Super Aesthetic Adventures in Osaka (Day 2)

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:

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Takoyaki-flavored Pringles. The best parts of American and Japanese culture combined.

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.

『GRATEFUL IN ALL THINGS』art gallery by Osamu Sato & Deconstructing LSD

If you’ve ever heard of the PS1 cult classic LSD Dream Emulator, then you might already recognize this art.  It was created by the game’s producer: Osamu Sato.  This trippy exploration game has gained quite the reputation over the years for its aesthetic visuals and for the fact that it rejects most common game principles such as having a clear objective for the player to accomplish.  At the start of the game the player is given a diary based on the dreams that director Hiroko Nishikawa recorded for a decade (see Lovely Sweet Dreams).  The music and environment changes completely based on your actions making it so each playthrough is entirely unique.  Depending on what objects you interact with, you can see very psychedelic dreams or dark and catastrophic ones.

Each time you do an action in the game (such as running into a moving object or falling off the map), your progress on the dream chart is recorded and a day advances.  The chart has four labels that produce different visuals: Upper, Dynamic, Downer, and Static.  Different cutscenes and pages of the dream diary will be unlocked depending on your actions.  There is a “Flashback” option in the menu where you can review your progress.

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The LSD Dream Chart.

Many players try to see the dark parts of the game by running off the map and “killing” their character, but this won’t necessarily produce a downer dream—sometimes an upper one is generated instead.  People have tried to write guides on this but how exactly the game evaluates your actions is unknown.  Still to this day there is much unknown about LSD…

Since the game was never officially localized outside of Japan, physical copies are quite rare and coveted.  LSD Revamped is a popular fan-made version of the game that tweaks the original in a more user-friendly way.  The web author describes it as:

“The genre isn’t adventure, it’s not action, and it’s not even an RPG. If I had to define a genre, it would be a ‘walking dream emulator’.”

Ironically during the same month that the original LSD received its full English patch via fan translation, digital artist Osamu Sato held his “GRATEFUL IN ALL THINGS” art gallery at B-GALLERY in Tokyo.  The exhibition is free and available from 5/25/2020 – 6/7/2020:

Osamu Sato is a graphics designer and photographer originally from Kyoto that has created digital art exhibitions and also worked as an artist for Sony.  He has traveled abroad and used many of his photos as design materials for his works.  He also produces music.  In his website biography it states his ideas are drawn from both consciousness and unconsciousness in his intellectual level.  These ideas are clearly reflected in this exhibition as some pieces appear to have a sense of identity.

“GRATEFUL IN ALL THINGS” is not only the name of this art gallery, but also his latest music album which I managed to purchase along with a T-shirt:

I am very grateful that I could make it to this exhibition.  I respect artists that reject the principles set before them and seek to create things in their own methodical way.   I hope to attend more of his events in the future and continue to deconstruct the human mind.

For more information, please see:

The Most Psychedelic Museums in Tokyo

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Step into the stars at teamLab’s “Borderless” museum in Odaiba.

As Japan slowly starts to re-open its museums and recreational facilities, I figured I’d write an article on some of the most psychedelic museums I’ve been to in Tokyo!  Earlier I wrote an article on the Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums I’ve been to in Asia, but today I want to share my experience at some of my runner-up choices.  All of these places should be re-opening soon, but I will include links to the websites so you can verify it for yourself.  Prepare yourself for some rich neon aesthetic visuals:

Art Aquarium

Dive into a sea of colors at Nihombashi’s gallant Art Aquarium!  This is a seasonal exhibition that is typically held at the end of each year and attracts a large number of gatherers.  Many tanks are elaborately decorated with jewels reminiscent of the Edo period and illuminated with neon lights.  You can see a number of kingyo (goldfish) here as they swim in a vivid motion that is beautifully captured with the layout of the aquarium.  There are projections on the wall that create a mirror-like effect with the intricate glass designs.  I’ve been to a number of museums in Asia before, but I’ve never seen anything as captivating as this.

It’s hard to describe this in words, so here is a video I took back in 2017:

Admission Fee: 1000 yen*

*The location and time of this museum changes each year, so be sure to check their official website for more information.

teamLab Borderless

If you’ve researched any museums in Japan, teamLab probably appears at the top of the list.  Hands down, this team consists of some of the most creative and innovative designers in the world.  They have created cutting-edge visuals that represent many familiar environments but take you to a whole another planet.  If you are interested in seeing the latest art and technology exhibits in the world then their current exhibits are something you should definitely check out!

Borderless is a relatively new museum in Odaiba that defines itself as “a museum without a map”.  The very first room is like a maze with floral patterns projected all over the walls and the ceiling.  As you explore the rooms, you will find somewhere that looks like a forest with visuals of falling rain and lily pads.  It truly feels like you’ve entered a cyberpunk world as you navigate through various virtual structures.  I pictured “The Wired” from Serial Experiments Lain, but fear not because Borderless is far more colorful and welcoming.

You will eventually reach a room full of flickering lanterns which is one of the most popular attractions here.  You only have around 2-3 minutes to take pictures, so be sure to use your time wisely.  After you exit, you will be released into what seems like a giant planetarium, but also has an art aquarium and places for children to play.  Unlike the art aquarium I mentioned above, you can draw your own fish on paper then have them scanned and displayed in a virtual fish tank that is projected on the wall:

I truly can’t decide which aquarium I enjoyed the most—this or the one in Nihombashi!  The Doraemon and Luffy fish here are definitely a rare find.  I was happy to see that there were attractions for people for all ages to enjoy.

The con of this museum is the time limit in the lantern room (which you cannot re-enter once you exit), and the fact that so many people choose to do photoshoots and take selfies here that sometimes it feels more like a tourist attraction than a place to appreciate art.  However, the museum is so big you can easily wander to a place where there are less people and find peace.  Plus the soothing music played from the speakers drowns out idle chatter.  I found that some projections are so immersive that you completely forget the people around you too.  I’m still amazed by everything I was able to see here.

Critics online joke how this is one of the most-photographed museums in Japan and that they’re tired of seeing photos here, but you can’t deny how genius the exhibitions here are.  This museum has overall received numerous praise and is a place that I’d recommend to most people who are interested.  You’ll never forget your experience here.

Admission Fee: 3200 yen*

*You MUST select a timeslot and purchase a ticket online in advance to enter the museum.  See the official website for ticket sales (it is best to buy from them directly).

teamLab DMM.Planets

DMM.Planets is an older teamLab exhibit that I first visited in 2016 in Odaiba, but it later got moved to Toyosu as a permanent museum.  Once again, this is one of the most popular museums in Japan as it takes you through a psychedelic journey in space:

When you enter the museum, you are asked to take off your shoes and put them in a locker because some exhibits completely prohibit shoes. Oh boy, what an adventure! The very first room you enter simulates a black hole. The lights are dimmed and you must climb over beanbags that threaten to suck you into the void. Fortunately, this is quite a fun challenge. Once you climb over them (many people choose to sit and relax in them first because they are quite comfy), you will reach a room full of mirrors and dazzling hanging lights. This is the most popular attraction, because the lights simulate falling stars and you can take really beautiful pictures with them. This really reminded me of a Kirby game!

After the lightshow comes the infamous psychedelic pond that you will walk through to reach the next area. Here you can see projected koi fish swimming around your ankles and other beautiful LSD-inspired works of art. I had a blast taking photos here because it was so interactive that I felt like I was part of the exhibit. You will be asked to wash your feet before and after you enter this area so everything stays sanitary. The water isn’t that deep at all so you really don’t have to worry about getting wet. Just be sure to project your phone!

The last room simulates a small planetarium with beautiful floral aesthetics and star shapes projected on the ceiling. You can lay down and look up at the sky as if you were star-gazing. The best part is you can stay here as long as you want. I stayed for quite a while because it was very relaxing!

Between Planets and Borderless, it’s really hard for me to choose a favorite because I have wonderful memories at each of the exhibits. I would almost say I like Planets more because there are no time limits and there are less people now that the museum has been here for a while. However, if you are only in Japan for a short while, I would recommend Borderless because the Odaiba area has more to see than Toyosu. I would research both of them first and see which one strikes you as the most interesting before choosing.

Admission Fee: 3200 yen*

*You MUST select a timeslot and purchase a ticket online in advance to enter the museum.  See the official website for ticket sales (it is best to buy from them directly).

If you are interested in any of my other art museum articles outside of Tokyo, please see my Naoshima article!  I will continue to check out museums and review them as more of places re-open!

Hakone: Journey to the Real-life Tokyo-3

If you’ve ever looked up day trips from Tokyo on the internet, Hakone will be one of the most prominent results.  With it being the real-life location of Tokyo-3 from Evangelion and having many hotsprings, temples, and a great view of Mt. Fuji, that status is well-deserved.  It’s also home to one of my favorite museums in Japan which has sculptures that resemble vaporwave visuals called the Hakone Open Air Museum.  You should also try swimming in the famous red wine onsen at Yunessan to smooth your skin.  Wherever you go you’re bound to discover something interesting here because the nature is vast.

I’ve been to Hakone five times by myself and also with friends so I’ve seen all its major attractions.  Here are some of the coolest things that I’ve found:

Eva-Ya: The Evangelion Goods Store

As you exit the station and begin your wonderful journey here, one of the first things you’ll come across is Eva-ya; Hakone’s own original Evangelion Store.  Here you will find a number of goods from the anime including water bottles based off the characters’ designs, food with the NERV logo on it, and a life-sized Rei Ayanami.  Asuka fans don’t fret because she has plenty of merchandise too!  One of my best purchases here was Misato’s cross-shaped necklace (not pictured).  I also enjoyed the Unit 01-colored ice cream.  Of course you can visit the official Evangelion stores in Tokyo too, but this is the one located where the anime takes places and has slightly different merchandise.

Owakudani

Owakudani is Hakone’s volcanic crater that has sulfur vents and hotsprings making it a beautiful mountain getaway.  The sulfide causes the rocks to gain their lovely red hue.  In order to reach Owakudani, you must take a cable car ride from Hakone Ropeway.  There are black eggs sold here that are said to increase your lifespan.  I bought a four-pack of them and thought they were very delicious!  Only time will tell if their effect is really long-lasting.  Unfortunately due to the danger of the volcanic gas some of the hiking trails have been roped off here, but watching the plumes of smoke form from the main viewpoint is an amazing sight.  This crater is definitely worth seeing!

Cable Car Fee: See discounts on the Hakone website (I recommend getting the one with the pirate ship fee included too).

 

Yunessan

Yunessan is my favorite onsen in all of Hakone because of its famous red wine onsen you can bathe in among many other unique hotsprings and pools.  This is a mixed-gender hotspring so swimsuits are required in most areas unless you rent a private onsen or pay to enter the gender-segregated bath called Mori no Yu.  The plus side is that you can enjoy Yunessan with all of your friends!  Last time I went they had coffee, sake, and pearl-water baths too.  Some of the baths rotate while others are permanent additions.  The outdoor area has water slides, a mystical cave that you can explore, and various hot springs positioned so you can get a clear view of the mountains.  This is always the most relaxing part of my trip.  During certain times they serve free glasses of red wine too so be sure not to miss out!

Entrance Fee: 2,900 (a bit expensive, but worth it for the variety here)

Outdoor Museums

I’ve already mentioned that the Hakone Open Air Museum is by far my favorite museum here (see my article The Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums for more information), but I also want to point out beautiful Hakone Venetian Glass Museum.  This forest of glass has beautiful Venetian-inspired designs and adornments like nowhere else I’ve ever seen.  Outside you can find trees and a bridge intricately decorated with glass ornaments as well as a miniature pond.  Inside there are many hand-crafted glass sculptures and jewels as well.  I was very impressed with the aesthetic here:

The Okada Art Museum is also worth checking out.  Though I don’t have any recent pictures, they have many beautiful sculptures in the mountains and footbaths you can use too.  There are some traditional Japanese handcrafts and artifacts displayed too.

Entrance Fees: Varies on the museum, but I would research beforehand and budget 3000 – 5000 yen depending on what you want to see.  Keep in mind these are some of the best museums outside of Tokyo and have that awesome mountain view!

Hakone Shrine & Pirate Ship Tours at Lake Ashi

A trip to Hakone isn’t complete without seeing Lake Ashi and the famous Hakone Shrine along the shores.  I first saw it in the winter when snow was on the ground, but the summer is the ideal time to go if you want to experience the lake.  My friend and I decided to buy the tickets to ride the pirate ship and drank a bottle of Captain Morgan on it in true spirit.  The ship was very spacious and we could feel the gentle breeze of the lake while staring at the view of Mt. Fuji in the distance.  It was exhilarating—an experience like nowhere else in Japan!  I think the only other place where you can ride a pirate ship quite like this is at Tokyo Disney, but you don’t have the awesome mountain backdrop that you do here.

Cable Car Fee: See discounts on the Hakone website (I recommend getting the one with the cable car fee included too).

Access

From Shinjuku Station, you can take the Romancecar Express to reach Hakone-Yumoto Station in 1.5 hours for 2300 yen.

Once reaching the station, all of the places I listed can be reached via bus within an hour, but I would allow yourself 6-8 hours here at least.  It took multiple trips in both the summer and the winter for me to see everything here, but you could probably see these things in approximately 2 days.

If you decide to stay here overnight, Hakone Japan has some good choices.  I plan to stay at a ryokan in the future and will write about my experience.

My journey to the real-life village from “Your Name”: Hida-Furukawa

Right before Japan declared its widespread emergency state in response to the COVID-19, I took a final trip to a place that has been on my travel list for quite a long time: Hida-Furukawa.  Located in the mountainous region of Gifu, this town is the real-life location of the fictional town “Itomori” in the movie Your Name.  Like its fictional counterpart, it is removed from the city and has a lot of wonderful nature you can explore.  In this post, I will be detailing my experience here and all of the main places captured in the movie.

Please see my photo documentary for detailed side-to-side comparisons with the anime!

The major points of interest are:

  • Hida-Furukawa Station (so you can see the cattle mascot Hida-gyu)
  • Hida City Library
  • Ajidokoro Furukawa (the same restaurant where the characters eat mochi)
  • 旧落合村バス停 (the infamous bus stop)
  • Hie Shrine in Takayama

But there are many other museums and hot springs to see during your trip!

Traveling to Hida-Furukawa Station

I woke up at 6am and rode the shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Toyama Station which took around 2 hours but was a scenic trip.  From there I switched to the Hida Limited Express and traveled 1.5 hours to reach Hida-Furukawa Station—the main location of the movie outside of Tokyo.  The journey takes 3-4 hours and costs around 14,000 yen in total, but is worth it for the amount of things you can see.  Even if you’re not a diehard fan of Your Name, Hida has a rustic charm that you won’t find in other places in Japan.

As soon as I got off, I was greeted by a cute cutout of Hida-gyu.  Hida is famous for its beef so it would make sense that its mascot looks like this:

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Welcome to Hida City!

Dining in Hida

Since I was starving I decided to stop by a local eatery called Fab Cafe Hida.  This restaurant is not in the movie, but it’s definitely worth trying because they have sweet sake chai and delicious salmon sandwiches.  I came here in early April so it was still snowing a bit even though there were some cherry blossoms in bloom.  I was happy to see that they had space heaters scattered throughout their cafe so I could stay warm.

A restaurant that is in the movie however is called Ajidokoro Furukawa, where the characters feast on glutinous mochi.  You’ll know this place when you see it because it has posters of the movie hung up around it.  The staff is extremely friendly and will give you a guestbook to look at and draw in while you wait for your food.  I was amazed by all the detailed drawings that people had sketched inside.  In addition to mochi, there is a lot of Japanese food here that you can order too.  I’m not a huge fan of mochi, but this was exceptionally delicious.  I can see why the place was featured in the movie now!

Hitting the Library and Local Shrines

One of the early scenes in the movie takes place at the Hida City Library which you can easily reach on foot from the station (almost all the major attractions I listed are within walking distance from here).  It’s quite an expansive library with multiple floors, toys and reading circles for children, and a number of classic titles.  This is the biggest library I have ever been to in Japan so I will always remember my experience here.  It brought back the memories I had renting books as a child in the days before ebooks existed.  What a time it is to be alive!

In addition to the library, you can check out the Hida Tourism Center for a free map and also stop by some of the city’s local shrines.  There are three shrines that are said to bring good luck in love if you visit them: Enko-ji, Shinshu-ji, and Honkou-ji.  Every January 15th there is a festival here that celebrates them.  Though the festival had long ended since I arrived here, I still had a lot of fun checking them out!

One of the major shrines in the movie (called Hie pictured above) is actually in Takayama.  Fortunately, Takayama is very easy to reach.  From Hida-Furukawa, you can take the Takayama Line to reach Takayama Station in 30 mins for 290 yen. Hie Shrine is around a 25 min walk from the station and is free to enter (or you can take a taxi).

There’s not much else to see in central Takayama, so I would recommend coming here after you fully finish exploring Hida-Furukawa.

The Infamous Bus Stop

This bus stop is arguably the most difficult place to get to, but is totally worth it for the comparative picture.  It’s literally out in the middle of nowhere—forests and a single vending machine are the only things that surround it.  Only a few number of buses stop here per day making it a real challenge to get here and back (you may be waiting for hours).  The nearest train station is Tsunogawa Station, but since this area is somewhat remote the trains are infrequent too.  But if you come all the way out to Hida, you might as well go for the gold.  I opted to pay a taxi driver 6900 ($60) for a round trip from Hida-Furukawa Station to here and fortunately he cut me a deal.

Inside the bus stop are more sketch books and posters of the movie.  It’s amazing to see how many people have made it out here!

Address: 旧落合村バス停  (If you show this to any taxi driver in Hida, they will know).

Other Points of Interest

While walking through Hida, be sure to look out for the Setogawa Canal!  This street is lined with beautiful buildings and you can also see koi fish swimming around.  It’s extremely picturesque:

There are also a number of sake distilleries you can walk in and see.  I found a sculpture of a life-sized robot near one of the shrines too!  It truly surprised me how much there is to see in this little town.

Though I didn’t have enough time to visit any museums, here is a list of some I’d want to visit in the future:

Final Remarks

Traveling to Hida and Takayama was definitely a great excursion out of the city for me.  I had the chance to relive some of my favorite parts of Your Name and also create my photo documentary so I will forever remember this trip.  However, even if you’re not a fan of the movie you will still enjoy this area if you like exploring rural Japan.  I did this entire trip in one day, but you could easily expand this into a 2-3 day trip if you stay at an onsen resort or ride the Hida express all the way to Nagoya or Osaka.  The local train that runs through Gifu is considerably less expensive than the bullet train.

In my next article I will be writing about Gero Onsen which is between Hida-Furukawa and Nagoya so it makes the perfect side-trip for those who are traveling here.  Please look forward to my future adventures!

A Ninja Village & Various Amusement Parks Around Nagoya (Part 2)

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View from Iga Ueno Castle overlooking the city of ninjas.

Yesterday I talked about visiting Legoland Japan and Nagashima Spa Land in Part 1, so today I’d like to talk about my expedition to the Ninja Village of Iga.  Though the historic practice of Ninjutsu is now considered a dead art, this village houses a large museum showcasing its origin.  There are also ninja shows performed by professional actors, shops and shrines, and a large castle you can enter.  Since this village is very remote, the number of tourists is usually lower than other attractions in Kansai.  Iga is located in Mie Prefecture but the whole city can be seen during a day trip from Nagoya or Osaka.

Riding the train from Iga-Kambe Station to Iga-Ueno Station is a one-of-a-kind experience because the train artwork was done by Reiji Matsumoto, most famous for Galaxy Express 999.  There are also ninjas poised to attack inside the train car, so you are best off practicing your defense techniques beforehand (jokes aside, the short ride through the mountainous terrain in this two-car train is incredible).

When you get off at Iga Ueno Station, you have the option to rent bikes or walk.  You can see the major points of attraction within 3 – 4 hours on foot, so I would just recommend walking.  You can pick up a map at the tourism center next to the station so navigating the city is self-explanatory.  I started my trip by eating some some ninja udon at a noodle place called Kyuan (I greatly appreciated the shape of the toppings) then headed to Iga Ueno Castle so I could get a nice view of the entire village:

After doing some photography, I made my way to the gates of the ninja museum.  There are ninja shows almost every hour that you can see for 400 yen.  Unfortunately they are not allowed to be recorded, but they are worth seeing if you come all the way out here.  I enjoyed seeing the cute tiger mascot of Iga and some of the weapons that ninjas used in ancient times.  There is some English guidance so you can read about the history of the city at your leisure.  The village museum is designed for all ages and there are some really interesting artifacts there.  There are also handmade ninja charms you can buy.

Is it worth it?

Iga is roughly 2.5 hours from Nagoya and is quite a long day compared to the other attractions I mentioned in the first part of my article.  The city itself is quite small and can be seen within 4 hours.  Some of the attractions seem a bit gimmicky, but like most rural places I’ve visited I still enjoyed my time here.  As someone who lives in one of the busiest cities in the world, I have great appreciation for places like this.  Much of the now-abandoned ninja culture has been preserved here, so this is a rare chance to see it if you are interested in the history of Japan.  Not to mention Iga is a peaceful place with friendly people so your time will be valued here.

If you are interested in reading about the history of the Iga Ninja online before you go, please check the Koka Ninja House website.

Access

117 Uenomarunouchi, Iga, Mie 518-0873

From Kintetsu Nagoya Station, take the Kintetsu Limited Express to Nabari Station, then transfer to the same express going to Iga-Kambe Station.  From there you can ride the special ninja train to Iga Ueno Station and get off to reach the ninja village.  This costs 4210 yen one way and takes 2.5 hours, but was overall worth it in my opinion.

Admission Fee: 500 yen

The Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums I’ve Been to in Asia

Throughout my travels in Asia, I’ve managed to stumble upon some pretty awe-inspiring museums.  I enjoy traditional art as well as hands-on modern exhibits found in galleries around the world today.  My favorite museums are those that combine innovative technology with art and science—shattering perceived ideas and adding a whole other dimension to the viewer’s experience.

I’ve compiled a list of my top 3 favorites museums in Asia that are phenomenal examples of how innovative technology can be used to break the borders of art as we know it (starting from the top):

1. The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (Kanazawa, Japan)

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pool’s open

Mana Pool.  What you see here might just be my favorite exhibition in the world.  This image 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).

This pool was constructed with a limestone deck at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan (shortened to Kanazawa 21).  A thin layer of water is contained in transparent glass giving it the look of a real swimming pool.  However, underneath the glass is an underground room that is completely empty.  From the point of view of those who stand at the surface, you can create the illusion that you are walking underwater by taking a staircase beside the pool.  It truly is a vaporwave dream that has been realized by the power of aesthetics and science.

In addition to the pool, there are various rooms with simulations you can enter.  My personal favorite was “The Killing Machine”.  Photography was not allowed in some areas, so I will leave the contents up to your imagination.  I found some neat aviation and space exhibits when I first visited.  Some exhibits rotate, so please check the Exhibition page for the most recent ones.

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 Gardens.  The outside of the museum has free exhibits you can see as well.

Here is my pool-walking video that I took in 2017.  The Swimming Pool is a permanent exhibit that can be seen year round so I hope to return and take better quality videos in the future.

Access

1 Chome-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-8509
Entrance Fee: 360 yen for temporary exhibitions (some exhibits are free)

2. Nexon Computer Museum (Jeju, Korea)

Over Golden Week I traveled to the island of Jeju in Korea, but instead of the beaches (which are by far the best in Korea) I was most drawn to the iconic 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.

When I entered the museum, a wall full of lockers shaped like keys greeted me.  Instantly I was impressed with the on-point aesthetics here.  The cafe also had keyboard-shaped waffles, or what you’d call “sticky keys” which was another reason I had to travel all the way out here.

The museum is split into 4 floors; starting with the history of computing, then videogames and educational programs, and finally arcades in the basement!  I felt a strange sense of nostalgia but also was fascinated with some of the original things that Nexon had worked on.  From fantasy MMORPGs to EA Sports, there was quite a repertoire of games you could play here.  They also had collections of old Apple computers and the infamous Nintendo Power Glove on display here.

Here is the Guinness World Record for The Kingdom of the Winds on display which was originally launched in 1996:

Access

3198-8 1100(Cheonbaek)-ro, Nohyeong-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
Entrance Fee: ₩8,000

3. Open Air Museum (Hakone, Japan)

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Arguably the best open air vaporwave museum in existence.

While day tripping to Hakone from Tokyo, I discovered the loveliest museum with a stained glass cathedral, Persona-esque sculptures, and even a foot bath outside of the cafe!  The Hakone Open Air Museum is almost entirely outdoors and is close to Mt. Fuji so you have the perfect mountain backdrop for your viewing experience.  Right as I entered I was greeted by a marble head floating in an empty pool that gave me massive リサフランク420 vibes.  There is an indoor Picasso Exhibition Hall as well, but the main draw is the abstract sculptures and mysterious moats on the outskirts:

These sculptures are said to symbolize the balance of harmony and art, but some of them are warped beyond belief and seem to represent a feeling of discord or solitude.  I personally thought they looked a lot like shadows from the Persona series; especially the ones wearing masks.  However you interpret it, you’ll definitely have a good time here.  Especially if you bring some good music.

Here is one of the best shots I captured by climbing up the cathedral with my old camera:

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m o u n t a i n w a v e

Access

1121 Ninotaira, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0407
Entrance Fee: 1600 yen

Honorable Mentions:

  • Mori Art Museum (Tokyo) – This museum is one of the most frequently visited ones in Japan due of its upscale art and central access.  I visited it once and thought it was nice to see, but the exhibits change frequently so it’s hard for me to gauge it.  There wasn’t a piece that really stood out to me like in other galleries I’ve visited, but it is worth seeing if you’re interested in modern art.
  • Benesse House (Naoshima) – An contemporary art museum on a remote art project island in Shikoku, Japan.  There is a beach nearby that you can go swimming at, and it’s absolutely gorgeous!  I will be writing more about this quirky art island in a future article.
  • teamLab: Everyone is talking about this “borderless” art museum, and it is undoubtedly one of the most high-tech in the world.  I’ve been to both the Planets and the new museum that opened up in Odaiba.  Both have blown me away with how much work was put into the lighting with the interactive exhibits.  It almost feels like you’re living in a neon hologram when you walk through some rooms.  However, due to this museum’s popularity, you can only see some exhibits for a short period of time.  Unfortunately due to the crowds it is sometimes difficult to fully enjoy things here, but it is worth seeing.

*I will be expanding upon these honorable mentions in future articles.  My travel plans have been slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic so I am currently digging through my archive to create more content.

Noteworthy Spots in Hamamatsu City (Shizuoka, Japan)

Last month I wrote about my aesthetic adventures to the Capybara Zoo and Planet Cafe, but here are some other noteworthy spots in Hamamatsu that are worth checking out.  If you go to Shizuoka Prefecture, you should definitely try the eel here because it’s some of the best in Japan.  In addition to that, there is also a tiny fantasy-themed village you can explore.  I’ve only been to Hamamatsu twice for music events, but I ended up stumbling into a lot of cool things on my journey.

Eel Eateries

As soon as I arrived at Hamamatsu Station, I immediately decided to go to an eel restaurant so I could finally try this city’s prized food.  I chose a small shop called 八百徳 that was about a 3 min walk from the station because they had a set meal for a nice value.  Cooked eel has a nice texture and is rich in protein so it’s a fit choice for an adventurer.  I ordered the main unagi set served with rice, a side of vegetables, and miso soup which was delicious.  You can eat eel all over Japan, but you can tell by the exquisite taste that they are farmed to perfection here.  Most eel sets will cost 1500 ~ 2700 yen here but is worth it in my opinion.

For those that are up for fishing, there is a lake in Kosai City where you can catch them yourself!  I have not been to this place, but it is somewhere I will consider traveling to in the future if I come back here again.

Nukumori Village

This fairy-like village nestled in a forest was designed by famous architect Shigeyoshi Sasaki and feels like something straight out of a Miyazaki movie!  Originally Nukumori Village was a furniture workshop, but due to its beautiful European architecture it has attracted a lot of people and expanded.  You can find small boutiques, restaurants, museums, and other aesthetic designs here.  I enjoyed walking through the miniature houses with stained-glass windows and taking photos of them.  There is an owl cafe called “Warmth of Owl here as well (I didn’t go but found it interesting).  Despite it being a tourist destination, I arrived around 2pm and found that it was serene and quiet.  It felt like less of a tourist trap and more of a relaxing day trip from the city to me.

Admission Fee: 400 yen
Please see Hamamatsu’s Tourism Website for a complete guide.

Unagi Pie Factory

From the crafty eel-shaped banisters to the one-of-a-kind unagi pie ice cream dessert served at the cafe here, this eel pie factory is truly a gem.  Here you can learn all about the process of eel pie baking and buy some fancy souvenirs for your friends (I handed out several to my friends at the club).  What exactly makes up an eel pie, you ask?

According Hamamatsu’s Tourism Website:

“Eel extract, garlic and other such flavorings are blended together with carefully-selected fresh butter to make the confection.”

The description sounds a bit fishy, but I can confirm that all of the samples I tried tasted like salted butter cookies.  In other words: Eel Pie is absolutely delicious (especially with ice cream)!  You can buy eel pie at various souvenir shops in Shizuoka, but coming to the factory is the best experience because you can order it fresh at the cafe.  As someone who loves weird food, I simply could not pass this opportunity up.

Please note that the factory is a bit far from the main city, but you can take a taxi or walk 18 mins here from Okubo Bus Stop via city bus.

Chillwood Bar

My friend and I were looking for a place to pregame before an event at Planet Cafe and stumbled upon a place called Chillwood Bar not far from the station.  Not only is this bar cozy with a wide range of cocktails and bottles of wine, but the owner looks and acts just like Sojiro from Persona 5.  We had some real-life anime going on here.  I ordered a sakura fizz cocktail and my friend and I split a bottle of wine.  Everyone was very friendly and asked me various questions about my life and travels in Japan.  I was more than happy to share my experiences with them since the alcohol was flowing.  I am glad to have made this website [Resurface to Reality] so I archive these memories and continue to create more.

A Lovely Day Trip to Kyoto’s Heart-shaped Temple: Shojuin

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A look through the heart-shaped window at Shojuin Temple in Ujitawara, Kyoto.

Immortal HeartI’ve been to Kyoto many times in many different seasons, but this month was the first time I’ve ever been to the remotely located heart-shaped temple called Shojuin in Ujitawara.  Amidst the fear of the corona virus, I was worried this temple may be closed like many other facilities in Japan, but I was fortunate to travel during a time when it was still open.  Located in a rural area accessible by bus from Uji Station, you will find that the view through the window is well worth the trip.  Even though I visited during the winter, I managed to take a lot of quality photos and learn about its history with only a few other Japanese tourists around me.

I arrived to the temple around 2pm when I predicted there would be optimal sunlight.  The weather was raining on and off but due to the way Shojuin is constructed, the light always falls through the heart-shaped window.  The temple consists of a few small building complexes but everything can easily be seen within 40 minutes.  Tea and a light snack are provided with the entrance fee as well as an explanation of the history as the inome window.  The word “inome” refers to a heart shape motif commonly found in Japanese temples and Buddhism.  The definition literally means “eye of the wild boar” in Japanese (which is said to be heart-shaped so it makes sense in theory).  It could also refer to the lime trees with heart-shaped leaves that are closely associated with Buddhism.  I have uploaded the English explanation I was given for reference if anyone wishes to investigate it further.

The inome window is also nicknamed the “Window of Happiness” making it the ideal place to pray for peace and love.  Though I do not consider myself a religious person, coming to this temple was a truly bright experience to me.  In addition to the window, there are also over 160 art tiles on the ceiling painted in brilliant colors.  While I was taking pictures, it started snowing for a brief period through the window.  This was my first time all year seeing snow in Japan, so it is a special moment I’ll never forget:

Though I was only here for around an hour and a half, I feel like I had the chance to witness this temple during all four seasons.  During my time here it rained, snowed, turned overcast, then sunlight came out right before it closed.  It was amazing!  The people around me couldn’t believe it either.  Just like my Quest to the Tower of the Sun, this also felt like an experience pulled straight from a video game.  I highly recommend this temple to everyone visiting Kyoto, because it’s not nearly as touristy or crowded as the Golden Pavilion or Kiyomizu-dera.

During the summer there is a wind chime festival here as well.  Please check the official Kyoto Tourism website for more information.

Access

294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862
Entrance Fee: 400 yen (includes tea and sweets)

Directions: From Kyoto Station, ride the Nara Line to Obaku Station, then ride the Uji Line to Uji Station.  From Uji Station, take the Keihan Bus to Ichumae Bus Stop.  Please note that Google Maps will suggest you to take a taxi to Shojuin Temple from this point, which I did on the way there for 2000 yen, but there is a “community bus” (which actually a small white van) that I missed which is free.  On the way back, I walked with some friendly Japanese girls from Hyogo to the free bus stop.  The bus stop looks like a shack that belongs to someone’s backyard because Uji is very rural, but we managed to find it with teamwork.  Keep your eyes out for the iconic heart-shaped bus stop that leads you to the magical heart-shaped temple (this is the best travel advice I’ve given anyone):