As I was doing some last minute Christmas shopping with my best friend in Shibuya, we accidentally stumbled upon the Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory Cafe on the 2nd floor of Shibuya Loft. I had heard about the new Kingdom Hearts rhythm game that had recently been released, but didn’t realize that there was a new cafe for for it. Additionally, I later read online that the story was told from Kairi’s point of view and featured a new scene at the end that set things up for the next game in the series. Though at first I thought the game sounded like a more theatrical Theatrhythm with KH characters, as someone who has played the series from adolescence and still loved the music I was sold. I bought the game for Switch and made a reservation for the cafe online for the following Monday evening with my friend.
The Kingdom Hearts Cafe in Shibuya Loft is running from December 11th, 2020 – January 11th, 2020, but the featured menu at the Square Enix cafes in Tokyo and Osaka are running until March 12th, 2021. To make a reservation, please see the Cafe Homepage (I highly recommend making a reservation).
The entrance to the Shibuya Loft KH Cafe is adorable and features artwork of the 4 teams and gameplay trailers on several large monitors. To prevent spread of the corona virus, you are asked to sanitize your hands and write down your order at the entrance as well as wear as mask until you are seated. We booked the final slot at 19:20 and were lucky because we almost had the cafe completely to ourselves!
The menu from this cafe has some magical entrees. We ordered Kairi’s Memories of Cream Stew that came with rice in the shape of a paopu fruit and Mickey’s Tuna Sandwich with his little emblem stamped on the bread. There were also rice dishes that bared a resemblance to the Agrabah and Neverland stages, but we decided to focus on the themed character dishes this time. We ordered the Friendship Strawberry Tea that came with a lot of fruit and a plastic cutout of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy and made a toast. Kingdom Hearts food is not only elaborate but also very good! Please see the full menu on the Cafe Homepage.
There are a lot of neat souvenirs available for purchase here, but some of these things were already previously available for purchase in the Square Enix shop. I would mainly recommend coming here to collect the coasters as they will only be available for the duration of the cafe. And most importantly; enjoy the music! All of the remixed songs in the new game sound really amazing!
My only complaint with this cafe is that they didn’t have a large variety of desserts like previous Square Enix Cafe collaborations. They had seasalt ice cream popsicles which are iconic to the series, but I really wished they had a cute music note parfait that I could order too!
For previous reference, here was the seasalt ice cream I had during the KHIII event at Artnia:
The little star-shaped sprinkles really added to the ambience and it was cool to be served ice cream on a mini platter. Definitely high-class service here.
I also ate Cloud’s sword during the FF7R event. Hilarious how this parfait is banana-flavored, of all things:
Though a lot of fans have mixed feelings about the direction that Nomura is taking the KH and FF7R series, both have been a huge part of my life since childhood and I look forward to going to more events for them now that I live in Japan. I am super excited for the next installment in the World Ends with You and hope to go to that cafe too.
After my fantastic first day of exploring architectural shrines, climbing a part of Mt. Hiei, photographing the vibrant red maple leaves, and trying delicious parfaits and cocktails, I woke up early and set out for my second day in Kyoto! The goal of today was to see as many shrines as possible and also experience the indie music scene while eating delicious food along the way. Fortunately I was able to accomplish all of that and and learn more about one of my most favorite cities in Japan. There is truly always adventure to be had here!
The highlight of my Autumn Adventures in Kyoto was seeing the beautiful illuminations at Kiyomizudera and surrounding temples. This temple is beautiful year-round, but fall is when its colors truly come to life. As you climb the steps you can see an awesome view of Mt. Otowa and Kyoto Tower in the distance that are partially obscured by the bright red leaves. There are light bulbs carefully placed beneath the maple trees so you can clearly make out the colors. The best place to take pictures is at the stage of Kiyomizudera which was built over 1000 years ago and has been the center of many kabuki shows and performances. In old times there was a legend that said if you jumped off this 4-story building and survived, your wish would be granted. Now you can simply make an offering at the shrine for your wish to be granted, and from my personal experience, sometimes wishes do come true!
After walking around the series of shrines and pagodas here, I also visited Kodaiji so I could see the dragon illumination. This temple has a zen garden and a picturesque pond so it is also another key spot for photography. If you continue to walk through the streets of Kiyumizudera, this temple is extremely easy to reach referencing the guideposts around the area. There are also food and souvenir shops galore so the atmosphere here is never dull!
While looking up unique dining options in Kyoto online, I came across teori zushi—which means “hand-woven sushi” at a restaurant called awomb. This healthy meal set is served with sushi rice and seasonal hand-picked fruits and vegetables so you can create your own customized maki rolls. The toppings are placed in a beautiful way that looks like art and you can use a fine-tipped brush to carefully apply soy sauce to your rolls. My personal favorites were the pumpkin and egg toppings because they were so light and delicious. Although some of these combinations may seem strange at first glance, you can season everything in a way that fits your own personal tastes so eating teori zushi is very fun! I would highly recommend this restaurant to people who love sushi and are looking for a new experience because this set gives you a way to experiment with flavor. I also ordered the sweet sake set so I could enjoy it with my meal.
awomb requires reservations in advance, but you can easily book a seat on their English website. The price for this meal set was around 3000 yen and the quality was well worth it. Please note their are two branches in Karasu and Nishikiyamachi so you can choose the location that’s most convenient for you. Overall this is the most delicious sushi I’ve tried in Kyoto!
Unique Kyoto Desserts
Though Kyoto has no shortage of mouth-watering food, two of my favorite desserts I tried on this trip was a flamingo egg waffle and dango topped with ice cream.
I first tried an egg waffle when I was in Hong Kong in 2017, but I had never seen one that looked like a flamingo before! You can try this delicious raspberry-flavored egg waffle with edible flowers at a teahouse called 京花果茶 圓-en-. The best part was honestly the the sweet cream they hid inside the waffle. I would gladly come back here and try another flavor if it was available! There is also flower tea available here for tea enthusiasts.
After I ate my teori sushi, I walked to Japanese Ice Ouca to try their famous “mitrashi dango”. You can choose between white or green dango and then select your favorite flavor of ice cream to go on top. I chose white dango with vanilla ice cream because I thought it would taste good with the sweet soy glaze and it did! This is such a simple concept (literally a scoop of ice cream on dango) but this is the first dessert place that I’ve seen it offered. I highly recommend trying it because it melts in your mouth and has the perfect combination of sweetness.
Both of these places are located in central Kyoto so they are pretty easy to access by bus or train. I look forward to the new dessert spots that pop up next time I visit!
“Pyramid” @ West Harlem
Whenever I travel to a different city in Japan, I try to immerse myself in the nightlife unique to that location as much as possible. West Harlem has become a reputable club in Kyoto that a number of my music friends have talked about. On the night I decided to check it out, the Kyoto-born label known as No Collar 4 Kicks (NC4K) was throwing their monthly event called “Pyramid”. This is a house, soul, and R&B free-for-all that starts at 10pm and goes on into the early hours of the morning. After doing all that sightseeing and photography I was ready to get my drink on.
As soon as I entered the club I was greeted by my friend 芽田ぱに子 who is a singer and trackmaker that moved to Kyoto to pursue her dream of music. I met her previously at a music workshop that was held in Kyoto the previous year. Though she was not performing tonight, it was great to see so many artists hanging out in one space and supporting one another. I also ran into two of my DJ friends who also came from Tokyo for the holiday weekend, any many rounds of drinks ensued. Within the first hour of my time here at West Harlem I felt extremely welcome!
The first DJ up was Lomax, also known as Magochi. Not only is he a talented DJ but he also makes delicious tacos under the name “Magobell”. Another artist from NC4K I really like is Stones Taro, who is the boss of the label and produces a lot of old school house music. My favorite song on NC4K is “New Old School” which they both made together. I heard it first when they performed at Batica in Tokyo in 2019:
This event was really cool because the DJs experimented with a lot of vinyl and the crowd had no idea what song was coming up next but almost everyone was on their feet dancing. At one point during the night I had a vodka tonic in one hand and a taco in the other while vibing to the beat so this event gets a solid 10/10 from me. Because I was dancing so, I didn’t take a lot of videos but here is a noteworthy one that shows the general atmosphere of West Harlem. Please check this venue out if you get the chance. Whatever night you go you’re sure to have a good time:
With the perfect mix of sightseeing, food, and music this day really couldn’t have been better. Whenever I first wake up in Kyoto, I always run to the Kawaramachi River from my hotel and skip across the turtle-shaped rocks while reflecting on life and preparing for the day ahead. Not only is this an exhilarating workout, but it also helps me get prepared for the day ahead. My music of choice while running here is in the blue shirt because he is also well-known in Kyoto and his music captures the essence of the city. I look forward to the next time I can travel here for another event!
In my next article I will be writing about the Evangelion sword exhibition I went to at Toei Animation amusement park. I will hopefully have more time to write this month because my projects are gradually slowing down. Please look forward to it!
After exploring the Kaiyukan Aquarium and meeting a fire bender on our first day in Osaka, we decided to take our second day at a more leisurely pace. Or so we thought. Despite all the drinking we did the night before, we surprisingly weren’t hungover so it was somewhat of a miracle. Craving Mediterranean and Halal food, I found a Michelen Star restaurant called Ali’s Kitchen right near our hotel. They have a large assortment of Pakistani and Arabic food that we heartily feasted on.
I ordered the Arabic salad and the Baba Ganoush that tasted like nothing I had ever eaten before. It was clear that a lot of special ingredients were used in this style of cooking to give it such an amazing taste. Plus it was extremely healthy too! My boyfriend ordered the keema curry and I could tell by the look on his face that he thoroughly enjoyed it too. This restaurant definitely deserves 5 stars:
Feeling satisfied, we decided to walk around American Street (also called Ame Mura) to see some of the latest Osaka streetwear and colorful architecture. Honestly, the aesthetics here were off the chart. Some of my favorite things that we found was a coffee shop called W/O Stand with a fake vending machine door, a shoe brand called “Dr. ASSY”, colorful fashion and logos, random shrines, and a giant mall with jungle-like foliage called Big Step. I snagged an ASICS jacket for half-off here and they had neon bathrooms too! Plus free table hockey! The highlight was when my boyfriend lost the game by ricocheting the puck off my side and directly into his goal. Good times.
We then decided to explore the “Kyoto of Osaka” and see Mizukake Fudo, a beautiful Buddhist statue that has been covered in moss. This temple is very small but is surrounded by a lot of unique restaurants and bars. The path is connected by Dotonbori’s central streets but it has more of a Gion feel to it. While we were here a small ceremony was going on. Monks were humming and chanting prayers. We left a donation to show thanks and then quietly made our way to our next destination.
My boyfriend decided we should first see Denden Town (the central otaku hub), and then proceed to the old arcades in Shinsekai. I remember going to a maid cafe in Denden Town years ago while I was interviewing for jobs in Osaka. However, I don’t think I had ever seen Shinsekai before because usually I stay in Dotonbori (for sake of parties). Fortunately the two areas are close enough that you can easily walk between them on foot. I was so happy to experience Shinsekai because it preserves the old 80s feel of Japan with its smokey Mahjong parlors and 50 yen arcades. The claw machines here are absolutely hilarious too.
We played Street Fighter and Time Crisis 3 here for a long while and walked around the illuminated streets. There were less people around due to the pandemic but this place still had a lot of charm. I could see Tsutenkaku Tower here and snap some really good pictures. I would really like to come back here and try some sushi in the future! Maybe even spend a night here too!
As we were walking back up Dotonbori to go to the famous hammock cafe called Revarti, we came across a completely random, unannounced matsuri here. Gotta love the Osaka life.
Sadly to our dismay the hammock cafe’s hours had been drastically changed due to the pandemic. Instead of staying open until midnight, they now only stay open until 5pm. Closing at happy hour should be a crime but I vow to come back here some day when they are open. We decided to initiate our backup plan which was the 200 yen bar called Moonwalk and drink cheaply to our heart’s content. The entrance fee is 500 yen, but every drink you order after that is only 200 so you can drink like a sultan. They have all sorts of liqueur that you can experiment with too. My personal favorites are the Dalgona Coffee made with Kahlua and the ice cream grasshopper. Each drink has stats like a Jojo character so you can strategically plan out how shit-faced you’re going to get:
After about an hour of this we were tipsy and ready for the next destination. Our friend who owns the best gaming bar in Osaka, Space Station, invited us out and we drank more coffee drinks and an original cocktail called “Ecco the Dolphin”. We then plopped in the most Australian Bomberman (Bomberman 3) and also played some Nidhogg. I enjoyed looking out the Slime-tinted windows and into the night. The design of this bar is iconic.
After chatting for a good while, we were invited to a music party at Sound Garden. The genre was supposed to be house and techno so I was totally down. The best part about this bar was it had a super comfy couch with a pillow that said “Fuck Tokyo. I [heart] Osaka”. We sat on the couch and laughed about this for a good while. It’s really true.
I was talking about music in Michigan and right as I mentioned Eminem, the DJ started playing “Sing for the Moment“. That was our cue to get up and dance. I was completely lost in the moment and let go of my fears and anxiety. I can’t believe how amazing this trip had turned out! Though our initial plans had slightly derailed, I was so happy that we were here together. A sensation of euphoria came over me and after a while I wanted to wander by the river outside. The music ended around 3am and we decided to make our way there. There was a light rain in the air but it felt fantastic on our skin after dancing that long. The river in Dotonbori had the most beautiful reflections that night:
As the sun rose we cuddled and listened to “P.S. You Rock My World” by Eels. There were kids blasting EDM under the bridge and their playlist accidentally shuffled to “Last Christmas”. It kind of felt like Christmas in July, in a way. I really didn’t want for that night to end but eventually we drifted off to sleep. What happens in Osaka stays in Osaka.
We left a few hours later at 11:30am via the Willer Express Bus and headed back to Nagoya. However, we couldn’t leave without first picking up a souvenir:
This was hands down the best trip to Osaka that I have ever had. There was never really a dull moment—all of it was a highlight reel. I hope to travel again with my boyfriend to Kyoto in the fall and hopefully make another trip back here. Thank you all for reading up to this point! Since we are currently unable internationally, this is the best alternative we could have asked for.
During my birthday in October of 2018, I made the decision to take a week-long tropical vacation to Vietnam—baby’s first trip to a Communist country. It has taken me nearly 2 years to find time the proper time to write about it, but take my word that this next article series will be worth the wait. We will be exploring some of the craziest places and seeing how Communism shaped the culture here. Going to Vietnam changed my life and is yet another adventure I’ll never forget. In fact, people don’t talk about this country nearly enough!!
It all started during my first week Tokyo when I went clubbing in Roppongi (when it was still good) and met one of my best friends who is half Japanese and half Vietnamese. She likes drinking and dancing as much as I do so naturally we hit it off. One night while we were having dinner she couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful the beaches in Vietnam were. Since I had already been to Okinawa (I still need to write about this) and Yakushima for my previous birthdays which are considered some of the most beautiful getaways in Japan, I decided it was time to get out of the country and see these renowned beaches for myself.
I researched and found that Phu Quoc is known as the most beautiful island in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh is the cheapest place to fly to from Tokyo likely because it is a large international business hub. I paid around $400 USD through Vietnam Airlines for a roundtrip flight. I decided that I wanted to see Hanoi too because that is where my friend is from, so I came up with an itinerary that looked like this:
Tokyo ⇒ Ho Chi Minh ⇒ Hanoi ⇒ Phu Quoc ⇒ Pineapple Island ⇒ Ho Chi Minh ↻ Tokyo
Though this only hits the major areas, I booked some private tours to remote temples that I will mentioning in this series.
Getting a Visa in Vietnam
Since Vietnam is a Communist country, tourists will need to apply for a visa BEFORE they arrive. Unlike other countries, applying for a visa upon arrival is usually not permitted. I chose to purchase one online through Vietnam e-Visa, which is a legitimate and trustworthy service that you can safely submit your documents to. Your visa will last 1-3 months and usually costs around $25 (there is sadly no way to avoid this fee). You can also apply directly at the Vietnamese Embassy in your country. For my lifestyle, it was much easier to apply online and I received approval within 3 days. Easy.
After arriving at Ho Chi Minh Airport and successfully passing through customs with my e-Visa (fortunately it was an easy process that didn’t require much time), I hired a taxi and drove to the very first destination on my list: ICE Coffee. This is one of the most unique coffee shops in Vietnam that has a deep-frozen room full of furniture and sculptures made of ice plus an adorable Husky you can pet! I was lucky because I came in the afternoon when no one else was there. I ordered a simple strawberry milk drink and began my journey through the frozen lands of Ho Chi Minh (fortunately winter jackets can be borrowed at the entrance with no extra cost). To my surprise there was a bed that you could take a nap in too. Exactly what I needed after my long flight!
I loved the design of this place because it had an avant-garde ice cave feeling to it. The neon lights that reflected off the ice ornaments added a really cool city pop (cave pop?) aesthetic:
I had previously thought about staying in an ice hotel in either China or Hokkaido, but now that I’ve been here and taken plenty of pictures I really don’t feel the need. This is the perfect place to chill with your friends and plan your trip around the city (or by yourself like me). The temperature is quite cold, but the blankets on top of the ice furniture will keep you warm. The hot drinks definitely help too!
When I exited Winters and headed back towards Summers (pardon the Earthbound joke), it started downpouring rain. That’s when I saw a familiar character’s face just up ahead—it was none other than Donkey Kong! Not wanting to get drenched in the rain or awkwardly re-enter the coffee shop I just left, I ran towards the mysterious DK shop. Whatever this place was, it had to be good. Unbeknownst to me, it was another tea and coffee shop called Aroma Tea! While I waited for the rain to subside, I decided to order the weirdest drink on the menu: Cream Cheese Tea. The best part was that DK was smiling proudly on my cup:
It was surprisingly sweet and easy to drink. Obviously a lot of sugar and milk was added to create a satisfactory flavor. Exactly what I needed after my strawberry milk, right?
I spent some time here planning out the rest of my day. Fortunately the rain was only expected to last for 3 hours and I could still go out at night. Because the traffic was starting to get heavy, I kindly asked the staff to assist me with calling a taxi because I couldn’t flag one down. I severely underestimated the craziness rush hour here. The majority of people in Vietnam ride motorbikes and it’s extremely hard to cross the road until you get the hang of it. Most drivers will slow down when you start to walk across, but some remain driving at full speed until they’re right beside you!
Another thing to watch out for is the exhaust from all of the bikes. I noticed it in my lungs immediately when I went for a run the next day. Though I don’t have asthma, it was harder for me to breathe than usual. Luckily I had planned various excursions outside of the city so I wasn’t breathing it in all the time.
When the taxi arrived, I had them drop me off at my hotel so I could check in and put my suitcase away. After that, it was time to get changed into fancy clothes and party!
Dining in Ho Chi Minh (Nha Hang Ngon)
Even after sipping on all of those sugary drinks, my hunger was still unsatisfied. I hadn’t eaten anything all day so I decided to dine at a beautiful restaurant called Nha Hang Ngon. This place has all sorts of Vietnamese cuisine you can try with a gorgeous interior decor. The menu is in English and has pictures of the dishes so it’s the perfect place to try things so you know what you like. I ordered coconut shrimp, chili crab, and coconut ice cream while dining in the garden area. The food and service was amazing! Plus the rain had subsided so I was in a happy mood. Who wouldn’t be when they’re eating here?
Even upscale restaurants in Vietnam are extremely affordable. I only paid around $30 USD for all of this and it was very fulfilling. Next it was time to hit the clubs!
Clubbing at Apocalypse Now
I had a list of clubs written down, and Apocalypse Now was at the top of the list because of its iconic name… In no time was drunk and ready to take on the apocalypse. The club had no entrance fee and I immediately made friends with several Vietnamese girls who invited me to their table (probably due to my extremely blonde hair at the time). They spoke simple English and we danced to better-than-what-you’d-expect remixes of popular EDM songs. The club’s interior was very beautiful and had red lanterns. I wish I would have taken more pictures, but I was too focused on having a good time and sipping on Coronas.
Though my time here was short because I had a huge itinerary, I still stay in touch with the girls I met through social media. I enjoy seeing them travel around Vietnam because it inspires me to come back!
Clubbing in Ho Chi Minh is safe because there are always officers in uniform around keeping watch. However, they don’t act like bouncers do. They simply observe and ensure that no suspicious people try to sell drugs or anything. Drugs are quite rare in this country so you shouldn’t have to worry about getting your drink spiked. It is always a good idea to keep your eye on it, however.
I stayed at a private room in Blue River Hotel for $20 per night. It was quiet, clean, and located near most of the attractions that I wanted to see so it was perfect for me. With a little more money, you could likely stay in an upscale hotel with a spa and more luxurious amenities! I was on a budget so I wasn’t able to stay in the nicer hotels, but I plan on checking them out in my next trip!
As far as transportation goes, I recommend using Grab app so you don’t get scammed. The price is automatically calculated by distance so you don’t have to worry about dodgy people. I’d like to believe that most people are honest, but I was scammed by an old taxi driver who hid the meter with a piece of cloth. I can’t remember how much I lost, but it was likely the equivalent of $50 USD and I had no way to determine the correct amount. I reluctantly paid and got out. Vietnamese people are not rude or dangerous, but they will try to take advantage of tourists. Please be careful while traveling here.
In my next series of articles, I will be writing about the rest of my adventures around Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Phu Quoc Island. Please stay tuned for more!
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.
Since I’ve finished my Jeju Island article series, I’m going to write about some of my favorite places to hang out in Seoul next. It’s hard to structure this article because there are literally so many cool areas of the city! My two favorite districts in Seoul are by far Itaewon and Gangnam. Both have extremely different vibes but are perfect for a night out depending on what my mood is. Itaewon is friendliest and most international while Gangnam is the fanciest district is Seoul. Even though I can’t speak Hangul, I never have trouble making friends in this city. Spontaneously getting invited to a bachelor’s party while staying here was one of the coolest things that have ever happened to me in a foreign country. I’ve been to Korea three times and hope to visit again when international travel is possible again.
Without further ado, here are the most fun places that I’ve discovered:
Common Ground is an urban mall that was built out of containers and is really fun to explore. Unlike other malls, there’s not a huge mob of annoying shoppers here because those type of people usually go to the fancier malls in the center of the city. Common Ground features small designer stores and also has restaurants and live music. A lot of stores here import brands too. No matter what your price range is, you can usually find something that fits your taste here. I actually didn’t buy much but I had fun doing photography with the winter illuminations outside. There was also a statue of an astronaut outside and some replicas of Roman statues inside the main building when I visited. How aesthetic!
While I was walking around here, a Korean student came up to me and interviewed me for a university project. Since I didn’t have a strict itinerary during my first trip, I happily participated. She asked me various questions about my country and also gave me some Korean snacks. Though it was a simple project, I was happy that I could help out. Common Ground is close to many universities so it’s great for socializing and meeting people!
Lotte World is one of the most famous amusement parks in Korea. In fact, it’s the largest indoor theme park in the world—which is why I had to go! It’s located in the massive Lotte Mall that has hundreds of shops and food from all around the world. If you are looking for top tier shopping in Seoul, then this is the place. I came after the start of the new year so the park had a winter theme. Fortunately it wasn’t very crowded and I could ride all of the rides that I wanted! There are carousels, roller coasters, haunted houses, and my personal favorite: The Balloon Ride. You can see the entire indoor park and mall from the top which makes it an amazing experience.
Even though Lotte World is owned by Lotte Co. Ltd., there are actually a lot of parallels between it and Disney Land. For example, the outside of Lotte World resembles the Disney World Castle. It also has a beautiful lake that you can view by walking across a bridge that leads to the artificially created “Magic Island” which is a lot like Disney Sea. Despite these similarities, the attractions are quite different and the entrance to Lotte World is considerably cheaper. If you like one park, you’ll probably like the other too.
I would recommend checking out Lotte World as opposed to other amusement parks because you can come here in any kind of weather thanks to the indoor park area.
Entrance Fee: 32$ for adults (cheaper than most amusement parks in Japan so it’s overall worth it)
The Jogyesa Temple in Insadong, Seoul is probably my favorite temple of all time in Korea. I first came here during the Lotus Festival in April and many bright hand-crafted paper ornaments were hung around the entire complex. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was! Jogyesa is actually the center of Buddhism in Korea and many rituals and ceremonies are held here. There are private prayer rooms as well as places that you can make public offerings. The Chinese Scholar Tree was planted on the temple grounds because it is said to convert negative energy into positive energy and happiness. Though I’m not particularly religious, I definitely felt in high spirits here. Please check this place out if you ever get the chance. The monks are very friendly and welcoming.
I enjoyed seeing the English pack of M&Ms being used as an offering when I went:
Entrance Fee: Free
Myeongdong is essentially the Shibuya/Harajuku of Seoul. You can come here at any time of day and find something fun to do. It has street food, hilarious fashion (“say no to kids, drugs”), recreational parks, and cafes galore. The street and night markets have knock-off Gucci and Supreme which you can score for a low price. I enjoyed eating octopus and drinking sochu while I walked through all the streets and alleyways.
Some of my favorite places I found around Myeongdong Station were:
Artbox – An adorable mall with art supplies, cosmetics, and accessories. It reminded me of the LINE Friends store in Japan but had way more variety.
Stylenada 3CE – A pool-themed shopping mall and cafe with beautiful pink decor. It has amazing desserts!
Bbongsin – An amazing restaurant with cold noodles and calzones. Some of the best Korean food I’ve ever had!
Milky Bee – An ice cream shop with flower-shape gelato.
Myeongdong has bars that stay open late, but not much of a club scene. Continue reading to see my recommendations for clubs:
Ever since the song “Gangnam Style” became a hit song, I feel like this district doesn’t really need an introduction but I’ll give it a go anyway. Gangnam is the most upscale district in Seoul but you can enjoy the nightlife here with almost any budget. In addition to some of the most reputable clubs, it has secluded parks you can walk through by the river side and amazing cafes. Gangnam itself is pretty spread out so people don’t normally drink in the streets like in Itaewon. It’s classy and has a club area as well as a quiet upscale residential district as well.
My first memory of Gangnam was meeting up with some of my old college friends here and going to Octagon, where we got invited to VIP tables and drank champagne. If you’re a girl then it’s really easy to meet people that will buy you drinks here. The crowds and sound system are pretty insane too. I honestly got too lit my first time here so I’d really like to come back and just focus on the music next time.
Last year I decided to get my eye bags removed at JK Plastic in Gangnam. I had sunken eyelids that were caused by genetics so the veins under my skin would show and create permanent eye bags. I always looked tired and wanted to fix the issue so I opted for eye surgery. I chose JK Plastic because they are one of the highest-rated clinics in Korea and speak English. It took about a week of downtime in Korea and then six weeks of recovery at home, but the skin beneath my eyelids has been fully restored now! When I woke up from surgery I nearly cried because they did such an amazing job and I could already see the results despite having a swollen face. During my down time I played visual novels and also watched a lot of anime. It wasn’t so bad—just make sure you have enough time off to take care of yourself!
Plastic surgeons in Korea are the best in the world. The advantage of going here is that if you’re a tourist you can get a tax refund from the surgery when you go to the airport. I would not recommend plastic surgery in Japan because my friends have said the surgeons here are not as experienced or friendly. I would recommend doing research, scheduling an online consultation with a clinic you like, and seeing what options fit you best. I may write a full article on this at a later time!
Itaewon is my favorite place to start my night out in Seoul. I have so many fond memories here. It caters to the late-night international crowd and has small, condensed streets as well as beautiful murals that decorate the walls. You can sit at an outdoor bar or go drinking in the street and easily meet people (both tourists and Korean nationals). You can find pretty much any type of restaurant or dessert shop here too. It has the feel of a college town but is much more upscale and classy. Usually I spend my first night going to various clubs and bars then wake up and soak in Itaewon Land Spa.
My favorite club here is called Cakeshop because it features a lot of independent producers from both Seoul and other countries plus it has a great vibe. It originally caught my eye because Carpainter did a set here in 2015 (unfortunately I was in America at the time or I would have gone). The club is small enough with one DJ booth and bar that it’s easy to converse with people and enjoy the music. I have made a number of friends here that I still stay in touch with. The entry fee usually isn’t more than $25.
Besides Cakeshop, Fountain is a great place to check out. The first floor is huge dance floor that’s always usually packed and the upper floors have tables and arcades for bigger groups. The music here is usually western EDM which disinterests me, but the atmosphere of the club is impressive. I have never paid any entrance fee when I have gone in. What I remember of Club Awesome was awesome too!
Next time I’m here I really want to check out a club called Pumpkin. If it’s actually Halloween-themed like its outer decor implies then I’m in.
Other Interesting Places:
Hongdae – Hongdae is a popular spot for college students and those who love K-pop music clubs. I came here to visit the ADERerror store and also to do some shopping. I didn’t like it as much as Itaewon or Gangnam due to my music taste, but I highly recommend you spend a night exploring here and see what you think.
I found an amazing “Magical Item Shop” called Creamy DD with tons of Sailor Moon and other magical girl accessories here. It’s easy to spot the sign if you walk down the main road:
Ihwa Mural Village – Since I went to Busan and saw Gamcheon I skipped this village, but if you are looking for beautiful murals and art to see then please check this place out! I want to go here in the future.
Secret Garden – A scenic area around Changdeokgung Palace that I recommend checking out if you have the time. It is one of the most beautiful gardens in Seoul!
Nami Island – A scenic island near Seoul where many K-dramas are filmed. Click the link to read my full article on it!
Places to Stay
As a backpacker, I favor cheap hostels but the majority of accommodations in Korea are less expensive than in Japan. You can likely find a nice hotel for $45 USD or less too.
Here are some of the places that I stayed at and enjoyed in Korea. I booked them close in proximity to the clubs I was interested in checking out:
Guesthouse Yacht (Itaewon) – A very inexpensive apartment-style dorm in the heart of Itaewon. This is my go-to place if I’m spending the night there because it’s safe, quiet, and conveniently located.
Kimchee Guesthouse (Gangnam) – A guest house near Gangnam City Office that has private and dorm rooms. I stayed here during my eye surgery recovery period and it was perfect because my room had a shower inside it. This is the cheapest you will get in the fanciest part of the city, I assure you.
Neo Seoul Guesthouse – I wanted to try staying in Hongdae for a night, so I chose this place because of the cool name. It was cheap and I could easily access the airport limousine the next day so I recommend it for its convenience (Itaewon and Gangnam are a bit further away).
This will be the last article about Korea that I write until my next trip! Since I live in Japan, I can sometimes find cheap round-trip flights for under $150 so I come here usually once a year for a week long vacation. Usually new restaurants and venues open, plus cosmetics and beauty clinics are really cheap here so I always have something to look forward to. Until next time, Seoul!
During Golden Week of 2018 I decided to venture to Korea for the 2nd time and explore its most famous beach resort island: Jeju. This island is extremely unique because not only does it have the best beaches in Korea, but it also has the Nexon Computer Museum with the world’s longest running MMO. There’s also the tallest mountain in Korea (Mt. Hallasan), a folk village with traditional houses, and a fairly famous sex museum. As you can see, Jeju has something for everybody because there is a huge diversity of attractions to see. A lot of people that live close to Korea come here to spend their honeymoons or school vacations, but there are many backpackers like me who travel here too. In this article series I will be detailing my 5 day stay in Jeju in hopes that other people will decide to come in the future.
Traveling to Jeju
The best way to travel to Jeju is to take a direct flight from Seoul. Jeju Air has the cheapest flights that range from $30 – $50 USD roundtrip. The flight only takes about an hour. Jeju is comparable in Okinawa in Japan, but is much smaller and doesn’t have as many islands you can travel to. However, traveling here is much cheaper than most islands in Japan and it has a different vibe. One of the best islands you can visit in Jeju is called Udo which is the very first place I went.
Udo Island Day Trip
Udo Island was my first destination once I reached Jeju Airport. Fortunately you don’t need to fly here and can instead take a relaxing 15 minute ferry. The reason I wanted to go to Udo is because it is the perfect cycling destination. The island was named for its somewhat rectangular shape that looks like cow lying down. I also chuckled because the name reminded me of U-DO in Xenosaga. You can see most of the attractions on Udo within 3 – 4 hours via electric bike. E-bikes can be rented for around $10 per day and are extremely worth it. This was my very first time riding an e-bike, but fortunately it wasn’t scary! You can see the ocean from any point in Udo making it a wonderful spot for photography. Everyone rides slow so they can stop to take pictures.
Since I was starving, I stopped at a local seafood restaurant near the bike rental shop. I couldn’t speak much Hangul but I was able to place an order. They whipped me up some spicy crab and muscle stew which tasted amazing. For dessert, I decided to try the peanut ice cream that Udo is famous for. They placed two adorable teddy bear crackers on it too. The salty and sweet combination makes it worthy of all the praise that it gets. You can find this food literally all over the island and it’s much cheaper than food in Seoul.
Finally feeling full, I decided to make my way down to the beaches. Gwakji Beach and Hamdeok Beach were my two personal favorites. Both can be reached via e-bike in less than 30 minutes and are found on the north side. Exploring these beaches can take up to an hour. I came here in late April so it was a bit cold to swim but the weather was near perfect. Korea’s weather is similar to Japan’s but is slightly more mild.
Besides the swimming and biking, there are many other exciting things to do on Udo. You can go horseback riding for a short time if you talk to someone near the stables. If you like art, most of the buildings are painted in bright colors and there are murals all over the island. The food here never disappoints. The octopus-shaped bread I tried was filled with cheese and absolutely amazing. Just the atmosphere of being on a small beach island is awesome too. I enjoyed walking inside the the giant shells that were near the pier and also petting the store owner’s dogs. Everyone here is extremely friendly so you don’t have to worry about the language barrier.
On my way back to return my e-bike, I stumbled upon one of the best DJ booth turned ice cream shop ever. The chef was spinning some fresh island beats as he was whipping up ice cream. This was an extremely rare vibe that I was not expecting:
The store Udo Prince Story (우도왕자이야기) has both phenomenal food and music. If you come all the way out here, be sure not to miss out. This was the best instant dance party I ran into here and was the perfect way to end my day trip.
After an exciting first day in Udo, I rode the ferry back to the main island where my accommodation “GreenDay” was. There are a few hotels on Udo, but there is much more selection and nightlife on the main island of Jeju.
I chose GreenDay because I thought the name was hilarious and the dorms are only $15 per night. I couldn’t pass up staying in this colorful little house:
GreenDay Address: 251-9 Samdoi-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
I took a cheap taxi to Seongsan Port, then a 15 minute ferry to reach the island. The ferry ticket is only $10 one way. Please see the Udo Ferry Time Table for reference.
In my next article, I will be talking about some of the quirky museums that I explored. Please stay tuned for more!
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.
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.
After hitch-hiking around Okayama and seeing all of the major sights it had to offer, I decided to make my way to Washuzan Highland so I could ride the “most terrifying rollercoaster in all of Japan” (that’s really not so terrifying). Washuzan Highland is a Brazilian-themed amusement park about an hour from Okayama Station. The park has everything from roller coasters to swimming pools to petting zoos. Because it’s located in the countryside of Japan, it has a huge amount of attractions but not nearly as many tourists as other amusement parks. With the tropical plants, Brazilian performers, and the vibrant atmosphere, I really did feel like I was in a different country here!
The terrifying rollercoaster, called the “SkyCycle”, is actually a pedal-powered roller bike that’s extremely high up in the sky. Although I didn’t find it scary, the fear likely stems from the fact that it’s not automated like other rollercoasters; the bike is entirely in your control and you go around at your own pace. Looking down might cause panic for those who are afraid of heights, but this is a great ride for people like me who love adventure. The ride is only about a minute long but you get an awesome view of Okayama Prefecture and Shikoku Island from it:
I was a little disappointed that the ride wasn’t a bit longer, but I understand that people may get scared over time if it were. The bike has two seats but you can ride it alone. I rode it twice so I could experience it from both the inward and outward seats. The outward seat is definitely more thrilling because it faces the edge and you can feel the motion of the turns more. Though it looks a bit dangerous from all of the media exposure, SkyCycle is completely safe because each chair has a seat belt, so you don’t have to worry about falling off. You should be careful of dropping your camera though!
After surviving the most terrifying rollercoaster, I decided to go swimming for a while in the pool. It’s not very deep but it’s extremely refreshing on a hot day in August! Next I did some rollerskating at the roller rink. I specifically remember that the song Cookie by banvox started playing on a loudspeaker, and I picked up the pace. It was really cool to hear one of his rare older songs played in his home prefecture! By that point I was exhausted, so I bought a melon and hung out at the petting zoo. I enjoyed seeing the white hens and hamster tree. I ate some nice egg sushi from a place nearby as well (the tamago sushi here is ginormous). Though this happened nearly three years ago, I still remember what an exhilarating experience this was!
Unfortunately I didn’t take many pictures of the park, but trust me it’s worth riding the SkyCycle for this view:
I may come back here again with my GoPro if I have time in the future. If you have the time, consider checking out Okayama! It’s such an under-rated city and has much for you to discover.