Getting Invited to a Bachelor’s Party then traveling to Korea’s DMZ on the Day When Peace was Declared Between North Korea and South Korea [A True Story]

Apr. 27th, 2018 – I’ll never forget the day when I was strolling through Itaewon on my way to the club when I ran into a group of Korean guys who were pouring beer in plastic cups and passing them out to random people on the street.  Not wanting to be rude, I happily accepted one and drank it with them.  I noticed one of the guys in their group was dressed up in body armor made of cardboard and duct tape while the others playfully gave him commands.  Since this was only my 2nd time in Korea, I wasn’t sure if this was something normal or a special occasion.  Fortunately some of guys spoke English and informed me what was going on—this was a bachelor’s party.  A very casual and spontaneous one, apparently.  And I was invited!  Lucky me~

Since I left America when I was 21 years old, I never had the chance to partake in any wedding parties since I wasn’t old enough to drink.  Not many of my friends were mature enough to get married at that age either.  Who would have guessed that my first time attending one would be in Korea with a bunch of guys I just met?  I had booked a tour to the DMZ the next day, but I figured I could drink and relax for a few hours since it was my first night in town.  And this would historically be a night to remember, because the very next day North Korea and South Korea agree to end war.  But we wouldn’t know that until the next day…

After hanging out on the street and making conversation with random people, we moved to Awesome Lounge where they had reserved a VIP table.  I had been to a number of bars and clubs in Itaewon before, but this was my very first time here.  Everyone was extremely friendly and I was honestly having the time of my life.  Perhaps too much fun.  I remember drinking 1/3 of a bottle of champagne, pole dancing near the side of the VIP area, and losing my pocket wifi out of my purse which later cost me $60.  Fortunately I woke up with my wallet and passport the next day though.  The club was loud and dark enough so it was the perfect atmosphere to get belligerently intoxicated.  South Korea is a very safe country so you really don’t have to worry as long as you can make it back to your hotel.  I vaguely remember us going somewhere to get sashimi after the club.  It was one of the largest sashimi platters that I had ever seen in my life and man it was amazing!  I was happy that I took a picture so I could remember it.

After we finished eating it was near 2am so we happily parted ways.  I made sure to thank them for the most lit night in Itaewon ever and wish the cardboard armor guy good luck in his future marriage.  If this was just the bachelor’s party, I could only imagine how crazy the wedding party was going to be.

I drunkenly walked back to my hostel called Guesthouse Yacht.  Not only is it insanely cheap, but it’s on a hill just over the main street with all the bars and pubs.  The perfection combo.

Apr. 28th, 2018 – I woke up hungover but in an extremely elevated mood.  I couldn’t believe how crazy my first night out had started.  I was missing my pocket wifi, but I figured all the crazy memories from the previous night were more than worth it.  I had successfully attended my first bachelor’s party (even though I was a girl) and lived to tell the tale.  How often do you get to live out experiences like that?

Anyway, it was time to resurface to reality.  I had booked a tour to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on Klook for $45.  This tour will take you to the borders of North and South Korea, and you can climb through a tunnel to technically be inside the North Korean border.  You can only come here if you book a tour as entry into North Korea is extremely restricted and there is a checkpoint in Paju.  However, the tours are completely safe and you will be with an English-speaking guide at all times.  Learning about the Cold War and seeing the Four Infiltration Tunnels (that were dug between the borders for a surprise attack) is a rare experience and I was grateful I got the chance to climb through them.  The views of North Korea that you can see from the DMZ border are surreal.

My tour group was one of the first to visit after peace was made between the North and the South.  I had only figured this out shortly before my tour bus came to pick me up as the news was announced early this day.  I had planned this trip during my Golden Week vacation a month in advance and had no idea this was happening.  Everyone was in extremely high spirits and it was a great time to be in Korea!

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One of the most peaceful days at the DMZ in history.

Here are some pictures I took of North Korea.  It was neat to see it with my own eyes.  With all of the stories of it circulating online you often don’t know what to believe.  It looks like there’s an extremely forested area nearby from the border.  You wouldn’t even guess that it was North Korea at first:

North Korea is apparently famous for its chocolate soybean candy.  Or at least that’s what they want you to think.  I tried some at the souvenir shop and it wasn’t my favorite chocolate, but it definitely had a unique taste to it:

Here is a picture of my location within the border to prove I was in North Korea.  What’s ironic is North Korea supports Google Maps but South Korea doesn’t.  How crazy is that?

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Inside North Korea, baby!

Next we visited Dorasan Station (which leads to the capital of North Korea):

Dorasan Station connects the railway between North and South Korea.  It is located within the DMZ and has been out of use for years, but serves as a symbol of hope that unification may be possible in the future.  You can walk inside it and take pictures, but even though peace was made it will be quite a while before civilians can use it.  Apparently goods are transferred through it now, but limited information in English is available.

I was very moved by this tour.  Though North Korea has a dangerous reputation, I don’t want to believe that all of its people are bad.  I met one Australian girl on my Herb Island Tour later who said she had volunteered there.  I can’t remember the details of what she did, but she spent about a week there learning about the culture.  Since I am American, I know it is dangerous (and likely still impossible) for me to go, but when it becomes more safe I would really like to do a volunteer program there.  I hope in the future it continues to open its borders, as South Korea is a wonderful country that I hold dearly in my heart.

 

The Jeju Chronicles: Last Day on the Island Exploring Beaches, Sex Museums, and the Nexon Computer Museum

After exploring the east and west side of Jeju Island and climbing Mt. Hallasan, I decided to spend my final day on the island relaxing and seeing some of the places that most tours don’t cover (such as the sex museum and private beaches).  Since I don’t have an international license, I had my hostel help book me a private taxi driver.  The average cost of private taxi drivers in Jeju is about $150 USD per day but hiring one is much easier than trying to use the local buses.  The duration of the taxi session is around 9 hours and you can easily see all of the things you want to see without hassle.  Hilariously, all the English-speaking drivers were booked already due to high demand but I was able to book a Japanese one.  Without further hesitation I set off for my fifth and final day on the island and hoped for the best!  Fortunately the weather was on my side.

See Iho Tewoo Beach & Gwakji Beach

Jeju has around eight popular swimming beaches in total, but I chose to travel to the two most photogenic ones.  Iho Tewoo Beach is famous for its two horse-shaped lighthouses.  I wanted to see them in person so this was the very first destination I chose!  Unfortunately it was bit too cold to go swimming, but I just liked being on an empty and relaxing beach.  Apparently this beach is extremely popular during the summer because you can go for boat rides here, but during late April when I went it was extremely peaceful and quiet.  Just what I wanted after all of the exhausting hiking that I did!

I picked up some amazing octopus at a nearby restaurant here.  Raw Korean octopus tastes amazing:

After I had my fill, I decided to head to Gwakji Beach which is much livelier because there are a lot of resorts around it.  None of the resorts on Jeju are particularly fancy, but the cafes sure are.  I decided to try Mônsant which is owned by G-DRAGON purely because of its flawless architectural design.  You can see the ocean through the panes of glass while sipping on delicious coffee.  I ordered a strawberry smoothie and couldn’t believe the view that I was seeing:

I tried to go swimming here, but the beach shore was a bit rocky so I was reluctant.  Jeju’s beaches are more designed for soaking up the atmosphere rather than actually getting soaked.  I didn’t mind though, because Gwakji Beach definitely had a nice vibe.  In addition to posh cafes there were squids being sun-dried and local food stalls around.  I appreciated the diversity of food here.

One hilarious and slightly creepy trend here I saw was having photos of couples and babies printed onto lattes.  I’m usually quite adventurous when it comes to food, but I don’t know if I’d have the courage to drink myself…  This is just too realistic:

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WOW!

Nexon Computer Museum

The next stop was my favorite museum of all time in Korea: The Nexon Computer Museum.  Nexon is the company responsible for creating Maple Story and the longest running commercial graphic MMO in the world: Baram, also known as Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds.  I was really surprised to see that a modest company in Korea had this award; which makes me think that Nexon is seriously underrated so naturally I wanted to learn more.

I featured this museum in my Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums article, so please check it out for the full description!  If you travel all the way to Jeju, you need to come here.  You won’t be disappointed.

Museum of Sex and Health (Jeju Loveland)

Ah yes, the infamous Sex Museum of Korea.  I’ll admit I was a bit embarrassed coming here by myself, but I was on vacation so I figured why the hell not?  Jeju Loveland is an art museum of erotic outdoor sculptures and has an indoor collection of various adult toys.  What’s good is that it promotes a safe approach to sex and only admits entry to adults (honestly I’ve seen enough pedophilia in Japan bookstores and this was a much classier attraction).  “Various romantic and sexual art works are waiting for you.” the official website says.  I liked the ambiguity of the upside-down sculptures submerged in water… But I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination.  Definitely see it if it fancies you!

Entrance Fee: $9 USD (not bad)

Jeju Horse Park

Before having my driver drop me off at the airport so I could take my flight back to Seoul, I decided to make one more stop at Jeju Horse Park.  I was wearing the most extra outfit because I was shooting pictures on the beach just before, but once again I figured why not!  I was on vacation and I wanted to ride a horse one last time.  This was the perfect way to end my Jeju Chronicles.  I had successfully accomplished everything that I had planned so this was yet another perfect trip to commemorate.  The park has a really laidback approach and you can choose multiple routes around the mountains and seaside.  I couldn’t use my camera because I was riding, but I had an amazing time!  There was a guide who was keeping close watch on me so I felt safe at all times.  Horseback riding is a great way to see Jeju Island and is relatively cheap so you should try it at least once while you’re here.

Entrance Fee: $10-$20 USD depending on how long you go.

Final Remarks

As this article implies, I had a phenomenal time on Jeju Island and would recommend it to all my friends.  There were a few issues with the language barrier here and there, but island people are some of the friendliest people that you will ever meet.  I really treasured all of my time here.  I was also able to speak Japanese in a few instances and find my way around.  Google Maps aren’t always reliable in South Korea so I would do your research on what attractions you want to see before coming here.  That’s it really.  Once you arrive at Jeju, you’ll find that the island is small enough that you can easily navigate and fit in all the activities you want.  Jeju is by far the most beautiful place in South Korea and you should definitely give it a chance because it has activities for everyone!

Monet’s Pond: Just as Gorgeous as the Original Paintings (Gifu, Japan)

Over the weekend I decided to re-visit Gifu Prefecture and see if it’s famous water lily pond in Seki was worth the hype.  This originally nameless pond has been nicknamed “Monet’s Pond” (モネの池) by the locals because it closely resembles the Water Lilies art series painted by Claude Monet in the late 1800s.  Depending on the season and the weather, the scenery of the pond can vastly change.  Some online reviews have said that Monet’s Pond is a vibrant place that is a spitting image of the artwork, while others have dismissed it for appearing as murky and overrated.  It’s somewhat humorous to see the variety of scrutiny this place gets (both in English and Japanese).

My favorite review comes from “Kevin B” on Google:

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“It is nice, but professional photograph[s] ruined it for me.  My expectations were too high, don’t trust the pictures on the Internet.” – Kevin B

This could be true of any place, anywhere—don’t trust the pictures on the internet.  Kevin B’s review implies if you set your expectations too high, you will be undoubtedly disappointed.  Especially since the pond is located in a considerably remote location with infrequent transportation.  But as an adventurer, reading that description just made me want to travel here even more so I could see it for myself.

Fortunately I was not disappointed because the photos I captured look complementary to the artwork:

Fun Fact: I didn’t actually look at any of the Water Lilies paintings until after I went to the pond because I didn’t want my expectations to be warped.  I only looked at them for reference in order to accurately write this article.

Here is a gallery of photos that I took.  The pond is quite small in size, but depending on where you stand you can see an entirely different reflection in the water:

I was lucky because I got the chance to see Monet’s Pond in both sunny and cloudy weather in the hour that I was there.  During sunny weather the pond perfectly reflects the clouds in the sky giving it that dream-like oil painting aesthetic.  During cloudy weather it looks a lot darker, but with the floating water lilies it still appears beautiful.  Perhaps in the colder months it looks more bare and devoid of color, thus provoking the negative reviews.  Coming in June gave me the perfect experience though.  I was extremely satisfied with what I saw.

In this video the Koi look like they’re swimming through the clouds:

If you search for pictures of the pond online, you will see mixed results.  Some photos have been purposely edited with filters and textures to look more like the paintings.  However, the photos on the Official Gifu Tourism Website look pretty natural.  I used both my iPhone’s camera and my GoPro so I could closely compare the detail.  I only edited the lighting and shadows slightly in the photos I posted here because the sunlight was already optimal.  It is recommended to come in the summer and fall months for the best viewing but the pond is open year-round.

Even if we can’t trust the internet, one thing we all can agree on is that this cheesecake replica of Monet’s Pond is awesome:

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Monet’s Pond Cheesecake created by an anonymous pastry chef (posted on Grapee).

Not gonna lie, seeing this cake was another huge inspiration for my journey here.  Perhaps Gifu Prefecture will some day replicate this idea and create a cafe with food and souvenirs based on the pond like many other places in Japan.  Until then, enjoy this capitalist-free piece of nature.

Access

From Gifu Station take the N83 bus towards ほらどキウイプラザ行き (Horado Kiwi Plaza) and get off at the last stop.  I was a bit disappointed to see that there were no kiwis here (this is simply a parking lot on the side of a highway).  From the bus stop at the parking lot you will see a small van waiting adjacent to the bus.  The van’s time tables are aligned with the local buses so you can take it for free to Monet’s Pond.  The bus ride takes about 1.5 hours, and the van ride takes 15 mins, so the total travel time is around 1 hour and 45 mins.  Though this is a bit of a journey, the ride only costs 670 yen and the pond has no entrance fee making it one of the cheapest attractions in Gifu.

If you like seeing the country side of Japan and don’t mind riding the bus, then I would recommend this trip to you.  Just be sure to watch the weather and get there early so you have enough time to take pictures and return to the station.  Besides the pond, there’s really not a lot to do in Seki.  There’s a local shrine and a few places to eat, but most of the area is used for farming.  After seeing the pond I went to Nagoya to spend time with my friends because there’s much more to do there.  This was a great escape from reality though.  I was happy to confirm that the pond does indeed resemble the real artwork and is not just a hoax.

If you are interested in seeing more attractions in Gifu Prefecture, please check out my Your Name and Gero Onsen articles!

『GRATEFUL IN ALL THINGS』art gallery by Osamu Sato & Deconstructing LSD

If you’ve ever heard of the PS1 cult classic LSD Dream Emulator, then you might already recognize this art.  It was created by the game’s producer: Osamu Sato.  This trippy exploration game has gained quite the reputation over the years for its aesthetic visuals and for the fact that it rejects most common game principles such as having a clear objective for the player to accomplish.  At the start of the game the player is given a diary based on the dreams that director Hiroko Nishikawa recorded for a decade (see Lovely Sweet Dreams).  The music and environment changes completely based on your actions making it so each playthrough is entirely unique.  Depending on what objects you interact with, you can see very psychedelic dreams or dark and catastrophic ones.

Each time you do an action in the game (such as running into a moving object or falling off the map), your progress on the dream chart is recorded and a day advances.  The chart has four labels that produce different visuals: Upper, Dynamic, Downer, and Static.  Different cutscenes and pages of the dream diary will be unlocked depending on your actions.  There is a “Flashback” option in the menu where you can review your progress.

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The LSD Dream Chart.

Many players try to see the dark parts of the game by running off the map and “killing” their character, but this won’t necessarily produce a downer dream—sometimes an upper one is generated instead.  People have tried to write guides on this but how exactly the game evaluates your actions is unknown.  Still to this day there is much unknown about LSD…

Since the game was never officially localized outside of Japan, physical copies are quite rare and coveted.  LSD Revamped is a popular fan-made version of the game that tweaks the original in a more user-friendly way.  The web author describes it as:

“The genre isn’t adventure, it’s not action, and it’s not even an RPG. If I had to define a genre, it would be a ‘walking dream emulator’.”

Ironically during the same month that the original LSD received its full English patch via fan translation, digital artist Osamu Sato held his “GRATEFUL IN ALL THINGS” art gallery at B-GALLERY in Tokyo.  The exhibition is free and available from 5/25/2020 – 6/7/2020:

Osamu Sato is a graphics designer and photographer originally from Kyoto that has created digital art exhibitions and also worked as an artist for Sony.  He has traveled abroad and used many of his photos as design materials for his works.  He also produces music.  In his website biography it states his ideas are drawn from both consciousness and unconsciousness in his intellectual level.  These ideas are clearly reflected in this exhibition as some pieces appear to have a sense of identity.

“GRATEFUL IN ALL THINGS” is not only the name of this art gallery, but also his latest music album which I managed to purchase along with a T-shirt:

I am very grateful that I could make it to this exhibition.  I respect artists that reject the principles set before them and seek to create things in their own methodical way.   I hope to attend more of his events in the future and continue to deconstruct the human mind.

For more information, please see:

The Most Psychedelic Museums in Tokyo

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Step into the stars at teamLab’s “Borderless” museum in Odaiba.

As Japan slowly starts to re-open its museums and recreational facilities, I figured I’d write an article on some of the most psychedelic museums I’ve been to in Tokyo!  Earlier I wrote an article on the Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums I’ve been to in Asia, but today I want to share my experience at some of my runner-up choices.  All of these places should be re-opening soon, but I will include links to the websites so you can verify it for yourself.  Prepare yourself for some rich neon aesthetic visuals:

Art Aquarium

Dive into a sea of colors at Nihombashi’s gallant Art Aquarium!  This is a seasonal exhibition that is typically held at the end of each year and attracts a large number of gatherers.  Many tanks are elaborately decorated with jewels reminiscent of the Edo period and illuminated with neon lights.  You can see a number of kingyo (goldfish) here as they swim in a vivid motion that is beautifully captured with the layout of the aquarium.  There are projections on the wall that create a mirror-like effect with the intricate glass designs.  I’ve been to a number of museums in Asia before, but I’ve never seen anything as captivating as this.

It’s hard to describe this in words, so here is a video I took back in 2017:

Admission Fee: 1000 yen*

*The location and time of this museum changes each year, so be sure to check their official website for more information.

teamLab Borderless

If you’ve researched any museums in Japan, teamLab probably appears at the top of the list.  Hands down, this team consists of some of the most creative and innovative designers in the world.  They have created cutting-edge visuals that represent many familiar environments but take you to a whole another planet.  If you are interested in seeing the latest art and technology exhibits in the world then their current exhibits are something you should definitely check out!

Borderless is a relatively new museum in Odaiba that defines itself as “a museum without a map”.  The very first room is like a maze with floral patterns projected all over the walls and the ceiling.  As you explore the rooms, you will find somewhere that looks like a forest with visuals of falling rain and lily pads.  It truly feels like you’ve entered a cyberpunk world as you navigate through various virtual structures.  I pictured “The Wired” from Serial Experiments Lain, but fear not because Borderless is far more colorful and welcoming.

You will eventually reach a room full of flickering lanterns which is one of the most popular attractions here.  You only have around 2-3 minutes to take pictures, so be sure to use your time wisely.  After you exit, you will be released into what seems like a giant planetarium, but also has an art aquarium and places for children to play.  Unlike the art aquarium I mentioned above, you can draw your own fish on paper then have them scanned and displayed in a virtual fish tank that is projected on the wall:

I truly can’t decide which aquarium I enjoyed the most—this or the one in Nihombashi!  The Doraemon and Luffy fish here are definitely a rare find.  I was happy to see that there were attractions for people for all ages to enjoy.

The con of this museum is the time limit in the lantern room (which you cannot re-enter once you exit), and the fact that so many people choose to do photoshoots and take selfies here that sometimes it feels more like a tourist attraction than a place to appreciate art.  However, the museum is so big you can easily wander to a place where there are less people and find peace.  Plus the soothing music played from the speakers drowns out idle chatter.  I found that some projections are so immersive that you completely forget the people around you too.  I’m still amazed by everything I was able to see here.

Critics online joke how this is one of the most-photographed museums in Japan and that they’re tired of seeing photos here, but you can’t deny how genius the exhibitions here are.  This museum has overall received numerous praise and is a place that I’d recommend to most people who are interested.  You’ll never forget your experience here.

Admission Fee: 3200 yen*

*You MUST select a timeslot and purchase a ticket online in advance to enter the museum.  See the official website for ticket sales (it is best to buy from them directly).

teamLab DMM.Planets

DMM.Planets is an older teamLab exhibit that I first visited in 2016 in Odaiba, but it later got moved to Toyosu as a permanent museum.  Once again, this is one of the most popular museums in Japan as it takes you through a psychedelic journey in space:

When you enter the museum, you are asked to take off your shoes and put them in a locker because some exhibits completely prohibit shoes. Oh boy, what an adventure! The very first room you enter simulates a black hole. The lights are dimmed and you must climb over beanbags that threaten to suck you into the void. Fortunately, this is quite a fun challenge. Once you climb over them (many people choose to sit and relax in them first because they are quite comfy), you will reach a room full of mirrors and dazzling hanging lights. This is the most popular attraction, because the lights simulate falling stars and you can take really beautiful pictures with them. This really reminded me of a Kirby game!

After the lightshow comes the infamous psychedelic pond that you will walk through to reach the next area. Here you can see projected koi fish swimming around your ankles and other beautiful LSD-inspired works of art. I had a blast taking photos here because it was so interactive that I felt like I was part of the exhibit. You will be asked to wash your feet before and after you enter this area so everything stays sanitary. The water isn’t that deep at all so you really don’t have to worry about getting wet. Just be sure to project your phone!

The last room simulates a small planetarium with beautiful floral aesthetics and star shapes projected on the ceiling. You can lay down and look up at the sky as if you were star-gazing. The best part is you can stay here as long as you want. I stayed for quite a while because it was very relaxing!

Between Planets and Borderless, it’s really hard for me to choose a favorite because I have wonderful memories at each of the exhibits. I would almost say I like Planets more because there are no time limits and there are less people now that the museum has been here for a while. However, if you are only in Japan for a short while, I would recommend Borderless because the Odaiba area has more to see than Toyosu. I would research both of them first and see which one strikes you as the most interesting before choosing.

Admission Fee: 3200 yen*

*You MUST select a timeslot and purchase a ticket online in advance to enter the museum.  See the official website for ticket sales (it is best to buy from them directly).

If you are interested in any of my other art museum articles outside of Tokyo, please see my Naoshima article!  I will continue to check out museums and review them as more of places re-open!

Kanazawa: The City of Gold and Miraculous Wonder

People always ask me what my favorite place to visit outside of Tokyo is—and though it’s extremely hard to for me to choose because there’s simply so many—one of my favorite destinations of all time is Kanazawa.  Kanazawa is the capital city of Ishikawa prefecture and is known for its famous seafood market, historical buildings including samurai houses, and brilliant gold architecture.  It has a rustic charm that is similar to Kyoto, but is far less touristy and is surrounded by the beautiful sea.

Kanazawa is also the birthplace of famous musical artist Nakata Yasutaka (producer of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, capsule, and Perfume), who created his own indie music festival called OTONOKO that was held once a year from 2016-2018 (it currently if unknown when it will be held again).  The festival attracted around 200-300 people and created a close community of music lovers that had traveled from all over Japan.  It’s one of the best music festivals I’ve ever been to in Japan because it features both the experienced artists of ASOBISYSTEM and the new and upcoming talents too.  I was happy to share this experience with many friends I had met at his previous music events held in Tokyo and other cities as well as explore the famous capital that is his hometown.  There is so much to do in Kanazawa outside of the festival too!

Here’s a list I’ve compiled of all of my favorite places in Kanazawa.  You can easily spend 3 full days doing things here:

Kanazawa Castle & Kenrokuen

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Kanazawa Castle is one of my all-time favorite castles in Japan and is located right next to the famous Japanese garden Kenrokuen.  This castle is massive compared to other ones I’ve visited and you can tell a lot of detail was put its re-construction after in caught on fire in the 1600s.  I first came here in the winter when a light layer of snow had piled on top of the castle’s roof and it was extremely aesthetic.  I was glad that it was one of the first places I had visited because it’s a huge part of the city’s history.

Strolling through Kenrokuen and listening to all of my favorite music was also a huge pleasure.  It’s considered one of Japan’s “three most beautiful landscape gardens” and is the best garden of Kanazawa so you should definitely check it out if you’re here.

The castle is free to enter, and Kenrokuen’s admission is 320 yen.

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

I recently wrote an article on the The Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums I’ve Been to in Asia, and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is my top pick.

What you see here might just be my favorite exhibition in the world.  The image of the pool looks like some kind of mirage or frozen frame from a vaporwave music video, but there are actually living, breathing people going about their daily routines under the waters of this pool.  You can even “dive in” and join them—but you can’t jump or use the ladder.  Instead you must reach the underwater zone from another entrance (which can easily be found by following the signs).  In addition to the pool, there are various rooms with simulations you can enter.

This museum is an important part of Kanazawa’s culture because it draws a large number of people to the city.  Its design is very modern but somehow fits in the center of Kanazawa’s historic streets because it has a beautiful outdoor park and is near the Kenrokuen Garden.  The outside of the museum has free exhibits you can see as well.

The entrance fee is 360 yen for temporary exhibitions (some exhibits are free).

Golden Ice Cream & Sake

Since Kanazawa is the city of gold, you can find all sorts of golden souvenirs here.  The golden ice cream is by far the most famous (and delicious too).  At a confectionery shop called Hakuichi, you can savor the best gold-leaf ice cream in Japan.  I went during October one year and they added an edible ghost topping too!  The gold sake is also something I bought back for home.  It tastes just like any other sake but the gold flakes inside make it look like a glittery snow globe.  My friends joke that I have eaten more gold than anyone they know, and that very well may be true.

Omicho Fish Market

The Omicho Fish Market is where you’ll find some of the freshest seafood in mainland Japan.  Kanazawa is most famous for crab, but you can find almost any other kind of fish imaginable.  My personal favorites were Kaisen Maruhidon (rice bowls with mountains of seafood on top) and the tiny servings of sea urchin sold in the stalls outside.  Most restaurants will gladly customize your orders for you and there are amazing sushi restaurants here as well.

One of my favorite memories was when Nakata Yasutaka’s first solo album Digital Native was announced the night before the festival, so my friend and I split a crab then ordered a pitcher of sangria from a restaurant below the station in celebration.  A waiter peeled a fresh avacado for us too, but I don’t actually remember what we ordered in last photo…  That just goes to show how much fun I had here!

Higashi Chaya District

The Higashi Chaya District of Kanazawa is where some of the traditional teahouses and upscale ryokan are located so it’s one of the prettiest parts of the city.  There are also cafes, souvenir shops, and a lot of interesting architecture here.  It’s a lot similar to Kyoto’s Gion district but the crowds are more evenly distributed.  I love the winding streets and also the liveliness here.  Everything seems like it was built to perfection.

I highly recommend checking out the Nomura Clan Samurai Home here because it has unique artifacts and a beautiful home garden.  The Godburger is also a nice meme.  Although haven’t eaten there yet, it’s definitely on my bucket list.

Piano of Memories (思い出ピアノ)

As I was walking underneath Kanazawa Station, I noticed a really interesting exhibit.  Here sat an ordinary piano that anyone could walk up to and play but it had an interesting concept.  People could upload videos with the hashtag “sharepiano” for others to listen to online.  I uploaded this video I took to Twitter and the pianist actually found it and was happy I captured this moment!

Kanazawa is a popular destination for both foreign and domestic tourists, but it’s spread out enough so that things like this can be heard and appreciated.

Hotsprings, Hotels, & Other Recommendations

When I first came to Kanazawa, I didn’t have a lot of money so I decided to stay at a hostel called Good Neighbors Hostel (now called Off) near the station for around 2500 yen a night.  The 2nd time I stayed at Neighbors Inn (owned by the same people) for around the same price.  Both were extremely memorable times.

The first time I met a Perfume fan from Hong Kong who had awesome stickers of all the idols on his laptop.  We became good friends during the duration of the festival and the hostel had a Death Note-inspired “Guest Note” that we wrote in (fortunately no one died).  The second time the hostel had a ball pit so I took hilarious photos of myself pregaming in it.  I always have the best time staying in this city no matter where I am.

If hostels aren’t your style, you can find a variety of cheap hotels on websites like Booking.  Additionally, if you are looking for a day hot spring I recommend Terume Kanazawa.  The admission fee is only 1100 yen.

The official after party for the festival was held at an event space called Double with two floors (one bar floor and one music floor).  It is here where the strong gather and continue to party until down.  In 2018 I managed to meet Nakata-san before he left and get me T-shirt signed.  It was on my birthday weekend so it made it extremely special:

Here is a shot of the after-party I recorded in 2018.  It truly was a time to be alive and I hope to go again if it resumes in the future:

Access

From Tokyo Station, take the Hokuriku-Shinkansen towards Kanazawa.  This takes approximately 3 hours and costs 15,000 yen one way.  Nakata Yasutaka actually designed the shinkansen departure melody for this train so it’s extremely special!

You can also fly to Komatsu Airport and take a bus to Kanazawa Station which may be cheaper unless you have the JR Rail Pass.

If you are interested in other day trips from Kanazawa, please see my Shirakawago article.

Traveling to the Real-life House from Totoro (Nagoya)

During my first trip to Nagoya for the World Cosplay Summit, I made sure to book tickets to see the real-life Totoro house because it had been a lifelong dream of mine to visit.  Located in the east part of the city, the Satsuki and Mei House is a perfect replica of the setting in My Neighbor Totoro from my childhood memories.  You can enter the house and explore it to see what living in the 1950s was like in Japan.  It has everything from the palm trees planted outside the veranda to the exact shape and size of all the furniture within the house.  The clothing of the characters can be found inside the closet adding to the realness.  Photography inside is strictly forbidden, but photos from the outside are allowed so it’s fun to create comparisons to the movie.

What I like most about Totoro is much of the story is told from the viewpoint of children but everyone watching can relate to their imagination.  It’s a story that focuses on exploration and not fear or conflict.  Totoro is a mysterious creature but his over-sized and fuzzy design give him a friendly aura.  This house doesn’t have any replicas of Totoro himself, but you can easily imagine that he’s there beside you.

Reserving Tickets

I originally used a Loppi machine at the Lawson convenience store chain to book my tickets 2 months in advance.  If you make a reservation on a weekday, you should have a chance of getting in faster.  If you are overseas, you can try sites like Voyagin to buy tickets (I’ve tried this in the past for tickets I can’t get and it works).

Admission Fee: 510 yen for 30 mins

30 minutes is more than enough time to see everything in the house, and there is a huge park that you can wander through once you’re finished.  As I’ve said before, Nagoya is a seriously underrated city.

Access

Yazako, Nagakute, Aichi 480-1103

From Nagoya Station, take the Higashiyama Line to Fujigaoka Station, then take the Yakusa Line to Ai-Chikyuhaku-Kinen-Koen Station.  This takes around an hour and costs 670 yen.

 

The Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums I’ve Been to in Asia

Throughout my travels in Asia, I’ve managed to stumble upon some pretty awe-inspiring museums.  I enjoy traditional art as well as hands-on modern exhibits found in galleries around the world today.  My favorite museums are those that combine innovative technology with art and science—shattering perceived ideas and adding a whole other dimension to the viewer’s experience.

I’ve compiled a list of my top 3 favorites museums in Asia that are phenomenal examples of how innovative technology can be used to break the borders of art as we know it (starting from the top):

1. The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (Kanazawa, Japan)

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pool’s open

Mana Pool.  What you see here might just be my favorite exhibition in the world.  This image looks like some kind of mirage or frozen frame from a vaporwave music video, but there are actually living, breathing people going about their daily routines under the waters of this pool.  You can even “dive in” and join them—but you can’t jump or use the ladder.  Instead you must reach the underwater zone from another entrance (which can easily be found by following the signs).

This pool was constructed with a limestone deck at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan (shortened to Kanazawa 21).  A thin layer of water is contained in transparent glass giving it the look of a real swimming pool.  However, underneath the glass is an underground room that is completely empty.  From the point of view of those who stand at the surface, you can create the illusion that you are walking underwater by taking a staircase beside the pool.  It truly is a vaporwave dream that has been realized by the power of aesthetics and science.

In addition to the pool, there are various rooms with simulations you can enter.  My personal favorite was “The Killing Machine”.  Photography was not allowed in some areas, so I will leave the contents up to your imagination.  I found some neat aviation and space exhibits when I first visited.  Some exhibits rotate, so please check the Exhibition page for the most recent ones.

This museum is an important part of Kanazawa’s culture because it draws a large number of people to the city.  Its design is very modern but somehow fits in the center of Kanazawa’s historic streets because it has a beautiful outdoor park and is near the Kenrokuen Gardens.  The outside of the museum has free exhibits you can see as well.

Here is my pool-walking video that I took in 2017.  The Swimming Pool is a permanent exhibit that can be seen year round so I hope to return and take better quality videos in the future.

Access

1 Chome-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-8509
Entrance Fee: 360 yen for temporary exhibitions (some exhibits are free)

2. Nexon Computer Museum (Jeju, Korea)

Over Golden Week I traveled to the island of Jeju in Korea, but instead of the beaches (which are by far the best in Korea) I was most drawn to the iconic Nexon Computer Museum.  Nexon is the company responsible for creating Maple Story and the longest running commercial graphic MMO in the world: Baram, also known as Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds.  I was really surprised to see that a modest company in Korea had this award; which makes me think that Nexon is seriously underrated so naturally I wanted to learn more.

When I entered the museum, a wall full of lockers shaped like keys greeted me.  Instantly I was impressed with the on-point aesthetics here.  The cafe also had keyboard-shaped waffles, or what you’d call “sticky keys” which was another reason I had to travel all the way out here.

The museum is split into 4 floors; starting with the history of computing, then videogames and educational programs, and finally arcades in the basement!  I felt a strange sense of nostalgia but also was fascinated with some of the original things that Nexon had worked on.  From fantasy MMORPGs to EA Sports, there was quite a repertoire of games you could play here.  They also had collections of old Apple computers and the infamous Nintendo Power Glove on display here.

Here is the Guinness World Record for The Kingdom of the Winds on display which was originally launched in 1996:

Access

3198-8 1100(Cheonbaek)-ro, Nohyeong-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
Entrance Fee: ₩8,000

3. Open Air Museum (Hakone, Japan)

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Arguably the best open air vaporwave museum in existence.

While day tripping to Hakone from Tokyo, I discovered the loveliest museum with a stained glass cathedral, Persona-esque sculptures, and even a foot bath outside of the cafe!  The Hakone Open Air Museum is almost entirely outdoors and is close to Mt. Fuji so you have the perfect mountain backdrop for your viewing experience.  Right as I entered I was greeted by a marble head floating in an empty pool that gave me massive リサフランク420 vibes.  There is an indoor Picasso Exhibition Hall as well, but the main draw is the abstract sculptures and mysterious moats on the outskirts:

These sculptures are said to symbolize the balance of harmony and art, but some of them are warped beyond belief and seem to represent a feeling of discord or solitude.  I personally thought they looked a lot like shadows from the Persona series; especially the ones wearing masks.  However you interpret it, you’ll definitely have a good time here.  Especially if you bring some good music.

Here is one of the best shots I captured by climbing up the cathedral with my old camera:

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m o u n t a i n w a v e

Access

1121 Ninotaira, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0407
Entrance Fee: 1600 yen

Honorable Mentions:

  • Mori Art Museum (Tokyo) – This museum is one of the most frequently visited ones in Japan due of its upscale art and central access.  I visited it once and thought it was nice to see, but the exhibits change frequently so it’s hard for me to gauge it.  There wasn’t a piece that really stood out to me like in other galleries I’ve visited, but it is worth seeing if you’re interested in modern art.
  • Benesse House (Naoshima) – An contemporary art museum on a remote art project island in Shikoku, Japan.  There is a beach nearby that you can go swimming at, and it’s absolutely gorgeous!  I will be writing more about this quirky art island in a future article.
  • teamLab: Everyone is talking about this “borderless” art museum, and it is undoubtedly one of the most high-tech in the world.  I’ve been to both the Planets and the new museum that opened up in Odaiba.  Both have blown me away with how much work was put into the lighting with the interactive exhibits.  It almost feels like you’re living in a neon hologram when you walk through some rooms.  However, due to this museum’s popularity, you can only see some exhibits for a short period of time.  Unfortunately due to the crowds it is sometimes difficult to fully enjoy things here, but it is worth seeing.

*I will be expanding upon these honorable mentions in future articles.  My travel plans have been slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic so I am currently digging through my archive to create more content.

The best things to do on your first trip to Kyoto (Part 1)

Over the past few months I’ve explored the rural northern parts of Kyoto including the fishing town of Ine and the beautiful beach of Amanohashidate, but in this post I’d like to highlight the main tourist spots from my earlier archives just for reference.

I first visited Kyoto in 2013 during my study abroad trip in Japan, and returned in late 2015 for a visit during my epic job search.  I now visit Kyoto 3-4 times per year for music events (mainly at Metro) and also for eating aesthetic food.

The longer I live in Japan, the more I come to appreciate this peaceful city.  From nearly anywhere in Kyoto you can see the mountains and be reminded of the beautiful terrain this country has.  As the former capital of Japan, Kyoto has almost everything you could want in a place to live; shopping centers, street food, temples filled with years history, and a variety of night clubs.  Not to mention Nintendo HQ!  Though Tokyo has the most opportunity for foreigners, I often fantasize about what my life would be like if I lived here.  It definitely would be an exciting one~

Here are my recommendations on things to see during your first trip to Kyoto:

The Golden Pavilion

Out of all the building structures I’ve seen in Kyoto, the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) is by far the most breathtaking.  Built overtop a pond, you can see it shining elegantly with its gold leaf coating during any time of the year.  I first came here in Autumn when it shone with a beautiful contrast to the leaves that were turning a bright shade of red.  The best time to come is during the golden hour (5pm) because the lighting is optimal and you can see a perfect reflection of it on the water.  Though you are not allowed to enter the pavilion, you can still admire its impressive design from afar.  I learned from the pamphlet I was given the gold lacquer is thought to dispel and purify pollution and negative thoughts.  Being here definitely put my mind at ease and I think it’s somewhere that everyone should visit at least once.  I have never seen any other place that’s as gold as this besides the Golden Buddha in Nara.

Access

From Kyoto Station, take the Karasuma Line to Kita-Oji Station then Bus 205 to the Kinkakuji Bus Stop.  This costs 490 yen and takes 30 mins.

Entrance Fee: 400 yen

Fushimi Inari

The best way I can think to describe Fushimi Inari is “a shrine of shrines”.  If you want to experience one of the biggest shrine networks surrounded by nature in Japan, then all travel guides will point you here.  Similar to the Golden Pavilion (but much more red in color), there is really no place quite like here.  You will be stunned by the thousands of red torii gates and trails that lead to the summit of Mt. Inari.  The climb takes about 2.5 hours to reach from the base.  You will notice that there are many fox statues here which are said to be the messengers of the shrine.  Though this place is a tourist hotspot, I definitely recommend it.  If you are looking for a less crowded shrine, you can try going to Daigoji in Kyoto too because it is similarly red and historical.

Access

From Kyoto Station, take the Nara Line to Inari Station.  This only takes 5 mins and costs 150 yen.

Entrance Fee: 300 yen

Nintendo HQ

niten
Where it all began.

Before I came to Japan most of my time was spent gaming or watching anime. I have some of my best adolescent memories and have met many friends through Nintendo games and events. So coming here—to the main HQ building of Nintendo in Kyoto—was surreal to me.  Of course you’re not allowed to enter, but you can walk by the building and are free to take pictures.  There is not much else to see in this district, but this building is definitely worth seeing if you’re a Nintendo fan.

Access

From Shiokoji Takakura bus stop near Kyoto Station, you can take Bus 205 to Kyoto Shiyakushomae and walk 3 mins there.  You can also take a cheap taxi or rent bikes to get here.

Address: 11-1 Kamitoba Hokodatecho, Minami Ward, Kyoto, 601-8501

In Part 2 of this article I will be talking more about the touristy things I did in Kyoto when I first moved to Japan.  Often people look down upon tourism, but it is essential to the economy of most Asian countries and also has been valuable in my understanding of the culture here.  You should never feel ashamed for being a tourist.

The Tale of the Floating Noodles (Kyoto)

Last August during the Mountain Day holiday weekend, I ventured to the riverside village of Kibune in Kyoto to try their legendary floating noodles.  These somen noodles are very unique because they float down a bamboo shoot directly to your table and are chilled to cool you down during summer season.  It’s definitely a dining experience worth having if you enjoy Japanese food!  In this article I will be highlighting my summer experience in Kyoto and will hopefully inspire more people to travel here.

*For reference, Mountain Day is a relatively new national holiday that was announced in 2014.  It honors the mountainous terrains of this country and most Japanese companies give this day as paid holiday (making it a three day weekend most years).  It occurs August 11th.  Be aware that this weekend is usually travel-heavy, but you can still see and do a lot if you plan your trip accordingly.

Floating Noodles at Hirobun (in Kibune)

Kibune is a popular resort destination that attracts large numbers of Japanese couples and families each year (which I didn’t realize beforehand), but is also home of the famous Hirobun restaurant that serves floating somen noodles from a bamboo shoot.  As the noodles float to your seat, you can stealthily grab with your chopsticks and eat them with soy sauce.  Though people make it out to be a challenge, it’s actually not that difficult and the restaurant staff will adjust the speed if they see you are having trouble.  The last batch of noodles is marked pink so you know when your course is over.  We paid around 2000 yen for a noodle course with dessert and enjoyed the experience thoroughly.

The main con of this was the three hour wait time…  Unfortunately this activity is so popular in the summer that it attracts hundreds of people per day and there are limited seats at the floating somen table.  There is no reservation system, so you must show up in person to write your name on a wait list in order of who arrived first.  We arrived around 12pm and already there were many people ahead of us.  However, the plus side is that there are so many things to see in Kibune that you can easily leave and come back when it is close to your turn.

While we waited, we walked around the river, tried some ice cream from a local confectionery, and hiked by the Kibune Shrine Okumiya so we could test our luck.  There is also the nearby Kurumadera Temple and hotspring that you can visit to kill time.  If you think about it, three hours in nature really goes by quickly.  It would be a lot more mundane if we had to wait that long for a restaurant in the city.  At first I hesitated about waiting, but now I’m so happy that I did because I got to experience pretty much everything Kibune has to offer.

Getting to Kibune

From Kyoto Station, take the Nara Line Rapid Miyakoji to Tofukuji Station, then the Keihan Main Line Semi-Express to Demachiyanagi Station Station, then the Eizan Main Line Local to Kibuneguchi Station.  From here you can take a local bus to the shrine.  Though it involves a few transfers, the journey only takes about 1.5 hours and costs 1020 yen making it the perfect day trip from Kyoto.

If you are looking for more travel recommendations in Kyoto, please check my Arashiyama, Amanohashidate, and Aesthetic Dining Experiences in Kyoto articles!