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!
People always ask me what my favorite place to visit outside of Tokyo is—and though it’s extremely hard to for me to choose because there’s simply so many—one of my favorite destinations of all time is Kanazawa. Kanazawa is the capital city of Ishikawa prefecture and is known for its famous seafood market, historical buildings including samurai houses, and brilliant gold architecture. It has a rustic charm that is similar to Kyoto, but is far less touristy and is surrounded by the beautiful sea.
Kanazawa is also the birthplace of famous musical artist Nakata Yasutaka (producer of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, capsule, and Perfume), who created his own indie music festival called OTONOKO that was held once a year from 2016-2018 (it currently if unknown when it will be held again). The festival attracted around 200-300 people and created a close community of music lovers that had traveled from all over Japan. It’s one of the best music festivals I’ve ever been to in Japan because it features both the experienced artists of ASOBISYSTEM and the new and upcoming talents too. I was happy to share this experience with many friends I had met at his previous music events held in Tokyo and other cities as well as explore the famous capital that is his hometown. There is so much to do in Kanazawa outside of the festival too!
Here’s a list I’ve compiled of all of my favorite places in Kanazawa. You can easily spend 3 full days doing things here:
Kanazawa Castle & Kenrokuen
Kanazawa Castle is one of my all-time favorite castles in Japan and is located right next to the famous Japanese garden Kenrokuen. This castle is massive compared to other ones I’ve visited and you can tell a lot of detail was put its re-construction after in caught on fire in the 1600s. I first came here in the winter when a light layer of snow had piled on top of the castle’s roof and it was extremely aesthetic. I was glad that it was one of the first places I had visited because it’s a huge part of the city’s history.
Strolling through Kenrokuen and listening to all of my favorite music was also a huge pleasure. It’s considered one of Japan’s “three most beautiful landscape gardens” and is the best garden of Kanazawa so you should definitely check it out if you’re here.
The castle is free to enter, and Kenrokuen’s admission is 320 yen.
What you see here might just be my favorite exhibition in the world. The image of the pool looks like some kind of mirage or frozen frame from a vaporwave music video, but there are actually living, breathing people going about their daily routines under the waters of this pool. You can even “dive in” and join them—but you can’t jump or use the ladder. Instead you must reach the underwater zone from another entrance (which can easily be found by following the signs). In addition to the pool, there are various rooms with simulations you can enter.
This museum is an important part of Kanazawa’s culture because it draws a large number of people to the city. Its design is very modern but somehow fits in the center of Kanazawa’s historic streets because it has a beautiful outdoor park and is near the Kenrokuen Garden. The outside of the museum has free exhibits you can see as well.
The entrance fee is 360 yen for temporary exhibitions (some exhibits are free).
Golden Ice Cream & Sake
Since Kanazawa is the city of gold, you can find all sorts of golden souvenirs here. The golden ice cream is by far the most famous (and delicious too). At a confectionery shop called Hakuichi, you can savor the best gold-leaf ice cream in Japan. I went during October one year and they added an edible ghost topping too! The gold sake is also something I bought back for home. It tastes just like any other sake but the gold flakes inside make it look like a glittery snow globe. My friends joke that I have eaten more gold than anyone they know, and that very well may be true.
Omicho Fish Market
The Omicho Fish Market is where you’ll find some of the freshest seafood in mainland Japan. Kanazawa is most famous for crab, but you can find almost any other kind of fish imaginable. My personal favorites were Kaisen Maruhidon (rice bowls with mountains of seafood on top) and the tiny servings of sea urchin sold in the stalls outside. Most restaurants will gladly customize your orders for you and there are amazing sushi restaurants here as well.
One of my favorite memories was when Nakata Yasutaka’s first solo album Digital Native was announced the night before the festival, so my friend and I split a crab then ordered a pitcher of sangria from a restaurant below the station in celebration. A waiter peeled a fresh avacado for us too, but I don’t actually remember what we ordered in last photo… That just goes to show how much fun I had here!
Higashi Chaya District
The Higashi Chaya District of Kanazawa is where some of the traditional teahouses and upscale ryokan are located so it’s one of the prettiest parts of the city. There are also cafes, souvenir shops, and a lot of interesting architecture here. It’s a lot similar to Kyoto’s Gion district but the crowds are more evenly distributed. I love the winding streets and also the liveliness here. Everything seems like it was built to perfection.
I highly recommend checking out the Nomura Clan Samurai Home here because it has unique artifacts and a beautiful home garden. The Godburger is also a nice meme. Although haven’t eaten there yet, it’s definitely on my bucket list.
Piano of Memories (思い出ピアノ)
As I was walking underneath Kanazawa Station, I noticed a really interesting exhibit. Here sat an ordinary piano that anyone could walk up to and play but it had an interesting concept. People could upload videos with the hashtag “sharepiano” for others to listen to online. I uploaded this video I took to Twitter and the pianist actually found it and was happy I captured this moment!
Kanazawa is a popular destination for both foreign and domestic tourists, but it’s spread out enough so that things like this can be heard and appreciated.
Hotsprings, Hotels, & Other Recommendations
When I first came to Kanazawa, I didn’t have a lot of money so I decided to stay at a hostel called Good Neighbors Hostel (now called Off) near the station for around 2500 yen a night. The 2nd time I stayed at Neighbors Inn (owned by the same people) for around the same price. Both were extremely memorable times.
The first time I met a Perfume fan from Hong Kong who had awesome stickers of all the idols on his laptop. We became good friends during the duration of the festival and the hostel had a Death Note-inspired “Guest Note” that we wrote in (fortunately no one died). The second time the hostel had a ball pit so I took hilarious photos of myself pregaming in it. I always have the best time staying in this city no matter where I am.
If hostels aren’t your style, you can find a variety of cheap hotels on websites like Booking. Additionally, if you are looking for a day hot spring I recommend Terume Kanazawa. The admission fee is only 1100 yen.
The official after party for the festival was held at an event space called Double with two floors (one bar floor and one music floor). It is here where the strong gather and continue to party until down. In 2018 I managed to meet Nakata-san before he left and get me T-shirt signed. It was on my birthday weekend so it made it extremely special:
Here is a shot of the after-party I recorded in 2018. It truly was a time to be alive and I hope to go again if it resumes in the future:
From Tokyo Station, take the Hokuriku-Shinkansen towards Kanazawa. This takes approximately 3 hours and costs 15,000 yen one way. Nakata Yasutaka actually designed the shinkansen departure melody for this train so it’s extremely special!
You can also fly to Komatsu Airport and take a bus to Kanazawa Station which may be cheaper unless you have the JR Rail Pass.
If you are interested in other day trips from Kanazawa, please see my Shirakawago article.
Last August during the Mountain Day holiday weekend, I ventured to the riverside village of Kibune in Kyoto to try their legendary floating noodles. These somen noodles are very unique because they float down a bamboo shoot directly to your table and are chilled to cool you down during summer season. It’s definitely a dining experience worth having if you enjoy Japanese food! In this article I will be highlighting my summer experience in Kyoto and will hopefully inspire more people to travel here.
*For reference, Mountain Day is a relatively new national holiday that was announced in 2014. It honors the mountainous terrains of this country and most Japanese companies give this day as paid holiday (making it a three day weekend most years). It occurs August 11th. Be aware that this weekend is usually travel-heavy, but you can still see and do a lot if you plan your trip accordingly.
Floating Noodles at Hirobun (in Kibune)
Kibune is a popular resort destination that attracts large numbers of Japanese couples and families each year (which I didn’t realize beforehand), but is also home of the famous Hirobun restaurant that serves floating somen noodles from a bamboo shoot. As the noodles float to your seat, you can stealthily grab with your chopsticks and eat them with soy sauce. Though people make it out to be a challenge, it’s actually not that difficult and the restaurant staff will adjust the speed if they see you are having trouble. The last batch of noodles is marked pink so you know when your course is over. We paid around 2000 yen for a noodle course with dessert and enjoyed the experience thoroughly.
The main con of this was the three hour wait time… Unfortunately this activity is so popular in the summer that it attracts hundreds of people per day and there are limited seats at the floating somen table. There is no reservation system, so you must show up in person to write your name on a wait list in order of who arrived first. We arrived around 12pm and already there were many people ahead of us. However, the plus side is that there are so many things to see in Kibune that you can easily leave and come back when it is close to your turn.
While we waited, we walked around the river, tried some ice cream from a local confectionery, and hiked by the Kibune Shrine Okumiya so we could test our luck. There is also the nearby Kurumadera Temple and hotspring that you can visit to kill time. If you think about it, three hours in nature really goes by quickly. It would be a lot more mundane if we had to wait that long for a restaurant in the city. At first I hesitated about waiting, but now I’m so happy that I did because I got to experience pretty much everything Kibune has to offer.
Getting to Kibune
From Kyoto Station, take the Nara Line Rapid Miyakoji to Tofukuji Station, then the Keihan Main Line Semi-Express to Demachiyanagi Station Station, then the Eizan Main Line Local to Kibuneguchi Station. From here you can take a local bus to the shrine. Though it involves a few transfers, the journey only takes about 1.5 hours and costs 1020 yen making it the perfect day trip from Kyoto.
As an avid lover of all things that are aesthetic, searching for unique restaurants and trying the most colorful foods around the world is one of my life goals. Since I spent the majority of my time in Taiwan hiking through national parks and exploring mountain towns, I mostly ate Chinese and aboriginal food because it is healthy and affordable. However, when I was in the city I managed to find a lot of interesting food which I will list below:
My favorite vegan restaurant that I discovered in Taipei was this beautiful cafe called PLANTS in the heart of the city. With a rainbow flag hung at its entrance, it has an extremely welcoming atmosphere and the staff can speak almost perfect English. I was amazed at the large range of food they had! I tried the Flamingo Acai Bowl and also ordered the Macrobiotic Tempeh Bibimbap. It was so delicious, I came back here again and tried hummus with pita bread, the Adaptogen Bliss Balls, and gluten free donuts for dessert. This food definitely gave me the energy I needed to explore the city, and I was extremely grateful for the hospitality of the restaurant. It was clean and had a lot of space so I could relax and plan out my day.
I wanted to try Miss Green and a few other vegan places (they are all located around this area), but sadly did not have enough time. I was extremely happy with what I ate here and would come again, however!
J.C.co Art Kitchen
Say hello to my new puppy… before I eat him! J.C.co Art Kitchen in Kaohsiung serves up the most aesthetic ice cream in Taiwan. This crazy work of [ice cream] art is fully edible even though it looks almost exactly like a real dog (especially when photos are taken with certain cameras). The detail put into the fur-like texture of the frozen ice cream is almost unreal. The taste is pretty refreshing on a warm day as well. The cafe asks that you make reservations in advance, but fortunately I was lucky enough to walk in without one and be served. Though some people may have qualms about eating something so realistic, I was actually quite thrilled to eat a work of art.
Giant Avocado Smoothies
You don’t have to walk far around Taiwan to find smoothie and milk bars–they’re literally scattered everywhere, even on beaches and remote places you wouldn’t think they’d be. I’ve been around many night markets in Asia before, but one thing that caught my eye in Taiwan were the giant Avocados. I am an avocado freak so I ordered an avocado smoothie here. It tasted absolutely amazing. I would highly recommend trying a giant avocado here in any form just for the experience.
Vegetable Buffet Platters
While I was in Kaohsiung, I found the most amazing vegetarian buffet called Double Veggie with a huge variety of wholesome food! I tried mini sushi rolls, rice, quinoa, olives, an egg-like pancake, and heaps of salad. These two plates really filled me up and I was satisfied. I had previously biked all of the way from the port to Cijin Island to the Tiger and Dragon Padogas, so I was grateful to eat at a buffet this day! The quality of food here definitely makes it worth the price, and you can eat to your heart and stomach’s content!
Congee is a type of rice soup widely eaten throughout Asia, and is often eaten with other vegetable and meat dishes. After a wild night out at FINAL, a group of friends and I went to a nearby restaurant and all selected different dishes. I finally worked up the nerve to try stinky tofu (it actually wasn’t even that bad), century eggs (which I thought were very good), and heaps of vegetables. I definitely recommend coming to these restaurants as a group because then you will have the chance to try a lot of different food!
Individual Takeout Sushi
One thing I really liked about the sushi in Taiwan is that you can choose your favorites that are individually wrapped at certain takeout places near the stations! I found this place at Tamsui Station near Laomei Reef and really enjoyed it. Though I would say it’s not as delicious as the sushi in Japan, it still has a lot of flavor and makes the perfect snack on the go. I tried crab, squid, and shrimp and really enjoyed them!
I hope to come back to Taiwan later this year and go to Tainan, which is known to be the haven of foods. Please look forward to my future food articles!