The Great Bike Trip: From Kawayu Onsen to Yoshinoyama (Day 3)

img_8335
Just restoring my MP.

Having survived the harsh sun and rain of the first two days, we next set off for our motorbike adventure deep in the mountains of Nara Prefecture!  On the way there we decided to stop at the famous cemetery in Koyasan and also make our way to some viewpoints so we could experiment with skyline photography.  I had a lot of fun testing out the Canon EOS M I was lent for this trip and it turned out to be quite the relaxing day.  Though some of the parts of the mountain were steep, they were overall smooth and easy to ride on.  The main motivation for riding here was the luxury ryokan awaiting us upon completion of this trail.  This trip was going by so fast that I couldn’t believe it was halfway over…

For the introduction and full context of this trip, please see Day 1 (From Tokyo to Ise) and Day 2 (From Mihama Beach to Kawayu Onsen).

Departure

The 3rd day began on August 3rd at 6:30am.  I took one last dip in the river onsen before we departed because it was the perfect way to start the day.  We definitely got our money’s worth at Kawayu Ryokan!  Our original plan was to go to Awaji Island on this day but due to the rain our itinerary changed.  Tonight our final destination was a ryokan designed by a famous architect in the mountains of Nara (Yoshinoyama) which took approximately 4 hours to reach (with breaks included).  We decided to spend more time in Wakayama and see some extremely rare sites that are only accessible by vehicle while making our way through the deep mountain paths.

Our updated map travel map looked like this:

Mt. Tamaki & Tamakijinja Shrine

Our first destination was a viewpoint on Mt. Tamaki that was approximately 45 mins away from Kawayu Onsen.  It conveniently had a free parking lot for motorbikes since it’s located next to Tamakijinja Shrine.  The sun had already rose so we stood here and took pictures of the clouds cascading over the mountains.  The cedar trees in the forest were beautiful too!  They brought back fond memories that I had hiking through Yakushima.  How nostalgic.

We next walked 15 minutes to the World Heritage Site of Tamakijinja Shrine.  The area was partially shaded by foliage so it was an easy hike.  The morning breeze felt lovely too.

Tamakijinja Shrine

Tamakijinja Shrine is small in size but is located in one of the most beautiful areas of the mountain.  The cedar trees that surround it are estimated to be about 3000 years old.  If you ever get the chance to visit this area of Nara, I highly recommend this forest!  I would have never even known about it if it wasn’t for my experienced driver.

Tanize Suspension Bridge

Tanize Suspension Bridge is located near Mt. Tamaki and is one of the longest suspension bridges in Japan.  It connects the villages of Uenochi and Tanize and has a gorgeous pale blue river underneath it.  My driver thought I would appreciate the photo op so we stopped here to take a break.  The bridge was extremely stable and safe to walk across.  I didn’t get much of a thrill from it but I did love looking at the river below.  The construction that went into this is quite impressive.

Other than the bridge, there’s really not a lot to do here.  But I did try some strange-looking sushi wrapped in cabbage because that’s apparently the specialty here.  It was vegetarian-friendly and quite healthy.  The taste was a bit different than what I was used to but it gave me the energy I needed to power through the rest of this day:

img_8173
You really need to try cabbage sushi at least once in your life.

Koyasan

Our next stop was Koyasan (also known as Mt. Koya), which is a quaint little town in Nara filled with temples and one of Japan’s most famous cemeteries: Okunoin.  The mausoleum here is where is where Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, lies in eternal meditation.  He is one of the most prominent figures in religious history making this area a sacred pilgrimage site.  In addition to him, many monks and feudal lords have been buried here.  You’ll also find some interesting looking tombstones dedicated to animals and science figures.  There are numerous bridges that you can cross to reach the mausoleum which make the journey interesting.  I also noticed that the leaves on the trees here were already turning red even though August had just began!

This is a place that I would not normally choose to go by myself because I am not religious or that well-versed in history, but my driver guided me through it which made the experience a lot more enriching.  A curious thing that I noticed here was that many statues were wearing red bibs.  I asked my driver why, and he didn’t know off the top of his head so we both researched it while we were resting.

img_8185
Jizo statues protect the souls of children and travelers.

According to Tadaima Japan, these statues are called Jizo and have two main roles:

“Their main role is to protect children. They also protect the souls of children who passed away and unborn babies. […] The other main role of Jizo is to protect the travelers, which is why you will often find Jizo statues on the side of the roads.”

I’ve seen these statues before in other areas of Japan, but I never understood the true symbolism until now.  It makes sense that parents would want to wish a safe journey to their children in the afterlife by praying to Jizo.  I’ve also encountered some in my mountain hikes and am glad that they are watching over me.  Koyasan is a really great place to learn more about these kinds of subjects if you are interested.

After cooling off at the rest center here, we took a 2 hour ride towards Yoshinoyama to reach our final destination for the day:

Chikurin-in Gumpeon Ryokan

Our final destination was the famous Chikurin-in Gumpeon ryokan in Yoshinoyama.  This ryokan was originally a temple that housed high-ranking monks who appraised the mountain.  The former Emperor of Japan, Hirohito, has even stayed here!  Now it servers as a famous hotspring resort that is open to the public but much of the original architecture has been preserved.  A famous ikebana artist designed the garden outside and you can tell that a lot of articulate work was put into the aesthetic here.  Due to the pandemic, there was only one other guest staying at the time so we got upgraded to a family room for free.  That is literally the best hospitality we could have asked for.  It really was an honor staying here!

Here is a video tour of our upgraded family room.  This is hands-down the most fancy resort that I have every stayed at and I am eternally grateful to my sponsor for the trip:

Since the sun was going down and we were starving, we grabbed a healthy meal from a restaurant across the street.  The roads of Yoshinoyama are extremely narrow but you can easily find food and drinks near wherever you are staying.  Just be careful because some places close around 6pm.  This area designed for relaxing at your hotspring and is remote from the city so I recommend staying here overnight.  You will thank yourself later.

This was a seasonal food set that consisted of vegetables, soup, tofu, salad, tempura and rice.  It was so healthy and delicious.  You can find a lot of these meals in Yoshinoyama!

At this point we were exhausted and headed off to bed in our family-size ryokan, but I will be writing more about this area in my next and final article of this series!

Day 3 Itinerary: 80% Completion

It’s hard to score our completion due to us completely skipping over Awaji Island, but in hindsight I’m happy we did.  This was a full day that was packed with activity so I give us another 80%.  This gave us more time to explore the mountains of Nara and area around our famed ryokan.  Had we gone to Awaji, we would have missed out on seeing the shrines and learning about the history of Koyasan.  The best thing is that we agreed to go to Awaji on another trip over dinner so we wouldn’t be rushed with our activities.  That is the perfect compromise!

I will be writing my final article tomorrow as soon as I wake up.  Thank you to everyone that has been reading and supporting me!  There are many more adventures to come.

The Most Psychedelic Museums in Tokyo

39526058_10215150291462056_2610634714834272256_n
Step into the stars at teamLab’s “Borderless” museum in Odaiba.

As Japan slowly starts to re-open its museums and recreational facilities, I figured I’d write an article on some of the most psychedelic museums I’ve been to in Tokyo!  Earlier I wrote an article on the Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums I’ve been to in Asia, but today I want to share my experience at some of my runner-up choices.  All of these places should be re-opening soon, but I will include links to the websites so you can verify it for yourself.  Prepare yourself for some rich neon aesthetic visuals:

Art Aquarium

Dive into a sea of colors at Nihombashi’s gallant Art Aquarium!  This is a seasonal exhibition that is typically held at the end of each year and attracts a large number of gatherers.  Many tanks are elaborately decorated with jewels reminiscent of the Edo period and illuminated with neon lights.  You can see a number of kingyo (goldfish) here as they swim in a vivid motion that is beautifully captured with the layout of the aquarium.  There are projections on the wall that create a mirror-like effect with the intricate glass designs.  I’ve been to a number of museums in Asia before, but I’ve never seen anything as captivating as this.

It’s hard to describe this in words, so here is a video I took back in 2017:

Admission Fee: 1000 yen*

*The location and time of this museum changes each year, so be sure to check their official website for more information.

teamLab Borderless

If you’ve researched any museums in Japan, teamLab probably appears at the top of the list.  Hands down, this team consists of some of the most creative and innovative designers in the world.  They have created cutting-edge visuals that represent many familiar environments but take you to a whole another planet.  If you are interested in seeing the latest art and technology exhibits in the world then their current exhibits are something you should definitely check out!

Borderless is a relatively new museum in Odaiba that defines itself as “a museum without a map”.  The very first room is like a maze with floral patterns projected all over the walls and the ceiling.  As you explore the rooms, you will find somewhere that looks like a forest with visuals of falling rain and lily pads.  It truly feels like you’ve entered a cyberpunk world as you navigate through various virtual structures.  I pictured “The Wired” from Serial Experiments Lain, but fear not because Borderless is far more colorful and welcoming.

You will eventually reach a room full of flickering lanterns which is one of the most popular attractions here.  You only have around 2-3 minutes to take pictures, so be sure to use your time wisely.  After you exit, you will be released into what seems like a giant planetarium, but also has an art aquarium and places for children to play.  Unlike the art aquarium I mentioned above, you can draw your own fish on paper then have them scanned and displayed in a virtual fish tank that is projected on the wall:

I truly can’t decide which aquarium I enjoyed the most—this or the one in Nihombashi!  The Doraemon and Luffy fish here are definitely a rare find.  I was happy to see that there were attractions for people for all ages to enjoy.

The con of this museum is the time limit in the lantern room (which you cannot re-enter once you exit), and the fact that so many people choose to do photoshoots and take selfies here that sometimes it feels more like a tourist attraction than a place to appreciate art.  However, the museum is so big you can easily wander to a place where there are less people and find peace.  Plus the soothing music played from the speakers drowns out idle chatter.  I found that some projections are so immersive that you completely forget the people around you too.  I’m still amazed by everything I was able to see here.

Critics online joke how this is one of the most-photographed museums in Japan and that they’re tired of seeing photos here, but you can’t deny how genius the exhibitions here are.  This museum has overall received numerous praise and is a place that I’d recommend to most people who are interested.  You’ll never forget your experience here.

Admission Fee: 3200 yen*

*You MUST select a timeslot and purchase a ticket online in advance to enter the museum.  See the official website for ticket sales (it is best to buy from them directly).

teamLab DMM.Planets

DMM.Planets is an older teamLab exhibit that I first visited in 2016 in Odaiba, but it later got moved to Toyosu as a permanent museum.  Once again, this is one of the most popular museums in Japan as it takes you through a psychedelic journey in space:

When you enter the museum, you are asked to take off your shoes and put them in a locker because some exhibits completely prohibit shoes. Oh boy, what an adventure! The very first room you enter simulates a black hole. The lights are dimmed and you must climb over beanbags that threaten to suck you into the void. Fortunately, this is quite a fun challenge. Once you climb over them (many people choose to sit and relax in them first because they are quite comfy), you will reach a room full of mirrors and dazzling hanging lights. This is the most popular attraction, because the lights simulate falling stars and you can take really beautiful pictures with them. This really reminded me of a Kirby game!

After the lightshow comes the infamous psychedelic pond that you will walk through to reach the next area. Here you can see projected koi fish swimming around your ankles and other beautiful LSD-inspired works of art. I had a blast taking photos here because it was so interactive that I felt like I was part of the exhibit. You will be asked to wash your feet before and after you enter this area so everything stays sanitary. The water isn’t that deep at all so you really don’t have to worry about getting wet. Just be sure to project your phone!

The last room simulates a small planetarium with beautiful floral aesthetics and star shapes projected on the ceiling. You can lay down and look up at the sky as if you were star-gazing. The best part is you can stay here as long as you want. I stayed for quite a while because it was very relaxing!

Between Planets and Borderless, it’s really hard for me to choose a favorite because I have wonderful memories at each of the exhibits. I would almost say I like Planets more because there are no time limits and there are less people now that the museum has been here for a while. However, if you are only in Japan for a short while, I would recommend Borderless because the Odaiba area has more to see than Toyosu. I would research both of them first and see which one strikes you as the most interesting before choosing.

Admission Fee: 3200 yen*

*You MUST select a timeslot and purchase a ticket online in advance to enter the museum.  See the official website for ticket sales (it is best to buy from them directly).

If you are interested in any of my other art museum articles outside of Tokyo, please see my Naoshima article!  I will continue to check out museums and review them as more of places re-open!

The Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums I’ve Been to in Asia

Throughout my travels in Asia, I’ve managed to stumble upon some pretty awe-inspiring museums.  I enjoy traditional art as well as hands-on modern exhibits found in galleries around the world today.  My favorite museums are those that combine innovative technology with art and science—shattering perceived ideas and adding a whole other dimension to the viewer’s experience.

I’ve compiled a list of my top 3 favorites museums in Asia that are phenomenal examples of how innovative technology can be used to break the borders of art as we know it (starting from the top):

1. The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (Kanazawa, Japan)

24862346_10213210675772876_3669807042170815597_n
pool’s open

Mana Pool.  What you see here might just be my favorite exhibition in the world.  This image looks like some kind of mirage or frozen frame from a vaporwave music video, but there are actually living, breathing people going about their daily routines under the waters of this pool.  You can even “dive in” and join them—but you can’t jump or use the ladder.  Instead you must reach the underwater zone from another entrance (which can easily be found by following the signs).

This pool was constructed with a limestone deck at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan (shortened to Kanazawa 21).  A thin layer of water is contained in transparent glass giving it the look of a real swimming pool.  However, underneath the glass is an underground room that is completely empty.  From the point of view of those who stand at the surface, you can create the illusion that you are walking underwater by taking a staircase beside the pool.  It truly is a vaporwave dream that has been realized by the power of aesthetics and science.

In addition to the pool, there are various rooms with simulations you can enter.  My personal favorite was “The Killing Machine”.  Photography was not allowed in some areas, so I will leave the contents up to your imagination.  I found some neat aviation and space exhibits when I first visited.  Some exhibits rotate, so please check the Exhibition page for the most recent ones.

This museum is an important part of Kanazawa’s culture because it draws a large number of people to the city.  Its design is very modern but somehow fits in the center of Kanazawa’s historic streets because it has a beautiful outdoor park and is near the Kenrokuen Gardens.  The outside of the museum has free exhibits you can see as well.

Here is my pool-walking video that I took in 2017.  The Swimming Pool is a permanent exhibit that can be seen year round so I hope to return and take better quality videos in the future.

Access

1 Chome-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-8509
Entrance Fee: 360 yen for temporary exhibitions (some exhibits are free)

2. Nexon Computer Museum (Jeju, Korea)

Over Golden Week I traveled to the island of Jeju in Korea, but instead of the beaches (which are by far the best in Korea) I was most drawn to the iconic Nexon Computer Museum.  Nexon is the company responsible for creating Maple Story and the longest running commercial graphic MMO in the world: Baram, also known as Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds.  I was really surprised to see that a modest company in Korea had this award; which makes me think that Nexon is seriously underrated so naturally I wanted to learn more.

When I entered the museum, a wall full of lockers shaped like keys greeted me.  Instantly I was impressed with the on-point aesthetics here.  The cafe also had keyboard-shaped waffles, or what you’d call “sticky keys” which was another reason I had to travel all the way out here.

The museum is split into 4 floors; starting with the history of computing, then videogames and educational programs, and finally arcades in the basement!  I felt a strange sense of nostalgia but also was fascinated with some of the original things that Nexon had worked on.  From fantasy MMORPGs to EA Sports, there was quite a repertoire of games you could play here.  They also had collections of old Apple computers and the infamous Nintendo Power Glove on display here.

Here is the Guinness World Record for The Kingdom of the Winds on display which was originally launched in 1996:

Access

3198-8 1100(Cheonbaek)-ro, Nohyeong-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
Entrance Fee: ₩8,000

3. Open Air Museum (Hakone, Japan)

15966283_10210310367986994_2441449962839457255_n
Arguably the best open air vaporwave museum in existence.

While day tripping to Hakone from Tokyo, I discovered the loveliest museum with a stained glass cathedral, Persona-esque sculptures, and even a foot bath outside of the cafe!  The Hakone Open Air Museum is almost entirely outdoors and is close to Mt. Fuji so you have the perfect mountain backdrop for your viewing experience.  Right as I entered I was greeted by a marble head floating in an empty pool that gave me massive リサフランク420 vibes.  There is an indoor Picasso Exhibition Hall as well, but the main draw is the abstract sculptures and mysterious moats on the outskirts:

These sculptures are said to symbolize the balance of harmony and art, but some of them are warped beyond belief and seem to represent a feeling of discord or solitude.  I personally thought they looked a lot like shadows from the Persona series; especially the ones wearing masks.  However you interpret it, you’ll definitely have a good time here.  Especially if you bring some good music.

Here is one of the best shots I captured by climbing up the cathedral with my old camera:

15894401_10210310373867141_8233501185474796733_n
m o u n t a i n w a v e

Access

1121 Ninotaira, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0407
Entrance Fee: 1600 yen

Honorable Mentions:

  • Mori Art Museum (Tokyo) – This museum is one of the most frequently visited ones in Japan due of its upscale art and central access.  I visited it once and thought it was nice to see, but the exhibits change frequently so it’s hard for me to gauge it.  There wasn’t a piece that really stood out to me like in other galleries I’ve visited, but it is worth seeing if you’re interested in modern art.
  • Benesse House (Naoshima) – An contemporary art museum on a remote art project island in Shikoku, Japan.  There is a beach nearby that you can go swimming at, and it’s absolutely gorgeous!  I will be writing more about this quirky art island in a future article.
  • teamLab: Everyone is talking about this “borderless” art museum, and it is undoubtedly one of the most high-tech in the world.  I’ve been to both the Planets and the new museum that opened up in Odaiba.  Both have blown me away with how much work was put into the lighting with the interactive exhibits.  It almost feels like you’re living in a neon hologram when you walk through some rooms.  However, due to this museum’s popularity, you can only see some exhibits for a short period of time.  Unfortunately due to the crowds it is sometimes difficult to fully enjoy things here, but it is worth seeing.

*I will be expanding upon these honorable mentions in future articles.  My travel plans have been slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic so I am currently digging through my archive to create more content.