After spending an amazing 5 days on Jeju Island, I decided to fly back to Seoul and explore the places that I had overlooked on my first trip to Korea back in 2018. Pocheon Art Valley and Herb Island caught my eye because they seemed up my alley. Both places were slightly outside of the city and had a lot of fantastic nature to see with other quirky exhibits. Every day tour that I’ve taken outside of Seoul has been well-organized and was easier than taking public transportation, so I booked a package that included both of them and strawberry picking for around $60 USD on Klook. The tour has amazing ratings and gives you enough time to explore both places. Entrance fees are included as well so it saves you both time and money.
Pocehon Art Valley
I started off my tour by completely going to the wrong station to get picked up my by tour guide. That’s what happens when you’re jetlagged, can’t read Hangul, and are just ignorant in general from all the traveling you do abroad. Fortunately I called Klook and my guide waited for me because our tour was only about 5 people. I apologized to everyone and we made our way to the strawberry farm in a small van. It was nice being in the Korean countryside. The people on the tour were all in their twenties so it was easy to make friends with them. I picked a ton of strawberries because I was starving. After our baskets were full, we made our way to the art valley!
Pocheon Art Valley is a garnite quarry and geopark that has been transformed into a creative art valley. In addition to stunning natural scenery you will see sculptures, planted flora, and even live concerts here. There are arts and crafts workshops you can participate in as well. I mostly came here for the exploration and aesthetic art aspect. After our tour guide finished his explanation, we all set off in our own direction. You can choose to ride the monorail or hike up the valley on your own (it doesn’t take that much time). I hiked around the valley and saw many amazing sights! You can see the silhouettes of the mountains once you get near the summit of the climbing area. This was much easier than climbing Mt. Hallasan like I did the week before. I had so much fun taking pictures here and can see why so many Korean dramas are filmed here.
After about 90 minutes, we met back at the van and drove to Herb Island.
Herb Island is perhaps one of the funniest memes I’ve come across in Korea (at least I thought it was very amusing). First of all, it’s not actually an island━it’s a Christmas-themed amusement park with hundreds of Mediterranean herbs planted around it. Plus it has a mini-zoo, soap-crafting workshop, and lavender ice cream which I highly recommend trying. Everywhere you look there’s strange visuals. I loved seeing the jellyfish and heart illuminations alongside the statues of Santa. Walking through the gardens and the sea of Christmas lights in the summer was surreal. The bakery with the herb cookies was also amazing. This is my favorite amusement park in Korea because it’s just so random:
When you get through the sea of lights, you’ll come across a pen with miniature donkeys. As if this “island” couldn’t get weird enough:
If I ever come back here, I swear to god I am crafting some herb soap. I’ll also buy some more herb cookies for my friends as souvenirs. Keep on staying weird, South Korea!
Overall I had a pleasant experience on this tour. The traffic was heavy due to a public holiday I wasn’t aware so we were late coming back, but that was also my fault for initially being late to the tour. I would like to re-visit Pocheon when I come back to Korea in the future. I hope more people decide to come here because it’s the perfect day trip from Seoul!
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.
After successfully climbing Korea’s tallest mountain, I decided to take a bus tour around the west side of the island so I could relax and enjoy some of the quirky attractions of Jeju Island. I booked my tour through Jeju Day Tour because they go to the most places out of all the tour companies and are locally owned. The price for seeing half the island is only $65 USD which is worth it because it’s cheaper than renting a taxi or car. Mr. Ko, who personally organizes the tours and is the main guide, speaks very good English and answered all of my questions about the culture here.
The tour is about 9 – 10 hours but includes lunch and plenty of breaks. Our tour only had about seven people on it which was the just the right amount. The bus came directly to my hostel at dawn so we could get an early start. I couldn’t wait to see how my third day on the island was about to unfold!
Our first stop was the “Mysterious Road” (also known as “Dokkaebi Road”) which was located at the base of a mountain that connects two major highways. It was given this name because things that fall on it seem to roll up the hill rather than down. In other words, the road appears to defy gravity due to an optical illusion of its mountainous surroundings. Since we came on a slightly rainy day, we could see water droplets coming towards us from the top of the hill and it was supernatural. The demon head statue that marked the road also added to the ambiance, and it was only our first stop!
Our next stop was the Cheonjeyoen Falls, which are three of the most beautiful waterfalls in Jeju! The water from the first waterfall divides into the other two making it a beautiful natural occurrence. The water from this park eventually flows into the ocean, which is why people call it “The Pond of the Gods”. It definitely looks like something mythical straight out of a video game. I was grateful to have my guide explain its origin or else I would have overlooked it. These are the best waterfalls to see on the island in my opinion.
Mt. Songak is a little volcano with 99 peaks. This was the second volcano I visited after Mt. Hallasan and was a much easier climb! The summit has the best view of the west side of the island, but unfortunately due to the heavy fog it was difficult to see. The coast and walk to the temple however were breathtaking. Even with the fog I could still clearly make them out. I climbed part of the mountain (which only took a few minutes) then opted to go horseback riding for a small fee. My horse looked similar to Epona so it was totally worth it.
The good thing about Jeju is that the fog usually clears quickly. Since I was here for 5 days and had already climbed the tallest mountain, I was more focused on the experience of hiking rather than taking photos.
Jeju Trickeye Museum
After spending the entire morning submersed in nature, we had a Korean buffet lunch that was included in the tour package and were dropped off at the Jeju Trickeye Museum. At Trickeye museums you can pose with various paintings that are designed to make it look like you are part of the art. I had been to the Trickeye Museum in Seoul the previous year so this was quite similar. However, the Trickeye App that you can download for free on your phone makes photography much more interesting here. My favorite part was the VR pandas that were created with the app. This video I took made it look like they had crawled out of the painting. It was honestly worth the trip.
Soingook Theme Park
I was not expecting to run into Shrek and crew while I was in Korea, but that just goes to show how crazy this island is. At Soingook Theme Park you can can see replicas of famous architecture around the world juxtaposed to characters from famous films in a humorous display. I enjoyed seeing Buddha, Shrek, an Angry Birds plane, and some vaporwave all in the same place. Not to mention a beautiful bridge and lake from god knows where. I bought some knock-off Kit-Kats called “Twin Kicker” at a convenience store here and they tasted pretty good. I’m still trying to process everything I saw here!
Osulloc Tea Museum
Osulloc is the largest tea plantation in Korea and is also a museum with delicious sweets. From Jeju Island, the plants receive the perfect amount of sunlight so they can be processed into high quality tea and shipped around the country. You can freely wander through the plantation and learn about how tea is made. I tried the green tea ice cream and chocolate green tea roll which was amazing! This is one of the best spots to pick up souvenirs on Jeju too. I would say Korean green tea is just as good as Japanese green tea.
Teddy Bear Museum (Teseum)
Because meeting Shrek wasn’t enough, our final stop was the Teddy Bear Museum (also called “Teseum”) where we went on a “Teddy Bear Safari” to meet stuffed bears from all over the world. Not gonna lie, the concept seems childish but this was actually a very fun exhibition. Seeing everything from the anatomy of a teddy bear to their origin made me think back to all the stuffed Beanie Babies I collected as a kid. I did not realize how much of an impact teddy bears had on the world before I came here. Why was this on a sub tropical island in Korea? I have no idea, but it was an interesting concept.
When we got back on the bus, Mr. Ko kindly gave us mini bear keychains as souvenirs from the museum. I still have mine and think back to this trip very fondly.
After a fulfilling day of nature, green tea, and some of the craziest museums in Jeju, I was taken back to my hostel Skywalker around dinner time. I chose this hostel because it was close to Mt. Hallasan Park and the dorms were only around $12 per night. Unfortunately this hostel is now closed, but my other recommendation GreenDay is still open!
This tour was 100% worth it. The amount of things we were able to see in one day was astonishing. We had the perfect balance of nature, museums, and silly tourist attractions (which I never would have went to by myself but I enjoyed them). Basically we saw the entire west part of the island and were free to explore each destination after listening to a brief explanation. You could try to reach these places with a local Jeju bus, but some spots such as the Mysterious Road can only be accessed by car or via tour bus. The amount I paid for this tour was about the same as I paid for my bus tour in Okinawa, Japan, so it was pretty fair. I was happy to have a Jeju local as my guide. If you book a tour with Jeju Day Tour then be sure to say hello to Mr. Ko for me!
In my next article, I will be exploring the east side of the island with the same tour company (they were that good)! The west tour runs on even days and we east tour runs on odd days, so you can easily fit them into your schedule. Thank you for reading!
After getting a good dose of cycling and an impromptu dance party on Udo Island, I figured I’d spend my 2nd day in Jeju climbing Korea’s tallest mountain: Mt. Hallasan. It’s actually not just a mountain— it’s an active volcano too! Fortunately for us, it hasn’t erupted in over 1,000 years and doesn’t spew lava so it’s safe to climb. Reaching the summit will give you the best view of the island which is why I wanted to take on the challenge. I’ve climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan which was quite the strenuous hike of 3,776 meters. Hallasan is still challenging, but is only 1,947 meters and has a lovely forest you can see on your way up. I found the hike to be pleasant and surprisingly relaxing.
Hallasan National Park is in the center of the main Jeju island and is quite easy to get to from any accommodation. It only took me around 45 mins via bus from my hostel. The mountain has four main trails, but only two will take you all the way to the top. I decided to start at the Seongpanak Trail then take the Gwaneumsa Trail down. This is the best way to see Hallasan as you can reach the summit and fully experience all the sights on the main trails within 8 – 10 hours. If you want a shorter hike, you can try Eorimok Trail or Yeongsil Trail which only take 2 hours. I did not hike them, but from looking at pictures that others have posted I can see that they have similar scenery to the beginning of the main trails. I never guessed that Korea would have such beautiful mountains, but I was surprised to see how jaw-dropping the views were the further I climbed:
I started climbing around 8:30am and bought a small bottle of Korean Sochu from a convenience store at the base so I could take little shots of it as I climbed up the mountain. Fortunately my hostel provided free breakfast so with 3 pieces of egg toast I knew I would have the energy to go all the way. I listened to all of my favorite music while walking through the forest and had a nice little reflection on life. Here I was in Korea again. I found out there’s way more to this country than K-pop, cosmetics, and partying in Seoul and Busan. These violet flora I kept seeing were absolutely beautiful. Before I knew it, I was walking up the stairs and could vaguely make out the peak. Of course it looked closer than it actually was, but it was still within my sight. This was honestly much more peaceful than my Fuji hike because there weren’t nearly as many people. I could focus on the views and climb with ease in anticipation of climbing my first active volcano.
Initially the temperature was mild so the climb was very easy. I wasn’t sweating or noticing a huge incline so I didn’t need to stop for many breaks. As I started seeing signs that indicated the summit was near, the air felt cooler and I noticed there was snow on the ground. It was then I realized the mistake that I had made—I wasn’t wearing enough layers!! I was only wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and a waterproof Nike jacket so I didn’t have any heatwear. Fortunately the cold didn’t bother me due to the adrenaline that was pumping through my veins. Plus I’ve gone running in the snow in Michigan wearing shorts before, so I suppose this wasn’t the first time I had been exposed to this kind of temperature. The wind started to make my cheeks turn red, but by that point I had already reached the top.
Seeing this beautiful crater lake Baengnokdam (백록담/白鹿潭) was my reward:
I was so happy to not only have climbed Japan’s tallest mountain, but now Korea’s too!! I actually enjoyed this more than Fuji due to it being shorter and having the crater lake at the top. Not to mention that there were far less people. I would recommend climbing both if you are a nature enthusiast traveling through Asia. The feeling of looking down at the island once you’ve reached the top is one of pure victory. I enjoyed experiencing snow on a sub-tropical island even if I was unprepared for it too.
Here is a video of us climbing towards the top:
After snapping a bunch of pictures, I started my descent on the Gwaneumsa Trail. I was still freezing, but fortunately the further I climbed down the faster my body temperature returned to normal. I was high on adrenaline and knew food was waiting for me at the bottom too, so that was my main motivation!
The Gwaneumsa Trail was initially a bit steep to climb down, but provided me with some gorgeous mountain views. There was also a sign warning us to steer clear of wild boars. Who would have guessed they were native to Korea!! I found that getting down took less time than I expected, so I completed the climb in around 8 hours. Not bad for my first big climb of the year. I celebrated with some Korean seafood pancakes by a place near the trail entrance. I tried to use a map to figure out the bus schedule, but unfortunately I didn’t have any service and was informed that buses are really infrequent here. Despite the language barrier, the store owners were kind enough to call a taxi for me that wasn’t very expensive. I was very thankful for my experience and also that the weather stayed nice!
After my hike I decided to try a hot spring in Jeju, because why not? Tapdong Seawater Sauna (which is now sadly closed) was closest to my hotel so I decided to walk there. Two things about it really amazed me. The first was that you could go swimming in certain baths. Usually at Japanese onsen, swimming is forbidden. However, Jeju has a huge female diving community, so I could see where this makes sense. The second was that Korean people brought water with them into the sauna. That is also not allowed in Japan, but with the super hot temperature I could see why people did it. The culture here was a lot more laid back which I really enjoyed. The concierge jokingly called me an alcoholic because I was still carrying soju around with me, but I laughed and said it’s because I just climbed Hallasan and I was on vacation. It was hard to believe that this was only my second day!!
After two awe-inspiring hikes through the forest that inspired Princess Mononoke and to Japan’s oldest tree, I decided to spend my final day in Yakushima relaxing at beaches and hot springs. Though I went on this trip nearly three years ago, I still remember how breathtaking it was to this day. This island undoubtedly has some of the best nature in Japan because it’s so remote from civilization. This is the perfect place to reflect on life and also do meditation. Please see Part 1 of my adventures in Yakushima for reference.
Day 3: Beach and Hotspring Adventures
Since I didn’t rent a car and was backpacking my way around, I decided to book a private tour through Yes Yakushima so I could see more of the island. The main advantage of doing this is you’ll have an experienced guide to show you around and they can cater the tour to fit your interests. I chose the Island Tour since I had already had my fill of hiking, but there are many other options available. What’s amazing is their guides can take you almost anywhere on the island; even to the most difficult mountains that not many people have climbed. Solo tours start at 27000 yen per person, but the price is worth it for what you get to see. The money you spend also goes to environmental maintenance.
Distilleries, Beaches, Crabs & Hotsprings
My guide Brian was also from the US, but he married a Japanese native on Yakushima and hiked there for years so his knowledge of the island was vast. My tour started off with a bang when we visited a Yaksuhima sake distillery and I knocked back a few samples. Sweet potatoes are very famous here so some breweries use them as a base for sake. We also drove past some mini farms where you could insert coins into a post box and take vegetables. The stores are completely unmanned so it shows there is a high level of trust between people on this island.
After eating a vegetarian bento by the beach, we drove to Hirauchi Sea Spa where you can go swimming and also wade in the tidal hot springs. The best time to visit is during low tide which usually your tour guide can predict. You can come here during high tide too, but the hot springs will be too deep to enter. I spent a good 2 hours here swimming and wading in the hot springs. The hot springs are unisex so you can choose to wear your swimsuit or jump in naked (I wore my swimsuit since I was on a tour).
While I was walking on the beach, I saw some amazing sea crabs chilling in the rocks:
Here’s an extremely old video I took of them. Their eyes are over-sized and adorable:
I will never forget how vibrantly blue the water was here. Out of everywhere in Japan, Iwami and islands in Kyushu like Yakushima have the best beaches. I also saw Yakushima-todai Lighthouse which is painted white and looks like a small chapel.
After having my fill of swimming, we decided to drive to some waterfalls next. The following waterfall is the most beautiful waterfall that I’ve seen in Japan:
We arrived at the perfect time of day because I got to see a rainbow reflected in the water of Ohko Waterfall!! This was such an amazing sight to behold! Plus there were hardly any other people around so you could only hear the splash of the water. I sat on the rocks and mediated for a few minutes as cool water droplets splashed my back. As I was meditating, a piece of bark from a Yaku Cedar tree fell from the cliff and drifted towards me. Brian carefully picked it up from the water and held onto it. He informed me that under no circumstances are people of the island allowed to strip bark from trees, but if the bark is removed by natural causes then people are allowed to take it. Since he said he was skilled in instruments, farming, and other outdoor activities, I figured he would think of the perfect use for it. He let me hold it and see it up close which was very special to see. It really is as if the gods were smiling upon us here.
Though there were no rainbows here, this was still an amazing waterfall to see. While Ohko is best viewed from sea level, Senpiro is best viewed from the mountains. The granite valleys here were quite the sight. Hiking up to the level where you can see them only takes a few minutes and is way easier than the hike to Jomonsugi. I am continually impressed by the harmony of land and water you can see on Yakushima!
Gajumaru Banyan Tree
After our waterfall treks, we drove to a mysterious forest in Nakama Village. At first glance, it looked similar to the Shiratani Unsuikyo which I explored the other day. However, Brian informed me that this is home of the Gajumaru Banyan Tree—a magical tree that grows by dropping down roots from its limbs into the ground! The roots can also sprout onto existing trees which give this forest its twisted shape. Yakushima is unique because a lot of the island is still uninhabited and these trees can grow wild. Perhaps one day the Gajumaru Banyan Tree limbs will engulf the entire island. No one knows for sure, but it sure was fun to ponder about what could happen in the future.
At this point the journey was gradually unwinding. I felt completely satisfied with what I had seen in the three days that I spent here. On our way back to Miyanoura Pier where I planned to sail back to Kagoshima, we passed by some wild monkeys and a tree that resembles Cthulhu. The more time you spend here, the more aesthetic things you’ll start to notice:
Though this may sound a bit hypocritical, any pictures you see of Yakushima online don’t do it justice. The island is extremely vast and beautiful and the only way to truly see this is to embark on the long journey and see it for yourself. That being said, my trip here was absolutely perfect minus not packing enough food during my hikes. The first two days I spent almost entirely by myself hiking and seeing Japan’s oldest tree. This was great because it gave me the chance to create my own personal connection with the island. I didn’t feel lonely because I was on a journey. The last day I reflected with an experienced guide and spent a lot of time relaxing. I realized from talking to him there is still so much of Yakushima that is unexplored. Was three days enough for what I wanted to see? Definitely. Would I want to come back in the future and see more? Also yes! 3-5 days is what I would recommend to most people. Be sure to respect nature and to also treasure your time here.
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!
Nearly two years ago, I ventured north into the mountainous region of Nagano with two missions to accomplish. The first was to see the famous hotspring-loving monkeys in Jigokudani. Though a lot of monkeys in Asia are known to be feisty, the Japanese macaque (also known as snow monkeys) are said to be pretty relaxed. It’s probably due to the fact that they have their own 24-hour hotspring to themselves. The second objective was to go to a rare event in Matsumoto called Glaass Lounge. This party is a gathering of house and techno enthusiasts that goes all night, and on this particular weekend Carpainter and Seimei of Trekkie Trax were to appear. The stars had aligned for the ultimate weekend and I couldn’t be more excited!
Jigokudani Monkey Park
As soon as I arrived to Nagano Station, I went to the ticket office and purchased a day pass for Jigokudani Park. The park is about an hour bus ride from the station, but you have the chance to see rare scenes of the countryside so it’s not a bad trip. From the bus stop, the walk to the monkey park is about 30 mins through a lush pine forest. When you get to the top of a hill in the mountains, you will see dozens of monkeys running through a roped-off area full of hotsprings:
Though you sadly cannot enter the hotsprings with the monkeys, you can get pretty close to them. Often they will go under the ropes and leisurely mingle with people. It is advised not to look them directly in the eyes because that is a sign of aggression. Also there are notices posted not to feed them and to be careful with your bags (a.k.a. common sense). I would allow yourself at least 1.5 hours to fully enjoy the park. The monkeys are quite fun to observe and the mountain air feels lovely.
Besides the monkeys, the scenery surrounding the park made it worth the trip. The mountain backdrop on the lake looked like something straight out of a postcard. Plus hiking through the forest was an awesome workout and I saw many beautiful rivers along the way. You can see the Japanese Alps from here too:
Admission Fee: 800 yen to enter the park // 3200 yen for admission to the park and roundtrip bus fare (I recommend this option unless you rent a car)
Although I had fun here, the day I went the monkeys weren’t particularly interesting in bathing even though it was cold out and there was snow on the ground. Hakodate in Hokkaido has a better monkey onsen that you can see. The monkeys there seem to love hotsprings more than the monkeys I saw here, but both are worth checking out.
Due to having to catch a train into the city that night, I didn’t have a lot of time to look for places to eat but fortunately Nagano Station had me covered. I managed to find some amazing kitsune udon (noodles topped with a thin layer of fried tofu), and oyaki (stuffed dumplings). I was happy to see they had a number of vegetarian options and were very cheap to order individually. Oyaki are a Nagano specialty so definitely try them if you get the chance! You can find them literally all over the place in a variety of flavors.
I arrived at Studio SONIC around 11pm when Glaass Lounge had just kicked off. The club had a simple setup with a DJ booth in the front and a bar to the side, but since it was compact it was easy to socialize with people. I found my friends immediately and told them the story of the bathing monkeys. It felt great to experience the music scene of Matsumoto out here in the mountains. A number of these DJs come to Tokyo events every once in a while too.
Monolith Slip, a duo of two music producers from this area were one of my favorite acts. They create a lot of rave music and were featured on an earlier Haka Gang x Trekkie Trax compilation:
Besides them, I of course enjoyed seeing Carpainter as the featured guest. As always, his techno/house mixes are amazing:
This party went on until 5am and was an experience I’ll never forget. I haven’t been back to Nagano in over 2 years, but if there are more music events like these in the fture then I’ll definitely be tempted!
From Tokyo Station, take the Hokuriku-Shinkansen to Nagano Station. This will take 2 hours and costs 8400 yen one way. From Nagano Station you can take a bus to the monkey forest and the Shinano Limited Express to reach Matsumoto City. All tickets can be purchased on they day you arrive, but if you are coming during a holiday I would book them in advance. I would recommend 2 days and 1 night here to see everything.
Since I didn’t have a lot of money at time, I stayed at a net cafe called Carefree Cafe for a few hours after the party. However, there are a lot of great hotspring resorts and ryokan you can stay in that are better! Booking usually has some great deals depending on what you are looking for.
Yesterday I wrote about the popular mountainous hotspring getaway Hakone, so today I’m writing about Tokyo’s other most popular day trip: Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture. Like Hakone, Nikko is also a famous hotsprings area located in the mountains that has stunning nature, temples, and a lot of parks as well. Between the two of them, Hakone is my favorite because the hotsprings and museums are easier to reach by bus. Nikko is more spaced-out than Hakone and some of the hot springs take over two hours via bus to reach. That is a lot of traveling to do if you’re just coming for the day, but if you really like hiking you may find Nikko more interesting. Both are worth seeing at least once.
I’ve been to Nikko twice (once in the summer and once in the winter for the snow festival) so I will be detailing my favorite discoveries in this article. All of these places can be reached via bus from Nikko Station:
Kegon Falls & Toshogu Shrine
Kegon Falls is one of the most gorgeous waterfalls in Tochigi Prefecture. It was formed by lava that rerouted a river into Lake Chuzenji. We came here in the dead of winter when the surrounding area was covered by snow and slightly frozen, but the waterfall was still freely falling from the mountains. I will never forget how beautiful this scenery was. No matter what time of year you visit you will have an unforgettable view!
In the summer I visited Nikko’s most famous shrine: Toshogu. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a good reason. This shrine serves as remembrance for Tokugawa Ieyasu who ruled the Tokugawa Shogunate for over 200 years. This shrine complex consists of several buildings with the main one being adorned in golden architecture that gleams in the sunlight. The shrines are located in a forested area so visiting each of them is quite a nice hike. I’m glad that I’ve traveled here during both the summer and winter so I can see the lovely change of scenery.
Kegon Falls has no admission fees, but it costs 550 yen to go to the observation deck (which is worth it in my opinion).
Toshogu Shrine Entrance Fee: 1300 yen
Nikko is famous for yuba which is literally tofu skin. That might not sound very appealing by itself, but it’s quite delicious when paired with or added to other dishes. I tried Yuba udon with my friend and it tasted amazing! The soft texture of the yuba paired with the noodles and broth gave the dish a unique texture. I also tried some yuba slices on the side just so I could fully analyze the taste. They are not as solid as tofu and are easier to eat. My favorite tofu of all time is fried tofu or spicy tofu since they have the most flavor. Yuba is rather flavorless, but it’s good for your health if eaten in small amounts. We went to the restaurant across from the station called ゆば料理, but you can try it almost anywhere in Nikko.
Yumoto Onsen Snow Festival
Each year in February, Yumoto Onsen has a snow festival in which igloos with ice sculptures are illuminated similar to the Sapporo Snow Festival. However, since this hotsprings resort is secluded, there are not as many people here and you can fully enjoy the illuminations to your heart’s content. It was quite a long journey from Tokyo, but my friend and I managed to arrive here and back within a day. The journey took 3.5 hours one way, but Yumoto Onsen is one of the best hotsprings in Nikko. After doing some photography here, we used the hotsprings for under 1000 yen. Similar to Gero Onsen and Kusatsu, you can choose from a large variety of onsen. Many were available for day trippers like us. The snow festival is free to see.
Here is a video I took in early 2018 of the igloos. I hope to take higher quality footage of another illuminated snow festival in the future:
Tobu World Square
Because I’m a fan of museums and architecture, I had to check out Tobu World Square. This is a theme park at Kinugawa Onsen (another famous hotspring) that has over 100 scales models of iconic places from around the world. My personal favorite was the pyramids from Egypt. If you stand in front of them and take a picture of yourself, it looks like you’re actually in the desert! The coliseum from Rome is also aestheically pleasing to see. I loved the mini recreation of the Dragon and Taiwan Pagoda as well. Now that I’ve been there, it hold much more meaning to me. The more you walk through the park, the more you want to travel! Summer is the ideal time to come here in my opinion.
Entrance Fee: 2500 yen (a bit expensive, but this is one of the most interesting museums in Nikko).
Walking in an Edo Wonderland
Since I was already near Kinugawa Onsen where many museums are located, I figured I’d go walking in an Edo Wonderland. As the name implies, this is an amusement park dedicated to the Edo period of Japan. If you’ve studied Japanese history, then you’ll know that this was a revolutionary time for the country. There were samurais, economic growth, and a lot of development across Japan. Many anime and novels are based off this time period. Edo Wonderland plays homage to that and gives visitors the chance to step back into that world. You can visit ninja houses and temples here, dress up in formal Edo clothing, take a boat cruise down the river, and see all sorts of performances.
Since I’ve been living in Japan for while, the most interesting part was simply exploring the Edo town for me. However, there’s a lot more you can do here! There is an archery dojo, countless restaurants, and museums where you can get even further lost in time.
Entrance Fee: 4800 yen before 2pm, 4100 after 2pm (it’s best to come in the afternoon as this is quite expensive)
The best way to access Nikko is from Tokyo’s Ueno Station. At the tourism office, they have often have discounts and deals as Nikko is a popular destination. From Ueno, you can take the Hibiya Line to Kita-senju Station, then the Tobu Limited Express to reach Tobu-Nikko Station. This takes approximately 2 hours and costs 3500 yen.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never stayed overnight at Nikko before but it’s something I’d like to try in the future. Kinugawa Onsen is one of the centrally located and seems like a good option because you can reach the other areas of Tochigi Prefecture quite easily from it.
After riding camels in Tottori and swimming in the timeless ocean of Iwami, I set my sights on climbing Mt. Daisen which is about an hour away from Tottori Station. Daisen-Oki National Park is quite expansive and has beaches, mountains, and the remnants of a volcano that is said to be inhibited by the gods. There is also a lot of interesting wildlife you can see here such as salamanders and beautiful flora. I even ran into a herd of cows on my way to the top. Although I didn’t make it all the way up due to fog and visibility issues, I had the chance to explore some temples buried deep in the forest and bathe in a natural hotspring. Though it’s quite remote from the major cities of Japan, Daisen is the perfect place for a hiking retreat or those who want to explore places outside of Fuji. You could spend anywhere from a day to a week hiking around all of the trails here.
Exploring Mt. Daisen
The main trail to Misen Peak takes about 3 hours to climb, making the total climb around 4-6 hours. I came here on a humid day in August, and unfortunately thick fog covered a lot of the trail so I only climbed for about 1.5 hours. However, in that time I was able to make it to all of the temples and attractions that this trail is famous for. I first stopped at the Daisen Farm Home of Milk to gaze at the cows living their peaceful farm life and try some of the famous ice cream here. It was amazing as expected. Next, I ventured to the two famous temples here: Daisenji and Enryuin. Due to the fog I got lost on the way to Enryuin and accidentally walked through someone’s backyard in the forest, but they were thankfully kind enough to point me in the right direction. I arrived in yokai heaven:
Daisenji is classic Buddhist temple that can only be viewed from the outside, where as Enryuin has an immaculate interior design and is designed for meditation. Both are worth checking out to see the history and connection between them. It is said that although yokai are monsters, they are viewed as gods here because they have the power to scare people and drive out their impure desires for the greater good. At Enryuin, you can lay on your back and meditate by looking at the artwork of yokai painted on the ceiling. They were drawn by Shigeru Mizuki, who is also the author of the manga series GeGeGe no Kitaro. The monk here was very nice and welcomed me with kindness.
After having my fill of yokai watching (punny), I decided to seek out some food. Hinokami Goen Yuin is a really handy place because it has hotsprings, guesthouses, food, and campground access. I bought a soba set there and also bathed in the hotspring for an hour. It started raining on the mountain so I came at the ideal time. It was relaxing to watch the rain fall off the plains of the mountain while I relaxed at a sheltered outdoor hotspring. This is peak mountain life (/end pun).
For a full list of attractions you can see in Daisen, please see their official website. Usually the weather here is quite pleasant, but unfortunately I came during a rainy time. If I come back I definitely want to explore the beaches and more of the volcanoes.
The Ghost Town of Yonago
Once the rain cleared, I decided to head to the ghost town of Yonago to see what it had to offer. Since I prayed at Enryuin and survived the storm, I figured I could get through this. Yonago is only an hour away from Daisen and is said to have a spiritual influence. It is also the hometown of previously mentioned manga artist Shigeru Mizuki, so you can find his yokai artwork all over the place by walking around the streets from the station. Did I see any ghosts here? Many. Take a look for yourself:
The design of this town is extremely aesthetic which is why it initially attracted my attention. Everything from the streetlamps to the outdoor gardens to even the vehicles have some kind of strong yokai influence. Though these are anime versions he created of the scarier yokai depicted in old Japanese folklore, they have an artistic sense that attract a number of visitors to the town. I have never watched or read GeGeGe no Kitaro, but I can see why it’s so popular in Japan. It’s a good way to get younger audiences interested in studying the myths behind these strange creatures. Now I want to study more too!
I should also note that there is some amazing aesthetic food here including eyeball mochi, yokai oden, and all sorts of spooky sake:
This town is somewhat touristy, but visiting a yokai town is something that not many people can say they’ve done. I had a lot of fun doing photography here and can gladly say that it was worth my time. During this trip I learned that ghosts can definitely be your friends.
From Tottori Station, I road the San-In Line to Yonago Station. This took about one hour and cost 1600 yen.
Daisen has three main points of access. I came here from a bus from Yonago Station. Please see the Daisen Guide for more information. Getting here should only take 40 mins – 1 hour, just be sure to watch the time tables. You can also take a taxi.
After making my pilgrimage to the real-life village from Your Name, I decided to take the Hida Express down to Gero Onsen; a popular hot springs town and resort destination in Gifu Prefecture. I arrived at the perfect time in early April when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom and nearly everything in nature looked picturesque. The town is pretty straightforward to navigate with a river that surrounds a free public outdoor hot spring and several buildings with more hot springs and saunas available for day use. There are more secluded resorts up in the mountains. Even if you’re not interested in hot springs, there are still a number of parks and shrines that you can see. I spent around three hours exploring Gero Onsen and it was very aesthetic day trip.
When I got off at Gero Onsen Station, I first walked to the Funsenchi outdoor hot spring so I could see the beautiful park next to it. This is the best place to view the sakura in Gero making it a wonderful spot for photography. You can walk across the rocks that surround the hot spring to see the Hida River and mountains too. Walking across the bridge will give you a great view of the town as well.
Funsenchi is free to use for all visitors as long as you wear a bathing suit but it’s quite small. If you are here just for the day I recommend the following hot springs:
Sachi no Yu: My personal favorite that has an indoor hot tub, waterfall bath, and outdoor hot spring. Entrance is only 350 yen.
Curegarden Open-air Bath: A large collection of outdoor hot springs with amazing views. I wanted to go here, but it was sadly closed due to the COVID-19. I will go again if I get the chance. Entrance is 700 yen but likely worth it.
Shirasagi no Yu: This is a western-styled bath with no outdoor hot springs, but reviews say it’s good. If you go, please tell me how it is. Entrance is 360 yen.
After bathing for an hour at Sachi no Yu and feeling completely refreshed afterward, I decided to visit a temple called Onsenji and pray to the hot spring gods. This was about a 15 minute walk on an incline but it was extremely fun because I got to see more of the town while listening to all of my favorite music. When I reached the shrine, the sun was setting and I saw an amazing view of it behind the mountains:
Another thing I love about Gero is all of the frog motifs. “Gero” is a noise that frogs make (like ribbit in English) so obviously a frog was the ideal candidate for a mascot here. I tried the Gero Manjuu from a local sweets shop and it was very delicious. I also saw frog stuffed animals in a liquor store and frogs painted on the street. This is truly a Frogger-themed onsen village and it’s kind of awesome.
After spending a good amount of time here, I decided to ride the express train down to Nagoya. I debated about spending the night here because there are cheap hotels and guest houses, but I opted to go to the city instead so I could spend time doing photo editing at one of my favorite 200 yen bars called Moonwalk. Gero Onsen is the ideal day trip but there isn’t much to do at night besides more hot springs. The quality is definitely worth it though!
From Nagoya Station, take the Hida Limited Express to Gero Onsen. This takes around 2 hours and is 4700 yen one way.
I combined this with my trip to Hida-Furukawa, so from there it only takes 1 hour and 2900 yen. If you wake up early enough, you can experience Gero Onsen and the Your Name town in one day. For me, that was the ideal choice.