsui Station from Taipei and then using a local bus (this took around 2.5 hours but was a nice day trip).  Even though it was the first week of January, all I needed to wear was a light jacket because the weather was sunny and mild.  During the summer months, I’ve heard that this beach transforms into quite the lively place.  I’d really like to come back and experience this in the future because beaches are my favorite places in the world.

Because there weren’t that many people around this time of year, I managed to capture some really great photos of the reef:

I love how the shallow water reflected the image of the sky above almost like a mirror.  You can actually get very close to the reef by standing on the trench by the shore.  According to John Ellis (a local photographer who I have been following), the reef was originally formed by a volcanic eruption that occurred over two hundred thousand years ago.  Summer is the best time to see the reef because that is when the most algae grows, but the beautiful shade of green is fortunately see-able in all seasons.  Though it was too cold to go swimming, I enjoyed watching the waves wash over the reef and felt at ease while I was here:

From this video it looks like I’m standing at the edge of the world!  Not wanting the adventure to end here, I decided to take a bus from here to the famous alpaca cafe called OIA Oia Art Cafe.  If you venture all the way out the the reef, you might as well take the time to pet the two lovely alpacas that live here because this cafe is very close:

I ordered a sweet beer and reminisced on all of my crazy encounters with animals while I was here.  Last year I went to the bunny island and miniature pig cafe in Tokyo, and now here I was in another foreign country drinking with animals (which I often prefer to humans).  Life is truly strange and amazing, and I am doing my best to live every minute to the fullest.

In addition to alpacas, they also have cats here.  I have been to many cat cafes already so I didn’t film them, but they were interesting to watch.  I spent most of my time petting the kind alpaca pictured above.  It looked very tired but fortunately well-fed, just like me.  Maybe we aren’t so different after all.

 

3D Latte Art at Reissue Cafe (Tokyo)

Yesterday I had the pleasure of trying my first 3D latte in Tokyo, and boy was it amazing! Reissue was apparently the the first coffee shop to start this trend, and the latte artists there are extremely talented. They have a menu full of anime-inspired latte art to choose from, or you can request your own! I requested one of Yamper from Pokémon, and I think they did a very good job of bringing him to life:

If you’re not a fan of coffee, you can order hot chocolate or warm soy milk instead. The have green tea, caramel, and raspberry lattes as well. The shop is very popular, but fortunately I was able to walk in and sit down without a wait time.

When I first moved to Tokyo several years ago, I ordered a Goku latte as well from the same cafe. Once again, their precise lineart drawn in chocolate syrup was amazing:

Address

Tokyo, Shibuya, Jingumae 3-25-7

Miracle Romance! A trip to Tokyo’s new Sailor Moon Restaurant: Shining Moon Tokyo

With its beautiful character design and story that have captured the hearts of people from around the world, it’s no wonder that Sailor Moon is still a popular series today.  As someone who grew up with the English dub of the anime in America, I am proud to say it is still one of my all time favorites.  Though there have been a number of pop-up Sailor Moon cafes that last for a limited time, a new and permanent theater show restaurant called Shining Moon has permanently opened this year.  I decided to check it out with one of my best friends and I genuinely enjoyed my experience here.  The live performances definitely added a lot to it!

During dinner time two immaculate shows with professional actors are performed.  One is recordable and the other is non-recordable.  Both will keep you on your toes because they feature a lot of fighting, singing, and dancing with colorful visuals.  One began with Usagi dancing at a ball with Tuxedo Mask, only to wake up and find it was all a dream!  Another was completely original and showed the girls visiting different areas of Tokyo (like Harajuku and Asakusa), then being swarmed by villians that they need to defeat.  The shows did a good job in showcasing each girl’s abilities and giving them equal time on stage.  It really felt like I was watching a live version of the anime.

At this time the restaurant only features the inner senshi and it is unknown if other characters will be featured.  I see it being possible in the future as long as this restaurant continues to attract customers (which it is).

Before entering the cafe, you must make a reservation online in advance (we did a few days before) and pay by using credit card.  This cafe is a bit more expensive compared to the other themed ones; dinner is 8500 yen for S seats and 7500 yen for A seats.  The lunch time option is only 3500 yen but doesn’t include the show.  However, a drink and a meal is included in all of these prices.  Here are some of the things that we ordered:

I genuinely enjoyed the Jupiter Seafood Pasta and Venus Crepes I ordered.  They had drinks for all of the Sailor Scouts too!  Every food item that you order comes with a free Sailor Moon plate which makes the entry fee worth it.  They also have a gift store you can buy special goods from.  The menu items seem to rotate every month, so please check the online menu in advance to see what’s available.  Fortunately they had some vegetarian options available.

At the end of the shows, all of the actors will come out and wave at you!  It was amazing to see them up close.  Their outfits were very detailed and they stayed enthusiastic until the very end.  It was a very memorable experience!

Address

〒106-0045 Tokyo, Minato City, Azabujuban, 1 Chome−10, ジュールA

Pop-up Sailor Moon Cafe (2017)

Earlier in 2017 I went to a pop-up Sailor Moon Cafe that was available for 2 months in Omotesando.  Here are some old photos that I took.  I really enjoyed the design of the Usagi and Mamoru pancakes, and the cotton candy Luna drink:

This cafe is now closed, but sometimes they have themed collaboration cafes that open in this rental space and it’s possible there will be another Sailor Moon one in the future.  I will be sure to write about it if it happen!

A Magical Journey to King’s Cross: The Harry Potter Cafe in Seoul

Laughter is timeless.  Imagination has no age.  And dreams are forever.

I never thought that I’d be spending the first night of my third trip to Seoul dressing up in Slytherin robes at a Harry Potter cafe, but recently life has been taking me to some interesting places.  943 King’s Cross Cafe is located in the Hongdae district and features magical concoctions, beautiful Hogwarts-inspired interior decor, and costumes you can borrow and dress up in.  Immediately I was seduced by the Dragon’s Blood and eyeball cocktail upon entering (fortunately no advanced reservations were required).  After my long flight, sipping on some vodka and relaxing at this 5 floor cafe seemed like the perfect way to relax.

I have been to the Harry Potter cafes in both Tokyo and Singapore before, but Seoul’s by far was the most extravagant.  I appreciated the long boarding school-like tables they had on one floor, but they also had couches and tables for small groups on other floors.  Each floor had a unique theme and the top floor even had a Christmas tree since I came here during the winter.  Many paintings were hung on the walls mimicking the Hogwarts portraits.  Although they couldn’t talk, under the fluorescent lighting they almost looked like they could!  A dementor was hidden in one of the stairwells and gave me a great surprise.  Luckily I didn’t stare it in the eyes, or else my trip would have ended there.

The menu had a lot of desserts that you could order individually, but unfortunately the food menu was designed for large groups (like many restaurants are in Seoul).  Fortunately I wasn’t bothered by this because cocktails and desserts were all I wanted anyway!  The main draw of this cafe is the free robes that you can borrow on the 5th floor.  I had so much fun taking pictures and all of the people around me were genuinely thrilled to be here.  There’s also a gift shop with some very cute Slytherin earrings that I almost bought (but I decided to look at the night market instead).

Experiencing childhood memories in a foreign country is truly something special.  I would recommend coming here if you are a fan of the series because it is truly something magical.

Address

Sageun-dong, Seongdong-gu, Seoul, South Korea