A Lovely Day Trip to Kyoto’s Heart-shaped Temple: Shojuin

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A look through the heart-shaped window at Shojuin Temple in Ujitawara, Kyoto.

Immortal HeartI’ve been to Kyoto many times in many different seasons, but this month was the first time I’ve ever been to the remotely located heart-shaped temple called Shojuin in Ujitawara.  Amidst the fear of the corona virus, I was worried this temple may be closed like many other facilities in Japan, but I was fortunate to travel during a time when it was still open.  Located in a rural area accessible by bus from Uji Station, you will find that the view through the window is well worth the trip.  Even though I visited during the winter, I managed to take a lot of quality photos and learn about its history with only a few other Japanese tourists around me.

I arrived to the temple around 2pm when I predicted there would be optimal sunlight.  The weather was raining on and off but due to the way Shojuin is constructed, the light always falls through the heart-shaped window.  The temple consists of a few small building complexes but everything can easily be seen within 40 minutes.  Tea and a light snack are provided with the entrance fee as well as an explanation of the history as the inome window.  The word “inome” refers to a heart shape motif commonly found in Japanese temples and Buddhism.  The definition literally means “eye of the wild boar” in Japanese (which is said to be heart-shaped so it makes sense in theory).  It could also refer to the lime trees with heart-shaped leaves that are closely associated with Buddhism.  I have uploaded the English explanation I was given for reference if anyone wishes to investigate it further.

The inome window is also nicknamed the “Window of Happiness” making it the ideal place to pray for peace and love.  Though I do not consider myself a religious person, coming to this temple was a truly bright experience to me.  In addition to the window, there are also over 160 art tiles on the ceiling painted in brilliant colors.  While I was taking pictures, it started snowing for a brief period through the window.  This was my first time all year seeing snow in Japan, so it is a special moment I’ll never forget:

Though I was only here for around an hour and a half, I feel like I had the chance to witness this temple during all four seasons.  During my time here it rained, snowed, turned overcast, then sunlight came out right before it closed.  It was amazing!  The people around me couldn’t believe it either.  Just like my Quest to the Tower of the Sun, this also felt like an experience pulled straight from a video game.  I highly recommend this temple to everyone visiting Kyoto, because it’s not nearly as touristy or crowded as the Golden Pavilion or Kiyomizu-dera.

During the summer there is a wind chime festival here as well.  Please check the official Kyoto Tourism website for more information.

Access

294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862
Entrance Fee: 400 yen (includes tea and sweets)

Directions: From Kyoto Station, ride the Nara Line to Obaku Station, then ride the Uji Line to Uji Station.  From Uji Station, take the Keihan Bus to Ichumae Bus Stop.  Please note that Google Maps will suggest you to take a taxi to Shojuin Temple from this point, which I did on the way there for 2000 yen, but there is a “community bus” (which actually a small white van) that I missed which is free.  On the way back, I walked with some friendly Japanese girls from Hyogo to the free bus stop.  The bus stop looks like a shack that belongs to someone’s backyard because Uji is very rural, but we managed to find it with teamwork.  Keep your eyes out for the iconic heart-shaped bus stop that leads you to the magical heart-shaped temple (this is the best travel advice I’ve given anyone):

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!

Bathing in the Mud with Elephants at the Sanctuary (Phuket, Thailand)

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Volunteers jump in the mud to wash rescued elephants in Thailand.

I never dreamed I would be swimming through the mud in a giant elephant bath during my first day in Phuket, but as soon as I heard that the elephants were in need of protection, I signed up to be a volunteer at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.  There are a total of 4 parks in Thailand you can visit to help save the elephants (Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Samui, and Phuket) that all offer an educational hands-on experience with them.

The day starts with a free pickup from your hotel (from most locations) to the sanctuary.  After listening to a presentation on why it is important to protect the elephants, you are handed a knitted shirt and are given directions on how to feed them with corn stalks, bananas, and sugar cane.  The elephants are extremely friendly and approachable, and the English-speaking guides will tell you each of their stories.  You can tell that each one has been through a lot by the marks on their bodies.  They seem much happier in their natural habitat than anywhere else!

Most of the elephants I met were rescued from a harsh lifestyle of show business.  Due to being forced to lift heavy equipment and be trained to do tricks, some of their ears were worn from leather harnesses and and straps.  Additionally, their skin was discolored from being away from the mud for so long.  It is evident that elephants used for riding and for circuses are lacking in hygiene and not taken care of properly.  This is why we must do what we can to collectively help them and spread awareness.

A very important lesson to learn is: elephants should never be ridden.  The elephant’s spine will degrade overtime from the weight on their backs and it can cause permanent damage to their bodies.  One thing that upsets me with tour companies in Thailand is that they often feature both an elephant sanctuary and and elephant riding course.  Elephant riding should be discouraged as much as possible to tourists and permanently removed from the tour companies because it is extremely harmful to them.  Even though elephants look strong, they are fragile creatures that should be treated with respect.

After our feeding session, we headed to the mud bath where we happily washed and played with them!  The mud is extremely important in nourishing elephants’ skin and you can tell that they really enjoy it.  I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous to get in, but the group of friends that I met here encouraged me to so I took the plunge!  I am so happy that I decided to do this because I feel like I understand the elephants a lot more now.

You can choose from a half day and full day course with them, and an overnight course is available as well.  I decided to try the half day course just to see what it was like for 2,500 baht.  All of the money is used for medicine and maintaining the elephants in the sanctuaries, so I felt like this experience was well worth it.

After you bathe with the elephants, you will be able to take a shower and feast on a delicious Thai buffet meal,  I enjoyed my experience here very much because I feel like I learned a lot about them, and I even got to hug one at the end of the tour!

For those looking to volunteer, please look at the volunteer page, and cherish the moments you are able to spend with these precious animals.

Adopting a Stray Cat in Japan

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Note: This is a post from my previous website.  I have decided to re-publish it in hopes of helping other foreigners with pet adoption in Japan!

After settling in Tokyo, I promised myself that I would achieve my life-long goal of adopting a stray animal.  Roughly 3 weeks after accepting an IT job in Tokyo, I decided to adopt this little guy through a wonderful resource called Japan Cat Network (JCN).  Japan has an abundance of stray cats; some of which are seeking domestication.  JCN is an international Facebook group where people from all over the country post cat adoption ads, and also share stories of their own pets for others to discuss.

Feeling welcome, I posted an ad saying I was looking to adopt a sociable stray and eventually I was contacted by a person from Chiba who said they had the perfect cat for me.  After several exchanges and ensuring that my landlord and housemates were okay with keeping an animal, I made the decision to take him into our sharehouse.  I decided to call him “Leo” after my favorite Fire Emblem Awakening character.

Leo is the perfect cat for me.  He can take care of himself yet is always open towards human affection such as kissing, petting, snuggling, and hugging.  According to his previous caretaker, he used to wander through the neighborhoods of Chiba meowing and trying to get in other peoples’ homes.  Unfortunately his caretaker could not adopt him, so she had her daughter contact me in regards to adopting him.  At first, I was a bit afraid that Leo would have trouble adjusting to the house since he had always been an outdoor cat.  However, he adjusted to our home quite well!

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When I first brought him indoors, he was very docile and tried to hide underneath the steps of our entrance.  Within an hour he came out, and when I brought him to my room (as pictured above), he instantly took to the blankets!  He loved rubbing his paws in my bedspread and was able to cuddle next to my Neko Atsume plush.  After I petted him for a while and he rubbed his scent on me, we became instant best friends.  Now Leo will wait for me to get back from work and meow at me to welcome me home!

To those who want a pet but don’t necessarily have the money or time to fill out the paperwork, I definitely recommend adopting one.  All you need to adopt a pet is their original papers from their previous caretaker or shelter.  With proper time and care, you can form a wonderful bond with them just like any other pet.  I am very fortunate that Leo doesn’t bite at all and acts like he’s been a house pet his entire life.  The only negative behaviors he demonstrates are scratching at the walls to stretch and trying to run outside when the door is open, but this is normal cat behavior that can be corrected.  Now that he has adjusted to the house, I let him out from time to time because he always knows to come back.

I am so happy that I have a pet to keep me company in a foreign country.  He has helped me through homesickness and depression, and even when I have a bad day I always look forward to coming home to him.  Words can’t describe how much he has made me a happier person.  I have decided to take him wherever I go, even if I have to bribe a yakuza to help me sneak him out of the country.  I will always love Leo for life!  Though the vet doesn’t know his true age, they suspect he is around 4-7 by the wear on his teeth.  I plan to give him a happy, and relaxing life for years to come!

Further Notes: I published the blog approximately three years ago on my website (as you can see, my writing style has changed a bit), but it still holds true.  I have now moved into a private apartment, and Leo is very happy here.  He has not been outside at all in over 2 years, but he is quite happy laying on my bed and watching the birds from the window.  Fortunately there is a lot of natural sunlight here, and I have learned all of his favorite cat food brands by now, so I believe he is living a good life.

If you have any questions on pet adoption, feel free to ask me in the comments below.  I wrote this blog to demonstrate how easy it is to adopt an animal, and also to show that doing so can make them extremely grateful!