The worst days will end. The best days will end. Remember that. From 6/25/2020 – 7/12/2020, there is a special MOTHER exhibit featuring works by Americart and 35 different manga artists on the 8th floor of the Shibuya Parco building. As an avid fan of the series, I had to go the very first day the gallery opened up. It’s completely free so if you live in Tokyo you have no excuse not to check it out. You won’t be disappointed!
Though I wasn’t initially familiar with the artists, the artwork on display has a tasteful style that fits the theme of the games. You will see familiar characters from all of the series and be lost in nostalgia as familiar music from the series is plays overhead. Seeing this really made me want to go back and play all of the games again:
There are photo spots where you can pose with Ness’s hat and various characters from the series. I love how the hand sanitizer was creatively incorporated into this exhibit too. It definitely gave me a laugh! There is a monitor where you can see the speed paint process of Americart’s work too. There was a ton of effort put into this and it really shows:
In addition to the Pollyanna art book and comic anthologies, there are T-shirts, bags, pixel charms, jewelry, and plushies for sale. Unfortunately the giant Mr. Saturn plushies on display are not for sale, but you can purchase a miniature one that comes with a house for 2500 yen. I picked up the Mr. Saturn bag for a mere 600 yen. It has amazing quality and is super stylish. I can’t wait to wear it out! I am so happy I had the chance to experience yet another nostalgic videogame exhibit.
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:
“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:
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.
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!
After two awe-inspiring hikes through the forest that inspired Princess Mononoke and to Japan’s oldest tree, I decided to spend my final day in Yakushima relaxing at beaches and hot springs. Though I went on this trip nearly three years ago, I still remember how breathtaking it was to this day. This island undoubtedly has some of the best nature in Japan because it’s so remote from civilization. This is the perfect place to reflect on life and also do meditation. Please see Part 1 of my adventures in Yakushima for reference.
Day 3: Beach and Hotspring Adventures
Since I didn’t rent a car and was backpacking my way around, I decided to book a private tour through Yes Yakushima so I could see more of the island. The main advantage of doing this is you’ll have an experienced guide to show you around and they can cater the tour to fit your interests. I chose the Island Tour since I had already had my fill of hiking, but there are many other options available. What’s amazing is their guides can take you almost anywhere on the island; even to the most difficult mountains that not many people have climbed. Solo tours start at 27000 yen per person, but the price is worth it for what you get to see. The money you spend also goes to environmental maintenance.
Distilleries, Beaches, Crabs & Hotsprings
My guide Brian was also from the US, but he married a Japanese native on Yakushima and hiked there for years so his knowledge of the island was vast. My tour started off with a bang when we visited a Yaksuhima sake distillery and I knocked back a few samples. Sweet potatoes are very famous here so some breweries use them as a base for sake. We also drove past some mini farms where you could insert coins into a post box and take vegetables. The stores are completely unmanned so it shows there is a high level of trust between people on this island.
After eating a vegetarian bento by the beach, we drove to Hirauchi Sea Spa where you can go swimming and also wade in the tidal hot springs. The best time to visit is during low tide which usually your tour guide can predict. You can come here during high tide too, but the hot springs will be too deep to enter. I spent a good 2 hours here swimming and wading in the hot springs. The hot springs are unisex so you can choose to wear your swimsuit or jump in naked (I wore my swimsuit since I was on a tour).
While I was walking on the beach, I saw some amazing sea crabs chilling in the rocks:
Here’s an extremely old video I took of them. Their eyes are over-sized and adorable:
I will never forget how vibrantly blue the water was here. Out of everywhere in Japan, Iwami and islands in Kyushu like Yakushima have the best beaches. I also saw Yakushima-todai Lighthouse which is painted white and looks like a small chapel.
After having my fill of swimming, we decided to drive to some waterfalls next. The following waterfall is the most beautiful waterfall that I’ve seen in Japan:
We arrived at the perfect time of day because I got to see a rainbow reflected in the water of Ohko Waterfall!! This was such an amazing sight to behold! Plus there were hardly any other people around so you could only hear the splash of the water. I sat on the rocks and mediated for a few minutes as cool water droplets splashed my back. As I was meditating, a piece of bark from a Yaku Cedar tree fell from the cliff and drifted towards me. Brian carefully picked it up from the water and held onto it. He informed me that under no circumstances are people of the island allowed to strip bark from trees, but if the bark is removed by natural causes then people are allowed to take it. Since he said he was skilled in instruments, farming, and other outdoor activities, I figured he would think of the perfect use for it. He let me hold it and see it up close which was very special to see. It really is as if the gods were smiling upon us here.
Though there were no rainbows here, this was still an amazing waterfall to see. While Ohko is best viewed from sea level, Senpiro is best viewed from the mountains. The granite valleys here were quite the sight. Hiking up to the level where you can see them only takes a few minutes and is way easier than the hike to Jomonsugi. I am continually impressed by the harmony of land and water you can see on Yakushima!
Gajumaru Banyan Tree
After our waterfall treks, we drove to a mysterious forest in Nakama Village. At first glance, it looked similar to the Shiratani Unsuikyo which I explored the other day. However, Brian informed me that this is home of the Gajumaru Banyan Tree—a magical tree that grows by dropping down roots from its limbs into the ground! The roots can also sprout onto existing trees which give this forest its twisted shape. Yakushima is unique because a lot of the island is still uninhabited and these trees can grow wild. Perhaps one day the Gajumaru Banyan Tree limbs will engulf the entire island. No one knows for sure, but it sure was fun to ponder about what could happen in the future.
At this point the journey was gradually unwinding. I felt completely satisfied with what I had seen in the three days that I spent here. On our way back to Miyanoura Pier where I planned to sail back to Kagoshima, we passed by some wild monkeys and a tree that resembles Cthulhu. The more time you spend here, the more aesthetic things you’ll start to notice:
Though this may sound a bit hypocritical, any pictures you see of Yakushima online don’t do it justice. The island is extremely vast and beautiful and the only way to truly see this is to embark on the long journey and see it for yourself. That being said, my trip here was absolutely perfect minus not packing enough food during my hikes. The first two days I spent almost entirely by myself hiking and seeing Japan’s oldest tree. This was great because it gave me the chance to create my own personal connection with the island. I didn’t feel lonely because I was on a journey. The last day I reflected with an experienced guide and spent a lot of time relaxing. I realized from talking to him there is still so much of Yakushima that is unexplored. Was three days enough for what I wanted to see? Definitely. Would I want to come back in the future and see more? Also yes! 3-5 days is what I would recommend to most people. Be sure to respect nature and to also treasure your time here.
On my 24th birthday in October nearly two years ago, I decided I travel all the way from Tokyo to Yakushima so I could see the lush island that inspired one of my favorite movies of all time—Princess Mononoke. This journey took nearly 10 hours and involved a lot of hiking, but it was one of the best experiences of my life. Yakushima has so much unspoiled nature and is also home of Japan’s oldest recorded tree in history: Jomonsugi. There are numerous hiking trails and endless adventure to be had here. In this article I will be retelling the tale of my 3 day stay and also my recommended hiking spots and tours. I would plan on staying here for 3-5 days if possible so you can fully enjoy the nature!
Yakushima is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Kyushu, Japan. The island is mostly mountainous with 16 main hiking trails. Many of them intersect so you can choose the path that best fits what you want to see. There are mountain huts scattered in the forest that you can stay at for free overnight, but it is possible to complete most hikes within 6 – 12 hours. Yakushima is close to Okinawa giving it a subtropical climate (in October I could still go swimming). You can travel here any time of year, but I would recommend avoiding the rainy season (early June-July) as the forest can get flooded.
What’s amazing is that even today many parts of this island remain unexplored. Some areas outside of the trails are so steep it is not recommended to climb them without a guide or special equipment. Fortunately the main trails are marked well enough that you can navigate them without a guide. Just be sure to bring enough food and be cautious when climbing over rocks, steep areas, and places with low visibility.
*Maps are courtesy of Yakumonkey (a really handy guide for exploring).
Reasons to go:
Arguably one of the most beautiful forests to hike through in Japan.
If you are a Princess Mononoke fan, exploring Yakushima is a dream come true.
You can see rare wildlife (both plants and animals).
The freshwater streams are so clean that you can drink out of them.
The beaches are wonderful for swimming.
This island is extremely remote and still has a lot of things to be discovered.
The downside is that transportation is limited, and if you are not an outdoors person then you may find some of the hikes a bit difficult. However, people of all ages have completed the hike to Jomonsugi and there are hiking groups available for all experience levels. You can also choose to hike completely alone without a group like I did.
Here are the main spots that I hiked to:
Day 1: Shiratani Unsuikyo
Shiratani Unsuikyo is a dream-like world full of lush green mosses and some of Japan’s oldest cedars that inspired the setting of Princess Mononoke. The lead artist of the movie, Oga Kazuo, spent quite a long time here sketching scenes that were used in the film. You can easily see why this setting was chosen, as it is unspoiled and far from civilization making it the perfect home for creatures of the forest. The water that runs from the stream here is so fresh that you can re-fill your water bottle with it and drink it while you hike. I had never been to a place so clean and beautiful in my life, so this was one of the best places to spend my 24th birthday!
Three of the oldest cedar trees here are: Nidaiosugi, Kugurisugi, and Yayoisugi. Though it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of the forest, there are clear signs and markings around to guide you. Keep your eyes out for deer too! You’re likely run into other tour groups going around but they are easy to avoid. This hike is not particularly strenuous; just remember to watch out for rain that makes the stones and moss slippery.
I arrived on a foggy day, so this was the view I got from the highest point of the forest:
I was not disappointed by this view because it looked like I was walking through the clouds! The fog gave the forest an eerie glow and you could still make out all of the main sightseeing points. Fortunately my other two days here were completely sunny.
Duration: 4-6 hours of hiking Admission Fee: 500 yen
My Recommendation: There are two main paths you can use to enter, but I recommend entering from the Miyanoura side because there are more frequent buses that lead there and back from the port. You do not need a guide to hike through this area as it is pretty straightforward. I came here by myself and did not have a single dull moment.
Day 2: Jomonsugi (Japan’s Oldest Tree)
One of the most magical hikes in Japan is to the oldest tree in this country: The Legendary Jomonsugi. Upon reaching the tree, you will receive its holy blessing and have explored much of Yakushima’s beauty. You can actually access a route to Jomonsugi from the Shiratani Unsuikyo, but it is a strenuous hike so I recommend seeing them on separate days. I enjoyed this hike much more than I did Fuji due to the beautiful cedar scenery. Jomonsugi is quite massive in size (standing at 83 feet) and is like no other tree I’ve ever seen. Besides the tree, there are many other aesthetic things to see on your way there:
The main points of interest on the way there are Wilson’s Stump and the abandoned logging village of Kosugidani. Wilson’s Stump mysteriously formed a heart shape after the tree was cut down. It was discovered by Ernest Henry Wilson who was an English botanist that came to Yakushima in the early 1900s. Little remains of the old village (I thought it was a series of old storehouses when I first saw it), but historically it had a major impact on the development of Yakushima.
The hike starts off very easy. You walk on what looks like railroad tracks into the forest and go through a few tunnels. The hike is 22km but doesn’t get steep until you are much deeper in the forest. I saw some wild mushrooms on the way there. A tour guide told me that there’s a possibility that magic mushrooms may exist here in the wild though I didn’t try eating any. The most difficult part is climbing up the narrow trails that lead to Jomonsugi. Fortunately hiking through the Shiratani Unsuikyo the other day prepared me for that. I reached Jomonsugi in around 3.5 hours and was stunned by its beauty. I turned around and saw people of all ages smiling. We had made the mythical trek!
As I gazed at Jomonsugi, I couldn’t help but think about the World Tree from one of my favorite videogames of all time: Tales of Symphonia. This tree is what keeps the world alive in the game, and I felt a similar power from Jomonsugi. It is the heart of Yakushima that keeps the forest safe. Or keeps tourism alive. Something like that. I couldn’t think straight because I was so hungry. Fortunately I had some riceballs prepared for me by my hotel:
On the way down I noticed I was starting to get fatigued and my legs started to hurt. The last two hours of this hike were the worst. I run every day and am in shape, but I am not used to these forest hikes as I live in the city. At one point I started to get spots in my vision, but fortunately I was not in danger of passing out. I listed to Geofront by Carpainter and focused on climbing down to the rhythm. I vowed if I survived this then I would someday see this artist in person (which I did a month later). When I got back to the train track part of the trail, I was able to sit down and rest for a bit. I think the hike only took me around 7 hours. It was worth it for everything that I got to experience.
Duration: 6-10 hours of hiking (including travel to the trail head by bus) Admission Fee: 1000 yen
My Recommendation: Get up as early as you can (preferably around 4am) and take the earliest bus to Arakawa Trail from where you are staying. Your accommodation can help you as this is the most popular destination in Yakushima. Most buses will arrive around 6am-7am. PACK LOTS OF SNACKS! The bus was full when I returned so I had to wait for the next one back. I killed time with photo editing and it was alright, but I wish I had prepared more. Regardless, this is one of the best hikes you’ll find in Japan and is extremely rewarding. Do it if you get the chance!
Where to Stay: Suimseiso Minshuku
If you came here because of the movie like myself, then staying at Suimeiso Minshuku is your best bet! This backpackers-styled hostel is only 3500 yen a night, includes some meals and snacks, and has signed Miyazaki drawings that are framed and displayed in the common room. That is because Miyazaki was actually a former guest here! The friendly staff are extremely hard-working and will make you feel welcome here. I had trouble initially figuring out the bus routes, but they took the time to assist me.
If tatami rooms are not your style, you can either send an inquiry to one of the Yakushima tour websites or check what’s available on Booking. There are resorts available, but I would recommend saving that money for a more famous beach area like Okinawa. When you’re in Yakushima, you’re going to want to be exploring nature as much as possible so staying inside is not ideal.
To avoid the mistake I made of not having enough food while hiking, I HIGHLY recommend placing an order for breakfast and snacks from your accommodation in advance. Since the majority of people that come to Yakushima are hikers and backpackers, almost all hotels will do this for you. Tours will usually include a meal too.
After being famished from my hike to Jomonsugi, I found a restaurant called Smiley near my hotel that had delicious sandwiches, soup, ice cream, and cookies shaped like the island. Now that was a satisfying meal! There are other small restaurants and convenience stores around the ports too, but usually they are not open in the early morning when it’s recommended to start your hike. It gets dark on the island around 7pm, so be sure to be careful of time. Packing snacks is ideal and will save you a lot of time.
Access & Transportation
From Tokyo Haneda Airport, I flew to Kagoshima Airport the night before I sailed to Yakushima. This cost around 20,000 yen and takes 2 hours. I stayed at a cheap net cafe called Jiyu Kukan by Kagoshima Port which is fortunately close to the station.
In the morning, I bought a roundtrip ferry ticket to Yakushima for 16,600 yen (the return trip must be used within 7 days but I was only staying for 3 days). There are around 8 ferries that go to Miyanoura Port daily. You can choose to stay somewhere here, but more backpackers stay in the Anbo Port area (which is where I stayed).
If you have any questions or would like to purchase a ticket in advance, I would recommend checking out Yes Yakushima’s website because they have updated time tables that change per season. You can also fly here, but I decided to go by boat because I thought it would be more fun. The ride takes around 2-3 hours.
Once on the island, you can get your accommodation to help you book a taxi or take the buses around. I decided to go buy bus because it was extremely cheap. You can rent a car, but some of the roads go deep into the mountains and are a bit dangerous for a driver who is inexperienced. I would leave it to the bus drivers personally.
In my next article, I will be talking about a private tour that I went on during my final day here exploring beaches and hotsprings around the island. Please look forward to it!
If you told us that we’d be dining at a rooftop bistro in the presence of shining suits of armor adorned with jewels, we wouldn’t have believed you. But since the burger place that we wanted to go to was sadly closed, this was where we ended up. Nagoya food and restaurants are seriously underrated, which is why I’m writing Aesthetic Food Finds Vol. 2 today. This is just the beginning of greater food adventures that are yet to come.
I’ll be expanding this list as I find more places, but feel free to suggest any you recommend in the comments! Please see Vol. 1 for reference.
Bis-Tria Gatsby is by far the fanciest restaurant I’ve been to in Nagoya, but it’s surprisingly welcoming and affordable. As we walked in we were amazed by the huge collection of wines on display and the rare Dark Souls DLC suits of armor. Despite us being in casual wear (because we were only planning on eating burgers before), we were politely seated and handed three different menu. After some careful thought, we decided to order the tomato and cabbage pasta, a platter of octopus and marinated vegetables, a fancy pineapple frozen cocktail, and some chocolate cake for dessert. This was the best meal I had in Nagoya and we only paid around 3000 yen when we split the bill.
I will never forget these aesthetic suits of armor:
This bistro is ideal for dates and birthday parties (we saw two Japanese girls celebrating their birthdays here). I would gladly come back again given the occasion.
I was going through food recommendations on Instagram when this giant glorious egg caught my eye. ANDY CURRY offers some of the most satisfying curry dishes in Nagoya with a selection of seafood, chicken, and vegetarian options too. I chose the seafood option and enjoyed the mussels in my curry sauce. The egg on top is perfectly prepared so it melts into the rice giving it a zesty flavor right as it is served to your table. You can customize the level of spiciness in your order as well. I was very impressed to see that they offered takeout options during the emergency state of Japan. We chose to eat in, but in the future I would love to grab a curry that I could take on the go or eat in a park!
THANK YOU, BAKE
THANK YOU, BAKE was yet another spot-on recommendation that came up in my feed. The cute crocodile mascot totally sold me on coming all the way out to Kanayama to try the delicious vanilla ice cream topped with strawberry sauce. They have delicious cookies, cakes, and pastries you can order to go as well! The crocodile on their packaging bears and uncanny resemblance to the popular Japanese web comic “The crocodile who dies in 100 days” that ended just as the COVID pandemic started. It’s definitely worth a read as it adds a layer of irony to this bake goods shop. All the more reason to come out here and try their food!
Menya Hanabi is a seriously amazing noodle joint that I had no idea existed until my boyfriend pointed it out. The store originated from Taiwan and specializes in mazesoba which consists of noodles mixed with soy sauce, vinegar, minced pork, and other toppings that you can choose. Since I don’t eat meat, I opted for raw egg and as many vegetables as they had on their menu. The flavor it packs is out of this world. The broth is extremely light so you can focus on the taste of the toppings. I would say that mazesoba tastes a lot better than ramen, but I would still recommend trying both!
Vegi Kitchen GuGu
Vegi Kitchen GuGu is a healthy vegan restaurant located on the outskirts of Nagoya. I had my very first meal in Nagoya here after World Cosplay Summit dressed as Futaba from Persona 5 so it was extremely on-point. Their star-shaped vegan curry is to die for! I still remember the taste even though it was nearly 3 years ago. Unfortunately due to the emergency state, the restaurant is only offering takeout options. Fortunately there is a Campfire Fund for small businesses in Nagoya that has already met its goal, so hopefully in the future this restaurant will offer its full menu again! When it does, I’ll be sure to go back and eat there again.
6/30/2020 EDIT: The full menu has returned to the restaurant and you can dine in now! The vegan curry I ordered with my boyfriend earlier this month looks even better than before:
Antico Caffeé is a modest cafe located in the Dai Nagoya building near the main station, but it never disappoints. Their spinach and mushroom sandwiches, coffee, and canolis are all very fulfilling. If you are looking to grab a quite bite to eat on your way out that’s affordable, then this is one of your best options. Though quite simple, this cafe will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first place that my boyfriend and I went on a date together. I think it will always be a place I come back to!
I saved the best for last—Critical*Hit is one of my favorite gaming bars in Japan and also the a place I always make my rounds to each time I’m in Nagoya. Whenever I’m here, I either make a new friend, discover a new game, or having extremely invigorating discussions with other people. There are a number of console games plus rare games (such as LSD and other classics) that you can choose to play, or you can sit and converse with others which I usually do. I still stay in contact with a lot of the people I’ve met here because Nagoya has a really close-knit community. There are a mix of foreigners and Japanese people as well that frequent here. I am really fortunate to have met my first boyfriend here on a night when he was playing Metal Gear Solid!
That’s all the aesthetic food finds for this week. As more places in Japan open up, I’ll hopefully have a lot more to write about!
As I’ve noted countless times before, Nagoya is one of the most underrated cities in Japan. It is here that I first attended the World Cosplay Summit back in 2017, went to Legoland and Nagashima Spa Land, and also met my first boyfriend at a gaming bar (which is a legendary story I’ll save for later). Though Osaka and Kyoto undoubtedly overshadow this city with their hotspring getaways and large amusement parks like Universal Studios, Nagoya has a cozy atmosphere that can’t be beat. There are far less tourists here but still a lot of interesting things to see. As much as I love living in Tokyo, I often find it hard to relax so I try to escape to Nagoya at least twice a month. Every time I travel here, I discover something completely new and amazing. Be it a cafe, park, or meeting a new friend—I’m always left with fond memories on my way home.
I had planned on flying to Aomori Prefecture earlier this year because it was ranked as the best place to see the cherry blossoms in Japan, but the festival was sadly cancelled due to the COVID-19. Fortunately my boyfriend took me to a semi-secluded area in Nagoya where the Yamazaki River runs through and you can see a perfect view of the cherry blossoms in this prefecture. Since the branches hang over the river, the petals gently fall into the water creating that dream-like Japan aesthetic you see in anime or printed on postcards. The sakura donut I picked up at Lyrical Coffee Donut only added to the already perfect scenery. Fortunately we could come here and still practice social distancing while enjoying the best season in Japan. It was a small moment of peace amidst the chaos around the world that I’ll never forget.
On our way back, we stumbled upon a very interesting restaurant called “Not Curry“. The menu consisted of some sort of soup pairing with rice. What interesting advertising! Also, the internet pointed out that my shadow looked like Isabelle from Animal Crossing when I uploaded it to social media. I haven’t played the game due to wanting to devote my free time to research and writing, but who would have thought! All sorts of magical things were happening here.
This park became a meme in Nagoya due to it’s circular Pokeball-like shape and the fact that it’s a Pokemon Go hotspot. Besides Shiratori Park, Tsurumai is one of the most beautiful parks in Nagoya. I loved seeing the beautiful European-esque fountain, life-sized bird cages and gardens, and railings shaped like birds. Not to mention there was tall grass where you could seemingly hunt Pokemon. I imagine this is a popular photoshoot location for Pokemon cosplayers during World Cosplay Summit.
Our favorite activity here was live-Tweeting turtles. We sat by the pond and watched in awe as a turtle from underwater swam up to join its friend on the rock. Being a turtle and living in complete ignorance of the COVID crisis must be blissful.
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.
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’.”
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.
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:
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.
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).
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!
Nearly two years ago, I ventured north into the mountainous region of Nagano with two missions to accomplish. The first was to see the famous hotspring-loving monkeys in Jigokudani. Though a lot of monkeys in Asia are known to be feisty, the Japanese macaque (also known as snow monkeys) are said to be pretty relaxed. It’s probably due to the fact that they have their own 24-hour hotspring to themselves. The second objective was to go to a rare event in Matsumoto called Glaass Lounge. This party is a gathering of house and techno enthusiasts that goes all night, and on this particular weekend Carpainter and Seimei of Trekkie Trax were to appear. The stars had aligned for the ultimate weekend and I couldn’t be more excited!
Jigokudani Monkey Park
As soon as I arrived to Nagano Station, I went to the ticket office and purchased a day pass for Jigokudani Park. The park is about an hour bus ride from the station, but you have the chance to see rare scenes of the countryside so it’s not a bad trip. From the bus stop, the walk to the monkey park is about 30 mins through a lush pine forest. When you get to the top of a hill in the mountains, you will see dozens of monkeys running through a roped-off area full of hotsprings:
Though you sadly cannot enter the hotsprings with the monkeys, you can get pretty close to them. Often they will go under the ropes and leisurely mingle with people. It is advised not to look them directly in the eyes because that is a sign of aggression. Also there are notices posted not to feed them and to be careful with your bags (a.k.a. common sense). I would allow yourself at least 1.5 hours to fully enjoy the park. The monkeys are quite fun to observe and the mountain air feels lovely.
Besides the monkeys, the scenery surrounding the park made it worth the trip. The mountain backdrop on the lake looked like something straight out of a postcard. Plus hiking through the forest was an awesome workout and I saw many beautiful rivers along the way. You can see the Japanese Alps from here too:
Admission Fee: 800 yen to enter the park // 3200 yen for admission to the park and roundtrip bus fare (I recommend this option unless you rent a car)
Although I had fun here, the day I went the monkeys weren’t particularly interesting in bathing even though it was cold out and there was snow on the ground. Hakodate in Hokkaido has a better monkey onsen that you can see. The monkeys there seem to love hotsprings more than the monkeys I saw here, but both are worth checking out.
Due to having to catch a train into the city that night, I didn’t have a lot of time to look for places to eat but fortunately Nagano Station had me covered. I managed to find some amazing kitsune udon (noodles topped with a thin layer of fried tofu), and oyaki (stuffed dumplings). I was happy to see they had a number of vegetarian options and were very cheap to order individually. Oyaki are a Nagano specialty so definitely try them if you get the chance! You can find them literally all over the place in a variety of flavors.
I arrived at Studio SONIC around 11pm when Glaass Lounge had just kicked off. The club had a simple setup with a DJ booth in the front and a bar to the side, but since it was compact it was easy to socialize with people. I found my friends immediately and told them the story of the bathing monkeys. It felt great to experience the music scene of Matsumoto out here in the mountains. A number of these DJs come to Tokyo events every once in a while too.
Monolith Slip, a duo of two music producers from this area were one of my favorite acts. They create a lot of rave music and were featured on an earlier Haka Gang x Trekkie Trax compilation:
Besides them, I of course enjoyed seeing Carpainter as the featured guest. As always, his techno/house mixes are amazing:
This party went on until 5am and was an experience I’ll never forget. I haven’t been back to Nagano in over 2 years, but if there are more music events like these in the fture then I’ll definitely be tempted!
From Tokyo Station, take the Hokuriku-Shinkansen to Nagano Station. This will take 2 hours and costs 8400 yen one way. From Nagano Station you can take a bus to the monkey forest and the Shinano Limited Express to reach Matsumoto City. All tickets can be purchased on they day you arrive, but if you are coming during a holiday I would book them in advance. I would recommend 2 days and 1 night here to see everything.
Since I didn’t have a lot of money at time, I stayed at a net cafe called Carefree Cafe for a few hours after the party. However, there are a lot of great hotspring resorts and ryokan you can stay in that are better! Booking usually has some great deals depending on what you are looking for.
Yesterday I wrote about the popular mountainous hotspring getaway Hakone, so today I’m writing about Tokyo’s other most popular day trip: Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture. Like Hakone, Nikko is also a famous hotsprings area located in the mountains that has stunning nature, temples, and a lot of parks as well. Between the two of them, Hakone is my favorite because the hotsprings and museums are easier to reach by bus. Nikko is more spaced-out than Hakone and some of the hot springs take over two hours via bus to reach. That is a lot of traveling to do if you’re just coming for the day, but if you really like hiking you may find Nikko more interesting. Both are worth seeing at least once.
I’ve been to Nikko twice (once in the summer and once in the winter for the snow festival) so I will be detailing my favorite discoveries in this article. All of these places can be reached via bus from Nikko Station:
Kegon Falls & Toshogu Shrine
Kegon Falls is one of the most gorgeous waterfalls in Tochigi Prefecture. It was formed by lava that rerouted a river into Lake Chuzenji. We came here in the dead of winter when the surrounding area was covered by snow and slightly frozen, but the waterfall was still freely falling from the mountains. I will never forget how beautiful this scenery was. No matter what time of year you visit you will have an unforgettable view!
In the summer I visited Nikko’s most famous shrine: Toshogu. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a good reason. This shrine serves as remembrance for Tokugawa Ieyasu who ruled the Tokugawa Shogunate for over 200 years. This shrine complex consists of several buildings with the main one being adorned in golden architecture that gleams in the sunlight. The shrines are located in a forested area so visiting each of them is quite a nice hike. I’m glad that I’ve traveled here during both the summer and winter so I can see the lovely change of scenery.
Kegon Falls has no admission fees, but it costs 550 yen to go to the observation deck (which is worth it in my opinion).
Toshogu Shrine Entrance Fee: 1300 yen
Nikko is famous for yuba which is literally tofu skin. That might not sound very appealing by itself, but it’s quite delicious when paired with or added to other dishes. I tried Yuba udon with my friend and it tasted amazing! The soft texture of the yuba paired with the noodles and broth gave the dish a unique texture. I also tried some yuba slices on the side just so I could fully analyze the taste. They are not as solid as tofu and are easier to eat. My favorite tofu of all time is fried tofu or spicy tofu since they have the most flavor. Yuba is rather flavorless, but it’s good for your health if eaten in small amounts. We went to the restaurant across from the station called ゆば料理, but you can try it almost anywhere in Nikko.
Yumoto Onsen Snow Festival
Each year in February, Yumoto Onsen has a snow festival in which igloos with ice sculptures are illuminated similar to the Sapporo Snow Festival. However, since this hotsprings resort is secluded, there are not as many people here and you can fully enjoy the illuminations to your heart’s content. It was quite a long journey from Tokyo, but my friend and I managed to arrive here and back within a day. The journey took 3.5 hours one way, but Yumoto Onsen is one of the best hotsprings in Nikko. After doing some photography here, we used the hotsprings for under 1000 yen. Similar to Gero Onsen and Kusatsu, you can choose from a large variety of onsen. Many were available for day trippers like us. The snow festival is free to see.
Here is a video I took in early 2018 of the igloos. I hope to take higher quality footage of another illuminated snow festival in the future:
Tobu World Square
Because I’m a fan of museums and architecture, I had to check out Tobu World Square. This is a theme park at Kinugawa Onsen (another famous hotspring) that has over 100 scales models of iconic places from around the world. My personal favorite was the pyramids from Egypt. If you stand in front of them and take a picture of yourself, it looks like you’re actually in the desert! The coliseum from Rome is also aestheically pleasing to see. I loved the mini recreation of the Dragon and Taiwan Pagoda as well. Now that I’ve been there, it hold much more meaning to me. The more you walk through the park, the more you want to travel! Summer is the ideal time to come here in my opinion.
Entrance Fee: 2500 yen (a bit expensive, but this is one of the most interesting museums in Nikko).
Walking in an Edo Wonderland
Since I was already near Kinugawa Onsen where many museums are located, I figured I’d go walking in an Edo Wonderland. As the name implies, this is an amusement park dedicated to the Edo period of Japan. If you’ve studied Japanese history, then you’ll know that this was a revolutionary time for the country. There were samurais, economic growth, and a lot of development across Japan. Many anime and novels are based off this time period. Edo Wonderland plays homage to that and gives visitors the chance to step back into that world. You can visit ninja houses and temples here, dress up in formal Edo clothing, take a boat cruise down the river, and see all sorts of performances.
Since I’ve been living in Japan for while, the most interesting part was simply exploring the Edo town for me. However, there’s a lot more you can do here! There is an archery dojo, countless restaurants, and museums where you can get even further lost in time.
Entrance Fee: 4800 yen before 2pm, 4100 after 2pm (it’s best to come in the afternoon as this is quite expensive)
The best way to access Nikko is from Tokyo’s Ueno Station. At the tourism office, they have often have discounts and deals as Nikko is a popular destination. From Ueno, you can take the Hibiya Line to Kita-senju Station, then the Tobu Limited Express to reach Tobu-Nikko Station. This takes approximately 2 hours and costs 3500 yen.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never stayed overnight at Nikko before but it’s something I’d like to try in the future. Kinugawa Onsen is one of the centrally located and seems like a good option because you can reach the other areas of Tochigi Prefecture quite easily from it.