Falling Down the Capybara Hole at Izu Granpal Park (Shizuoka, Japan)

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Granpal Park is the perfect Capybara Onsen after party.

On my way back to Atami after meeting the friendly capybara at Izu Shaboten Zoo, I couldn’t help but notice an advertisement on the train with a picture of illuminated capybara in a garden full of LED lights (much like the photo I took above).  I was completely captivated by the image.  What was this magical place with LSD visuals and sparkling wonder doing in rural Japan?  Being the spontaneous adventurer that I am, I had to investigate!

With a quick Google search, I discovered that it was Izu Granbel Park, located adjacent to the capybara zoo I went to earlier that day.  Fortunately the park was open until 9:30pm, so it made the perfect after party location for my trip.  I immediately got off at the closest station and rode the Ito train line to Futo Station.  On the way I bought a mini bottle of wine from the nearby Family Mart and walked 20 minutes to the park (because illuminations are way more fun to watch with alcohol).

What’s hilarious is that Google Maps directs you to the back entrance of the park (which was closed when I reached it) so I had to jump a small fence to get inside.  However, my efforts of navigating a dark and solemn back road to reach my destination would be rewarded with a brilliant lightshow over a global atmosphere of twinkling bulbs:

I had definitely fell down the capybara hole and landed in some strange wonderland.  When I walked through the back entrance, I was greeted by giant neon candies and an endless field of glowing flowers as far as the eye could see.  Upon descending a hill in that area, a sea of radiant fish and a luminous backdrop of Mt. Fuji greeted me (only in Japan).  When I turned to walk up towards the front entrance, I stumbled upon a garden of lollipops with capybara and red pandas frolicking in them.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  There was a photo opportunity here with literally every step.  This felt like something that I had made up in a dream because it was so bright and beautiful!

This was the best illumination I had ever seen in Japan.  Previously I had visited Aichi’s Floral Oasis, but this park’s lightshows were much more elaborate.  In addition to the global atmosphere of lights, they also had a mini zoo with gerbils and other small animals.  In the summer there is a waterpark and various rides open too.  Besides the LED (LSD?) capybaras, my favorite attractions were the Tunnel of Dreams and the unexpected dinosaur exhibit.  There’s also a glowing pirate ship and pirates restaurant that is dog-friendly.  If I had a dog, I would definitely bring them here!

This park really expanded my mind and put me in a good mood, so I would recommend it to everyone that visits Shizuoka!  You’ll find that the illuminations outside of the city are much more fun to see, plus this is probably the only place in the world where you can see real capybaras bathe at hotsprings during the day and illuminated ones at night.  A real fantasy come alive.

Address and Admission Price

Address: 1090 Futo, Itō, Shizuoka 413-0231

Entrance to the park is only 1300 yen (much cheaper than what I’ve paid to enter other illuminated parks).

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Capybara bathe in Devilman: Crybaby.

If you are interested in reading more about capybara bathing in hotsprings, please see my Izu Shaboten Zoo article.

3D Latte Art at Reissue Cafe (Tokyo)

Yesterday I had the pleasure of trying my first 3D latte in Tokyo, and boy was it amazing! Reissue was apparently the the first coffee shop to start this trend, and the latte artists there are extremely talented. They have a menu full of anime-inspired latte art to choose from, or you can request your own! I requested one of Yamper from Pokémon, and I think they did a very good job of bringing him to life:

If you’re not a fan of coffee, you can order hot chocolate or warm soy milk instead. The have green tea, caramel, and raspberry lattes as well. The shop is very popular, but fortunately I was able to walk in and sit down without a wait time.

When I first moved to Tokyo several years ago, I ordered a Goku latte as well from the same cafe. Once again, their precise lineart drawn in chocolate syrup was amazing:

Address

Tokyo, Shibuya, Jingumae 3-25-7

Miracle Romance! A trip to Tokyo’s new Sailor Moon Restaurant: Shining Moon Tokyo

With its beautiful character design and story that have captured the hearts of people from around the world, it’s no wonder that Sailor Moon is still a popular series today.  As someone who grew up with the English dub of the anime in America, I am proud to say it is still one of my all time favorites.  Though there have been a number of pop-up Sailor Moon cafes that last for a limited time, a new and permanent theater show restaurant called Shining Moon has permanently opened this year.  I decided to check it out with one of my best friends and I genuinely enjoyed my experience here.  The live performances definitely added a lot to it!

During dinner time two immaculate shows with professional actors are performed.  One is recordable and the other is non-recordable.  Both will keep you on your toes because they feature a lot of fighting, singing, and dancing with colorful visuals.  One began with Usagi dancing at a ball with Tuxedo Mask, only to wake up and find it was all a dream!  Another was completely original and showed the girls visiting different areas of Tokyo (like Harajuku and Asakusa), then being swarmed by villians that they need to defeat.  The shows did a good job in showcasing each girl’s abilities and giving them equal time on stage.  It really felt like I was watching a live version of the anime.

At this time the restaurant only features the inner senshi and it is unknown if other characters will be featured.  I see it being possible in the future as long as this restaurant continues to attract customers (which it is).

Before entering the cafe, you must make a reservation online in advance (we did a few days before) and pay by using credit card.  This cafe is a bit more expensive compared to the other themed ones; dinner is 8500 yen for S seats and 7500 yen for A seats.  The lunch time option is only 3500 yen but doesn’t include the show.  However, a drink and a meal is included in all of these prices.  Here are some of the things that we ordered:

I genuinely enjoyed the Jupiter Seafood Pasta and Venus Crepes I ordered.  They had drinks for all of the Sailor Scouts too!  Every food item that you order comes with a free Sailor Moon plate which makes the entry fee worth it.  They also have a gift store you can buy special goods from.  The menu items seem to rotate every month, so please check the online menu in advance to see what’s available.  Fortunately they had some vegetarian options available.

At the end of the shows, all of the actors will come out and wave at you!  It was amazing to see them up close.  Their outfits were very detailed and they stayed enthusiastic until the very end.  It was a very memorable experience!

Address

〒106-0045 Tokyo, Minato City, Azabujuban, 1 Chome−10, ジュールA

Pop-up Sailor Moon Cafe (2017)

Earlier in 2017 I went to a pop-up Sailor Moon Cafe that was available for 2 months in Omotesando.  Here are some old photos that I took.  I really enjoyed the design of the Usagi and Mamoru pancakes, and the cotton candy Luna drink:

This cafe is now closed, but sometimes they have themed collaboration cafes that open in this rental space and it’s possible there will be another Sailor Moon one in the future.  I will be sure to write about it if it happen!

Experiencing the Raccoon and Meerkat Cafes in Seoul

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Raccoons are surprisingly friendly creatures–not home wreckers!

As an animal lover, I have been to every single animal cafe in Japan so during my first trip to Korea I decided to visit all of the ones that Japan doesn’t have.  My research led me to find two separate animal cafes for raccoons and meerkats in two of Seoul’s major districts.  In this article I will be reporting my experiences from both cafes as part of my ongoing Korea article series.

Meerkat Friends

Before being locked in a cage with dozens of these creatures and having one try to crawl up my skirt, I had no idea that meerkats were such feisty mongooses.  I thought they would behave similar to ferrets–finicky but overall pleasant and holdable.  Instead these meerkats loved play-fighting with one another and could never sit still so it was very difficult to interact with them (and also take photos, but that’s beside the point).

Upon further research I discovered that they are actually carnivores, so this kind of behavior completely makes sense!  They are so entertaining to watch and this is a rare opportunity to see them up close, so I would recommend coming here if you get the chance.  Just be careful of what you wear because it may get stuck on their claws!  You will be lent an apron when you enter the meerkat playpen.

In addition to the playful meerkats, this cafe also has cats and wallabies in separate areas, so it really is worth the money!  The wallabies were a lot more friendly and could easily be pet and fed.  I was happy to see that the cafe was clean and that all the animals seemed to get along with one another.

Meerkat Friends Address

364-3 서교동, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Entrance Fee: 10,000KRW

Blind Alley

Blind Alley is one of the best animal cafes that I’ve been to!  In America, raccoons have quite bad reputations as animals that break into houses and are quite greedy with stealing food.  However, the ones at this cafe were very calm and relaxed.  The store asks that you do not pick them up, however, if you offer them food they will likely come to you.

A sign at the store reads:

Do not try to hold or put the raccon on your head, it’s the raccoon’s choice, not yours. Only lucky people will be able to enjoy that kind of moment. Sorry

I thought that was very funny!  Fortunately I was one of the “lucky people” and the raccoon climbed on my head for a brief second.  It surprisingly did not hurt at all.  The raccoons have a lot of space at this cafe so they can choose to climb into the rafters or freely interact with visitors.  I think that Blind Alley had a pretty good setup.

In addition to raccoons, there was one baby pig there as well when I visited in 2018.  I was able to hold him in a blanket for a while.

Overall both of my animal cafes in Seoul were very pleasant and the system was similar to Tokyo.  At the raccoon cafe, I was able to stay as long as I wanted so I was very grateful for that.

Blind Alley Address

76 Cheongpa-ro 47-gil, Cheongpadong 2(i)-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Entrance Fee: 6,000KRW

Desserts that will make your heart melt in Seoul (Vol. 2)

Here is a collection of desserts that will make your heart melt in Seoul (Volume 2). ♥

Volume 1 was published yesterday.  I will be writing a full article series on my experience in Korea within the next coming weeks.

Here is a collection of places I stumbled upon which I highly recommend:

Zapangi

Zapangi is by far one of the best not-so-hidden gems in Seoul.  The entrance to the cafe is disguised as a pink vending machine door that you must find the handle to enter (fortunately, it’s quite easy to do so once you get up close).  Inside the cafe you will be greeted by a magical assortment of neon signs and rainbow desserts.  I highly recommend the mermaid cupcake–the tail is just way too photogenic to give up!  I also ordered a rainbow ice smoothie which really hit the spot.  I wish I would have had more room for the unicorn donuts, but alas, I was full.  I recommend coming here twice if you have enough time, because there are just way too many cute desserts to choose from!

Thanks Nature Cafe

If you have internet searched popular cafes in Seoul, then likely this one has already popped up.  Thanks Nature Cafe in Hongdae is infamous for not only its flower tea, but also its fluffy sheep (named Sugar & Honey)!  The sheep are kept outside in a pen and are free to pet as long as you order something from the menu.  This makes waiting way more fun!  You can make a reservation in advance using their website, but I just walked in here without one when I came here in early 2018.  Watching flowers bloom inside of your teacup is an experience I highly recommend seeing:

Milky Bee

While shopping in Myeongdong, I saw a number of people holding this beautiful flower petal ice cream.  Not wanting to miss out on this aesthetic food experience, I had to stop by and try it for myself.  Milky Bee features ice cream and gelato cones that you can customize to your liking.  If my memory is correct, I ordered green tea, vanilla, and strawberry gelato to make my cone look like a lovely bouquet.  It was almost too pretty to eat, but I ate it anyway!

Sulbing Cafe

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If you want to try the famous Korean shaved ice (called patbingsoo), my recommendation is going to one of the Sulbing chains.  They have the most options as far as flavors and toppings go.  I ordered the strawberry cheesecake shaved ice, and even in the winter I thought that it was beyond amazing.  The strawberries tasted so fresh and the cheesecake helped balance the flavor.  I’ve decided I like Korean shaved ice a lot more than the ones sold in Japan, because it has more substance to it and tastes a lot better.  Fortunately a number of Korean dessert cafes have been popping up in Tokyo lately, and Harajuku even has its own Sulbing branch!

REMICONE

REMICONE is a uniquely designed cafe that resembles an ice cream truck in central Gangnam.  There are way too many beautiful sweets to choose from, but I decided on the cotton candy ice cream milk and the moon cupcake (I joked about how this is actually Night Tempo in cupcake form).  There was a mango macaroon ice cream cup that I really wanted to try, but unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to.  If you come to this cafe, please try all of the wonderful desserts for me!

Urban Space Cafe

Last but definitely not least, I recommend that all of my fellow lovers of aesthetic things check out Urban Space Cafe.  Relive your childhood memories by diving into a ballpit and lounging in inflatables with a menu of crazy cocktails.  I ordered some strange concoction that was served to me in a mini shopping kart, and I liked it so much I also ordered a cocktail with sparklers in it.  Came here alone?  No problem at all because there are tons of teddy bears that you can use as your date.  I had so much fun taking photos under the neon lights and swimming through the ballpit.  This is true Seoul Cafe culture.  The original cafe I went to was in a remote district of Seoul, but they recently moved it to central Myeongdong so you can access it more easily now.

Thank you for reading my 2nd Volume of recommend desserts in Seoul!  This is all I have for now, but I will be sure to update with more recommendations in the future.

In my next posts I will be writing about Jeju Island, the DMZ, and some of the gardens and art galleries I visited in Korea.  Please look forward to my future posts~

Desserts that will make your heart melt in Tokyo (Vol. 2)

Here is a collection of desserts that will make your heart melt in Tokyo (Volume 2). ♥ For reference, please see Volume 1 here.

Sweets Paradise (Akihabara Branch)

 

Sweets Paradise is an extremely popular buffet-style dessert restaurant with multiple branches in Tokyo.  You can choose from an unlimited selection of multi-colored pastries for 70 – 90 mins.  However, the branch in Akihabara offers a take-out option with cake that looks like actual ramen!  Even the toppings are edible and have an extremely sweet flavor.  The “noodles” are actually just thick layers of frosting.  This is probably one of the most unreal sweets I have ever eaten (appearance-wise), but the taste was definitely worth it!

New New York Club

 

New New York Club became a meme because of its rainbow bagels stuffed with delicious cream cheese.  These bagels sell out fast so sadly I wasn’t able to get one, but they do have multi-colored bagels you can purchase too!  They still taste the same as a regular bagel despite their strange color, and I prefer them to most Japanese bagels because they are larger and softer in texture.  Ikumimama Animal Doughnuts is another cute bakery that is right around the corner from here!  Be sure to pick up some cute cat donuts if you still have an appetite.

Aoyama Flower Market Teahouse

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Aoyama Flower Market is a popular florist chain that is often found in Tokyo train stations.  Stopping here is convenient if you want to pick up flowers for a special occasion, but certain locations also have cafes with extremely aesthetic food too!  I ordered this delicious parfait with pink jelly and fruit that looks like a work of art at the Kichijyoji location.  They have a seasonal menu that rotates frequently, so be sure to check online to see what they are serving.  All of the food here has an extremely appetizing look and taste.

Salon Ginza Sabou

 

This upscale restaurant exploded with popularity when they released their infamous green tea boxes.  Under a thin layer of green tea-flavored chocolate topped with green tea powder that you break apart with your spoon, you will find the goldmine of all green tea desserts.  Watch my video and see Sabou’s website for more information.  Other restaurants are starting to copy this style of dessert, but this was the original place that invented it.

Liquid Nitrogen Kit-Kats

 

It’s no secret that Japan is infatuated with Kit-Kats.  Walk into any souvenir store and the first thing you will besides the obvious Hachiko-shaped sweets is corn, sweet potato, green tea, and other strange flavors of Kit-Kats.  The Kit Kat Chocolatory and Café offers a whole different level of strangeness with its liquid nitrogen Kit-Kats.  It was surreal to watch the Japanese waiter pour liquid nitrogen onto a platter where it would perfectly chill a sweet commonly found in the US, but it was definitely worth the experience.  You can customize your own Kit-Kats at this cafe as well!  There are a variety of unique toppings you can choose from and the menu changes its featured items each season.

Doubutsuen Ice Cream/The Zoo

 

Doubutsuen was another dessert place that exploded with popularity in Harajuku due to its cute animal cones.  I opted for the tripple scoop piggy the first time I came here.  Originally you would buy a ticket from the front of the shop that looked like a vending machine and they would make your cone for you behind the curtain, but due to the mass amount of people waiting in line on the street, they moved their shop to the end of Takeshita Street under the name “The Zoo” so they could serve more customers.  The ice cream here is not only cute but also delicious, so I highly recommend it!

Other Ice Cream Recommendations

 

Other ice cream spots I highly recommend trying are Edy’s Ice Cream for their cute customizable cones with unicorn and heart-shaped toppings, Milkcow for their rich and creamy soft-serve ice cream, Coisof for their black ice cream with crunchy colored toppings, and Godiva simply for their unmatched rich flavor of chocolate ice cream.  It’s hard to find bad ice cream in Tokyo, it really is!

Bonus: Rainbow Sweets Harajuku

 

Last but not least, if you are looking for brightly-colored photogenic food then I would recommend coming to Rainbow Sweets Harajuku!  This is right off Takeshita Street and attracts a lot of customers, but the food is all take-out so it doesn’t take much time to receive your order.  I ordered the rainbow grilled cheese and the rainbow ice cream.  These were fun to take pictures of, but the taste was so-so.  Instead I recommend trying the ice cream places I mentioned above because they have a way better taste.

Thank you for reading Volume 2 of my dessert cafe expedition in Tokyo.  If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the comments!  I will be make more volumes in the future!

Exploring Hikone: A Castle Town with a Mythical Island and Fierce Cat Samurai

Over the weekend I made the amazing discovery that samurai cats are real!  About an hour east from Kyoto lies a quiet castle town called Hikone with the adorable samurai cat mascot you see here: Hikonyan.  Hikone is in Shiga Prefecture and borders Lake Biwa, one of the most famous lakes in Japan due to its lovely scenery.  I decided to start my trip by taking a ferry from Nagahama Port, which is just a few stops north of Hikone Station on the JR Tokaido-Sanyo line, and visit the mythical island in the middle of the lake called Chikubushima.  See the ferry schedule for reference–a roundtrip ferry ticket is around 3000 yen.

Chikubushima is known as the “Island of the Gods” and is said to be imbued with magical powers.  Though I am not a religious person, I appreciate going on journeys like this because it gives me the chance to see rare parts of the world!  You can walk around the whole entire island within 30 mins and see shrines, a beautiful view of the lake, and also try some local cuisine at the cafes (though the selection is very limited).

The main point of interest here is visiting Hogonji Temple and making a wish with a daruma doll.  Daruma Dolls are a special kind of talisman here that you can write your wish on a slip of paper and put it inside the doll for good luck.  The Japanese people at the shrine were extremely kind and helped me do this.  Though this island was tinier than I expected, it was a very nice way to start my trip!

After the pleasant ferry ride back (which only takes 30 mins), I then decided to go directly to Hikone Castle to see the Hikonyan Show!  During this time, the fiercely adorable samurai cat will come out before the castle gates to greet his visitors.  Hikonyan is treated as a celebrity by Japanese people.  I was surprised to see a line of people with cameras out waiting to see him, but he is definitely worth the hype!  He appears every day and you can see the timetables here.

In addition to Hikonyan, you can walk through the Hikone Castle, see the Genkyu-en Gardens, and also visit the Yume Kyōbashi Castle Road that has shops and souvenirs.  I visited all of these places by foot from Hikone Station, but you can also take buses around the city!  By 6pm, I was exhausted from all the travel so I decided to go back to my capsule hotel in Kyoto.  Hikone makes for the perfect day trip from Kyoto because it is easy to access and full of history.

The Best Desserts in Hong Kong: Egg Waffles, Coconut Jelly, and Hello Kitty Secret Garden

Hong Kong is one of the most bustling island countries of the world attracting a lot of international business, tourism, and backpackers like me.  For that purpose, it’s bound to have have some amazing desserts, and in large quantities too!

Right in the center of the city is Oddies Foodies where you can order delicious ice cream and egg waffle parfaits.  Egg waffles are a huge dessert meme in Hong Kong, and are gradually spreading to other parts of Asia.  They are softer and have more of a milky taste compared to regular waffles.  I ordered the cookie dough flavor and was very impressed with how mouthwatering it was!  The chocolate syrup they drizzled over it made it taste even better.  The best part is, you could eat egg waffles for breakfast and dessert!

While I was exploring the night market near Jordan Station, I found a small food stall that was selling coconut jelly out of a real coconut.  I can’t remember the exact name of the stall, but you can find these all over the country if you walk along the streets of the markets.  Compared to jello found in America, this coconut jello was a lot creamier and tasted more like pudding.  In Hong Kong-styled cooking eggs are often used but the taste is never overpowering.  I thought all of the street food I tried was extremely delicious (yet sadly caloric).

My last meal in Hong Kong was a lunch set at Hello Kitty Secret Garden.  I ordered toast, strawberry ice cream waffles, and a cute milk latte:

This was another caloric meal, but it was extremely satisfying.  All of the portion sizes in Hong Kong are much larger than in Japan!  The food is a bit more expensive, but you really can’t go wrong with it because it’s all delicious.  If you are on a budget, I would check the street stalls because they have a lot of variety as well.

Sailor Neptune Nails from Nail Salon Glory (Tokyo)

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Since I decided to cosplay a swimsuit version of Michiru Kaioh/Sailor Neptune for a photoshoot, I wanted the most suitable nails for this character.  I looked at various nail catalogs online, but no design fit the one I had in mind so I decided to create my own.  Fortunately, most nail salons in Tokyo are able to create original nail designs using stencils, hand-drawn art, studs, and various gradients of polish.

I booked an appointment at Nail Salon Glory through Hot Pepper, and these were the amazing results I got:

My nails were absolutely gorgeous!  Since I have short nails, I requested the scalp nail course that will extend your tip to a custom length.  The nail artist used a combination of beige and turquoise glitter polish to create a gradient that looks like an ocean.  After painting a shiny coat over it, she added sea shells and pearl studs, as well as hand-drew the insignia on Neptune’s mirror that I requested.  I was almost speechless when our session ended because I was so impressed!

Most fancy nail courses start at 10,000 yen ($93), but they are worth the price for the amount of detail and effort that is put in.  There are various coupons that can be used to lower the price, like the ones featured on HotPepper.

Scalp nails last for typically 3 weeks and are perfect for every occasion.  Not only did I use them for my photoshoot, but they also matched the color of the ocean when I was swimming in Thailand.  I’m sure I’ll be back in the future once I think of more anime-based designs!

Hello Kitty Desserts at EGG & SPUMA

A diner and dessert restaurant called EGG & SPUMA located in the Shinjuku Lumine building serves up some of the most delicious Sanrio collaboration items you’ve ever laid eyes on.  They serve a lot of comfort food like omelettes, risotto, and pancakes on their menu that changes with new featured items each season.  Cocktails and sweet drinks are also available.

I ordered Hello Kitty pancakes topped with apples slices, custard, and whipped cream.  They melted like butter in my mouth and had an extremely soft texture!  I also tried pink lemonade topped with a Hello Kitty donut.  Thought it was an extremely unlikely combination, it was amazing!  The donut was extremely thick and completely covered in strawberry frosting.  The lemonade size was noticeably large compared to most drinks here.  I wanted to try more, but felt extremely full after this!

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the quality of food here for it being part of a theme cafe.  Be sure to try their seasonal pancakes if you ever get the chance to stop by!