Spending a Sunburned Day at Strata Naha

Last night in Naha, gotta do it big!

After successfully freediving on Aka Island and Zamami Island, I sailed back to Naha via ferry for a final day of adventure in the tropical city before returning to Tokyo. I had already seen most of what I wanted here before, but there were a few new places that I wanted to check out. Namely Umikaji Terrace that is conveniently located near the airport, which contains a number of little shops and restaurants, and also a resort with a pool I had never stayed at before called Strata Naha. Since I was sunburned from not wearing a wetsuit the day before, there wasn’t a lot I could do during the day so I took it leisurely. Consider this a guide of what to do in Naha if you are sunburned, or if you are just looking to take the day easy too! And please check out my Naha Cafe Guide if you are looking for more food recommendations.

Exploring Umikaji Terrace

Umikaji Terrace is a oceanfront hodgepodge of bars, shops, and restaurants with patio and outdoor seating. It is conveniently located near Naha Airport and is a great place to watch the sunset in the city while knocking back a drink. I was impressed with the variety of food and desserts here—they had quite the international selection. I was mainly here to try the drop soda at Gallirallus (see below), but I ended up ordering a avocado salmon toast from a Hawaiian eatery nearby. I ended up killing a lot of time here by watching the ocean from the shade. I loved the bright blue design of the tables outside that matched the color of the sea, not to mention all of the Okinawan décor. One thing that really amused me here was meat taiyaki. I had never seen a taiyaki with a weiner in it before but I guess they think of every food crossover in Okinawa. There was also a really interesting ice bar on one of the terraces that I would really like to check out next time I visit. I look forward to seeing what kind of food trends become popular here!

Address: 〒901-0233 Okinawa, Tomigusuku, Senaga, 174−6

Trying Drop Soda at Gallirallus

Here it is—the main event! One of the things I was most looking forward to trying in Okinawa was the ball drop soda because in all of my time trying aesthetic food, I had never seen anything like it before. You can choose from a variety of fruity flavors for the soda base (I chose strawberry), and also decide if you want a scoop of ice cream in the drink or not. The balls in this soda are very unique because they contain edible flowers and pieces of fruits. I thought the strawberry and pineapple balls were the most delicious and was very pleased with the quality of this drink. Compared to tapioca pearls, these flower and fruit balls just pack so much more flavor. If you get the chance, definitely hit Gallirallus up because I haven’t seen any other shop in the world serve drop soda before. You saw it here first.

Accommodation: Strata Naha

Since I am adventurous and enjoy staying in different types of accommodations, I figured this time I would stay in a new resort with a pool so I could relax before my flight the next morning. I found a centrally located resort called Strata Naha with rooms priced around 7000 yen per night online so I decided to try it out. Compared to where I had stayed before at Aqua Citta, this resort was much quieter and I had the pool to myself even though there were other guests around in the garden area. Since I didn’t feel like socializing much, I really enjoyed the atmosphere here, although I would normally recommend Aqua Citta to my friends because it is slightly cheaper and had a better happy hour deal. However, Strata is better for those who want a more private and mature atmosphere. I enjoy both resorts for different reasons and will definitely be back again!

Recommended Food Spots

I wanted to eat something healthy for dinner after swimming so I looked up vegan restaurants that were open at night and found a really nice one called Rakuen Cafe. Rakuen serves a variety of dishes including rice bowls, vegan taco rice, and green smoothies. I really enjoyed my power bowl because it had star fruit in it that reminds me of the paopu fruit from Kingdom Hearts. I also ordered a side of sweet potato fries here because I had never seen fries so purple! They really tasted better than traditional french fries so I was so happy I tried them. Though I had already tried Blue Seal ice cream on multiple trips, there’s a really huge shop with a bright neon sign at night right down the street from Rakuen so I took a picture of it. If you’ve never tried Blue Seal, you definitely need to once in your life because it’s Okinawa’s pride! The final place I recommend for breakfast is Lestel Cafe, because it has delicious banana and honey bread and indoor disco décor. Honestly I dig the disco breakfastcore vibe here and I think more restaurants should embrace it. Naha restaurants and cafes are unmatched in style when it comes to Japan.

Final Thoughts

Despite the sunburn at the end, this was yet another successful trip where I checked off everything that I had planned on my itinerary. Revisiting old places, traveling to new islands and getting better at freediving, and ending my trip at this beautiful resort just made the experience all the more memorable. I plan on coming back to Okinawa in the fall because I have a sponsor here, and I think next time I will visit Ishigaki and Iriomote so I can continue to practice swimming and diving on different islands. Thank you to everyone that has kept up with my 2022 Okinawa article series, because this article is the final one (for now)!

Before I go to America this summer, I have one final place that I want to write about which is Aomori! Please look forward to my Aomori article series which will be in the works very soon!

Exploring the Wonders of Takasaki, Gunma: Temple Edition

The Daruma of Shorinzan Darumaji Temple await your visit!

After almost a half-year hiatus, Resurface to Reality is finally back—kicking off the year with a sponsored trip to Gunma Prefecture! At the end of last year I took a 3 month trip to America so I could see my family and friends and explore tropical regions of the country. It was both an awe-inspiring and well needed trip that changed my perspective in many ways, but at the same time I realized I really value my life in Asia and hope to keep expanding my professional life here for the time being. I am aiming to apply for permanent residence in Japan in 2025, and will continue to work in the videogame field as well as with independent sponsors to fund my trips. I will of course be paying for a number of them out of my own pocket as well as I have many places I personally want to photograph; such as Kushiro in Hokkaido which I am traveling to next month.

Even with the current quasi-emergency state in most prefectures, I was fortunately able to plan a safe route around Gunma with a rental car. The quasi-emergency state asks that some restaurants and businesses shorten hours and stop serving alcohol, but fortunately did not hinder any of the original sightseeing I had planned. Since I have already been to Takasaki for music events before and traveled to the famed Kusatsu Onsen, I am quite familiar with how this prefecture is laid out. This trip my aim was to see temples and hot springs that are harder to reach by public transport and fortunately I succeeded. Even if you do not have a car, most of these attractions are available to see by bus if you are patient.

Here is my 2 day recommended itinerary for Takasaki and Ikaho Onsen (I will be writing about Day 2 in a separate article):

Getting to Takasaki from Tokyo

The fastest way from Tokyo to Takasaki, one of the biggest cities of Gunma, is by shinkansen. We rode the Jōetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Takasaki Station which took 50 mins and cost around 5000 yen one way. However, in previous years I have rode the local trains to Takasaki which take over 2 hours but are significantly cheaper (please see my Kusatsu article linked above for reference). Driving from Tokyo to Gunma takes roughly 2 hours as well, but you will definitely encounter more traffic. I personally think riding the shinkansen is the smoothest way there, even if it is a bit pricier because we were able to enjoy delicious ekiben for breakfast (sea urchin and crab bento are pictured)!

From Takasaki, we rented a Toyota car from a rental place adjacent to the station. The reservation process was a breeze and didn’t take long at all. I am not going to go into detail of it since it is not the focus of this article series, but you can see the Toyota Rent a Car website for reference.

Shorinzan Darumaji Temple

My favorite place in all of Gunma is the Shorinzan Darumaji Temple because it goes extremely hard with its daruma aesthetics. Daruma are piled up on each side of the temple in almost a comical arrangement and there is even a vending machine with a daruma print that you can buy drinks from. I see these dolls everywhere around Japan so I’ve actually never contemplated their meaning deeply before I came to this temple, but they are linked with Buddhism and represent values such as concentration, fortune, and luck. Though red is the most common color, they can be painted in a number of artistic ways. In the little daruma museum next to the temple, I saw one painted like the penguin mascot on Suica cards! I also bought a pink daruma from the gift shop that is said to strengthen relationships.

While comparing daruma in Takasaki, you’ll notice that some have their eyes filled in and others don’t completely. That is because when you first purchase a daruma, you are supposed to fill in one eye when you make a wish, and fill the other eye if/when that wish comes true. The daruma are said to help accomplish your goals which is why they are so popular here. Though I am not normally a superstitious person, I will be putting this theory to the test! I will let everyone know if my wish comes true in year 2025… 😉

Entrance Fee: Free
Address: 296 Hanadakamachi, Takasaki, Gunma 370-0868

If you do not have a car, you can take the Shorinzan bus from the station which is insanely cheap and only takes 25 mins.

Byakue Dai-Kannon

This second series of temples features a giant statue of the Goddess of Mercy that is just as iconic to Takasaki as its beloved daruma. Even though it was a completely different vibe, I somehow got flashbacks to my trip to Singapore while I was here because you can go inside the statue and climb to the top just like the Merlion on Sentosa Island. Enshrined in this goddess are 20 buddhas you can pray to as you ascend the stairs. The climb up takes less than 5 mins if you don’t stop, and the surrounding area has other temples you can see. I loved seeing the year of the tiger ema here, and also how it was decorated for Valentine’s Day. There is also a red string that you can wrap around your little finger around so it connects you to the Goddess of Mercy as you pray (this is a permanent feature). The concept behind this place was really well thought out and I enjoyed seeing it. I am curious to see how it is decorated during other times of the year!

Entrance Fee: 300 yen to ascend to the top
Address: 2710-1 Ishiharamachi, Takasaki, Gunma 370-0864

This temple is just a few kilometers from the Daruma temple and can also be reached by bus/taxi if you do not have a car.

Now that I got two of my favorite temples out of the way, I think I will conclude the first part of this article and write about my favorite onsen in the next part. Please look forward to it being published soon! I am so happy to be writing about my travels again!

As a preview, take a look at the real life Mt. Akagi from Initial D (also known as Mt. Haruna IRL):

Exploring Ogawa Falls and Kanoya City in Kagoshima

Ogawa Falls in Kanoya, Kagoshima.

While looking for destinations I wanted to travel to in Kagoshima after Amami Island, the two that stood out to me the most were Ogawa Falls and Sakurajima. Ogawa Falls are located remotely in a forest in the city of Kanoya, directly southeast of Sakurajima. Getting to Kanoya is a challenge because there are no trains that run through the city—you have to either take a bus from Kagoshima Airport or rent a car to get here. I opted to take the bus which was around 1.5 hours and 2100 yen. Though the city of Kanoya is quite rural, it is considered a nice town to stay in and has a number of delicious restaurants, shrines, and beautiful nature spots. I enjoyed my time here because it was very quiet and relaxing.

Here are my top recommendations that you can do over the span of two days!

Jintoku Inari Shrine

My first stop was Jintoku Inari Shrine, which I ran to from my hostel in the morning. This is a small shrine but has over 100 red gates and many fox deity statues. I also enjoyed seeing the fox-shaped ema with people’s wishes written on them too! When I arrived here at 9am (which is the opening time), I was the only person here which was quite relaxing. I really enjoyed the privacy of this shrine and felt at peace here.

Address: 1771-4 Shineicho, Kanoya, Kagoshima 893-0063
Admission: Free

Ogawa Falls

Ogawa Falls is a remote waterfall located south of Kanoya City with beautiful shades of water and rock formations. It takes about 45 mins to reach by car. I had my hostel call a taxi here and back because there is no other way to reach it by public transport. It’s really a shame that there’s not a local bus from Kanoya City that goes here, but I suppose there are not enough travelers that come to the city to justify the cause. The taxi here cost around 8000 yen one way which is quite expensive, but trust me the views were extremely worth the price! The hike to the falls is roughly 20 mins on pretty even terrain and there is a viewing deck with 2 floors you can stand on to see them. This place really didn’t feel like Japan because it looked more like a destination from Thailand or the Philippines. However, this truly shows how beautiful places in Kagoshima can be and I really encourage more people to make the journey here!

Additionally, there is a lovely cafe called aqua base by the parking lot where you can try fresh juice and sweet potato flavored monkey-shaped pastries. It truly was a dream come true for an aesthetic food lover so I bought their earrings of the pastry too! I will never forget my time here because it was truly unique and once again, I was the only person here which made it special!

Address: 5876-2 Tashirokawahara, 錦江町 Kimotsuki District, Kagoshima 893-2402
Admission: Free

Take Bakery and Cafe

While looking for pescatarian-friendly places in the area, Take Bakery and Cafe was one of the very first that popped up so I figured I would check it out. For breakfast before I went to Ogawa Falls, I decided to try their salmon and cream cheese bagel with a soy latte. It gave me just the energy I needed to hike through the falls and was delicious so I would highly recommend it. Since I was curious about their salads, I came back here for lunch after my trek since their bread and cheese was so amazing. I also started day drinking while I waited for my bus back to the airport and I can’t recommend their local wine enough! They recognized me from this morning and generously thanked me for coming twice. I would have gladly come for dinner too had I stayed another night here!

Address: 5-5 Kitadacho, Kanoya, Kagoshima 893-0007

Accommodation

Since my stay here was very short and I spent a good chunk of money on my resort in Amami, I opted to stay in Hotel & Hostel Haru. Rooms are around 2000 yen per night and I was the only person staying in my dormitory so it was a comfortable stay. Not only were the rooms extremely clean, the staff was very friendly and gave me free sake and helped me call my taxi to Ogawa Falls too. I was lucky to have found such a nice place in a remote city! In my opinion 2 days is all you need to see the highlights of Kanoya.

Another fun point of interest close to this hostel is Wadaiseki Park which has a statue of a kappa. I enjoyed being friends with him during my time here and we really vibed. Look forward to reading about Sakurajima in my next article!

Sailing through the Skies of Amami Island – First Paragliding Experience

Seeing northern Yo Beach from a new perspective via paragliding!

On my second day on Amami Island, I decided to knock out paragliding on my bucket list because it’s something I had wanted to do for years and it felt like the ideal time. Out of all the locations you can try it in Japan, Okinawa and Kagoshima are the most recommended due to their stunning ocean views. I first tried to go paragliding on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa 5 years ago on my birthday, but unfortunately the winds were too strong and my reservation was cancelled. This time the opposite problem occurred—the winds were initially too weak but picked up after an hour of waiting. Paragliding is simple in the fact that all that you need to do is run and jump in time with when you’re instructed to and the motor will do the rest. Before you know it you’ll be up in the sky staring down at the distant scenery below you. In case you fall there is a soft cushion of sand beneath you which is why I highly recommend paragliding on the beach. The beautiful hues of the ocean below my feet glittered in the shining sun and I felt as if I was truly alive!

Here is some footage from my GoPro over Amami Island’s most northern beach (Yo Beach). I originally thought the white building was a lighthouse, but it is actually a government office!

I booked my paragliding experience through パラグライダーハッピースカイ (Paragliding Happy Sky) online for 10,500 yen and had an incredible experience. Though this might be a bit more expensive compared to other countries like Thailand or the Philippines, Japan is probably the safest country to learn in as their instructors are very cautious and well-trained. I appreciated how they waited an hour with me for the winds to pick up an even offered to show me around the island so I could see the stars at night. The experience lasts for around 15 minutes and you can freely use your camera equipment while a license professional controls the motor and direction. The company will contact you with the best meeting point the night before and fortunately all of the paragliding locations are easy to reach by taxi.

To me it was an extremely exhilarating experience that increased my love for the ocean so I can’t recommend it enough—if you’re an adventurous person then you need to try paragliding!

Kayaking through Amami Mangrove Forest

Immediately after kayaking, I set off for the Amami Mangrove Forest via local bus because I really wanted to try kayaking there. This is one of the top destinations in Amami and the second largest mangrove in Japan. The waterways will take you deep through the forest so you can see various wildlife and the experience was very relaxing to me after paragliding. Renting a kayak is 1500 yen for an hour, but I noticed they were pretty lax on time. I had the opportunity to explore a lot of canals and was very satisfied with the experience despite the long 2 hour bus ride. If you rent a car then you can get around Amami Island much faster, but this mangrove is still somewhat remote from the main resort area. However, I passed through the downtown area on my way back and stopped for delicious Indian food at Durga Dining before heading back to relax at my resort!

Chasing Sunsets

Another fun activity I enjoyed was waking up with the sun and falling asleep with the moon. Every day and night I would watch the sun fall over the ocean and the landscape magically change color. As the land of the rising sun, Japan has a lot of neat places where you can chase sunsets but I definitely prefer it at the beach!

Other Activities

Snorkeling and diving is also extremely popular on Amami Island, but since I did this in Okinawa earlier this year I opted to try new things mentioned in this article. When it all comes down to it, appreciating nature and wildlife and relaxing is really the best thing you can do on this island. All of the resorts are extremely affordable and you can bike around to a number of attractions easily so Amami is a great destination for people who have already been to Okinawa and are looking for something more. I can proudly say that booking my trip here was my best decision of the year because I got the chance to see and experience so many things. Three days was the perfect amount of time to spend here too.

Though this was my last day on Amami Island, my adventure through Kyushu still continues! In my next article, I will talk about exploring the volcanic island, Sakurajima, in Kagoshima. Please look forward to it!

Exploring Amami Island: The Rich Paradise of Goats & Pristine Beaches

A warm welcome from Kurasaki Beach!

After raving in the mountains of Gunma for three days, I realized the end of summer would soon be upon us so the first week of September would be the ideal time to knock of a few places on my Kyushu bucket list—mainly Amami Island, Sakurajima, and the first crater of Mt. Aso. Since I already had a phenomenal vacation in Okinawa just before Golden week, I was craving one more long beach trip before it became too cold to swim. Fortunately for me, I found a number of discount one-way airline tickets and was able to string them together to create the ultimate bargain vacation throughout Kyushu. A number of my friends and coworkers asked me how I did it so I will try to explain my itinerary as thoroughly as possible. If you fly during certain times through Peach and Skymark airlines from Narita airport, you can find discount flights for almost 1/3 of the price all year round in Japan! It just takes some time analyzing Google Flights but really anyone can create the perfect vacation if they put enough heart and research into it.

The dates I chose to travel were 8/30 – 9/5. My completed itinerary was:

Tokyo (NRT Airport) → Amami → Kagoshima → Sakurajima (via ferry) → Kagoshima → Kanoya (for Ogawa Falls) → Fukuoka → Kumamoto → Mt. Aso → Kumamoto → Fukuoka Airport ↺ Tokyo

Since I don’t have an international driver’s license, I relied completely on buses, local trains, taxis, ferries, and even rented bikes too! I spent a lot of time on the road but I listened to music, played my Switch, and did a lot of GoPro editing on my phone too. This was my first time traveling in quite a long time due to the pandemic and the typhoons that hit Japan during Obon season, but I’m happy to say it was another huge success! I learned a lot about the rural life of Kyushu, swam in onsen and oceans, and made many friends along the way (both human and goat). It’s been a while since I last updated Resurface to Reality so I hope you enjoy reading all about my latest Kyushu adventures in this latest article series.

Getting to Amami Island

I chose Amami Island as my first destination because it is one of the most popular remote islands for water activities in Kagoshima. It is not technically part of Okinawa, but it is extremely close to some of its island chains and the weather is almost exactly the same. Amami is a place you go to getaway from the crowds and doesn’t have nearly as many people as Naha, but it does have a bustling downtown shopping area where you can interact freely with the islanders. I spent most of my time swimming at my resort and biking around beaches, but there are a number of wonderful things you can see here!

The easiest way to get to Amami Island is by plane, and fortunately all of the best resorts and beaches are near the airport too! You can also travel by ferry from Kagoshima and Okinawa, but these trips can take up to 11 hours which you could be using to relax during your Kyushu vacation. I departed from Narita Airport around 10am on a Monday and my ticket was only 7040 yen, which beats the long 9000 yen ferry! The plane ride was only 2.5 hours and I slept for over half of it. When I reached the airport, I could already feel the tropical breeze and the bright rays from the sun as soon as I went outside. A free shuttle bus was waiting for me outside too, and driver smiled at me and said “Let’s gooooo!” in English. The adventure was about to begin!

Accommodation: Caretta Resort Amami

While looking for accommodations in Amami, I wanted something on the beach preferably with a pool or a hot tub for the ultimate relaxation. Fortunately I found my ideal hotel match at Caretta Resort! Not only did this hotel have a gigantic pool, inflatables, and a hot tub, but it also had friendly goats and was located directly on Kurasaki Beach. This was the closest resort I found in Japan that resembled Koh Samui, one of my favorite islands in Thailand due to the proximity of the ocean and the huge pool. The hospitality was truly amazing and the people were so kind. There were a bunch of kids in the pool roleplaying Pokemon which really brought me back to my childhood too. The view from inside of the rooms is really beautiful too. If you book far enough in advance, you can get a room for under 10000 which truly is a steal for a resort of this quality. I splurged a bit but treating myself was truly worth it! This hotel has everything you need, including free bike rentals too.

I recommend staying in Amami for at least 3 days like I did so you can fully enjoy the beaches and also choose to go snorkeling, kayaking, or paragliding which I will get into in my next article!

Eating a Heart-shaped Donut at Heart Rock

After checking in at my lovely resort and greeting the goat that lives outside of it, I decided to rent a bike from my hotel and bike to the famous Heart Rock that was just 10 mins away. This heart-shaped pool appears most visible during low tides, but you can see it year-round. It is said to have some kind of healing property so it attracts a number of visitors each day.

Before going to Heart Rock, you can stop at Healthy Island Cafe and buy heart-shaped donuts that come in different flavors and also try goat milk ice cream! I enjoyed how creamy it was plus meeting all of the goats outside that had helped make it. You can purchase other products like goat soap, cheese, and mascots as well. The goat culture on Amami Island is truly amazing and everyone loves them!

I really enjoyed walking through the mini jungle area on the path to the beach and met a stray cat on my way to the rock. A lot of Amami is completely untouched making it the perfect place for adventurers to explore!

Heart Rock Address: 1346-1 Akaogi, Tatsugo, Oshima District, Kagoshima 894-0411

Trying Amami Foods & Sake

Amami Island is famous not only for its goat milk ice cream, but also its seafood and black sugar shochu! Due to the pandemic, a number of restaurants were closed so I just kept calling random ones near the beach until I found out that one named Restaurant AMAnesia was open until 7pm. I got extremely lucky because this restaurant was near a famous hotel and had a huge selection of seafood!

I decided to go with the mini steamed lobster set that came with local island specialties, rice, and vegetables. I also ordered a mini assortment of black sugar shochu. To my surprise it was very strong and not very sweet at all, but I still enjoyed it! After enjoying this delicious meal, I went outside to the beach to enjoy the ocean breeze. Boy this sure beat Tokyo!

AMAnesia Address: 1246-1 Kasaricho Oaza Yoan, Amami, Kagoshima 894-0508

I really enjoyed the privateness of Amami Island this day and reflected on my thoughts. This was an incredible first day with perfect weather and I was very excited for the rest of the week!

In my next article, I will be going into detail about various activities you can do on Amami such as paragliding and kayaking through the mangrove. Please look forward to my next article!

Exploring Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios, Osaka

Luigi is here to save the day!

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

Getting to USJ

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

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

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

Exploring Super Nintendo World

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

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

Riding the Rides

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

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

Meeting Mario and Luigi

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

Dining at Kinopio’s Cafe

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

Souvenirs

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

Hiking through the Wonders of Kamikochi

Besides Yakushima, nothing else compares to the pure colors of this scenery!

Kamikochi, located in the mountains of Nagano with a clear river and perfect view of the Japanese Alps, is one of the most beautiful hiking destinations in Japan and this year I finally made it there! After spending a day seeing Narai and staying at a lodge in Nagano, I drove with my friends to the national park area and we started our trek just before 10am. You can hike the entirety of Kamikochi in about 6 hours and see the forest, bridge, and shrine by the river. The most beautiful part is seeing the reflection of the mountains in the crystal clear water. If you’re lucky you may even run into some monkeys on the way back like we did! Besides my trip to Yakushima, the island that inspired Princess Mononoke, no other view in Japan really compares. Against all forecasts we encountered perfect weather which truly was a miracle. I am writing this article in hopes that other people will make it out here too!

Kamikochi painted by an unknown artist on the day of my trip.

Getting to Kamikochi

You can get to Kamikochi by taking the shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano Station and then taking a bus. I would recommend staying more than one day and seeing the monkey onsen in Nagano too. There are also multiple express buses that go from Shinjuku to Kamikochi but some have been suspended due to the pandemic. We decided to drive to the parking lot outside of Kamikochi and take a taxi because only chartered buses and taxis are allowed inside of the park. I would budget around 30,000 yen for this trip.

The official opening period is from April 17 – November 15 because in winter this area is usually covered with snow. The weather was absolutely perfect for hiking when we arrived in June, so I would recommend going then! All I brought with me is my dress, hiking jacket and shoes, my backpack, and some water so you really don’t need to bring that much. After walking about 3km you will reach the main area with the bridge where there are many shops and restaurants so you can buy food and water as needed. There are a number of hotels you can stay at inside of the park, but they are super expensive so I would just recommend spending the day here and finding a place closer to Nagano Station to stay.

Starting the Hike

Once getting off the bus, the hike through the forest officially starts and you can see the peaks of the Alps right from the beginning. The guideposts are pretty straightforward in showing where things are located. The path to the famous Kappa Bridge is the one I recommend following because you can see almost all of the main points of interest on the way. The distance to the bridge is around 3km and is on even ground so you can relax and go at your own pace. All of the hikers we passed by were friendly and I was happy to see that the park was so clean!

Exploring Kappa Bridge and Nearby Restaurants

After about an hour we reached the main area of Kamikochi where the famous Kappa Bridge is at. If you look at photos of Kamikochi, you will see this giant wooden suspension bridge featured quite a lot! The water is very clear and nice to dip your feet it. There are various restaurants, souvenir shops, and bathrooms around so you can walk around and relax. The best thing to do here is honestly just enjoy the view. The Alps look beautiful from all angles of the park and this is your chance to see them during the best season!

Kamikochi Food

One of the most famous foods of Kamikochi is soba, so I decided to try it at a restaurant on the right side of the bridge. It was a very hearty meal that contained a variety of fresh mushrooms so I enjoyed it. You can easily find ramen and curry around here too. I also tried a steamed bun full of vegetables since I’m vegetarian but they sell them with meat and other flavors as well. Basically everything I ate was great for hiking so you really can’t go wrong with what you eat in this area!

Myojin Pond and Shrine

After resting and walking around the bridge for an hour, we decided to go deeper into the forest and see Myojin Shrine. This is another 3km from the bridge area but it intersects with paths that go back to the entrance so it really isn’t that far away. The scenery makes it worth the extra miles. To our surprise, Myojin Shrine was not a building but a single torii on a dock by the lake with a donation box. Though we have traveled all over Japan, this was one of the most unique shrines that we had ever seen and we highly recommend it to other travelers!

Also, Myojin Pond is so clear you can see the reflection of the mountains in it. Here are two photos I captured during my hike:

Admission Fee: 300 yen

Hiking Back and Meeting the Monkey Pack

After seeing all of the major points of interest and feeling happy with our experience, we started to hike back through the forest when we heard a screeching sound and a monkey mom and her baby dropped from a nearby tree! It was quite the surprise but these monkeys were friendly and just passing by. Signs in parks always warn you not to make eye contact with monkeys because they take it as a form of aggression, but fortunately we did not get mugged by these guys. They probably chose the same trail as us because it was shaded and near their food source. Very keen!

Final Thoughts

Overall I was very satisfied with my trip to Kamikochi because I got to see entirety of it including the monkeys! The biggest challenge is the timing with the weather but fortunately we lucked out. I would recommend staying in Nagano for multiple days like we did so you can choose the best day for Kamikochi. No matter where you go you’ll surely appreciate the view of the mountains.

So far my top 3 hiking destinations in Japan are:

  1. Yakushima
  2. Kamikochi
  3. Mt. Fuji

Though I’ve already been to a lot of places, I hope to do more hiking like this in the future! Although, I am taking a break from hiking recently and am focusing on music events. I just went to a rave in Hinode this weekend and my next trip will be to Osaka for a tofubeats show. If I have time, I will finally make it to the Super Mario World exhibit in Universal Studios too! Please stayed tuned for more of my adventures!