Exploring Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios, Osaka

Luigi is here to save the day!

Last Friday I finally had the chance to explore Universal Studio’s Super Nintendo World in Osaka, Japan, and I can happily say that the experience was worth the trip! This area was recently added to the colossal amusement park back in March, but was temporarily closed shortly after it opened until June due to the extended emergency state. Last week I bought a ticket a week in advance using Universal Studios’s Japanese website (please note that the English website currently does not sell tickets) and was fortunately able to reserve a time slot using the area timed entry ticket machines inside of the park. Though at first this wasn’t high on my priority list, after seeing all of the amazing pictures from my friends I decided I needed to go. Running into Mario and Luigi and getting my photo taken with them is also an experience that I’ll never forget! The bright atmosphere of the park made me feel like I had been transported inside of a Nintendo cartridge and by the end of the day I definitely felt like a winner. ✰

Getting to USJ

Universal Studios is about 30 minutes outside of the city but it is extremely easy to reach if you ride the Osaka Loop Line to Universal-City Station. The ride is smooth and most trips will cost less than 300 yen. This was my 3rd time to USJ so Super Nintendo World was my priority but I was able to see Hogwarts and walk through the other worlds afterwards.

On the particular day that I chose to go it was raining on and off so fortunately the weather scared most of the crowds away. Although there were still some people there, I arrived at 11am and was able to enter Super Nintendo World at 12:20pm which was just over an hour after I arrived. I’ve heard that when the park is crowded there is a much longer wait, but fortunately there are many other places you can explore during that time! There is also an official app you can download to reserve eTickets for certain areas after you check in to the park, but due to low attendance they weren’t needed on the day I was there. Plus by 5pm everyone was able to access all areas and the wait time for most rides was less than 25 minutes, so it was truly a miracle. I also bought a Blooper poncho from the gift shop so I could stay dry!

Please note that you can buy tickets at the park, but it is recommended to reserve one online from the USJ web store so you have faster access. Tickets are 8200 yen with tax included.

Exploring Super Nintendo World

Once you are able to enter Super Nintendo World, you will immediately stumble upon an amazing photo opp with 3 pipes and the logo as the backdrop. I cosplayed Luigi specifically for this moment and nailed it. Afterwards you will walk through a giant green pipe that will lead you to this spectacular view:

If you look behind you, you’ll notice that you just exited the Mushroom Kingdom! And if you gaze over the balcony you can see Bowser’s Castle in the distance as well as a bunch of rideable Yoshi. I decided that my next mission was to ride a Yoshi and try some of the scrumptious themed food so that is exactly what I did. Fortunately I had more than enough time to try everything. Super Nintendo World only has two rides; Yoshi’s Adventure and Mario Kart which is connected to Bowser’s Castle, but you can easily spend 5 hours walking here and enjoying the little details. Be sure to keep your eye open for hidden Pikmin too!

Riding the Rides

The Yoshi’s Adventure ride was hands down my favorite because it was extremely relaxing and takes you through various familiar scenes of the series. Each time you ride you have the chance to ride a different colored Yoshi which is really fun. If you have the USJ app installed you can play various games and match colored eggs on the virtual maps for points but I decided to just enjoy the view. I enjoyed running into Captain Toad on my adventure too! I’ll never forget how fun this was, especially after still being buzzed from the night before at Socore Factory.

The Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge ride is more thrilling and uses VR headsets so you can throw shells at enemies using buttons connected to your seat. Much like the Hogwarts Castle in the Wizarding Word of Harry Potter, you walk through Bowser’s Castle first before you reach the main attraction. I loved seeing his giant statue and the framed picture of Princess Peach sitting on the throne. Bowser still hasn’t gotten over her, huh. Although you cannot accelerate the karts, enemy attacks and how many enemies you hit will control the movement and it truly does feel like you’re racing around a circuit. It’s really fun and addictive so you’ll probably want to ride these multiple times! On the day I went the average wait time was 25 mins so I really lucked out!

Meeting Mario and Luigi

At certain times of the day Mario and Luigi make special appearances at the plaza and you have the chance to take your photo with them. I’ve heard that at Tokyo Disney it often takes over 2 hours to meet your favorite character so I’ve never sought these opportunities out, but since the line was short I decided to go for it. It took around 20 mins of waiting but I got an amazing photo with them and Luigi even complimented me on my outfit! The costumes they were wearing looked extremely realistic and it was fun to talk to them too. They both speak completely in English even to Japanese attendees which was funny. Unfortunately you can’t take the photo on your own camera and have to purchase the professional photo set for 2500 yen. However, you get 2 different poses and both a physical and digital copy which is extremely high quality. I wouldn’t do this kind of thing all the time, but Super Nintendo World is the exception.

Dining at Kinopio’s Cafe

Since I was starving from all of the walking, I decided to get some food at the mushroom-shaped Kinopio Cafe. I had to wait around 45 minutes to get in, but eating the themed food is undoubtedly part of the experience. The menu has quite a lot of options—everything from burgers to spaghetti to dessert—but since I am pescatarian I decided to try Yoshi’s Favorite Salad, mushroom soup, and mushroom pizza bowl, and a mystery tiramisu box for dessert. All of it was very wholesome and filling. I especially liked the bread on the mushroom pizza bowl. There is also a cafe near the entrance of the park where you can buy hat-shaped no-bake cheesecakes so naturally I went for the Luigi one on my way out. That was probably my favorite dessert because it was so creamy! I’ve never eaten green crust on a cheesecake before but I am very glad that I tried it.

Souvenirs

There are Mario gift shops literally all over the park so you never have to worry about missing out. The “must purchase” item for me was the Luigi headband. As I mentioned before, there are also rain ponchos available as well. I bought the Blooper one which has handy because I plan to take it to outdoor raves in the future. I’m actually embracing the long rainy season this year so I have the chance to wear it again!

Final Thoughts

This trip and all of the money I spent (which was near 10,000 yen on food, souvenirs, and photos) was completely worth it. Seeing a video game series that I’ve loved since childhood brought to life is truly a priceless experience. Despite the rain I was able to ride all the rides to my heart’s content and also try the food that I wanted. I was super lucky to meet Mario and Luigi because I think if the rain was heavy then they wouldn’t have been able to appear. I will back at this moment with fond memories:

I am sure when the emergency state ends and borders open, the park will become much more crowded so having days like this will be rare. If you want to go just be sure to buy tickets in advance and have the USJ app installed just in case you need to reserve area tickets through it. I am sure that even with the crowds everyone will be able to enjoy it for what it is. Long live the year of Luigi!

If you have any questions about the park then please be sure to ask me in the comments! I’m not sure where I’m traveling next but more adventures are in the works~

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

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

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

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

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

Access

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

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

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

Aesthetic Dining Experiences in Kyoto, Japan Vol. 2

Entering the alternate noodle dimension at Vegan Ramen UZU.

Whenever I travel to a new place, I like trying a combination of the local cuisine and the craziest places that I can find.  In Vol. 1 of my Aesthetic Dining Experiences series, I wrote about unique variations of Kyoto ramen, my top picks of vegan food, and matcha sweets (which includes green tea-flavored ice cream, parfaits, and more).  Fortunately I have discovered even more extradorinaiy restaurants and cafes since since I last published that article!

Here is a list I have compiled of the most unique dining experiences I have had in Kyoto recently, as well as my custom Totoro birthday cake from last year!

Patisserie Lulu

The most original dining experience I have ever had in Kyoto was hands down at Patisserie Lulu on my birthday in October last year. Since this was one of the rare months that Japan was in-between emergency states, domestic travel and alcohol was allowed so I brought my party to Kyoto and it was a smashing success. Patisserie Lulu is famous for its custom cakes with anime characters and I decided to request a pink Totoro rose theme since I love Ghibli and heaps of frosting. The cake turned out better than I could have ever imagined because it was light and fluffy but had a lot of icing. You can request these cakes using their online form and they will give you a price quote for your design. I had originally found them on Instagram and they had a lot of beautiful designs in their gallery.

Here is my cake featured on their official Instagram account:

The caption is hilarious because it says “A Totoro and rose [design] for a foreigner who came to Japan on her birthday.” As if I haven’t have lived here for over 5 years and flew to Japan during a pandemic just to order this cake. I absolutely love it and would easily give it 5 stars. It’s going to be hard to come up with a design that tops this for next year!

Address: 27-10 Uzumasa Goshonouchicho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8157

Cafe attmos.

If you’re looking for super thicc pieces of toast with beautifully crafted toppings, then look no further. Cafe attmos. or “Big Bread Experience” as my friend calls it is a lovely cafe that specializes in large portions of dessert toast with fruit, ice cream, and cream. There is a menu with seasonal food and drinks and I decided to order the apple toast because the shavings were cut to resemble a rose. Believe it or not, this is what I had for breakfast on my birthday before the Totoro cake and I can’t recommend it enough. My friends ordered the other pieces on the menu so I could take photos of them which was very sweet. I look forward to seeing the future designs they come up with because this was the fanciest toast I have ever eaten in my life!

Address: 490 Shimoumacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0873

Vegan Ramen UZU

One of my Kyoto friends on Twitter recommended me Vegan Ramen UZU because it is vegetarian friendly and the food does not contain as many preservatives as regular ramen does. Usually I prefer soba because it is the healthiest form of noodle and goes great paired with wasabi, but every so often I’ll get a craving for a bowl ramen. The dining experience here was truly like no other ramen restaurant because the lights were dimmed and swirling projections were displayed on the wall making it feel like we had entered another dimension. Being here was very relaxing and my vegan tomato ramen was delicious! I also ordered some vegan gyoza to split with my friend and was amazed by the quality. Kyoto actually has a lot of vegan options due to the amount of monks that are around here, but this is definitely the best vegan ramen in town. Yet another delicious birthday dinner for the books!

Address: 146 Umenokicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-0905

Trentanove

Yet another amazing cafe recommendation I got in my Instagram algorithms was pasta stuffed into a melon. I kid you not, fruit pasta is actually becoming a popular trend in Japan. I loved the little pieces of melon and the flowers they used to decorate it. At first glance it looks like an ice cream dessert but as soon as you stick your fork into it you get noodles. If this isn’t aesthetic food, then I don’t know what is! If you want to try some of the most unique pasta in Japan, make a reservation at Trentanove so they can prepare this exquisite melon for you. The unlikely combinations of taste might take some getting used to but you can easily separate the pasta and the fruit so you can eat them separately. This is definitely a challenge for the brave but I enjoyed it.

Address: 602-0855 Kyoto, Kamigyo Ward, Kamiikesucho, 200

cafe cherish

For those of you that adore vintage cafes with mermaid themed drinks, cafe cherish is the perfect place for you! I enjoyed seeing all of the antiques in here including the fake bird in the bird cage and the sofa chair that looked like it had came from my grandma’s basement. It has an extremely western theme which is why it felt nostalgic for me. I ordered the strawberry milk with whipped cream and chocolate butterfly as well as the mermaid soda. In addition to drinks they also have waffles, salads, and small lunch items like risotto and pizza on the menu. The atmosphere is very unique so I am sure that you will “cherish” your time here!

Address: 4-6 Tojijicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-0956

Usagi no Nedoko

Have you ever dreamed of eating Final Fantasy crystals? Well now you can. After you’ve killed chaos, hop on over to Usagi no Nedoko to get your Aetheryte fix. This is the most aesthetic parfait that I’ve ever eaten in my life and that’s really saying a lot. The crystals have a gummy texture but the flavor isn’t overly overpowering. They look almost like real crystals under the lights. Additionally the blueberries and ice cream they used were very light on the stomach which I appreciated because I had many other dining plans this day. Overall I give this place a 10/10 because they nailed the Final Fantasy aesthetic but aren’t even affiliated with Square Enix. They also sell crystal jewelry here so they are very authentic.

Address: 604-8432 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Nishinokyo Minamiharamachi, 37

Mushroom Stuffed Bread

On my way back to Tokyo last week I noticed an ordinary bread store right outside of the shinkansen gate. I don’t know what prompted me to go inside, but I guess I was just trying to kill time before the next train and see if they had anything that piqued my taste buds. All of the bread looked pretty standard to me until I noticed one that was shaped like a mushroom. It had little powdered circles on the top to make it look authentic so immediately I wanted to try it. After biting into it I was surprised to find there was some mushroom cream inside of the stem that tasted amazing! The taste reminded me of how truly delicious bread really is and I should go to bakeries more often.

Address: Kyoto Station (before the shinkansen gate)

I cannot remember the name of this bread shop but the next time I go to Kyoto I will take note of it.

Thank you for reading the the 2nd Volume of my Aesthetic Dining in Kyoto Series! If you have any suggestions, please feel to leave them in the comments. I always have my eye on new cafes and restaurants and am sure that there will be plenty more entries in the future~

Exploring a Kyoto with no People

A sunny day in the deserted Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.

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!

Address: 4-3 Sagatenryuji Imahoricho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8366

Hiking to Daihikaku

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.

Address: 62 Arashiyama Nakaoshitacho, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-0004
Entrance Fee: 400 yen

Accommodation

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.

Address: 604-0943 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Kamihakusancho, 249

2 flower parks not to miss out on in Japan

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

Hitachi Seaside Park

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

Best time to visit: April for the blue nemophila

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

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

Hitsujiyama Park & Jorin-ji Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Exploring in Takeo, Saga

An abandoned onsen exhibition reflecting the results of the Third Impact in Saga, Japan.

After having a fabulous day in Fukuoka exploring local shrines and temples, seeing the sunset on the beach, and relaxing at my onsen hotel, I decided to travel to Saga on the second day of my trip in Kyushu to do some urban exploring. When I was first researching prefectures in Japan years, I didn’t think Saga was that interesting compared to the others because it is extremely rural and is mostly known for its farmland and onsen. However, thanks to the hit anime series known as Zombieland Saga, a number of people have been flocking to Saga to visit real life places from the anime. This has greatly helped the economy of Saga during the pandemic and also brought light to many amazing places that were previously overshadowed. In this article I will be focusing on writing about urban exploring in Takeo Onsen and surrounding museums.

To reach Saga you can either fly to Saga Airport or take a train from Fukuoka like I did. Hakata Station to Takeo Onsen Station is about a one hour trip and costs 3100 yen. Though Saga is rural, I was able to use a combination of local buses, trains, and taxis to get around. Please look forward to reading about my adventure!

Exploring Abandoned Onsen

The first stop on my Saga itinerary was Takeo Onsen, which is small town of hot springs including a museum of abandoned ones making it ideal for urban exploring. This hot spring area is over 1300 years old making it a celebrated part of Saga’s history because many famous people have visited here. The museum is about a 15 minute walk from the station and is free to enter. It was really surreal entering a hot spring without water, but fortunately there were some non-abandoned hot springs nearby that you can relax at for the day. Plus the two story museum and vermillion gate are really worth checking out because they have interesting architecture. This area was actually featured in a manga splash page for Zombieland Saga. Interestingly the convenience stores in this area appear a solid color of brown instead of their original colors. My theory is this occurs because they have already been zombie-fied!

Takeo Shrine

Right down the street from the Takeo Onsen main area is Takeo Shrine! I decided to stop by and pay my respects. The pastel colors of this shrine really surprised me because they are really unusual but very pretty. I was happy to witness architecture of so many colors here!

Minefuyama Rakuen Lantern Exhibit

Despite being a rural part of Kyushi, Saga actually has quite the selection of interesting museums! The one that I was most looking forward to visiting was Mifuneyama Rakuen which you can actually walk to from Takeo Onsen. This museum has multiple rooms with cutting edge LED displays by teamLab and a beautiful outdoor garden as well. The first room that you enter has hundreds of flashing lanterns making it a popular destination for photographers. However, since I came here after Golden Week had already ended, there were hardly any people here at all! I had so much fun shooting here with my tripod. The staff was very lax here and let me set it up without any issue. That is one of the pros of traveling around rural places!

Minefuyama Rakuen Onsen Exhibition

The 2nd floor of Mifuneyama Rakuen had multiple rooms with hot springs and highly aesthetic projections. The room with the protruding pillars from the ground reminded me of a post-apocalyptic scene from Neon Genesis Evangelion and it was awesome! You cannot enter the baths here but walking around was an adventure initself. It felt surreal to be in a familiar scene with this abstract sci-fi theme going on:

Overall this museum takes about an hour to see and is my top pick in Kyushu thanks to all of these animated displays. The cheap entrance fee makes it more than worth it too! Unfortunately I did not have much time to see the outdoor area, but the museum featured in the next section fortunately had a lot of scenery!

Entrance Fee: 800 yen

Address: 843-0022 Saga, Takeo, 武雄町武雄4100

Yoko Museum

My last stop of the day was the Yoko Museum which is about 10 mins of walking from Mifuneyama Rakuen. This museum has a beautiful outdoor garden with a red bridge that takes you across a river with several waterfalls. There are also some terraced crops that slightly resemble the famous rice fields in the western Saga. If you continue to follow the main path you’ll find a lookout point that you can climb up to. The indoor part of the museum has famous pottery, but since I have already been to many museums in Japan I opted for just the outdoor part. During certain times of the year there are illuminations, but there weren’t any going on when I arrived at this time. I explored all of this museum in about 40 mins and was very happy with what I saw. The flowers that bloom in Saga sure are pretty and this garden is arranged beautifully!

Entrance Fee: 600 for the garden only and 1000 for the garden & museum

Address: 843-0022 Saga, Takeo, 武雄町4075-3

Breakfast at Re Cell Kitchen

Before embarking on this long aesthetic journey through Saga, I decided to eat a hearty breakfast at Re Cell Kitchen in Fukuoka near Tenjin Station where I was staying. The restaurant has some of the best organic food on the island. The breakfast set I had with fish, salad, soup, vegetables, and brown rice gave me enough energy for almost the whole entire day. I also tried their strawberry banana yogurt and granola dish for dessert and appreciated the heart-shaped fruit. Before setting off to Saga I highly recommend eating a nutritious meal here! I will be talking more about Saga cuisine in my next two articles.

Address: 810-0021 Fukuoka, Chuo Ward, Imaizumi, 1 Chome−1−4 石松ビル1F

Thank you for reading the first part of my Saga article series! In my next article I will be talking about Ureshino, which is a popular hot springs resort area featured in the Zombieland Saga anime. Please look forward to it!

Final Day in Miyakojima: Exploring Irabu Island & The Great Bike Crisis that was Averted

A scene from Non Non Biyori: Okinawa e Ikukoto ni Natta recreated on Irabu Island.

After a sublime day of scuba diving on the best beaches in Miyakojima and exploring the pumpkin limestone cave, I was about ready to wrap up my Okinawa trip and fly back to Tokyo. However, before my flight departed at 4pm that day, there was one more island I wanted to see early in the morning. Irabu Island is connected to the mainland of Miyakojima by the appropriately named Irabu Bridge and can be reached by car, bike, and even on foot! It is roughly 11km from the main resort strip of Miyakojima and is extremely rural but has some beautiful beaches, cafes, and resorts to see. I figured it would be the perfect final destination to end my trip and reflect for a bit before taking the 5 hour plane ride home.

I woke up early, rented a regular road bike from my hotel, and set off for Irabu Island! During my morning run I had the chance to see the sun rise and it looked absolutely stunning on Painagama Beach. The blue colors of the ocean that surrounded Irabu were also impressive as I crossed the bridge. I had flashbacks to the Grand Tethe’alla Bridge from Tales of Symphonia as I made my way to the other side. This almost didn’t feel real!

It took me about 50 mins to bike to the main beach of Irabu called “Day’s Beach” but the view was definitely worth it. It looked just like the beach in one of my favorite anime movies Non Non Biyori: Okinawa e Ikukoto ni Natta. Even though this was slightly different from the setting of the movie, it still had the same vibe:

Here are some more photos that I took of Day’s Beach. If I had more time I would have went swimming! I noticed that there were a lot of farms and plantations here. One of the highlights of biking was stopping to see all of the tropical plants on the way:

After walking along the beach and feeling refreshed, I decided to stop by a nearby restaurant called Blue Turtle. Here I tried their signature rum cocktail called the “Blue Turtle”, ate some fried sweet potato and octopus, and drank a dragon fruit smoothie for dessert. The food here was top notch and the view of the beach was even better. Despite not being able to see any turtles during my scuba trip the previous day, this feast sort of made up for it.

Finally feeling fulfilled that I accomplished everything on my itinerary, I went to unlock my bike and set off back off across the bridge. But that is when disaster struck—as I started riding back I noticed I had a flat tire despite not feeling it at all before. I’ve ridden around Tokyo with flat tires on my bike when I’ve been short on time, but having this happen on a rural island is less than ideal. I thought about biking the 11km back or even walking if I had to since I had enough time, but I instead decided to do the smart thing and stop at the nearest resort and ask for help. Fortunately the staff at Azure Villa were more than willing to help me!

Initially I thought it was just a flat tire (パンクしたタイヤ) but after inspection the staff confirmed the tube was damaged too. This is the danger of renting bikes on rural islands—you truly never know what you’re getting and sometimes weather conditions can hasten these damages. Fortunately the staff drove me 11km back to my resort for free (because I don’t think most Okinawan taxis could carry this bike) and were super empathetic. I offered to pay them the normal taxi fee but they refused me. I couldn’t have asked for more kindness than what they had showed me. Okinawan culture is truly amazing!

When we arrived back at my resort on the mainland, Hotel Locus, the staff there was also super kind to me, gave me my bike rental money back, and added 様 to my name which was the greatest honor. I was able to make my flight with time to spare and saw everything on my itinerary, but if this would have happened the first day it would have killed the vibe a bit. However, no adventure is complete without some obstacle, and we all handled this in the best way possible so I’m proud.

Thank you to everyone that has kept up with my Okinawa article series! I am so happy I was able to make this trip safely in between emergency states and have such a phenomenal time. In the future I will be writing a spin-off series of my previous trip to Okinawa in 2016 mentioning all of the heritage spots I visited. This weekend I will be going to Kyushu to have some more island adventures, but they will be more a lot more relaxed than this. Life is never calm for an adventurer but I am loving every second of this life!

Scuba Diving and Exploring the Pumpkin Limestone Cave in Miyakojima

Halloween came early this year in Miyakojima.

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

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

Scuba Diving at Shigira Beach

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

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

Exploring the Pumpkin Limestone Cave

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

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

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

Nature & Soba

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

Chasing Sunsets

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

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

Luscious Beaches and Juicy Bananas at Miyakojima, Okinawa

Sunayama Beach at sunset at Miyakojima.

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.

Address: Shimozato Hirara, Miyakojima, Okinawa 906-0013
Entrance Fee: Free

Sunayama Beach

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.

Yamatouga Ruins

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.

Address: Nishinakasone-353-1 Hirara, Miyakojima, Okinawa 906-0006

Top Dessert Picks

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.

Address: Nishizato-7-2 Hirara, Miyakojima, Okinawa 906-0000

Blue Booth

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.

Address: Shimozato-247-2 Hirara, Miyakojima, Okinawa 906-0013

Accommodation

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.

Super Aesthetic Adventures in Okinawa and Miyako

Okinawa in a bottle as it appears in Non Non Biyori.

With the end of sakura season in central Japan, it’s time to start thinking about plans for one of the craziest holidays of the year—Golden Week. Though I’ve taken a number of 3 day trips this year, it’s been quite a long time since I’ve created a multi-day itinerary. In fact, the last time I’ve an extended trip was in January 2020 to Taiwan. I’ve decided that this month I’m going to beat the Golden Week rush and take a 5 day trip to Okinawa focusing on Naha and Miyakojima since a number of attractions have been added since my last trip in 2016.

The dates I have chosen are 4/23 – 4/27 which should give me enough time to see everything I want. My planned itinerary (so far) is listed below:

Tokyo → Naha → Miyako → Naha ↺ Tokyo

My itinerary in 2016 was similar but replaced Miyako with Ishigaki. Both islands are worth seeing from what I’ve heard and while my last trip was focused on sightseeing, this trip is more focused on photography. There will be plenty of relaxation and adventure as well of course!

Though Japan is currently between emergency states and still not open for international travel, a large number of companies are forced to close during this holiday and inevitably people will be traveling domestically. Roundtrip flights to Okinawa from Tokyo usually cost between 16000 – 23000 yen depending on which airline you choose, but I found a reasonably priced fight with Jetstar for the average of 20000 yen and purchased it because I want to arrive there early in the morning. Even if certain places have curfews or restrictions, I will make the most of what I can enjoy.

Day 1: Relaxing at Naha’s Sanrio Resort

I will be departing from Narita Airport at 8:10am and arriving to Naha Airport at 11:05am.

On my first trip to Okinawa in 2016, I mostly stayed in budget hostels so I could use my money for bus tours to see the highlights of the main island. This time since I have more money saved up and wanted to try nicer facilities, I fortunately found the perfect place to spend my first night in Naha. When Hotel Okinawa with Sanrio Characters opened just a few years ago, it was spread all over my timeline and I knew that I was destined to stay here eventually. This hotel has rooms with 66 individual designs of Sanrio so picking my favorite series was difficult, but I decided on the My Melody themed double just because I love the bright pink colors in the artwork. These rooms cost roughly 11000 yen a night and have a nice location so I think the experience will be worth it! You can definitely find slightly cheaper facilities around Naha, but they won’t be as aesthetic as this. Expect a lot of photos of this place from me!

After I get checked in, I plan on checking out Ti-da Beach Parlor for some high tier smoothies then checking out the surrounding beaches. I will also walk down the main street for old times’ sake and see if Epica is still going all night. I intend for this day to be chill but I’m open to whatever comes my way!

Day 2: Dessert Museum at Stem Resort

Another amazing attraction that got added to Naha after my first trip was the Stem Resort theme park with an extremely photogenic dessert museum. Like Sanrio Puroland in Tokyo that I just visited last month, the museum is very cute and has a number of photo opportunities. Though I am mostly coming here for the sake of photography, I am looking forward to enjoying the inflatables and dinosaur museum if I have time afterwards. Also the rooftop bar doesn’t sound like a bad idea either. The admission fee seems to vary from 1800 – 3000 yen depending on what attractions you want to see so that is actually quite cheap to enjoy a resort of this caliber.

After I finish shooting here, I plan on heading back to my hotel at Hotel Aqua City and enjoying some fine wine. This resort is cheaper than the Sanrio one and has an amazing pool. I will need to rest up because the next day I am flying to Miyako!

Day 3: Getting Acquainted with Miyako Island

I will depart from Naha Airport at 9:40am and arrive at Miyako Airport at 10:30am. A one way flight costs approximately 8000 yen but is overall worth it. Ishigaki (which I previously visited) and Miyako are the most popular islands to visit aside from the main one so I’m looking forward to comparing my experiences of the two.

On my first day I will mostly be getting acquainted with the island and taking it easy, but the places I want to see the most are Miyako Shrine, Kamamamine Park, and bike to Ibaru Island which is extremely rural but has some scenic points. There are a few bars and restaurants I have in mind too if they’re open. I’ve heard Miyako is much smaller than Ishigaki and has less things to do, but the beach game is still strong and I want to go somewhere that I’ve never been before. Regardless I am looking forward to getting away from the city and getting to know this little beach town!

I chose to stay at Hotel Locus for 2 nights just because it is located right on the beach and also has a beautiful pool. It is around the same price as the Aqua City Hotel in Naha so it’s affordable. I plan on renting a bike and also using taxis if needed to get around but overall most of the things I want to see are near my accommodation so it should be convenient.

Day 4: Snorkeling with Turtles & Cave Exploration

Since I still haven’t been able to travel to the Philippines and snorkel with turtles in Cebu like I originally planned last year, I decided to try it in Miyako! I found a good tour on Klook that includes the turtle experience with the exploration of a pumpkin-shaped limestone cave and figured that was right up my alley so I immediately booked it. I am beyond stoked to try underwater photography with equipment I bought last year for my GoPro but haven’t been able to use yet! This tour will take me around the Kerama Islands and has a lot of activity so it seems like a great deal. There are also kayaking and boat tours available, but I have already done that stuff in other countries already and am going for the more unique experiences. This tour lasts for around 6 hours so I know I will be exhausted by the end of the day, but it will be a blast!

Day 5: Final Day of Enjoying the Beach & Heading Home

On my final day I just want to go swimming at Sunayama Beach and explore any last place that I haven’t had time to see yet. I have to catch two planes to get back to Tokyo, but I will leave Miyako at 4pm and reach Tokyo at 10pm. I have a layover at Naha Airport so I can do souvenir shopping and photo editing while I wait. Though it seems like a long while, I am sure the time will go fast. Overall I love tropical weather so just the warm atmosphere is enough to make me happy. It’s been almost a year since I last had a beach vacation in Miyazaki, so I am more than ready for this trip! It’s going to be another one for the books. Please look forward to my upcoming Okinawa article series!