Traveling to the Real-life Location from Kiki’s Delivery Service: Shodoshima

Living out my Ghibli dreams at Olive Park, Shodoshima, where Kiki’s Delivery Service takes place!

After spending a lovely day of seeing the balance of art and nature at Naoshima, we took the 9am ferry to Shodoshima so we could live out our Ghibli dreams at the real-life location of Kiki’s Delivery Service. Shodoshima is famous for its olives and Greek theme park unironically called Olive Park. This park is where you can rent brooms and see Kiki’s Garden! There are also beaches, museums, and delicious food here. Shodoshima is much bigger than Naoshima and Teshima, so be sure to reference the bus schedule so you can plan your trip accordingly. Fortunately the ferry ride only took about an hour so we arrived there early. Please note that ferries sometimes stop at Takamatsu or Uno Port, but will eventually reach Shodoshima.

It was on this island we rode the cutest ferry ever! Keep a look out for it!

Angel Road & Mermaid Ice Cream

Since it was just a short bus ride away from Tonosho East Port, we decided to stop at the famed Angel Road and eat ice cream on the beach. There is an adorable café right before the road called Angel Cafe 405 where you can enjoy delicious sweets and drinks. I enjoyed how they put an edible seashell in my ice cream, it was way too cute! Though the sad part was when we arrived the Angel Road, the road wasn’t there and only the ocean was viewable! Unbeknownst to us, the mysterious sandbar that connects the beach to the isle only appears twice per day and is then submerged by the high tide. To confirm when the sandbar is visible, please see the Tide Timetable. It is said if you walk across the sandbar hand-in-hand with your lover, it will make your relationship stronger. Or if you walk alone and make a wish when you reach the other side.

Though we didn’t get to make any wishes this time, the ice cream still was good!

Address: 〒761-4661 Kagawa, Shozu District, Tonosho, 銀波浦

Olive Park

After striking out at Angel Road, we decided to lift our spirits by riding the bus to Olive Park. Fortunately this attraction is located in the middle of the island and is one of the most popular destinations in Shodoshima, so it’s very easy to reach.

Olive Park is named for its Mediterranean climate that makes it perfect for growing olives. It has expansive winding paths and gardens that inspired the location of my favorite childhood movie, Kiki’s Delivery Service. There is also a hot spring and giant windmill in the center of the park that is popular for photography. If you walk to Olive Memorial Hall near the windmill, you can rent a free broom to pose with. We managed to get some good shots of us “flying” on the broom by taking live photos. Afterwards we went to the souvenir shops and tried some olive chocolate. If you love olives and witches, than this may be the perfect destination for you!

The park was a bit smaller than other parks I’ve been to in Japan but it definitely had a Ghibli feel to it. If you’re prepared for the long trip, then it’s definitely a rewarding place to travel to.

Entrance Fee: Free
Address: 〒761-4434 Kagawa, Shozu District, Shodoshima, Nishimura, 甲1941−1

Noteworthy Souvenirs

Two noteworthy souvenirs to look out for on Shodshima are the Slowpoke Udon and the Angel Road cookies you can attach to your coffee mug to make it look more angelic. I thought both of them were the most creative ones that I’ve seen in a while, and I’ve been to a lot of places in Japan recently!

Lunch at Cafe Cinema

My friend found this adorable school lunch set for under 1000 yen in the 24 Eyes Movie Park. I have never seen of heard of this Japanese movie before, but this lunch set was fire. I loved the combination of the fried bread, curry soup, and sweet milk to wash the taste down. This was my first time eating a meal that resembled a Japanese school lunch, and I have to recommend it to my friends. The soup could have used more veggies in it, but otherwise it completely satisfied my tastebuds. Apparently the movie takes place by the ocean, so I could see why Shodoshima was a good setting for it!

Park Entrance Fee: 890 yen
Address: 〒761-4424 Kagawa, Shozu District, Shodoshima, 小豆島町田浦甲

School Set of “24 Eyes”

Since the school location used in the movie was just down the street from the cafe we went to and viewable to the public, we decided to go here for another photo op. It was a pretty old school house with 3 rooms to view total, but very intricate when you looked at all of the detail put into the set. I enjoyed seeing the dark type of wood that was used to construct the chairs and the desks, and also all of the posters on the walls. It made me wonder what life would be like if I went to school in Japan. Overall today was a very nostalgic day seeing all of these movie sets and parks!

Entrance Fee: Free if you purchased the ticket to get into the 24 Eyes Movie Park
Address: 甲977−1 Tanoura, Shodoshima, Shozu District, Kagawa 761-4424

After a full day of exploring Shodoshima, we rode one of the late afternoon ferries back to Naoshima so we could rest up for our final day on the artistic island chain. In retrospect, it would have been nicer if we had stayed the night on Shodoshima so we could have seen Angel’s Road, but with the bus timetables being so infrequent it would have been difficult. Overall I am extremely happy with how my Kiki photos turned out, so I would recommend this island to those who love traveling and are down for an adventure!

Thank you for reading my Shodoshima article. My last article of this series will be focusing on Teshima Island before I prepare for my next adventure! Please look forward to it~

Exploring Aesthetic Museums and Glass Shrines on Naoshima

Glass shrine floating on a pond at the Benesse House Art Site.

Over the last three days I have been traveling through a chain of tropical art islands in Shikoku with a friend and seeing a lot of aesthetic architecture. The main island we’ve been staying on is Naoshima, which I first visited roughly five years ago. The other two islands we visited are called Shodoshima and Teshima, which you can reach from Noashima by ferry. Naoshima is known for its works by artists like Tadao Ando and Yayoi Kusama which showcase the “coexistence of nature, art and architecture“. Shodoshima is famous for its Olive Park that inspired the location of Kiki’s Delivery Service. Teshima is famous for its large concrete shell called “Matrix”. In this article series I will be talking about the best things I’ve discovered on them all, starting with Naoshima!

Getting to Naoshima

The best two ways to get to Naoshima are to fly to Takamatsu or Okayama and take a ferry to Naoshima from their respective ports. Since tickets from Narita Airport to Takamatsu Airport were cheaper, we decided to fly there for around 27000 yen. However, you can purchase airline tickets at a much cheaper price if you buy them in advance. The ferry ride from Takamatsu Port is about an hour and costs 550 – 1200 yen depending on if you take the high speed ferry or not. The entire trip takes about 3 hours from Tokyo so plan to leave early and reference the ferry time table so you get their early. Most things on Naoshima Island close by 7pm. I recommend renting a bike near the port so you can cover the most ground.

Slowpoke is the unofficial mascot of Takamatsu, so be sure to keep an eye out for his vending machine and airport limousine (which fortunately was on time)! There is also Slowpoke Udon (called Yadon Udon) you can purchase in select omiyage stores.

Art Sites around Miyanoura Port

We arrived to Naoshima’s Miyanoura Port at 11am and decided to take some pictures of the Red Pumpkin and the Naoshima Pavilion, which are both two free exhibits that you can climb inside! Much like some of the art we saw in Aomori earlier this year, these works were vibrant and interactive. After snapping some photos, we rented electric bikes from a nearby store for the three days we were staying and decided to make our way around the island. The best thing about Naoshima is that it can be fully explored by bike so you don’t need to wait for any buses!

Go’o Shrine

The Go’o Shrine is a small wooden shrine atop a hill with very intricate stairs made out of glass. This was my first time seeing a shrine like this so it was very awe-inspiring. Go’o Shrine is actually part of the Art House Project that turns abandoned or destroyed places into works of art and is considered to be a real Shinto shrine. You should definitely stop by and pay your respects if you have the time because the entrance is free.

Entrance Fee: Free
Address: 〒761-3110 Kagawa, Kagawa District, Naoshima, 宮ノ浦820

Benesse House & Benesse Art Site

The Benesse House is arguably Naoshima’s most famous museum complex designed by Tadao Ando. My favorite work of art here is a neon sign that illuminates several phrases that have to do with living and dying. I first visited this museum five years ago, but it was so great to finally see it again! This time we decided to eat wagashi and green tea at the tea house attached to the Benesse Hotel. The tea was the best I’ve ever had in Shikoku so I definitely recommend it to my fellow tea enthusiasts. I also liked how they had a miniature model of the Go’o Shrine here! It felt so neat seeing it after seeing the real thing! There is also a glass shrine floating on top of water outside of the teahouse which was one of my favorite things that I discovered on this trip. The walkway has colorful sculptures of various animals you can see. The whole composition of the Benesse House is unrivaled, making it one of my top museums in Japan.

For a comprehensive list of Naoshima museums, please see my previous Naoshima article.

Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden

Outside from the Benesse House Museum is a garden full of metal balls called the “Narcissus Garden” designed by Yayoi Kusama. What I found amazing is how they were made of stainless steel and were resistant to the weather. Seeing them balanced on stairs and floating in the lake was quite impressive, especially with the natural lighting. Within this garden you will also find 88 Buddha statues made of industrial waste designed by Tsuyoshi Ozawa. These statues are said to inspire prayer within visitors to the garden. Since this exhibit is free if you have purchased a ticket to the Benesse House museum, you should definitely see it!

Lunch at the Benesse Cafe

While at the Benesse House, we decided to stop at the Benesse Cafe for lunch. Not only does it have a fantastic view of the outdoor sculptures, but the food is delicious too! I ordered the tomato pasta which was completely vegetarian, and a lemon float with served in an iconic Naoshima glass with a Yayoi Kusama print. Both tasted amazing, and the glass is purchasable in the shop if you would like to take it home as a souvenir.

Beach & Dinner at New Olympia

After a full day of sightseeing, we decided to relax at Gotanji Beach near the Benesse House and go swimming. When I first came to this beach 5 years ago, it was full of foreign tourists and quite happening, but since the pandemic it is more quiet and serene. We bought drinks from a nearby grocery store and spent quite a while watching the sunset. It truly felt like a private beach!

Afterwards we stopped at a nearby teishoku place called New Olympia for a sashimi set. When you’re by the ocean, you gotta have sashimi! I ordered grilled fish with my set and some cold sake too. I was not disappointed because the quality of this seafood was top notch.

I ❤ Yu

On the island there is only one bathhouse called I ❤ Yu that is perfect for taking a long soak after sightseeing. What makes this bathhouse so unique is it is designed with mosaic patterns and has a giant elephant statue mounted above the bathing area. The floor of the bath has a unique collage of old Japanese artwork that is semi-erotic and includes Angkor beer seals from Cambodia and images of animals too. I really enjoyed seeing the glitzy mesh of cultures while I reflected on everything that I had done this day. I recommend stopping by here if you get the chance!

Address: 2252-2, Naoshima, Kagawa District, Kagawa 761-3110
Entrance Fee: 660 yen

Accommodation

Last time I visited Naoshima I only did it as a day trip, but this time I wanted to try staying overnight on the island. We picked a small Japanese Inn called Oyaji no Umi that was roughly 4800 yen per night. The location was great because it was next to Naoshima Port and the Ando Museum. The Benesse House and the other art sites were easily reachable by bike. The rooms were very traditional with tatami floors and Japanese style, but it made the experience all the more wholesome. Breakfast was included in the price so it was very good deal! I enjoyed eating the warm toast with eggs, salad, and yogurt while I was here because there were not many breakfast places on the island. Some accommodations on the island are a bit pricey, but this one was perfect for our budget.

Thank you for reading my Naoshima artice. I will be publishing an article on Shodoshima next with instructions on how to reach the Kiki’s Delivery Service park.

Revisiting Kinkakuji and the Latest Aesthetic Gourmet Experiences in Kyoto

Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, shines beautifully in the scorching summer of Kyoto.

It’s been over three months since my last article, but I happy to announce that I have safely returned to Japan and am officially off my work hiatus now! Over the last few weeks I was preparing for the 20th Anniversary of Nagoya’s World Cosplay Summit (which I will cover in another article), but this latest article series will document my recent adventures in the Kansai region, starting with Kyoto.

Since Kyoto and Nagoya are relatively close by shinkansen, I decided to spend two nights at a business hotel in Shijo after the final day of the Summit and revisit some of my old favorite places. One temple that I haven’t seen in over 6 years is Kyoto’s Kinkakuji that was recently under construction, so I decided to visit it while hitting up some of the most delicious vegan and dessert shops in town.

This article will cover my top summer picks for Kyoto (2022). Please be aware that the heat is intense during August, so it is recommended to drink lots of water and limit your exposure to the sun.

Kinkakuji

Kinkakuji is one of Kyoto’s most famous temples due to its shining gold leaf architecture and the beautiful pond it overlooks. It used to be the former place of retirement for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, but now serves as a symbolic landmark of Kyoto. Around the temple are various gardens with statues of prominent Buddhist figures and a pond that is said to never dry up. Kinkakuji holds a lot of history as well of lore, so if you have ever studied abroad or gone on a group trip to Kyoto, this place is probably at the top of your itinerary. I first visited this temple during my study abroad trip in 2013, then again on a trip in 2016. I am happy that 6 years later it is just as beautiful and well-preserved as I remember.

There are city buses that go to the entrance of Kinkakuji directly from Kyoto Station for a mere 230 yen, so it’s pretty easy to reach. You may also be interested in checking out Ginkakuji (also known as the Silver Pavilion) which is a short bus ride away, but in my humble opinion it’s not as pretty as the gold one!

Address: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361
Entrance Fee: 400 yen

If you are curious where I rented my yukata, please see my previous kimono and yukata rental article.

The Latest Aesthetic Gourmet Experiences in Kyoto

As a lover of aesthetic food, I had quite a long list of places that I wanted to try in Kyoto! Here are the best ones that I’ve came across during this trip:

Egyptian Noodles at Pelgag

Pelgag is a Japanese owned “spice restaurant” that serves delicious ethnic food and alcohol with organic ingredients. Their dishes are made with a lot of exotic herbs and spices that the owner discovered while traveling through Central and South America as well as Asia and Europe. Though there are many unique things on their menu (including vegetarian and vegan options), I was most interested in the Egyptian Noodles because I had never tried them before. The noodles had the texture of ramen and tasted similar to Pad Thai which made me feel nostalgic of my days in Thailand. I was happy to have such a delicious vegan meal during my first night here and also ordered a glass of organic white wine to go with it. If you like curry and spicy food then you will most definitely enjoy this restaurant!

Choco Mint Ball with Creamy Foam at Atelier de Godiva

From early summer to fall of this year, Atelier de Godiva located in the Daimaru shopping mall of Kyoto has a very special mint chocolate menu! This chocolate mint ball that I ordered is filled with mint cream that you can drink through a chocolate straw. Now that’s what I call aesthetic food! I like the concept of food and desserts being served in bowls that are fully edible because it helps eliminate plastic and paper waste in addition to being delicious. I am excited to see what other seasonal menus this store introduces, because you can only order this at the Kyoto location!

Peach Cloud Cakes at Kumonocha

One of the latest trending cafés in Kyoto is this tea and cake shop called Kumonocha in Higashiyama that serves cloud-shaped cakes with various drink pairings. You can choose to order a hot matcha latte with a cloud pattern or an iced one with a beautiful green gradation with the cake as a set, or purchase them individually. I was delighted to see they were selling both peach and matcha flavored cloud cakes when I arrived, so I decided to try to peach one! Both the cake and the tea suited each other very well, and I thought it was unique that they served them to you in a wooden basket. Be sure to check the outdoor area of the store if you have the chance because there was a beautiful lantern and windchime display when I visited.

Cloud Parfait at Piu

Because one cloud dessert clearly wasn’t enough for me, I decided to try a cloud parfait at a small cafe near Kinkakuji called Piu. This parfait was unique because it mainly consisted of ramune-flavored jelly instead of ice cream or yogurt, but with the granola at the bottom, it still undoubtedly tasted like a parfait. The macarons and the while chocolate on top was definitely a nice aesthetic touch and I loved eating whatever the clouds were made of. I would recommend this to people who like ramune-flavored desserts. In addition to sweets, Piu also serves pastas, pizzas, and cakes so I would check it out if you go to Kinkakuji like I did!

Vegan Hot Pot at Vegetarian Cafe Ren

Even though the weather was scorching hot, for some reason I still felt like eating hot pot during this trip just for something different. Finding places that serve hotpot sets that are 100% vegetarian is usually very difficult, but Cafe Ren near Kinkakuji has a delicious miniature set! I especially loved the mushrooms and the fried tofu that was included in this meal. The red bean rice also complimented the flavor. The portion size was perfect for me so I would recommend this place to my fellow vegetarians, but it’s probably better to come here during the winter!

Goma Noodles at Gomacro Salon

Because I was craving noodles on my last day in Kyoto, I decided to stop at Gomacro Salon and try their noodles basked in a sesame paste-based rich soup. What I like about this dish is you can balance out the level of spice by adding sesame oil and more goma paste with condiments at your table that you can choose for no additional cost. What is pictured is the summer dish with seasonal vegetables, but the menu changes every season. I would like to come back in the winter and choose their black goma soup as my base next time! In addition to noodles, there is curry, rice, and salad sets you can choose from. I really like how healthy and organic everything was here. The goma paste was also very filling!

Bonus: Porco Rosso & Sugitora

As I was waiting for the bus to Kyoto Station, I noticed a funny Italian restaurant called Porco Rosso, and I can definitely see the resemblance to the movie! Though it was closed during the time that I went, I would like to come back and try it again for the meme.

I also visited this adorable parfait place called Sugitora that has takeout tiger gelato! I tried the mango flavor because of course the matcha flavor was already sold out. It tasted so refreshing! I would like to make a reservation for one of their more elaborate parfaits in the future!

Accommodation

Every time I travel somewhere in Japan, I look at the best deals on Booking.com because I have a Genius discount. This time I stayed at a business hotel with a public bath called AB Hotel that was 5000 yen for 2 nights which was a killer deal. During previous Kyoto trips I used to stay closer to the Kamo River so I could go running there as a morning workout, but this time prices there were more expensive likely due to more people traveling this year. I decided to choose an accommodation that was about 1km away from the river and it turned out to be cheaper. This hotel was quiet and easy to relax in so I would recommend it, but also don’t be afraid to shop around!

Thank you for reading about my wonderful experience in Kyoto! I will never forget all of the delicious food that I tried this time. In my next article I will be talking about my top recommendations in Osaka, so please look forward to it!

Visiting Two of Aomori’s Most Aesthetic Art Museums

After an action-filled day visiting sakura parks, shrines, and real life anime movie locations, we decided to spend our final day in Aomori seeing two of the most aesthetic museums in the prefecture: Aomori Museum of Art and Towada Art Center. What drew me to these museums were their life-sized open air exhibits that fuses Japanese and Western art together in creative ways. Though places like Tokyo and Naoshima have many notable museums, I have never seen anything quite like the works here, which is another huge reason I wanted to visit Aomori. Please continue reading for my full review of these museums, and see for yourself what you think! If the weather is rainy during your trip like it was for us, visiting places like this is an ideal way to spend time.

Aomori Museum of Art

The Aomori Museum of Art is one of the craziest modern art museums I have ever visited in Japan, and that’s really saying a lot! What struck me the most was how random some of the permanent galleries here were. First we walked from the entrance to a room full of tribal paintings to a room full of Ultraman sketches by Tohl Narita himself. Next we walked through a hallway with pictures of ears on the wall into a room filled with stars. Finally the path lead to an outdoor area with a gigantic sculpted dog standing over a bowl filled with flowers. This dog is known as the “A to Z Memorial Dog”, which is considered to be a symbol of Aomori Prefecture. It was created by a Japanese artist named Yoshitomo Nara who projects the loneliness of his childhood into his fiberglass sculptures, creating a new wave of aesthetics. His artistic vision and personal experience growing up is much like my own, which is why I wanted to see his works in person so much.

Here is a handy excerpt from Public Delivery explaining the symbolism of his dog sculptures:

Yoshimoto Nara’s dogs evoke a myriad of emotions in the audience, including joy, anxiety, fear, insecurity, hope, playfulness, and confidence. His figures seem to exist in only a dream-like state where reality becomes what you make of it. His mixture of vulnerability, rebellion and hopefulness within his artworks connects intimately with people worldwide.

Throughout his career, he has incited a deep sense of childhood memory and the allure of youth while concurrently leaving a relentless reminder of the fundamental issues and problems of adulthood. This figure symbolizes a defiant spirit associated with youthful hopefulness and belief that we have what it takes to change the world.

Yoshitomo Nara’s shining dog sculptures – What you should know

In addition to dogs, there are also other sculptures of his in the museum including faces of people and a house with three children reading a book inside. The scene is a bit creepy at first, but after viewing the scene from multiple angles you’ll see that it is more cartoonish than it is scary. His works are much better seen in person than online, so I would encourage those who are interested to please come to Aomori to see them!

Address: Chikano-185 Yasuta, Aomori, 038-0021
Entrance Fee: 510 yen (may be extra for special exhibits)

Towada Art Center

Towada Art Center is an interactive art museum geared for both children and adults with a number of hands-on exhibits. I was really impressed with the variety of high-quality art that was placed outdoors including Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin that you can climb into, a horse made out of sculpted flowers, a giant ghost, and a big puffy car next to a puffy house. All of these things were life-sized and very eye-catching. Plus they were scattered around the museum and not just in front of it so there was really a lot to check out. Hilariously, we spent all of our time photographing the free outdoor exhibits and only went into the gift shop because we were satisfied with everything we had seen. I ordered an apple dessert at the cafe that was a replica of one of the sculptures outdoors because I thought it was unique. It tasted as exquisite as it looked because the “apples” were actually blueberries with red chocolate melted over them. Touché because that is art in itself.

Address: 10-9 Nishi2bancho, Towada, Aomori 034-0082
Entrance Fee: 800-1800 yen depending on what exhibits you want to see (outdoor exhibitions are free)

Eating Curry at unbreakable

While looking for cafes between the two museums, one name really caught my eye: unbreakable in Towada City. What exactly is it about this cafe that makes it unbreakable? Perhaps it’s the zestiness of the green curry or the size of the garlic shrimp? Whatever it was, it was definitely good. Of all of the cafes around, this one had the best assortment of rice dishes and latte flavors. I tried a vanilla one and it really hit the spot—I was caffeinated and ready to appreciate more art! This was yet another random find that really made my day. I hope these cafes can continue to stay in business because they truly make amazing food and drinks.

Address: Osaka-72-1 Osaka, Towada, Aomori 034-0041 (Note that this is in Aomori and not in Osaka)

Final Thoughts

While it was quite the long haul to and from Tokyo, Aomori was definitely worth the visit! Although it rained a bit during our trip, the scenery and cherry blossoms were lovely, the food and art museums were extremely diverse, and the city and shops had a lot of charm. The best time to visit this prefecture is probably during sakura season (like we did) and in the summer for the Nebuta Festival, but I imagine with all of the pretty trees Autumn would be a great time to visit too! If you can get a rental car, I would definitely recommend it as the parks and museums here are quite spread out and hard to reach with public transportation. Three days was enough to complete everything on our itinerary and we left Aomori feeling extremely satisfied.

This will be my last article for a while as I am heading to Hawaii next week, but when I return to Japan I plan on visiting the 2 prefectures that I haven’t been to yet: Akita & Iwate. Please look forward to reading more articles from me this summer, and I might decide to write a Hawaii series too!

Revisiting the Tropical Cities of Naha and Okinawa-shi

Though it’s called “Moon Beach”, you can definitely soak up the rays here!

Exactly one year ago before the Golden Week rush, I decided to fly to Okinawa to visit Naha and Miyakojima for the purpose of practicing underwater photography and traveling to newly opened dream destinations such as the Sanrio Hotel. The trip was a total blast and later helped me discover my love for free diving while I was in Hawaii this winter. Since I am planning another trip to Hawaii this month and am going to be diving with an experienced friend, I decided to book a spontaneous trip from Tokyo to Naha, Okinawa, last week so I could get some practice in. I am happy to say that this year’s trip was also a success and I saw a lot of aquatic wildlife all by myself! It’s fantastic to see such an improvement in my diving ability in just a year while travel was extremely limited. I am excited to dive in other Asian countries in the future as the world starts to open up!

If you live in Japan, then Okinawa is hands down the best place to enjoy beaches, surf, and dive. Last year I flew to Miyakojima during my trip so I could go scuba diving tour in a pumpkin-shaped limestone cave. This year I decided to focus on the Kerema Islands that are just a short ferry ride away from Naha’s central Tomari Port. They have beautiful beaches that are easily accessible and great for seeing turtles. Like last year, I decided to stay in Okinawa for 6 days so I could both practice diving and spend time with friends. Roundtrip tickets from Tokyo to Naha are between 15,000 – 20,000 yen this time of year. Please read my previous Naha article on how to best travel to Okinawa from Tokyo. This year due to there being no state of emergency, I noticed more travelers than last year, but the weekdays were still pretty quiet.

Exploring New Cafes in Naha

I arrived to Naha Airport around 12:00pm and was hungry so I decided to hunt for the most aesthetic food on the main island. Since I wanted my first day to be relaxing, this article will mostly focus on cafes, beaches, and restaurants I explored in the major cities before setting sail to the Kerama Islands. Here are my top discoveries for 2022:

DAISY

Like the name implies, DAISY encompasses all food that is aesthetic and floral. I loved the pastel walls and hanging lightbulbs from the ceiling because they definitely added a flair to the dining experience. My very first meal in Okinawa was flowery pizza topped with lemon and lime, a flowery grapefruit drink, and flowery ice cream for dessert! This cafe popped up in my recommendations on Instagram and in all my days I have never seen a pizza in Japan that looked this crazy. It tasted like naan topped with melted cheese and a hint of fruity flavor (and yes, the flowers on top are edible too). Would I recommend this to my friends? Oh, absolutely! If you love cheesy bread then this is the perfect starter for you. The grapefruit drink complimented its tropical taste too. And let me tell you, ordering the ice cream for dessert was a very satisfying way to end this meal. It was a combination of vanilla and raspberry flavors that really hit the spot on a sunny day. After this I had all the energy I needed to set off to my next destination!

Address: 2 Chome-28-24-103 Ameku, Naha, Okinawa 900-0005

LaLa Zorba

Another wonderful restaurant I recommend is LaLa Zorba, which serves ethnic food that is 100% vegan. The shop is owned by a female chef who cooks everything from scratch. I went here as soon as it opened on my second day in Naha and ordered the curry platter which included soy meat curry, rice, vegetables, fruit, and tofu. I could tell all of the food was organic because I felt very clean and healthy after eating it. They also have vegan desserts available for purchase that change daily, though I was too full to eat anything else! I am happy to see that more high quality vegan restaurants have opened here since my initial visit to Okinawa in 2016!

Address: 〒900-0014 Okinawa, Naha, Matsuo, 2 Chome−2−32 2階

Heading to Moon Beach & Toguchi Beach for the Sunset

Moon Beach is a popular resort area near Onna Village that a lot of travelers rave about, so I decided to drive there with a friend for a private photoshoot. Fortunately even if you are not staying at the resort, you can still visit the beach and use the facilities. I was mostly here to catch the aesthetic sunset because I have already seen the beaches in southern Okinawa, and I think the ones to the north are much more beautiful. Though the beach is small and not ideal for swimming or diving, the surrounding scenery is luscious and ideal for photography. We spent around 45 minutes here and decided to drive south to Toguchi Beach after.

Toguchi Beach is rockier and sometimes has low tides during this time of year, but has an amazing arch rock fromation and private areas where you can swim and take photos. The reflection of the clouds on the water was absolutely breathtaking and I had never seen such a beautiful sunset in Okinawa before. I think the scenery here is unrivaled and this was a fantastic place to end the night (though we planned to go barhopping afterwards).

Address: 1203 Maeganeku, Onna, Kunigami District, Okinawa 904-0414

Though we had a car for this trip, you can take a city bus towards Matsuo from central Kokusai Street in Naha to reach the Moon Beach Bus Stop. This trip takes about 1.5 hours and costs 1200 yen but is worth the price.

Moon Beach Sushi

After witnessing arguably one of the best sunsets on the island, we decided to stop at Chinuman for some mouthwatering sushi. This is a wonderful izakaya-styled restaurant with high quality fish that is perfect to relax at with your friends. I ordered a California Roll with a traditional Japanese 10 piece nigiri set, then some extra octopus and eel sushi because I love Okinawan sushi. The fish here hit differently than back in Tokyo. To understand you’ll just have to travel here and try it for yourself! Whatever fish you order here, you really can’t go wrong.

Address: 〒904-0414 Okinawa, Kunigami District, Onna, Maeganeku, 73

Barhopping in Okinawa-shi

Since one of my good photography friends was leaving Japan this week, we decided to go hard by pregaming then barhopping in Okinawa-shi (also known as Okinawa City). This area is more north from Naha and close to the beach resort areas of the central island, but you can still find accommodations here that are cheap. Since I am a lover of fancy cocktails, I decided to order an alcoholic avocado smoothie with a side of sweet azuki beans and a blue cheese Kahlua milk drink at a high-end bar called Bobby’s. Like the cafes I listed earlier, these cocktails were right up my ally because not only were they extremely aesthetic, but the quality was top notch too. We next wandered to an Italian Gyoza restaurant a little ways down the street that had just opened. They had a lot of unique entrees like mozzarella gyoza, Spanish omelettes, and herb fries. By this time we were pretty lit so we just ordered a ton of food and drinks and enjoyed the atmosphere. I can’t stress enough how much I love Okinawan restaurants because the owners here are never afraid to try new things. Italian Gyoza is definitely something that shouldn’t be slept on!

Accommodation

This year I mostly stayed with friends living near Moon Beach, but I highly recommend staying at Hotel Aqua Citta Naha like I did last year because it has free drinks during certain times and a beautiful infinity pool on the top floor. A standard room is around 6000 yen and this hotel is located near Tomari Port so you can reach other islands easily. Naha Airport is also close to this area as well as many bars and clubs. I will be detailing other hotels in my next articles where I visit the Kerama Islands. Please look forward to more island adventures from yours truly!

A Trip to Nara’s Kingyo Museum and Kyoto’s Sakura Parks

Continuing on from my last article detailing my lovely stay in Nara Park with the wild deer, this article will be about my trip to Nara Kingyo Museum and various spots to see sakura in Kyoto.

Nara Kingyo Museum, also known as the “Japanese Aquarium Disco” is a state of the art goldfish exhibition with neon lights, lanterns, a ball pit, and of course pulsing disco music. Disco balls are creatively arranged so they project light off of the fish tanks, making it look like the fish are vibing in tune with the music. There is a giant crystal-shaped tank with a number of goldfish inside as the centerpiece of the museum and mini tanks that surround it where you can see rare kinds of goldfish. This kind of exhibit is right up my ally because I love all things that are aesthetic! The LED displays really captured the 80s look of Japan and I appreciated how they made a shrine dedicated to the goldfish too. I think my favorite part was the fish tank with the backdrop of the Nara deer because it just fit the theme of the city so well. The creative director of this museum really thought of everything because the visuals here are one of a kind.

Compared to Tokyo’s Art Aquarium which is quite similar, Nara Kingyo Museum was actually larger and less crowded. It also had more rooms that you could see with different artistic displays instead of just solely being an aquarium. I would recommend coming here instead of Art Aquarium if you get the chance, but both have undeniably awesome disco fever vibes.

Address: 〒630-8012 Nara, Nijoojiminami, 1 Chome−3−1 ミ・ナーラ 4F
Entry Fee: 1200 (completely worth it)

Arashiyama and Maruyama Park for Sakura

After my lovely morning of disco goldfish fever, I made my way to Kyoto’s Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and rented a lace kimono from Rikawafuku to see the sakura in. This year the lace kimono is the #1 popular kimono of the season so I really wanted to try wearing it. Compared to traditional kimono, it felt a bit lighter to move in and came in more plain pastel colors. I think mine matched the colors of the sakura petals perfectly and I loved its soft lace texture so I was very satisfied with my experience. Rental fees start at 5000 yen which is typical for rental kimono. It is recommended that you reserve online in advance because crowds are very heavy during sakura season. I spent a few hours in both Arashiyama’s Kimono Forest and Maruyama Park because they are the liveliest places to see sakura with food stalls galore.

Last year I saw Kyoto’s sakura in full bloom and published two complete guides on it. This year I came to Kyoto for leisure, but please see Kyoto Sakura Highlights Part 1 and Kyoto Sakura Highlights Part 2 for a full list of my recommended places!

Tofukuji Temple

After seeing the sakura in my favorite parks, I decided to explore a famous temple complex renowned for its square architecture called Tofukuji. This type of square architecture in Japanese gardens is just… *chef’s kiss* I’m happy I had the chance to appreciate each and every square while taking shelter from the rain! I definitely felt zen here because looking at the moss and checkered patterns set my mind at ease. I would have to say that besides Byodoin and the temples that have seasonal illuminations, Tofukuji is my favorite temple in Kyoto because of its immaculate layout.

Address: 15 Chome-778 Honmachi, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0981
Entrance Fee: Free to view the temple halls, but 400 yen to see the gardens

Amazing Sweets in Kyoto

Kyoto is full of sweets, teashops, and delicacies and there are always new shops popping up so here’s what I discovered this time. My first recommendation is Amairo Cafe in the heart of Kyoto because they serve delicious circular taiyaki that taste better than those made at food stalls. They come in both red bean and custard flavor so you can choose the level of sweetness that you savor. I also recommend going to Arabica Coffee because their coffee has superior taste. The owner bought a coffee farm in Hawaii and has experience in trading beans around the world so this is some of the best coffee you will drink in Kyoto. The shop is marked by its unique “%” logo in downtown Higashiyama. My next recommendation is the falafel plate at 汽 [ki:] because it’s the most authentic Lebanese food I’ve ever had in my life. I loved the texture of the black pita, the creaminess of the hummus, and how well all of the ingredients on the plated blended together. I can’t recommend this place enough!

My final recommendation is a super popular kakigori (shaved ice) restaurant that I’ve been trying to get into for 2 years called Uso to Boku. Located in a quaint art gallery in Uji, this shop is only accepts reservations on certain days through Instagram and usually fills up instantly. What draws everyone to this shop is the unique design of their bowls that resemble faces of people and animals. The kakigori chef allows customers to select their bowl before making their desserts, making each dining experience here incredibly unique. I decided to choose the koala bowl and get the strawberry whipped cream kakigori (called “Ichigo Ichigo”). Though it looks like a lot of food, it’s mostly comprised of fresh fruit making it a healthy dessert! This was the best kakigori I have ever had in my life, and I will definitely be coming back in the future because seasonal desserts are added to the menu for a limited time each month. If you have the time to go, definitely do it!

Final Thoughts

It feels surreal to have completed both my Fukuoka to Shimane backpacking trip and my Nara one in such a short amount of time, but I did it! I was able to see a wide variety of shrines and historical landmarks, have unique interactions with animals, learn a lot of about the culture of each prefecture I visited, and also meet friends along the way. I am very lucky to have these experiences and will treasure them all of my life. While Nara is great for seeing the deer and Buddhist shrines, Kyoto is better for seeing sakura so I would recommend seeing both if you have the time! I plan on coming back to both again in the future, especially if I have friends that are new to Japan traveling with me because I would really like to show them around.

I know my readers are probably wonder where I’m traveling next, and the answer is Okinawa next weekend!! This will be my third trip to Okinawa and I will be doing some cosplay modeling and practicing free diving on some of the island chains while hopefully recording footage with my GoPro. I am currently in the process of writing my next itinerary, so please look forward to it! I am excited to share my adventure with all of you!

Staying in a Lodge Surrounded by Wild Deer in Nara Park

A mob of wild deer come to greet me as I exit my lodge.

Continuing on from my expedition to two of Nara’s most aesthetic temples, I next decided to stay at a lodge named Deer Park Inn surrounded by wild deer in Nara Park. Nara Park is not only famous for its temples and lovely scenery, but also its friendly deer who beg visitors for rice crackers (called “shika senbei”). This is a great place to start your morning because there are a number of hiking spots and gardens to visit. You will also see many deer mobs grazing in the grass and waiting for humans to awake so they can feast on their delicious rice crackers. Deer are a sacred animal of Nara because they were once seen as messengers of the gods. For their high social status, these fellows never seem to get enough food! Fortunately you can buy crackers all over Nara for the mere price of 200 yen. Where I’m from in the United States, deer are extremely shy so having them approach me and behave like dogs was quite the experience:

Getting to Nara Park

From Nara Station, you can take the 62 bus to the Todaiji Bus Stop and arrive at the park in 10 mins for 220 yen. You can also take a short and inexpensive taxi ride here too. Nara Park is open 24 hours, but restaurants close early so it is advised you buy snacks from convenience stores if you want to eat at night.

Single rooms at the Deer Park in go for around 4000 yen but you can book a dormitory room with other people for a cheaper price. The advantage of staying in the park versus the city is that you can see the temples and gardens in the morning with fewer people. You can also feed deer from the balcony of your room! I had so much fun waking up and watching them from my window. It was a one of a kind experience that you can only get here in Nara!

Places I recommend checking out in Nara Park are:

  • Ukimudo (a bridge that leads to a gazebo in a pond)
  • Todaiji (a famous temple with a giant golden Buddha statue)
  • Kasuga Taisha (a bright shrine with a deer statue)
  • Kasuga Taisha Manyo Botanical Gardens
  • Mt. Kasuga Primeval Forest

Overall I spent about 3 hours in Nara Park before taking a short bus ride back to the main part of the city. All of the places I listed are very accessible and you can easily reach them on foot. Nara Park is free to enter, but some temples and gardens have a 300-700 yen entrance fee. I think the price is worth it because many of these places are historical landmarks that are surrounded by luscious nature. Plus you can interact with as many deer as you like if you carry their favorite food!

Running to Ukimudo

Since Ukimudo is surrounded by a beautiful pond and is in a forest with several sakura trees, this is where I decided to start my morning. Due to the lack of tourists, there have been reports of the deer acting more aggressive toward people for food, but if you open your hands and show them that you are not carrying any rice crackers, they will not attack you. When I went running this morning near Ukimudo, the grazing deer pretty much ignored me after giving me a few curious side glances since I wasn’t carrying any bags or food. However, when I returned with several rice crackers it was a different story! I was circled by groups of deer, and the more aggressive ones would bite at my skirt when I wasn’t feeding them. Fortunately it is easy to run away from them, and they will not trample or bite you. Just be prepared to be lightly head-butted at times and always protect your belongings!

Also, there are signs posted not to feed them any food other than the crackers because it can be harmful to them.

Todaiji and Kasuga Taisha

When I first studied abroad in Japan, I was completely awestruck by the giant golden Buddha statue that I saw at Todaiji Temple in Nara Park. Roughly 9 years later I had the opportunity to see this Buddha again during sakura season, and it took me back to the fond memories I had when I first visited Japan. The street that paves the path to Todaiji is lined with vendors, food stalls, and souvenir shops full of good luck charms and stuffed deer mascots so it’s quite enthralling when you first visit. Another thing I love is how the deer just make this part of the city their own—they have learned to live in harmony with humans and nature. Nara certainly wouldn’t be the same without their sacred messengers, and the people here have come to love them.

Kasuga Taisha is just a short walk from Todaiji. It’s not as impressive as the giant halls of Buddha but it’s worth checking out for the beautiful forest and gardens that surround it. The flowers naturally change year round which make it feel like a magical place. Be sure to lookout for sakura trees too, as they are scattered throughout these temple grounds.

Sakura Season is also Deer Mating Season

I didn’t realize this before, but sakura season in Nara is actually during the mating season of the deer. That explains why some of the bigger deer were trying to bite my skirt—it all makes sense now! In all seriousness, please be on the lookout for aggressive deer. There are many kind Japanese shop owners and also rangers in Nara Park that will help you if the deer come too close for comfort. One Japanese vendor helped me by clapping their hands firmly near the deer to catch their attention. This is a safe way to keep them from attacking you. For the most part, most deer are friendly and know that even when you run out of food, other visitors will eventually come to feed them more. They obviously won natural selection!

Top Food Recommendations

Like its surrounding cities Kyoto and Osaka, Nara is also full of delicious food! Stop by for deer macarons at OVER MACARON before heading to the park. They have a large selection of flavors including chocolate, strawberry cheesecake, and creme brulee. If you like Japanese desserts, you can also get strawberry daifuku with deer-shaped cookies in them Daibutsu Ichigo. This shop is also located near the entrance of the park and is impossible to miss because it always draws a crowd. For breakfast, I highly recommend Mizuya Chaya which is located inside of Nara Park. This is a teahouse that serves wonderful beverages, desserts. and breakfast sets. I ordered rice porridge that had a beautiful floral design in it, and it tasted amazing! My final recommendation is a vegan restaurant named KURURU located slightly outside of the park where I had creamy mushroom vegan pasta. Once again, I was blown away by the taste and it really filled me up! Whatever local eatery you visit here will surely satisfy you.

For those who are interested, I made a reel of my video footage here. My next article will be the final of this series, and will focus on a trippy aquarium I found in Nara City and some more highlights of Kyoto’s sakura season. Thank you to all who have kept up with my crazy journeys! I am excited to announce my next trip very soon!

Exploring Fukuoka’s Frog Temple: Nyoirinji (Kaeru-dera)

Last week I decided to go on a spontaneous backpacking trip starting in Fukuoka and ending in Shimane Prefecture. The purpose of this trip was to explore 2 prefectures I had never seen before–Yamaguchi and Shimane–and also see some shrines, islands, and monuments in other prefectures that I had previously missed or not known about until earlier this year. Since Japan is gradually easing its entry restrictions for international students and business travel, my goal is to knock out as many destinations on my travel list between now and when tourists are allowed in again. When exactly that will be is currently unknown, but as long as covid cases don’t spike again like they did earlier in January, I think it could be possible later this year!

In this article series, I will be talking about some rare and little-known places in the 5 prefectures I visited in under 4 days. This trip went at an extremely fast pace since I had already been to some of these areas before, but it was extremely rewarding because I learned a lot about southern Tohoku and met up with friends along the way.

For information on how to get to Fukuoka from Tokyo and my recommended sightseeing points, please see my previous Fukuoka article from last year. I decided to start in Fukuoka just because there are a lot of discount flights there from Narita Airport, and it was convenient to take the shinkansen from Hakata Station to travel to other places on my list.

When I landed at Fukuoka Airport around noon, my best friend here came to pick me up in her car and we decided to go to Nyoirinji, aka the frog temple, which might be one of the most elaborate temples in the entire prefecture. Upon entering the grounds of this temple, over 5,000 frogs will welcome you!

First of all, I should note that this temple has influences from not only from Japan but other East Asian countries as well. It reminded me of some of the temples I had seen in Thailand and Vietnam long ago because it had a lot of foreign architecture. What I liked about it most was that it was very hands-on and had an amazing atmosphere being nestled in the countryside. You can crawl through and write messages on the metal frogs near the entrance which was very fun and interactive to me. There is also a giant frog that spits bubbles near the main entrance to the temple. How amazing is that!? If you walk through the gift shop and towards the back window, you will see a large variety of frogs from around the world. I spotted more than one Kermit plus a Beanie Baby from my childhood. I was not expecting to reconnect with my past like this, but I am so happy I did because these frogs brought back a lot of memories!

If you exit and keep walking around towards the back of this building, you can go downstairs to an area with neon lighting and hundreds of tiny Shinto statues. I thought this hidden part was so unique. I also recommend walking through the moss garden and up to the pagoda for a stunning view. This shrine truly has a lot for visitors to discover and that’s what makes it a special destination.

Address: 1728 Yokoguma, Ogori, Fukuoka 838-0105

Please note that you can get here by local train/taxi but traveling by car is the most efficient way.

Admission Fee: Free

Special Frogs & Monuments

While walking around the premises of Nyoirinji, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for special frogs and monuments! We spotted 2 Pikachu, a frog holding a 5 yen coin, Kumamon, and some lowkey frogs with their genitalia hanging out. These are just a few of many crazy but awesome things that you can see here!

Meet Nyoirinji’s Cat

When I was looking at pictures of this temple online, I saw this cat come up a lot and was very happy I had the chance to meet him in the flesh! He reminded me a lot of my own cat because he was very charming and cuddly. He seemed to enjoy all of the people coming to pet him at Nyoirinji while he basked in the sunlight. I’m quite envious of his lifestyle!

Fresh Eats in Fukuoka

While heading back to my accommodation, we decided to stop at some delicious shops on the way. Our first stop was at Kaisen Donburi Hanabi in Ropponmatsu, which is a really cool neighborhood just outside of central Fukuoka with a number of small coffee shops and music cafes. At Hanabi we ate mouthwatering seafood rice bowls that were probably the best I’ve ever had in this prefecture. I ordered shrimp topped with salmon roe and egg and couldn’t believe how huge the shrimp were! My friend and I joked that they must massage the shrimp here like they do the cows in Kobe to produce their famous beef!

For dessert we stopped at a CBD cafe called Green Life and had some really sweet CBD smoothies. CBD became really popular in Japan last year when the government restricted alcohol being sold at bars in efforts to stop covid from spreading. I don’t take it often but when I do, I definitely feel a bit more relaxed. The chocolate banana smoothie I had was blended very smoothly and I appreciate the large amount of chocolate sauce they used in their recipe too.

The next morning I stopped at a food truck called MEETS which sells coffee, bread, and delicious dessert waffles shaped like the moon. I absolutely loved the design of my moon waffle because not only did it have caramel, nuts, and chocolate on it, but also an oatmeal cookie! I thought this idea was so creative. On this trip I noticed a number of new food trucks have started popping up around the city and I’m excited to see what other delicious foods and desserts are sold in the future.

Spot the Cherry Blossoms

On my way to Hakata Station the next morning, I saw cherry blossoms blooming at Tochoji Temple! Unfortunately I didn’t have time to check out all of the major cherry blossom viewing spots, but please see Fukuoka Now’s Guide for more information on them.

In my next article, I will be exploring all the major sights of Yamaguchi Prefecture. Please look forward to it!

Exploring the 7 Hell Hot Springs of Oita

Hell has never looked so tropical and enticing.

During Golden Week of 2017, I decided to fly from Tokyo to Oita Prefecture in Kyushu to see the mysterious Jigoku Onsen (which literally means Hell Hot Springs) in the town of Beppu. Though these onsen are steaming hot and jumping inside them would result in death, this area has many other ones that are safe to bathe in, so rest assured! There are also beautiful beaches, monkeys, and an animal safari that you can see here too. You can most of Beppu in three days which was the duration I stayed for, then I went to Fukuoka to see my friends. It is very easy to access other areas of Kyushu from Beppu by bus or train so you can combine it with trips to other prefectures.

At the time I traveled here I didn’t have a lot of money, so I booked a discount roundtrip Jetstar for around 15,000 yen and stayed at my favorite net cafe chain, Kaikatsu Club, so I could save money. In the end it paid off because I could see everything I wanted to in Beppu and now I have enough money to stay at nicer hotels around Japan!

Getting to know Beppu

As soon as the plane landed and I took the Airport Limousine to the city, I felt right at home here! Fortunately most of the attractions of Beppu are accessible by bus. Plus I loved seeing the smiling little wooden bucket mascot everywhere. I remember there randomly being a beer fest in the middle of the city since it was during Golden week, but since I was craving sugar I decided to get some strawberry pancakes at a cafe called Namiki no Machi Coffee. Later that night I was feeling social so I checked out an international bar called P.E.I. Pub and ended up coming back here every night. This place can serve nearly any kind of cocktail and I ended up becoming really good friends with the bartender, Richie. I really hope to come back to Oita some day and see what my friends here are up too. There is a huge international community of people in Beppu making it very welcoming and fun.

Exploring the Jigoku Onsen

The 7 Jigoku Onsen are very mysterious and it’s no wonder why people travel from all over Japan just to see them. The most prominent one is the red hell onsen because seeing red-colored water is extremely rare and it looks like a volcano. The mud bubble hell is also interesting to see because it swirls and looks like a gray whirlpool. There are various ones that are blue like the ocean but don’t be fooled—their temperature can rise up to over 100°C. One of the onsen even has crocodiles in it who look extremely content and relaxed. If I was a crocodile in Japan, I would definitely choose Oita as my home.

Touring the hells takes about 45 mins – 1 hour but can be done faster if you don’t read through all of the information. If you have time you should definitely try some of the onsen-steamed vegetables and Oita’s famous pudding! I definitely prefer steamed to boiled or fried because it’s healthier. There are also local hot springs that are safe to bathe in around here that you can easily reach.

Address: 559-1 Kannawa, Beppu, Oita 874-0000 (easily accessible by local bus)
Admission Fee: 400 per hell or 2000 yen for all hells*

*Please note there is usually a combined bus ticket and entrance deal. Check with the station or travel agency close to you in Beppu or Oita City.

Monkeys at Mt. Tsurumi

Another huge appeal of Oita are the monkeys at the park at Mt. Tsurumi called Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden. Compared to other monkey parks in Japan, the monkeys here are quite active and have a lot of space to run around in the forest that surrounds them. You can get quite close to them but as long as you avert your eyes they won’t attack. Mt. Tsurumi also has the largest ropeway in Kyushu and the view from the top is quite impressive. It feels very nostalgic writing about my early Kyushu adventures and I already want to book another trip here!

Address: 3098-1 Kanzaki, Oita, 870-0802 (easy to reach by local bus)
Admission Fee: 520 yen

Sand Baths at Shoningahama Beach

One of the most popular things to do in Oita is take a sand bath on the beach. The process is quite simple: you are given a rental yukata to wear while lying down and are gently buried in steaming sand. The appeal of this is the hot sand is said to improve your blood circulation and have healing properties. Also due to the weight and steam of the sand, the effectivity is greater than bathing in a natural hot spring. When you get up you will feel relaxed and extremely refreshed! I have only tried this once but it felt like being in the sauna for a long duration without all of the sweat. This will definitely relieve any muscle fatigue and make you feel brand new.

Shoningahama Beach is easily accessible from Beppudaigaku Station. The beach itself isn’t that impressive but the sandbaths sure are! You can also take a sand bath in other areas of Japan such as Ibusuki Island and Kagoshima. I would like to try it again in the future!

Address: Shoningahama Beppu
Cost: 1500 yen (Please note there is no online reservation form and it is first come first serve)

Other Points of Interest

I’ve named off the three major points of interest, but here are some other places you may want to check out if you have time:

  • African Safari
  • Umitamago Aquarium
  • Oita Art Museum
  • A trip to Kumamoto or Fukuoka
  • Beppu Onsen

I went to the African Safari which takes you on an exciting adventure in a jungle bus where you can feed exotic animals. Unfortunately I do not have that many pictures because my hands were full, but it was quite the thrill at the time. The main point of Oita is enjoying the hot springs and the beach!

One of my goals this summer is to revisit Kumamoto and take pictures of Mt. Aso. This was something that I tried to do in 2017 but unfortunately not all parts of the volcano were accessible. I look forward to challenging it again in the future!

Exploring Narai in Kiso Valley

A rainy yet beautiful day in the mountain town of Narai.

A place that’s been on my bucket list for quite a while is Kamikochi, a beautiful hiking area nestled in the valleys of Nagano, and this year I finally had the chance to go! I was actually planning to go last year, but the main camping area was attacked by a wild bear that tore a tent to shreds and stole a camper’s curry, so unfortunately my trip was cancelled. Fortunately this year they had the bears under control and no other attacks have been reported. However, this year we encountered wild monkeys during our hike but they were extremely friendly!

I will be covering my trip to Kamikochi in two separate posts since this trip lasted two full days. On the first day I rode from Tokyo to Enzan Station to meet my friends in Yamanashi which was on the way. From there we drove to Narai in Nagano by car which was roughly two hours away. This was an extremely smart move since the weather was rainy the first day but sunny for our hiking trip on the second day.

Narai is reachable by both car and the Chuo Line making it cheaper than taking the shinkansen. If you have the chance you should definitely check this town out because it has a lot of history and delicious food!

Getting to Know Narai

After parking or getting off at the station, all of the main strip of Narai can be explored by foot. The very first thing that I noticed was the Narai Kiso Bridge that will take you over to the shops and restaurants. In the Meiji Period, Narai was a famous post town and you can see why by how easy it is to get around here. The town is extremely condensed and features a lot of antique wooden buildings and cafes that you can explore. There are small art museums, soba and teishoku restaurants, as well as a stone path that will take you to Joryuji, a temple with a painting of a dragon inside. This was actually my favorite part of the town because I wasn’t expecting to see such a beautiful mural! Narai can be explored in about 1 hour and is the perfect place to stretch your legs before making it to other destinations in Nagano.

Shirahone Onsen

Before heading to our ryokan, we decided to stop by Shirahone Onsen which is a natural sulfur hot spring located in the mountains. It’s about a 45 minute drive from Narai but was completely worth the trip! For the entire day the weather was chilly and raining, but a soak in the onsen definitely put us back in high spirits. This is probably the best onsen I’ve been to in Nagano besides the fancy resort I stayed at in January. I just appreciated how simple but highly effective it was. Natural hot springs definitely have a healing property!

Address: Azumi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-1515
Admission Fee: 520 yen (the baths are gender segregated)

Narai Food

Since Narai is located near the river, ayu (sweet fish) are one of the most popular meals here! When I first moved to Japan, I honestly didn’t know what to think of freshwater fish but recently they have really grown on me. For lunch I had a teishoku set which included ayu, miso, tofu, and rice in the town we visited earlier. The meal was simple but I couldn’t believe how amazing it was! For dinner we drove to a restaurant called Mominoki where I had vegetables with miso, another grilled ayu, and some delicious caramel and azuki ice cream topped with jelly cubes. I mentioned this in my last Nagano article, but the people here have the longest life span in Japan and you can easily see why. This prefecture is filled with onsen and beautiful nature and has wonderful food too! There are a lot of options for both meat lovers and vegetarians too.

Lodge Fumoto

After a full day of hiking, food, and hot springs, we decided to spend the night at Lodge Fumoto. Unbeknownst to us, we were the only 3 people staying that weekend so it was the ultimate party! The reason for that is a lot of buses to Kamikochi have reduced service due to the pandemic and you really need a car to get around. The hotel, or “lodge” is really no frills and has limited amenities but it has amazing hot springs. There is a shared indoor bath and a private outdoor one you can freely reserve. You can tell by the sulfur debris that sticks to the wood that these hot springs are legit and the surrounding outdoor scenery is absolutely breathtaking. I had an amazing stay here and am happy that we didn’t go camping so we could avoid the rain. The rooms here are around 6000 yen which is average for most ryokan too.

Thank you for reading the first part of my summer Nagano adventure! In my next article I will be writing about how we hiked through the entirety of Kamikochi and met the monkeys. Now is a really good time to travel here because there are far less people than usual!