After my recent encounter with Totoro in Miyazaki Prefecture, I just can’t seem to escape the Ghibli universe! But hey, I’m not complaining at all. Just recently a new Ghibli-themed cafe called Osu no Mori Cafe Kodama (大須の森カフェ コダマ) opened in the bustling Osu Kannon district of Aichi Prefecture. This place was recommended to me through my Instagram algorithms since I am an aesthetic food enthusiast. It’s still relatively unknown because it’s tucked away on the 4th floor of a building next to a trading card game store making it easy to pass by. The first time we tried to come here it was sadly closed for obon holiday. However, this time we were luckily able to enter and relive the nostalgia of these films once again while feasting on delicious food.
Because we had gone to the Higashiyama Zoo right before, we were just as hungry as these characters when we first walked in…
Immediately we were treated with outstanding service as the waiter gave us complimentary konpeito (star-shaped candy) and fans with Ghibli patterns to borrow so we could cool down from the vicious heat. We already felt at home here.
Onto the main event: The Food. Each dish is priced around 800 – 1200 yen and themed drinks are around 600 yen. Soft drinks and alcohol is also available for a relatively cheap price. We couldn’t believe how well-prepared everything was here:
“Sorry to eat your hat, Mei-chan…” – Me
“I hope your bacon burns.” – Howl’s Moving Castle
“Hold your [drink], commoner. You are in the presence of the king of Laputa.”
– Castle in the Sky
I appreciated all of the careful detail put into these menu items—they are truly one of a kind. I loved the cheese ribbon on my omurice and how they customized my order to be vegetarian. My boyfriend loved his super thicc bacon and how much the eggs resembled those from Howl’s Moving Castle. The drink I ordered was Laputa-themed and had a glowing ice cube that activated when you poured the mixer into the glass. How cool is that? Every menu item had some kind of figure or plush doll laying around so that you could associate it with what you were eating. Though the cafe is small in size, I’ve never seen any place so intricately decorated. This is an experience like nowhere else around here.
Here are a few more shots of the cafe. There are framed pictures, books, a little fireplace where Calcifer sits, and motifs everywhere you look. Additionally, Totoro requests that you sanitize your hands before entering!
In addition to what we ordered, there are also pancakes with a small cat print that resemble Jiji from Kiki’s Delivery service. There are also a ton of themed drinks based on the films that you can choose from. I would really like to order a bunch when I come back so I can experience them all!
Is it worth it?
Although I’ve had a number of wonderful dining experiences in Nagoya, this was by far one of the best themed cafes that I have ever been to. The service was top tier and the portion sizes were extremely generous for the price. Unlike the official cafe at the Ghibli Museum, Kodama has more creative dishes that resemble actual food from the movies. The interior design really brought the scenes to life as there were plush dolls and figures from every film surrounding you. The soundtracks from the movies playing softly overhead also brought back a lot of memories. I hope to see them expand their menu in the future to add some things from Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Porco Rosso! Overall it was completely worth the money we spent. My only real criticism is that they didn’t have many desserts (only pancakes and a cake that resembles a potted plant), but hopefully that will change with time.
Nested in the mountains of Miyazaki, Takachiho Gorge has been a dream destination of mine for quite a long time now. I wanted to go here when I first visited Miyazaki in 2018, but I sadly didn’t have enough time as it requires a 3 hour one-way journey. However, last weekend I finally achieved my goal of traveling here and the trip was completely worth it! I did a combination of hiking and row boating through the gorge as well as stay in a traditional ryokan nearby. There are also shrines and waterfalls you can see around the area. From pictures Takachiho Gorge looks quite large, but it actually can be seen in 2 – 3 hours. I will be writing a handy guide for those who are curious about how I solo-traveled here.
Getting to Takachiho
Reaching Takachiho’s bus center from Miyazaki Station takes 2.5 – 3.5 hours depending on when you leave. Please keep in mind that some buses only run on weekends and you should try to leave between 7am – 9am if you want to maximize your time here.
I woke up around 6:30am and took the Sonic-Nichirin Limited Express to Nobeoka Station, then took the highway bus that heads towards Kumamoto to reach Miyakoh Bus Station in Takachiho. This costs between 3000 yen – 5000 yen, but they sell 1000 yen bus tickets at the bus center that will save you a lot of money.
There are a few cheaper routes that combine different buses, but I am pretty sure this route runs every day so I would recommend it to people. Especially since it combines a train and bus ride so overall you will save time and be comfortable.
Before heading down to the gorge, you’ll probably want to grab some food! There are a few vending machines and souvenir stores near the entrance, but there are far more options in the heart of the town. Fortunately you will pass through this area on your way there. My top recommendation is Cafe Terrace Takachihoya because they have a long and established reputation here. I ordered vegan keema curry rice with an egg for lunch and their famous tea macchiato topped with whipped cream and a signature cookie for dessert. This was probably the best meal that I had in Miyazaki because it was really filling! They also have curry, pancakes, sandwiches, and smoothies on their menu. If I come back here, I would like to try more!
Exploring Takachiho Gorge
From the bus station, Takachiho Gorge is a 24 min walk or 10 min cab ride. I chose to walk because I wanted to explore the town first. On your way to the gorge you will walk by Takachiho Shrine that is partly obscured by the forest. It fortunately only takes a short hike to reach the alter. I loved the way the sun reflected off the roof when I arrived:
After a few more minutes of walking, you will be able to make out the row boats sailing down the mouth of the gorge and that’s when you’ll know you’ve arrived!
The best thing about Takachiho Gorge is it’s completely free to explore—the only things that cost money are the aquarium (spelled “aqurum”) and row boat rentals. The row boat rentals are 3000 yen but are usually cheaper if you have people with you (see prices). I highly recommend taking the row boats out because they give you a unique view of the gorge that you can’t see from above. This was my first time ever solo row boating, but I am proud to say that I only crashed twice! At least I didn’t fall into the water!
I would recommend queuing for a row boat as soon as possible because they often have a 50 min wait time due to their popularity. While you are killing time, you can explore the hiking trails around the gorge to make the most out of your trip. You can also sit at the rest area or visit the aquarium. Once it’s time to board your boat, the staff will give you a life belt and instruct you on how to row. It’s pretty straightforward and impossible to get lost because the route is clearly marked. Going from one side to the other usually takes 30-45 mins depending on your rowing ability (I was a bit slower because I was also taking pictures). There are cute ducks that will fearlessly paddle alongside you. I enjoyed having them as company! After around 3 hours, I was satisfied with what I had seen here and made my way back to the town. I grabbed some chocolate shaved ice and called it a day. It was fun seeing the aesthetic of Takachiho, though!
In addition to the gorge, you may be interested in the Ameterasu Railway. You can ride past canyons and also see some illuminations on a classic train. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to go as it closes quite early, but if you have extra time in the morning it might be something worth checking out.
Where to Stay
If you wake up early enough, you can explore the gorge and head back to Miyazaki City just in time. However, that would involve roughly 6 hours of riding a combination of buses and trains so I wouldn’t recommend it. I planned on flying back to Tokyo the following afternoon so I stayed at Ryokan Yamatoya for the night. That way I could be comfortable and leave early in the morning. This ryokan is only 5000 yen per night and is right in the heart of the city so it was the perfect fit for me. It also has a public bath, but unfortunately it was closed due to the pandemic. That didn’t stop me from taking a hot bath in my huge room, however! I also made some green tea and relaxed in the yukata they provided. Relaxion and reflection. Another trip itinerary down with 100% completion!!
The next day I took the same route back to Miyazaki Airport and flew back to Tokyo. I was lucky that the bus center is within walking distance from my hotel. Despite the pandemic, most of the domestic flights were on time and handled with proper care. I felt safe the entire time that I was here. Would I do this again? Hell yeah!! But I just got a new job offer so I will be working full time again! That won’t stop me from continuing to write these articles, however!!
I am currently planning weekend trips to Nagoya and Kamikochi so I will have more content up later this month. Thank you all for reading and I hope we can travel more soon.
Since I couldn’t travel to the Philippines, Indonesia, or New Zealand this summer, I decided to take a trip to Kyushu Island—also known as the tropics of Japan. I’ve been to Kyushu around 6 times (most notably for my Yakushima Birthday Adventure), but this time my goal was to explore hard-to-reach destinations in Miyazaki Prefecture. Kyushu is most famous for Fukuoka and Okinawa, but Miyazaki is just as beautiful as those places and has some extremely rare gems like Takachiho Gorge. Surprisingly some Japanese people don’t even know about Takachiho because it’s so remote. If you like swimming and outdoor adventures, then Miyazaki is the place for you!
My plan was stay for 4 days and travel to the following destinations:
Narita Airport (Tokyo) ⇛ Miyazaki Airport (Kyushu) ⇛ Aoshima Island ⇛ Takaharu City (for Totoro Bus Stop) ⇛ Aoshima Island (for rest) ⇛ Takachiho Gorge ↺ Tokyo
I previously went to Miyazaki in 2018 and paid nearly 50000 yen for my plane ticket because I was traveling during a holiday. This is sadly the average price of non-discount airlines and is more expensive than international travel to surrounding Asian countries. However, this time I only paid 12000 yen through combining one-way Jetstar and Peach Aviation flights. A huge difference! I will admit that I was a bit nervous traveling here during the pandemic, but this is one of my last summer vacations before I start working full time again. Both airlines took great lengths to ensure our safety and enforced social distancing more than the trains in the city so I was grateful. Kyushu can also be reached by train, but it takes 6-9 hours by shinkansen and is usually more expensive than airfare. I recommend flying to save time and also to feel more comfortable.
I boarded my plane mid-afternoon at Narita Airport and had a smooth 2 hour flight directly to Miyazaki Airport. All I brought with me was my Totoro purse and backpack so check-in was no problem. Once I arrived, I could already feel the ocean breeze from outside so I instantly felt relaxed. There is a cheap bus that runs from the airport to Aoshima Beach, but since I was chasing sunsets I hailed a taxi there. I arrived just in time to watch the sun set and get some swimming in. I also pounded down 2 glasses of wine while wearing a fake Gucci shirt I bought in Osaka. It felt great to be back again!
Aoshima is a fantastic beach because it’s connected to a tiny island by a bridge you can walk over. On the island you will find a shrine, some unique rock formations called the Devil’s Washboard, random bars, and infinite palm trees. You can see the whole island in 15 mins or less but I decided to go swimming here even after the main beach had closed. After it started getting dark, I decided to walk back and relax at Aoshima Park. This area has a variety of restaurants and bars and usually stays open until 8pm-10pm depending on the day. There is a free alkaline shower you can use here as well!
For dinner, I decided to try the famous Aoshima Crab Bowl for 3000 yen. It came with a whole rainbow of sashimi with it too:
10/10. After feeling fulfilled, I decided to head back to my guest house and get some sleep. I was venturing all the way to the legendary Totoro Bus Stop the next day, after all. The party had just begun.
Where to Stay
The two best options for backpackers to stay at in Aoshima are Hooju Guest House and Fisherman’s Beach Side Hostel. Both are 2100 yen per night and are located right on the beach. They are extremely simple and have limited amenities, but are perfect for those who are planning on doing outdoor activities for most of their stay. I felt extremely welcome during my time here and the other people in my dorm were respectful. There is also bike rental available which saved me a lot of time!
As far as onsen go, I recommend the day hot spring at Grantia Hotel in Aoshima. It has an indoor and outdoor onsen, sauna, and only costs 850 yen to enter. A perfect way to unwind after the beach!
Alternatively you could stay near Miyazaki Station if you are planning to visit other cities in Kyushu. Aoshima is about a 45min bus ride away from the city center so you won’t be on the beach, but you will be close to it. No matter which location you choose, there’s a lot to see and do!
One thing I loved about Miyzaki Airport is that all of the clocks resemble smiling suns. The polar opposite of the Majora’s Mask Moon! Miyazaki Airport is one of the happiest airports that you’ll visit. The only thing that comes close is the Koh Samui Airport in Thailand with its beautiful outdoor garden.
When I first visited Miyazaki in 2018, I stayed with two of my friends in their town house near Miyazaki Station. This was very convenient for taking transportation and I got to know so much of the city thanks to their guidance. While I was out running, I remember passing by this stunning pink house in their neighborhood. The bright color and gorgeous design of the windows were extremely eye-catching. Plus it looked extremely spacious. That got me thinking… If I ever get over my “party every weekend” phase, I might enjoy living in a house like this near the beach. It’s really hard to predict the future at this point because Tokyo has the most financial opportunities for me, but it’s fun to fantasize about. Where is your dream house?
Thank you for reading the first article of my Miyazaki Series! I will be talking about visiting the famous Totoro Bus Stop in my next article. Please stay tuned for more.
After finally making it past the rain to our lovely ryokan in Yoshinoyama, we decided to spend the final day of our great bike trip leisurely exploring its hiking trails before heading back to Tokyo. The summit of Mt. Yoshino is quite easy to reach from the hotel area, only taking around 20 mins of climbing. From here you can get a great view of Nara and there are a number of old shrines you can visit too. Obviously the best time of year to visit is during spring when the sakura trees are in bloom, but coming during summer was probably the second best choice. Staying here made me feel refreshed and closer with nature. I never would have known about this place have it not been for my driver! With a positive attitude, we set off to the summit to begin the last day of our grand adventure…
The 4th day began on August 4th at 7:00am. I woke up at 6:30 to go for a run around the mountain paths of Yoshinoyama and also wander through the garden in the backyard of our ryokan. Our original plan was to depart early explore places around Takayama, but since I already did a pilgrimage to the town from Your Name, I wanted to see more of the mountains of Nara. I have actually only been to Nara during my study abroad trip to Japan in 2013. Seeing the rare areas by motorbike was a grand opportunity I didn’t want to pass up. We planned to return to Tokyo at dusk and I was to ride the shinkansen home from Nagoya so my driver’s load would be lighter on the busiest highways.
Our updated map travel map looked like this (of course we were stopping at many places in between the 3 hour ride):
Chikurin-in Gumpeon Road
One reason I’m happy we took our time at our ryokan is because there’s so much to see around it! Additionally our reservation included a hearty breakfast that consisted of fish, salad, vegetables, egg, rice, tea and water mochi for dessert. This set was so filling and delicious:
After checking out, we strolled down the road to the summit. Along the way we saw a restaurant with a Shiba Inu, a workshop labeled “Mad Garage”, and a shrine guarded by tengu statues called Sakuramotobou. This street is extremely narrow but has a lot of interesting things to see. Due to the pandemic some stores were closing early, but everyone here was friendly and did their best to make us feel welcome.
The main shrine of Yoshinoyama is called Yoshino Jingu and is located to the north of the hotel area, but there are dozens of others that you can see on the way. Some of my favorites were Kinpusenji due to its old wooden architecture, and the smaller inner shrines of the because they had variety in their design. What I liked most about Yoshino Jingu was it was adorned with wind chimes during this time of year:
After walking around for a while and soaking up the atmosphere, we decided to pay to have our fortune told… but there was only one fortune remaining! So we did what two responsible adults would do and shared it. And in return the fortune rewarded us with the best luck possible! I really hope this helps me with future trips and job interviews!!
Here is a video we took of the wind chimes dancing in the breeze. Up in the mountains there are few other noises to drown them out so their sound resonates beautifully:
When we reached the summit of Mt. Yoshino I had my first encounter with a Japanese Murder Hornet. I could guess what it was immediately due to its immense size. My driver confirmed my suspicions and told me to stand still and act as naturally as possible. Their behavior is quite similar to that of normal bees so it’s best to not run from them as that will make them more defensive. Fortunately these creatures are not vehement and even then it’s hard to die unless you’re stung by a group of them. I managed to take one super-zoomed in photo to commemorate my survival:
After we saw the shrines and took pictures at the summit, we road back towards Tokyo while stopping at some viewpoints in the hills along the way.
While riding through Nara, we decided to take a pit-stop and try the famous blueberry ice cream made with Hokkaido Milk here. I was not expecting that much, but the taste was actually creamy and delicious. Plus seeing the deer/human mascot of this area was hilarious! My driver thought it was an atrocity though.
Since the Soni Highlands were on our way back, we decided to ride up the plateau and see the pampas grass. Though there wasn’t much to see at the top, the breeze sure did feel nice. If we would have had more time and preparation, I would have loved to have a picnic here!
The Sonikogenonsen Okame Hot Spring is conveniently located next to the highlands, so we stopped there on our way back. Due to being in the hills this onsen is extremely sunny. What I liked the most is that there were straw hats in the outdoor onsen area you could wear to keep the sun out of your face. The entrance fee is only 750 yen so it’s a good deal.
Feeling completely satisfied by this enthralling experience, I was finally ready to head home. We drove from Nara to Nagoya where my driver dropped me off on the Meitetsu Line so I could take the shinkansen back to Tokyo. Since I was sunburned and feeling quite tired, I could sleep off the exhaustion versus ride back on the highway. This also gave me some time to reflect on trip and made the baggage on the bike lighter (I carried my helmet and clothes back with me) so it was a smart move. We had succeeded in the great bike trip. I’ll never forget this feeling for the rest of my life!
Day 4 Itinerary: 80% Completion
Though our original plan changed when we reached Yoshinoyama because decided to explore the mountains more, I’m happy things turned out this way. Our ryokan stay would have been rushed if we drove to another prefecture so quickly and we would have missed out on the breakfast and lovely hikes that we took. After getting to know the area of Yoshinoyama, I would really like to come back here during sakura season and see how beautiful it is! This day was definitely slower-paced compared to the rest, but the hikes gave me a good workout. 4 days of biking was the perfect amount and I was lucky to be accompanied with such an experienced driver. If you ever have the chance to go motorbiking through Japan (both as a driver or passenger) please do it! It will open up a whole new world and take you to places that you can’t reach by public transportation. Many people have been road tripping and camping during the pandemic to avoid public places and it is a much safer way to travel.
My sponsor and I both agreed that this trip went extremely well and we would like to plan more in the future. Though we both normally travel solo, we learned a lot of new things through one another and agreed the trip was more fun together. For example, they enjoyed guiding me through ancient places like Koyasan and I was grateful for their history lecture and taste in ryokan. The only con was they don’t nearly enjoy the beach as much as I do, and I don’t like to camp when rain is forecasted. Fortunately we were able to compromise on these things and got along quite well. That is a vital skill we need to learn to live a happy life.
Some of our potential destinations this year include camping sites in Nagano and Shikoku. We would also like to travel around Tohoku because I haven’t explored much of it yet. Our departure date will depend on my work schedule, but I am doing my best to balance work and play!
Please look forward to future road trip articles from me or share your own experience in the comments~
Having survived the harsh sun and rain of the first two days, we next set off for our motorbike adventure deep in the mountains of Nara Prefecture! On the way there we decided to stop at the famous cemetery in Koyasan and also make our way to some viewpoints so we could experiment with skyline photography. I had a lot of fun testing out the Canon EOS M I was lent for this trip and it turned out to be quite the relaxing day. Though some of the parts of the mountain were steep, they were overall smooth and easy to ride on. The main motivation for riding here was the luxury ryokan awaiting us upon completion of this trail. This trip was going by so fast that I couldn’t believe it was halfway over…
The 3rd day began on August 3rd at 6:30am. I took one last dip in the river onsen before we departed because it was the perfect way to start the day. We definitely got our money’s worth at Kawayu Ryokan! Our original plan was to go to Awaji Island on this day but due to the rain our itinerary changed. Tonight our final destination was a ryokan designed by a famous architect in the mountains of Nara (Yoshinoyama) which took approximately 4 hours to reach (with breaks included). We decided to spend more time in Wakayama and see some extremely rare sites that are only accessible by vehicle while making our way through the deep mountain paths.
Our updated map travel map looked like this:
Mt. Tamaki & Tamakijinja Shrine
Our first destination was a viewpoint on Mt. Tamaki that was approximately 45 mins away from Kawayu Onsen. It conveniently had a free parking lot for motorbikes since it’s located next to Tamakijinja Shrine. The sun had already rose so we stood here and took pictures of the clouds cascading over the mountains. The cedar trees in the forest were beautiful too! They brought back fond memories that I had hiking through Yakushima. How nostalgic.
We next walked 15 minutes to the World Heritage Site of Tamakijinja Shrine. The area was partially shaded by foliage so it was an easy hike. The morning breeze felt lovely too.
Tamakijinja Shrine is small in size but is located in one of the most beautiful areas of the mountain. The cedar trees that surround it are estimated to be about 3000 years old. If you ever get the chance to visit this area of Nara, I highly recommend this forest! I would have never even known about it if it wasn’t for my experienced driver.
Tanize Suspension Bridge
Tanize Suspension Bridge is located near Mt. Tamaki and is one of the longest suspension bridges in Japan. It connects the villages of Uenochi and Tanize and has a gorgeous pale blue river underneath it. My driver thought I would appreciate the photo op so we stopped here to take a break. The bridge was extremely stable and safe to walk across. I didn’t get much of a thrill from it but I did love looking at the river below. The construction that went into this is quite impressive.
Other than the bridge, there’s really not a lot to do here. But I did try some strange-looking sushi wrapped in cabbage because that’s apparently the specialty here. It was vegetarian-friendly and quite healthy. The taste was a bit different than what I was used to but it gave me the energy I needed to power through the rest of this day:
Our next stop was Koyasan (also known as Mt. Koya), which is a quaint little town in Nara filled with temples and one of Japan’s most famous cemeteries: Okunoin. The mausoleum here is where is where Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, lies in eternal meditation. He is one of the most prominent figures in religious history making this area a sacred pilgrimage site. In addition to him, many monks and feudal lords have been buried here. You’ll also find some interesting looking tombstones dedicated to animals and science figures. There are numerous bridges that you can cross to reach the mausoleum which make the journey interesting. I also noticed that the leaves on the trees here were already turning red even though August had just began!
This is a place that I would not normally choose to go by myself because I am not religious or that well-versed in history, but my driver guided me through it which made the experience a lot more enriching. A curious thing that I noticed here was that many statues were wearing red bibs. I asked my driver why, and he didn’t know off the top of his head so we both researched it while we were resting.
According to Tadaima Japan, these statues are called Jizo and have two main roles:
“Their main role is to protect children. They also protect the souls of children who passed away and unborn babies. […] The other main role of Jizo is to protect the travelers, which is why you will often find Jizo statues on the side of the roads.”
I’ve seen these statues before in other areas of Japan, but I never understood the true symbolism until now. It makes sense that parents would want to wish a safe journey to their children in the afterlife by praying to Jizo. I’ve also encountered some in my mountain hikes and am glad that they are watching over me. Koyasan is a really great place to learn more about these kinds of subjects if you are interested.
After cooling off at the rest center here, we took a 2 hour ride towards Yoshinoyama to reach our final destination for the day:
Chikurin-in Gumpeon Ryokan
Our final destination was the famous Chikurin-in Gumpeon ryokan in Yoshinoyama. This ryokan was originally a temple that housed high-ranking monks who appraised the mountain. The former Emperor of Japan, Hirohito, has even stayed here! Now it servers as a famous hotspring resort that is open to the public but much of the original architecture has been preserved. A famous ikebana artist designed the garden outside and you can tell that a lot of articulate work was put into the aesthetic here. Due to the pandemic, there was only one other guest staying at the time so we got upgraded to a family room for free. That is literally the best hospitality we could have asked for. It really was an honor staying here!
Here is a video tour of our upgraded family room. This is hands-down the most fancy resort that I have every stayed at and I am eternally grateful to my sponsor for the trip:
Since the sun was going down and we were starving, we grabbed a healthy meal from a restaurant across the street. The roads of Yoshinoyama are extremely narrow but you can easily find food and drinks near wherever you are staying. Just be careful because some places close around 6pm. This area designed for relaxing at your hotspring and is remote from the city so I recommend staying here overnight. You will thank yourself later.
This was a seasonal food set that consisted of vegetables, soup, tofu, salad, tempura and rice. It was so healthy and delicious. You can find a lot of these meals in Yoshinoyama!
At this point we were exhausted and headed off to bed in our family-size ryokan, but I will be writing more about this area in my next and final article of this series!
Day 3 Itinerary: 80% Completion
It’s hard to score our completion due to us completely skipping over Awaji Island, but in hindsight I’m happy we did. This was a full day that was packed with activity so I give us another 80%. This gave us more time to explore the mountains of Nara and area around our famed ryokan. Had we gone to Awaji, we would have missed out on seeing the shrines and learning about the history of Koyasan. The best thing is that we agreed to go to Awaji on another trip over dinner so we wouldn’t be rushed with our activities. That is the perfect compromise!
I will be writing my final article tomorrow as soon as I wake up. Thank you to everyone that has been reading and supporting me! There are many more adventures to come.
After a peaceful night of camping at the gorgeous Mihama Beach in Mie, we next planned to make our way to some remote World Heritage sites in Wakayama Prefecture. I had never traveled there before, so I was lucky that my driver was well-acquainted with the area. If you ever travel to Wakayama, I recommend skipping the city and heading straight for Nachi Falls. It’s one of the most beautiful waterfalls that I have seen in Japan aside from those in Yakushima and has a bright red pagoda you can climb. Honestly you could spend the whole day wandering through the forests here, but we decided to divide our time between shrines and hotsprings!
The 2nd day began on August 2nd at 4:30am. We packed up our campsite at Mihama Beach and decided to choose Nachi Falls as our first destination because it was where I wanted to do photography the most. We had booked a ryokan in Yoshinoyama for the night which was roughly 5 hours away from our starting point (with breaks in between). However, we figured that there was a ton of places we could stop at on the way so we wouldn’t get tired. Unfortunately due to heavy rain we had to take refuge at a river onsen and spend the night there, but we still visited 4/5 of our planned destinations so I was happy with what we accomplished.
Our updated map travel map looked like this. Fortunately we had already arrived in Wakayama and seen everything we wanted before it rained:
Nachi Falls is the tallest waterfall in Japan that falls vertically. It also has lovely surrounding scenery and a series of Shinto shrines you can visit. The forest has a mythical feel to it as there are trees, bamboo, and all sorts of plants growing in it. If you look at Wakayama travel websites, the red pagoda is the image that is featured the most! That is why I had to come here and see if it was worth the hype. As most places I put a lot of time and research into, I enjoyed seeing it to its full extent:
Nachi Falls is so huge that you can see it as soon as you enter the World Heritage site. The first viewpoint is marked with a yellow tori and only takes a few minutes to reach. However, the best viewpoints are a little further out. The red three-storied pagoda takes about a 15 minute hike to reach, but you can borrow a walking stick for free to help you climb the stairs (mine looked like a bamboo stick).
This area is completely free to see, but the pagoda costs 300 yen to enter. The top floor is fenced but has a hole where you can clearly view the waterfall and feel a nice breeze. You will also receive a piece of paper with a brief history of how it was constructed. If you climb up the hill next to the pagoda, then you can take the iconic shot of it next the waterfall. Pure aesthetics, baby!
While Mihama Beach was my favorite destination, this was likely my 2nd favorite. Nachi Falls is much more pretty than anything that surrounds the major cities in Japan. Only temples in Kyoto can compare to it, but there are far less people here in Wakayama!
Kumano Sanzan is another one of the most popular World Heritage sites in Wakayama which consist of a series of shrines. There are tons of Kumano Shrines located throughout Japan, but the three in Wakayama are said to be the originals, or the “headquarters” as my sponsor calls it. The three Kumano Shrines (called Kumano Sanzan) are: Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine, Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine (by the waterfall we visited), and Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine.
Since we had already seen the one by Nachi Falls, we decided to travel to the other two by bike. Fortunately they only take 15-30 mins and a simple hike to reach. Kumano Sanzan is actually my sponsor’s favorite series of shrines so that is why it was high on our list of places to go. He even has a custom sticker of the Kumano’s bird mascot on our bike (which I had hilariously left my swimsuit out to dry on)!
The pilgrimage to Kumano Sanzan is extremely relaxing and there is fortunately a lot of shade. I can see why it is one of the most sought-out journeys in Japan. If you only have time to see one of them, definitely go to the Grand Shrine in Nachi Falls!
We stopped for a quick bite to eat at Cafe Alma at the base of the last shrine. I couldn’t helped but laugh because “Alma” is actually the name of my obscure home town…
Since we were making perfect time, we decided to ride for 30 mins and stop at a small hotsprings town in the mountains called Yunomine Onsen. It looks big from the first picture I took, but it’s actually quite small. It’s comparable to the onsen you’d find in Takasaki or Gifu but still has a lot of unique charm. Yunomine has a few public baths but mostly consists of private ryokans. It’s perfect for travelers to stop at for a quick break, however. After some debate, we decided to try the medicine bath with sulfur water from the natural hotspring. It’s extremely hot but it’s supposed to relax and heal your muscles. I lucked out and had a private bath completely to myself for a while!
I spent about an hour in the bath house, and when I got out my driver had bought some eggs for us to boil in the hot water that was flowing through the town. The eggs tasted absolutely delicious! Hotspring-boiled food is one of the most unique dining experiences in Japan.
Then the rain hit…
We packed up all of our things and were about to take off when suddenly it started downpouring. We debated about heading out because we had proper rain gear packed, but since we planned on driving deep into the mountains it wasn’t safe. My sponsor called the ryokan he had booked and was able to change the reservation to the following day, but we were temporarily at a loss of what to do.
We tried to make a reservation at a guest ryokan in Yunomine, but unfortunately they were on holiday. The others were extremely expensive. My phone was dying and I was starving. The rain started to subside where we were at after 45 mins, but it was predicted to fall heavy in our next destination. I suggested that we get a hotel so we would be safe for the night versus camping. Luckily my sponsor was able to find a cheap ryokan near Kawayu Onsen that was just 10 mins away by bike. This was our lucky break.
Though our plans were delayed, bathing at this river onsen actually turned out to be one of the most fun experiences on this trip and made up for the rain:
When we reached Kawayu Onsen, the rain had completely stopped and the town was enveloped in a beautiful white mist. I liked the aura of this place already. We stayed at Sansuikan Kawayu Matsuya for 7500 yen a night (fortunately paid for by my sponsor) and had a spacious ryokan room. We ate some cheap Chinese food that was nearby and decided to go for another bath (because that was really all there was to do). This onsen was ingeniously laid out because the hot bath was surrounded by thick rocks, but you could climb down and swim into the river the cool off. At one point at I got relaxed that I laid down on my back and almost floated away… Just kidding! The river is too shallow to do that but it does get deeper of you enter it from outside the hot spring entrance. My body felt absolutely amazing after this bath and I was ready to take on the next day!
Day 2 Itinerary: 80% Completion
Though the rain delayed us from reaching our final destination, we were still able to go to 4/5 places so it was overall a successful day. By this point I had completely gotten used to riding on the motorbike and fortunately the hotspring visits restored my HP. These onsen villages are extremely hard to reach by public transportation, so yet again I had gotten another rare opportunity to see more of rural Japan. I have many fond memories here in Wakayama and am actually thankful that the rain led us on this path. If we would have skipped Yunomine and left earlier, we could be stranded on the highway or forest. Perhaps the gods of Kumano were really looking out for us…
Thanks to all of my crazy adventures around Asia and the 200+ articles I’ve published here on Resurface to Reality, I finally got an offer for a sponsored motorbike trip around the Kansai region of Japan (meaning all expenses were covered). The trip lasted for a span of 4 days and we road to many places including shrines, beaches, and mountain paths that are impossible to access by car or other vehicles. Granted I wasn’t the one driving due to not possessing a full Japanese driver’s license, but I was in charge of doing photography and video as well as preparing our camp. Even though I rode on the back of the bike it was still one of the most thrilling and exciting experiences of my life. I loved the feel of the wind in my hair and the clear view of the mountainous landscape and rivers as opposed to looking at them through a foggy train window. Yeah, this is the life!
About the Bike
The bike model we rode on was a BMW F900XR that had extremely powerful capabilities. It can carry a lot of weight and has high long distance performance. I rode with an experienced driver who I had previously met before and trusted. They also were a fan of Ghost in the Shell and loved obscure places in Japan so naturally we got along well. Usually we both prefer traveling alone, but for the sake of trying something new we agreed to go on this trip together. It was amazing to have such an experienced guide with me so I could learn more about the history of the places that we were visiting. If for whatever reason our itinerary failed (which fortunately it did not), I had the option to return home via train. That’s one of the best parts of living in Japan━for the most part the road and train system is impeccable.
What’s that about a Sponsorship?
I want to iterate that there’s really no big secret to getting sponsored. This opportunity was presented to me without me seeking it. I’m just extremely passionate about travel and am always sharing my experiences with others (on this website and in real life; drunkenly at bars too). I prefer to waste no time and have no hesitations when I travel somewhere new. Naturally that draws me to other people who have similar interests. If you are interested in travel and have the time, then I encourage you to go for it and keep a detailed log of your journeys. You will thank yourself later and also have stories for ages. I am lucky that my sponsor offered me the option to go on future trips like this because I took the chance and succeeded!
The 4 day journey began on August 1st and I departed Tokyo at 6am. We had practiced riding on highways in Tokyo a few times and I was pretty comfortable with the feeling of it. However, I decided to ride the shinkansen to Nagoya Station and meet my driver at Kinjofuto Harbor so we could ensure a smoother trip. Morning traffic on the highways can be a bit rough so this way the load would be lighter and my driver wouldn’t have to take as many breaks. Kinjofuto Harbor is hilariously located next to Lego Land (which I visited exactly 3 years ago), and has easy access to the country roads. We met up around 9:30am (exactly as planned), I put on my helmet and gear, and then we rode to our first destination: Ise Shrine. This trip took approximately 3 hours with breaks in between.
Ise Shrine: Home of Amaterasu
Ise Shrine, known as “Japan’s most sacred shrine” actually consists of two shrines: The Inner & Outer Shrine. These shrines were built over 2000 years ago and are said to house the Goddess of the Sun, Amaterasu. If you’ve played the Shin Megami Tensei series, you already know that this goddess is a big deal. The outer shrine is easy to access and has areas were you can pray and buy good luck charms. I bought a pink one that looks like a magatama for hopes of safe travel. As you walk further into the forested area, you will come across a large wooden bridge that will lead you to the inner shrine. Photography is strictly prohibited here, but you can take photos from the bottom of the stairs. Reaching the inner shrine is like reaching the origin of Japan. This sanctuary is built out of sacred wood and is a cherished relic of this country. I would highly recommend coming here if you ever get the chance because I definitely felt enlightened here. For Japanese people and believers of the Shinto Gods, this is the holy ground.
After visiting Japan’s most sacred shrine, we walked through the old-school street reminiscent to ancient times called Okage Yokocho. Here you can get your fortune told (I got moderate luck), buy all sorts of souvenirs, and try some delicious seafood! The oyster on a stick coated with soy sauce I tried was amazing. There were also cute stray cats basking in the sunlight and wind chimes adorned on some of the buildings. Though it was somewhat touristy, if definitely had an atmosphere of its own.
For lunch I had an amazing seafood ricebowl from the very first restaurant we walked passed because I was starving. You kind find udon, unagi, and sushi places all over this street but this was my all time favorite. You can’t beat the freshness of this shrimp:
After eating we rode for around 40 minutes and drove up a large hill to see Iseshima Skyline. You can only access this viewpoint by vehicle because the incline is quite steep and the road is around 16km. I have a video of us driving here that I will upload when I finish editing. This skyline is famous because on a clear day you can even see Mt. Fuji! I am happy that I traveled here by bike so I could experience it. My video doesn’t do it justice.
Camping on Mihama Beach
Mihama Beach was hands down my favorite part of the trip! We rode about 2.5 hours to reach here and arrived right before sunset so I could go swimming and do photography. The sunset was breathtaking and looked like something you’d see in Southeast Asia. Not to mention the beach was so remote that hardly anyone was there—just the way I like it. The people I did run into were very friendly and asked me where I was from and the usual. I wish I would have talked to them more but I was so focused on the aesthetics that it was hard for me to do anything but swim and frolic on the beach. I was supposed to go the the Philippines and Bali this year, but due to the pandemic my trips were cancelled. Mihama Beach is likely the closest I will get to being in a tropical paradise this year so I will forever travel my experience here.
My driver set up camp while I was swimming (that was super nice of them). It was a simple tent that fit two sleeping bags. I was pretty exhausted by that point, so I fell asleep immediately and barely remember “camping”. However, our campsite was gorgeous because it was right in front of the beach. I’m happy that this could be my first camping experience in Japan.
Day 1 Itinerary: 100% Completion
Though this was my first full day riding a motorbike and it was pretty intense, we successfully went to every destination we planned. The rainy season had just ended and it was extremely humid, but other than that it was a perfect ride. My legs were a bit sore from riding but I got a lot of exercise in so I was fine. I am so grateful for all the rare things I was able to see. The next few days had their itineraries slightly altered due to rain, but the setback led us to see other amazing things. Please stay tuned for the next 3 days!
After exploring the Kaiyukan Aquarium and meeting a fire bender on our first day in Osaka, we decided to take our second day at a more leisurely pace. Or so we thought. Despite all the drinking we did the night before, we surprisingly weren’t hungover so it was somewhat of a miracle. Craving Mediterranean and Halal food, I found a Michelen Star restaurant called Ali’s Kitchen right near our hotel. They have a large assortment of Pakistani and Arabic food that we heartily feasted on.
I ordered the Arabic salad and the Baba Ganoush that tasted like nothing I had ever eaten before. It was clear that a lot of special ingredients were used in this style of cooking to give it such an amazing taste. Plus it was extremely healthy too! My boyfriend ordered the keema curry and I could tell by the look on his face that he thoroughly enjoyed it too. This restaurant definitely deserves 5 stars:
Feeling satisfied, we decided to walk around American Street (also called Ame Mura) to see some of the latest Osaka streetwear and colorful architecture. Honestly, the aesthetics here were off the chart. Some of my favorite things that we found was a coffee shop called W/O Stand with a fake vending machine door, a shoe brand called “Dr. ASSY”, colorful fashion and logos, random shrines, and a giant mall with jungle-like foliage called Big Step. I snagged an ASICS jacket for half-off here and they had neon bathrooms too! Plus free table hockey! The highlight was when my boyfriend lost the game by ricocheting the puck off my side and directly into his goal. Good times.
We then decided to explore the “Kyoto of Osaka” and see Mizukake Fudo, a beautiful Buddhist statue that has been covered in moss. This temple is very small but is surrounded by a lot of unique restaurants and bars. The path is connected by Dotonbori’s central streets but it has more of a Gion feel to it. While we were here a small ceremony was going on. Monks were humming and chanting prayers. We left a donation to show thanks and then quietly made our way to our next destination.
My boyfriend decided we should first see Denden Town (the central otaku hub), and then proceed to the old arcades in Shinsekai. I remember going to a maid cafe in Denden Town years ago while I was interviewing for jobs in Osaka. However, I don’t think I had ever seen Shinsekai before because usually I stay in Dotonbori (for sake of parties). Fortunately the two areas are close enough that you can easily walk between them on foot. I was so happy to experience Shinsekai because it preserves the old 80s feel of Japan with its smokey Mahjong parlors and 50 yen arcades. The claw machines here are absolutely hilarious too.
We played Street Fighter and Time Crisis 3 here for a long while and walked around the illuminated streets. There were less people around due to the pandemic but this place still had a lot of charm. I could see Tsutenkaku Tower here and snap some really good pictures. I would really like to come back here and try some sushi in the future! Maybe even spend a night here too!
As we were walking back up Dotonbori to go to the famous hammock cafe called Revarti, we came across a completely random, unannounced matsuri here. Gotta love the Osaka life.
Sadly to our dismay the hammock cafe’s hours had been drastically changed due to the pandemic. Instead of staying open until midnight, they now only stay open until 5pm. Closing at happy hour should be a crime but I vow to come back here some day when they are open. We decided to initiate our backup plan which was the 200 yen bar called Moonwalk and drink cheaply to our heart’s content. The entrance fee is 500 yen, but every drink you order after that is only 200 so you can drink like a sultan. They have all sorts of liqueur that you can experiment with too. My personal favorites are the Dalgona Coffee made with Kahlua and the ice cream grasshopper. Each drink has stats like a Jojo character so you can strategically plan out how shit-faced you’re going to get:
After about an hour of this we were tipsy and ready for the next destination. Our friend who owns the best gaming bar in Osaka, Space Station, invited us out and we drank more coffee drinks and an original cocktail called “Ecco the Dolphin”. We then plopped in the most Australian Bomberman (Bomberman 3) and also played some Nidhogg. I enjoyed looking out the Slime-tinted windows and into the night. The design of this bar is iconic.
After chatting for a good while, we were invited to a music party at Sound Garden. The genre was supposed to be house and techno so I was totally down. The best part about this bar was it had a super comfy couch with a pillow that said “Fuck Tokyo. I [heart] Osaka”. We sat on the couch and laughed about this for a good while. It’s really true.
I was talking about music in Michigan and right as I mentioned Eminem, the DJ started playing “Sing for the Moment“. That was our cue to get up and dance. I was completely lost in the moment and let go of my fears and anxiety. I can’t believe how amazing this trip had turned out! Though our initial plans had slightly derailed, I was so happy that we were here together. A sensation of euphoria came over me and after a while I wanted to wander by the river outside. The music ended around 3am and we decided to make our way there. There was a light rain in the air but it felt fantastic on our skin after dancing that long. The river in Dotonbori had the most beautiful reflections that night:
As the sun rose we cuddled and listened to “P.S. You Rock My World” by Eels. There were kids blasting EDM under the bridge and their playlist accidentally shuffled to “Last Christmas”. It kind of felt like Christmas in July, in a way. I really didn’t want for that night to end but eventually we drifted off to sleep. What happens in Osaka stays in Osaka.
We left a few hours later at 11:30am via the Willer Express Bus and headed back to Nagoya. However, we couldn’t leave without first picking up a souvenir:
This was hands down the best trip to Osaka that I have ever had. There was never really a dull moment—all of it was a highlight reel. I hope to travel again with my boyfriend to Kyoto in the fall and hopefully make another trip back here. Thank you all for reading up to this point! Since we are currently unable internationally, this is the best alternative we could have asked for.
For the duration of the 4 day consecutive summer holiday known as “Marine Day” in Japan, my boyfriend and I decided to take our very first trip together to bustling city of Osaka! We chose this destination because it’s much more laid-back than Tokyo and there is a myriad of things to do and see here. You can walk by the river and sip on a Strong Zero while being right in the heart of the city where there’s never a dull moment. I’ve traveled to Osaka about 10 times (mainly for music events), but I still haven’t seen it all. This time I was most excited to see the Kaiyukan Aquarium and go to the old school arcades with my boyfriend who is a fighting game fanatic. Along the way we discovered so many delicious restaurants and made heartfelt memories that I’ll never forget.
We departed from Nagoya via the Willer Express Bus at 8:30am. This was a good move because it was cheaper than the shinkansen and we could peacefully sleep on it. We arrived to the Umeda Sky Building (in central Osaka) around 11:30 where we walked to La Tartine for coffee and some sweets. I found this cafe through my Instragram algorithms and wanted to try the dog macaroon because it reminded me of Pasocom Ongaku Club’s mascot. I also tried a cookie with a beach design that tasted amazing. All of the desserts were intricately made here. Incidentally, we also got a free coffee jelly as a gift for discovering this cafe through Instagram. How nice♫~
Next we made our way towards our hotel in Shinsaibashi and decided to get some okonomiyaki for lunch at Hanahana since it was nearby. Not only was this place absolutely delicious, but it was dirt cheap too. I ordered shrimp okonomiyaki and my boyfriend got a mix of pork and seafood in his. It was such a satisfying meal:
Since our hotel wasn’t quite ready to check in to, we dropped off our stuff and headed straight to Kaiyukan Aquarium which I had never been to before! This is one of the most famous aquariums in Japan so I figured it would be the perfect date spot. Unfortunately since it was a holiday, a lot of other people had the same idea so we had to wait an hour to enter. Luckily it was worth the wait. I had been to Japan’s largest aquarium in Okinawa years ago, but I hadn’t been to another one in ages so this was refreshing. In addition to colorful schools of fish, smiling stingrays, and the “Silence Brand” crab, they also had capybara which is my favorite animal there too! My boyfriend most enjoyed the waddle of penguins (yes, a group of penguins is actually called a “waddle”):
We were very impressed with the large variety of sea creatures here! I also loved seeing the “Keep distance” penguin sign, though it was an impossible challenge for the over-excited Japanese children here. I also liked the message that said “all things are connected” at the end. It really had me thinking for a while. By the time we finished seeing all of the exhibits here, we were exhausted. This aquarium is quite huge compared to other underwater exhibits in Japan.
Admission Fee: 2,550 yen (worth in in my opinion)
Not wanting to miss out on every food opportunity that life presented us, we stopped for ramen and ice cream. The two main food groups. I bought a capybara souvenir at the aquarium so I could forever remember this moment. This isn’t the first time this has happened. My boyfriend chose to eat ramen at Zundoya which has a branch in Osaka. He said it was some of the best that he’s had in a while. I tried the Pokemon ice cream flavors at Bakin Robbins, but unfortunately they didn’t live up to the hype. I give them a 6/10 because they taste like sugary melted soda. They would be much more satisfying if they contained vodka. Fortunately that’s what we had next…
Yet another bar that ended up in my Instagram algorithms was called Mixology Bar Factory & Gear. And boy, it did not disappoint. It was here that we met a fire bender and drank magical cocktails from the galaxy. My boyfriend also ordered a Tuxedo Mask-esque drink and another drink that was wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer. I ordered the “Little Planet” (pictured above) and a mysterious pineapple drink with a bubble that you can pop. Watching the video is easier than explaining it. This is peak aesthetic:
The taste of all of these drinks can be described as “works of art” but this Tweet sums our experience up the best:
Condensing an entire late night astrology program into a glass and lacing it with acid has been the most fun my mouth has ever had. Dope ass cocktail. https://t.co/rT2DIkts5Z
If you have time, please check this bar out! The average cost of drinks is 1300 yen but I promise that you won’t be disappointed. There’s also some “Viagra Liqueur” (the opposite of whiskey dick) for those who are feeling adventurous. We will remember this bar for the rest of our lives.
Where to Stay
Normally I stay at Asahi Capsule Hotel when I’m alone since it’s one of the cheapest places in Osaka, but since I came here with someone special I wanted to stay somewhere a bit nicer.
This time I chose Felice Hotel because it was only 5000 yen per night for 2 people. This was within walking distance of Dotonbori and all of the bars we wanted to go to so it was the perfect choice. Our bed was huge and extremely comfy. There is also a public onsen bath and a rooftop bar that you can visit. I would honestly love to stay here again!
After going on a grand tour of Phu Quoc Island on the day of my birthday, I decided to spend my final day in Vietnam going to Hon Thom Sun World amusement park. To reach this amusement park, you must go to the south end of the island by taxi and ride the world’s longest cable car to another island. You will pass over a cluster of fishing markets on your way there so it really is worth it for the view. I remember the ocean looked so beautiful from above. I’m really grateful I got the chance to swim in it when I landed!
As soon as I entered the park I noticed I was starving, so I ordered some vegan spring rolls, a seafood noodle dish, and a strawberry smoothie. I was surprised at how big the serving sizes were! There are restaurants all over the place so you’ll never go hungry:
Next I decided it was time to explore the park. I’ll admit that my main reason for coming here was to ride the cable car. I didn’t put much research into what attractions there were, but I figured I’d go and have fun no matter what. I looked at a local guidepost for direction, except there was only one destination on it:
I thought this was some kind of joke until I looked on Inspirock and realized others had run into this same situation:
So okay, Trao Beach it was! At least I could ride a air-conditioned van there from the park for free. Since it was October, there wasn’t many people there so I could relax and enjoy it all I wanted. It was essentially a private beach. This was one of the scenarios where it was not about the destination, but they journey. I had a lot of nice time thinking to myself and listening to all my favorite music. The tiki statues and chairs made out of tires that I saw here also added to the ambiance:
Even though there wasn’t a lot to see at Sun World, being on a remote tropical island was more fun than being stuck in the city. What’s interesting is that some pictures of the park online show a water park, but it only seems to be open during certain seasons. There was no mention of it when I went in 2018 so I wonder if it’s under renovation. I saw all sorts of construction going on in the main pavilion near the restaurant I was eating at. I would guess that there is some plan to expand this park because it is in a beautiful area that has a lot of nature. It really could become something amazing!
Is it worth it?
The cost for the cable car ticket is around $15 USD (roundtrip) and entrance to the park is around $25 USD. This actually isn’t that bad for a day on an island in Vietnam, but you could definitely go cheaper. If you have an extra day to kill this excursion is great because of the unique cable car view—especially if you have a camera. However, there may be only one destination available when you reach the island… you won’t know until you get there!
Upon further research, I noticed there is another amusement park called Sun World Ba Na Hills in Vietnam with the same logo (so they must be owned by the same company). Search engines are likely confusing them in English. Perhaps Phu Quoc’s Sun World (the one I visited) is going to be designed as a miniature version of the larger one. Who knows? I hope to return to Vietnam and visit the other, larger, park when it’s safe so I can expand this article!