Exploring the 7 Hell Hot Springs of Oita

Hell has never looked so tropical and enticing.

During Golden Week of 2017, I decided to fly from Tokyo to Oita Prefecture in Kyushu to see the mysterious Jigoku Onsen (which literally means Hell Hot Springs) in the town of Beppu. Though these onsen are steaming hot and jumping inside them would result in death, this area has many other ones that are safe to bathe in, so rest assured! There are also beautiful beaches, monkeys, and an animal safari that you can see here too. You can most of Beppu in three days which was the duration I stayed for, then I went to Fukuoka to see my friends. It is very easy to access other areas of Kyushu from Beppu by bus or train so you can combine it with trips to other prefectures.

At the time I traveled here I didn’t have a lot of money, so I booked a discount roundtrip Jetstar for around 15,000 yen and stayed at my favorite net cafe chain, Kaikatsu Club, so I could save money. In the end it paid off because I could see everything I wanted to in Beppu and now I have enough money to stay at nicer hotels around Japan!

Getting to know Beppu

As soon as the plane landed and I took the Airport Limousine to the city, I felt right at home here! Fortunately most of the attractions of Beppu are accessible by bus. Plus I loved seeing the smiling little wooden bucket mascot everywhere. I remember there randomly being a beer fest in the middle of the city since it was during Golden week, but since I was craving sugar I decided to get some strawberry pancakes at a cafe called Namiki no Machi Coffee. Later that night I was feeling social so I checked out an international bar called P.E.I. Pub and ended up coming back here every night. This place can serve nearly any kind of cocktail and I ended up becoming really good friends with the bartender, Richie. I really hope to come back to Oita some day and see what my friends here are up too. There is a huge international community of people in Beppu making it very welcoming and fun.

Exploring the Jigoku Onsen

The 7 Jigoku Onsen are very mysterious and it’s no wonder why people travel from all over Japan just to see them. The most prominent one is the red hell onsen because seeing red-colored water is extremely rare and it looks like a volcano. The mud bubble hell is also interesting to see because it swirls and looks like a gray whirlpool. There are various ones that are blue like the ocean but don’t be fooled—their temperature can rise up to over 100°C. One of the onsen even has crocodiles in it who look extremely content and relaxed. If I was a crocodile in Japan, I would definitely choose Oita as my home.

Touring the hells takes about 45 mins – 1 hour but can be done faster if you don’t read through all of the information. If you have time you should definitely try some of the onsen-steamed vegetables and Oita’s famous pudding! I definitely prefer steamed to boiled or fried because it’s healthier. There are also local hot springs that are safe to bathe in around here that you can easily reach.

Address: 559-1 Kannawa, Beppu, Oita 874-0000 (easily accessible by local bus)
Admission Fee: 400 per hell or 2000 yen for all hells*

*Please note there is usually a combined bus ticket and entrance deal. Check with the station or travel agency close to you in Beppu or Oita City.

Monkeys at Mt. Tsurumi

Another huge appeal of Oita are the monkeys at the park at Mt. Tsurumi called Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden. Compared to other monkey parks in Japan, the monkeys here are quite active and have a lot of space to run around in the forest that surrounds them. You can get quite close to them but as long as you avert your eyes they won’t attack. Mt. Tsurumi also has the largest ropeway in Kyushu and the view from the top is quite impressive. It feels very nostalgic writing about my early Kyushu adventures and I already want to book another trip here!

Address: 3098-1 Kanzaki, Oita, 870-0802 (easy to reach by local bus)
Admission Fee: 520 yen

Sand Baths at Shoningahama Beach

One of the most popular things to do in Oita is take a sand bath on the beach. The process is quite simple: you are given a rental yukata to wear while lying down and are gently buried in steaming sand. The appeal of this is the hot sand is said to improve your blood circulation and have healing properties. Also due to the weight and steam of the sand, the effectivity is greater than bathing in a natural hot spring. When you get up you will feel relaxed and extremely refreshed! I have only tried this once but it felt like being in the sauna for a long duration without all of the sweat. This will definitely relieve any muscle fatigue and make you feel brand new.

Shoningahama Beach is easily accessible from Beppudaigaku Station. The beach itself isn’t that impressive but the sandbaths sure are! You can also take a sand bath in other areas of Japan such as Ibusuki Island and Kagoshima. I would like to try it again in the future!

Address: Shoningahama Beppu
Cost: 1500 yen (Please note there is no online reservation form and it is first come first serve)

Other Points of Interest

I’ve named off the three major points of interest, but here are some other places you may want to check out if you have time:

  • African Safari
  • Umitamago Aquarium
  • Oita Art Museum
  • A trip to Kumamoto or Fukuoka
  • Beppu Onsen

I went to the African Safari which takes you on an exciting adventure in a jungle bus where you can feed exotic animals. Unfortunately I do not have that many pictures because my hands were full, but it was quite the thrill at the time. The main point of Oita is enjoying the hot springs and the beach!

One of my goals this summer is to revisit Kumamoto and take pictures of Mt. Aso. This was something that I tried to do in 2017 but unfortunately not all parts of the volcano were accessible. I look forward to challenging it again in the future!

Exploring Narai in Kiso Valley

A rainy yet beautiful day in the mountain town of Narai.

A place that’s been on my bucket list for quite a while is Kamikochi, a beautiful hiking area nestled in the valleys of Nagano, and this year I finally had the chance to go! I was actually planning to go last year, but the main camping area was attacked by a wild bear that tore a tent to shreds and stole a camper’s curry, so unfortunately my trip was cancelled. Fortunately this year they had the bears under control and no other attacks have been reported. However, this year we encountered wild monkeys during our hike but they were extremely friendly!

I will be covering my trip to Kamikochi in two separate posts since this trip lasted two full days. On the first day I rode from Tokyo to Enzan Station to meet my friends in Yamanashi which was on the way. From there we drove to Narai in Nagano by car which was roughly two hours away. This was an extremely smart move since the weather was rainy the first day but sunny for our hiking trip on the second day.

Narai is reachable by both car and the Chuo Line making it cheaper than taking the shinkansen. If you have the chance you should definitely check this town out because it has a lot of history and delicious food!

Getting to Know Narai

After parking or getting off at the station, all of the main strip of Narai can be explored by foot. The very first thing that I noticed was the Narai Kiso Bridge that will take you over to the shops and restaurants. In the Meiji Period, Narai was a famous post town and you can see why by how easy it is to get around here. The town is extremely condensed and features a lot of antique wooden buildings and cafes that you can explore. There are small art museums, soba and teishoku restaurants, as well as a stone path that will take you to Joryuji, a temple with a painting of a dragon inside. This was actually my favorite part of the town because I wasn’t expecting to see such a beautiful mural! Narai can be explored in about 1 hour and is the perfect place to stretch your legs before making it to other destinations in Nagano.

Shirahone Onsen

Before heading to our ryokan, we decided to stop by Shirahone Onsen which is a natural sulfur hot spring located in the mountains. It’s about a 45 minute drive from Narai but was completely worth the trip! For the entire day the weather was chilly and raining, but a soak in the onsen definitely put us back in high spirits. This is probably the best onsen I’ve been to in Nagano besides the fancy resort I stayed at in January. I just appreciated how simple but highly effective it was. Natural hot springs definitely have a healing property!

Address: Azumi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-1515
Admission Fee: 520 yen (the baths are gender segregated)

Narai Food

Since Narai is located near the river, ayu (sweet fish) are one of the most popular meals here! When I first moved to Japan, I honestly didn’t know what to think of freshwater fish but recently they have really grown on me. For lunch I had a teishoku set which included ayu, miso, tofu, and rice in the town we visited earlier. The meal was simple but I couldn’t believe how amazing it was! For dinner we drove to a restaurant called Mominoki where I had vegetables with miso, another grilled ayu, and some delicious caramel and azuki ice cream topped with jelly cubes. I mentioned this in my last Nagano article, but the people here have the longest life span in Japan and you can easily see why. This prefecture is filled with onsen and beautiful nature and has wonderful food too! There are a lot of options for both meat lovers and vegetarians too.

Lodge Fumoto

After a full day of hiking, food, and hot springs, we decided to spend the night at Lodge Fumoto. Unbeknownst to us, we were the only 3 people staying that weekend so it was the ultimate party! The reason for that is a lot of buses to Kamikochi have reduced service due to the pandemic and you really need a car to get around. The hotel, or “lodge” is really no frills and has limited amenities but it has amazing hot springs. There is a shared indoor bath and a private outdoor one you can freely reserve. You can tell by the sulfur debris that sticks to the wood that these hot springs are legit and the surrounding outdoor scenery is absolutely breathtaking. I had an amazing stay here and am happy that we didn’t go camping so we could avoid the rain. The rooms here are around 6000 yen which is average for most ryokan too.

Thank you for reading the first part of my summer Nagano adventure! In my next article I will be writing about how we hiked through the entirety of Kamikochi and met the monkeys. Now is a really good time to travel here because there are far less people than usual!

Exploring a Kyoto with no People

A sunny day in the deserted Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.

Due to the nature of my job, I sometimes spontaneously find myself with consecutive days off so I try to take advantage of it by going on as many trips as possible. Since I had some web design clients to see in Nagoya, I decided to stop there first then make my way to Kyoto on a Tuesday morning so I could experience it with minimal tourism—the complete opposite of my cherry blossom trip in March! Though I thoroughly enjoyed my last trip to Kyoto because I was able to see the full moon with fully blooming sakura, this time I was able to see Arashiyama’s iconic bamboo forest more deserted than I had ever seen it before as well as hike to Daihikaku. If you want to travel throughout Kyoto without the interruption of tourists, then now is definitely the time! During my two day trip I spent a lot of time reflecting on myself and my recent projects which was very beneficial to developing my future goals for this year. I also managed to go to some nice cafes I didn’t have the chance to visit last time and snag a Miffy omelette sandwich from the Sakura Kitchen! Even though I’ve been to Arashiyama over 5 times, this view still amazes me:

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest Path

The path to Arashiyama’s bamboo forest is usually always bustling with tourists, food vendors, and rickshaw drivers desperately trying to get your business, but last Tuesday it was practically vacant. I passed by a few old Japanese people on their way to the onsen, but the normally crowded paths were empty and I was able to capture some amazing photos with the sun peaking out of the bamboo stalks. The dream Japan aesthetic.

Witnessing emptiness of Arashiyama made me feel both lucky and melancholy. Seeing it in this state is a rare opportunity indeed, but it also felt like a ghost town. I hurt for all of the small businesses struck by the effects of the pandemic. Fortunately my favorite clubs, bars, and venues have all been saved by online fundraisers but I worry for the lesser known places that heavily rely on tourism. I hope my small contribution of buying food from local restaurants and writing about them can help in some way!

Another place I love walking through is the Kimono Forest near Saga Arashiyama Station! I remember the first time I saw it I was completely amazed. The colorful patterns and artistic water fountain really stand out and are extremely inspiring to me. Sadly I didn’t have time to rent a kimono this time, but I hope to rent one and do a photo shoot during my next trip here!

Cafe Style Resort Saganoyu: The Onsen Cafe

One of my coworkers posted about a lovely cafe in Arashiyama that had the same interior decor that you would find at a local hot spring, so I just had to go and see it for myself! Saganoyu is not only famous for its one of a kind onsen decor, but also for its pasta dishes and pancakes. I decided to order the trademark pancakes with the onsen insignia because that was the most aesthetic dish on the menu. The pancakes were served up American style with less fluffiness and more substance which I liked. Sometimes the souffle-styled pancakes just have too much air in them but these were extremely filling. While I waited for my order I decided to walk around the cafe and admire all of the detail that was put into it. I loved the mirrors and little shower heads attached to the wall as well as the vintage shoe locker! They also had some really good chocolates that look like gold pieces of soap. Definitely come here if you are looking for a fun and creative atmosphere!

Address: 4-3 Sagatenryuji Imahoricho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8366

Hiking to Daihikaku

During my first ever trip to Arashiyama nearly 5 years ago, I hiked to the spot with cherry blossoms and noticed a mysterious hut with bright awnings standing out across the river. At first I thought it was perhaps someone’s house as people own property in the mountains here, but during my last trip I Googled it and found out it was a temple called Daihikaku. Last week I finally made the 20 minute trek up the mountain to see it in person for myself and I can happily say that the view was worth it. From the windows you can see the Oi River and the beautiful mountains that surround Kyoto. Being up close to the colorful flags flapping in the wind felt surreal because I had previously only seen them from the opposite side. The temple also is unmanned giving it a feeling of solitude. I can proudly say I have hiked up both sides of Arashiyama now!

What makes this temple even more meme-worthy is that it has its own official manga you can read on your way up. The page I zoomed into almost completely sums up my initial experience here.

The expression of the girl who turns around and notices the mysterious temple peaking out of the forest was exactly the same as mine when I first traveled to Arashiyama many years ago. Even now sometimes it’s sometimes easy to forget that this temple exists, but when I remember it I always feel happy. ☺️

If you have the time and energy, consider seeing Daihikaku from both sides of the river because the views are unique and change based on the season. The fall is usually the best time of year to go because you can see the bright red leaves contrast against the river.

Address: 62 Arashiyama Nakaoshitacho, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-0004
Entrance Fee: 400 yen

Accommodation

Every time I go to Kyoto, I like to try a new city hotel by the Kawaramachi River so I can drink by it at night and gaze at the stars. This time I stayed at Hotel Resol Trinity, which is an upgrade of the hotel that I stayed at on my birthday because it has its own public onsen and nicer rooms. Since I came randomly on a weekday I only paid 4300 yen for my “Hollywood” style room. I slept here for almost 10 hours because I was exhausted from hiking and work so I would give it a 10/10 for its comfort. You can definitely find cheaper options but this is first class for the discounted price.

Address: 604-0943 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Kamihakusancho, 249

Visiting Ureshino, the Cheerful Hot Spring Town from Zombieland Saga

Private teacup baths at Yuzennoyado Toukai.

After a full day of doing some urban exploring of abandoned onsen and aesthetic museums in Takeo, I decided to take a bus to my onsen resort in Ureshino, Saga for some well-deserved relaxation. I chose to stay in Ureshino due to a friend’s recommendation of a famous local onsen with private teacup baths and a beautiful outdoor garden. Unbeknownst to me at the time I made the booking, Ureshino is featured in episode 4 of Zombieland Saga and also has the real life Cafe Moka that serves up amazing sweets just like in the anime! In this article I will be reviewing my stay in Ureshino and will also compare the real locations to their anime counterparts.

Morning Run in Ureshino

My favorite way to start the day in a new place is to go for a middle-distance run so I can get better acquainted with the area. Usually if there is a river or a shrine that I see on the map, I try to run in that direction so I will find the best scenery. Just mere minutes after crossing Ureshino Bridge I came across this beautiful river with stepping stones and multiple waterfalls. This area is actually featured in the first ending song of Zombieland Saga and is within 1km of the main resort area of Ureshino. I couldn’t believe how gorgeous it was! It almost felt like I had been spirited away to another world. You can follow this river trail for quite a long time and it will lead to more luscious nature. It’s no wonder why people come here to escape their busy lives.

Cafe Moka

While referencing the Zombieland Saga Wiki for the best nearby locations to visit, I noticed the famous sweets cafe in episode 4 was just 6 mins walking from my resort. What crazy luck was that! Cafe Moka has some of the best parfaits in Saga and also serves Japanese dishes like curry too. With its cozy atmosphere and welcoming staff, I can see why it was popular even before Zombieland Saga was released! Now that the 2nd season is airing, there is a bit of a wait to get in, but fortunately I was able to get a table. The first time I walked in the owner’s younger daughter came out to greet me, but then immediately noticed I was foreign and was at a loss for words—she just blinked at me and stared. I thought that her reaction was one of the best that I have gotten in a while! After traveling all over the world these kinds of things don’t even phase me any more, but I will admit it was funny. The owner sincerely apologized that the cafe was full but I decided to use the hot springs at my resort and come back. The second time I arrived an hour before the cafe closed and was seated, and it proved to be well worth the wait!

Though there were a lot of delicious sweets on the menu, I decided to go with the banana caramel parfait because I love Kyushu bananas. The whole entire time I was here I felt complete euphoria. There were posters and plaques autographed by the voice actors and MAPPA animators as well as figures galore. The owner brought out several notebooks with messages from them as well while I waited! As she served me my parfait, she asked me what zombie girl was my favorite and I had to say Saki.  I’d be friends with all the girls in Zombieland Saga, but Saki has the funniest and most unique personality. She has really interesting taste in everything from fashion to men and would for sure be the best girl to drink with. She always has the best punch lines too!

After spending around an hour here soaking up the full otaku culture, I decided to head back to my resort. The owner handed me the official Zombieland Saga Stamp Rally Map with the custom Cafe Moka stamp on it. Though making it to all of these locations without a car would be difficult, it could be done in approximately 4-5 days and is a good reference for even non-anime fans because it contains the most exciting highlights of Saga:

Official Zombieland Saga Stamp Rally Map

Main Points of Interest in Ureshino from Zombieland Saga

Here are the main points of interest that you can see on foot in Ureshino. All of these locations from Zombieland Saga took less than 15 minutes to see!

It’s absolutely mind-boggling to think that the artists and animators caught so many intricate details of this town, especially the pattern of the stray cats! Additionally I thought the legend of going to Toyotamahime Shrine and touching the white catfish to have beautiful skin was made up as part of the story, but it’s actually true! Visiting the shrine was so much fun and I would have never known about it if it wasn’t for this amazing series. I was happy to discover the foot baths and design of the bridge and resorts in the anime perfectly capture the essence of the real life Ureshino too. The overall atmosphere of Ureshino was very lively despite the pandemic and people were out and about at night wearing yukata. Fortunately Saga has not entered an emergency state so you can enjoy most of the scenery uninterrupted. It has a magic quality that you just simply can’t find in the city, so please visit if you get the chance!

Accommodation

Though there are a lot of wonderful onsen to stay at in Ureshino, I chose Yuzennoyado Toukai thanks to its beautiful teacup bath design. Staying here one night costs around 6000 yen and is well worth the price. The room that I stayed in by myself was spacious, quiet, and very clean. There are two different bathsa large shared one and the private outdoor teacups that you can reserve by calling the lobby. I recommend trying them both because they provide unique experiences that will relax and heal your body. There were ping pong tables in the lobby just like in anime too. It was almost too good to be true! I cherish my experience here because it brought me closer to nature and also gave me the chance to relive scenes from Zombieland Saga.

Thank you for reading about my experience in Ureshino! If you have any questions about Saga, please feel free to ask me. I will be writing one more article about Karatsu in this series. Please look forward to reading it later this weekend!

Urban Exploring in Takeo, Saga

An abandoned onsen exhibition reflecting the results of the Third Impact in Saga, Japan.

After having a fabulous day in Fukuoka exploring local shrines and temples, seeing the sunset on the beach, and relaxing at my onsen hotel, I decided to travel to Saga on the second day of my trip in Kyushu to do some urban exploring. When I was first researching prefectures in Japan years, I didn’t think Saga was that interesting compared to the others because it is extremely rural and is mostly known for its farmland and onsen. However, thanks to the hit anime series known as Zombieland Saga, a number of people have been flocking to Saga to visit real life places from the anime. This has greatly helped the economy of Saga during the pandemic and also brought light to many amazing places that were previously overshadowed. In this article I will be focusing on writing about urban exploring in Takeo Onsen and surrounding museums.

To reach Saga you can either fly to Saga Airport or take a train from Fukuoka like I did. Hakata Station to Takeo Onsen Station is about a one hour trip and costs 3100 yen. Though Saga is rural, I was able to use a combination of local buses, trains, and taxis to get around. Please look forward to reading about my adventure!

Exploring Abandoned Onsen

The first stop on my Saga itinerary was Takeo Onsen, which is small town of hot springs including a museum of abandoned ones making it ideal for urban exploring. This hot spring area is over 1300 years old making it a celebrated part of Saga’s history because many famous people have visited here. The museum is about a 15 minute walk from the station and is free to enter. It was really surreal entering a hot spring without water, but fortunately there were some non-abandoned hot springs nearby that you can relax at for the day. Plus the two story museum and vermillion gate are really worth checking out because they have interesting architecture. This area was actually featured in a manga splash page for Zombieland Saga. Interestingly the convenience stores in this area appear a solid color of brown instead of their original colors. My theory is this occurs because they have already been zombie-fied!

Takeo Shrine

Right down the street from the Takeo Onsen main area is Takeo Shrine! I decided to stop by and pay my respects. The pastel colors of this shrine really surprised me because they are really unusual but very pretty. I was happy to witness architecture of so many colors here!

Minefuyama Rakuen Lantern Exhibit

Despite being a rural part of Kyushi, Saga actually has quite the selection of interesting museums! The one that I was most looking forward to visiting was Mifuneyama Rakuen which you can actually walk to from Takeo Onsen. This museum has multiple rooms with cutting edge LED displays by teamLab and a beautiful outdoor garden as well. The first room that you enter has hundreds of flashing lanterns making it a popular destination for photographers. However, since I came here after Golden Week had already ended, there were hardly any people here at all! I had so much fun shooting here with my tripod. The staff was very lax here and let me set it up without any issue. That is one of the pros of traveling around rural places!

Minefuyama Rakuen Onsen Exhibition

The 2nd floor of Mifuneyama Rakuen had multiple rooms with hot springs and highly aesthetic projections. The room with the protruding pillars from the ground reminded me of a post-apocalyptic scene from Neon Genesis Evangelion and it was awesome! You cannot enter the baths here but walking around was an adventure initself. It felt surreal to be in a familiar scene with this abstract sci-fi theme going on:

Overall this museum takes about an hour to see and is my top pick in Kyushu thanks to all of these animated displays. The cheap entrance fee makes it more than worth it too! Unfortunately I did not have much time to see the outdoor area, but the museum featured in the next section fortunately had a lot of scenery!

Entrance Fee: 800 yen

Address: 843-0022 Saga, Takeo, 武雄町武雄4100

Yoko Museum

My last stop of the day was the Yoko Museum which is about 10 mins of walking from Mifuneyama Rakuen. This museum has a beautiful outdoor garden with a red bridge that takes you across a river with several waterfalls. There are also some terraced crops that slightly resemble the famous rice fields in the western Saga. If you continue to follow the main path you’ll find a lookout point that you can climb up to. The indoor part of the museum has famous pottery, but since I have already been to many museums in Japan I opted for just the outdoor part. During certain times of the year there are illuminations, but there weren’t any going on when I arrived at this time. I explored all of this museum in about 40 mins and was very happy with what I saw. The flowers that bloom in Saga sure are pretty and this garden is arranged beautifully!

Entrance Fee: 600 for the garden only and 1000 for the garden & museum

Address: 843-0022 Saga, Takeo, 武雄町4075-3

Breakfast at Re Cell Kitchen

Before embarking on this long aesthetic journey through Saga, I decided to eat a hearty breakfast at Re Cell Kitchen in Fukuoka near Tenjin Station where I was staying. The restaurant has some of the best organic food on the island. The breakfast set I had with fish, salad, soup, vegetables, and brown rice gave me enough energy for almost the whole entire day. I also tried their strawberry banana yogurt and granola dish for dessert and appreciated the heart-shaped fruit. Before setting off to Saga I highly recommend eating a nutritious meal here! I will be talking more about Saga cuisine in my next two articles.

Address: 810-0021 Fukuoka, Chuo Ward, Imaizumi, 1 Chome−1−4 石松ビル1F

Thank you for reading the first part of my Saga article series! In my next article I will be talking about Ureshino, which is a popular hot springs resort area featured in the Zombieland Saga anime. Please look forward to it!

A Flawless Day in Fukuoka

Sunset at Momichi Park in Fukuoka, Japan.

Given the nature of my project-based job plus the economic effects of the pandemic, this Golden Week I found myself with more free time than ever before. After returning to Tokyo from Okinawa and checking my work email, I learned that I had three extra days to kill before I returned to the office. Not wanting to waste this newfound vacation time, I looked at places on my travel destination list and decided that Fukuoka and Saga had the best weather so I spontaneously booked yet another plane ticket to Kyushu from Narita Airport for around 17000 yen. By this time most people had returned to Tokyo from their long holiday so tickets were slightly cheaper than they were the previous week.

I left at 8:45am and landed at FUK Airport (Fukuoka Airport’s brilliant abbreviation) at 10:50am. One of my friends texted me and told me they didn’t know anyone else who travels as much as me and it really is true. I am highly determined to make the most of my life here and explore lesser known regions of Japan so I can better understand the culture of this country. I also love the thrill of going somewhere new and trying delicious food on my journeys so I can recommend it to others. I am happy to say that this trip was another huge success! Fukuoka is a tropical city with beaches, temples, amazing hot pot, and plenty of memes. This was my sixth time going after over 2 years and fortunately there still was a lot to see!

Hedgehog Pastries for Breakfast

My first stop from the airport was a small bakery called Patisserie Pas De Deux which is uber famous for its adorable hedgehog-shaped pastries. They also make custom cakes and and cute cookies that resemble animals. The first morning that I went they were already sold out of their hedgehog pastries so the owner profusely apologized for me and asked if I wanted to reserve one the next day. I filled out a form and was able to try one the following morning as soon as the store opened. Inside of the pastry was custard cream that tasted way better than anything that you could buy in stores so it was definitely worth the wait. I also bought a hedgehog cookie because it was irresistibly cute. If you come here, be sure to arrive in the morning so you have first pick of the pastries!

Address: 2 Chome-1-38 Takamiya, Minami Ward, Fukuoka, 815-0083

FUK Coffee

The second stop on my itinerary was a local coffee shop that was geniusly named FUK Coffee. Not only is the name hilarious but the mango smoothie I had was above the average quality of smoothies that I had tried in Japan. I’ve been to Fukuoka around five times but this was the first time that I had ever seen it. But I had to admit the concept was truly original and unique. Look at these guys, capitalizing on memes! My friend who lives in Kyushu came here to meet me and ordered their latte. We were both giggling at the artistic latte art they used all day. Definitely come here for the laughs—it’s a great way to kill time and meet up with friends since it’s near Tenjin Station. This is also one of the few places in the world where you can say “FUK” and have it be non-offensive.

Address: 3 Chome-21-17 Haruyoshi, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka, 810-0003

Tochoji Temple

After our hilarious meme coffee, my friend drove me to a local temple called Tochoji in central Fukuoka. At first glance I already loved the contrast of the bright red pagoda against the city skyscrapers. Once entering the temple, you can go through a pitch black tunnel underneath large golden Buddha that will lead you to enlightenment. The journey is really fun because you lose all of your senses in the darkness, but you can hold on to the walls to guide yourself. As I emerged I was greeted with bright sunlight arising from the parting clouds, so I definitely felt the after effects! I would happily recommend this temple to all of my friends because even if you’re not religious, exploring it is quite the adventure.

Address: 2-4 Gokushomachi, Hakata Ward, Fukuoka, 812-0037

Atago Shrine

After finding enlightenment, we decided to go to Atago Shrine because it has a great view of the skyline of Fukuoka. The climb to the top only took around 5 mins but there was so much to see! We took pictures of the mountains and the ocean as well as the tall city buildings that really didn’t look so big from up here. Near the shrine is a tea house that serves delicious sweets. I ordered the deluxe mochi set with macha while my friend tried their giant dango. We both couldn’t believe how delicious it was! Outside of the tea house was a forested garden that had smooth green leaves. Once again I was blown away by the architecture of the city—it really did feel limitless!

The best thing about Fukuoka is that even without a car you can take local buses around to see all of these aesthetic shrines. Everything is extremely reachable and you can relax and enjoy your day without being strict with time.

Address: 2 Chome-7-1 Atago, Nishi Ward, Fukuoka, 819-0015

Lunch at Bistro Shirokuma

Continuing the theme of animal-shaped meals, we stopped at Bistro Shirokuma for lunch. Their most famous dish is their Shirokuma Pasta which features creamy Italian carbonara topped with fluffy bear-shaped foamy cheese. It was almost a cheese overload compared to my regular diet but fortunately wasn’t too heavy on the stomach. Since I wasn’t driving, I also ordered a high ball. This restaurant was cheaper compared to ones found in central Tokyo and I was definitely taking advantage of it!

Address: 810-0023 Fukuoka, Chuo Ward, Kego, 1 Chome−15−50 アークタウン 2F

Watching the Sunset at Momichi Seaside Park

After saying goodbye to my friend who lives a bit outside of the city, I decided to spend the remainder of my evening at Momichi Seaside Park. Similar to Aoshima in Miyazaki where I traveled to a year ago, this beach is one of the best places to watch the sunset on central Kyushu Island. When I arrived there were a number of people playing volleyball and drinking on the benches near the beach. I was happy to see that even amidst the pandemic that the island culture I loved so much here was still alive. While sipping on some sparkling sake I bought at Bic Camera, I watched the sky turn vivid colors and Fukuoka Tower light up. This was truly the life. I will never grow tired of watching the sunset on the beach in Asia!

Accommodation

In my previous trips to Fukuoka I always stayed with my friends in Hakata, but since they sold their house I decided to try a city hotel with an onsen so I could fully relax This time I stayed at Candeo Hotels Fukuoka Tenjin because it was central to the city and looked like it had amazing facilities. Every time I went to the onsen I had it completely to myself so I was lucky. This hotel is also close to the bars and night club district so the location is pretty amazing too. Rooms are around 4200 yen per night, but you can find way cheaper options around. Some hostels in Fukuoka are less than 1500 yen so I would recommend looking for what suits you best because there are a lot of places to choose from.

Thank you for reading the first article in my new Kyushu series! In my next article I will talk about exploring Saga from the hit anime series Zombieland Saga! Please stay tuned for more updates.

A Yuru Camp-inspired Trip to Yamanashi: Minobu (Part 2)

After hiking to all of the major Mt. Fuji viewpoints spending a cozy first night in Fujiyoshida, I woke up at 9am and rode the local trains to meet my friends at Kofu Station for another Yuru Camp-inspired day. In this article I’ll be writing about Minobu, a small city in Yamanashi where the main characters of Yuru Camp go to school and spend their daily lives. Unbeknownst to me, the real life Minobu has replica of Rin’s Vino Classic scooter and many goods from the series available for sale! Even if you are not a fan of the series, there are historic temples and shrines to see in this area as well as beautiful flowers year-round. Seeing this iconic town was definitely a big highlight of the trip for me.

For the first part of this article series, please see A Yuru Camp-inspired Trip to Yamanashi: Fujiyoshida (Part 1).

Getting to Kofu & Minobu

From my hotel in central Fujiyoshida, I walked to Mt. Fuji Station (that’s right—THE Mt. Fuji Station) where I rode the Thomas the Tank Engine-themed Fujikyuko Train to Otsuki Station, then took the Chuo Line to Kofu Station. I really found it hilarious how each local stop on the Fujikyuko Line had its own Thomas mascot and the seats of the train were decoratively designed with all of the characters. Now that is peak aesthetic. This journey took around 2 hours and cost less than 2500 yen. It is also very easy to reach Kofu from Tokyo by taking the Chuo line or booking a bus from Shinjuku Bus Station. However, if you want to see all of Yamanashi then you might want to stop by Fujiyoshida first like I did!

Upon reaching Kofu Station, I met up with my friends and their bright blue car named Aqua, and we decided to get lunch nearby then drive to Minobu! There is a Minobu Line Limited Express that departs from Kofu Station and reaches the city in roughly an hour, but the destinations around Minobu are better accessed by car. However, if you are going on a Yuru Camp-inspired journey like myself and don’t have access to a car, I would recommend hopping on the train because you can see Rin’s scooter right by Minobu Station! The cost of the train is less than 2000 yen and the journey will be unforgettable.

Lunch at Tree -Anthony’s Kitchen-

One of the cafes that I was most looking forward to visiting was a western-themed kitchen called Tree with a skilled chef named Anthony who traveled to Japan from the UK. My friends had previously dined here for their Christmas Anniversary dinner and the pictures of the course they posted looked heavenly! They are also good friends with the owner and seemed to know everyone around us so I appreciated the friendly atmosphere. I was also beyond excited to finally try this delicious place for myself! This restaurant has a number of vegetarian and pescatarian options so I decided to get the falafel plate, though the squid burger looked tempting too. My friends decided on a meat pie with vegetables and spaghetti, and the three of us savored our delicious meals. Totoro definitely enjoyed dining in Yamanashi Prefecture too!

Address: 〒400-0048 Yamanashi, Kofu, Kugawahoncho, 12−3 sora E

Entering Yuru Camp Heaven in Minobu

After having a wonderful meal, we drove an hour to Minobu and stumbled into Yuru Camp heaven. In the car my friend was telling me about the famous Minobu Manjuu that she wanted me to try. When we arrived at Minobu Station, Rin’s Vino scooter was sitting adjacent to that very manjuu/souvenir store that she mentioned!! After taking a dozen pictures of it, we walked into the store and were blinded by Yuru Camp goods. Shima Rin Dango, keychains, plushies, ema, office supplies, curry, and more—everything was Yuru Camp themed. Even the vending machines by the parking lot that we parked at. My biggest flex on this trip was by sweet sake for 100 yen from the Rin vending machine:

After buying a bunch of merchandise (most notably the Shima Rin plush and dango) and greatly stimulating the Yamanashi economy, we decided to walk around the station for a bit and enjoy the scenery. I bought some Minobu Manjuu that this area is famous for and they tasted fresh and delicious. Rin’s famed dango tasted amazing as well. We were happy to see that the plum blossoms were already in bloom so we stopped to take pictures there before driving the local temples and doing some hiking. I was absolutely elated from this experience because I wasn’t expecting to see so much Yuru Camp here! MISSION SUCCESS!!

Exploring Minobu’s Local Temples

Since we had quite a lot to eat, we decided to go hiking to Kuonji Temple on the base of Mt. Minobu and also see a series of shrines around the area. The climb to reach the main temple had quite a lot of stairs and reminded me of the Tiger Temple I visited in Thailand. However, the view at the top of the hill was worth the effort. I had fun wandering around and seeing the flowers that had started to bloom. The color and architecture of each temple had quite a rich variety. Some temples looked worn and had traditional wooden architecture while others had bright colors and looked almost foreign. Even though this area has not yet been featured in the series, it is a colorful place that I would recommend to people coming to Minobu for their Yuru Camp pilgrimages. My friends also informed me that this a great place for seeing sakura!

Lake Motosu

While the sun was setting over Mt. Fuji, we decided it would be a great idea to drive to lake Motosu where Rin and Nadeshiko meet in the very first episode of Yuru Camp! There are famous campsites here that I plan on going to with my friends in the summer. The purpose of this winter trip was to familiarize myself with the area so I could come back and eventually go camping at my favorite areas in the future. I think that this area is definitely the best place because it has a lot of shade and a beautiful view of Fuji. I hope to write more about Lake Motosu in the future and make some more happy memories here!

Dinner & Dessert in Kofu

After seeing the highlights of Yuru Camp in central Yamanashi, we decided to stop at two amazing restaurants on our way back to my friends’ house where I was spending the night. One was a Japanese restaurant called Sakagura-kai that had some of the freshest salmon I had ever tasted and a huge selection of Yamanashi sake. Another was a cake shop called troisieme marche near the Fuji Five Lakes that had creamy cakes that melted in your mouth. The chocolate mousse used in the baking was some of the best I have had in a while. I would happily recommend all of the places that I mentioned in this because the food was phenomenal and they had a lot of selection.

Sakagura-kai Address: 567 Kita, Yamanashi, 405-0041

troisieme marche Address: 682 Kawaguchi, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi 401-0304

Ending the Night at Hottarakashi Onsen

The final destination of the night was Hottarakashi Onsen, featured in Season 1 Episode 5 of Yuru Camp. This hot spring is absolutely heavenly in the winter and has both an indoor and outdoor bath. Unfortunately the baths are public so photography inside is prohibited, but coming here is worth it for the view of the starry sky and city lights below. I think this is the best onsen that I’ve been to besides the resort in Nagano I traveled to earlier this year. My body definitely felt healed after all of the hiking I did this day, and I was ready for another round of drinks and Smash Bros. for when we got home!

Thank you for reading the second part of my Yuru Camp-inspired adventures! The final part will detail some beautiful hiking trails and waterfalls and be published later this week. Please look forward to it~

Living Life the Way it’s Supposed to be Lived (Onsen Trip to Nagano, Japan)

Snow falls gently on Lake Nojiri in Nagano creating a a picturesque winter scene.

Right before the second emergency state for Tokyo and surrounding areas was declared on January 7th, a number of business owners gathered in Nagano Prefecture to discuss what would become of their once booming industry that has rapidly declined this year due to the effect of the corona virus. According to a friend of mine who owns several ski resorts and ryokan in this area, they are currently only at 1/4 capacity this year. Usually Nagano is one of the most popular areas to do winter sports because it is easily accessible by shinkansen and has many hot springs where you can spend the night. It was also where the 1998 Winter Olympics were hosted and is famous for its snow monkeys which normally draw in a number of visitors from around the world each year. According to the Foreign Press Center, Nagano has surpassed Okinawa for having the longest life expectancy in Japan of above 80 years for both men and woman. Seeing the local tourism drop in such a boisterous place is a fatal blow to the nation, but also can’t be helped in this situation.

Though this is a tough time for everyone, currently many people in Nagano are strategizing what they can to keep their businesses alive. My friend who I met through writing articles online invited me to Nagano right before signing the contract to close one of their hotels for a final celebration. This became a two day trip that was completely sponsored and I am very fortunate that I was able to travel here so spontaneously. I previously traveled to Nagano in 2018 and saw the snow monkeys as well as an indie music show in Matsumoto, but I’ve never stayed at a ryokan here. Like the ryokan in Nara that I stayed at during my last sponsored motorcycle trip, this one did not disappoint!

Getting to Nagano

From Tokyo Station, Nagano Station is only 1 hour and 20 mins away and only costs 8340 yen to ride the Hokuriku Shinkansen there. This is less hassle than going all the way to Kyoto or Osaka. I was initially worried about traveling here due to heavy snowfall last weekend and almost cancelled my trip, but my friend assured me that the snow was further north by Toyama and my trains from Tokyo would not be affected. I left around 9:30am and made it to Nagano Station by 11:30am. The trip was peaceful because I mostly slept on the train and drank a cup of umeshu from Ueno for a buzz when I woke up. Since I didn’t travel during the New Year’s holiday, this was my first major trip of 2021 and it was sure a memorable one!

Lunch at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

Just as I arrived to Nagano Station, my friend was waiting for me in the parking lot with their car. The temperature was definitely chilly but not as cold as I had expected. I was happy to see the vast view of the snowy mountains but was also starving. Fortunately my friend was hungry too so after exchanging quick greetings we drove to Hotel Metropolitan Nagano and had a delicious lunch set at Shinano. I ordered a balance of sashimi, rice, tempura, and vegetables and has some delicious miso soup to warm me up. I loved the decorative dishes and the wine they had on display here. Already I was proud of myself for braving through the snow and making it here because the food was worth it!

Exploring Lake Nojiri

Since our ryokan checkin time was at 15:00, we had around 3 hours to kill. We decided to drive around Lake Nojiri since it was on the way to the onsen. Though the area around Nagano Station was mostly just frosty, we were surprised to see thick layers of snow piling up just 5km away on the forest roads. Fortunately my friend had a lot of experience driving here so it was not a problem. Once we arrived at the lake, we got out of the car to do some photography. There was a beautiful island in the middle of the lake that gleamed in the gentle sunlight. There were also little log cabins in clusters on the edge of the lake. My friend informed me that this area was called “Gaijin Mura” because foreign missionaries have owned property and have lived here for over 100 years. According to Outdoor Japan, they have managed to protect the place from “bubble-era developers” so this is actually a good thing. This area already has a number of resorts so it’s refreshing to see this atmosphere. You can rent cabins here year-round which sounds like an awesome to do in the summer!

I remember a while ago one of my Japanese friends traveled to this area and called it “雪の国” on Twitter. With all of the snow flurries around I can definitely see the reference to “Snow Kingdom” in Mario Odyssey!

Arriving at Onsen Paradise (Yorozuya)

After driving around Lake Nojiri in its entirety, we arrived to our ryokan, Yorozuya, around 15:30 and immediately went to the public outdoor hot springs since they are the largest and have the best scenery. We decided to use the smaller private ones at night after dinner. I had previously looked on Booking and other Japanese sites for ryokan deals, but could have never imagined staying somewhere so beautiful. My friend actually found this deal through a local travel agency in Nagano by going there in person. All of the rooms had their own custom design and were equipped with a kotatsu (which I slept under), yukata, amenities, and premium room service. It had been half a year since I had stayed in one of these room so I was beyond excited. I will be sure to consult with Japanese travel agencies in the future because this was for sure a better place than anywhere I looked at online. I felt fully relaxed and welcome during my stay so I would rate Yorozuya 5 stars.

Address: 〒381-0401 Nagano, Shimotakai District, Yamanochi, Hirao, 3137

Dinner with a Hint of Gold

After fully relaxing at the indoor and outdoor hot springs, we sat down for our dinner at around 18:30. This wasn’t my first time going to an onsen during winter, but seeing the snow fall from sky while the steam rises up from the water was definitely a sight to behold. Plus I already had a decent buzz going on from the sake and apple wine that I ordered for our room so I was in a really good mood!

An immaculate course dinner was served with an explanation before each dish by the kind waitress and I was amazed to find that there were real flakes of gold in my food! I think the seared fish, sashimi, and mushroom hot pot were my favorites but all of these dishes tasted out of this world. Dessert was light fruit and green tea-flavored pudding. Plus another round of nihonshu requested by yours truly! And there was a tiny serve-yourself bar in the basement of the ryokan. What more could you ask for in life? The view of the snowy mountain tops from the window topped it off.

Private Onsen

Since the outdoor bath in our room was frozen due to cold temperatures, the Yorozuya staff graciously offered us a free shuttle service to a nearby onsen where we could use private baths after dinner. There we found a steamy indoor bath filled with apples and an outdoor one decorated with bamboo and an umbrella. Since these baths were completely private, photography was allowed. This was the moment I had been waiting for!!

Final Thoughts

This trip is exactly what I needed to get 2021 off to the right start and set my mind free. I did not travel during the winter holiday because many places were affected by COVID-19 and I wanted to prioritize work and saving money. I have been bummed that I still haven’t been able to travel to the Philippines or Indonesia like I had planned to last year, but this trip reminded me that it’s really important to focus on self-care and that nature can be enjoyed in its simplicity. I graciously thank all of my friends here for taking care of me because I don’t know when it will be safe to visit America again. However, I am very happy with my life now and am also close to reaching one of my major financial goals this month so I plan to continue at this pace for now. I have faith that things will get better with time and that I will be able to meet my friends and family with a smiling face one day again. In the meantime, I’ll be playing FFXIV and giving my all to my current line of work.

What does this mean for the future of small Japanese businesses though? From my personal example I found it interesting that two ryokan were working together to ensure that all facilities were available to their customers. Perhaps these businesses can continue to rely on one another and also local travel agencies to keep their businesses alive. Though I definitely noticed less people here, I did not sense a complete loss of hope. Cuts and sacrifices will need to be made in order to survive these hard times, but as this culture has demonstrated many times, perseverance can go a long way.

A Well-deserved Trip to Ginzan Onsen and the Totoro Tree

It’s been quite a while since my last update due to my new job (which I love) and moving to the center of Tokyo (which took almost an entire month), but Resurface to Reality is back! I plan on making more frequent updates now that I am fully situated with my new life style (more about that later). Life has been extremely kind to me recently which is why I plan to do more writing!

This weekend I finally found some time to travel up north and see two destinations on my bucket list that I’ve wanted to explore for quite some time: Ginzan Onsen & The Totoro Tree. This was my very first time in Yamagata Prefecture and I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but the Autumn weather was ideal for hiking. Due to the busyness of the Go To Travel Campaign, it was quite hard to book hotels so I opted for a day trip. One day was enough time for me to see everything that I had plan and also get lost on the way, but I recommend 2 – 3 days here if you have enough time.

Due to their strong Ghlibli resemblance, these are the two main places that I sought out:

The Totoro Tree

As a photographer who has traveled to various real-life anime locations including the Satsuki and Mei House and the Totoro Bus Stop, naturally this tree was high priority on my list of destinations. According to Yamagata Japan, the real name of this tree is “Kosugi no Ohsugi” which means “Giant Cedar Tree of Magarigawa”, but to the locals here it is simply referred to as “The Totoro Tree” because it looks like Totoro when viewed from a distance. At first I thought that perhaps someone had cut the hedges of the tree to look like Totoro, but upon my arrival I realized that it is far too large and remotely located for someone to do that. This tree naturally looks like Totoro and that’s why nature is awesome!

There is a viewing platform on the same road where you can see the tree from afar, but I recommend taking the walking trail adjacent to it so you can see it up close (it takes about 5 mins to reach the base of the tree). I brought my Totoro doll for size comparison. Not many people were there, but it was a hit with the children that had come with their families.

Address

〒999-5206 Yamagata, Mogami District, Sakegawa, Magarigawa, Unnamed Road

I rode from Tokyo Station to Shinjo Station which took 3.5 hours and cost 12,000 yen. Then I took a taxi from the station directly to the tree for around 10,000 yen (expensive, but also not the worst I’ve paid). Unfortunately without a car this area is difficult to access, but I was a woman on a mission so the experience was overall worth it to me. After living in Japan for over 5 years, I realize these are the kind of obscure places I most love to explore.

Ginzan Onsen

After getting tons of pictures of the Totoro Tree, I next made my way to a famous hot springs resort that is said to have influenced the Ghibli classic Spirited Away: Ginzan Onsen. This onsen is nestled in the mountains and features a hiking trail that will take you to a gorge, various shrines, and ruins of a silver ore mine. The traditional ryokan that are lined across the river from one another light up at night and present a very picturesque, movie-like scene. This onsen is most popular during the winter season, but I think it looks gorgeous year round! No matter what time of year you choose to go, you will be presented with beautiful scenery and a charming atmosphere.

I started my adventure out by getting some eggplant soba and soba soft cream from the nearby restaurant Izu no Hana. Pretty much all the restaurants in Ginzanso serve only soba and a few other dishes, but I was looking for something specifically vegetarian so I chose here. I did not make the wrong choice because their portion sizes were huge and the ingredients they used were very fresh. The soba soft serve ice cream is a must-try! The saltiness of it really balanced the otherwise sweet flavor.

After snapping some photos of the beautiful river and the free footbath (which I recommend using at night), I decided to make my way to the south of the town and climb the hiking trails. Some of them go up and give you an aerial view of the town, and some of them descend down toward the ruins of the silver mine. It is best to start before 4pm so it doesn’t get dark on your way back.

Within 5 mins of hiking you will stumble across a beautiful gorge:

This reminds me of Takachiho Gorge which I traveled to during the summer, but it was much smaller in scale. It still looked lovely with the vivid Autumn colors, however!

After about 25 mins of walking, I looped around the trail and discovered the cave to the silver mine ruins. This entrance is quite easy to walk passed so be sure to read the guideposts!

The caves only take around 5 mins to explore, but are definitely worth seeing for their cryptic skull-like design on the inside. What a sharp contrast to the beautiful village that I had visited before!

Overall I spent around an hour on this trail admiring the bright red leaves, wandering and getting lost with an old Japanese couple, and exploring the silver mine ruins. It was quite the fun adventure—one that my heart had yearned for quite a long time!

When I arrived back at the main hot springs village, it had already started getting dark so I relaxed by the footbath and did some night photography. What a long but fulfilling day this was!

Address

Ginzanshinhata, Obanazawa, Yamagata

This onsen is easily reachable via bus Oishida Station, which is only 19 mins from the nearest station to the Totoro Tree. The buses from Oishida Station run once per hour, cost 720 yen, and take around 40 mins. The last bus stops at 6:41 after the town starts to get quiet, so be sure to check the time table if you’re day tripping like me.

Final Thoughts

Besides Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma, no other hot springs resort comes close to how beautiful Ginzan is. What I liked most is that almost all of the attractions were accessible by foot, and you can take local buses to reach the onsen that were further out. Due to the corona influence, many of the bath houses were closed so I didn’t get to try any besides the free foot bath, but here is a full list for those who are interested.

Though I traveled nearly 8 hours combined with trains and buses, seeing a secluded part of Yamagata’s countryside was worth it because it inspired me to use my GoPro again after months of not using it. She’s back, baby!

As I made my way from Tokyo to Yamagata, various station attendants handed me postcards to commemorate my journey. It felt good to be backpacking again. I will be taking another trip to Kyoto this weekend in celebration of the three day consecutive holiday for the purpose of capturing the red leaves and trying cute cafes. Please look forward to my future (more frequent) updates!