Hiking through the Wonders of Kamikochi

Besides Yakushima, nothing else compares to the pure colors of this scenery!

Kamikochi, located in the mountains of Nagano with a clear river and perfect view of the Japanese Alps, is one of the most beautiful hiking destinations in Japan and this year I finally made it there! After spending a day seeing Narai and staying at a lodge in Nagano, I drove with my friends to the national park area and we started our trek just before 10am. You can hike the entirety of Kamikochi in about 6 hours and see the forest, bridge, and shrine by the river. The most beautiful part is seeing the reflection of the mountains in the crystal clear water. If you’re lucky you may even run into some monkeys on the way back like we did! Besides my trip to Yakushima, the island that inspired Princess Mononoke, no other view in Japan really compares. Against all forecasts we encountered perfect weather which truly was a miracle. I am writing this article in hopes that other people will make it out here too!

Kamikochi painted by an unknown artist on the day of my trip.

Getting to Kamikochi

You can get to Kamikochi by taking the shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano Station and then taking a bus. I would recommend staying more than one day and seeing the monkey onsen in Nagano too. There are also multiple express buses that go from Shinjuku to Kamikochi but some have been suspended due to the pandemic. We decided to drive to the parking lot outside of Kamikochi and take a taxi because only chartered buses and taxis are allowed inside of the park. I would budget around 30,000 yen for this trip.

The official opening period is from April 17 – November 15 because in winter this area is usually covered with snow. The weather was absolutely perfect for hiking when we arrived in June, so I would recommend going then! All I brought with me is my dress, hiking jacket and shoes, my backpack, and some water so you really don’t need to bring that much. After walking about 3km you will reach the main area with the bridge where there are many shops and restaurants so you can buy food and water as needed. There are a number of hotels you can stay at inside of the park, but they are super expensive so I would just recommend spending the day here and finding a place closer to Nagano Station to stay.

Starting the Hike

Once getting off the bus, the hike through the forest officially starts and you can see the peaks of the Alps right from the beginning. The guideposts are pretty straightforward in showing where things are located. The path to the famous Kappa Bridge is the one I recommend following because you can see almost all of the main points of interest on the way. The distance to the bridge is around 3km and is on even ground so you can relax and go at your own pace. All of the hikers we passed by were friendly and I was happy to see that the park was so clean!

Exploring Kappa Bridge and Nearby Restaurants

After about an hour we reached the main area of Kamikochi where the famous Kappa Bridge is at. If you look at photos of Kamikochi, you will see this giant wooden suspension bridge featured quite a lot! The water is very clear and nice to dip your feet it. There are various restaurants, souvenir shops, and bathrooms around so you can walk around and relax. The best thing to do here is honestly just enjoy the view. The Alps look beautiful from all angles of the park and this is your chance to see them during the best season!

Kamikochi Food

One of the most famous foods of Kamikochi is soba, so I decided to try it at a restaurant on the right side of the bridge. It was a very hearty meal that contained a variety of fresh mushrooms so I enjoyed it. You can easily find ramen and curry around here too. I also tried a steamed bun full of vegetables since I’m vegetarian but they sell them with meat and other flavors as well. Basically everything I ate was great for hiking so you really can’t go wrong with what you eat in this area!

Myojin Pond and Shrine

After resting and walking around the bridge for an hour, we decided to go deeper into the forest and see Myojin Shrine. This is another 3km from the bridge area but it intersects with paths that go back to the entrance so it really isn’t that far away. The scenery makes it worth the extra miles. To our surprise, Myojin Shrine was not a building but a single torii on a dock by the lake with a donation box. Though we have traveled all over Japan, this was one of the most unique shrines that we had ever seen and we highly recommend it to other travelers!

Also, Myojin Pond is so clear you can see the reflection of the mountains in it. Here are two photos I captured during my hike:

Admission Fee: 300 yen

Hiking Back and Meeting the Monkey Pack

After seeing all of the major points of interest and feeling happy with our experience, we started to hike back through the forest when we heard a screeching sound and a monkey mom and her baby dropped from a nearby tree! It was quite the surprise but these monkeys were friendly and just passing by. Signs in parks always warn you not to make eye contact with monkeys because they take it as a form of aggression, but fortunately we did not get mugged by these guys. They probably chose the same trail as us because it was shaded and near their food source. Very keen!

Final Thoughts

Overall I was very satisfied with my trip to Kamikochi because I got to see entirety of it including the monkeys! The biggest challenge is the timing with the weather but fortunately we lucked out. I would recommend staying in Nagano for multiple days like we did so you can choose the best day for Kamikochi. No matter where you go you’ll surely appreciate the view of the mountains.

So far my top 3 hiking destinations in Japan are:

  1. Yakushima
  2. Kamikochi
  3. Mt. Fuji

Though I’ve already been to a lot of places, I hope to do more hiking like this in the future! Although, I am taking a break from hiking recently and am focusing on music events. I just went to a rave in Hinode this weekend and my next trip will be to Osaka for a tofubeats show. If I have time, I will finally make it to the Super Mario World exhibit in Universal Studios too! Please stayed tuned for more of my adventures!

My Homie Totoro: Traveling to the Iconic Bus Stop of Takaharu, Miyazaki

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My Homie Totoro.

After spending a lovely evening in Aoshima chasing sunsets and eating fresh crab, I decided to catch the very first train to Takaharu—a quaint farming town in Miyazaki where the life-size recreation of the Totoro Bus Stop is.  According to Oddity Central, this Totoro statue was built by an elderly couple residing here as a surprise for their grandchildren.  However, its design is so immaculate that it has attracted Totoro fans from all over Japan.  There’s not a whole lot to see in Takaharu as it is mostly a residential area in the mountains, but the backdrop of the mountains and fields behind the bus stop look like they came straight out of a Ghibli movie.  If you are obsessed with rare destinations in Japan like me then you might want to put Takaharu on your bucket list!  The countryside of Kyushu is simply stunning.

Traveling to Takaharu for Totoro

The journey to Takaharu from Miyazaki will take around 2 hours and cost 1500-2500 yen (which is not bad).  From Miyazaki Station, I took Kirishima Limited Express to Miyakonojo Station then transferred to the Kitto Line that took me to Takaharu Station.  You can also take local buses which are usually cheaper.  They will usually drop you off at the same locations depending on what time you leave.  From Takaharu Station, I asked the station attendant to hail me a taxi directly to Totoro.  If you simply say “Totoro” to your taxi driver they will know exactly what you mean.  This is a short drive that will only take 5 mins.  Once you reach Totoro, a warm feeling of nostalgia will wash over you.  Congrats, you have successfully completed your pilgrimage!

I should also note that there is a red umbrella you can rent for 100 yen so you can recreate the famous scene in the rain with Totoro.  Since the money goes directly to the people who built it, it’s a simple way to donate and show thanks!  I took many pictures with it on my GoPro and made some postcard-quality content.  If you come here alone like I did, there will likely be other people here to help you take your picture (or your taxi driver always can).

For information on accommodations in Takaharu, I would recommend checking out Guesthouse Nagata because it is right next to Totoro.  There isn’t much to do in this town as it is pretty residential so I spent another night in Aoshima, but if you have a lot of time in Kyushu you might enjoy staying here.  Getting your picture taken next to Totoro definitely makes the journey worth it!

Since I came here in the morning, I still had 2/3 of the day left to enjoy other activities in Miyazaki.  Here are some other fun things that I recommend doing:

Aoshima Hammock Cafe

Aoshima Hammock is a relatively new and unique experience that I hope more people seek out!  Unlike most hammock cafes in Japan, this place also includes a workshop and hammock rental system for those who are looking to relax in a hammock outside by the ocean.  Their system is relatively cheap and affordable.  If you go outdoors a lot you might consider buying one because they are made of high-quality yarn and come in many beautiful colors.  You can even sign up for a class to knit one yourself.

Since it was scorching hot outside, I decided to buy a drink at the cafe and relax on a hammock indoors (which is free).  However, outside the cafe is a beautiful park and rose garden by the water so I am considering renting a hammock in the future if I come back.  They will teach you how to install the hammock and give you all of the materials and are foreigner-friendly.  It’s a fun opportunity for you to learn how to better enjoy Aoshima life too!

Miyazaki Fruit Parfaits

One of the best things about coming to Kyushu is they have some of the freshest fruit in Japan.  Most notably the ice cream fruit parfaits in Miyazaki are to die for!  My top parfait recommendations are Sakuranbo and Fruit Ohno located near Miyazaki Station.  Even if you don’t like ice cream, they have dragon fruit, fresh strawberries, and melon that you can try without it.  I was thoroughly impressed by the design of these parfaits:

Sun Messe

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The Moai of Miyazaki.

Who would have guessed that Kyushu has Easter Island motifs on it??  Sun Messe is a bizarre tourist attraction where you can take pictures with Moai statues.  Your pictures can actually turn out pretty cool if you take them at the right angle (these were taken in 2018 so I regret not having a better camera).  While we were here, we chatted with two nice guys from Kumamoto who were here on vacation and later went to the beach with them.  What a strange place to socialize, but this place definitely has a powerful aura.

Nearby Sun Messe is the famous Udo Shrine and a beach that you can swim in!  This beach isn’t as pretty as Aoshima in my opinion, but it’s definitely worth checking out while you are here.  The atmosphere is pretty relaxing and you can make out mountains in the distance as you swim towards the horizon.  A great experience overall.

Entrance Fee: 800 yen (worth it for the weirdness here)

Florante Miyazaki

Flower lovers rejoice because there are beautiful flora growing in Miyazaki year-round!  At Florante Miyazaki you can see different types of plants being raised in outdoor gardens and greenhouses next to a beautiful pond in the summer.  I remember seeing citrus oranges being grown here for the first time of my life.  In the winter some facilities are closed but the park creates gorgeous illuminations.  I believe they happen year-round now.  I sadly could only come here during the day due to my busy schedule, but I hope to catch a night show here in the future!

Entrance Fee: 310 yen (very cheap)

Beach BBQs

Since Miyazaki borders the ocean, you can easily find seafood restaurants all over the city and beach fronts.  In 2018 my friend took me to a place where you could order fish and seafood to be grilled right in front of you.  It was such a fun experience trying Miyazaki specialties together!  I encourage you to try the shrimp because it is especially zesty.  You could also buy fish from a fish market and cook it on the beach if you have your own grill.  Not to mention there are sushi and sashimi restaurants galore.  You really can’t go wrong with food here because it’s way cheaper than in Tokyo!

Thank you for reading the 2nd article in my Miyazaki Series!  In my next article, I will be writing about my adventure to yet another rare gem—Takachiho Gorge.  Please look forward to it!

Monet’s Pond: Just as Gorgeous as the Original Paintings (Gifu, Japan)

Over the weekend I decided to re-visit Gifu Prefecture and see if it’s famous water lily pond in Seki was worth the hype.  This originally nameless pond has been nicknamed “Monet’s Pond” (モネの池) by the locals because it closely resembles the Water Lilies art series painted by Claude Monet in the late 1800s.  Depending on the season and the weather, the scenery of the pond can vastly change.  Some online reviews have said that Monet’s Pond is a vibrant place that is a spitting image of the artwork, while others have dismissed it for appearing as murky and overrated.  It’s somewhat humorous to see the variety of scrutiny this place gets (both in English and Japanese).

My favorite review comes from “Kevin B” on Google:

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“It is nice, but professional photograph[s] ruined it for me.  My expectations were too high, don’t trust the pictures on the Internet.” – Kevin B

This could be true of any place, anywhere—don’t trust the pictures on the internet.  Kevin B’s review implies if you set your expectations too high, you will be undoubtedly disappointed.  Especially since the pond is located in a considerably remote location with infrequent transportation.  But as an adventurer, reading that description just made me want to travel here even more so I could see it for myself.

Fortunately I was not disappointed because the photos I captured look complementary to the artwork:

Fun Fact: I didn’t actually look at any of the Water Lilies paintings until after I went to the pond because I didn’t want my expectations to be warped.  I only looked at them for reference in order to accurately write this article.

Here is a gallery of photos that I took.  The pond is quite small in size, but depending on where you stand you can see an entirely different reflection in the water:

I was lucky because I got the chance to see Monet’s Pond in both sunny and cloudy weather in the hour that I was there.  During sunny weather the pond perfectly reflects the clouds in the sky giving it that dream-like oil painting aesthetic.  During cloudy weather it looks a lot darker, but with the floating water lilies it still appears beautiful.  Perhaps in the colder months it looks more bare and devoid of color, thus provoking the negative reviews.  Coming in June gave me the perfect experience though.  I was extremely satisfied with what I saw.

In this video the Koi look like they’re swimming through the clouds:

If you search for pictures of the pond online, you will see mixed results.  Some photos have been purposely edited with filters and textures to look more like the paintings.  However, the photos on the Official Gifu Tourism Website look pretty natural.  I used both my iPhone’s camera and my GoPro so I could closely compare the detail.  I only edited the lighting and shadows slightly in the photos I posted here because the sunlight was already optimal.  It is recommended to come in the summer and fall months for the best viewing but the pond is open year-round.

Even if we can’t trust the internet, one thing we all can agree on is that this cheesecake replica of Monet’s Pond is awesome:

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Monet’s Pond Cheesecake created by an anonymous pastry chef (posted on Grapee).

Not gonna lie, seeing this cake was another huge inspiration for my journey here.  Perhaps Gifu Prefecture will some day replicate this idea and create a cafe with food and souvenirs based on the pond like many other places in Japan.  Until then, enjoy this capitalist-free piece of nature.

Access

From Gifu Station take the N83 bus towards ほらどキウイプラザ行き (Horado Kiwi Plaza) and get off at the last stop.  I was a bit disappointed to see that there were no kiwis here (this is simply a parking lot on the side of a highway).  From the bus stop at the parking lot you will see a small van waiting adjacent to the bus.  The van’s time tables are aligned with the local buses so you can take it for free to Monet’s Pond.  The bus ride takes about 1.5 hours, and the van ride takes 15 mins, so the total travel time is around 1 hour and 45 mins.  Though this is a bit of a journey, the ride only costs 670 yen and the pond has no entrance fee making it one of the cheapest attractions in Gifu.

If you like seeing the country side of Japan and don’t mind riding the bus, then I would recommend this trip to you.  Just be sure to watch the weather and get there early so you have enough time to take pictures and return to the station.  Besides the pond, there’s really not a lot to do in Seki.  There’s a local shrine and a few places to eat, but most of the area is used for farming.  After seeing the pond I went to Nagoya to spend time with my friends because there’s much more to do there.  This was a great escape from reality though.  I was happy to confirm that the pond does indeed resemble the real artwork and is not just a hoax.

If you are interested in seeing more attractions in Gifu Prefecture, please check out my Your Name and Gero Onsen articles!

Yet Another Perfect Weekend in Nagoya

 

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In the Heart of Nagoya: The silhouettes of the mountains gently fade into the sunset.

As I’ve noted countless times before, Nagoya is one of the most underrated cities in Japan.  It is here that I first attended the World Cosplay Summit back in 2017, went to Legoland and Nagashima Spa Land, and also met my first boyfriend at a gaming bar (which is a legendary story I’ll save for later).  Though Osaka and Kyoto undoubtedly overshadow this city with their hotspring getaways and large amusement parks like Universal Studios, Nagoya has a cozy atmosphere that can’t be beat.  There are far less tourists here but still a lot of interesting things to see.  As much as I love living in Tokyo, I often find it hard to relax so I try to escape to Nagoya at least twice a month.  Every time I travel here, I discover something completely new and amazing.  Be it a cafe, park, or meeting a new friend—I’m always left with fond memories on my way home.

I’ll be noting some of my recent discoveries in this article.  Please see Aesthetic Food Finds in Nagoya for my recommended foods.

Yamazaki River

I had planned on flying to Aomori Prefecture earlier this year because it was ranked as the best place to see the cherry blossoms in Japan, but the festival was sadly cancelled due to the COVID-19.  Fortunately my boyfriend took me to a semi-secluded area in Nagoya where the Yamazaki River runs through and you can see a perfect view of the cherry blossoms in this prefecture.  Since the branches hang over the river, the petals gently fall into the water creating that dream-like Japan aesthetic you see in anime or printed on postcards.  The sakura donut I picked up at Lyrical Coffee Donut only added to the already perfect scenery.  Fortunately we could come here and still practice social distancing while enjoying the best season in Japan.  It was a small moment of peace amidst the chaos around the world that I’ll never forget.

On our way back, we stumbled upon a very interesting restaurant called “Not Curry“.  The menu consisted of some sort of soup pairing with rice.  What interesting advertising!  Also, the internet pointed out that my shadow looked like Isabelle from Animal Crossing when I uploaded it to social media.  I haven’t played the game due to wanting to devote my free time to research and writing, but who would have thought!  All sorts of magical things were happening here.

Yamazaki River Access

2 Chome Murakamicho, Mizuho Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 467-0008

Tsurumai “Pokeball” Park

This park became a meme in Nagoya due to it’s circular Pokeball-like shape and the fact that it’s a Pokemon Go hotspot.  Besides Shiratori Park, Tsurumai is one of the most beautiful parks in Nagoya.  I loved seeing the beautiful European-esque fountain, life-sized bird cages and gardens, and railings shaped like birds.  Not to mention there was tall grass where you could seemingly hunt Pokemon.  I imagine this is a popular photoshoot location for Pokemon cosplayers during World Cosplay Summit.

Our favorite activity here was live-Tweeting turtles.  We sat by the pond and watched in awe as a turtle from underwater swam up to join its friend on the rock.  Being a turtle and living in complete ignorance of the COVID crisis must be blissful.

Tsurumai Park Access

1 Chome-1 Tsurumai, Showa Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 466-0064

In my next article, I will be exploring more aesthetic food finds in Nagoya.  Please stay tuned for more updates~

Lavender Fields Forever, Alpacas, and the Blue Pond!

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Lavender Fields Forever taken at Farm Tomita in Furano, Japan.

There’s nothing quite like backpacking through flower farms and eating lavender ice cream in the countryside of Japan.  During this time of year (late June – August), Hokkaido’s flowers are in full bloom and many people flock to Furano and Biei to enjoy the view.  There are a number of farms you can visit by taking the Lilac Express from Sapporo Station, and each of them have unique attractions and food!

I first started at Farm Tomita which is just walking distance from Lavender Farm Station (what a cute name)!  This is one of the most famous farms due to its large variety of flora, melon farm, and delicious lavender-flavored food.  The fields here are very large and you can easily spend over an hour here.  I highly recommend trying the tiny slices of lavender cheesecake and hiking to the top of the hill for a unforgettable view.  Here is a map of other lavender farms that you can visit in the area.

Afterwards I decided to take the express train from Lavender Farm Station to Biei Station and take a sightseeing bus to see the Blue Pond.  This miraculous pond was formed by aluminum and sulfur mixing in with the water during a landslide.  Groundwater washing in from the nearby Shirahige Falls and Shirogane Hot Spring also played a role in helping it obtain its color.  What makes it amazing is that trees are still growing from the bottom of it.  The color of the pond slightly changes over the course of the year and it has become an extremely popular tourist attraction.  It was a cloudy summer day when I arrived, so I was able to capture a wonderful blue hill:

Unbeknownst to me, the sightseeing bus next stopped at a flower farm called Shikisai-no-oka, where you can rent vehicles to ride through the fields and also see alpacas!  I was absolutely exhausted from backpacking, so I spent the majority of my time with the alpacas.  They were fluffy and adorable–definitely a sight for sore eyes!

Overall, Furano and Biei make for a wonderful day trip in Hokkaido!  They are fairly secluded areas in a valley of mountains so this trip was the perfect escape from the city.  These areas are quite crowded during the summer seasons by tourists who come to see the flowers, so be sure to come early and “be careful about saliva”.