Exploring Aesthetic Museums and Glass Shrines on Naoshima

Glass shrine floating on a pond at the Benesse House Art Site.

Over the last three days I have been traveling through a chain of tropical art islands in Shikoku with a friend and seeing a lot of aesthetic architecture. The main island we’ve been staying on is Naoshima, which I first visited roughly five years ago. The other two islands we visited are called Shodoshima and Teshima, which you can reach from Noashima by ferry. Naoshima is known for its works by artists like Tadao Ando and Yayoi Kusama which showcase the “coexistence of nature, art and architecture“. Shodoshima is famous for its Olive Park that inspired the location of Kiki’s Delivery Service. Teshima is famous for its large concrete shell called “Matrix”. In this article series I will be talking about the best things I’ve discovered on them all, starting with Naoshima!

Getting to Naoshima

The best two ways to get to Naoshima are to fly to Takamatsu or Okayama and take a ferry to Naoshima from their respective ports. Since tickets from Narita Airport to Takamatsu Airport were cheaper, we decided to fly there for around 27000 yen. However, you can purchase airline tickets at a much cheaper price if you buy them in advance. The ferry ride from Takamatsu Port is about an hour and costs 550 – 1200 yen depending on if you take the high speed ferry or not. The entire trip takes about 3 hours from Tokyo so plan to leave early and reference the ferry time table so you get their early. Most things on Naoshima Island close by 7pm. I recommend renting a bike near the port so you can cover the most ground.

Slowpoke is the unofficial mascot of Takamatsu, so be sure to keep an eye out for his vending machine and airport limousine (which fortunately was on time)! There is also Slowpoke Udon (called Yadon Udon) you can purchase in select omiyage stores.

Art Sites around Miyanoura Port

We arrived to Naoshima’s Miyanoura Port at 11am and decided to take some pictures of the Red Pumpkin and the Naoshima Pavilion, which are both two free exhibits that you can climb inside! Much like some of the art we saw in Aomori earlier this year, these works were vibrant and interactive. After snapping some photos, we rented electric bikes from a nearby store for the three days we were staying and decided to make our way around the island. The best thing about Naoshima is that it can be fully explored by bike so you don’t need to wait for any buses!

Go’o Shrine

The Go’o Shrine is a small wooden shrine atop a hill with very intricate stairs made out of glass. This was my first time seeing a shrine like this so it was very awe-inspiring. Go’o Shrine is actually part of the Art House Project that turns abandoned or destroyed places into works of art and is considered to be a real Shinto shrine. You should definitely stop by and pay your respects if you have the time because the entrance is free.

Entrance Fee: Free
Address: 〒761-3110 Kagawa, Kagawa District, Naoshima, 宮ノ浦820

Benesse House & Benesse Art Site

The Benesse House is arguably Naoshima’s most famous museum complex designed by Tadao Ando. My favorite work of art here is a neon sign that illuminates several phrases that have to do with living and dying. I first visited this museum five years ago, but it was so great to finally see it again! This time we decided to eat wagashi and green tea at the tea house attached to the Benesse Hotel. The tea was the best I’ve ever had in Shikoku so I definitely recommend it to my fellow tea enthusiasts. I also liked how they had a miniature model of the Go’o Shrine here! It felt so neat seeing it after seeing the real thing! There is also a glass shrine floating on top of water outside of the teahouse which was one of my favorite things that I discovered on this trip. The walkway has colorful sculptures of various animals you can see. The whole composition of the Benesse House is unrivaled, making it one of my top museums in Japan.

For a comprehensive list of Naoshima museums, please see my previous Naoshima article.

Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden

Outside from the Benesse House Museum is a garden full of metal balls called the “Narcissus Garden” designed by Yayoi Kusama. What I found amazing is how they were made of stainless steel and were resistant to the weather. Seeing them balanced on stairs and floating in the lake was quite impressive, especially with the natural lighting. Within this garden you will also find 88 Buddha statues made of industrial waste designed by Tsuyoshi Ozawa. These statues are said to inspire prayer within visitors to the garden. Since this exhibit is free if you have purchased a ticket to the Benesse House museum, you should definitely see it!

Lunch at the Benesse Cafe

While at the Benesse House, we decided to stop at the Benesse Cafe for lunch. Not only does it have a fantastic view of the outdoor sculptures, but the food is delicious too! I ordered the tomato pasta which was completely vegetarian, and a lemon float with served in an iconic Naoshima glass with a Yayoi Kusama print. Both tasted amazing, and the glass is purchasable in the shop if you would like to take it home as a souvenir.

Beach & Dinner at New Olympia

After a full day of sightseeing, we decided to relax at Gotanji Beach near the Benesse House and go swimming. When I first came to this beach 5 years ago, it was full of foreign tourists and quite happening, but since the pandemic it is more quiet and serene. We bought drinks from a nearby grocery store and spent quite a while watching the sunset. It truly felt like a private beach!

Afterwards we stopped at a nearby teishoku place called New Olympia for a sashimi set. When you’re by the ocean, you gotta have sashimi! I ordered grilled fish with my set and some cold sake too. I was not disappointed because the quality of this seafood was top notch.

I ❤ Yu

On the island there is only one bathhouse called I ❤ Yu that is perfect for taking a long soak after sightseeing. What makes this bathhouse so unique is it is designed with mosaic patterns and has a giant elephant statue mounted above the bathing area. The floor of the bath has a unique collage of old Japanese artwork that is semi-erotic and includes Angkor beer seals from Cambodia and images of animals too. I really enjoyed seeing the glitzy mesh of cultures while I reflected on everything that I had done this day. I recommend stopping by here if you get the chance!

Address: 2252-2, Naoshima, Kagawa District, Kagawa 761-3110
Entrance Fee: 660 yen

Accommodation

Last time I visited Naoshima I only did it as a day trip, but this time I wanted to try staying overnight on the island. We picked a small Japanese Inn called Oyaji no Umi that was roughly 4800 yen per night. The location was great because it was next to Naoshima Port and the Ando Museum. The Benesse House and the other art sites were easily reachable by bike. The rooms were very traditional with tatami floors and Japanese style, but it made the experience all the more wholesome. Breakfast was included in the price so it was very good deal! I enjoyed eating the warm toast with eggs, salad, and yogurt while I was here because there were not many breakfast places on the island. Some accommodations on the island are a bit pricey, but this one was perfect for our budget.

Thank you for reading my Naoshima artice. I will be publishing an article on Shodoshima next with instructions on how to reach the Kiki’s Delivery Service park.

Nagoya World Cosplay Summit Review and Top Gourmet Recommendations

Oasis21 in Nagoya, Japan — an iconic location of World Cosplay Summit with a courtyard and fountain.

Earlier this month I had the honor of attending the 20th anniversary of Nagoya’s World Cosplay Summit (WCS) held in Sakae. This event brings talented cosplayers from around the world to compete in stage and costume contests as well as appreciate anime culture. WCS is normally held the first Friday night of August – Sunday of the same week (making it 3 days total). It is a fantastic event for networking with photographers and like-minded cosplayers from around the globe, but you do not have to wear cosplay to attend. To be an official photographer or cosplayer and gain access to certain areas of the event, a small entrance fee is necessary. Please see the ticketing guide on the WCS website for more information. If you just want to stop by and look at the cosplayers without entering any of the special areas, then the event is free.

This year I brought Tifa from FF7R, Rei from Evangelion, and a bridal version of Saber that I hired a local photographer to shoot. One thing to remember is that this event is held during the hottest time of the year, so it is recommended to dress light while adhering to the dress code and drink lots of water. I went with a group of two other girls so it would be more fun than cosplaying alone. Here are some photos I took on my phone over the three days of the event. There was an orchestra playing “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” dressed in My Hero Academia uniforms which I thought was awesome!

The major difference between cosplay events in the US and Japan are that the US ones are usually held in convention centers with hotels and have more of a party vibe, while the ones in Japan are usually held in large public spaces and therefor have stricter rules. I found WCS to be great for networking with photographers and seeing famous cosplayers, but unfortunately the hotel rooms near the event space were pretty cramped and it was harder to make friends. I did gain a number of worthwhile followers on social media, though! US cosplay events definitely feel a bit less professional than world class events like this but both are fun in their own ways. My advice is to try both out and see which atmosphere fits you and your cosplay best. Though this event was fairly serious I did go drinking with my friends after and it was so much fun!

Gourmet Recommendations

As a lover of aesthetic food, I had quite a long list of places that I wanted to try in Nagoya! Here are the best ones that I’ve came across during this trip:

Taiyaki Ten

This small taiyaki and ice cream shop sells a “drinkable taiyaki” shake that tastes like cookie dough and is topped with a taiyaki shell. As you drink the shake, the taiyaki looks like he is drowning! I appreciated how original this idea was and also how friendly the shop owners were. Be sure to get some taiyaki to go because you’ll definitely need some energy if you go to WCS!

Address: 1-chome-1-29 Torisu Minami Ward Nagoya Aichi

Nagoya Champon Tokidori

I was craving seafood ramen on this trip and came across the perfect shop in Kanayama! What drew me the most was the freshness of the raw egg that you can order as a side. The shrimp, scallops, and vegetables had a wonderful flavor and the raw egg mixed in gave the noodles the perfect texture. This is the perfect food for summer because it is served cold. Though soba is usually one of the most popular summer foods, it has competition here!

Address: 〒454-0012 Aichi, Nagoya, Nakagawa Ward, Otobashi, 3 Chome−3−3 サンベアーマンション金山 103号

TERRA

Terra is an upscale Japanese French fusion cuisine restaurant near Oasis21 in Sakae. Our sponsor booked us a course here that consisted of seasoned fish, vegetables, and delicious desserts! I really enjoyed the texture of the gelato at the end of the course and the sparkling wine. I would definitely recommend this place for a date because it has an adorable atmosphere. Courses start at about 6000 yen per person and are quite filling.

Address: 〒461-0001 Aichi, Nagoya, Higashi Ward, Izumi, 2 Chome−13−6 シャトー泉II 1F

Ralph’s by Ralph Lauren

By Sunday morning we were exhausted from the heat and needed a pick-me-up, so we decided to go to the Ralph’s coffee shop right near Oasis21 for some breakfast. We ordered coffee and tried various tea blends with the Ralph cookie and also had some salmon and caprese toast. This shop is really cute and has a great atmosphere so I would recommend it as one of my top breakfast spots in Nagoya. Please visit it if you get the chance!

Address: 3 Chome-16 Nishiki, Naka Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 460-0003

Accommodation

Though I normally stay with friends whenever I go to Nagoya, this time my sponsor booked an accommodation close to the event so we could get changed in our hotel rooms. Please note that there are dressing rooms you can pay to use at WCS, but they get crowded so we preferred to get changed in privacy. The hotel that was selected for us was ACCESS by LOISIR HOTEL Nagoya which is just 2 blocks from the event and only 7800 yen per night. The good thing about this hotel was that everyone staying in it that weekend was participating in the event (we even saw staff members in the elevators). The bad thing about the hotel is that the rooms are quite small, but we were mostly at the event so it didn’t matter in the end. There are definitely better accommodations in Nagoya, but this is perfect for cosplayers who don’t want to walk a long way to the event. I was wearing a long dress as one of my costumes so I appreciated the convenience of this place.

Thank you for reading the final article of my recent series to WCS and Kansai! I plan on going to Naoshima later this month so the adventures will carry on at a decent pace. Please look forward to my next post as always!

Osaka Summer Highlights: Tsukenkaku and Unique Gourmet Experiences

Braving the skies of Shin Sekai at Tsutenkaku Tower!

After spending a lovely two nights in Kyoto and revisiting one of my favorite temples, I decided to take the local train to Osaka so I could climb the Tsutenkaku Tower and continue my aesthetic food journey around Kansai for two days. I have been to Shin Sekai and seen the iconic Parisian-like tower many times but never ascended to the top until this trip. The panoramic view of Osaka from the 5th floor is absolutely amazing, so I would recommend it to those who love seeing city skylines and aren’t afraid of heights. I also visited many unique restaurants and cafes this time around that I wish to share with others because you can’t find them anywhere else in Japan!

Tsutenkaku Tower

Located in Shin Sekai, Tsutenkaku Tower is comparable to both Tokyo Tower and the Eiffel Tower with its steel beams and breathtaking view of the entire city. Like Tokyo Tower, you can choose to ascend to different observation decks (both the 4th and the 5th), but I would recommend buying a ticket to the 5th because the open air deck is definitely worth seeing. There is a glass platform you can peer down from if you’re not afraid of heights, and the view from it truly is a thrill. One thing I absolutely loved here were the neon rainbow lights attached to the wall between the 4th and 5th floors. They definitely gave the interior of the tower its own retro vibe. There were also disco balls hanging from the 4th floor as well as golden statues you could touch for luck. On top of that, there’s a slide that you can ride down that simulates an amusement park ride! I didn’t try it this time, but it’s on the list for next time I come to Osaka!

When you exit the tower, there is a souvenir shop and a really neat display of various companies that started in Osaka, such as Glico. If you’ve been to downtown Osaka then you’ve definitely seen the iconic Glico Running Man!

Address: 1 Chome-18-6 Ebisuhigashi, Naniwa Ward, Osaka, 556-0002
Entrance Fee: 800 ~ 1000 yen (depending on which observation deck you choose)

Osaka Castle

Since Osaka Castle is another place that I haven’t visited since my study abroad trip, I decided I would see it again on this time! Like Tsutenkaku, this castle is an important landmark of Osaka with its iconic golden fish placed on the roofs and gates that are said to help protect the castle from fires. What’s interesting about this castle is that it’s surrounded by a moat, but part of the moat is dry and now grows green vegetation. You can see the best angle of the castle when you exit the park with the way the sun shines down on it and the trees frame its adorned structure.

I was surprised to see boats floating around the castle when I visited because I did not remember them before. You can book a boat tour through Gozabune Boat if you are interested in riding in a replica of Hideyoshi Toyotomis’s original vessel. He was the warrior who built this castle and was also obsessed with gold.

Address: 540-0002 Osaka, Chuo Ward, Osakajo, 1番1号
Entrance Fee: 600 yen

The Latest Aesthetic Gourmet Experiences in Osaka

As a lover of aesthetic food, I had quite a long list of places that I wanted to try in Osaka! Here are the best ones that I’ve came across during this trip:

Dogyan

Dogyan is a pop-up shop near Osaka castle that serves ramen and Ghibli inspired shaved ice. What makes the shaved ice so unique here is that they use a lot of frosting instead of just syrup to create the shape of the character. I tried the Calcifer one from Howl’s Moving Castle because I found his face hilarious. I would recommend that my friends try Totoro and No Face ices to tell me how they taste! The Calcifer one I tried tasted similar to a frozen cake and was very sweet. I would like to come back and try their noodles when I have more of an appetite.

Dogyan has very specific operating days so be sure to check their Instagram for more information.

Egg Takoyaki

Located underneath Umeda Station, there is a takoyaki shop called Takonotetsu that sells takoyaki with all sorts of different toppings such as cheese, egg, and different flavors of mayonnaise! I have eaten takoyaki in Osaka many times before, but never with egg on top. I was happy I tried it with my Japanese friends because the egg gives the fried part of the takoyaki a creamier texture and contains a lot of protein. Cheese takoyaki is also very good, but the cheese melts fast so you have to watch out! I can’t wait to eat takoyaki again next time I’m in Osaka!

W Osaka

W Osaka is a new upscale hotel that was just constructed last year and boasts a wonderful restaurant and café! The café I visited was called MIXup, and if you go early enough then you don’t usually need a reservation. I was enamored by their aesthetic statues that looked like they got splashed with rainbow paint and their placemats the resembled records. I decided to try their award winning pastry, the “Bouteille de Grand Marnier”, which the creator of the pastry herself served to me! The delicate orange, chocolate, and caramel combination of it completely blew my mind. In addition to this, they have macarons, parfaits, and other pastries you can try. You can order food too if you make a reservation. I will definitely come back here one day to try more gourmet pastries!

Sushi at Tiffany’s

And I said, what about sushi at Tiffany’s? While browsing Instagram, I was recommended a peculiar restaurant that serves caviar out of Tiffany’s glassware, and I knew immediately I had to go. Located close to Umeda, “Kitashinchi Sushi Tsu” (北新地 すし通) is a unique sushi restaurant that serves its sushi on Tiffany dishes and is very high-end. I absolutely adored the decor here, and the quality of fish was the best I’ve ever had in Kansai. I booked the “Anniversary Course” through Tabelog which was around 10,000 yen, but it was completely worth the price. If you come here, expect to pay a lot but prepare to have your mind blown by how good the food is. Sometimes you just need to be a fancy bitch and eat an anniversary course by yourself!

Moonkery

Moonkery is just your everyday Taiwanese tea shop with a giant moon on the 2nd floor that makes the perfect photo opp. This is actually the coolest tea shop that I’ve ever been to because it has a futuristic space scene and also serves desserts. I tried the coldbrew herbal tea and was a huge fan of it! The tea leaves in the bottle really gave it an ample flavor. I hope to come back here and try one of their pastries next time because I would like to support their business. I hope more aesthetic cafes like this continue to pop up!

Accommodation

Since I was seeing Night Tempo on his Showa Groove Tour on this trip, I decided to stay at a travel hotel called Hotel Morning Box in Shinsaibashi near the venue. I really liked this place because it had a public bath, a nice cafe where you could relax, and the cheapest rooms were around 3000 yen. I was sad because Asahi Plaza, the famous sauna and capsule hotel, closed during the pandemic, but at least this hotel as a wonderful warm bath you can use and the prices are very similar. Though I usually stay in different hotels when visiting Kansai, I truly want to stay in this one again because I enjoyed how new the rooms were and the central location.

Thank you for reading about my super aesthetic journey to Osaka! I still have one more article to write in this series about Nagoya’s World Cosplay Summit, so please look forward to it!

Revisiting Kinkakuji and the Latest Aesthetic Gourmet Experiences in Kyoto

Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, shines beautifully in the scorching summer of Kyoto.

It’s been over three months since my last article, but I happy to announce that I have safely returned to Japan and am officially off my work hiatus now! Over the last few weeks I was preparing for the 20th Anniversary of Nagoya’s World Cosplay Summit (which I will cover in another article), but this latest article series will document my recent adventures in the Kansai region, starting with Kyoto.

Since Kyoto and Nagoya are relatively close by shinkansen, I decided to spend two nights at a business hotel in Shijo after the final day of the Summit and revisit some of my old favorite places. One temple that I haven’t seen in over 6 years is Kyoto’s Kinkakuji that was recently under construction, so I decided to visit it while hitting up some of the most delicious vegan and dessert shops in town.

This article will cover my top summer picks for Kyoto (2022). Please be aware that the heat is intense during August, so it is recommended to drink lots of water and limit your exposure to the sun.

Kinkakuji

Kinkakuji is one of Kyoto’s most famous temples due to its shining gold leaf architecture and the beautiful pond it overlooks. It used to be the former place of retirement for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, but now serves as a symbolic landmark of Kyoto. Around the temple are various gardens with statues of prominent Buddhist figures and a pond that is said to never dry up. Kinkakuji holds a lot of history as well of lore, so if you have ever studied abroad or gone on a group trip to Kyoto, this place is probably at the top of your itinerary. I first visited this temple during my study abroad trip in 2013, then again on a trip in 2016. I am happy that 6 years later it is just as beautiful and well-preserved as I remember.

There are city buses that go to the entrance of Kinkakuji directly from Kyoto Station for a mere 230 yen, so it’s pretty easy to reach. You may also be interested in checking out Ginkakuji (also known as the Silver Pavilion) which is a short bus ride away, but in my humble opinion it’s not as pretty as the gold one!

Address: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361
Entrance Fee: 400 yen

If you are curious where I rented my yukata, please see my previous kimono and yukata rental article.

The Latest Aesthetic Gourmet Experiences in Kyoto

As a lover of aesthetic food, I had quite a long list of places that I wanted to try in Kyoto! Here are the best ones that I’ve came across during this trip:

Egyptian Noodles at Pelgag

Pelgag is a Japanese owned “spice restaurant” that serves delicious ethnic food and alcohol with organic ingredients. Their dishes are made with a lot of exotic herbs and spices that the owner discovered while traveling through Central and South America as well as Asia and Europe. Though there are many unique things on their menu (including vegetarian and vegan options), I was most interested in the Egyptian Noodles because I had never tried them before. The noodles had the texture of ramen and tasted similar to Pad Thai which made me feel nostalgic of my days in Thailand. I was happy to have such a delicious vegan meal during my first night here and also ordered a glass of organic white wine to go with it. If you like curry and spicy food then you will most definitely enjoy this restaurant!

Choco Mint Ball with Creamy Foam at Atelier de Godiva

From early summer to fall of this year, Atelier de Godiva located in the Daimaru shopping mall of Kyoto has a very special mint chocolate menu! This chocolate mint ball that I ordered is filled with mint cream that you can drink through a chocolate straw. Now that’s what I call aesthetic food! I like the concept of food and desserts being served in bowls that are fully edible because it helps eliminate plastic and paper waste in addition to being delicious. I am excited to see what other seasonal menus this store introduces, because you can only order this at the Kyoto location!

Peach Cloud Cakes at Kumonocha

One of the latest trending cafés in Kyoto is this tea and cake shop called Kumonocha in Higashiyama that serves cloud-shaped cakes with various drink pairings. You can choose to order a hot matcha latte with a cloud pattern or an iced one with a beautiful green gradation with the cake as a set, or purchase them individually. I was delighted to see they were selling both peach and matcha flavored cloud cakes when I arrived, so I decided to try to peach one! Both the cake and the tea suited each other very well, and I thought it was unique that they served them to you in a wooden basket. Be sure to check the outdoor area of the store if you have the chance because there was a beautiful lantern and windchime display when I visited.

Cloud Parfait at Piu

Because one cloud dessert clearly wasn’t enough for me, I decided to try a cloud parfait at a small cafe near Kinkakuji called Piu. This parfait was unique because it mainly consisted of ramune-flavored jelly instead of ice cream or yogurt, but with the granola at the bottom, it still undoubtedly tasted like a parfait. The macarons and the while chocolate on top was definitely a nice aesthetic touch and I loved eating whatever the clouds were made of. I would recommend this to people who like ramune-flavored desserts. In addition to sweets, Piu also serves pastas, pizzas, and cakes so I would check it out if you go to Kinkakuji like I did!

Vegan Hot Pot at Vegetarian Cafe Ren

Even though the weather was scorching hot, for some reason I still felt like eating hot pot during this trip just for something different. Finding places that serve hotpot sets that are 100% vegetarian is usually very difficult, but Cafe Ren near Kinkakuji has a delicious miniature set! I especially loved the mushrooms and the fried tofu that was included in this meal. The red bean rice also complimented the flavor. The portion size was perfect for me so I would recommend this place to my fellow vegetarians, but it’s probably better to come here during the winter!

Goma Noodles at Gomacro Salon

Because I was craving noodles on my last day in Kyoto, I decided to stop at Gomacro Salon and try their noodles basked in a sesame paste-based rich soup. What I like about this dish is you can balance out the level of spice by adding sesame oil and more goma paste with condiments at your table that you can choose for no additional cost. What is pictured is the summer dish with seasonal vegetables, but the menu changes every season. I would like to come back in the winter and choose their black goma soup as my base next time! In addition to noodles, there is curry, rice, and salad sets you can choose from. I really like how healthy and organic everything was here. The goma paste was also very filling!

Bonus: Porco Rosso & Sugitora

As I was waiting for the bus to Kyoto Station, I noticed a funny Italian restaurant called Porco Rosso, and I can definitely see the resemblance to the movie! Though it was closed during the time that I went, I would like to come back and try it again for the meme.

I also visited this adorable parfait place called Sugitora that has takeout tiger gelato! I tried the mango flavor because of course the matcha flavor was already sold out. It tasted so refreshing! I would like to make a reservation for one of their more elaborate parfaits in the future!

Accommodation

Every time I travel somewhere in Japan, I look at the best deals on Booking.com because I have a Genius discount. This time I stayed at a business hotel with a public bath called AB Hotel that was 5000 yen for 2 nights which was a killer deal. During previous Kyoto trips I used to stay closer to the Kamo River so I could go running there as a morning workout, but this time prices there were more expensive likely due to more people traveling this year. I decided to choose an accommodation that was about 1km away from the river and it turned out to be cheaper. This hotel was quiet and easy to relax in so I would recommend it, but also don’t be afraid to shop around!

Thank you for reading about my wonderful experience in Kyoto! I will never forget all of the delicious food that I tried this time. In my next article I will be talking about my top recommendations in Osaka, so please look forward to it!

Visiting Two of Aomori’s Most Aesthetic Art Museums

After an action-filled day visiting sakura parks, shrines, and real life anime movie locations, we decided to spend our final day in Aomori seeing two of the most aesthetic museums in the prefecture: Aomori Museum of Art and Towada Art Center. What drew me to these museums were their life-sized open air exhibits that fuses Japanese and Western art together in creative ways. Though places like Tokyo and Naoshima have many notable museums, I have never seen anything quite like the works here, which is another huge reason I wanted to visit Aomori. Please continue reading for my full review of these museums, and see for yourself what you think! If the weather is rainy during your trip like it was for us, visiting places like this is an ideal way to spend time.

Aomori Museum of Art

The Aomori Museum of Art is one of the craziest modern art museums I have ever visited in Japan, and that’s really saying a lot! What struck me the most was how random some of the permanent galleries here were. First we walked from the entrance to a room full of tribal paintings to a room full of Ultraman sketches by Tohl Narita himself. Next we walked through a hallway with pictures of ears on the wall into a room filled with stars. Finally the path lead to an outdoor area with a gigantic sculpted dog standing over a bowl filled with flowers. This dog is known as the “A to Z Memorial Dog”, which is considered to be a symbol of Aomori Prefecture. It was created by a Japanese artist named Yoshitomo Nara who projects the loneliness of his childhood into his fiberglass sculptures, creating a new wave of aesthetics. His artistic vision and personal experience growing up is much like my own, which is why I wanted to see his works in person so much.

Here is a handy excerpt from Public Delivery explaining the symbolism of his dog sculptures:

Yoshimoto Nara’s dogs evoke a myriad of emotions in the audience, including joy, anxiety, fear, insecurity, hope, playfulness, and confidence. His figures seem to exist in only a dream-like state where reality becomes what you make of it. His mixture of vulnerability, rebellion and hopefulness within his artworks connects intimately with people worldwide.

Throughout his career, he has incited a deep sense of childhood memory and the allure of youth while concurrently leaving a relentless reminder of the fundamental issues and problems of adulthood. This figure symbolizes a defiant spirit associated with youthful hopefulness and belief that we have what it takes to change the world.

Yoshitomo Nara’s shining dog sculptures – What you should know

In addition to dogs, there are also other sculptures of his in the museum including faces of people and a house with three children reading a book inside. The scene is a bit creepy at first, but after viewing the scene from multiple angles you’ll see that it is more cartoonish than it is scary. His works are much better seen in person than online, so I would encourage those who are interested to please come to Aomori to see them!

Address: Chikano-185 Yasuta, Aomori, 038-0021
Entrance Fee: 510 yen (may be extra for special exhibits)

Towada Art Center

Towada Art Center is an interactive art museum geared for both children and adults with a number of hands-on exhibits. I was really impressed with the variety of high-quality art that was placed outdoors including Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin that you can climb into, a horse made out of sculpted flowers, a giant ghost, and a big puffy car next to a puffy house. All of these things were life-sized and very eye-catching. Plus they were scattered around the museum and not just in front of it so there was really a lot to check out. Hilariously, we spent all of our time photographing the free outdoor exhibits and only went into the gift shop because we were satisfied with everything we had seen. I ordered an apple dessert at the cafe that was a replica of one of the sculptures outdoors because I thought it was unique. It tasted as exquisite as it looked because the “apples” were actually blueberries with red chocolate melted over them. Touché because that is art in itself.

Address: 10-9 Nishi2bancho, Towada, Aomori 034-0082
Entrance Fee: 800-1800 yen depending on what exhibits you want to see (outdoor exhibitions are free)

Eating Curry at unbreakable

While looking for cafes between the two museums, one name really caught my eye: unbreakable in Towada City. What exactly is it about this cafe that makes it unbreakable? Perhaps it’s the zestiness of the green curry or the size of the garlic shrimp? Whatever it was, it was definitely good. Of all of the cafes around, this one had the best assortment of rice dishes and latte flavors. I tried a vanilla one and it really hit the spot—I was caffeinated and ready to appreciate more art! This was yet another random find that really made my day. I hope these cafes can continue to stay in business because they truly make amazing food and drinks.

Address: Osaka-72-1 Osaka, Towada, Aomori 034-0041 (Note that this is in Aomori and not in Osaka)

Final Thoughts

While it was quite the long haul to and from Tokyo, Aomori was definitely worth the visit! Although it rained a bit during our trip, the scenery and cherry blossoms were lovely, the food and art museums were extremely diverse, and the city and shops had a lot of charm. The best time to visit this prefecture is probably during sakura season (like we did) and in the summer for the Nebuta Festival, but I imagine with all of the pretty trees Autumn would be a great time to visit too! If you can get a rental car, I would definitely recommend it as the parks and museums here are quite spread out and hard to reach with public transportation. Three days was enough to complete everything on our itinerary and we left Aomori feeling extremely satisfied.

This will be my last article for a while as I am heading to Hawaii next week, but when I return to Japan I plan on visiting the 2 prefectures that I haven’t been to yet: Akita & Iwate. Please look forward to reading more articles from me this summer, and I might decide to write a Hawaii series too!

A Roadtrip to Aomori: Visiting Ashino Park, Seibi-en, and Takayama Inari Shrine

The sun fades into the clouds on the main path to Takayama Inari Shrine.

After an amazing day of eating delicious food and seeing the sakura in Hirosaki Park, we started out extremely early on our next day of sightseeing in Aomori. Our first destination was Ashino Park, which is Aomori’s other famous sakura park that is roughly 2 hours away from the main part of the city. The illuminated sakura we saw by Hirosaki Castle the previous night were absolutely gorgeous, so we wanted to try seeing them during the day too! We also found out about Seibi-en through a friend, which is the real life location of Studio Ghibli’s The Secret World of Arietty so we decided to head there after. Our final destination for the day was Takayama Inari Shrine, which is a beautiful shrine near the Sea of Japan. This day was long but we were fortunately able to accomplish everything on our itinerary.

Ashino Park

Ashino Park is located south of the central part of Aomori City and is famous for its 1500 cherry blossom trees and “sakura tunnel” that a retro train frequently runs through. Like Hirosaki Park, Ashino was voted as one of the best places in Japan to see the cherry blossoms so we absolutely had to come here even though it was a bit of a trip. The park has a river that snakes through it and you can rent boats from a boathouse to spend time out on the water. There is also a famous suspension bridge that connects the park to a popular camping area in Aomori. Though many of the sakura petals had fallen into the water from the previous harsh weather that week, the park was still stunning to walk through. Fortunately many of the weeping sakura trees were still in bloom and I managed to get a few good shots here!

Entrance Fee: Free
Address: Goshogawara, Aomori 037-0202

Seibi-en

Our next stop was Seibi-en, which is a beautiful house that combines Western and Japanese architecture and has a zen garden, similar to the Umineko Manor I visited last year in Tokyo. The first floor of the house is completely Japanese styled and contains several tatami rooms and a bath. There is a framed picture from The Secret World of Arietty on one of the tables so you can recall the resemblance. The 2nd floor is completely Western styled and was unfortunately closed when we visited, but you can clearly see its distinctive style from outside. The staff will also take you on a tour to a chamber called Gohoden that is completely made out of gold lacquer works of art. As you walk on the stone steps in the garden that lead to a small island, you will also see a small shrine called Seibi Shrine that is connected. The composition of both the house and garden is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and really make me want to watch the movie again so I can see more! This was my favorite place that I saw in Aomori and I would happily recommend to to everyone visiting because it is close to Hirosaki Park and also accessible by train.

Entrance Fee: 430 yen
Address: Ishibayashi-1 Saruka, Hirakawa, Aomori 036-0242

Takayama Inari Shrine

Our last stop of the day was Takayama Inari Shrine, which was located in a pretty remote area next to the Sea of Japan, but it is definitely worth seeing! This shrine is said to represent good harvests and safety at sea. It was also the most beautiful shrine we saw in Aomori due to the bright red tori being surrounded by coastal scenery. It is similar to Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto but not nearly as big or steep of a hike. I enjoyed seeing the ponds, bridges, and beautiful trees that lead to the scenic view on the top of a hill. We arrived at the perfect time because the sun was starting to set and it gave the shrine a beautiful glow. I was awestruck by how aesthetic this shrine was so I also recommend seeing this if you are up for the drive.

Entrance Fee: Free
Address:
Washinosawa-147-1 Ushigatacho, Tsugaru, Aomori 038-3305

Food Picks

For lunch we decided to stop at a curry place that had a lot of vegan options called Michiru. I ordered a 5 curry set with rice, vegetables, and a giant egg and it tasted amazing! The pink fish curry was hands down the best because it packed the most flavor. The other vegetable curries had more of a bland taste but they were healthier than regular curry at least. I appreciated how they used fresh vegetables and organic ingredients here. For dessert I ordered ice cream topped with Aomori’s famous apple jam and my friend ordered organic cheesecake. Both were made with tender care and were the perfect way to end the meal. I’d definitely come back here in the future if I could so I could try more of the seasonal dishes! We also saw the A to Z Memorial Dog on the way to the restaurant because he was located nearby inside of the Former Yoshii Shuzō Brick Warehouse. I will be talking more about his symbolism in my next article.

For dinner we stopped at a teishoku place called Yayori nearby our hotels in the central city of Aomori. As we entered we found out that they normally only sell bento boxes during Golden Week while we were traveling, but since we had came all the way there the chefs made a special menu just for us! I enjoyed the fresh fish and vegetables because they were extremely nourishing. And it was very inexpensive too. I really appreciate how kind the staff was to us here.

Thank you for reading the second article of my Aomori series! The next article will cover various museums and be the final one. Please look forward to hearing about all of the creative modern art we discovered in this rural prefecture!

A Road Trip to Aomori: Visiting the Nebuta Museum and Hirosaki Castle

A Perfect Aesthetic Moment: Sakura petals illuminated under the gates of Hirosaki Caste.

Last weekend I went on a roadtrip to one of my dream destinations during the peak of its cherry blossom season: Aomori Prefecture. Unlike most of Japan, Aomori’s sakura season starts usually from the last weekend of April until the first week of May because it is located up north facing Hokkaido. Aomori’s Hirosaki and Ashino parks are said to be the best places to see the sakura in all of Japan, so as a photographer visiting this prefecture was a huge goal of mine. The hardest challenges of visiting Aomori are timing your visit with the ideal weather and getting around, because the prefecture is quite rural. However, my group decided to bring a car so we could maximize our sightseeing opportunities. Besides its sakura, Aomori is also famous for its delicious apples. This is the first part of a three part article series, so please look forward to reading about my top recommendations here!

Getting to Aomori Prefecture & Accommodation

One way shinkansen tickets from Tokyo to Shin Aomori Station are 17000 yen and the trip takes over 4 hours, so it is recommended that you fly to Aomori Airport to save time and money. Roundtrip airline tickets are usually around 30000 yen and you will reach Aomori Airport in just over an hour. However, since I was short on time and was meeting my friends who were staying in central Aomori with a car, I opted for the one way shinkansen ticket then drove 8 hours with them back to Tokyo when we were done sightseeing. It was a long trip, but overall very scenic and cost efficient!

You will definitely want a car to get around Aomori because public transportation is quite limited; especially if you want to see all of the sakura parks because they are spread out. We had originally planned on using some of the sightseeing buses here but were so glad we didn’t because they take a long time to reach places.

Since sakura season is crazy popular and Aomori only has a few hotels in the central area, be prepared to pay extra on accommodations during this time. I paid 15,000 yen for a two night stay at Aomori Route Inn Chuo but it was pleasant because it had a small indoor public bath and I was placed in the 420 room (blaze it). If you come outside of sakura season, then prices will be more reasonable.

Nebuta Museum

The most popular festival in Aomori is the Nebuta Festival, which is held every summer from Aug 2nd – Aug 7th and involves giant colorful floats with characters hand-painted by artists. The floats are carried by volunteers and illuminated by lanterns with dancers and taiko drummers accompanying them during the parade making it quite the spectacle. At the Nebuta Museum in central Aomori, you can see the floats on display all year and also read about the various characters depicted in the floats. If you are coming all the way to Aomori, then you should definitely visit this museum!

Entrance Fee: 600 yen
Address: 1 Chome-1-1 Yasukata, Aomori, 030-0803

Hirosaki Park at Night

Hirosaki Park is renowned as one of the best places to spend sakura season and contains several gardens and Hirosaki Castle within it. During sakura season special lights are placed under the sakura trees so the blossoms look illuminated at night. On the weekend we went, which was April 29th – May 1st, the sakura were predicted to be in full bloom but unfortunately due to heavy rain in the area a few days before, some of the petals had fallen. However, many of the weeping sakura trees (also known as prunus pendula) were in full bloom here so we managed to get a few good shots in. Had it not been for the drizzling rain that night, this park would have been ideal for a picnic!

For better sakura photos, please see my Kyoto article series from last year! We managed to get perfect photos of sakura in full bloom under a full moon.

Entrance Fee: 300 yen
Address: 〒036-8356 Aomori, Hirosaki, Shimoshiroganecho, 1

Top Food Picks

Right as you arrive to Shin Aomori Station and exit through the ticket gate, you will notice multiple gift and souvenir shops at the bottom of the stairs on the first floor. I impulse bought an apple macaroon from one of them since I am a macaroon fanatic. As expected, it tasted very fruity and I adored the little apple brand on it! As far as sweets in Aomori go, I also recommend a tiny cake shop called Kashidokoro Kangetsu because it has cream puffs shaped like swans, cakes with dog faces, and tanuki cupcakes that are apple flavored! There are also some anko-filled sweets here that are really delicious. I ordered one shaped like a bamboo shoot and enjoyed both the aesthetic and taste.

For lunch I had a seafood scallop salad crepe at a place called Galetteria Da Sasino in central Aomori. I know that sounds like a weird combination of flavors but it actually tasted amazing! I really love the soft and spongy texture of crepes paired with seafood. For dinner we went to a sushi place called Kuruma Sushi because it was near the castle. I ordered a seafood bowl with the finest fish and mistakenly ordered a bottle of wine instead of a glass because I had a tough time understanding Tsugaru dialect. But I made that bottle last for three days so I got my money’s worth out of it. Just another day in the life!

Thank you for reading the first part of my Aomori article series. In my next article I will be writing about Ashino Park and a special house from a Studio Ghibli film. Please look forward to more!

Spending a Sunburned Day at Strata Naha

Last night in Naha, gotta do it big!

After successfully freediving on Aka Island and Zamami Island, I sailed back to Naha via ferry for a final day of adventure in the tropical city before returning to Tokyo. I had already seen most of what I wanted here before, but there were a few new places that I wanted to check out. Namely Umikaji Terrace that is conveniently located near the airport, which contains a number of little shops and restaurants, and also a resort with a pool I had never stayed at before called Strata Naha. Since I was sunburned from not wearing a wetsuit the day before, there wasn’t a lot I could do during the day so I took it leisurely. Consider this a guide of what to do in Naha if you are sunburned, or if you are just looking to take the day easy too! And please check out my Naha Cafe Guide if you are looking for more food recommendations.

Exploring Umikaji Terrace

Umikaji Terrace is a oceanfront hodgepodge of bars, shops, and restaurants with patio and outdoor seating. It is conveniently located near Naha Airport and is a great place to watch the sunset in the city while knocking back a drink. I was impressed with the variety of food and desserts here—they had quite the international selection. I was mainly here to try the drop soda at Gallirallus (see below), but I ended up ordering a avocado salmon toast from a Hawaiian eatery nearby. I ended up killing a lot of time here by watching the ocean from the shade. I loved the bright blue design of the tables outside that matched the color of the sea, not to mention all of the Okinawan décor. One thing that really amused me here was meat taiyaki. I had never seen a taiyaki with a weiner in it before but I guess they think of every food crossover in Okinawa. There was also a really interesting ice bar on one of the terraces that I would really like to check out next time I visit. I look forward to seeing what kind of food trends become popular here!

Address: 〒901-0233 Okinawa, Tomigusuku, Senaga, 174−6

Trying Drop Soda at Gallirallus

Here it is—the main event! One of the things I was most looking forward to trying in Okinawa was the ball drop soda because in all of my time trying aesthetic food, I had never seen anything like it before. You can choose from a variety of fruity flavors for the soda base (I chose strawberry), and also decide if you want a scoop of ice cream in the drink or not. The balls in this soda are very unique because they contain edible flowers and pieces of fruits. I thought the strawberry and pineapple balls were the most delicious and was very pleased with the quality of this drink. Compared to tapioca pearls, these flower and fruit balls just pack so much more flavor. If you get the chance, definitely hit Gallirallus up because I haven’t seen any other shop in the world serve drop soda before. You saw it here first.

Accommodation: Strata Naha

Since I am adventurous and enjoy staying in different types of accommodations, I figured this time I would stay in a new resort with a pool so I could relax before my flight the next morning. I found a centrally located resort called Strata Naha with rooms priced around 7000 yen per night online so I decided to try it out. Compared to where I had stayed before at Aqua Citta, this resort was much quieter and I had the pool to myself even though there were other guests around in the garden area. Since I didn’t feel like socializing much, I really enjoyed the atmosphere here, although I would normally recommend Aqua Citta to my friends because it is slightly cheaper and had a better happy hour deal. However, Strata is better for those who want a more private and mature atmosphere. I enjoy both resorts for different reasons and will definitely be back again!

Recommended Food Spots

I wanted to eat something healthy for dinner after swimming so I looked up vegan restaurants that were open at night and found a really nice one called Rakuen Cafe. Rakuen serves a variety of dishes including rice bowls, vegan taco rice, and green smoothies. I really enjoyed my power bowl because it had star fruit in it that reminds me of the paopu fruit from Kingdom Hearts. I also ordered a side of sweet potato fries here because I had never seen fries so purple! They really tasted better than traditional french fries so I was so happy I tried them. Though I had already tried Blue Seal ice cream on multiple trips, there’s a really huge shop with a bright neon sign at night right down the street from Rakuen so I took a picture of it. If you’ve never tried Blue Seal, you definitely need to once in your life because it’s Okinawa’s pride! The final place I recommend for breakfast is Lestel Cafe, because it has delicious banana and honey bread and indoor disco décor. Honestly I dig the disco breakfastcore vibe here and I think more restaurants should embrace it. Naha restaurants and cafes are unmatched in style when it comes to Japan.

Final Thoughts

Despite the sunburn at the end, this was yet another successful trip where I checked off everything that I had planned on my itinerary. Revisiting old places, traveling to new islands and getting better at freediving, and ending my trip at this beautiful resort just made the experience all the more memorable. I plan on coming back to Okinawa in the fall because I have a sponsor here, and I think next time I will visit Ishigaki and Iriomote so I can continue to practice swimming and diving on different islands. Thank you to everyone that has kept up with my 2022 Okinawa article series, because this article is the final one (for now)!

Before I go to America this summer, I have one final place that I want to write about which is Aomori! Please look forward to my Aomori article series which will be in the works very soon!

Freediving at the Kerama Islands: Aka Island and Zamami Island Edition (Part 2)

Furuzamami Beach on Zamami Island. The overcast weather was actually ideal!

After a successful day of freediving and seeing turtles in Aka Island, I decided to spend the next day on Zamami Island, which is also famous for its coral reefs and is just a short ferry ride away! Zamami is bigger than Aka Island but has a very similar feeling to it. There is a whale monument near the port and also the Marilyn dog statue on the way to Ama Beach which I really wanted to see. Though I thought about spending the night here, I found the resorts on Aka Island to be more charming so I stayed there. However, unlike Aka, Zamami is more famous for whale watching and even has a an entire music festival devoted to it! So if you’re into whales, then this is definitely your kind of island. I decided to skip the whale watching and focus on freediving, but I may come back here in the future for the whale music festival because that just screams awesome!

Getting to Zamami Island

From Aka Island Port to Zamami Island Port, tickets are only 300 yen and the ride only takes 15 minutes which is why you should see more than one Kerama Island—they are very close together and easy to reach! Please see the monthly ferry time table to plan your trip. You can buy tickets on the day of your trip because there is usually always space on the ferries.

I decided to only do a day trip to Zamami Island and take the last ferry back to Naha at 5:45pm because I was able to see everything I wanted to in one day. However, there are a number of great accommodations available on Zamami for those who are interested! At the Zamami Island Visitor Center across from the port, there is a great coffee shop and also a cute Kumamon painted buoy. I love how Kumamon (the Kumamoto mascot) is literally all over Japan!

Renting a Bike

My favorite part of the Kerama Islands is that none of the rental bikes have locks or keys. Either everyone here trusts one another a lot, or likely it would be impossible to smuggle these rental bikes back on a ferry because they are too distinctive and everyone on the island knows one another so any thief would definitely be ratted out. Anyway, like Aka Island everything I wanted to see on Zamami Island was accessible by bike so I rented one at a 24 hour self-service bicycle shop called Rental Miyamura. This concept would not fly in almost any other part of the world, but it fits here perfectly here in the wholesome Kerama Islands.

Address: 156 Zamami, Shimajiri District, Okinawa 901-3402
Price: Depends on how many hours, but cheap.

Freediving on Zamami Island

Zamami Island has two main beaches for swimming and freediving that you can easily reach by bike: Ama Beach and Furuzamami Beach. Ama Beach is more designed for sunbathing than it is for swimming, but I did get some good practice in there. Like the smaller beaches on Aka Island, it still was filled with gorgeous coral reefs that were worth checking out. I asked a tanned man that looked like a local there where the best place to dive was, and he said it was Furuzamami Beach so I rode there after about 40 minutes of swimming at Ama.

I really liked the vibe of Furuzamami Beach more because it had a fantastic beachfront and a shack with food vendors and rental gear in it. I stayed here for about and hour and a half diving and seeing all kinds of tropical fish, then ended my day by eating Blue Seal sweet potato ice cream. Another day well spent! One mistake I made this day was not renting a wetsuit though. I wanted to practice freediving without one, but it was an amateur mistake. My back was badly sunburned (and still is) but fortunately it is getting better with the help of Aloe Vera gel. When I go to Hawaii, I will sure to wear a wetsuit at all times. I am glad I learned this now so I have time to recover!

Here is a video of the the coral reef at Furuzamami that I took with my GoPro:

Because I had a hearty breakfast, I didn’t eat much on this island but if you’re hungry I recommend stopping at sabaidee cafe near the port because they have delicious sandwiches and smoothies. I had one smoothie which I didn’t take a picture of, but I very much enjoyed it!

At around 5pm, I returned my bicycle to the rental place and waited at the port for the ferry to pull up at 5:45pm. I had a smooth ride back to Naha where I checked into my hotel and decided to call it a night. I was satisfied with everything I had seen on both Aka and Zamami Island and was ready for my final day in Naha before heading back to Tokyo. I will never forget the beautiful turtles and aquatic life I saw on the Kerama Islands.

The next article will be the final one in my 2022 Okinawa series where I talk about exploring Umikaji Terrace and my resort at Strata Naha. Please look forward to it!

Freediving at the Kerama Islands: Aka Island and Zamami Island Edition (Part 1)

Free diving with a turtle at Hizushi Beach on Aka Island.

After an amazing two days of dining and chasing sunsets in Naha and Okinawa City, I decided to take a ferry to the Kerama Islands and spend my next two days there focusing on freediving. The Kerama Islands consists of a cluster of 20 big and small islands, but the main 3 that people travel to are Aka Island, Zamami Island, and Tokashiki Island. I chose to go to Aka Island and Zamami Island because they have 2 dog statues that have quite a famous love story together; Shiro and Marilyn. Shiro (found on Aka Island) and Marilyn (found on Zamami Island) are known as “the Hachiko of the sea” and inspired the Japanese movie I want to see Marilyn. Hiking to the statues is a fun experience as outside of Shibuya’s famous Hachiko statue, I have not seen many other statues that are similar in Japan. Funny how these two dogs ended up in Okinawa!

On top of that, the coral reefs on Aka Island are said to be the most beautiful of Kerama so that’s where I decided to start. I was not disappointed because I got the chance to swim with turtle on my very first day there! I also enjoyed getting acquainted with the culture of the Kerama Islands because they are very small and the people that live there friendly and wholesome. Since I came here right before Golden Week, the islands were peaceful and quiet too. I will never forget the two days I spent here!

Getting to the Kerama Islands

From Naha’s Tomari Port, I took a high speed ferry that reached Aka Island in about one hour. Please see the monthly ferry time table to plan your trip and see the ticket cost. Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the day of your trip but they may sell out.

Tomari Port Address: 3 Chome-25-1 Maejima, Naha, Okinawa 900-0016

From Aka Island’s Port, I was able to walk to my hotel in under 5 mins and rent a bike to get around the island. All of the best beaches on Aka Island and Zamami Island are accessible by bike so there is no need to rent a car. You can even walk or run to some of the main sightseeing spots too.

Please note that the Kerama Islands are mostly for swimming and aquatic sports. There are not many restaurants or bars on the island, so you will probably want to eat at your accommodation (most hotels include meals). If you are interested in beaches with more of a nightlife, the main island of Okinawa is better to stay at (you can still day trip to one of the main Kerama Islands and have enough time for sightseeing). However, if you wish to see multiple Kerama Islands then it is best to stay there. I think Aka Island has the best selection of hotels so that is where I decided to stay. Please keep reading for more details.

Freediving on Aka Island

I arrived to Aka Island around 10am, checked into my accommodation (see details further below), rented a wetsuit and bike from my hotel for 2000 yen total, then decided to explore the 3 best beaches for swimming and diving which are: Aka Beach, Nishibama Beach, and Hizushi Beach. These beaches are within 10 – 15 mins of biking from each other and you can visit all of them in the day if you start around 1pm. Aka Beach is where I started since it was near my hotel, but the swimming area is roped off so you can only see a small portion of the coral reefs. I stayed here for about an 40 minutes and was able to see some tropical fish, but after that I decided to pack up my gear and bike to Hizushi Beach where I had the best luck because it is not roped off. After about 10 minutes of swimming, I found not only multiple schools of colorful fish, but also a sea turtle!

Here is a video I took on my GoPro of me swimming above the turtle:

This experience was absolutely magical given that the waters were so crystal clear and I felt comfortable swimming at this depth. The beaches of the Kerama Islands are so beautiful and pristine that they are often referred to as the “Kerama Blue” because they are some of the clearest in the world visited by many tourists who love the ocean. As I was diving, I felt like my vision was enhanced because I was able to see so many different shades I would never be able to see anywhere else other than underwater. Diving is an experience that will definitely change your perspective, so I recommend trying it or snorkeling at least to get a feel for it so you can experience the “Kerama Blue” as well.

Swimming and diving at the Kerama Beaches is typically safe, but do be careful of black and white branded sea snakes because they are extremely venomous. I saw 4 of them during my 2 days here, but they mostly stick to the bottom of the reef and only one came near me. Fortunately I was wearing a wetsuit and was able to swim away. I am guessing that the snake was coming up for air and was pulled by the current towards me, but you never know—it’s better to be safe than sorry! Despite this, I did not feel scared and continue to dive after waiting 15 minutes. Fortunately there were no more close encounters with snakes. Unlike land snakes, sea snakes slither much more slowly through the water so they are easier to avoid from my personal experience.

After about and hour and a half of swimming and diving at Hizushi Beach, I rode my bike to Nishibama Beach. This is more of an aesthetic beach for photography and sunbathing and has several cafes as well, but the coral reefs here are beautiful. I did not see any turtles here, but I did see a lot of unique fish and enjoyed the atmosphere. I spent about an hour here, but not all of it was spent diving. I spent time doing photography on the shore and also found a shell here that I took home as a souvenir so I could remember this day forever. This day felt completely and I was extremely satisfied with everything I saw here.

Please note that the peak turtle season is May – August but you can see them year round.

Staying at Hanamuro Inn

Out of all of the accommodations that I looked at on Aka Island, Hanamuro Inn was without a doubt the most fun and unique one to stay at! With its cheap rental gear (including snorkeling gear and bikes) it had a great system that was more of a deal than other rental shops on the island. It also had rooms with both and air conditioner and a fan, “hot tubs”, and delicious meals, so I think it was well worth the experience. The “hot tubs” were little bath tubs that you could wade and sun bathe in at any time of the day. They were ideal for relaxing in before and after the beach. The dinner I was served was a Japanese/American styled bento box with curry and french fries—the perfect combo. I loved how accommodating the staff was throughout my entire visit.

Please note that there are two Hanamuro Hotels on the island. There is a fancier one with a pool for those who are interested! Please see their website for more information as prices can change with the season. I paid around 12,000 yen for one night but it was worth it for the experience I had.

Hanamuro Inn is very close Maehama Beach where you can see wild deer roaming around the island! Unlike the deer in Nara, these deer are a little more timid but mostly seem to be calm around humans. Instead of senbei, they eat green grass on the island and it is advised that you do not feed them. The statue of Shiro the dog is very easy to find because it is directly north Aka Island’s Port. I think Shiro was the very first picture I took on this island, and I will hold it as a fond memory. At night you can see the stars shine brightly in the sky so I highly recommend staying overnight here if you can.

Other Dining Options

Since my hotel only served dinner and breakfast, I decided to have lunch at Hahna Cafe, which was just a short walk away from my hotel. They had delicious seafood pasta served with bread which I found to taste amazing because island food does not disappoint. They also have Okinawan soba and frozen cocktails and smoothies here. For dessert, I found a tiny cafe around the corner called guu guu that served some rice dishes, cakes, and desserts. I ordered no sugar coconut ice cream with azuki beans as the topping, and as expected it really hit the spot! I think since there are not very many restaurants on Aka Island, each one has a special charm.

Running to Geruma Island

Aka Island has a bridge that connects to Geruma Island where the Kerama Airport and elementary school is so I decided to explore this small and rural island before going to Zamami. Flying to Kerama Airport is typically more expensive, but perhaps is you wanted to come to the Kerama Islands directly without taking a ferry from Naha it would be to your advantage. Geruma was about 3.5 km from my hotel so I decided to run here. Walking here would take around 35-40 mins but if you run you can easily get here in 20 mins. Geruma has the lowest population of there Kerama Islands so there is not a lot to see here besides the main road that connects to the bridge, more coral reefs, and residential housing. The scenery did make it an interesting run though. My only complaint was that there seemed to be now vending machines to buy water at around, so be sure to stay hydrated if you come here! The beaches on this side appeared to have some washed up plastic on the shores so I would recommend not swimming here. Geruma is just something to check out if you are very curious like myself!

Thank you for reading my first article on the Kerama Islands! In my next article, I will talk about my experience exploring the next island I went to; which is Zamami. Look forward to reading more about my tropical adventures later this week!