Spending a Sunburned Day at Strata Naha

Last night in Naha, gotta do it big!

After successfully freediving on Aka Island and Zamami Island, I sailed back to Naha via ferry for a final day of adventure in the tropical city before returning to Tokyo. I had already seen most of what I wanted here before, but there were a few new places that I wanted to check out. Namely Umikaji Terrace that is conveniently located near the airport, which contains a number of little shops and restaurants, and also a resort with a pool I had never stayed at before called Strata Naha. Since I was sunburned from not wearing a wetsuit the day before, there wasn’t a lot I could do during the day so I took it leisurely. Consider this a guide of what to do in Naha if you are sunburned, or if you are just looking to take the day easy too! And please check out my Naha Cafe Guide if you are looking for more food recommendations.

Exploring Umikaji Terrace

Umikaji Terrace is a oceanfront hodgepodge of bars, shops, and restaurants with patio and outdoor seating. It is conveniently located near Naha Airport and is a great place to watch the sunset in the city while knocking back a drink. I was impressed with the variety of food and desserts here—they had quite the international selection. I was mainly here to try the drop soda at Gallirallus (see below), but I ended up ordering a avocado salmon toast from a Hawaiian eatery nearby. I ended up killing a lot of time here by watching the ocean from the shade. I loved the bright blue design of the tables outside that matched the color of the sea, not to mention all of the Okinawan décor. One thing that really amused me here was meat taiyaki. I had never seen a taiyaki with a weiner in it before but I guess they think of every food crossover in Okinawa. There was also a really interesting ice bar on one of the terraces that I would really like to check out next time I visit. I look forward to seeing what kind of food trends become popular here!

Address: 〒901-0233 Okinawa, Tomigusuku, Senaga, 174−6

Trying Drop Soda at Gallirallus

Here it is—the main event! One of the things I was most looking forward to trying in Okinawa was the ball drop soda because in all of my time trying aesthetic food, I had never seen anything like it before. You can choose from a variety of fruity flavors for the soda base (I chose strawberry), and also decide if you want a scoop of ice cream in the drink or not. The balls in this soda are very unique because they contain edible flowers and pieces of fruits. I thought the strawberry and pineapple balls were the most delicious and was very pleased with the quality of this drink. Compared to tapioca pearls, these flower and fruit balls just pack so much more flavor. If you get the chance, definitely hit Gallirallus up because I haven’t seen any other shop in the world serve drop soda before. You saw it here first.

Accommodation: Strata Naha

Since I am adventurous and enjoy staying in different types of accommodations, I figured this time I would stay in a new resort with a pool so I could relax before my flight the next morning. I found a centrally located resort called Strata Naha with rooms priced around 7000 yen per night online so I decided to try it out. Compared to where I had stayed before at Aqua Citta, this resort was much quieter and I had the pool to myself even though there were other guests around in the garden area. Since I didn’t feel like socializing much, I really enjoyed the atmosphere here, although I would normally recommend Aqua Citta to my friends because it is slightly cheaper and had a better happy hour deal. However, Strata is better for those who want a more private and mature atmosphere. I enjoy both resorts for different reasons and will definitely be back again!

Recommended Food Spots

I wanted to eat something healthy for dinner after swimming so I looked up vegan restaurants that were open at night and found a really nice one called Rakuen Cafe. Rakuen serves a variety of dishes including rice bowls, vegan taco rice, and green smoothies. I really enjoyed my power bowl because it had star fruit in it that reminds me of the paopu fruit from Kingdom Hearts. I also ordered a side of sweet potato fries here because I had never seen fries so purple! They really tasted better than traditional french fries so I was so happy I tried them. Though I had already tried Blue Seal ice cream on multiple trips, there’s a really huge shop with a bright neon sign at night right down the street from Rakuen so I took a picture of it. If you’ve never tried Blue Seal, you definitely need to once in your life because it’s Okinawa’s pride! The final place I recommend for breakfast is Lestel Cafe, because it has delicious banana and honey bread and indoor disco décor. Honestly I dig the disco breakfastcore vibe here and I think more restaurants should embrace it. Naha restaurants and cafes are unmatched in style when it comes to Japan.

Final Thoughts

Despite the sunburn at the end, this was yet another successful trip where I checked off everything that I had planned on my itinerary. Revisiting old places, traveling to new islands and getting better at freediving, and ending my trip at this beautiful resort just made the experience all the more memorable. I plan on coming back to Okinawa in the fall because I have a sponsor here, and I think next time I will visit Ishigaki and Iriomote so I can continue to practice swimming and diving on different islands. Thank you to everyone that has kept up with my 2022 Okinawa article series, because this article is the final one (for now)!

Before I go to America this summer, I have one final place that I want to write about which is Aomori! Please look forward to my Aomori article series which will be in the works very soon!

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!

Venturing to Nara to see the Tiger Temple (Chogosonshi-ji) and Tsubosakadera

Tsubosakadera during the beginning of sakura season.

Last week I decided to venture to Nara to see various temples during the beginning of its sakura season and also stay in a cottage surrounded by wild deer. Fortunately the deer of Nara are very friendly creatures who love humans—especially if you buy senbei crackers to feed them. I first visited Nara when I was 19 years old during my study abroad trip and remember how vivid the central area was. Though I traveled to Yoshino and stayed at a ryokan 2 years ago while on a motorcycle trip, this was my first time returning to the central city of Nara in quite a long time. Nara is very close to both Kyoto and Osaka and makes the ideal day trip if you are visiting the Kansai region for a few days. I took some time off work so I could do photography here for two days and it was absolutely lovely, minus being lightly headbutted by deer for more crackers!

In this article series I will be highlighting some of the nicest temples in Nara, talking about my experience staying in the deer park, and also my day trip to Kyoto to see its sakura too.

Getting to Nara

The fastest way to get to Nara from Tokyo is to take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Kyoto, then the local Nara line to Nara Station. This trip takes around 3 hours and costs about 15,000 yen one way.

From Nara Station, there are many local buses and train lines you can take to get around the city. I would recommend staying here 2-3 days to see everything. I stayed in Nara for 2 days on this trip.

The Tiger Temple (Chogosonshi-ji)

The first stop on my Nara itinerary was Chogosonshi-ji, aka the Tiger Temple! Since 2022 is the year of the tiger, this temple has gained a lot of popularity. Chogosonshi-ji is south of central Nara but is definitely worth visiting because it has a huge complex of temples, hiking spots, and lots of interesting places to explore. Upon entering the temple grounds you will see the world’s largest paper mache tiger guarding the entrance! There is also a man selling tiger-shaped manjuu that I definitely recommend you try because they are warm and delicious. You can freely explore the temple at your pace, but I recommend walking through the tiger tunnel, visiting the main hall and looking at the good luck charms (I bought a mini tiger), and hiking to the top of the mountain through all of the tori if you have the energy. Be on the lookout for the striped mailbox as well, because it is right next to a beautiful sakura tree. I spent about 2 hours here and was very impressed with what I saw. Like the frog temple I visited last month, I would say this is one of my favorite temples in Japan because it is very interactive and there is a lot you can do here.

Address: 2280-1 Shigisan, Heguri, Ikoma District, Nara 636-0923
Entrance Fee: 300 yen

Tsubosakadera

The next temple on my list was Tsubosakadera, which is south of the Tiger Temple and extremely popular during sakura season because there are so many sakura trees here. Unfortunately the sakura were not in full bloom when I came, but there were enough of them that I felt satisfied with my visit. Tsubosakadera has not only Japanese but also Indian influences, and a number of the statues here were presented by India thanking the temple for helping people suffering from leprosy (source). I enjoyed hiking around the temple and seeing the giant Buddha from different viewpoints. The white architecture of this temple is truly striking and has a beautiful contrast with the bright pink blossoms. There are various halls you can walk through here too. One of them had a large collection of dolls and there were many statues surrounding the outside area. I spent about an hour here and then decided to head back to central Nara because seeing these two temples will take a lot out of your day. Both were highly worth the experience, especially during the spring season.

Address: 635-0102 Nara, Takaichi District, Takatori, 壷阪3
Entrance Fee: 600 yen

Bonus Food from Osaka

Before coming to Nara, I actually stopped in Osaka the night before to meet friends and eat delicious sweets. At Tokyo Station, one of the bento stands was selling sakura themed bento so I ate that on the way there. I loved the pink sticky rice and the mochi they included with it because it was so sweet and delicious! All of the food in the bento went so well together which is why I love trying seasonal ekiben.

Upon arriving to Osaka, I stopped at season & co in Umeda to eat their flowery bear cheesecake parfait. Not only was it extremely aesthetic, but it was also melt in your mouth goodness. The last place I stopped was daily dose coffee at DD House where I got a creamy latte with my name written on it and a matcha ice cream waffle shaped like a tiger! I love Osaka because it has a lot of creative coffee places that Tokyo doesn’t. If you have time then definitely check these places out because the staff does a really good job managing their cafes and making creative menus.

Thank you for reading the first article of my Nara article series. In my next article, I will be detailing my experience with the deer and the lovely place where I stayed for the night. Please look forward to it!

Meeting the Penguins of Shimane Prefecture

It’s time to go back to school!

After a lovely night of eating seafood and drinking luxury cocktails in Kurashiki, it was time to head to the final destination of this backpacking trip: Shimane Prefecture. This was yet another rural prefecture of Japan on my list of places to visit, and I was ecstatic to go to Matsue Vogel Park to see botanical gardens and meet the famous penguins who sometimes wear seasonal outfits. I decided to go in late March because there was a special event where the penguins wear backpacks and waddle around the park at certain times to celebrate the back to school season. It’s much more fun to watch this video demonstration than to have me explain:

Words cannot describe how adorable this scene was. All of us made way for the incoming penguin colony *wearing backpacks* and watched them waddle to the other side of the room. At the end some of them got tired and sat on their bellies which was adorable. In addition to the back to school costumes, they also have special ones for Golden Week! I look forward to seeing what other penguin cosplay they come up with!

In addition to the penguins, there is a huge collection of other rare birds you can view, but I didn’t spend much time here because there were other things I wanted to see in Shimane. I did enjoy the huge flower baskets hanging from the first major greenroom, however. Matsue Vogel Park really has a lot of neat intricate design going for it:

Address: 52 Ogakicho, Matsue, Shimane 690-0263
Entrance Fee: 1050

Getting around Shimane Prefecture

Getting to and around Shimane Prefecture is difficult because it’s extremely rural, so I would highly recommend renting a car. There is limited public transportation available to all of the places mentioned in this article, but you will likely spend hours waiting for infrequent buses and trains. If you only plan on day tripping here like myself, then having a car is a must. However, if you decided to stay overnight then you can likely see all of these places by local train or bus—just be prepared to wait.

I decided to return to Tokyo by plane from the Izumo Airport which cost around 30,000 yen one way, but that is average because JAL has a monopoly on flights here. That may sound like a lot, but I am super close to seeing all prefectures of Japan and decided I will pay whatever it takes to complete my quest. I am very fortunate that my friend offered to drive me for this portion of the trip because it saved me a lot of time in money. The funny thing is, last time I was in Kurashiki, a similar occurrence happened too!

Lunch at a Hippie Cafe

For lunch we decided to go to an organic hippie cafe called Green’s Baby near the castle because it was easy to park there. Since Shimane is mostly farmland, you can expect the vegetables here to be top notch. I ordered a bagna cauda for myself and my friend ordered taco rice because we were hungry. Both tasted amazing, and we got to eat or meals while sitting in hammock chairs too! I would recommend this place to people who are tired of eating the same food and are looking for a new experience.

Address: 204 Tonomachi, Matsue, Shimane 690-0887

Yuushien at Daikon Island

Our next destination was Shimane’s most famous garden called Yuushien, which you can reach by crossing a bridge to Daikon Island. Yuushien has a variety of artistic flower arrangements, seasonal flowers, and Japanese gardens. It is truly serene and clearly reflects the changes of the seasons. My friend and I had a lot of fun stepping on the rocks and hiking up to the waterfall. Daikon Island is pretty rural but this garden gives it a ton of color.

After circling around the garden twice, we decided to treat ourselves to parfaits at the Yuushien Cafe. My friend ordered the signature matcha parfait, and I ordered an anko set that came with hot green tea. Once again, they both exceeded our expectations. Beforehand I had no idea that Shimane’s tea and desserts tasted so delicious, but it makes sense because there are plenty of organic farms here.

Address: 1260-2 Yatsukacho Hanyu, Matsue, Shimane 690-1492
Entrance Fee: 800 yen

Matsue Castle

Before heading to the airport where I would fly back to Tokyo, we stopped at Matsue Castle on the way. This is actually the only remaining castle in the San’in region and is very large with 4 floors and an indoor museum. Surviving many natural disasters, it has kept its wooden structure and not needed a concrete reconstruction. It stands on the shores of Lake Shinji, which is Shimane’s famous lake that spans 30 miles. It was fun to drive alongside the lake and see all the birds that reside in it. Matsue Castle has a great view of the surrounding area so it is the perfect way to start or end a trip!

Address: 1-5 Tonomachi, Matsue, Shimane 690-0887
Entrance Fee: 680 yen

Final Thoughts

It was extremely fulfilling to complete this long four day backpacking trip from Fukuoka to Shimane and see two prefectures I had never seen before. Would I recommend this itinerary to everyone? No, because it went at an extremely fast pace and only focused on places I had never seen before, but I think a lot can be learned from reading about my experience which is why I wanted to share it here. Those who have lived in Japan for a while may be interested in some of the places I have discovered. Some of these places were challenging to go to and required a rental car, but were definitely worth the effort. As of now, I only have three remaining prefectures of Japan to visit which I plan on seeing at the end of this month!

Thank you all to have kept up with my crazy journeys. This is the final article in this series, but I will be publishing my next series on my trip to Nara this month! Please look forward to reading about my experience staying in a cottage in the woods with hungry deer looming outside.

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!