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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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~
Due to the nature of my job, I sometimes spontaneously find myself with consecutive days off so I try to take advantage of it by going on as many trips as possible. Since I had some web design clients to see in Nagoya, I decided to stop there first then make my way to Kyoto on a Tuesday morning so I could experience it with minimal tourism—the complete opposite of my cherry blossom trip in March! Though I thoroughly enjoyed my last trip to Kyoto because I was able to see the full moon with fully blooming sakura, this time I was able to see Arashiyama’s iconic bamboo forest more deserted than I had ever seen it before as well as hike to Daihikaku. If you want to travel throughout Kyoto without the interruption of tourists, then now is definitely the time! During my two day trip I spent a lot of time reflecting on myself and my recent projects which was very beneficial to developing my future goals for this year. I also managed to go to some nice cafes I didn’t have the chance to visit last time and snag a Miffy omelette sandwich from the Sakura Kitchen! Even though I’ve been to Arashiyama over 5 times, this view still amazes me:
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest Path
The path to Arashiyama’s bamboo forest is usually always bustling with tourists, food vendors, and rickshaw drivers desperately trying to get your business, but last Tuesday it was practically vacant. I passed by a few old Japanese people on their way to the onsen, but the normally crowded paths were empty and I was able to capture some amazing photos with the sun peaking out of the bamboo stalks. The dream Japan aesthetic.
Witnessing emptiness of Arashiyama made me feel both lucky and melancholy. Seeing it in this state is a rare opportunity indeed, but it also felt like a ghost town. I hurt for all of the small businesses struck by the effects of the pandemic. Fortunately my favorite clubs, bars, and venues have all been saved by online fundraisers but I worry for the lesser known places that heavily rely on tourism. I hope my small contribution of buying food from local restaurants and writing about them can help in some way!
Another place I love walking through is the Kimono Forest near Saga Arashiyama Station! I remember the first time I saw it I was completely amazed. The colorful patterns and artistic water fountain really stand out and are extremely inspiring to me. Sadly I didn’t have time to rent a kimono this time, but I hope to rent one and do a photo shoot during my next trip here!
Cafe Style Resort Saganoyu: The Onsen Cafe
One of my coworkers posted about a lovely cafe in Arashiyama that had the same interior decor that you would find at a local hot spring, so I just had to go and see it for myself! Saganoyu is not only famous for its one of a kind onsen decor, but also for its pasta dishes and pancakes. I decided to order the trademark pancakes with the onsen insignia because that was the most aesthetic dish on the menu. The pancakes were served up American style with less fluffiness and more substance which I liked. Sometimes the souffle-styled pancakes just have too much air in them but these were extremely filling. While I waited for my order I decided to walk around the cafe and admire all of the detail that was put into it. I loved the mirrors and little shower heads attached to the wall as well as the vintage shoe locker! They also had some really good chocolates that look like gold pieces of soap. Definitely come here if you are looking for a fun and creative atmosphere!
During my first ever trip to Arashiyama nearly 5 years ago, I hiked to the spot with cherry blossoms and noticed a mysterious hut with bright awnings standing out across the river. At first I thought it was perhaps someone’s house as people own property in the mountains here, but during my last trip I Googled it and found out it was a temple called Daihikaku. Last week I finally made the 20 minute trek up the mountain to see it in person for myself and I can happily say that the view was worth it. From the windows you can see the Oi River and the beautiful mountains that surround Kyoto. Being up close to the colorful flags flapping in the wind felt surreal because I had previously only seen them from the opposite side. The temple also is unmanned giving it a feeling of solitude. I can proudly say I have hiked up both sides of Arashiyama now!
What makes this temple even more meme-worthy is that it has its own official manga you can read on your way up. The page I zoomed into almost completely sums up my initial experience here.
The expression of the girl who turns around and notices the mysterious temple peaking out of the forest was exactly the same as mine when I first traveled to Arashiyama many years ago. Even now sometimes it’s sometimes easy to forget that this temple exists, but when I remember it I always feel happy. ☺️
If you have the time and energy, consider seeing Daihikaku from both sides of the river because the views are unique and change based on the season. The fall is usually the best time of year to go because you can see the bright red leaves contrast against the river.
Every time I go to Kyoto, I like to try a new city hotel by the Kawaramachi River so I can drink by it at night and gaze at the stars. This time I stayed at Hotel Resol Trinity, which is an upgrade of the hotel that I stayed at on my birthday because it has its own public onsen and nicer rooms. Since I came randomly on a weekday I only paid 4300 yen for my “Hollywood” style room. I slept here for almost 10 hours because I was exhausted from hiking and work so I would give it a 10/10 for its comfort. You can definitely find cheaper options but this is first class for the discounted price.
After spending a beautiful afternoon in Minobu and seeing the iconic Lake Motosu plus other places that are featured in Yuru Camp, I decided I would spend my final day in Yamanashi hiking around waterfalls and trying delicious food with my friends. Yamanashi is a great getaway and each and every experience I had here was memorable. Coming during off-season definitely had its perks because there were less people around and I really became well-acquainted with the area. Seeing Mt. Fuji from so many different angles was awesome too! I made a promise to come back here in the summer and go camping for real because this trip had a real impact on my life. I am extremely grateful that the Yuru Camp anime inspired me to come here and that my friends showed me around too. I would have never discovered all of these amazing places by myself!
From Kofu we drove around 30 minutes to Shosenkyo, which is known as one of the most beautiful gorges in Japan. My favorite gorge of all time is still Takachiho in Miyazaki, but this one is quite the sight to behold too. You can tell by the pure color of the water that this park is a treasure. The trails here are very easy to navigate and you can reach one of the two main waterfalls known as the Senga Falls in a pleasant 30 minute hike. As we reached the first waterfall, we noticed a rainbow appear above the rocks where the water was falling and stood in awe until it faded. Because we were having a super lucky day, the we saw a second rainbow appear over the second waterfall too!! If you come here around 2pm and the sun is out, you may be able to see this phenomenon too:
Local Temples & Alien
The summit of Shosenkyo has many notable sightseeing points that should not be missed. The Buddha Statue adorned in colorful papers and the crystal shop with the two friendly cats were some of my favorites. There’s also a bell shrine filled with—you guessed it—bells! The wooden plaques here are also unique because they are shaped like crystals and have the kanji for wish (願) written on them. My friend collects these and this one was one of my favorites in her collection. Did I mention there’s an alien statue with its own hashtag here too? This is a scale replica from Alien Vs. Predator. The people that manage the shops up here sure are interesting people! I was blown away by the uniqueness of it all and had an amazing time hiking. I really hope that this place is featured in Yuru Camp someday.
Recommended Kofu Cafes
On our way to the falls we decided to try a cozy cafe called Camel which has a combination of breakfast and early afternoon entrees making it the ideal place for brunch. I ordered the salmon lunch set which came with bread, yogurt, and salad making it a perfectly balanced meal. They also have amazing coffee here! The white chocolate latte was something I was surprised to find on the menu but it tasted fantastic. It must have been an original blend. After our hike we stopped at a small cafe near Kofu Station called Cafe Moala which is also famous for coffee and its seasonal tarts. We were lucky that strawberries were in season because the strawberry cheesecake tarts were out of this world. Every single meal I had in Yamanashi was baked with tender care and I enjoyed every bite!
After an extravagant afternoon of hiking, my friends dropped me off at Kofu Station and I rode back to Tokyo with many happy memories and goals in mind for the next trip. By this point I think I’ve made it clear that Yamanashi is worth traveling to just as much as Kyoto and Osaka, so please be sure to add the home of Mt. Fuji in your next trip itinerary! I plan to come back to Yamanashi in the spring to re-shoot some photos during sakura season, and also go camping by Lake Motosu in the summer. I also hope to visit more areas that the currently airing season of Yuru Camp features too!
As for my upcoming trips for the year, Aomori is currently #1 on my list because I want see the sakura festival. It is currently unknown if it will be cancelled due to the pandemic so I am waiting until April to decide. I also want to visit Okinawa again to shoot some cosplay after the 2nd emergency state ends. This trip looks more hopeful. Other than that, I hope to go to Nagoya and Kyoto later this spring to see friends and also keep my eye on music events. This week has brought a lot of hopeful news so I hope things continue to get better. Until then I will continue to watch anime and take small local trips like this to keep myself in high spirits. I thank everyone that has read my articles and wish you all well! ♥
After exploring the Kaiyukan Aquarium and meeting a fire bender on our first day in Osaka, we decided to take our second day at a more leisurely pace. Or so we thought. Despite all the drinking we did the night before, we surprisingly weren’t hungover so it was somewhat of a miracle. Craving Mediterranean and Halal food, I found a Michelen Star restaurant called Ali’s Kitchen right near our hotel. They have a large assortment of Pakistani and Arabic food that we heartily feasted on.
I ordered the Arabic salad and the Baba Ganoush that tasted like nothing I had ever eaten before. It was clear that a lot of special ingredients were used in this style of cooking to give it such an amazing taste. Plus it was extremely healthy too! My boyfriend ordered the keema curry and I could tell by the look on his face that he thoroughly enjoyed it too. This restaurant definitely deserves 5 stars:
Feeling satisfied, we decided to walk around American Street (also called Ame Mura) to see some of the latest Osaka streetwear and colorful architecture. Honestly, the aesthetics here were off the chart. Some of my favorite things that we found was a coffee shop called W/O Stand with a fake vending machine door, a shoe brand called “Dr. ASSY”, colorful fashion and logos, random shrines, and a giant mall with jungle-like foliage called Big Step. I snagged an ASICS jacket for half-off here and they had neon bathrooms too! Plus free table hockey! The highlight was when my boyfriend lost the game by ricocheting the puck off my side and directly into his goal. Good times.
We then decided to explore the “Kyoto of Osaka” and see Mizukake Fudo, a beautiful Buddhist statue that has been covered in moss. This temple is very small but is surrounded by a lot of unique restaurants and bars. The path is connected by Dotonbori’s central streets but it has more of a Gion feel to it. While we were here a small ceremony was going on. Monks were humming and chanting prayers. We left a donation to show thanks and then quietly made our way to our next destination.
My boyfriend decided we should first see Denden Town (the central otaku hub), and then proceed to the old arcades in Shinsekai. I remember going to a maid cafe in Denden Town years ago while I was interviewing for jobs in Osaka. However, I don’t think I had ever seen Shinsekai before because usually I stay in Dotonbori (for sake of parties). Fortunately the two areas are close enough that you can easily walk between them on foot. I was so happy to experience Shinsekai because it preserves the old 80s feel of Japan with its smokey Mahjong parlors and 50 yen arcades. The claw machines here are absolutely hilarious too.
We played Street Fighter and Time Crisis 3 here for a long while and walked around the illuminated streets. There were less people around due to the pandemic but this place still had a lot of charm. I could see Tsutenkaku Tower here and snap some really good pictures. I would really like to come back here and try some sushi in the future! Maybe even spend a night here too!
As we were walking back up Dotonbori to go to the famous hammock cafe called Revarti, we came across a completely random, unannounced matsuri here. Gotta love the Osaka life.
Sadly to our dismay the hammock cafe’s hours had been drastically changed due to the pandemic. Instead of staying open until midnight, they now only stay open until 5pm. Closing at happy hour should be a crime but I vow to come back here some day when they are open. We decided to initiate our backup plan which was the 200 yen bar called Moonwalk and drink cheaply to our heart’s content. The entrance fee is 500 yen, but every drink you order after that is only 200 so you can drink like a sultan. They have all sorts of liqueur that you can experiment with too. My personal favorites are the Dalgona Coffee made with Kahlua and the ice cream grasshopper. Each drink has stats like a Jojo character so you can strategically plan out how shit-faced you’re going to get:
After about an hour of this we were tipsy and ready for the next destination. Our friend who owns the best gaming bar in Osaka, Space Station, invited us out and we drank more coffee drinks and an original cocktail called “Ecco the Dolphin”. We then plopped in the most Australian Bomberman (Bomberman 3) and also played some Nidhogg. I enjoyed looking out the Slime-tinted windows and into the night. The design of this bar is iconic.
After chatting for a good while, we were invited to a music party at Sound Garden. The genre was supposed to be house and techno so I was totally down. The best part about this bar was it had a super comfy couch with a pillow that said “Fuck Tokyo. I [heart] Osaka”. We sat on the couch and laughed about this for a good while. It’s really true.
I was talking about music in Michigan and right as I mentioned Eminem, the DJ started playing “Sing for the Moment“. That was our cue to get up and dance. I was completely lost in the moment and let go of my fears and anxiety. I can’t believe how amazing this trip had turned out! Though our initial plans had slightly derailed, I was so happy that we were here together. A sensation of euphoria came over me and after a while I wanted to wander by the river outside. The music ended around 3am and we decided to make our way there. There was a light rain in the air but it felt fantastic on our skin after dancing that long. The river in Dotonbori had the most beautiful reflections that night:
As the sun rose we cuddled and listened to “P.S. You Rock My World” by Eels. There were kids blasting EDM under the bridge and their playlist accidentally shuffled to “Last Christmas”. It kind of felt like Christmas in July, in a way. I really didn’t want for that night to end but eventually we drifted off to sleep. What happens in Osaka stays in Osaka.
We left a few hours later at 11:30am via the Willer Express Bus and headed back to Nagoya. However, we couldn’t leave without first picking up a souvenir:
This was hands down the best trip to Osaka that I have ever had. There was never really a dull moment—all of it was a highlight reel. I hope to travel again with my boyfriend to Kyoto in the fall and hopefully make another trip back here. Thank you all for reading up to this point! Since we are currently unable internationally, this is the best alternative we could have asked for.
After hiking around Black Virgin Mountain & Cao Dai Temple, I decided it might be nice to go out on the water for a day. Mekong River Delta, home to a maze of rivers, swamps, and floating markets, is the perfect place to go boating and experience an agricultural community. This river starts in the Himalayas and flows through four other surrounding countries before reaching Vietnam. The murky brown color of the water comes from the soil it washes up so the river itself is actually quite clean. A majority of Vietnam’s rice and fish is transported to other areas from Mekong Delta, so it’s vital to the country’s economics. Not to mention its jungle-like aesthetic makes it the perfect place to go on an adventure!
Mekong Delta can easily be reached from Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s cheapest to go on a tour. I booked a group tour through Get Your Guide for around $28 and found it to be quite helpful. I got to explore parts of the jungle, eat delicious Vietnamese food, and see some of the smaller islands. One is even named after a unicorn! I was fortunate that the other people on my tour were kind and welcoming. I met one woman from Colombia that introduced me to her sons that were around my age (mid-twenties). We all awkwardly laughed. No vacation is complete without awkward random encounters!
Sailing on the Mekong Delta was amazing. The weather was humid but fortunately there was a cool breeze. No matter which direction you look there is a lot to see:
I highly recommend buying a nón lá (leaf hat) from the market during your trip. Initially I thought that wearing one of these as a tourist would be embarrassing, but the hats are ideal for the weather here. During warm days they can shield your entire face from the sun, and during rainy days the droplets will slide off them keeping you completely dry.
After a while of sailing we stopped at Ben Tre, the capital of one of the largest provinces in the Mekong Delta, and got to explore some of the beautiful scenery on foot. There was a tiny wildlife preserve with crocodiles, porcupine-like creatures, and other exotic animals. A woman came with a colony of bees and showed us how honey was made (fortunately the bees didn’t seem hostile). We also learned how coconuts were used to make desserts and got to try some coconut jelly! It was so delicious.
Besides boats,the main form of transportation around the muddy banks of the Mekong Delta is by horse. Although a lot of residents of Vietnam own motorbikes, they seem to be quite challenging to ride around here. That is another reason why I recommend booking a tour. Though it can take days to see the entire Mekong Delta here, just a day trip was enough for me.
I said it once but I’ll say it again: Vietnamese Cuisine tastes amazing and severely underrated. For lunch we had a buffet that included elephant ear fish (see top picture), shrimp, omelette, rice, crackers, fresh fruit, and coconut jelly. This kind of meal is simple but very filling. Since I don’t eat meat, I informed the chef and they were able to accommodate my request. If you’re looking for a fancier dinner, you can always order one back in Ho Chi Minh City!
I visited a similar place to Mekong Delta in Cambodia last year called Kampong Pluk. It also has a floating economy, amazing fish, and many similarities to Vietnam. I recommend checking out both because their cultures are slightly different. I can’t pick a favorite because both of them were an entirely unique experience.
Here are some other things I recommend checking out in Ho Chi Minh City:
Notre Dame Cathedral – A historic church with beautiful architecture.
Ho Chi Minh City Hall – An iconic landmark of the city,
Cafe ZONE 69 – I found this place during my morning run and thought it was hilarious. I have no idea if it still exists or not, but it’s in the heart of the city.
Ho Chi Minh Opera House – I sadly didn’t have enough time to go, but I’d love to see a show here in the future.
Jade Emperor Pagoda – One of the prettiest temples in town.
I only stayed 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City, but that was enough for me because I got to see and experience a lot of different things. In my next article, I will be talking about my experience in Hanoi and how it differs from this city. As always, please stay tuned for more updates!
After exploring the east and west side of Jeju Island and climbing Mt. Hallasan, I decided to spend my final day on the island relaxing and seeing some of the places that most tours don’t cover (such as the sex museum and private beaches). Since I don’t have an international license, I had my hostel help book me a private taxi driver. The average cost of private taxi drivers in Jeju is about $150 USD per day but hiring one is much easier than trying to use the local buses. The duration of the taxi session is around 9 hours and you can easily see all of the things you want to see without hassle. Hilariously, all the English-speaking drivers were booked already due to high demand but I was able to book a Japanese one. Without further hesitation I set off for my fifth and final day on the island and hoped for the best! Fortunately the weather was on my side.
See Iho Tewoo Beach & Gwakji Beach
Jeju has around eight popular swimming beaches in total, but I chose to travel to the two most photogenic ones. Iho Tewoo Beach is famous for its two horse-shaped lighthouses. I wanted to see them in person so this was the very first destination I chose! Unfortunately it was bit too cold to go swimming, but I just liked being on an empty and relaxing beach. Apparently this beach is extremely popular during the summer because you can go for boat rides here, but during late April when I went it was extremely peaceful and quiet. Just what I wanted after all of the exhausting hiking that I did!
I picked up some amazing octopus at a nearby restaurant here. Raw Korean octopus tastes amazing:
After I had my fill, I decided to head to Gwakji Beach which is much livelier because there are a lot of resorts around it. None of the resorts on Jeju are particularly fancy, but the cafes sure are. I decided to try Mônsant which is owned by G-DRAGON purely because of its flawless architectural design. You can see the ocean through the panes of glass while sipping on delicious coffee. I ordered a strawberry smoothie and couldn’t believe the view that I was seeing:
I tried to go swimming here, but the beach shore was a bit rocky so I was reluctant. Jeju’s beaches are more designed for soaking up the atmosphere rather than actually getting soaked. I didn’t mind though, because Gwakji Beach definitely had a nice vibe. In addition to posh cafes there were squids being sun-dried and local food stalls around. I appreciated the diversity of food here.
One hilarious and slightly creepy trend here I saw was having photos of couples and babies printed onto lattes. I’m usually quite adventurous when it comes to food, but I don’t know if I’d have the courage to drink myself… This is just too realistic:
Nexon Computer Museum
The next stop was my favorite museum of all time in Korea: The Nexon Computer Museum. Nexon is the company responsible for creating Maple Story and the longest running commercial graphic MMO in the world: Baram, also known as Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds. I was really surprised to see that a modest company in Korea had this award; which makes me think that Nexon is seriously underrated so naturally I wanted to learn more.
Ah yes, the infamous Sex Museum of Korea. I’ll admit I was a bit embarrassed coming here by myself, but I was on vacation so I figured why the hell not? Jeju Loveland is an art museum of erotic outdoor sculptures and has an indoor collection of various adult toys. What’s good is that it promotes a safe approach to sex and only admits entry to adults (honestly I’ve seen enough pedophilia in Japan bookstores and this was a much classier attraction). “Various romantic and sexual art works are waiting for you.” the official website says. I liked the ambiguity of the upside-down sculptures submerged in water… But I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination. Definitely see it if it fancies you!
Entrance Fee: $9 USD (not bad)
Jeju Horse Park
Before having my driver drop me off at the airport so I could take my flight back to Seoul, I decided to make one more stop at Jeju Horse Park. I was wearing the most extra outfit because I was shooting pictures on the beach just before, but once again I figured why not! I was on vacation and I wanted to ride a horse one last time. This was the perfect way to end my Jeju Chronicles. I had successfully accomplished everything that I had planned so this was yet another perfect trip to commemorate. The park has a really laidback approach and you can choose multiple routes around the mountains and seaside. I couldn’t use my camera because I was riding, but I had an amazing time! There was a guide who was keeping close watch on me so I felt safe at all times. Horseback riding is a great way to see Jeju Island and is relatively cheap so you should try it at least once while you’re here.
Entrance Fee: $10-$20 USD depending on how long you go.
As this article implies, I had a phenomenal time on Jeju Island and would recommend it to all my friends. There were a few issues with the language barrier here and there, but island people are some of the friendliest people that you will ever meet. I really treasured all of my time here. I was also able to speak Japanese in a few instances and find my way around. Google Maps aren’t always reliable in South Korea so I would do your research on what attractions you want to see before coming here. That’s it really. Once you arrive at Jeju, you’ll find that the island is small enough that you can easily navigate and fit in all the activities you want. Jeju is by far the most beautiful place in South Korea and you should definitely give it a chance because it has activities for everyone!
During Golden Week of 2018 I decided to venture to Korea for the 2nd time and explore its most famous beach resort island: Jeju. This island is extremely unique because not only does it have the best beaches in Korea, but it also has the Nexon Computer Museum with the world’s longest running MMO. There’s also the tallest mountain in Korea (Mt. Hallasan), a folk village with traditional houses, and a fairly famous sex museum. As you can see, Jeju has something for everybody because there is a huge diversity of attractions to see. A lot of people that live close to Korea come here to spend their honeymoons or school vacations, but there are many backpackers like me who travel here too. In this article series I will be detailing my 5 day stay in Jeju in hopes that other people will decide to come in the future.
Traveling to Jeju
The best way to travel to Jeju is to take a direct flight from Seoul. Jeju Air has the cheapest flights that range from $30 – $50 USD roundtrip. The flight only takes about an hour. Jeju is comparable in Okinawa in Japan, but is much smaller and doesn’t have as many islands you can travel to. However, traveling here is much cheaper than most islands in Japan and it has a different vibe. One of the best islands you can visit in Jeju is called Udo which is the very first place I went.
Udo Island Day Trip
Udo Island was my first destination once I reached Jeju Airport. Fortunately you don’t need to fly here and can instead take a relaxing 15 minute ferry. The reason I wanted to go to Udo is because it is the perfect cycling destination. The island was named for its somewhat rectangular shape that looks like cow lying down. I also chuckled because the name reminded me of U-DO in Xenosaga. You can see most of the attractions on Udo within 3 – 4 hours via electric bike. E-bikes can be rented for around $10 per day and are extremely worth it. This was my very first time riding an e-bike, but fortunately it wasn’t scary! You can see the ocean from any point in Udo making it a wonderful spot for photography. Everyone rides slow so they can stop to take pictures.
Since I was starving, I stopped at a local seafood restaurant near the bike rental shop. I couldn’t speak much Hangul but I was able to place an order. They whipped me up some spicy crab and muscle stew which tasted amazing. For dessert, I decided to try the peanut ice cream that Udo is famous for. They placed two adorable teddy bear crackers on it too. The salty and sweet combination makes it worthy of all the praise that it gets. You can find this food literally all over the island and it’s much cheaper than food in Seoul.
Finally feeling full, I decided to make my way down to the beaches. Gwakji Beach and Hamdeok Beach were my two personal favorites. Both can be reached via e-bike in less than 30 minutes and are found on the north side. Exploring these beaches can take up to an hour. I came here in late April so it was a bit cold to swim but the weather was near perfect. Korea’s weather is similar to Japan’s but is slightly more mild.
Besides the swimming and biking, there are many other exciting things to do on Udo. You can go horseback riding for a short time if you talk to someone near the stables. If you like art, most of the buildings are painted in bright colors and there are murals all over the island. The food here never disappoints. The octopus-shaped bread I tried was filled with cheese and absolutely amazing. Just the atmosphere of being on a small beach island is awesome too. I enjoyed walking inside the the giant shells that were near the pier and also petting the store owner’s dogs. Everyone here is extremely friendly so you don’t have to worry about the language barrier.
On my way back to return my e-bike, I stumbled upon one of the best DJ booth turned ice cream shop ever. The chef was spinning some fresh island beats as he was whipping up ice cream. This was an extremely rare vibe that I was not expecting:
The store Udo Prince Story (우도왕자이야기) has both phenomenal food and music. If you come all the way out here, be sure not to miss out. This was the best instant dance party I ran into here and was the perfect way to end my day trip.
After an exciting first day in Udo, I rode the ferry back to the main island where my accommodation “GreenDay” was. There are a few hotels on Udo, but there is much more selection and nightlife on the main island of Jeju.
I chose GreenDay because I thought the name was hilarious and the dorms are only $15 per night. I couldn’t pass up staying in this colorful little house:
GreenDay Address: 251-9 Samdoi-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
I took a cheap taxi to Seongsan Port, then a 15 minute ferry to reach the island. The ferry ticket is only $10 one way. Please see the Udo Ferry Time Table for reference.
In my next article, I will be talking about some of the quirky museums that I explored. Please stay tuned for more!
On my 24th birthday in October nearly two years ago, I decided I travel all the way from Tokyo to Yakushima so I could see the lush island that inspired one of my favorite movies of all time—Princess Mononoke. This journey took nearly 10 hours and involved a lot of hiking, but it was one of the best experiences of my life. Yakushima has so much unspoiled nature and is also home of Japan’s oldest recorded tree in history: Jomonsugi. There are numerous hiking trails and endless adventure to be had here. In this article I will be retelling the tale of my 3 day stay and also my recommended hiking spots and tours. I would plan on staying here for 3-5 days if possible so you can fully enjoy the nature!
Yakushima is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Kyushu, Japan. The island is mostly mountainous with 16 main hiking trails. Many of them intersect so you can choose the path that best fits what you want to see. There are mountain huts scattered in the forest that you can stay at for free overnight, but it is possible to complete most hikes within 6 – 12 hours. Yakushima is close to Okinawa giving it a subtropical climate (in October I could still go swimming). You can travel here any time of year, but I would recommend avoiding the rainy season (early June-July) as the forest can get flooded.
What’s amazing is that even today many parts of this island remain unexplored. Some areas outside of the trails are so steep it is not recommended to climb them without a guide or special equipment. Fortunately the main trails are marked well enough that you can navigate them without a guide. Just be sure to bring enough food and be cautious when climbing over rocks, steep areas, and places with low visibility.
*Maps are courtesy of Yakumonkey (a really handy guide for exploring).
Reasons to go:
Arguably one of the most beautiful forests to hike through in Japan.
If you are a Princess Mononoke fan, exploring Yakushima is a dream come true.
You can see rare wildlife (both plants and animals).
The freshwater streams are so clean that you can drink out of them.
The beaches are wonderful for swimming.
This island is extremely remote and still has a lot of things to be discovered.
The downside is that transportation is limited, and if you are not an outdoors person then you may find some of the hikes a bit difficult. However, people of all ages have completed the hike to Jomonsugi and there are hiking groups available for all experience levels. You can also choose to hike completely alone without a group like I did.
Here are the main spots that I hiked to:
Day 1: Shiratani Unsuikyo
Shiratani Unsuikyo is a dream-like world full of lush green mosses and some of Japan’s oldest cedars that inspired the setting of Princess Mononoke. The lead artist of the movie, Oga Kazuo, spent quite a long time here sketching scenes that were used in the film. You can easily see why this setting was chosen, as it is unspoiled and far from civilization making it the perfect home for creatures of the forest. The water that runs from the stream here is so fresh that you can re-fill your water bottle with it and drink it while you hike. I had never been to a place so clean and beautiful in my life, so this was one of the best places to spend my 24th birthday!
Three of the oldest cedar trees here are: Nidaiosugi, Kugurisugi, and Yayoisugi. Though it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of the forest, there are clear signs and markings around to guide you. Keep your eyes out for deer too! You’re likely run into other tour groups going around but they are easy to avoid. This hike is not particularly strenuous; just remember to watch out for rain that makes the stones and moss slippery.
I arrived on a foggy day, so this was the view I got from the highest point of the forest:
I was not disappointed by this view because it looked like I was walking through the clouds! The fog gave the forest an eerie glow and you could still make out all of the main sightseeing points. Fortunately my other two days here were completely sunny.
Duration: 4-6 hours of hiking Admission Fee: 500 yen
My Recommendation: There are two main paths you can use to enter, but I recommend entering from the Miyanoura side because there are more frequent buses that lead there and back from the port. You do not need a guide to hike through this area as it is pretty straightforward. I came here by myself and did not have a single dull moment.
Day 2: Jomonsugi (Japan’s Oldest Tree)
One of the most magical hikes in Japan is to the oldest tree in this country: The Legendary Jomonsugi. Upon reaching the tree, you will receive its holy blessing and have explored much of Yakushima’s beauty. You can actually access a route to Jomonsugi from the Shiratani Unsuikyo, but it is a strenuous hike so I recommend seeing them on separate days. I enjoyed this hike much more than I did Fuji due to the beautiful cedar scenery. Jomonsugi is quite massive in size (standing at 83 feet) and is like no other tree I’ve ever seen. Besides the tree, there are many other aesthetic things to see on your way there:
The main points of interest on the way there are Wilson’s Stump and the abandoned logging village of Kosugidani. Wilson’s Stump mysteriously formed a heart shape after the tree was cut down. It was discovered by Ernest Henry Wilson who was an English botanist that came to Yakushima in the early 1900s. Little remains of the old village (I thought it was a series of old storehouses when I first saw it), but historically it had a major impact on the development of Yakushima.
The hike starts off very easy. You walk on what looks like railroad tracks into the forest and go through a few tunnels. The hike is 22km but doesn’t get steep until you are much deeper in the forest. I saw some wild mushrooms on the way there. A tour guide told me that there’s a possibility that magic mushrooms may exist here in the wild though I didn’t try eating any. The most difficult part is climbing up the narrow trails that lead to Jomonsugi. Fortunately hiking through the Shiratani Unsuikyo the other day prepared me for that. I reached Jomonsugi in around 3.5 hours and was stunned by its beauty. I turned around and saw people of all ages smiling. We had made the mythical trek!
As I gazed at Jomonsugi, I couldn’t help but think about the World Tree from one of my favorite videogames of all time: Tales of Symphonia. This tree is what keeps the world alive in the game, and I felt a similar power from Jomonsugi. It is the heart of Yakushima that keeps the forest safe. Or keeps tourism alive. Something like that. I couldn’t think straight because I was so hungry. Fortunately I had some riceballs prepared for me by my hotel:
On the way down I noticed I was starting to get fatigued and my legs started to hurt. The last two hours of this hike were the worst. I run every day and am in shape, but I am not used to these forest hikes as I live in the city. At one point I started to get spots in my vision, but fortunately I was not in danger of passing out. I listed to Geofront by Carpainter and focused on climbing down to the rhythm. I vowed if I survived this then I would someday see this artist in person (which I did a month later). When I got back to the train track part of the trail, I was able to sit down and rest for a bit. I think the hike only took me around 7 hours. It was worth it for everything that I got to experience.
Duration: 6-10 hours of hiking (including travel to the trail head by bus) Admission Fee: 1000 yen
My Recommendation: Get up as early as you can (preferably around 4am) and take the earliest bus to Arakawa Trail from where you are staying. Your accommodation can help you as this is the most popular destination in Yakushima. Most buses will arrive around 6am-7am. PACK LOTS OF SNACKS! The bus was full when I returned so I had to wait for the next one back. I killed time with photo editing and it was alright, but I wish I had prepared more. Regardless, this is one of the best hikes you’ll find in Japan and is extremely rewarding. Do it if you get the chance!
Where to Stay: Suimseiso Minshuku
If you came here because of the movie like myself, then staying at Suimeiso Minshuku is your best bet! This backpackers-styled hostel is only 3500 yen a night, includes some meals and snacks, and has signed Miyazaki drawings that are framed and displayed in the common room. That is because Miyazaki was actually a former guest here! The friendly staff are extremely hard-working and will make you feel welcome here. I had trouble initially figuring out the bus routes, but they took the time to assist me.
If tatami rooms are not your style, you can either send an inquiry to one of the Yakushima tour websites or check what’s available on Booking. There are resorts available, but I would recommend saving that money for a more famous beach area like Okinawa. When you’re in Yakushima, you’re going to want to be exploring nature as much as possible so staying inside is not ideal.
To avoid the mistake I made of not having enough food while hiking, I HIGHLY recommend placing an order for breakfast and snacks from your accommodation in advance. Since the majority of people that come to Yakushima are hikers and backpackers, almost all hotels will do this for you. Tours will usually include a meal too.
After being famished from my hike to Jomonsugi, I found a restaurant called Smiley near my hotel that had delicious sandwiches, soup, ice cream, and cookies shaped like the island. Now that was a satisfying meal! There are other small restaurants and convenience stores around the ports too, but usually they are not open in the early morning when it’s recommended to start your hike. It gets dark on the island around 7pm, so be sure to be careful of time. Packing snacks is ideal and will save you a lot of time.
Access & Transportation
From Tokyo Haneda Airport, I flew to Kagoshima Airport the night before I sailed to Yakushima. This cost around 20,000 yen and takes 2 hours. I stayed at a cheap net cafe called Jiyu Kukan by Kagoshima Port which is fortunately close to the station.
In the morning, I bought a roundtrip ferry ticket to Yakushima for 16,600 yen (the return trip must be used within 7 days but I was only staying for 3 days). There are around 8 ferries that go to Miyanoura Port daily. You can choose to stay somewhere here, but more backpackers stay in the Anbo Port area (which is where I stayed).
If you have any questions or would like to purchase a ticket in advance, I would recommend checking out Yes Yakushima’s website because they have updated time tables that change per season. You can also fly here, but I decided to go by boat because I thought it would be more fun. The ride takes around 2-3 hours.
Once on the island, you can get your accommodation to help you book a taxi or take the buses around. I decided to go buy bus because it was extremely cheap. You can rent a car, but some of the roads go deep into the mountains and are a bit dangerous for a driver who is inexperienced. I would leave it to the bus drivers personally.
In my next article, I will be talking about a private tour that I went on during my final day here exploring beaches and hotsprings around the island. Please look forward to it!
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 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.
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 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
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 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!
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!