On my second day on Amami Island, I decided to knock out paragliding on my bucket list because it’s something I had wanted to do for years and it felt like the ideal time. Out of all the locations you can try it in Japan, Okinawa and Kagoshima are the most recommended due to their stunning ocean views. I first tried to go paragliding on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa 5 years ago on my birthday, but unfortunately the winds were too strong and my reservation was cancelled. This time the opposite problem occurred—the winds were initially too weak but picked up after an hour of waiting. Paragliding is simple in the fact that all that you need to do is run and jump in time with when you’re instructed to and the motor will do the rest. Before you know it you’ll be up in the sky staring down at the distant scenery below you. In case you fall there is a soft cushion of sand beneath you which is why I highly recommend paragliding on the beach. The beautiful hues of the ocean below my feet glittered in the shining sun and I felt as if I was truly alive!
Here is some footage from my GoPro over Amami Island’s most northern beach (Yo Beach). I originally thought the white building was a lighthouse, but it is actually a government office!
I booked my paragliding experience through パラグライダーハッピースカイ (Paragliding Happy Sky) online for 10,500 yen and had an incredible experience. Though this might be a bit more expensive compared to other countries like Thailand or the Philippines, Japan is probably the safest country to learn in as their instructors are very cautious and well-trained. I appreciated how they waited an hour with me for the winds to pick up an even offered to show me around the island so I could see the stars at night. The experience lasts for around 15 minutes and you can freely use your camera equipment while a license professional controls the motor and direction. The company will contact you with the best meeting point the night before and fortunately all of the paragliding locations are easy to reach by taxi.
To me it was an extremely exhilarating experience that increased my love for the ocean so I can’t recommend it enough—if you’re an adventurous person then you need to try paragliding!
Kayaking through Amami Mangrove Forest
Immediately after kayaking, I set off for the Amami Mangrove Forest via local bus because I really wanted to try kayaking there. This is one of the top destinations in Amami and the second largest mangrove in Japan. The waterways will take you deep through the forest so you can see various wildlife and the experience was very relaxing to me after paragliding. Renting a kayak is 1500 yen for an hour, but I noticed they were pretty lax on time. I had the opportunity to explore a lot of canals and was very satisfied with the experience despite the long 2 hour bus ride. If you rent a car then you can get around Amami Island much faster, but this mangrove is still somewhat remote from the main resort area. However, I passed through the downtown area on my way back and stopped for delicious Indian food at Durga Dining before heading back to relax at my resort!
Another fun activity I enjoyed was waking up with the sun and falling asleep with the moon. Every day and night I would watch the sun fall over the ocean and the landscape magically change color. As the land of the rising sun, Japan has a lot of neat places where you can chase sunsets but I definitely prefer it at the beach!
Snorkeling and diving is also extremely popular on Amami Island, but since I did this in Okinawa earlier this year I opted to try new things mentioned in this article. When it all comes down to it, appreciating nature and wildlife and relaxing is really the best thing you can do on this island. All of the resorts are extremely affordable and you can bike around to a number of attractions easily so Amami is a great destination for people who have already been to Okinawa and are looking for something more. I can proudly say that booking my trip here was my best decision of the year because I got the chance to see and experience so many things. Three days was the perfect amount of time to spend here too.
Though this was my last day on Amami Island, my adventure through Kyushu still continues! In my next article, I will talk about exploring the volcanic island, Sakurajima, in Kagoshima. Please look forward to it!
Due to the nature of my job, I sometimes spontaneously find myself with consecutive days off so I try to take advantage of it by going on as many trips as possible. Since I had some web design clients to see in Nagoya, I decided to stop there first then make my way to Kyoto on a Tuesday morning so I could experience it with minimal tourism—the complete opposite of my cherry blossom trip in March! Though I thoroughly enjoyed my last trip to Kyoto because I was able to see the full moon with fully blooming sakura, this time I was able to see Arashiyama’s iconic bamboo forest more deserted than I had ever seen it before as well as hike to Daihikaku. If you want to travel throughout Kyoto without the interruption of tourists, then now is definitely the time! During my two day trip I spent a lot of time reflecting on myself and my recent projects which was very beneficial to developing my future goals for this year. I also managed to go to some nice cafes I didn’t have the chance to visit last time and snag a Miffy omelette sandwich from the Sakura Kitchen! Even though I’ve been to Arashiyama over 5 times, this view still amazes me:
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest Path
The path to Arashiyama’s bamboo forest is usually always bustling with tourists, food vendors, and rickshaw drivers desperately trying to get your business, but last Tuesday it was practically vacant. I passed by a few old Japanese people on their way to the onsen, but the normally crowded paths were empty and I was able to capture some amazing photos with the sun peaking out of the bamboo stalks. The dream Japan aesthetic.
Witnessing emptiness of Arashiyama made me feel both lucky and melancholy. Seeing it in this state is a rare opportunity indeed, but it also felt like a ghost town. I hurt for all of the small businesses struck by the effects of the pandemic. Fortunately my favorite clubs, bars, and venues have all been saved by online fundraisers but I worry for the lesser known places that heavily rely on tourism. I hope my small contribution of buying food from local restaurants and writing about them can help in some way!
Another place I love walking through is the Kimono Forest near Saga Arashiyama Station! I remember the first time I saw it I was completely amazed. The colorful patterns and artistic water fountain really stand out and are extremely inspiring to me. Sadly I didn’t have time to rent a kimono this time, but I hope to rent one and do a photo shoot during my next trip here!
Cafe Style Resort Saganoyu: The Onsen Cafe
One of my coworkers posted about a lovely cafe in Arashiyama that had the same interior decor that you would find at a local hot spring, so I just had to go and see it for myself! Saganoyu is not only famous for its one of a kind onsen decor, but also for its pasta dishes and pancakes. I decided to order the trademark pancakes with the onsen insignia because that was the most aesthetic dish on the menu. The pancakes were served up American style with less fluffiness and more substance which I liked. Sometimes the souffle-styled pancakes just have too much air in them but these were extremely filling. While I waited for my order I decided to walk around the cafe and admire all of the detail that was put into it. I loved the mirrors and little shower heads attached to the wall as well as the vintage shoe locker! They also had some really good chocolates that look like gold pieces of soap. Definitely come here if you are looking for a fun and creative atmosphere!
During my first ever trip to Arashiyama nearly 5 years ago, I hiked to the spot with cherry blossoms and noticed a mysterious hut with bright awnings standing out across the river. At first I thought it was perhaps someone’s house as people own property in the mountains here, but during my last trip I Googled it and found out it was a temple called Daihikaku. Last week I finally made the 20 minute trek up the mountain to see it in person for myself and I can happily say that the view was worth it. From the windows you can see the Oi River and the beautiful mountains that surround Kyoto. Being up close to the colorful flags flapping in the wind felt surreal because I had previously only seen them from the opposite side. The temple also is unmanned giving it a feeling of solitude. I can proudly say I have hiked up both sides of Arashiyama now!
What makes this temple even more meme-worthy is that it has its own official manga you can read on your way up. The page I zoomed into almost completely sums up my initial experience here.
The expression of the girl who turns around and notices the mysterious temple peaking out of the forest was exactly the same as mine when I first traveled to Arashiyama many years ago. Even now sometimes it’s sometimes easy to forget that this temple exists, but when I remember it I always feel happy. ☺️
If you have the time and energy, consider seeing Daihikaku from both sides of the river because the views are unique and change based on the season. The fall is usually the best time of year to go because you can see the bright red leaves contrast against the river.
Every time I go to Kyoto, I like to try a new city hotel by the Kawaramachi River so I can drink by it at night and gaze at the stars. This time I stayed at Hotel Resol Trinity, which is an upgrade of the hotel that I stayed at on my birthday because it has its own public onsen and nicer rooms. Since I came randomly on a weekday I only paid 4300 yen for my “Hollywood” style room. I slept here for almost 10 hours because I was exhausted from hiking and work so I would give it a 10/10 for its comfort. You can definitely find cheaper options but this is first class for the discounted price.
After I had my fill of the mainland of Okinawa staying at the Sanrio Resort and wandering through aesthetic neon paradise in Naha, I decided to fly to Miyakojima for the purpose of exploring luscious beaches and going scuba diving. Flights from Naha to Miyakojima cost just over 10000 yen roundtrip and take around 50 minutes to reach the airport. Since this island is extremely remote and located closer to Taiwan than the main islands of Japan, I think the price is extremely worth it. You can also take ferries to this island, but since the previous two days had a gale advisory I didn’t want to risk it being cancelled. Fortunately my flight was extremely smooth and I had an entire row all to myself! I was welcomed to Miyako with sunny weather and was able to explore the entire area around Painagama Beach where my resort was located. Miyako is relatively small in size and you can travel coast to coast from one end of the island to the other in just over an hour by car. Renting bikes to reach beaches is also very common.
Here are some of the best places that you can explore on the north side of the island near the airport. I will be covering over parts of the island in my future articles!
Miyako Shrine & Kamamamine Park
While waiting to checkin to my hotel, I decided to see some of the local attractions on foot. My first destination was Miyako Shrine, which is just a short 15 minute taxi ride from the airport. The shrine is small and humble but I enjoyed visiting it while feeling the ocean breeze. The colors of the roof are unique to Ryukyuan architecture and it felt like the perfect place to begin my journey! I next walked to Kamamamine Park which was right down the road and is famous for its giant shisa playground. You can climb into the shisa’s mouth and also slide down from the top of its back. I saw kids climbing on top of its head too. I was already loving the vibe of this island because it felt extremely open and free.
After checking into my resort, I decided to rent an ebike from the staff and bike to Sunayama Beach (accommodation details are listed at the end of this article). From the main resort strip, Sunayama Beach is about 25 mins biking. What I liked about this beach is it’s not clearly visible from the entrance—you have to climb over a sand dune to see the ocean which makes it extremely hype. Fortunately it’s just a short hike and once you see the emerald color of the waves, then the realization that you’ve arrived in paradise finally hits you! I am so happy that this was the very first beach that I visited in Miyako because it’s truly gorgeous and matched the color of my nails.
Sunayama Beach was actually quite small but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. The arch rock on the beach is famous so I took a lot of pictures around it and then jumped in the water for a nice dip. The end of April is actually a great time to go swimming in Okinawa because the sun isn’t as harsh. I really wished there were hotels on this beach so I could wake up and go swimming here, but at the same time I liked the remote and private feel it had.
The Yamatouga Ruins have stunning stone architecture reminiscent of ancient times and are a historic landmark of Miyakojima. I loved exploring the lush forested area and seeing the ivory that covered the walls. This is a cool place that I actually stumbled upon during one of my morning runs. It takes about 5 mins of walking from the entrance to reach the Yamato Well that still stores water. It’s amazing to see all of the architecture on this island because it really has been preserved well throughout time.
Unfortunately due to the pandemic a number of restaurants were closed here so I ate simple meals at my hotel, but the dessert game on this island was extremely strong. Here are my top dessert pics near the main resort area! I will be writing about other food options in my future articles.
Banana & Cake Monte Doll
While searching for dessert places, I stumbled across Monte Doll and immediately fell in love with their smiling banana peel mascot. Before this trip I went to the gym nearly three times a week so I could become strong and flex next to it. I didn’t want to let banana senpai down. The curse of trying Okinawan bananas is they are so ripe you will never want to eat the regular ones outside of the island again! I got the banana smoothie with coconut bits and the banana cream cake and both were to die for. If you come to Miyakojima, please visit this place! They all of the banana souvenirs that you could dream of too.
After all the swimming I did this day, I treated myself to two different flavors of ice cream at Painagama Blue Booth near my resort. The first I tried was sweet potato, and the second I tried was caramel brownie. I appreciated how they included sweet potato chips and banana chips in their toppings because that’s definitely something that you don’t see every day! The atmosphere of this restaurant is extremely relaxing because they have little hammock seats as well as indoor and outdoor seating. In addition to ice cream, you can order hot dogs here too! They definitely have the perfect menu for a long day at the beach.
After looking at a few properties on the main resort strip of Painagama Beach, I decided to settle with Hotel Locus because it was new and had a cute outdoor pool. The cheapest rooms are around 7000 yen per night but the hotel is easily accessible from Miyako Airport, has a bicycle rental service, and wonderful amenities. There is also a rooftop where you can watch the sun set every night on the harbor. I was very impressed with my two night stay here and would recommend it to my friends because it really has everything you need.
Thank you for reading the 3rd article in my Okinawa series. In my next articles I will be talking about scuba diving and exploring Ibaru Island on Miyakojima.
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.
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!
In my last article I wrote about fully exploring the west side of Jeju Island. This included riding a horse on a volcanic crater, trekking through Cheonjeyoen Falls, going to some hilarious theme parks, and more awesome activities. In this article I will be writing about exploring the east side of the island with the same tour guide: Jeju Day Tour. The East Course runs on odd-numbered days and is the same price as the West Course—roughly $65 USD. The duration of the tour is 9 – 10 hours but includes lunch and plenty of breaks. The tour group was also under 10 people which was great too.
As I mentioned before, the local buses only stop at certain places so having a tour guide for thorough exploration of Jeju is ideal. Especially if you don’t speak any Hangul like me! I was once again very satisfied with the high quality of Jeju Day Tour because it’s run by a local guide named Mr. Ko and his courses stop at the most places on the island. With a heart wistful of adventure, I set off for my 4th day on the island!
Manjanggul Lava Tube
Our very first stop was the Manjanggul Lava Tube which is one of the longest lava tubes in the world and is also a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. It was formed when lava flowed towards the sea and has a cave you can explore. The cave only takes a couple of minutes to see, but examining all rock formations and detail inside is very interesting. There are also bat colonies that live in here, but fortunately we didn’t run into any!
Maze Land is a self-explanatory theme park with the world’s longest stone maze that is just over 5km. Look at Jeju, setting those world records! There are three mazes in total you can challenge here—two of them intersect with a combination of stone and hedge walls. Most mazes can be completed in 8 – 24 minutes. This was one of the most relaxing parts of the tour because I was able to walk around the beautiful hedges and listen to music. Parts of it felt more like a large garden than a maze! The most hilarious part was watching Korean children climb the walls and give their friends instructions on how to get out. Fortunately the walls weren’t very steep. I will admit I got lost a few times though!
Seongsan Ilchulbong, also called “Sunrise Peak”, is one of the best lookout points on the island… But of course the day I went it was submerged in fog! The peak was formed by hydro-volcanic eruptions so it has a very unique shape. If you click on the 2nd picture, you can vaguely make out the beautiful coast of Jeju. The climb to the top only takes around 25 mins and you can use the wooden stairs. Fortunately I already had climbed Mt. Hallasan and got clear pictures of the crater lake at the top. If you run into fog during your tour, I would recommend going to Mt. Hallasan by yourself on a sunny day for a better chance!
After eating a delicious Korean buffet lunch, we stopped at another famous lookout point: Seopjikoji. This is located at the end of the eastern shore of the island and is very close to the ocean. According to Visit Korea, “Seopji” is the old name for the area, and “Koji” is Jeju dialect meaning a sudden bump on land. As you walk the road to the shore, you will notice a bumpy hill. It’s has quite a funny shape and is fun to hike over. At this point I didn’t even care about the fog. I bought some cheesy squid bread and relaxed by the ocean. Hearing the waves hit the rocky shore made me feel closer with nature.
Seongeup Folk Village
From 1410 to 1914, Seongeup was a small village that played a big role in the cultural history and development of Jeju Island. The village is located at the foot of Halla Mountain and has since turned into somewhat of an open air museum. Here you can see the huts that people lived in, fortress ruins, stone monuments, and a lot of other interesting things that have made up the history of Jeju. Outside of museums in Seoul, this was the first time I had the chance to see the history of Korea up close.
The last stop was at a train-themed amusement park in the forest called Eco Land! Not going to lie—I was completely exhausted by this point. After 4 action-packed days of hiking and being exposed to an entirely new culture, I could feel my body craving rest. Eco Land was a great place to relax though because you can literally ride the train around five different stations without getting off. Or you can be super active and get off and explore at each station. Within the forest there are multiple gardens, a lake with a cave and various attractions, and also animals you can see! This was the only part of the tour that felt a bit rushed, but it was also likely due to my lack of energy. Even though I was tired, being in the forest was a great way to end this tour.
What another amazing day! I enjoyed this tour almost the same as I did the west side of the island and would recommend it to all my friends that are traveling through Jeju. The East Course seemed to have more nature activities, but that was completely fine by me. Even if you don’t like hiking, you can choose to go horseback riding or try local food at the stops. Jeju is so beautiful and has so much to see that it’s extremely hard to get bored here.
My next article will be the last of the Jeju Cronichles. I will be writing about how I hired a private taxi to go to the few places that weren’t covered by the tour. Though it’s been two years since I’ve been here, this island still is extremely special to me. Thank you for reading.
On my 24th birthday in October nearly two years ago, I decided I travel all the way from Tokyo to Yakushima so I could see the lush island that inspired one of my favorite movies of all time—Princess Mononoke. This journey took nearly 10 hours and involved a lot of hiking, but it was one of the best experiences of my life. Yakushima has so much unspoiled nature and is also home of Japan’s oldest recorded tree in history: Jomonsugi. There are numerous hiking trails and endless adventure to be had here. In this article I will be retelling the tale of my 3 day stay and also my recommended hiking spots and tours. I would plan on staying here for 3-5 days if possible so you can fully enjoy the nature!
Yakushima is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Kyushu, Japan. The island is mostly mountainous with 16 main hiking trails. Many of them intersect so you can choose the path that best fits what you want to see. There are mountain huts scattered in the forest that you can stay at for free overnight, but it is possible to complete most hikes within 6 – 12 hours. Yakushima is close to Okinawa giving it a subtropical climate (in October I could still go swimming). You can travel here any time of year, but I would recommend avoiding the rainy season (early June-July) as the forest can get flooded.
What’s amazing is that even today many parts of this island remain unexplored. Some areas outside of the trails are so steep it is not recommended to climb them without a guide or special equipment. Fortunately the main trails are marked well enough that you can navigate them without a guide. Just be sure to bring enough food and be cautious when climbing over rocks, steep areas, and places with low visibility.
*Maps are courtesy of Yakumonkey (a really handy guide for exploring).
Reasons to go:
Arguably one of the most beautiful forests to hike through in Japan.
If you are a Princess Mononoke fan, exploring Yakushima is a dream come true.
You can see rare wildlife (both plants and animals).
The freshwater streams are so clean that you can drink out of them.
The beaches are wonderful for swimming.
This island is extremely remote and still has a lot of things to be discovered.
The downside is that transportation is limited, and if you are not an outdoors person then you may find some of the hikes a bit difficult. However, people of all ages have completed the hike to Jomonsugi and there are hiking groups available for all experience levels. You can also choose to hike completely alone without a group like I did.
Here are the main spots that I hiked to:
Day 1: Shiratani Unsuikyo
Shiratani Unsuikyo is a dream-like world full of lush green mosses and some of Japan’s oldest cedars that inspired the setting of Princess Mononoke. The lead artist of the movie, Oga Kazuo, spent quite a long time here sketching scenes that were used in the film. You can easily see why this setting was chosen, as it is unspoiled and far from civilization making it the perfect home for creatures of the forest. The water that runs from the stream here is so fresh that you can re-fill your water bottle with it and drink it while you hike. I had never been to a place so clean and beautiful in my life, so this was one of the best places to spend my 24th birthday!
Three of the oldest cedar trees here are: Nidaiosugi, Kugurisugi, and Yayoisugi. Though it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of the forest, there are clear signs and markings around to guide you. Keep your eyes out for deer too! You’re likely run into other tour groups going around but they are easy to avoid. This hike is not particularly strenuous; just remember to watch out for rain that makes the stones and moss slippery.
I arrived on a foggy day, so this was the view I got from the highest point of the forest:
I was not disappointed by this view because it looked like I was walking through the clouds! The fog gave the forest an eerie glow and you could still make out all of the main sightseeing points. Fortunately my other two days here were completely sunny.
Duration: 4-6 hours of hiking Admission Fee: 500 yen
My Recommendation: There are two main paths you can use to enter, but I recommend entering from the Miyanoura side because there are more frequent buses that lead there and back from the port. You do not need a guide to hike through this area as it is pretty straightforward. I came here by myself and did not have a single dull moment.
Day 2: Jomonsugi (Japan’s Oldest Tree)
One of the most magical hikes in Japan is to the oldest tree in this country: The Legendary Jomonsugi. Upon reaching the tree, you will receive its holy blessing and have explored much of Yakushima’s beauty. You can actually access a route to Jomonsugi from the Shiratani Unsuikyo, but it is a strenuous hike so I recommend seeing them on separate days. I enjoyed this hike much more than I did Fuji due to the beautiful cedar scenery. Jomonsugi is quite massive in size (standing at 83 feet) and is like no other tree I’ve ever seen. Besides the tree, there are many other aesthetic things to see on your way there:
The main points of interest on the way there are Wilson’s Stump and the abandoned logging village of Kosugidani. Wilson’s Stump mysteriously formed a heart shape after the tree was cut down. It was discovered by Ernest Henry Wilson who was an English botanist that came to Yakushima in the early 1900s. Little remains of the old village (I thought it was a series of old storehouses when I first saw it), but historically it had a major impact on the development of Yakushima.
The hike starts off very easy. You walk on what looks like railroad tracks into the forest and go through a few tunnels. The hike is 22km but doesn’t get steep until you are much deeper in the forest. I saw some wild mushrooms on the way there. A tour guide told me that there’s a possibility that magic mushrooms may exist here in the wild though I didn’t try eating any. The most difficult part is climbing up the narrow trails that lead to Jomonsugi. Fortunately hiking through the Shiratani Unsuikyo the other day prepared me for that. I reached Jomonsugi in around 3.5 hours and was stunned by its beauty. I turned around and saw people of all ages smiling. We had made the mythical trek!
As I gazed at Jomonsugi, I couldn’t help but think about the World Tree from one of my favorite videogames of all time: Tales of Symphonia. This tree is what keeps the world alive in the game, and I felt a similar power from Jomonsugi. It is the heart of Yakushima that keeps the forest safe. Or keeps tourism alive. Something like that. I couldn’t think straight because I was so hungry. Fortunately I had some riceballs prepared for me by my hotel:
On the way down I noticed I was starting to get fatigued and my legs started to hurt. The last two hours of this hike were the worst. I run every day and am in shape, but I am not used to these forest hikes as I live in the city. At one point I started to get spots in my vision, but fortunately I was not in danger of passing out. I listed to Geofront by Carpainter and focused on climbing down to the rhythm. I vowed if I survived this then I would someday see this artist in person (which I did a month later). When I got back to the train track part of the trail, I was able to sit down and rest for a bit. I think the hike only took me around 7 hours. It was worth it for everything that I got to experience.
Duration: 6-10 hours of hiking (including travel to the trail head by bus) Admission Fee: 1000 yen
My Recommendation: Get up as early as you can (preferably around 4am) and take the earliest bus to Arakawa Trail from where you are staying. Your accommodation can help you as this is the most popular destination in Yakushima. Most buses will arrive around 6am-7am. PACK LOTS OF SNACKS! The bus was full when I returned so I had to wait for the next one back. I killed time with photo editing and it was alright, but I wish I had prepared more. Regardless, this is one of the best hikes you’ll find in Japan and is extremely rewarding. Do it if you get the chance!
Where to Stay: Suimseiso Minshuku
If you came here because of the movie like myself, then staying at Suimeiso Minshuku is your best bet! This backpackers-styled hostel is only 3500 yen a night, includes some meals and snacks, and has signed Miyazaki drawings that are framed and displayed in the common room. That is because Miyazaki was actually a former guest here! The friendly staff are extremely hard-working and will make you feel welcome here. I had trouble initially figuring out the bus routes, but they took the time to assist me.
If tatami rooms are not your style, you can either send an inquiry to one of the Yakushima tour websites or check what’s available on Booking. There are resorts available, but I would recommend saving that money for a more famous beach area like Okinawa. When you’re in Yakushima, you’re going to want to be exploring nature as much as possible so staying inside is not ideal.
To avoid the mistake I made of not having enough food while hiking, I HIGHLY recommend placing an order for breakfast and snacks from your accommodation in advance. Since the majority of people that come to Yakushima are hikers and backpackers, almost all hotels will do this for you. Tours will usually include a meal too.
After being famished from my hike to Jomonsugi, I found a restaurant called Smiley near my hotel that had delicious sandwiches, soup, ice cream, and cookies shaped like the island. Now that was a satisfying meal! There are other small restaurants and convenience stores around the ports too, but usually they are not open in the early morning when it’s recommended to start your hike. It gets dark on the island around 7pm, so be sure to be careful of time. Packing snacks is ideal and will save you a lot of time.
Access & Transportation
From Tokyo Haneda Airport, I flew to Kagoshima Airport the night before I sailed to Yakushima. This cost around 20,000 yen and takes 2 hours. I stayed at a cheap net cafe called Jiyu Kukan by Kagoshima Port which is fortunately close to the station.
In the morning, I bought a roundtrip ferry ticket to Yakushima for 16,600 yen (the return trip must be used within 7 days but I was only staying for 3 days). There are around 8 ferries that go to Miyanoura Port daily. You can choose to stay somewhere here, but more backpackers stay in the Anbo Port area (which is where I stayed).
If you have any questions or would like to purchase a ticket in advance, I would recommend checking out Yes Yakushima’s website because they have updated time tables that change per season. You can also fly here, but I decided to go by boat because I thought it would be more fun. The ride takes around 2-3 hours.
Once on the island, you can get your accommodation to help you book a taxi or take the buses around. I decided to go buy bus because it was extremely cheap. You can rent a car, but some of the roads go deep into the mountains and are a bit dangerous for a driver who is inexperienced. I would leave it to the bus drivers personally.
In my next article, I will be talking about a private tour that I went on during my final day here exploring beaches and hotsprings around the island. Please look forward to it!
With its vast nature including a bamboo grove, the Oi River which you can go sailing on, and a monkey park, Arashiyama is hands down one of the most popular day trips from Kyoto City. Though this area attracts a large number of tourists each year, it’s easy to avoid them by taking side trails off the bamboo grove trail. I was able to find complete bliss in solitude while hiking to several areas and listening to my favorite music. I originally traveled here in 2018, but came back to try the delicious chilled soba noodles at a famous restaurant last year. In this article I will be writing about the highlights of my Arashiyama hiking adventure and hopefully will inspire more people to visit!
Floating Down the Oi River
When you get off at Arashiyama Station, one of the first things you’ll notice is the gently flowing Oi river. There are several shacks where you can rent boats and go on tours down the river and into the forested area. This is one of the best ways to explore Arashiyama, so I opted for a private boat tour for 3000 yen. Group tours are also available for a lower price. The wooden boat has padded seats so its quite comfortable, and you can see beautiful scenes from floating down the river that you can’t see on foot!
While we were sailing a food boat (food truck but in boat form) sailed up to us and offered to cook me something. I decided I wanted grilled squid and they made it right in front of me. It was truly and amazing experience! I’ve explored a floating village in Cambodia before which was quite large, but this river is much smaller and more relaxed. If you love boating then there are a lot of amazing places in Asia that are worth checking out. I aim to explore as many as I can.
I didn’t have the best camera on me at the time, but here is some footage of me sailing down the river on a wooden boat. It was a pleasant trip that only takes about 30 mins:
Sunset at the Kimono Forest
If you come to Arashiyama, then you definitely need to stay and watch the sun set slowly on the mountains before you leave. First the sky will flash to a bright gradient of red, orange, and yellow, then fade to a gentle magenta and pink hue. Afterwards there is a garden of kimono-patterned pillars near Randen Arashiyama Station that becomes illuminated at night. I had a fantastic time walking through here and taking pictures—it felt as if I had slipped into another world with all of the colors! These memories still burn very bright in my mind today.
Bamboo Forest and Monkey Mountain
The main tourist attraction of Arashiyama is the bamboo forest which is about a 10 min walk from the station. The massive stalks of bamboo that surround you are truly astounding. Back in America I had never seen anything like this before, so I was very impressed by this area. There are normally a lot of tourists on the main path, but you can find paths that lead into the mountains like the one pictured on the right to avoid them. If you aim your camera towards the sunlight that is partially blocked by the bamboo stalks you can get some really nice pictures here.
When I hiked up the path shown above, I spotted a very interesting building structure from afar and zoomed into it. It looks like either a shack with clothes hung out to dry or small shrine. Climbing to that area seems like quite a feat because it is not connected to the main path of Arashiyama. “Who lives here?” I wondered 2 years ago, and I still think about it to this very day:
After exploring the paths around the bamboo forest which really don’t take that much time to climb, I recommend checking out the Monkey Park atop a small mountain called Iwatayama. The climb takes about 10-15 mins and you can see a nice view of Kyoto from the top as well as several enthusiastic monkeys. Be sure not to make direct eye contact with them as they can be quite aggressive! However, a barrier will protect you from being attacked my them.
Compared to the monkeys in Thailand, the ones in Kyoto are actually quite nice. However, if you are in Japan for a long time and are able to go to Hokkaido, the Monkey Park in Hakodate is actually much more fun to see. You can watch them bathe in a hotspring and have a clearer view of them with less tourists around you.
Chilled Soba Noodles at Tempura Matsu
While searching for aesthetic food in Kyoto (which is not that difficult to find), I stumbled upon a tempura restaurant that serves soba noodles in a one-of-a-kind bowl made out of ice. As far as I know, no other restaurant besides Tempura Matsu serves soba quite like this. The egg topping mixed with soy sauce gives it an amazing taste. It is best eaten in the summer because it will cool you down. Amazingly even in the warm temperature the ice bowl will hardly melt. I was impressed with the craftsmanship of this dish:
Since I had a long journey here, I decided to reward myself with the course meal that was around 12,000 yen at the time. This is quite expensive, but I believe you are able to order individual items off the menu if you request them. From my experience, it was well worth the price. Carefully prepared seafood, soup, rice, vegetables, soba, and dessert were served to me in this course. Vegetarian options are available as well.
Getting to Arashiyama
Kyoto Station take Sagano Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station. This takes about 15 mins and costs only 240 yen making it an extremely cheap trip.
Please note that accommodations here are quite popular, so you might want to book 2 months in advance if you want to stay in a nice onsen resort.
If you are a solo traveler or are on a budget, I recommend day tripping here from Kyoto City since accommodations there are cheaper. If you want to use a day hotspring in Arashiyama, consider trying Fufunoyu. It is only 1000 yen to enter and has a lovely outdoor hotspring that you can use.
I will be writing more about my adventures in Kyoto and accommodation options in my next few posts. Please stay tuned for more info~
Last month I wrote about my aesthetic adventures to the Capybara Zoo and Planet Cafe, but here are some other noteworthy spots in Hamamatsu that are worth checking out. If you go to Shizuoka Prefecture, you should definitely try the eel here because it’s some of the best in Japan. In addition to that, there is also a tiny fantasy-themed village you can explore. I’ve only been to Hamamatsu twice for music events, but I ended up stumbling into a lot of cool things on my journey.
As soon as I arrived at Hamamatsu Station, I immediately decided to go to an eel restaurant so I could finally try this city’s prized food. I chose a small shop called 八百徳 that was about a 3 min walk from the station because they had a set meal for a nice value. Cooked eel has a nice texture and is rich in protein so it’s a fit choice for an adventurer. I ordered the main unagi set served with rice, a side of vegetables, and miso soup which was delicious. You can eat eel all over Japan, but you can tell by the exquisite taste that they are farmed to perfection here. Most eel sets will cost 1500 ~ 2700 yen here but is worth it in my opinion.
For those that are up for fishing, there is a lake in Kosai City where you can catch them yourself! I have not been to this place, but it is somewhere I will consider traveling to in the future if I come back here again.
This fairy-like village nestled in a forest was designed by famous architect Shigeyoshi Sasaki and feels like something straight out of a Miyazaki movie! Originally Nukumori Village was a furniture workshop, but due to its beautiful European architecture it has attracted a lot of people and expanded. You can find small boutiques, restaurants, museums, and other aesthetic designs here. I enjoyed walking through the miniature houses with stained-glass windows and taking photos of them. There is an owl cafe called “Warmth of Owl“ here as well (I didn’t go but found it interesting). Despite it being a tourist destination, I arrived around 2pm and found that it was serene and quiet. It felt like less of a tourist trap and more of a relaxing day trip from the city to me.
From the crafty eel-shaped banisters to the one-of-a-kind unagi pie ice cream dessert served at the cafe here, this eel pie factory is truly a gem. Here you can learn all about the process of eel pie baking and buy some fancy souvenirs for your friends (I handed out several to my friends at the club). What exactly makes up an eel pie, you ask?
“Eel extract, garlic and other such flavorings are blended together with carefully-selected fresh butter to make the confection.”
The description sounds a bit fishy, but I can confirm that all of the samples I tried tasted like salted butter cookies. In other words: Eel Pie is absolutely delicious (especially with ice cream)! You can buy eel pie at various souvenir shops in Shizuoka, but coming to the factory is the best experience because you can order it fresh at the cafe. As someone who loves weird food, I simply could not pass this opportunity up.
Please note that the factory is a bit far from the main city, but you can take a taxi or walk 18 mins here from Okubo Bus Stop via city bus.
My friend and I were looking for a place to pregame before an event at Planet Cafe and stumbled upon a place called Chillwood Bar not far from the station. Not only is this bar cozy with a wide range of cocktails and bottles of wine, but the owner looks and acts just like Sojiro from Persona 5. We had some real-life anime going on here. I ordered a sakura fizz cocktail and my friend and I split a bottle of wine. Everyone was very friendly and asked me various questions about my life and travels in Japan. I was more than happy to share my experiences with them since the alcohol was flowing. I am glad to have made this website [Resurface to Reality] so I archive these memories and continue to create more.
After visiting the eye-popping Rainbow Village, I decided to take a cheap local bus from Taichung Station to the famous Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan (its name immediately made me think of Pokémon Sun & Moon). After an hour and a half ride, I was dropped off at Shuishe Pier, which is part of the central hub of Sun Moon Lake. There are a number of restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops that you can browse around, although the real adventure lies elsewhere! From here you can ride ferries and buy tickets to attractions around the lake. The ferry will take you to Ita Thao Pier and Xuanguang Pier which both have a number of hiking trails and sightseeing spots to explore. If you are unsure of what to do, the official Sun Moon Lake website has a number of itineraries available.
Originally I was thinking of going to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village and ropeway (which is a huge amusement park with a waterpark), but due to the mild and foggy January weather, I opted to do some hiking instead. My favorite viewpoint that I discovered was the Ci-en Padoga built by Chiang Kai-Shek in memory of his mother. This was about a 40 minute hike through a bamboo forest but was easy to access thanks to the English guideposts. The ferries depart from pier to pier every half hour, so you can see the majority of sights in one day. However, if you wish to see the smaller islands and go to the amusement park that I mentioned above, you will definitely need two full days.
Unfortunately due to the fog it was hard for me to capture good footage of the hike I took, but the mountains surrounding the lake were breathtaking and gorgeous. I would say this was the 2nd most beautiful place that I have been to in Taiwan; the 1st being Taroko Gorge. I wish I could have spent two full days here, but I was happy with all of the scenery I was able to see in one day. Getting between the piers only takes around 15 minutes, so you can definitely make the most of your time here if you plan it out.
When you purchase your ferry ticket (mine was only 250 TWD because they thought I was a student), you are given a map with all the major landmarks on them. If you are a seasoned traveler, I would just follow your instinct and go wherever looks most interesting to you. The guideposts make it pretty straightforward, and there are always usually hikers around to ask in case you get lost. Sailing around and feeling like I was in an RPG was honestly the best aspect for me. It was so nice getting out of the city and into this amazing world of nature:
In my next article, I will be writing about Taiwan’s southern city Kaohsiung and Cijin Island. Thank you to all those who have kept up with my wild adventures!