Exploring Karatsu on the Night of the Olympic Torch Relay

Terrarium at Kankyo Geijitsu no Mori

After spending a lovely evening in my teacup-shaped bath in Ureshino and visiting the cafe featured in Zombieland Saga, I set off for Karatsu which is another featured area from the series. Karatsu is famous for its terraced rice fields and was also one of the locations for the 2021 Olympic Torch Relay. By pure coincidence I just happened to be there on the final day of the relay in Saga on May 9th. Though I didn’t have time to watch it due to my returning flight departing that night to Tokyo, I was happy to see Saga during one of liveliest times. Saga previously had the reputation of being one of the most boring prefectures in Japan, but Zombieland Saga and the relay have changed that. I was able to see so many sights in such a short time so I was overall very satisfied with my trip.

Without further ado, here are my top recommendations in Karatsu:

Kankyo Geijitsu no Mori

Kankyo Geijitsu no Mori is a nature park in the mountains with beautiful flora and an observatory with reflective surfaces where you can take aesthetic pictures. I was very impressed to see trees whose leaves had already turned red here at the start of summer! There are also nature trails that lead you through lush forests and take you to the top of the mountain. The best part about this place is that it’s open year round so you can see the scenery during every season!

Previously I had tried to go to a similar temple in Kyoto called Rurikoin, but it is only open during certain times of the year and requires reservation. Kankyo Geijitsu no Mori is just as beautiful and has no closing time, so I would recommend this place instead.

Getting here was a bit of a challenge as I had to ride to Kyuragi Station from Saga Station on a local train that only comes once or twice per hour and call 3 different taxi companies to take me here, but I can proudly say that my effort was worth it! Show Taxi kindly picked me up from the station and drove me back when I had finished sightseeing without any difficulty. This is one of the best places to do photography in Karatsu and due to its remote location, it is not very crowded either.

Address: 667 Kyuragimachi Hirano, Karatsu, Saga 849-3131

Terraced Rice Fields

One of the best places to view the sunset in Karatsu is at the terraced rice fields of Terraced Rice Fields of Hamanoura because they are usually filled up with water in the summer and have a dramatic backdrop of the sea. The patterns are gorgeous here and almost remind me of scenery in Bali! These are way more interesting than the usual rice fields you find in prefectures just outside of Tokyo, so they were high on my list of things to see. Due to the Olympic Torch Relay taking place in this area, there were a lot of people here but I managed to snap some amazing photos and bask in their beauty.

Once again, these rice fields are a bit remote so I rode the train to Karatsu Station and hailed a cab outside of it. I as extremely fortunate that my driver was familiar with Zombieland Saga and offered to take me around to all of the famous places from the anime. He also informed me that since so many fans of the anime have been coming to Saga lately that the economy here is in quite good shape. This is not the first time that I’ve heard otaku are saving Japan’s economy, and I am very happy to be part of the movement!

Address: Hamanoura, Genkai, Higashimatsuura District, Saga 847-1433

Zombieland Saga Mansion

On the way back to the station, my driver took me to the official mansion from Zombieland Saga! This building was previously the Karatsu City Museum of History and Folklore but closed in 2003. Further back in history, it was also the former Mitsubishi branch of Saga explaining its beautiful western design. Though you can’t go inside of it, you can admire it from afar. If you look at the windows, you may see some familiar zombie idols looking back at you! Nearby this mansion is Ohori Park which you will also recognize from the series. If I had more time I would have gone to Karatsu Castle too, but I am happy enough that I got the chance to see Franchouchou HQ up close! Karatsu Station currently has Zombieland Saga flags and cutouts to welcome tourists, so I felt very at home here.

Saga Rebellion

Episodes 8 and 9 of Zombieland Saga Revenge focus on Yugiri’s past during the Meiji Era of Japan. In this era Saga was seized and became a part of Nagasaki triggering the Saga Rebellion of 1874. After finally being liberated from her job as a high ranking courtesan, Yugiri meets a young man who is determined to restore Saga’s status as an independent prefecture. Watching these episodes really moved me because I learned that the spirit of the people of Saga is unyielding and indigenous. They could have surrendered but they fought for their independence and that is why Saga is its own prefecture separate from Nagasaki today. When I studied the Meiji Era in college, Saga was never once mentioned so I was delighted to learn about this from one of my favorite anime and research it on my own. I hope this series continues to shed light on lesser known facts about history so I can continue to learn about them!

Organic Lunch at Ohisama

While waiting for the infrequent local trains in Saga, I decided to try an organic food restaurant called Ohisama near the castle. This building not only has an amazing kitchen but is also connected to a small store that sells organic food. I happily indulged in their lunch set that was completely vegetarian. Saga cuisine has a ton of flavor and is really out of this world! Everything on my plate was extremely delicious and came with healthy brown rice and miso soup. Yet again I was excited to have eaten such a wholesome meal made with tender care.

Address: 2 Chome-5-30 Tafuse, Saga, 840-0823

Heading Back to the Airport

The most beautiful train ride ever from Karatsu Station to Fukuoka Airport!

Though I really wished I could have stayed to watch the Olympic Torch Relay, I had a flight to catch in Fukuoka and work the next day so I had my driver drop me off at Karatsu station and took the rapid train to the airport. I was about to play my Switch to pass time when I was blinded by an emerging light from the opposite window. This was the most beautiful train ride I had ever experienced because there was so much sunlight and I could sea the ocean and forests of Saga. It felt like I was warping through time and was truly an unforgettable experience‚ÄĒthe perfect way to end this trip!

Overall I had an amazing time visiting Fukuoka and Saga over the span of 3 days and am still mindblown by all of the things that I had saw. Although at first I thought Saga was extremely boring compared to the other prefectures in Kyushu, the journey greatly changed my way of thinking and I have Zombieland Saga to thank for that. The history of Saga is extremely rich and I get fired up just thinking about the Saga Rebellion. I am happy that they fought for their independence and won, else this trip would have never been possible!

I hope to come back to Kyushu this summer to see Kagoshima and the volcanic island Sakurajima. It is also a dream of mine to see a rocket launch from Tanegashima, so I am positive I will be back in Kyushi in the future. Thank you for keeping up with my adventures. I will be writing more soon!

Exploring Kyoto’s Sacred Moss Temple: Saihoji

Over the last three days I have been backpacking around Kyoto for the purpose of seeing the sakura in full bloom and capturing them on camera. Having witnessed enough pink petals to last me the rest of the year, on my final day of the trip I decided to take a bus deep into Arashiyama to see the lush green moss garden of Saihoji, also known as “Kokedera”. I have ventured to Arashiyama at least three times in the past to see the bamboo forest and go hiking around Oi River, but I never knew that this place existed until one of my coworkers told me about a mysterious temple that only accepted reservations by postcard. Since I am a curious adventurer, I mailed a paid reply postcard addressed to Saihoji a week before my departure with my requested visiting time and received a written response welcoming me on March 31st, 2021. It is recommended to visit during the summer season when the moss looks its fullest by absorbing the most sunlight and rain, but Saihoji is open year-round to those who make a reservation. I was lucky enough to see the sakura outside of it at full bloom because I came at the end of March!

Getting to Saihoji & Reservation Process

Saihoji is actually quite easy to reach from Kyoto Station. The 73 and 83 buses are almost a straight shot there and take around 55 minutes to reach the Kokedera Bus Stop. The bus only costs 230 yen so I would recommend it over the train route which requires multiple transfers and is more expensive.

You can make a reservation for Saihoji one week ~ one month in advance. Usually they will ask you to enter between 10am to 12pm. If you live in Japan you can buy a paid reply postcard at any post office and mail it directly from there. You can write in either English or Japanese. Please note that garden is sometimes closed during times of the year for maintenance. For detailed instructions on how to fill out your postcard, please see the official admission page. If you live overseas, I recommend mailing it from your accommodation once you arrive to Japan as opposed to going through a foreign booking agency because it may cost double the price.

I found it ironic that the temple has an official Instagram account that updates frequently but still only accepts reservations via postcard. That is Japan in a nutshell for you!

Admission Fee: 3000 yen

This is more expensive than other temples in Japan, but the maintenance of the moss garden takes quite a lot of effort so I would say the money is worth it. This temple is extremely rare so I would recommend it to those who have been to Kyoto before and are looking for a more unique experience. You will also get a postcard and a sheet with kanji you can trace and offer as prayer. Though I am not religious, I enjoyed learning about the customs of Saihoji. I spent about 45 minutes here and was satisfied with what I saw.

Exploring the Moss Garden

Once you enter through Saihoji’s main entrance, you will immediately see the main temple and a small stone garden ahead. After paying your respects to the temple, the gate to the moss garden is simply a stone’s throw away. As you walk around you will discover a beautiful pond, tiny bridges to small islets, and the greenest moss that you have ever seen:

Seeing the reflection of the moss on the pond was my favorite part. Though areas were roped off to preserve the garden, there still was a lot to explore. Apparently Saihoji’s innovative design later influenced the layout of the Ginkakuji so this temple really has a lot going for it.

Here is a short video I took while trekking on the stone path around the moss garden:

I definitely felt relaxed and achieved total zen during this journey, but afterwards I headed back to central Arashiyama for some food because I was starving!

Recommended Food in Arashiyama

Since yuba (tofu skin) is extremely famous in this area, I decided to try to yuba rice set at Saga Tofu Ine. This meal was completely vegan and tasted even better than the yuba that I tried in Nikko! I also stopped by the Miffy Sakura Kitchen for dessert. This place was so popular that only the Danish and sakura cube bread were available when I arrived, but both of them were delicious and the little bunny shape was so adorable. I definitely want to come here outside of sakura season when it is less crowded!

Please look forward to my next two posts on the highlights of sakura season in Kyoto! I still have one more to publish on Nagoya too… It sure feels good to be busy traveling again!

Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory Cafe at Shibuya Loft

As I was doing some last minute Christmas shopping with my best friend in Shibuya, we accidentally stumbled upon the Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory Cafe on the 2nd floor of Shibuya Loft. I had heard about the new Kingdom Hearts rhythm game that had recently been released, but didn’t realize that there was a new cafe for for it. Additionally, I later read online that the story was told from Kairi’s point of view and featured a new scene at the end that set things up for the next game in the series. Though at first I thought the game sounded like a more theatrical Theatrhythm with KH characters, as someone who has played the series from adolescence and still loved the music I was sold. I bought the game for Switch and made a reservation for the cafe online for the following Monday evening with my friend.

The Kingdom Hearts Cafe in Shibuya Loft is running from December 11th, 2020 – January 11th, 2020, but the featured menu at the Square Enix cafes in Tokyo and Osaka are running until March 12th, 2021. To make a reservation, please see the Cafe Homepage (I highly recommend making a reservation).

The entrance to the Shibuya Loft KH Cafe is adorable and features artwork of the 4 teams and gameplay trailers on several large monitors. To prevent spread of the corona virus, you are asked to sanitize your hands and write down your order at the entrance as well as wear as mask until you are seated. We booked the final slot at 19:20 and were lucky because we almost had the cafe completely to ourselves!

The menu from this cafe has some magical entrees. We ordered Kairi’s Memories of Cream Stew that came with rice in the shape of a paopu fruit and Mickey’s Tuna Sandwich with his little emblem stamped on the bread. There were also rice dishes that bared a resemblance to the Agrabah and Neverland stages, but we decided to focus on the themed character dishes this time. We ordered the Friendship Strawberry Tea that came with a lot of fruit and a plastic cutout of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy and made a toast. Kingdom Hearts food is not only elaborate but also very good! Please see the full menu on the Cafe Homepage.

There are a lot of neat souvenirs available for purchase here, but some of these things were already previously available for purchase in the Square Enix shop. I would mainly recommend coming here to collect the coasters as they will only be available for the duration of the cafe. And most importantly; enjoy the music! All of the remixed songs in the new game sound really amazing!

My only complaint with this cafe is that they didn’t have a large variety of desserts like previous Square Enix Cafe collaborations. They had seasalt ice cream popsicles which are iconic to the series, but I really wished they had a cute music note parfait that I could order too!

For previous reference, here was the seasalt ice cream I had during the KHIII event at Artnia:

The little star-shaped sprinkles really added to the ambience and it was cool to be served ice cream on a mini platter. Definitely high-class service here.

I also ate Cloud’s sword during the FF7R event. Hilarious how this parfait is banana-flavored, of all things:

Though a lot of fans have mixed feelings about the direction that Nomura is taking the KH and FF7R series, both have been a huge part of my life since childhood and I look forward to going to more events for them now that I live in Japan. I am super excited for the next installment in the World Ends with You and hope to go to that cafe too.