On the last day of my vacation, I decided to stop at a Ghibli-themed bakery on the outskirts of Fukuoka called Lune Lapin before flying back to Tokyo. This was yet another place that was recommend to me through my IG algorithms and it was definitely on point. Since this bakery is away from the central Hakata Canal area, it is a place that not many people may know about but it has the reputation for baking insanely delicious bread. After taking a combination local buses and trains, I arrived here at 10am on a Sunday morning when the character bread was just being taken out of the oven. As I entered the bakery I was greeted by a statue of a Laputian Robot and there also was a life-sized Totoro bus stop inside before the queue. Fortunately I arrived just in time to get a table and there was a lot of selection!
Though it was truly a tough decision on what to order, here is the bread that I chose to eat:
In my opinion, the bread filled with chocolate tasted the best! The Totoro and Jiji pieces had a lot of chocolate in them and almost tasted like freshly baked cookies so I would highly recommend them to everyone. The Catbus and Porco Rosso ones were filled with honey which wouldn’t be my first choice of filling but was also very sweet and addictive. The Calcifer one was filled with red jelly which I am not always a fan of, but it was only a small amount and the quality of bread was very high so I was able to enjoy it. I had probably consumed a lot of calories this morning, but I was going to a rave this night so I wasn’t particularly worried. This choice was 100% worth it.
The fun part about choosing the bread is each piece has a slightly different design so they are all very unique. For example, some pieces of the Totoro and Calcifer bread had their eyes and mouths open while other pieces didn’t. I liked the careful detail that went into preparing each one. Most pieces range from 200-400 yen so you can eat a lot for a small amount of money!
Here are some more photos I took of the interior decor. I was impressed with all the cells of Kiki’s Delivery Service they had hanging on the wall, plus the custom-made Laputa robots. Though this is not an official Ghibli Cafe, with all the merch they had I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t have some kind of connection to the studio. Their collection was extremely immense and I am excited to see it grow:
Getting to Lune Lapin
From Fukuoka’s Hakata Station, take the Kagoshima Line to Ongagawa Station. Then you can either take a taxi or ride the local bus from the front of the station to Hakusaoki and walk to the bakery. This journey takes about 1.5 hours and costs 1200-1700 yen. It is a bit far from the city center but is worth the journey in my opinion.
Though the bakery is quite popular, people come and go a lot so no reservation is required. I would only recommend making a reservation if you are coming during a busy holiday or have specific bread that you wish to order. If you come in the morning there is much more selection available too!
Thank you for reading my latest article on one of the best bakeries that I’ve ever been to in Japan! In my final article in this series I will be talking about my trip to Sakurajima, a volcanic island in Kagoshima. This weekend I will be going to Kobe and Awaji so I will be starting my next article series next week. It sure feels good to be on the road and writing about my adventures again! I am excited to do a reflection post at the end of the year and look back on all of my progress. Thank you for all of your support!
Over the recent three-day holiday known as “Labor Thanksgiving Day” in Japan, I decided to venture to Kyoto once more in hopes of capturing the beauty of the red maple leaves on camera. The previous weekend I traveled to Ginzan Onsen and had a lovely experience there, but unfortunately since it is located in the north of Honshu most of the leaves from the red maples had already fallen. Since Kyoto is more to the south, I figured that mid-November would be the ideal time to visit. Fortunately I was able to do a ton of photography with both my new iPhone 12 Pro’s camera and my trusty GoPro Hero too. I also managed to eat at a lot of cute cafes and meet up with some old friends while experiencing the true Autumn essence of Japan. Yet another great adventure for the archive!
Nanzenji Architectural Temple
I departed from Tokyo immediately after my job on Friday via the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to avoid the holiday rush. After spending a quiet night at a guesthouse near Nijo Castle (read further below), I made my way to Nanzenji Temple, one of the most famous Zen temples in Japan that practices Buddhism. I’ve been to numerous temples and shrines in Kyoto already, but what drew me to Nanzenji was its aesthetic brick aqueduct that is frequently used as a photoshoot location for visitors wearing kimonos and weddings. During the Meiji Period it was actually used as part of a canal system from Kyoto to Lake Biwa in Shiga. Now its colors and architecture have weathered and faded making it look like a beautiful backdrop with the surrounding forest looming behind it.
I spent about an hour here doing self-portrait photography then wandered through the large complex of temples and gardens that are around here. I highly recommend visiting Tenjuan Temple because it has both a rock garden and a pond garden that make it look lovely in Autumn. I finally got to see the bright red maple leaves that I was dying to see here! The entrance fee is only 300 yen.
If you are interested in additional sightseeing, Kinkakuji and the Philosopher’s Path are really close to Nanzenji. But after all of this walking, I was hungry so I decided to grab some dessert!
Kotoba no Haoto
Since my next destination was located in the mountains north of central Kyoto, I decided to stop at a cozy bookshop that also serves adorable parfaits called Kotoba no Haoto. They have quite the impressive collection of books from everything from Kyoto guidebooks to cat-themed novels and are very welcoming to guests. I decided to order the seasonal parfait which consisted of a cat crafted out of vanilla ice cream and chocolate shavings and fresh fruit. It tasted even better than what I had imagined and was completely refreshing. I liked this cafe because I didn’t feel rushed here and could peacefully enjoy my dessert. After feeling fulfilled, I made my way to Mt. Hiei with renewed energy.
Originally I passed by the base of Mt. Hiei while I was on my way to the famed Rurikoin Temple. This temple is situated in a forest and has a pool of water inside that perfectly reflects the surface of its surroundings. The best time to go is in Autumn when the red maple leaves match the same red color of the interior of the temple. However, unbeknown to me entrance required prior online reservation from the months of October to December and I was not able to enter. Since I had traveled an hour by bus to get here, I decided that I would ride the cable car up Mt. Hiei instead and do some photography in the mountains. Fortunately it was only a 5 minute walk from the queue to Rurikoin so I did not lose much time. This is actually the longest cable car in Japan so I’m happy I went for the experience!
Mt. Hiei actually has both a cable car and a ropeway. To ride both roundtrip it costs around 1800 yen which is a bit expensive but the view is overall worth it. At the top you can see Garden Museum Hiei and also hike to see some temples in the mountains. I loved this museum because it had a lot of beautiful oil paintings that were carefully placed around groups of wild flowers and bushes. There was also a pond and you could see all of the mountains surrounding Kyoto and Shiga. The natural lighting and cool mountain air really added to the experience. If you come this far out it’s definitely worth the ascent because it gives you an entirely new view of Kyoto.
I descended around 4pm which was just in time to catch the golden hour when the sun shines through the trees and gradually begins to set. The path around the base of Mt. Hiei started to gleam with the flicker of lanterns and I felt as if I had been transported to a beautiful red world. Luckily I caught it all on camera. I loved how the Eizan Railway train I took back to the city center was marked with a red leaf too. This entire day went better than how I had originally envisioned it despite the minor setback.
Celebrations at L’Escamoteur
After experiencing the golden hour and feeling satisfied with the photos I had taken for the day, it was finally time for celebration! Coincidently one of my friends from Yamanashi was also in Kyoto and invited me to come to L’escamoteur with her. This bar is near Kawaramachi and is named after the French word for “magician” or “illusionist”. As the name implies the bartenders can whip up some pretty mysterious cocktails here. My friend and I have the same taste so we both ordered chocolate cocktails with brandy first. After kicking back the first round, we next ordered matching Kyoto-themed matcha cocktails that kind of look like おっぱい when placed side by side. We laughed at that and shared stories of our experiences in Kyoto. She also tried to go to Rurikoin Temple and could not get in without a reservation. Small world! We vowed to both see it next year during Autumn.
This bar definitely had the perfect atmosphere for catching up with old friends and I am happy I went here. Next time I would like to try a cocktail with an egg and this mysterious concoction I happened to capture on camera:
Due to the reduced prices of the hotels that are participating in the Go To Travel Campaign, I was able to stay at a backpackers guesthouse called Hostel Mundo for less than 1000 yen for 2 nights. I liked this guesthouse because it was located in a quiet area away from the crowds, but still had easy access to Kawaramachi and Kyoto buses. The rooms had cozy futons and the interior decor made me feel like I was in Thailand, but Hostel Mundo simulates the feeling of staying at a traditional Japanese house. Bike rental is also available and there are many hot springs nearby. Only a few other woman were staying here so I was able to sleep peacefully each night and wake up early for my next adventure. I would recommend this place to most people as it is very affordable and clean.
Thank you for reading Part 1 of my Autumn Adventures in Kyoto! Part 2 is already being drafted so please look forward to reading more from me soon~
Since I’ve finished my Jeju Island article series, I’m going to write about some of my favorite places to hang out in Seoul next. It’s hard to structure this article because there are literally so many cool areas of the city! My two favorite districts in Seoul are by far Itaewon and Gangnam. Both have extremely different vibes but are perfect for a night out depending on what my mood is. Itaewon is friendliest and most international while Gangnam is the fanciest district is Seoul. Even though I can’t speak Hangul, I never have trouble making friends in this city. Spontaneously getting invited to a bachelor’s party while staying here was one of the coolest things that have ever happened to me in a foreign country. I’ve been to Korea three times and hope to visit again when international travel is possible again.
Without further ado, here are the most fun places that I’ve discovered:
Common Ground is an urban mall that was built out of containers and is really fun to explore. Unlike other malls, there’s not a huge mob of annoying shoppers here because those type of people usually go to the fancier malls in the center of the city. Common Ground features small designer stores and also has restaurants and live music. A lot of stores here import brands too. No matter what your price range is, you can usually find something that fits your taste here. I actually didn’t buy much but I had fun doing photography with the winter illuminations outside. There was also a statue of an astronaut outside and some replicas of Roman statues inside the main building when I visited. How aesthetic!
While I was walking around here, a Korean student came up to me and interviewed me for a university project. Since I didn’t have a strict itinerary during my first trip, I happily participated. She asked me various questions about my country and also gave me some Korean snacks. Though it was a simple project, I was happy that I could help out. Common Ground is close to many universities so it’s great for socializing and meeting people!
Lotte World is one of the most famous amusement parks in Korea. In fact, it’s the largest indoor theme park in the world—which is why I had to go! It’s located in the massive Lotte Mall that has hundreds of shops and food from all around the world. If you are looking for top tier shopping in Seoul, then this is the place. I came after the start of the new year so the park had a winter theme. Fortunately it wasn’t very crowded and I could ride all of the rides that I wanted! There are carousels, roller coasters, haunted houses, and my personal favorite: The Balloon Ride. You can see the entire indoor park and mall from the top which makes it an amazing experience.
Even though Lotte World is owned by Lotte Co. Ltd., there are actually a lot of parallels between it and Disney Land. For example, the outside of Lotte World resembles the Disney World Castle. It also has a beautiful lake that you can view by walking across a bridge that leads to the artificially created “Magic Island” which is a lot like Disney Sea. Despite these similarities, the attractions are quite different and the entrance to Lotte World is considerably cheaper. If you like one park, you’ll probably like the other too.
I would recommend checking out Lotte World as opposed to other amusement parks because you can come here in any kind of weather thanks to the indoor park area.
Entrance Fee: 32$ for adults (cheaper than most amusement parks in Japan so it’s overall worth it)
The Jogyesa Temple in Insadong, Seoul is probably my favorite temple of all time in Korea. I first came here during the Lotus Festival in April and many bright hand-crafted paper ornaments were hung around the entire complex. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was! Jogyesa is actually the center of Buddhism in Korea and many rituals and ceremonies are held here. There are private prayer rooms as well as places that you can make public offerings. The Chinese Scholar Tree was planted on the temple grounds because it is said to convert negative energy into positive energy and happiness. Though I’m not particularly religious, I definitely felt in high spirits here. Please check this place out if you ever get the chance. The monks are very friendly and welcoming.
I enjoyed seeing the English pack of M&Ms being used as an offering when I went:
Entrance Fee: Free
Myeongdong is essentially the Shibuya/Harajuku of Seoul. You can come here at any time of day and find something fun to do. It has street food, hilarious fashion (“say no to kids, drugs”), recreational parks, and cafes galore. The street and night markets have knock-off Gucci and Supreme which you can score for a low price. I enjoyed eating octopus and drinking sochu while I walked through all the streets and alleyways.
Some of my favorite places I found around Myeongdong Station were:
Artbox – An adorable mall with art supplies, cosmetics, and accessories. It reminded me of the LINE Friends store in Japan but had way more variety.
Stylenada 3CE – A pool-themed shopping mall and cafe with beautiful pink decor. It has amazing desserts!
Bbongsin – An amazing restaurant with cold noodles and calzones. Some of the best Korean food I’ve ever had!
Milky Bee – An ice cream shop with flower-shape gelato.
Myeongdong has bars that stay open late, but not much of a club scene. Continue reading to see my recommendations for clubs:
Ever since the song “Gangnam Style” became a hit song, I feel like this district doesn’t really need an introduction but I’ll give it a go anyway. Gangnam is the most upscale district in Seoul but you can enjoy the nightlife here with almost any budget. In addition to some of the most reputable clubs, it has secluded parks you can walk through by the river side and amazing cafes. Gangnam itself is pretty spread out so people don’t normally drink in the streets like in Itaewon. It’s classy and has a club area as well as a quiet upscale residential district as well.
My first memory of Gangnam was meeting up with some of my old college friends here and going to Octagon, where we got invited to VIP tables and drank champagne. If you’re a girl then it’s really easy to meet people that will buy you drinks here. The crowds and sound system are pretty insane too. I honestly got too lit my first time here so I’d really like to come back and just focus on the music next time.
Last year I decided to get my eye bags removed at JK Plastic in Gangnam. I had sunken eyelids that were caused by genetics so the veins under my skin would show and create permanent eye bags. I always looked tired and wanted to fix the issue so I opted for eye surgery. I chose JK Plastic because they are one of the highest-rated clinics in Korea and speak English. It took about a week of downtime in Korea and then six weeks of recovery at home, but the skin beneath my eyelids has been fully restored now! When I woke up from surgery I nearly cried because they did such an amazing job and I could already see the results despite having a swollen face. During my down time I played visual novels and also watched a lot of anime. It wasn’t so bad—just make sure you have enough time off to take care of yourself!
Plastic surgeons in Korea are the best in the world. The advantage of going here is that if you’re a tourist you can get a tax refund from the surgery when you go to the airport. I would not recommend plastic surgery in Japan because my friends have said the surgeons here are not as experienced or friendly. I would recommend doing research, scheduling an online consultation with a clinic you like, and seeing what options fit you best. I may write a full article on this at a later time!
Itaewon is my favorite place to start my night out in Seoul. I have so many fond memories here. It caters to the late-night international crowd and has small, condensed streets as well as beautiful murals that decorate the walls. You can sit at an outdoor bar or go drinking in the street and easily meet people (both tourists and Korean nationals). You can find pretty much any type of restaurant or dessert shop here too. It has the feel of a college town but is much more upscale and classy. Usually I spend my first night going to various clubs and bars then wake up and soak in Itaewon Land Spa.
My favorite club here is called Cakeshop because it features a lot of independent producers from both Seoul and other countries plus it has a great vibe. It originally caught my eye because Carpainter did a set here in 2015 (unfortunately I was in America at the time or I would have gone). The club is small enough with one DJ booth and bar that it’s easy to converse with people and enjoy the music. I have made a number of friends here that I still stay in touch with. The entry fee usually isn’t more than $25.
Besides Cakeshop, Fountain is a great place to check out. The first floor is huge dance floor that’s always usually packed and the upper floors have tables and arcades for bigger groups. The music here is usually western EDM which disinterests me, but the atmosphere of the club is impressive. I have never paid any entrance fee when I have gone in. What I remember of Club Awesome was awesome too!
Next time I’m here I really want to check out a club called Pumpkin. If it’s actually Halloween-themed like its outer decor implies then I’m in.
Other Interesting Places:
Hongdae – Hongdae is a popular spot for college students and those who love K-pop music clubs. I came here to visit the ADERerror store and also to do some shopping. I didn’t like it as much as Itaewon or Gangnam due to my music taste, but I highly recommend you spend a night exploring here and see what you think.
I found an amazing “Magical Item Shop” called Creamy DD with tons of Sailor Moon and other magical girl accessories here. It’s easy to spot the sign if you walk down the main road:
Ihwa Mural Village – Since I went to Busan and saw Gamcheon I skipped this village, but if you are looking for beautiful murals and art to see then please check this place out! I want to go here in the future.
Secret Garden – A scenic area around Changdeokgung Palace that I recommend checking out if you have the time. It is one of the most beautiful gardens in Seoul!
Nami Island – A scenic island near Seoul where many K-dramas are filmed. Click the link to read my full article on it!
Places to Stay
As a backpacker, I favor cheap hostels but the majority of accommodations in Korea are less expensive than in Japan. You can likely find a nice hotel for $45 USD or less too.
Here are some of the places that I stayed at and enjoyed in Korea. I booked them close in proximity to the clubs I was interested in checking out:
Guesthouse Yacht (Itaewon) – A very inexpensive apartment-style dorm in the heart of Itaewon. This is my go-to place if I’m spending the night there because it’s safe, quiet, and conveniently located.
Kimchee Guesthouse (Gangnam) – A guest house near Gangnam City Office that has private and dorm rooms. I stayed here during my eye surgery recovery period and it was perfect because my room had a shower inside it. This is the cheapest you will get in the fanciest part of the city, I assure you.
Neo Seoul Guesthouse – I wanted to try staying in Hongdae for a night, so I chose this place because of the cool name. It was cheap and I could easily access the airport limousine the next day so I recommend it for its convenience (Itaewon and Gangnam are a bit further away).
This will be the last article about Korea that I write until my next trip! Since I live in Japan, I can sometimes find cheap round-trip flights for under $150 so I come here usually once a year for a week long vacation. Usually new restaurants and venues open, plus cosmetics and beauty clinics are really cheap here so I always have something to look forward to. Until next time, Seoul!
After eating the legendary floating noodles and having some aesthetic dining experiences in Kyoto, I figured I’d point out two of my favorite cafes there as well. They both involve two of my favorite things: small animals & videogames so naturally I had to check them out. I will be detailing my experiences below so hopefully more people will decide to visit!
Pug Cafe Living Room
Pug Cafe Living Room is a small space where you can interact with adorable little pugs dressed in colorful jerseys. It was opened in the living room of the Japanese family’s house who owns it and currently there are 15 friendly pugs that reside there. The system is very simple; you pay 1500 yen to enter and you have a full hour to play with the pugs. The entry fee includes treats so naturally the pugs will come to you if you feed them! They are quite energetic so it was difficult for me to take photos, but I really enjoyed my time here. You can extend your visit for 500 yen per 30 minutes if you wish. The cafe is a bit more crowded on the weekends but I was able to walk in on a Saturday and not have any wait time. Be sure to check their calendar to see if they are open because they do have some irregular holidays. If you are a pug lover, this is an experience that you can’t miss.
Cafe la Siesta is a retro gaming cafe located in central Kyoto with 8bit-themed drinks, old school games, music events, and more! I lucked out by coming here on a Wednesday night when all of the arcade games were free to play. I ordered a Space Invader drink that had Crab-shaped ice cubes which was highly aesthetic and tasted awesome. The wall of cartridges was also quite fun to check out because their collection of games was massive. I’ve been to many gaming bars in Asia, but this and Space Station in Osaka are my favorites due to the friendliness of the staff and the welcoming atmosphere (not to mention the interior decor). I was only here for a short time but got the perfect buzz.
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).
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:
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.
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!
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:
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…
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.
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:
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!
〒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!