Having a Tea Party at the Umineko Manor (Kyu-Furukawa Gardens)

Another destination that’s been on my bucket list for quite a while is the Kyu-Furukawa Gardens located in western Tokyo, and last month on one of my days off I finally had the chance to visit! These gardens are very famous for their Western meets Japanese design, and the guest house from Umineko no naku koro ni was actually inspired by the manor that acts a as a centerpiece here. You can walk through the interior of the manor and order tea for an extra cost which was extremely worth it. I really felt like I was Beatrice sitting outside on the balcony and gazing upon everyone that walked by!

If this is in Tokyo then you’re probably wondering why it took so long for me to go, but the gardens have been completely closed for over half a year due to the pandemic. From June 4st, 2021, Kyu-Furukawa Gardens have officially re-opened and now everyone can visit! They are limiting the number of visitors but you can reserve a ticket on e-tix for free. I reserved mine three days before and was able to enter without any problem.

Here is a real life to anime comparison of the Western-styled manor I took with my tripod (click to enlarge the images):

To my knowledge the rooms of the manor are occasionally rented out for meetings because I accidentally walked in on one while I was exploring the interior! But without a doubt the main draw is the rose garden outside of the manor and the traditional Japanese garden in the back. Both of these gardens have a lot of rare flowers and I even saw hydrangeas while they were in season. I can see why ryukishi07 chose this location as inspiration for his visual novel series because it is very beautiful and feels like it has an air of mystery to it.

Access

Kyu-Furukawa Gardens are easily accessible by taking the Yamanote Line to Komagome Station and walking 10 minutes. You can walk around the gardens in 1-2 hours depending on if you explore the inside of the manor or not.

Address: 1 Chome-27-39 Nishigahara, Kita City, Tokyo 114-0024

Garden Entrance Fee: 150 yen
Manor Entrance Fee: 400 yen
Tea Set Fee: 500 yen~

2 flower parks not to miss out on in Japan

Before setting off on my Okinawan adventures, I visited two famous flower parks in late Spring: Hitachi Seaside Park & Hitsujiyama Park. Hitachi Seaside Park is located in Ibaraki and is known for its beautiful blue nemophila that match the color of the ocean and sky. Hitsujiyama Park is known for its pink moss field and is also the real life location of the Anohana anime! If you are in Japan for an extended period of time then I really recommend checking out both places. They will blow you away with their beauty and also introduce you to more rural prefectures that surround Tokyo. Though the pandemic has eliminated my international travel, I was fortunately able to travel safely to a lot of places domestically.

Hitachi Seaside Park

Hitachi Seaside Park faces the Pacific Ocean in Ibaraki Prefecture and is very famous for its blue nemophila that bloom every Spring. These flowers look like they have a star shape when you see them up close and I was amazed by how well they matched the sky and ocean! There is a winding trail that you can climb up to the top to see a grand view of the entire park. From there you can see a ferris wheel and ships setting sail from the harbor so this is truly is an experience that you can’t get in the city. They even have blueberry nemophila yogurt smoothies for sale which I thoroughly enjoyed because they cured my hangover from the night before. Besides the nemophila area, there are other large gardens with seasonal flowers such as tulips, poppies, roses, and sunflowers. There are also illuminations depending on the time to the year.

Best time to visit: April for the blue nemophila

Address: 312-0012 Ibaraki, Hitachinaka, Mawatari, 字大沼605-4

From Ueno Station, I took the Hitachi and Tokiwa Limited Express to Katsura Station, the called a taxi there. You can also take a local bus that goes directly there. The trip takes about 2 hours and 40 mins and costs around 5000 yen one way. It is a bit far for a day trip but I had an amazing time seeing the ocean and all of the local scenery.

Hitsujiyama Park & Jorin-ji Temple

If you have ever watched the anime Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, then you may recognize Hitsujiyama Park for its distinctive pink flora! Though this park is smaller than Hitachi, in my opinion it is just as lovely. The beautiful rows of pink and white mosses will surely make your heart soar and there is a beautiful mountain with unique architecture off in the distance. Additionally, you can visit the Jorin-ji Temple that has custom Anohana ema with all of the main cast! I bought the adorable Menma one as a souvenir so I would always remember this day.

Best time to visit: Late April / Early May for the pinkest flowers

Park Address: 6360 Omiya, Chichibu, Saitama 368-0023ka, Mawatari, 字大沼605-4

From Ikebukuro Station, you can take the Seibu Ikebukuro Line Limited Express directly to Seibu-Chichibu Station and walk 17 minutes to the park. This takes about an hour and a half and costs 1500 yen.

Shrine Address: 21-3 SakuragIcho, Chichibu 368-0025 Saitama Prefecture

Conveniently the shrine is located very close to the park! I took a 10 min taxi ride there.

Whatever your taste is, you can surely find a flower park in Japan that suits it! In my next article I will be writing about my recent trip to the mansion from Umineko, so please look forward to it~

Exploring Karatsu on the Night of the Olympic Torch Relay

Terrarium at Kankyo Geijitsu no Mori

After spending a lovely evening in my teacup-shaped bath in Ureshino and visiting the cafe featured in Zombieland Saga, I set off for Karatsu which is another featured area from the series. Karatsu is famous for its terraced rice fields and was also one of the locations for the 2021 Olympic Torch Relay. By pure coincidence I just happened to be there on the final day of the relay in Saga on May 9th. Though I didn’t have time to watch it due to my returning flight departing that night to Tokyo, I was happy to see Saga during one of liveliest times. Saga previously had the reputation of being one of the most boring prefectures in Japan, but Zombieland Saga and the relay have changed that. I was able to see so many sights in such a short time so I was overall very satisfied with my trip.

Without further ado, here are my top recommendations in Karatsu:

Kankyo Geijitsu no Mori

Kankyo Geijitsu no Mori is a nature park in the mountains with beautiful flora and an observatory with reflective surfaces where you can take aesthetic pictures. I was very impressed to see trees whose leaves had already turned red here at the start of summer! There are also nature trails that lead you through lush forests and take you to the top of the mountain. The best part about this place is that it’s open year round so you can see the scenery during every season!

Previously I had tried to go to a similar temple in Kyoto called Rurikoin, but it is only open during certain times of the year and requires reservation. Kankyo Geijitsu no Mori is just as beautiful and has no closing time, so I would recommend this place instead.

Getting here was a bit of a challenge as I had to ride to Kyuragi Station from Saga Station on a local train that only comes once or twice per hour and call 3 different taxi companies to take me here, but I can proudly say that my effort was worth it! Show Taxi kindly picked me up from the station and drove me back when I had finished sightseeing without any difficulty. This is one of the best places to do photography in Karatsu and due to its remote location, it is not very crowded either.

Address: 667 Kyuragimachi Hirano, Karatsu, Saga 849-3131

Terraced Rice Fields

One of the best places to view the sunset in Karatsu is at the terraced rice fields of Terraced Rice Fields of Hamanoura because they are usually filled up with water in the summer and have a dramatic backdrop of the sea. The patterns are gorgeous here and almost remind me of scenery in Bali! These are way more interesting than the usual rice fields you find in prefectures just outside of Tokyo, so they were high on my list of things to see. Due to the Olympic Torch Relay taking place in this area, there were a lot of people here but I managed to snap some amazing photos and bask in their beauty.

Once again, these rice fields are a bit remote so I rode the train to Karatsu Station and hailed a cab outside of it. I as extremely fortunate that my driver was familiar with Zombieland Saga and offered to take me around to all of the famous places from the anime. He also informed me that since so many fans of the anime have been coming to Saga lately that the economy here is in quite good shape. This is not the first time that I’ve heard otaku are saving Japan’s economy, and I am very happy to be part of the movement!

Address: Hamanoura, Genkai, Higashimatsuura District, Saga 847-1433

Zombieland Saga Mansion

On the way back to the station, my driver took me to the official mansion from Zombieland Saga! This building was previously the Karatsu City Museum of History and Folklore but closed in 2003. Further back in history, it was also the former Mitsubishi branch of Saga explaining its beautiful western design. Though you can’t go inside of it, you can admire it from afar. If you look at the windows, you may see some familiar zombie idols looking back at you! Nearby this mansion is Ohori Park which you will also recognize from the series. If I had more time I would have gone to Karatsu Castle too, but I am happy enough that I got the chance to see Franchouchou HQ up close! Karatsu Station currently has Zombieland Saga flags and cutouts to welcome tourists, so I felt very at home here.

Saga Rebellion

Episodes 8 and 9 of Zombieland Saga Revenge focus on Yugiri’s past during the Meiji Era of Japan. In this era Saga was seized and became a part of Nagasaki triggering the Saga Rebellion of 1874. After finally being liberated from her job as a high ranking courtesan, Yugiri meets a young man who is determined to restore Saga’s status as an independent prefecture. Watching these episodes really moved me because I learned that the spirit of the people of Saga is unyielding and indigenous. They could have surrendered but they fought for their independence and that is why Saga is its own prefecture separate from Nagasaki today. When I studied the Meiji Era in college, Saga was never once mentioned so I was delighted to learn about this from one of my favorite anime and research it on my own. I hope this series continues to shed light on lesser known facts about history so I can continue to learn about them!

Organic Lunch at Ohisama

While waiting for the infrequent local trains in Saga, I decided to try an organic food restaurant called Ohisama near the castle. This building not only has an amazing kitchen but is also connected to a small store that sells organic food. I happily indulged in their lunch set that was completely vegetarian. Saga cuisine has a ton of flavor and is really out of this world! Everything on my plate was extremely delicious and came with healthy brown rice and miso soup. Yet again I was excited to have eaten such a wholesome meal made with tender care.

Address: 2 Chome-5-30 Tafuse, Saga, 840-0823

Heading Back to the Airport

The most beautiful train ride ever from Karatsu Station to Fukuoka Airport!

Though I really wished I could have stayed to watch the Olympic Torch Relay, I had a flight to catch in Fukuoka and work the next day so I had my driver drop me off at Karatsu station and took the rapid train to the airport. I was about to play my Switch to pass time when I was blinded by an emerging light from the opposite window. This was the most beautiful train ride I had ever experienced because there was so much sunlight and I could sea the ocean and forests of Saga. It felt like I was warping through time and was truly an unforgettable experience—the perfect way to end this trip!

Overall I had an amazing time visiting Fukuoka and Saga over the span of 3 days and am still mindblown by all of the things that I had saw. Although at first I thought Saga was extremely boring compared to the other prefectures in Kyushu, the journey greatly changed my way of thinking and I have Zombieland Saga to thank for that. The history of Saga is extremely rich and I get fired up just thinking about the Saga Rebellion. I am happy that they fought for their independence and won, else this trip would have never been possible!

I hope to come back to Kyushu this summer to see Kagoshima and the volcanic island Sakurajima. It is also a dream of mine to see a rocket launch from Tanegashima, so I am positive I will be back in Kyushi in the future. Thank you for keeping up with my adventures. I will be writing more soon!

Scuba Diving and Exploring the Pumpkin Limestone Cave in Miyakojima

Halloween came early this year in Miyakojima.

After spending a pleasant first day on Miyakojima exploring local shrines, biking to Sunayama Beach, and stumbling across old ruins, it was time to get to the main event—scuba diving with turtles. And more importantly, trying out my underwater camera equipment that I bought for my GoPro Hero 7 last year. I had originally planned to scuba dive with turtles in Cebu last March but my trip to the Philippines got cancelled due to the pandemic. I still have the ticket and still plan on going after I get vaccinated, but I imagine it’s going to be quite a long time until I can safely enter. Luckily with its pristine coral beaches, Miyakojima is one of the best places to go scuba diving in Japan so I finally got the chance to go here!

This article will detail my scuba diving experience at Shigira Beach and Boraga Beach as recommended by my instructor.

Scuba Diving at Shigira Beach

Before coming to the island, I decided to reserve a tour package from Klook that included both scuba diving with turtles and exploring the pumpkin limestone cave. Though I brought some of my own scuba gear, I really wanted to go with a local who knew the island well so I could learn the most about it. The combined tour cost 13500 yen which is much more expensive than doing similar activities in Thailand of the Philippines, but for what I saw the price was worth it. My tour started at 9:30 at Shigira Beach which was just a 30 min taxi ride from my hotel. From there I met up with my instructor who took me to the best scuba spot based on the weather conditions. The tour was entirely in Japanese but fortunately easy for me to understand.

The major bummer is that no turtles appeared, however. It might have been due to the gale advisory that swept Japan just a day before, but you would think with the lack of tourists that more wildlife would be around! Looking on the bright side, I did get to see a bunch of clown fish up close. And I also learned how to swim and use the correct settings on my camera to take quality photos. The reefs were absolutely beautiful and once again I felt like I was in the Little Mermaid World of Kingdom Hearts. Though I was a bit disappointed I didn’t get to see the turtles here, I vow to meet them once I can safely travel to Cebu!

Exploring the Pumpkin Limestone Cave

While researching destinations I wanted to travel to in Miyakojima, the pumpkin limestone cave was #1 on my list. As soon as I saw the pictures of it online I knew I needed to see it with my own eyes. I mean where else in the world can you see something like this? After a short break my instructor kindly drove me to Boraga Beach where the cave was located. This is just roughly 15 mins from Shigira Beach where the turtles apparently reside. I was surprised to find that the water was extremely shallow and rocky so we were given special boots to wear as to not hurt our feet. The entrance to the cave is about a 15 min walk over rocks, but the gorgeous blue shades of the water made it fun. Once you reach the entrance of the cave, there is a gap of emerald water that you can swim through to go inside. How cool is that?

I was unaware this is actually a religious place, so we were asked to pray before entering. Though I am not religious, I am honored to have received the pumpkin god’s blessings. The inside of the cave is extremely dark so we were given flashlights so we could see where we were going. You can see the beautiful pumpkin shape as soon as you enter the cave and it looked almost ethereal from where I was swimming. My instructor guided me to a ledge where I could start climbing to the top. Though parts were a bit slippery, it was overall easy to reach the highest point where water was dripping down from stalactites. My instructor told me to sit down underneath them so the cool water droplets would hit my skin, and it really did feel relaxing! The inside of the cave was warm so the mini shower was much appreciated. There was also mud here that you could smear on your face for smooth skin. I saw mud masks in the souvenir shops before and was happy that I had the chance to experience the real thing. The mud here really does make your skin look smoother after you wash it off!

It took us roughly 20 mins to fully explore the cave, but my instructor stopped to give me some pretty interesting lectures. Here is a video of me jumping off the highest ledge of the pumpkin cave taken by my instructor. The gap was extremely narrow and a bit scary so you can hear me scream! But rest assured, this is a safe tour and I was wearing a life jacket and helmet so everything was fine. Even if you’re afraid of heights, this really isn’t that bad:

Nature & Soba

In between going to the two beaches, my instructor dropped me off at a delicious soba place called Maruyoshi Shokudo. Not only were the noodles cheap here, but the staff was amazing. They made me a custom fish and veggie bowl since I’m pescatarian and I topped it with some light curry powder to give it the perfect zest. Miyako soba is extremely famous and after eating here I can see exactly why it is true. I also explored some gardens nearby and discovered some beautiful butterflies and flora. Nature is also impressive here because everything gets a lot of sunlight. It was so fun to see all of the wildlife up close!

Chasing Sunsets

The tour ended around 3pm and my instructor drove me back to my hotel so I had just enough time to shower off, grab some food, and start chasing sunsets! The first and last two pictures were taken at morning and night at Painagama Beach near my resort. The middle picture was taken at Shigira Beach right before I left. As I grabbed some shochu from the convenience store across the road, I was surprised to see that a number of locals were gathered around playing instruments, drinking, and watching the sunset on a Tuesday night. But this is just Okinawan culture plain and simple. Though I am addicted to the city due to the endless opportunities it offers, island life is truly the life for me. I love being on the beach because I feel the happiest there.

This was my last night in Miyakojima and I think it was extremely well spent! I have one last article of my Okinawa series to publish, then I will be spontaneously traveling to Kyushu at the end of this week to finish Golden Week with a bang. Thank you all for reading and supporting my dream!

A Yuru Camp-inspired Trip to Yamanashi: Minobu (Part 2)

After hiking to all of the major Mt. Fuji viewpoints spending a cozy first night in Fujiyoshida, I woke up at 9am and rode the local trains to meet my friends at Kofu Station for another Yuru Camp-inspired day. In this article I’ll be writing about Minobu, a small city in Yamanashi where the main characters of Yuru Camp go to school and spend their daily lives. Unbeknownst to me, the real life Minobu has replica of Rin’s Vino Classic scooter and many goods from the series available for sale! Even if you are not a fan of the series, there are historic temples and shrines to see in this area as well as beautiful flowers year-round. Seeing this iconic town was definitely a big highlight of the trip for me.

For the first part of this article series, please see A Yuru Camp-inspired Trip to Yamanashi: Fujiyoshida (Part 1).

Getting to Kofu & Minobu

From my hotel in central Fujiyoshida, I walked to Mt. Fuji Station (that’s right—THE Mt. Fuji Station) where I rode the Thomas the Tank Engine-themed Fujikyuko Train to Otsuki Station, then took the Chuo Line to Kofu Station. I really found it hilarious how each local stop on the Fujikyuko Line had its own Thomas mascot and the seats of the train were decoratively designed with all of the characters. Now that is peak aesthetic. This journey took around 2 hours and cost less than 2500 yen. It is also very easy to reach Kofu from Tokyo by taking the Chuo line or booking a bus from Shinjuku Bus Station. However, if you want to see all of Yamanashi then you might want to stop by Fujiyoshida first like I did!

Upon reaching Kofu Station, I met up with my friends and their bright blue car named Aqua, and we decided to get lunch nearby then drive to Minobu! There is a Minobu Line Limited Express that departs from Kofu Station and reaches the city in roughly an hour, but the destinations around Minobu are better accessed by car. However, if you are going on a Yuru Camp-inspired journey like myself and don’t have access to a car, I would recommend hopping on the train because you can see Rin’s scooter right by Minobu Station! The cost of the train is less than 2000 yen and the journey will be unforgettable.

Lunch at Tree -Anthony’s Kitchen-

One of the cafes that I was most looking forward to visiting was a western-themed kitchen called Tree with a skilled chef named Anthony who traveled to Japan from the UK. My friends had previously dined here for their Christmas Anniversary dinner and the pictures of the course they posted looked heavenly! They are also good friends with the owner and seemed to know everyone around us so I appreciated the friendly atmosphere. I was also beyond excited to finally try this delicious place for myself! This restaurant has a number of vegetarian and pescatarian options so I decided to get the falafel plate, though the squid burger looked tempting too. My friends decided on a meat pie with vegetables and spaghetti, and the three of us savored our delicious meals. Totoro definitely enjoyed dining in Yamanashi Prefecture too!

Address: 〒400-0048 Yamanashi, Kofu, Kugawahoncho, 12−3 sora E

Entering Yuru Camp Heaven in Minobu

After having a wonderful meal, we drove an hour to Minobu and stumbled into Yuru Camp heaven. In the car my friend was telling me about the famous Minobu Manjuu that she wanted me to try. When we arrived at Minobu Station, Rin’s Vino scooter was sitting adjacent to that very manjuu/souvenir store that she mentioned!! After taking a dozen pictures of it, we walked into the store and were blinded by Yuru Camp goods. Shima Rin Dango, keychains, plushies, ema, office supplies, curry, and more—everything was Yuru Camp themed. Even the vending machines by the parking lot that we parked at. My biggest flex on this trip was by sweet sake for 100 yen from the Rin vending machine:

After buying a bunch of merchandise (most notably the Shima Rin plush and dango) and greatly stimulating the Yamanashi economy, we decided to walk around the station for a bit and enjoy the scenery. I bought some Minobu Manjuu that this area is famous for and they tasted fresh and delicious. Rin’s famed dango tasted amazing as well. We were happy to see that the plum blossoms were already in bloom so we stopped to take pictures there before driving the local temples and doing some hiking. I was absolutely elated from this experience because I wasn’t expecting to see so much Yuru Camp here! MISSION SUCCESS!!

Exploring Minobu’s Local Temples

Since we had quite a lot to eat, we decided to go hiking to Kuonji Temple on the base of Mt. Minobu and also see a series of shrines around the area. The climb to reach the main temple had quite a lot of stairs and reminded me of the Tiger Temple I visited in Thailand. However, the view at the top of the hill was worth the effort. I had fun wandering around and seeing the flowers that had started to bloom. The color and architecture of each temple had quite a rich variety. Some temples looked worn and had traditional wooden architecture while others had bright colors and looked almost foreign. Even though this area has not yet been featured in the series, it is a colorful place that I would recommend to people coming to Minobu for their Yuru Camp pilgrimages. My friends also informed me that this a great place for seeing sakura!

Lake Motosu

While the sun was setting over Mt. Fuji, we decided it would be a great idea to drive to lake Motosu where Rin and Nadeshiko meet in the very first episode of Yuru Camp! There are famous campsites here that I plan on going to with my friends in the summer. The purpose of this winter trip was to familiarize myself with the area so I could come back and eventually go camping at my favorite areas in the future. I think that this area is definitely the best place because it has a lot of shade and a beautiful view of Fuji. I hope to write more about Lake Motosu in the future and make some more happy memories here!

Dinner & Dessert in Kofu

After seeing the highlights of Yuru Camp in central Yamanashi, we decided to stop at two amazing restaurants on our way back to my friends’ house where I was spending the night. One was a Japanese restaurant called Sakagura-kai that had some of the freshest salmon I had ever tasted and a huge selection of Yamanashi sake. Another was a cake shop called troisieme marche near the Fuji Five Lakes that had creamy cakes that melted in your mouth. The chocolate mousse used in the baking was some of the best I have had in a while. I would happily recommend all of the places that I mentioned in this because the food was phenomenal and they had a lot of selection.

Sakagura-kai Address: 567 Kita, Yamanashi, 405-0041

troisieme marche Address: 682 Kawaguchi, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi 401-0304

Ending the Night at Hottarakashi Onsen

The final destination of the night was Hottarakashi Onsen, featured in Season 1 Episode 5 of Yuru Camp. This hot spring is absolutely heavenly in the winter and has both an indoor and outdoor bath. Unfortunately the baths are public so photography inside is prohibited, but coming here is worth it for the view of the starry sky and city lights below. I think this is the best onsen that I’ve been to besides the resort in Nagano I traveled to earlier this year. My body definitely felt healed after all of the hiking I did this day, and I was ready for another round of drinks and Smash Bros. for when we got home!

Thank you for reading the second part of my Yuru Camp-inspired adventures! The final part will detail some beautiful hiking trails and waterfalls and be published later this week. Please look forward to it~

My Homie Totoro: Traveling to the Iconic Bus Stop of Takaharu, Miyazaki

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My Homie Totoro.

After spending a lovely evening in Aoshima chasing sunsets and eating fresh crab, I decided to catch the very first train to Takaharu—a quaint farming town in Miyazaki where the life-size recreation of the Totoro Bus Stop is.  According to Oddity Central, this Totoro statue was built by an elderly couple residing here as a surprise for their grandchildren.  However, its design is so immaculate that it has attracted Totoro fans from all over Japan.  There’s not a whole lot to see in Takaharu as it is mostly a residential area in the mountains, but the backdrop of the mountains and fields behind the bus stop look like they came straight out of a Ghibli movie.  If you are obsessed with rare destinations in Japan like me then you might want to put Takaharu on your bucket list!  The countryside of Kyushu is simply stunning.

Traveling to Takaharu for Totoro

The journey to Takaharu from Miyazaki will take around 2 hours and cost 1500-2500 yen (which is not bad).  From Miyazaki Station, I took Kirishima Limited Express to Miyakonojo Station then transferred to the Kitto Line that took me to Takaharu Station.  You can also take local buses which are usually cheaper.  They will usually drop you off at the same locations depending on what time you leave.  From Takaharu Station, I asked the station attendant to hail me a taxi directly to Totoro.  If you simply say “Totoro” to your taxi driver they will know exactly what you mean.  This is a short drive that will only take 5 mins.  Once you reach Totoro, a warm feeling of nostalgia will wash over you.  Congrats, you have successfully completed your pilgrimage!

I should also note that there is a red umbrella you can rent for 100 yen so you can recreate the famous scene in the rain with Totoro.  Since the money goes directly to the people who built it, it’s a simple way to donate and show thanks!  I took many pictures with it on my GoPro and made some postcard-quality content.  If you come here alone like I did, there will likely be other people here to help you take your picture (or your taxi driver always can).

For information on accommodations in Takaharu, I would recommend checking out Guesthouse Nagata because it is right next to Totoro.  There isn’t much to do in this town as it is pretty residential so I spent another night in Aoshima, but if you have a lot of time in Kyushu you might enjoy staying here.  Getting your picture taken next to Totoro definitely makes the journey worth it!

Since I came here in the morning, I still had 2/3 of the day left to enjoy other activities in Miyazaki.  Here are some other fun things that I recommend doing:

Aoshima Hammock Cafe

Aoshima Hammock is a relatively new and unique experience that I hope more people seek out!  Unlike most hammock cafes in Japan, this place also includes a workshop and hammock rental system for those who are looking to relax in a hammock outside by the ocean.  Their system is relatively cheap and affordable.  If you go outdoors a lot you might consider buying one because they are made of high-quality yarn and come in many beautiful colors.  You can even sign up for a class to knit one yourself.

Since it was scorching hot outside, I decided to buy a drink at the cafe and relax on a hammock indoors (which is free).  However, outside the cafe is a beautiful park and rose garden by the water so I am considering renting a hammock in the future if I come back.  They will teach you how to install the hammock and give you all of the materials and are foreigner-friendly.  It’s a fun opportunity for you to learn how to better enjoy Aoshima life too!

Miyazaki Fruit Parfaits

One of the best things about coming to Kyushu is they have some of the freshest fruit in Japan.  Most notably the ice cream fruit parfaits in Miyazaki are to die for!  My top parfait recommendations are Sakuranbo and Fruit Ohno located near Miyazaki Station.  Even if you don’t like ice cream, they have dragon fruit, fresh strawberries, and melon that you can try without it.  I was thoroughly impressed by the design of these parfaits:

Sun Messe

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The Moai of Miyazaki.

Who would have guessed that Kyushu has Easter Island motifs on it??  Sun Messe is a bizarre tourist attraction where you can take pictures with Moai statues.  Your pictures can actually turn out pretty cool if you take them at the right angle (these were taken in 2018 so I regret not having a better camera).  While we were here, we chatted with two nice guys from Kumamoto who were here on vacation and later went to the beach with them.  What a strange place to socialize, but this place definitely has a powerful aura.

Nearby Sun Messe is the famous Udo Shrine and a beach that you can swim in!  This beach isn’t as pretty as Aoshima in my opinion, but it’s definitely worth checking out while you are here.  The atmosphere is pretty relaxing and you can make out mountains in the distance as you swim towards the horizon.  A great experience overall.

Entrance Fee: 800 yen (worth it for the weirdness here)

Florante Miyazaki

Flower lovers rejoice because there are beautiful flora growing in Miyazaki year-round!  At Florante Miyazaki you can see different types of plants being raised in outdoor gardens and greenhouses next to a beautiful pond in the summer.  I remember seeing citrus oranges being grown here for the first time of my life.  In the winter some facilities are closed but the park creates gorgeous illuminations.  I believe they happen year-round now.  I sadly could only come here during the day due to my busy schedule, but I hope to catch a night show here in the future!

Entrance Fee: 310 yen (very cheap)

Beach BBQs

Since Miyazaki borders the ocean, you can easily find seafood restaurants all over the city and beach fronts.  In 2018 my friend took me to a place where you could order fish and seafood to be grilled right in front of you.  It was such a fun experience trying Miyazaki specialties together!  I encourage you to try the shrimp because it is especially zesty.  You could also buy fish from a fish market and cook it on the beach if you have your own grill.  Not to mention there are sushi and sashimi restaurants galore.  You really can’t go wrong with food here because it’s way cheaper than in Tokyo!

Thank you for reading the 2nd article in my Miyazaki Series!  In my next article, I will be writing about my adventure to yet another rare gem—Takachiho Gorge.  Please look forward to it!

The Jeju Chronicles: Climbing Mt. Hallasan

After getting a good dose of cycling and an impromptu dance party on Udo Island, I figured I’d spend my 2nd day in Jeju climbing Korea’s tallest mountain: Mt. Hallasan.  It’s actually not just a mountain— it’s an active volcano too!  Fortunately for us, it hasn’t erupted in over 1,000 years and doesn’t spew lava so it’s safe to climb.  Reaching the summit will give you the best view of the island which is why I wanted to take on the challenge.  I’ve climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan which was quite the strenuous hike of 3,776 meters.  Hallasan is still challenging, but is only 1,947 meters and has a lovely forest you can see on your way up.  I found the hike to be pleasant and surprisingly relaxing.

Hallasan National Park is in the center of the main Jeju island and is quite easy to get to from any accommodation.  It only took me around 45 mins via bus from my hostel.  The mountain has four main trails, but only two will take you all the way to the top.  I decided to start at the Seongpanak Trail then take the Gwaneumsa Trail down.  This is the best way to see Hallasan as you can reach the summit and fully experience all the sights on the main trails within 8 – 10 hours.  If you want a shorter hike, you can try Eorimok Trail or Yeongsil Trail which only take 2 hours.  I did not hike them, but from looking at pictures that others have posted I can see that they have similar scenery to the beginning of the main trails.  I never guessed that Korea would have such beautiful mountains, but I was surprised to see how jaw-dropping the views were the further I climbed:

I started climbing around 8:30am and bought a small bottle of Korean Sochu from a convenience store at the base so I could take little shots of it as I climbed up the mountain.  Fortunately my hostel provided free breakfast so with 3 pieces of egg toast I knew I would have the energy to go all the way.  I listened to all of my favorite music while walking through the forest and had a nice little reflection on life.  Here I was in Korea again.  I found out there’s way more to this country than K-pop, cosmetics, and partying in Seoul and Busan.  These violet flora I kept seeing were absolutely beautiful.  Before I knew it, I was walking up the stairs and could vaguely make out the peak.  Of course it looked closer than it actually was, but it was still within my sight.  This was honestly much more peaceful than my Fuji hike because there weren’t nearly as many people.  I could focus on the views and climb with ease in anticipation of climbing my first active volcano.

Initially the temperature was mild so the climb was very easy.  I wasn’t sweating or noticing a huge incline so I didn’t need to stop for many breaks.  As I started seeing signs that indicated the summit was near, the air felt cooler and I noticed there was snow on the ground.  It was then I realized the mistake that I had made—I wasn’t wearing enough layers!!  I was only wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and a waterproof Nike jacket so I didn’t have any heatwear.  Fortunately the cold didn’t bother me due to the adrenaline that was pumping through my veins.  Plus I’ve gone running in the snow in Michigan wearing shorts before, so I suppose this wasn’t the first time I had been exposed to this kind of temperature.  The wind started to make my cheeks turn red, but by that point I had already reached the top.

Seeing this beautiful crater lake Baengnokdam (백록담/白鹿潭) was my reward:

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The lake at the summit of Mt. Hallasan.

I was so happy to not only have climbed Japan’s tallest mountain, but now Korea’s too!! I actually enjoyed this more than Fuji due to it being shorter and having the crater lake at the top. Not to mention that there were far less people. I would recommend climbing both if you are a nature enthusiast traveling through Asia. The feeling of looking down at the island once you’ve reached the top is one of pure victory. I enjoyed experiencing snow on a sub-tropical island even if I was unprepared for it too.

Here is a video of us climbing towards the top:

After snapping a bunch of pictures, I started my descent on the Gwaneumsa Trail. I was still freezing, but fortunately the further I climbed down the faster my body temperature returned to normal. I was high on adrenaline and knew food was waiting for me at the bottom too, so that was my main motivation!

The Gwaneumsa Trail was initially a bit steep to climb down, but provided me with some gorgeous mountain views.  There was also a sign warning us to steer clear of wild boars.  Who would have guessed they were native to Korea!!  I found that getting down took less time than I expected, so I completed the climb in around 8 hours.  Not bad for my first big climb of the year.  I celebrated with some Korean seafood pancakes by a place near the trail entrance.  I tried to use a map to figure out the bus schedule, but unfortunately I didn’t have any service and was informed that buses are really infrequent here.  Despite the language barrier, the store owners were kind enough to call a taxi for me that wasn’t very expensive.  I was very thankful for my experience and also that the weather stayed nice!

After my hike I decided to try a hot spring in Jeju, because why not?  Tapdong Seawater Sauna (which is now sadly closed) was closest to my hotel so I decided to walk there.  Two things about it really amazed me.  The first was that you could go swimming in certain baths.  Usually at Japanese onsen, swimming is forbidden.  However, Jeju has a huge female diving community, so I could see where this makes sense.  The second was that Korean people brought water with them into the sauna.  That is also not allowed in Japan, but with the super hot temperature I could see why people did it.  The culture here was a lot more laid back which I really enjoyed.  The concierge jokingly called me an alcoholic because I was still carrying soju around with me, but I laughed and said it’s because I just climbed Hallasan and I was on vacation.  It was hard to believe that this was only my second day!!

Exploring the Coastal City of Atami (Shizuoka, Japan)

After seeing the capybara zoo and the capybara illuminations of Izu, I decided to make my way to the coastal city of Atami and do some exploring around the beach and local area.  I chose to stay at this district during my backpacking trip through Shizuoka because it is centrally located and has a lot of nice seafood restaurants and floral parks you can visit.  My accommodation was at Megumi Guesthouse because it has an onsen and was only 3500 yen per night when I booked it.  Not bad at all!

Here are some of my favorite discoveries that I found during my two-day stay in Atami:

Idematsu Sun Beach

One of the best things about Atami is that the beach is only 5 minutes walking from the station!  When I woke up and went for my morning run, this was the very first place that I visited.  It was very serene and quiet, which is rare for a beach near the city.  Despite it being February, the temperature was extremely mild too.  It almost felt like a private beach to me.  In the summer, Atami holds a fireworks festival that many people attend.  I would like to come back during that time and see how the atmosphere changes!

BonBon Berry House & Maruya Terrace

If you love strawberries… well you’re absolutely going to love BonBon Berry!  This confectionery is full of fruits and desserts of high quality.  I first tried the original strawberry stick with manjuu and a small piece of strawberry cake.  It was so delicious, I came back the following day to try more~  I next ordered the strawberry shu cream that looks like a giant glazed strawberry but is actually a giant creampuff.  I traveled here in February, yet the strawberries were so fresh I felt like it was summer!

For lunch I decided to stop at Maruya Terrace near the central shopping street.  This restaurant will let you choose your favorite fish from the seafood store across the street and grill it for you on a seasoned sandwich.  I chose their famous mackerel sandwhich:

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This is one of the best fish sandwiches I have ever eaten!!

I couldn’t believe this sandwich was only 700 yen!  Seafood in Hokkaido and Kanazawa are much more expensive.  Atami is definitely one of the cheapest places to eat quality fish and I would like to try many kinds in the future!

Atami Ropeway & Kinomiya Shrine

Atami Ropeway definitely gives you access to one of the best views in the city!  For only 600 yen (roundtrip), you can take a cable car to the top of a mountain and see the city and surrounding seaside area.  As expected, the view was breathtaking~  I was happy that I brought my GoPro here.

Next I walked to the nearby Kinomiya Shrine because it’s one of the most famous in Atami.  I loved the green foilage and the leaves that were made into the shape of a heart:

If you’re looking for a hotspring, I recommend going to the nearby Nikkoutei Ooyu.  It is only around 1000 yen to go for the day and has a beautiful view of the surrounding nature.

Atami Plum Garden & Akao Herb and Rose Garden

Though February is usually not the prime season for flowers, I decided to check these gardens out anyway since I was in the area.  I was surprised to find beautiful buds when I first went running through the Atami Plum Garden.  According to the official website, this area has the fastest blooming plums in Japan:

This garden is divided into several areas; they have a Japanese garden, a Korean garden, an art museum, and dozens of plum trees that you can photograph pretty much year round.  I was surprised to find a miniature cave and waterfall here too.  This is much prettier than a lot of gardens that I’ve been to so I’m happy I came.  The entrance fee is only 300 yen.

Finally, I went to Akao Herb and Rose Garden, which actually is a garden up in the mountains!  From the bus stop, a free van will take you to the top (or you can choose to walk to the entrance).  When this garden is in full bloom, it truly looks like heaven.  Unfortunately I could not capture many flowers in bloom, but I got an awesome picture of me in my Orient T-Shirt on the swing.  I did manage to capture the photo below:

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February flowers of Akao Herb and Rose Garden.

What I liked about this garden is that there were hammocks and benches where you could relax and see the seaside.  In addition to the swing, they also had a trampoline!  There were many fragrances you could try for free as well.  This was one of the best views I have ever seen from a flower park, and I regret that I could not take more pictures of the roses.  All the more reason to come back here in the summer!

Entrance here is only 1000 yen.

Final Remarks

 

I love Atami because everything you need is either walking distance or just a short bus ride away: the ocean, mountain, hotsprings, restaurants, and beautiful gardens.  It’s very easy to relax and find inner peace here.  In addition to the capybaras, I loved the nature and food.  I’m so glad I discovered yet another floral beach paradise in Asia and I recommend that everyone else come and experience it for themselves.

Getting to Atami

From Tokyo Station, take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen towards Shin Osaka.  Atami Station is only 37 minutes away, which is closer than getting from one end of Tokyo to the other!  The cost is 4300 yen which is about the same as going to Nikko or Hakone.  It’s definitely worth the cost.

Desserts that will make your heart melt in Tokyo (Vol. 2)

Here is a collection of desserts that will make your heart melt in Tokyo (Volume 2). ♥ For reference, please see Volume 1 here.

Sweets Paradise (Akihabara Branch)

 

Sweets Paradise is an extremely popular buffet-style dessert restaurant with multiple branches in Tokyo.  You can choose from an unlimited selection of multi-colored pastries for 70 – 90 mins.  However, the branch in Akihabara offers a take-out option with cake that looks like actual ramen!  Even the toppings are edible and have an extremely sweet flavor.  The “noodles” are actually just thick layers of frosting.  This is probably one of the most unreal sweets I have ever eaten (appearance-wise), but the taste was definitely worth it!

New New York Club

 

New New York Club became a meme because of its rainbow bagels stuffed with delicious cream cheese.  These bagels sell out fast so sadly I wasn’t able to get one, but they do have multi-colored bagels you can purchase too!  They still taste the same as a regular bagel despite their strange color, and I prefer them to most Japanese bagels because they are larger and softer in texture.  Ikumimama Animal Doughnuts is another cute bakery that is right around the corner from here!  Be sure to pick up some cute cat donuts if you still have an appetite.

Aoyama Flower Market Teahouse

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Aoyama Flower Market is a popular florist chain that is often found in Tokyo train stations.  Stopping here is convenient if you want to pick up flowers for a special occasion, but certain locations also have cafes with extremely aesthetic food too!  I ordered this delicious parfait with pink jelly and fruit that looks like a work of art at the Kichijyoji location.  They have a seasonal menu that rotates frequently, so be sure to check online to see what they are serving.  All of the food here has an extremely appetizing look and taste.

Salon Ginza Sabou

 

This upscale restaurant exploded with popularity when they released their infamous green tea boxes.  Under a thin layer of green tea-flavored chocolate topped with green tea powder that you break apart with your spoon, you will find the goldmine of all green tea desserts.  Watch my video and see Sabou’s website for more information.  Other restaurants are starting to copy this style of dessert, but this was the original place that invented it.

Liquid Nitrogen Kit-Kats

 

It’s no secret that Japan is infatuated with Kit-Kats.  Walk into any souvenir store and the first thing you will besides the obvious Hachiko-shaped sweets is corn, sweet potato, green tea, and other strange flavors of Kit-Kats.  The Kit Kat Chocolatory and Café offers a whole different level of strangeness with its liquid nitrogen Kit-Kats.  It was surreal to watch the Japanese waiter pour liquid nitrogen onto a platter where it would perfectly chill a sweet commonly found in the US, but it was definitely worth the experience.  You can customize your own Kit-Kats at this cafe as well!  There are a variety of unique toppings you can choose from and the menu changes its featured items each season.

Doubutsuen Ice Cream/The Zoo

 

Doubutsuen was another dessert place that exploded with popularity in Harajuku due to its cute animal cones.  I opted for the tripple scoop piggy the first time I came here.  Originally you would buy a ticket from the front of the shop that looked like a vending machine and they would make your cone for you behind the curtain, but due to the mass amount of people waiting in line on the street, they moved their shop to the end of Takeshita Street under the name “The Zoo” so they could serve more customers.  The ice cream here is not only cute but also delicious, so I highly recommend it!

Other Ice Cream Recommendations

 

Other ice cream spots I highly recommend trying are Edy’s Ice Cream for their cute customizable cones with unicorn and heart-shaped toppings, Milkcow for their rich and creamy soft-serve ice cream, Coisof for their black ice cream with crunchy colored toppings, and Godiva simply for their unmatched rich flavor of chocolate ice cream.  It’s hard to find bad ice cream in Tokyo, it really is!

Bonus: Rainbow Sweets Harajuku

 

Last but not least, if you are looking for brightly-colored photogenic food then I would recommend coming to Rainbow Sweets Harajuku!  This is right off Takeshita Street and attracts a lot of customers, but the food is all take-out so it doesn’t take much time to receive your order.  I ordered the rainbow grilled cheese and the rainbow ice cream.  These were fun to take pictures of, but the taste was so-so.  Instead I recommend trying the ice cream places I mentioned above because they have a way better taste.

Thank you for reading Volume 2 of my dessert cafe expedition in Tokyo.  If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the comments!  I will be make more volumes in the future!

Seeing Penguins on the Beach at St. Kilda

While selecting activities for my trip to Australia, I came across many tours for penguin watching on the beach online.  As an animal lover, I decided that this was something I must definitely experience!  However, most of these tour packages were priced at over $100 to go on a two hour trip to Phillip Island, which is a bit expensive for people who are backpacking.  With a little more research, my friend and I figured out that you can see them pretty much every night at the beach in St. Kilda, which is just 20 minutes away via tram from central Melbourne.

After knocking back a couple drinks at the bars in CBD, we hopped on the tram from Southern Cross Station and made our way to the pier at St. Kilda Beach around 7pm a little after the sun set (we confirmed this time via the weather app).  At first we weren’t sure if they were going to come out, as spring had just started in Australia and it was a bit chilly.  But we saw a large group of people gathered at the pier and sure enough, a group of penguins started to emerge from the rocks!

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Sometimes they are hard to see in the dark, so usually a fluorescent light is shone over them so people can view them from the wooden docks.  Park rangers are present to ensure the penguins’ safety, but sometimes they wander close to people.  One even climbed up to say hello to us (I apologize for the low video quality, as no flash photography was allowed):

I really enjoyed this experience a lot because it wasn’t like going to a zoo–it was a completely natural phenomenon!  Compared to other penguins I’ve seen in other countries, these ones looked a lot tinier.  In addition to Melborune, there are several other places in Australia where you can see penguins frolic on the beach.

St. Kilda also has botanical gardens that I recommend going to during the day!  My friend and I were able to see some sakura blossoms here and along the Yarra River.  Though I thought the weather here was quite cold compared to Tokyo, I am really happy I was able to see the beautiful sakura once again this year!

No matter what time of year you come to Australia, I think you can always find something beautiful to enjoy!