“A Knight Out in Nagoya”: Aesthetic Food Finds Vol. 2

 

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Bis-Tria Gatsby, Nagoya: A sparkling suit of armor keeps watch over us as we feast like kings and queens.

If you told us that we’d be dining at a rooftop bistro in the presence of shining suits of armor adorned with jewels, we wouldn’t have believed you. But since the burger place that we wanted to go to was sadly closed, this was where we ended up.  Nagoya food and restaurants are seriously underrated, which is why I’m writing Aesthetic Food Finds Vol. 2 today.  This is just the beginning of greater food adventures that are yet to come.

I’ll be expanding this list as I find more places, but feel free to suggest any you recommend in the comments!  Please see Vol. 1 for reference.

Bis-Tria Gatsby

Bis-Tria Gatsby is by far the fanciest restaurant I’ve been to in Nagoya, but it’s surprisingly welcoming and affordable.  As we walked in we were amazed by the huge collection of wines on display and the rare Dark Souls DLC suits of armor.  Despite us being in casual wear (because we were only planning on eating burgers before), we were politely seated and handed three different menu.  After some careful thought, we decided to order the tomato and cabbage pasta, a platter of octopus and marinated vegetables, a fancy pineapple frozen cocktail, and some chocolate cake for dessert.  This was the best meal I had in Nagoya and we only paid around 3000 yen when we split the bill.

I will never forget these aesthetic suits of armor:

This bistro is ideal for dates and birthday parties (we saw two Japanese girls celebrating their birthdays here).  I would gladly come back again given the occasion.

ANDY CURRY

I was going through food recommendations on Instagram when this giant glorious egg caught my eye.  ANDY CURRY offers some of the most satisfying curry dishes in Nagoya with a selection of seafood, chicken, and vegetarian options too.  I chose the seafood option and enjoyed the mussels in my curry sauce.  The egg on top is perfectly prepared so it melts into the rice giving it a zesty flavor right as it is served to your table.  You can customize the level of spiciness in your order as well.  I was very impressed to see that they offered takeout options during the emergency state of Japan.  We chose to eat in, but in the future I would love to grab a curry that I could take on the go or eat in a park!

THANK YOU, BAKE

THANK YOU, BAKE was yet another spot-on recommendation that came up in my feed.  The cute crocodile mascot totally sold me on coming all the way out to Kanayama to try the delicious vanilla ice cream topped with strawberry sauce.  They have delicious cookies, cakes, and pastries you can order to go as well!  The crocodile on their packaging bears and uncanny resemblance to the popular Japanese web comic “The crocodile who dies in 100 days” that ended just as the COVID pandemic started.  It’s definitely worth a read as it adds a layer of irony to this bake goods shop.  All the more reason to come out here and try their food!

Menya Hanabi

Menya Hanabi is a seriously amazing noodle joint that I had no idea existed until my boyfriend pointed it out.  The store originated from Taiwan and specializes in mazesoba which consists of noodles mixed with soy sauce, vinegar, minced pork, and other toppings that you can choose.  Since I don’t eat meat, I opted for raw egg and as many vegetables as they had on their menu.  The flavor it packs is out of this world.  The broth is extremely light so you can focus on the taste of the toppings.  I would say that mazesoba tastes a lot better than ramen, but I would still recommend trying both!

Vegi Kitchen GuGu

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You literally can’t go wrong with star-shaped curry.

Vegi Kitchen GuGu is a healthy vegan restaurant located on the outskirts of Nagoya.  I had my very first meal in Nagoya here after World Cosplay Summit dressed as Futaba from Persona 5 so it was extremely on-point.  Their star-shaped vegan curry is to die for!  I still remember the taste even though it was nearly 3 years ago.  Unfortunately due to the emergency state, the restaurant is only offering takeout options.  Fortunately there is a Campfire Fund for small businesses in Nagoya that has already met its goal, so hopefully in the future this restaurant will offer its full menu again!  When it does, I’ll be sure to go back and eat there again.

6/30/2020 EDIT: The full menu has returned to the restaurant and you can dine in now!  The vegan curry I ordered with my boyfriend earlier this month looks even better than before:

Antico Caffeé

Antico Caffeé is a modest cafe located in the Dai Nagoya building near the main station, but it never disappoints.  Their spinach and mushroom sandwiches, coffee, and canolis are all very fulfilling.  If you are looking to grab a quite bite to eat on your way out that’s affordable, then this is one of your best options.  Though quite simple, this cafe will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first place that my boyfriend and I went on a date together.  I think it will always be a place I come back to!

Critical*Hit

I saved the best for last—Critical*Hit is one of my favorite gaming bars in Japan and also the a place I always make my rounds to each time I’m in Nagoya.  Whenever I’m here, I either make a new friend, discover a new game, or having extremely invigorating discussions with other people.  There are a number of console games plus rare games (such as LSD and other classics) that you can choose to play, or you can sit and converse with others which I usually do.  I still stay in contact with a lot of the people I’ve met here because Nagoya has a really close-knit community.  There are a mix of foreigners and Japanese people as well that frequent here.  I am really fortunate to have met my first boyfriend here on a night when he was playing Metal Gear Solid!

That’s all the aesthetic food finds for this week.  As more places in Japan open up, I’ll hopefully have a lot more to write about!

The Tale of the Monkey Forest and Glaass Lounge in Nagano

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Matsumoto Castle in Nagano, Japan.

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.

Food

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.

Glaass Lounge

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!

Address: 2 Chome-5-6 Fukashi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0815

Access

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.

 

 

Adventures in Nikko: Waterfalls, Igloos, and Walking in an Edo Wonderland

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The snow on the mountains behind Nikko Station give it a scenic winter look.

Yesterday I wrote about the popular mountainous hotspring getaway Hakone, so today I’m writing about Tokyo’s other most popular day trip: Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture. Like Hakone, Nikko is also a famous hotsprings area located in the mountains that has stunning nature, temples, and a lot of parks as well.  Between the two of them, Hakone is my favorite because the hotsprings and museums are easier to reach by bus.  Nikko is more spaced-out than Hakone and some of the hot springs take over two hours via bus to reach.  That is a lot of traveling to do if you’re just coming for the day, but if you really like hiking you may find Nikko more interesting.  Both are worth seeing at least once.

I’ve been to Nikko twice (once in the summer and once in the winter for the snow festival) so I will be detailing my favorite discoveries in this article.  All of these places can be reached via bus from Nikko Station:

Kegon Falls & Toshogu Shrine

Kegon Falls is one of the most gorgeous waterfalls in Tochigi Prefecture.  It was formed by lava that rerouted a river into Lake Chuzenji.  We came here in the dead of winter when the surrounding area was covered by snow and slightly frozen, but the waterfall was still freely falling from the mountains.  I will never forget how beautiful this scenery was.  No matter what time of year you visit you will have an unforgettable view!

In the summer I visited Nikko’s most famous shrine: Toshogu.  This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a good reason.  This shrine serves as remembrance for Tokugawa Ieyasu who ruled the Tokugawa Shogunate for over 200 years.  This shrine complex consists of several buildings with the main one being adorned in golden architecture that gleams in the sunlight.  The shrines are located in a forested area so visiting each of them is quite a nice hike.  I’m glad that I’ve traveled here during both the summer and winter so I can see the lovely change of scenery.

Kegon Falls has no admission fees, but it costs 550 yen to go to the observation deck (which is worth it in my opinion).

Toshogu Shrine Entrance Fee: 1300 yen

Yuba Udon

Nikko is famous for yuba which is literally tofu skin.  That might not sound very appealing by itself, but it’s quite delicious when paired with or added to other dishes.  I tried Yuba udon with my friend and it tasted amazing!  The soft texture of the yuba paired with the noodles and broth gave the dish a unique texture.  I also tried some yuba slices on the side just so I could fully analyze the taste.  They are not as solid as tofu and are easier to eat.  My favorite tofu of all time is fried tofu or spicy tofu since they have the most flavor.  Yuba is rather flavorless, but it’s good for your health if eaten in small amounts.  We went to the restaurant across from the station called ゆば料理, but you can try it almost anywhere in Nikko.

Yumoto Onsen Snow Festival

Each year in February, Yumoto Onsen has a snow festival in which igloos with ice sculptures are illuminated similar to the Sapporo Snow Festival.  However, since this hotsprings resort is secluded, there are not as many people here and you can fully enjoy the illuminations to your heart’s content.  It was quite a long journey from Tokyo, but my friend and I managed to arrive here and back within a day.  The journey took 3.5 hours one way, but Yumoto Onsen is one of the best hotsprings in Nikko.  After doing some photography here, we used the hotsprings for under 1000 yen.  Similar to Gero Onsen and Kusatsu, you can choose from a large variety of onsen.  Many were available for day trippers like us.  The snow festival is free to see.

Here is a video I took in early 2018 of the igloos.  I hope to take higher quality footage of another illuminated snow festival in the future:

Tobu World Square

Because I’m a fan  of museums and architecture, I had to check out Tobu World Square.  This is a theme park at Kinugawa Onsen (another famous hotspring) that has over 100 scales models of iconic places from around the world.  My personal favorite was the pyramids from Egypt.  If you stand in front of them and take a picture of yourself, it looks like you’re actually in the desert!  The coliseum from Rome is also aestheically pleasing to see.  I loved the mini recreation of the Dragon and Taiwan Pagoda as well.  Now that I’ve been there, it hold much more meaning to me.  The more you walk through the park, the more you want to travel!  Summer is the ideal time to come here in my opinion.

Entrance Fee: 2500 yen (a bit expensive, but this is one of the most interesting museums in Nikko).

Walking in an Edo Wonderland

Since I was already near Kinugawa Onsen where many museums are located, I figured I’d go walking in an Edo Wonderland.  As the name implies, this is an amusement park dedicated to the Edo period of Japan.  If you’ve studied Japanese history, then you’ll know that this was a revolutionary time for the country.  There were samurais, economic growth, and a lot of development across Japan.  Many anime and novels are based off this time period.  Edo Wonderland plays homage to that and gives visitors the chance to step back into that world.  You can visit ninja houses and temples here, dress up in formal Edo clothing, take a boat cruise down the river, and see all sorts of performances.

Since I’ve been living in Japan for while, the most interesting part was simply exploring the Edo town for me.  However, there’s a lot more you can do here!  There is an archery dojo, countless restaurants, and museums where you can get even further lost in time.

Entrance Fee: 4800 yen before 2pm, 4100 after 2pm (it’s best to come in the afternoon as this is quite expensive)

Access

The best way to access Nikko is from Tokyo’s Ueno Station.  At the tourism office, they have often have discounts and deals as Nikko is a popular destination.  From Ueno, you can take the Hibiya Line to Kita-senju Station, then the Tobu Limited Express to reach Tobu-Nikko Station.  This takes approximately 2 hours and costs 3500 yen.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never stayed overnight at Nikko before but it’s something I’d like to try in the future.  Kinugawa Onsen is one of the centrally located and seems like a good option because you can reach the other areas of Tochigi Prefecture quite easily from it.

Naoshima, Japan’s Avant-garde Island of Art

Welcome to Naoshima—Japan’s obscure avant-garde island full of art museums, beaches, and outdoor sculptures.  Since I am a lover of all things aesthetic, I couldn’t pass up the chance to go here while I was traveling through Okayama.  This island is very small but has a lot to see.  It’s well-known among art enthusiasts and travelers that like to go off the beaten path.  The most iconic piece of art you’ll find is the giant yellow pumpkin at the pier designed by Yayoi Kusama, but there’s an artistic sense all around here.  Even if you’re not a huge fan of art, it’s really fun to go cycling and swimming here because it’s quite secluded from the rest of Japan.  This island is actually part of Shikoku though you can access it from Honshu too.  I’ll be detailing my full experience in this article!

Getting around Naoshima

From the net cafe I was staying overnight at (Jiyuu Kuukan), I walked to Okayama Station and rode the Seto-Ohashi Line to Chayamachi Station, then took the Uno Line to Uno Station for 50 mins total.  From Uno Station, I walked to the nearby port and rode a ferry for 30 mins to Naoshima island.  These ferries are frequent and leave almost every hour (see time table here).  It was a very fun ride and the weather was perfect too!

I rented a bike for 500 yen/day because cycling is the best way to see all of Naoshima.  The whole island takes about 2.5 hours total to cycle around and is pretty easy to navigate because it’s circular.  However, it’s easy to spend a whole day here because there are so many museums to see.  There are many hostels and resorts you can stay overnight at too.  I didn’t stay overnight here, but I really want to next time!

I started my trip by riding my bike to Gotanji Bathing Beach where the giant yellow pumpkin is.  I spent around an hour here swimming and seeing all of the Picasso-esque statues that line the beach area.  I met a mix of both Japanese and international travelers who were very friendly.  There was a giant raft in the middle of the swimming area where I actually took a nap on!  That’s how relaxing it is here~

After feeling refreshed from the ocean, I decided to make my way around to the major museums.  Some are free to enter but others have admission fees.  I would research them beforehand budget around 3000 – 6000 yen depending on what you want to see.

Exploring the Museums

The main museums worth seeing on the island are:

  • Benesse House – Museum by the beach with indoor and outdoor exhibits.  They combine their hotel with the “coexistence of nature, art and architecture” and are responsible for many projects on the island.
  • Chichu Art Museum – An ambient museum built mostly underground.  The natural light plays a huge role in seeing the artwork here.
  • Lee Ufan Museum – A contemporary art museum consisting of stones and two-dimensional paintings.  His art has a tranquil feeling when paired with the seaside viewpoint.
  • Ando Museum – A traditional wooden house that uses creative architecture to contrast light and shadow and the past from the present.
  • Teshima Art Museum – This is a famous art museum located on the nearby Teshima Island that resembles a water droplet and is perfect for photography.
  • Art House Projects – A series of small houses with a variety of different art from different artists.  For a full list, please see the Benesse Art Project Site.

*Please note that photography is not allowed at all museums, but is okay outside most places.

One of the most interesting things I saw was the light-up ‘Live & Die’ piece at Benesse House (pictured in the very top photos).  The words on the boards all have different associations with life and death.  While the lights faded, a Japanese man walked up and spread his arms out, as if embracing the words it had projected.  It was one of the coolest reactions I have ever witnessed at an art museum in my life.  I also saw a graveyard outside of the Lee Ufan museum.  Its juxtaposition with the art made me think more on the concept of life and death.  I did a lot of reflecting this day and it was very good for my mental heath.  That’s why I’m planning to come back here in the summer again and see all the spots that I missed!

Food & Drinks

There are restaurants, bakeries, and cafes all over the island so you can easily find a place that catches your interest.  I had cold soba noodles and matcha bread with anko for lunch at a place called Aisunao.  It was all homemade food and tasted amazing!  When I got back to Okayama, I drank a drink that smiled back at a Tiki Bar.  You seriously can find great selection here wherever you look!

Bathing in a Artsy Bath

Before I took the ferry back, I decided to bathe at the artsy bath called I♥湯 (I love you).  The outside of the bath house has an aesthetic mosaic design that looks like no other bath house in Japan.  The indoor area has equally beautiful architecture.  It was a great way to end the trip.  The entrance fee is only 660 yen.

Exploring other Islands

One regret I have is that I didn’t look into exploring the two smaller art islands you can access from Naoshima: Inujima & Teshima.  Both islands can be reached from Naoshima in less than 20 mins.  Benesse has a nice two-day itinerary where you can see all the major works of the three islands.  I will be going back hopefully later this year to see the small things that I missed!

Access

I mentioned the route that I took above, but there are multiple ways to get to Naoshima.  Please see the Benesse site for more information.

If you are interested in reading more of my art articles, please see my Yayoi Kusama and Innovative Art Museums in Asia articles!

The Tale of the Floating Noodles (Kyoto)

Last August during the Mountain Day holiday weekend, I ventured to the riverside village of Kibune in Kyoto to try their legendary floating noodles.  These somen noodles are very unique because they float down a bamboo shoot directly to your table and are chilled to cool you down during summer season.  It’s definitely a dining experience worth having if you enjoy Japanese food!  In this article I will be highlighting my summer experience in Kyoto and will hopefully inspire more people to travel here.

*For reference, Mountain Day is a relatively new national holiday that was announced in 2014.  It honors the mountainous terrains of this country and most Japanese companies give this day as paid holiday (making it a three day weekend most years).  It occurs August 11th.  Be aware that this weekend is usually travel-heavy, but you can still see and do a lot if you plan your trip accordingly.

Floating Noodles at Hirobun (in Kibune)

Kibune is a popular resort destination that attracts large numbers of Japanese couples and families each year (which I didn’t realize beforehand), but is also home of the famous Hirobun restaurant that serves floating somen noodles from a bamboo shoot.  As the noodles float to your seat, you can stealthily grab with your chopsticks and eat them with soy sauce.  Though people make it out to be a challenge, it’s actually not that difficult and the restaurant staff will adjust the speed if they see you are having trouble.  The last batch of noodles is marked pink so you know when your course is over.  We paid around 2000 yen for a noodle course with dessert and enjoyed the experience thoroughly.

The main con of this was the three hour wait time…  Unfortunately this activity is so popular in the summer that it attracts hundreds of people per day and there are limited seats at the floating somen table.  There is no reservation system, so you must show up in person to write your name on a wait list in order of who arrived first.  We arrived around 12pm and already there were many people ahead of us.  However, the plus side is that there are so many things to see in Kibune that you can easily leave and come back when it is close to your turn.

While we waited, we walked around the river, tried some ice cream from a local confectionery, and hiked by the Kibune Shrine Okumiya so we could test our luck.  There is also the nearby Kurumadera Temple and hotspring that you can visit to kill time.  If you think about it, three hours in nature really goes by quickly.  It would be a lot more mundane if we had to wait that long for a restaurant in the city.  At first I hesitated about waiting, but now I’m so happy that I did because I got to experience pretty much everything Kibune has to offer.

Getting to Kibune

From Kyoto Station, take the Nara Line Rapid Miyakoji to Tofukuji Station, then the Keihan Main Line Semi-Express to Demachiyanagi Station Station, then the Eizan Main Line Local to Kibuneguchi Station.  From here you can take a local bus to the shrine.  Though it involves a few transfers, the journey only takes about 1.5 hours and costs 1020 yen making it the perfect day trip from Kyoto.

If you are looking for more travel recommendations in Kyoto, please check my Arashiyama, Amanohashidate, and Aesthetic Dining Experiences in Kyoto articles!

Adventures in Arashiyama (Kyoto)

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Arguably one of the best views this forest has to offer.

With its vast nature including a bamboo grove, the Oi River which you can go sailing on, and a monkey park, Arashiyama is hands down one of the most popular day trips from Kyoto City.  Though this area attracts a large number of tourists each year, it’s easy to avoid them by taking side trails off the bamboo grove trail.  I was able to find complete bliss in solitude while hiking to several areas and listening to my favorite music.  I originally traveled here in 2018, but came back to try the delicious chilled soba noodles at a famous restaurant last year.  In this article I will be writing about the highlights of my Arashiyama hiking adventure and hopefully will inspire more people to visit!

Floating Down the Oi River

When you get off at Arashiyama Station, one of the first things you’ll notice is the gently flowing Oi river.  There are several shacks where you can rent boats and go on tours down the river and into the forested area.  This is one of the best ways to explore Arashiyama, so I opted for a private boat tour for 3000 yen.  Group tours are also available for a lower price.  The wooden boat has padded seats so its quite comfortable, and you can see beautiful scenes from floating down the river that you can’t see on foot!

While we were sailing a food boat (food truck but in boat form) sailed up to us and offered to cook me something.  I decided I wanted grilled squid and they made it right in front of me.  It was truly and amazing experience!  I’ve explored a floating village in Cambodia before which was quite large, but this river is much smaller and more relaxed.  If you love boating then there are a lot of amazing places in Asia that are worth checking out.  I aim to explore as many as I can.

I didn’t have the best camera on me at the time, but here is some footage of me sailing down the river on a wooden boat.  It was a pleasant trip that only takes about 30 mins:

Sunset at the Kimono Forest

If you come to Arashiyama, then you definitely need to stay and watch the sun set slowly on the mountains before you leave.  First the sky will flash to a bright gradient of red, orange, and yellow, then fade to a gentle magenta and pink hue.  Afterwards there is a garden of kimono-patterned pillars near Randen Arashiyama Station that becomes illuminated at night.  I had a fantastic time walking through here and taking pictures—it felt as if I had slipped into another world with all of the colors!  These memories still burn very bright in my mind today.

Bamboo Forest and Monkey Mountain

The main tourist attraction of Arashiyama is the bamboo forest which is about a 10 min walk from the station.  The massive stalks of bamboo that surround you are truly astounding.  Back in America I had never seen anything like this before, so I was very impressed by this area.  There are normally a lot of tourists on the main path, but you can find paths that lead into the mountains like the one pictured on the right to avoid them.  If you aim your camera towards the sunlight that is partially blocked by the bamboo stalks you can get some really nice pictures here.

When I hiked up the path shown above, I spotted a very interesting building structure from afar and zoomed into it.  It looks like either a shack with clothes hung out to dry or small shrine.  Climbing to that area seems like quite a feat because it is not connected to the main path of Arashiyama.  “Who lives here?” I wondered 2 years ago, and I still think about it to this very day:

After exploring the paths around the bamboo forest which really don’t take that much time to climb, I recommend checking out the Monkey Park atop a small mountain called Iwatayama.  The climb takes about 10-15 mins and you can see a nice view of Kyoto from the top as well as several enthusiastic monkeys.  Be sure not to make direct eye contact with them as they can be quite aggressive!  However, a barrier will protect you from being attacked my them.

Compared to the monkeys in Thailand, the ones in Kyoto are actually quite nice.  However, if you are in Japan for a long time and are able to go to Hokkaido, the Monkey Park in Hakodate is actually much more fun to see.  You can watch them bathe in a hotspring and have a clearer view of them with less tourists around you.

Chilled Soba Noodles at Tempura Matsu

While searching for aesthetic food in Kyoto (which is not that difficult to find), I stumbled upon a tempura restaurant that serves soba noodles in a one-of-a-kind bowl made out of ice.  As far as I know, no other restaurant besides Tempura Matsu serves soba quite like this.  The egg topping mixed with soy sauce gives it an amazing taste.  It is best eaten in the summer because it will cool you down.  Amazingly even in the warm temperature the ice bowl will hardly melt.  I was impressed with the craftsmanship of this dish:

Since I had a long journey here, I decided to reward myself with the course meal that was around 12,000 yen at the time.  This is quite expensive, but I believe you are able to order individual items off the menu if you request them.  From my experience, it was well worth the price.  Carefully prepared seafood, soup, rice, vegetables, soba, and dessert were served to me in this course.  Vegetarian options are available as well.

Getting to Arashiyama

Kyoto Station take Sagano Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station.  This takes about 15 mins and costs only 240 yen making it an extremely cheap trip.

Please note that accommodations here are quite popular, so you might want to book 2 months in advance if you want to stay in a nice onsen resort.

If you are a solo traveler or are on a budget, I recommend day tripping here from Kyoto City since accommodations there are cheaper.  If you want to use a day hotspring in Arashiyama, consider trying Fufunoyu.  It is only 1000 yen to enter and has a lovely outdoor hotspring that you can use.

I will be writing more about my adventures in Kyoto and accommodation options in my next few posts.  Please stay tuned for more info~

Aesthetic Food Finds in Kansai Vol. 1

Here is a collection of recent aesthetic food finds in the Kansai region of Japan focusing on Kyoto and Osaka (Volume 1). ♥

This country has no shortage of of aesthetic foods so I will continue to share cafes that I stumble across in future posts!

AKICHI

While wearing a butterfly-patterned dress, I managed to find butterfly ice cream at AKICHI in Namba (Osaka) that perfectly matched my drip.  This colorful little alley functions as both a photo space covered in murals and a nook full of bakeries and cafes.  I tried the strawberry and vanilla milk-flavored ice cream from Deglab; the “soft cream laboratory”.  Not only was it topped with an elegant white chocolate butterfly and edible pearls,  but it was also mouthwatering delicious!  It felt like a dream come true.  There is also a tapioca shop and bakery upstairs if you are looking for other desserts, but the ice cream is some of the best in town.

Wagurisenmon Saori

There’s nothing like eating a bowl of noodles in Kyoto.  Or a Mont Blanc ice cream dessert disguised as noodles, because that makes perfect sense.  At Wagurisenmon Saori in downtown Kyoto, you can confuse your taste buds by digging into these dessert noodles with a spoon and tasting a thick layer of cake and ice cream below.  Kansai cooking is nothing short of amazing:

The taste of this dessert was average due to the “noodles” being somewhat tasteless, but as an aesthetic food enthusiast I could not pass this opportunity up.  Definitely try it if you like the concept, but regular Mont Blanc sold in French bakeries throughout Japan taste a lot better and are cheaper.  I will never forget this experience though.

Jinen Sushi

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All of my Japanese friends that travel to Osaka continually talk about butter unagi (eel) sushi, so I wanted to see what all the hype was about.  I’ve eaten eel many times and think that it’s tasty and a good source of protein, but the downside is it’s considerably expensive compared to other foods.  However, Jinen Sushi offers a pretty good deal on their nigiri and sushi rolls and you can order them individually.  I eagerly ordered the unagi butter and confirmed that it was worth the hype.  Eel normally has somewhat of a tough texture, but the sticks of butter add a softness to it that you normally wouldn’t expect.  Because you can only get this in Osaka, I ordered another round.  In America butter is a normal topping found in mass quantities, but here it’s far less common so you really treasure moments like this.

Happy Labo Popcorn

While I was going to a show in Osaka one day, I noticed mysterious steam coming from a street vendor.  Curious to see what it was, I was surprised to find that it was actually frozen rainbow popcorn that turns your breath white!  Happy Labo Popcorn definitely has a unique theme going for it and sells some interesting ice cream too.  Usually I’m not a fan of flavored popcorn, but when frozen it actually has a sweet but still mild taste.  It’s definitely attention-grabbing and fun to walk around with.

Cocochi Cafe

I was browsing Instagram one day when I came across an orange on my feed, but it wasn’t just an ordinary orange.  It was an orange (wait for it)… WITH A FACE.  Not just any face, but it had googly eyes and mustache.  Truly blessed with poise and perfect symmetry.  Whatever it was, I had to order it.  My aesthetic food journey took me to Cocochi Cafe in Kyoto which is a cozy dessert place near the Imperial Palace.  I can proudly say that drinking orange juice out of an orange with a handsome face is one of my biggest life accomplishments.  There is also a cute dog at this cafe that is happy to greet you!

JTRRD Cafe

JTRRD Cafe started out as a small restaurant in Osaka that eventually became so popular that it opened branches in Kyoto and Nagoya mainly due to its patterned rainbow smoothies.  Unfortunately the day I went they were out of ingredients for the smoothies, but I still enjoyed the paprika curry and omelet rice (which I shared with a friend because the serving size was so big).  It was probably some of the best curry I have ever tasted due to the way it was seasoned.  Paprika is truly an underrated ingredient.  Next time I come back to this area, I will make an effort to try the famed smoothies too!

Panbo

By this point I’ve experienced a lot of unique desserts in Japan, but pancake skewers are a new thing to me.  At Panbo Osaka, you can choose the size of skewer you want (which consists of mini pancakes and fruits on a stick) then add chocolate, sprinkles, and other toppings to flavor it.  The mini pancakes are surprisingly filling, and the marshmallow at the top makes me feel like I’m at a campfire.  Speaking of camping…

Hammock Cafe

Picture a hammock cafe where you can relax and drink with your friends in hammocks.  Now picture that same cafe with all you can drink alcohol.  Welcome to Revarti Osaka, maybe one of the best watering holes in all of Japan.  I’ve been to hammock cafes in Tokyo before, but they sure didn’t have the all you can drink option (maybe they will in the future, but this place was way more relaxed).  I was brought here with my bartender friend from Space Station, and with a group of 4 people I’m pretty sure we only paid around 1500 yen each.  They had everything from wine to high balls to vodka cocktails too so I indulged in everything.  We also tried dunking crackers into chocolate fondue with huge marshmallows baked into it.  This was by far one of my best drinking experiences in Osaka that was followed by a 12 hour party at club dapnia.  A night I will never forget!

The Longest Softcream in Japan

At Long Softcream on American Street in Osaka, you can eat the longest soft-serve ice cream in Japan standing at a whopping 40cm.  But be quick~  It will melt fast if you try to eat it during the summer.  The irony is perhaps compared to the average size of American desserts, it’s not so long after all.  The taste is pretty ordinary, but I bought it mainly for the meme factor.  I will be writing more in detail about the wacky things you can find on American Street in the future because this is just the beginning!

BONUS: Individually Sealed Sliced Pieces of Bread

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I can’t remember exactly where this place was, but the fact that it sells individually sealed sliced pieces of bread is simply amazing.  All it needs is a side of unagi butter!

EDIT: The location is Sakimoto Bakery in Osaka.

Thank you for reading Volume 1 of my aesthetic food journeys in Kansai.  If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the comments!  I will be writing Volume 2 focused on Nagoya in the near future.

 

 

Aesthetic Dining Experiences in Kyoto, Japan

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Soft mochi and iced green tea at a traditional sweets store in Gion.

Whenever I travel to a new place, I like trying a combination of the local cuisine and the most crazy places that I can find.  Kyoto is known for its tofu, noodles, kaiseki (vegetarian dishes), and of course; matcha sweets (which includes green tea-flavored ice cream, parfaits, and more).  Here is a list I have compiled of the most unique dining experiences I have had in Kyoto:

Gold Ramen at Zundoya

Zundoya is an extremely popular ramen chain in Japan because of their affordable and delicious bowls.  In their Tokyo and and Kyoto branches, they have the option to purchase gold flakes which you can sprinkle on any ramen dish on their menu.  This comes with a hefty extra 5000 yen charge, but was fun to do just for the aesthetic purpose of eating golden ramen.  You can buy these gold flakes at souvenir shops in Kyoto and Kanazawa.  They can be used as a topping for virtually any food due to them being flavorless.

The regular bowls of ramen are also packed with flavor!  The funny thing was I came here after a music workshop with some of my Japanese friends per their recommendation.  That’s when you know it’s a good place to eat!

Kichi Kichi Omurice

Omelette and rice dishes (dubbed omurice) are an extremely popular food combination in Japan, and this restaurant does it best!  When you see the head chef, Yukimura Motokichi, slice a freshly baked omelette and have it perfectly melt over the rice in an almost cinematic fashion, you’ll understand why this restaurant is so popular.

This meal was seriously the best omurice I had ever tasted because the omelettes are cooked to be extremely fluffy.  Since this website is so popular, it is recommended to make a reservation on their website.

Kitten Company Cafe

As the name implies, this cafe has cat-themed sweets, and is extremely vegan-friendly.  I tried their vegan curry, chocolate cake, and kitten cookies.  All of them were scrumptious, and I was delighted to see the curry arranged in the form of a happy cloud!  No reservation is required for this restaurant, but you can see their website here.

Menbaka Fire Ramen

NO RAMEN NO LIFE” is the English slogan that greets you at this ramen restaurant.  I immediately liked the atmosphere the minute I entered.  Menbaka puts a large amount of green onions and pours oil right over the dish before it is served to create an explosive fiery effect.  Just watch the video of me seconds before the fire starts to burn:

The taste of the ramen is quite ordinary; maybe a little more oily but otherwise unnoticeable.  It is worth going to once just to see the fire!  This restaurant does not accept reservations; you must lineup and take a numbered ticket.  You can explore other places in Kyoto while you are waiting, so it’s not so gruesome of a wait.

Green Tea Soba Noodles

Tsujiri Teahouse offers one of the most unique noodle dishes I’ve ever seen in my life: green tea soba and tofu in a white milk-like broth.  Though that doesn’t sound appetizing at first, it actually has a refreshing taste!  I ordered mine chilled and they really hit the spot.  If you are feeling adventurous, this is definitely a good thing to try!  In additional to noodles, there are many parfaits and sweets here.  Next time I come to Kyoto, I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for more unique food like this!

My Favorite Noodles: Sweet Potato Cream Soba

In the trendy Ebisu neighborhood of Tokyo lies a famous soba noodle restaurant called Shodai (初代) that specializes in some pretty unique dishes. On a cold night in December, I decided to try it and thus discovered my favorite dish: Sweet Potato Cream Soba. Though sweet potato cream may seem like an unlikely soba topping, the cream actually adds a lot of delicious flavor and texture to the broth.  You can’t even really taste the potato–it truly just tastes like a light fluffy whipped topping, but isn’t even that sweet.  When it melts in the broth to coat the thick soba noodles, it truly creates an exquisite taste! Some cheap soba broths aren’t that tasty, but this is definitely one you want to try!

Whenever I walk outside this restaurant, it is usually very crowded so it is recommended to make a reservation in advance.  However, if you are by yourself then it may be possible to walk in and find available seating without reservation.  There are many soba and traditional Japanese dishes available for you to order, as well as sake!

So far Shodai is the only restaurant where I have seen this dish available, but is likely there are more soba restaurants that use similar culinary techniques!  I hope to try them out in the future.

BRAINFOOD

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Because eating balanced meals is essential to living a healthy lifestyle,
Remember to eat foods that are good for your brain.
Almost all food you consume has at least some nutritional value or health benefits.
In fact, despite what recent diet trends tell you,
Not all carbohydrates are bad.
Food comes in many different forms–some you may not expect!
Of course, soba (as pictures above) is one of my favorites.
Otherwise, what the most important lesson here is:
Don’t forget to feed your brain.