Touring Komodo Island and Swimming with Manta Rays

A fearless Komodo Dragon basks in the sunlight on the beaches of Komodo National Park in Indonesia.

After spending four days in central Ubud and seeing temples and beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites, I decided to fly to Komodo Island so I could see these majestic dragons in their natural habitat. Komodo Dragons are native to Indonesia and prefer extremely dry climates. They are found on four islands including Komodo, Rinca, Flores, and Gili Montang. Komodo Dragons are capable of running very fast and are highly venomous, so if you want to see them it’s always recommended to go with a local guide or on a tour. I booked a day tour that stopped at the highlights of Padar Island and Komodo National Park through EventBrite for $84. This tour included hiking, swimming at a Pink Beach, a tour through Komodo National Park, and snorkeling with Manta Rays so I think it was extremely worth the price. I was absolutely exhausted at the end of the tour, but grateful that I had the chance to see so many rare sites.

Getting to Komodo Island

From Denpasar Airport in central Bali, I booked a roundtrip ticket to Labuan Bajo Airport on Komodo Island through Lion Air for $115. This is the average price of tickets to the island from Bali so it wasn’t a bad deal.

You can also take a multiple day boat tour here from Lombok, but some of the tours have mixed reviews due to the quality of the accommodations on the ship. These tours allow you to see more locations where Komodo Dragons live, however, and can sometimes be a better bargain.

Expect to stay on Komodo Island for at least 3 days since hotel pickup for the Komodo National Park tours start before 6am and end in the evening. I found my stay to be extremely relaxing and loved how gorgeous the island was. I would highly recommend coming here if you love adventure!

Trekking through Padar Island

My guide picked me up around 6am and took me to the pier where I met up with my tour group on a speedboat. Our first stop of the tour was Padar Island, which is a rocky island in the Komodo archipelago with beautiful mountains and lush scenery. Hiking to the top of the hills gives you a beautiful view of the ocean and surrounding islands. What’s unique about Padar Island is that although there is wildlife there, no people live on the island which is why its nature is so pristine and clear. Though hiking to the top definitely left me in a sweat, the view was worth it!

Swimming at Pink Beach

The next stop of the tour was Pink Beach, which had been on my bucket list for the longest time. Though many people argue if the sand on the beach is actually pink or edited in photos, I can confirm that it here really did look pink here! You can especially see the bright pink color when the waves soak the sand.

But how do pink beaches get their color? According to The World Travel Guy:

Pink beaches apparently get their color from foraminifera, which are microscopic red organisms that live in the coral reefs and get washed up on the beach.

The World Travel Guy

Not only was the pink color visible on the beach, but you can also see traces of it when you go snorkeling in the water. I would highly recommend coming here even if you don’t want to go on the full tour, because traveling to a pink beach is a once in a lifetime experience!

Touring Komodo National Park

Our next stop was the main event: Komodo National Park. There are around 3000 Komodo Dragons residing on this island, but unfortunately during our tour we only saw a few of them lounging on the beach. The tour featured two main locations: the beachfront near the pier and a trek on a paved path through the jungle. Though Komodo Dragons are usually active during the day, many of them hide away in the jungle of this island because they do not particularly like humans. But rest assured, this tour is not invasive to their home and the guide will help you safely approach and interact with the dragons. During the trek we saw one Komodo nest which looked like a huge hill on the ground. We learned that Komodo dragons sometimes eat their young which just adds to their infamous legend. Though I was a bit sad we didn’t see more of them, I was happy to see the ones on the beach because they are such rare reptiles.

There are other multiple day trips that you can book online that specifically focus on seeing the dragons, but I liked this tour the best because it stopped at so many different locations in one day.

Swimming with Manta Rays

The last two activities on our tour were snorkeling at Kanawa Island and a dive spot where several giant Manta Rays live. I have swam with smaller Manta Rays on the Big Island of Hawaii, but this was my first time swimming with them in Asia. I actually liked this dive spot better than the Hawaii one because they were much bigger and there was more room to swim. Seeing them up close is an experience that I will never forget! Manta Rays make great snorkeling buddies because they are so friendly. Your guide will help you take pictures and videos if you have an underwater camera.

Recommended Food & Drink

The first place I tried was Happy Banana Komodo, which is a sushi place with vegan options downtown. This was my first time trying sushi in Indonesia so I was very excited to go! I tried two of their rolls that featured avocado and mayo, and also their vegan tofu katsu nigiri. Overall the taste of the sushi was similar to American sushi, but the texture of the wasabi and ginger was a bit off compared to Japan. Despite that, this is one of the best restaurants on the island due to their variety of dishes so I would recommend it.

Komodough is a cute little bakery downtown that had the best pun on the island. Here you can buy fresh loaves of bread to take with you on your travels, coffee, and adorable little pastries. I enjoyed drinking avocado coffee (not pictured because I drank it so fast) and also trying some of their bread. This is a great place to come in the morning for a light breakfast and also at night for a small snack. Overall, I love the business they are doing here and how accommodating they are being open during the morning through the evening.

A new restaurant and cocktail bar had just opened when I arrived on the island, so I decided to check it out. Copper Bonnet Bistro & Bar features fancy craft cocktails and entrees, and was definitely one of the most upscale places that I found on the island. I ordered two cocktails; one that simulated the salty taste of sushi with a piece of nori pinned to the glass, and one that tasted likely bubbly rose and cream. Both were the most original cocktails that I tried in Indonesia, so I highly recommend this place to all who love fine drinks.

Accommodation

I stayed at Bayview Gardens Hotel which had free breakfast and an infinity pool with astonishing views of the bay! Rooms are around $60 per night, but the stay includes breakfast and is in a central location so you can walk to bars and other places easily. Komodo Island has a lot of wonderful accommodations for travelers, but I liked this one because it was extremely quiet and the rooms were top quality. Absolutely perfect for resting after a long day.

Thank you for reading the last article in my Indonesia series! My next big trip will be to Europe in April, but until then I hope to keep writing about fun attractions in Japan. Happy holidays and thank you for keeping up with my travels.

Camping during the Autumn Leaves Festival in Yamanashi

A gradient of beautiful foliage surrounds Minami Inagi Lake in Yamanashi.

After returning to Japan from the Philippines, I decided to go camping in a cabin in the woods with my friends in Yamanashi so I could see the vivid red leaves that this prefecture is famous for. The Red Leaves Festival of Yamanashi is typically held mid-October to late November each year and there are food stalls in some of the central areas that serve warm dishes. Yamanashi is a great place for an Autumn getaway because in some locations you can see a clear view of Mt. Fuji with the changing foliage as a beautiful decoration. I have been to Yamanashi at least two times, but I was happy to visit some lakes and parks I had never seen before during this trip. This was the first time I had been camping in this area, and although it was cold I really enjoyed it!

For information on how to get to Yamanashi from Tokyo, please read my previous Yamanashi article series. For this trip we drove around to the following locations because they were really spread out.

Hiking around Minami Inagi Lake

The first destination on our list was Minami Inagi Lake because it is a beautiful forested area with many trees, a huge lake, and small hiking paths. I loved seeing the natural contrast of green and red leaves as I was doing photography. There are also swans that frequently swim around the lake. Fortunately we came at a time when we were lucky enough to see one! This is by far one of the best lakes to enjoy the Autumn leaves in Yamanashi so I would recommend coming here during this season for the prettiest scenery. Even though this is one of the most popular times to visit, there were still not too many tourists around so it was a peaceful visit.

Address: 1760, Kami-Ichinose, Minami Alps, Yamanashi Prefecture, 400-0317

Seeing Mt. Fuji at Chureito Pagoda

Our second stop was Chureito Pagoda where you could see a great view of Mt. Fuji peaking through the red leaves. Fortunately my friends who used to live in Yamanashi knew the perfect angles to get the best photos of the mountain! Though this pagoda is small, the view makes it worth coming to thisarea. We only spent around 20 minutes here but that was enough to enjoy it. The entrance fee is free so you have no reason not to check it out!

For more pictures of the pagoda during daylight, please check my previous Yamanashi article! Sakura season is a popular time of year to visit too!

Address: 2-chome-4-1 Asama, Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi 403-0011

Kubota Itchiku Museum

Kubota Itchiku Museum has a beautiful outdoor area with Japanese gardens and stone architecture, and an alluring indoor area with tea rooms and silk dyed kimonos on display. This is a place that I missed on my first two trips to Yamanashi so I’m so happy I had the chance to visit. The main building exterior is made out of Okinawan coral and limestone, while the inside is made out of timber wood giving it an architectural design completely unique to itself. I loved taking pictures of the stone gates outdoors and seeing the beautiful patterns of the kimonos. Unfortunately photography of the kimonos was not allowed, but if you visit the museum and look closely, you can see images of Mt. Fuji and various Japanese landscapes which are beautiful. We tried gold wagashi at the tea room and it was the perfect way to end our visit here.

Address: 2255 Kawaguchi, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi 401-0304
Entrance Fee: 1300 yen

Red Leaf Illumination

Conveniently located walking distance from the Kubota Itchiku Museum was the location of the 2022 Red Leaf Festival that has lovely illuminations at night. I enjoyed seeing how the bright lights caught the colors of the leaves. The lanterns that lined the walkways were also a nice touch. Though this illumination was much smaller than the Kyoto Autumn Illuminations I saw previously, I liked how natural it looked Yamanashi isn’t nearly as crowded as Kyoto during this time of year which was truly relaxing. If you come to this festival then before to check out the food stalls scattered throughout the park.

Accommodation

After a full day of sightseeing, we retreated to our cabin by the lake in Saiko Kohan Campsite. The major advantage of staying here was that they gave us a discount for being vaccinated three times, so the cabin only cost 3000 per person for the three of us. The downside was they were sold out of cabins with heaters, so we had to huddle by the campfire and pile on blankets to stay warm at night. However, you can rent blankets and pillows from the front desk so you don’t need to worry about bringing extra camping equipment. Though it was cold, we survived by making s’mores and drinking wine so we would be less cold. I would recommend booking a cabin with a heater far in advance for the best experience. You can also book cabins with air conditioners in the summer too.

Address: 207-7 Saiko, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi 401-0332

Food Recommendations

Though more remote than other areas, Yamanashi never has a shortage of delicious food. On the first day, we stopped at Tree – Anthony’s Kitchen for some satisfying brunch. I ordered an open sandwich with Greek yogurt, mushroom, and eggs on top with a glass of house wine to go with it. I really liked all of the protein they packed into this meal because I needed it for energy!

For dinner we stopped at Shaw’s Sushi Bar and I ordered a vegetarian sushi set that featured a lot of avocado. Avocado sushi is one of my all time favorites and I was so happy that I could order it here, as it’s much more popular in western countries than Japan. I also ordered Junmai sake which made the perfect pairing for this sushi. You really can’t go wrong with any restaurant here!

The next day we stopped for breakfast and coffee at Cisco Coffee that serves up dishes inspired by San Francisco restaurants. The caramel latte was out of this world because it it was topped with a heaping amount of whipped cream, and the egg breakfast sandwhich I had was also very fulfilling. This place also has chicken and waffles if that’s your thing. They really nailed all of the western dishes here!

Before heading back to Tokyo, we stopped at another restaurant called Alpaca Mix that had a lot of Hawaiian themed dishes and Japanese ones too. I ordered a cheese bagel that came with fries and a sweet potato smoothie. My only complaint was that they didn’t blend the ice in the smoothie, otherwise the taste was perfect! My friends ordered omelet rice and garlic shrimp which they both enjoyed. I really liked all of the alpaca themed merchandise here and am very happy that I had the chance to visit.

Thank you for reading my Yamanashi camping article! Next week I will be flying to Bali, so I will be starting another tropical article series soon! Thank you so much for your support.

Cebu City Highlights & Bohol Island (Part 1)

Standing at the very top of Cebu City in Sirao Garden!

Now that borders have finally opened in Japan and international travel isn’t as discouraged as it was earlier this year, I’ve finally achieved my goal of visiting the Philippines! Over the last two weeks I traveled to Cebu, Luzon, Boracay, and Palawan because they have some of the best beaches and sightseeing. I planned on visiting this country in early 2020, but during week that I was supposed to fly out, the rising covid numbers caused the country to go into lockdown.

Fortunately I still had my flight voucher and itinerary saved, so once borders opened for vaccinated travelers earlier this year, I decided to go during the low season in Autumn to avoid tourists. I began my trip in Cebu because it has some of the best diving spots, including Oslob where you can dive with whale sharks, and Moalboal where you can see the sardine run and turtles near the shore. Overall I had an amazing experience and enjoyed living on the beach every day. If you love tropical countries that have a bit of a rustic touch to them, then the Philippines might be a great travel recommendation for you! There are a lot of private beaches that are remote where you can relax and feel close to nature. I recommend visiting at least two islands because each has a slightly different vibe.

Since this is going to be a long article series, I will start with the Cebu City and Bohol highlights and then get into the best diving spots. I hope you enjoy reading my latest article series!

Getting to and around the Philippines

I booked a super cheap ticket from Tokyo to Cebu through Jeju Air for $322. There was a 3 hour layover in Korea, but the airport was relaxing so it wasn’t so bad. Direct flights post-pandemic are now usually over $500, so if you want a good deal from Japan definitely fly to Korea first. November is the end of the rainy season, so it is a pretty good time to come before the high season starts. During my 15 day stay, it only rained briefly for 4 of the days and was otherwise filled with sunshine.

The good thing about the Philippines is that English is an officially recognized language and frequently used throughout the country. This is because the some of the islands have different dialects and it is easier to understand. Since Filipinos are very hospitable, you should have no trouble asking for assistance if you need it. Though parts of the country are dangerous due to high crime rate, I did not feel unsafe at all during my visit.

When traveling around the city, I recommend using the Grab app because it will always give you the lowest fairs. Since traffic is very heavy in the city and some roads are narrow and dangerous to navigate, I do not recommend renting a scooter or vehicle in Cebu. You can also find a large number of taxis and motorcycle drivers on the street, but their prices will always be a bit higher than what Grab will offer you.

Cebu City Tour

I arrived to my hotel, Eloisa Royal Suites, around 6am and decided to book a city tour through the hotel staff that went to all the main highlights of the city. This hotel is located on Mactan Island near the airport so I thought it would be a good location, but in retrospect I wish I would have stayed closer to central Cebu because there are many more bars and things to do at night over the bridge. However, Eloisa Roya Suites is only $42 per night and includes hotel pickup/drop-off, breakfast, and has a pool so it was a very accommodating place to stay at.

The city tour I booked was completely private and only cost $43 for the day. The main sights we saw were Sirao Garden, The Temple of Leah, the 10000 Roses Café, Little Kyoto, and Cebu Taoist Temple. I was overall very pleased with my driver because getting to these places on my own would have been tough because some of them are located high in the mountains.

Sirao Garden & The Temple of Leah

Sirao Garden was my favorite place that I visited in Cebu City because it was nestled in the mountains and had so many beautiful flowers in the bloom. I really liked how this attraction resembled features of Bali because I’m actually traveling there next month! My favorite pieces of the garden were the giant hands with stairs you could climb and the human-sized birds nests. You can really see a beautiful panoramic view of Cebu from up here which is breathtaking.

I found out from my driver that there was actually a huge landslide that occurred here from heavy rain the weekend before I arrived, so only motorbikes can reach the top. Fortunately I was able to get out of the van and there were many motorbike drivers waiting to take me to the top for a very small fee. I recommend coming here so you can see the mountains of Cebu, and the famous Temple of Leah is nearby!

The Temple of Leah is a Roman-style shrine with beautiful architecture built in the mountains near Sirao. When I arrived it started downpouring, but fortunately I was able to take shelter here! There was live music and a number of people taking photos of the altar. The temple apparently represents a husband’s eternal love for his wife which is super romantic.

Little Kyoto & Cebu Taoist Temple

You’ve heard of Little Tokyo in LA, now get ready for Little Kyoto in Cebu! Since I told my driver I lived in Japan, he took me here without hesitation. Though this theme park is very tiny, I liked how it included some of the key aspects of Japan such as the deer in Nara, the daruma and beckoning cats, and even a statue of Hachiko, which I thought was hilarious! Definitely come here for the charm if you can. I enjoyed seeing the Halloween skeletons cosplaying from Naruto and hearing Christmas music over the radio as I walked through Filippino Japan.

On our way back into town, we also stopped by the Cebu Taoist Temple real quick. There wasn’t a lot to see here compared to temples I’ve visited in other countries, but it was interesting to witness one of the most famous temples of the city and I enjoyed the view even though it was still very cloudy.

10000 Roses Café

The 10000 Roses Café is a beautiful spot by the ocean with white roses that light up at night. There is also a small café that sells coffee and beer. We stopped here to rest before heading back to my hotel and I had the chance to pose with a skeleton. I really dig how they left their Halloween decorations up for my visit! The garden was a bit smaller than I originally thought but it was still a very fun place to see.

Dinner on Mactan Island

Since I didn’t have a lot of time to eat while I was exploring all of these destinations, I decided to try a local eatery near my hotel on Mactan Island called Tuna Republik. I absolutely loved how the fresh sashimi tasted, and how the staff wrote “Tuna” with a heart in my ketchup that came as a side with my cheesy tuna rolls. Very classy! I also tried Sol’s Halo Halo Desserts that was located right down the street because I really wanted to try Filipino ice cream. It tasted like condensed milk with gelatin toppings which was pretty refreshing after all of the sightseeing I did on this day. I would recommend trying it at least once, though avocado ice cream here is the best!

Thank you for reading the very first article of my Philippines article series! In my next article I will be writing about my lovely day tip to Bohol Island to see Tarsiers and the famous Chocolate Hills. Please look forward to it!

Meeting Akita Dogs and Seeing the Fall Colors of Akita Prefecture

A gradient of Fall colors in Senshu Park.

It’s been quite a while since my last update due to being busy with work, but I am happy to announce that as of yesterday I’ve traveled to all 47 prefectures of Japan; the last two being Akita and Iwate which I finally visited this week. Each trip took a lot of time and money, but they were worth the effort because I had the opportunity to meet many people and experience different lifestyles in this country.

This moment feels very bittersweet because when I first came to Japan over 7 years ago, everything felt so new and magical to me, but now it feels a lot more like home. There’s still a few cultural festivals I haven’t been to that I want to travel to next year, but other than that I’ve been to virtually all of the places I want to be here. Thank you everyone for supporting my dream of fully traveling the country! In this article series I will be talking about my journey to see the northernmost prefectures of Honshu. They are extremely rural but have some interesting features, including Akita dogs and wonderful soba!

Getting to Akita Prefecture

Akita Prefecture is a one hour flight from Haneda Airport or four hour train ride from Tokyo Station. The shinkansen ticket costs 18000 yen one way, so flying is definitely more cost efficient and saves time. We paid around 30,000 for a roundtrip JAL plane ticket, but you can definitely find better deals if you book in advance. Though keep in mind that JAL and ANA are the only two airlines that fly to Akita Station, so there are no discount airlines available.

When you travel around Akita, you’re definitely going to want to rent a car. Similar to Aomori, the trains are very infrequent and driving makes the trip a lot more convenient. We rented a car near Akita Airport through Times Car Rental for three days for around 20000 yen. We found this was one of the cheapest ways to get around and are very grateful we did it!

Our first stop on the list was Senshu Park in central Akita. Our mission was to see as many Akita dogs as possible and eat delicious food! If you are interested in learning more about the preservation of Akita dogs, then please check out the One for Akita Project for events and ways to help out. Fortunately there are many volunteers involved in Akita Prefecture.

Senshu Park

Senshu Park is a beautiful area in central Akita with gardens, a castle, and Akita dogs that you can see during certain times of the day. The red leaves start to show in mid-October and there are sakura trees that bloom in the spring here too. The changing scenery around Kubota Castle is very relaxing to see during the four seasons and attract many tourists. Since we came on a weekday, the park was virtually empty and we were two of the first to see the gray Akita dog in the main square at 11am. On this particular day, we were not allowed to pet the dog but it was very fun seeing it. Akita dogs are very strong and sometimes wary of strangers, but can be affectionate and make great companions. They are such a unique breed and it was fun to see the prefecture where they originate from.

For more information on how to meet Akita dogs, please see the Senshu Park website.

Address: 1 Senshukoen, Akita, 010-0876
Entrance Fee: Free

Tea at KouFuu

Before heading off to our next destination, we decided to stop at a tiny tea shop that’s part of the Akita Museum of Art called KouFuu. Not only was the view from the shop fantastic, but the tea and sweets were very high quality. I ordered matcha and wagashi while my friend ordered affogato. I also bought an Akita dog plush from one of the nearby gift stores. Right next to this tea shop is the Akita Dog Station which is another place you can sometimes see Akita dogs, but unfortunately it was closed. Be sure to check it out if you ever get the chance!

Godzilla Rock

After spending some quality time in the park, we decided to drive to Godzilla Rock for the memes. This rock is on the west coast of Akita and uncannily resembles the kaiju himself. The formation of the  lapilli tuff naturally occurred from a volcanic eruption about 30 million years ago attracting a number of photographers to this obscure area of Akita. The best time to see this attraction is during sunset when the sun falls behind Godzilla Rock’s mouth and it looks like he’s breathing fire from the front. However, we still had many destinations to see so we came during the day. It was very fun to see this place because there are a number of other cool rock formations around, including one called Godzilla’s Tail. Although it was a bit of a drive, it was worth it for the pictures.

Address: Oga, Akita 010-0535
Entrance Fee: Free

Akita Dog Visitor Center

Yet another fantastic place to see Akita dogs and buy cute souvenirs is the Akita Dog Visitor Center! I was surprised to see that they not only had a towering tree of Akita dog plushies here, but also sold sake and beer made as an homage to the dogs. I bought Akita dog wine and a container of chocolate cookies. We were able to see two Akita dogs behind glass here and also a bunch of fun Halloween decorations. Our biggest regret is we got here too late to visit the Akita Dog Museum next door, but overall relaxing here was very pleasant and there weren’t that many people. This prefecture is extremely countryside but they sure love their dogs here!

Address: 1 Chome-13-1 Onaricho, Odate, Akita 017-0044
Entrance Fee: Free

Lake Tazawa

Our final destination of the day was Lake Tazawa, which is Akita’s most iconic lake and the deepest lake in Japan. Many people cycle and take boats out on the lake when the weather is nice, and the water is so crystal clear you can see many fish swimming in it. At the main shore of the lake stands the golden Statue of Tatsuko, who was a girl who wished to preserve her beauty forever so she drank from a sacred spring but turned into a dragon. After this she became the guardian of the lake. Though this is just a legend, this statue was actually one of my most anticipated spots to see in Akita because the view is so stunning. I decided to book my accommodation near the lake too!

Address: Katajiri Nishikicho Saimyoji, Semboku, Akita 014-0511

Food Recommendations

Due to short staff and the ruralness of Akita Prefecture, sometimes finding good restaurants is difficult while driving around. However, we managed to stumble upon two amazing places that I would happily recommend to all of my friends. The place we went to lunch for was a udon shop near Senshu Park called Satoyosuke Akitaken. Akita is famous for its udon noodles which are thinner and flatter than other types of noodles used in udon, but are chewy and taste amazing with a variety of ingredients. I ordered mushroom udon and my friend ordered a bowl of curry udon. I was impressed with how good my meal was, especially on a chilly fall day!

Before heading back to our accommodation near Lake Tazawa, we stopped at a seafood donburi place called Urashima near the Akita Dog Visitor center. I ordered salmon roe and sea urchin donburi and told my friend (in English) how much I wanted to eat egg, and to my surprise the waiter understood me and brought out a mini plate of rolled omelettes! How lucky was that? I appreciated the complimentary service and would give this place a high rating. Donburi is certainly cheaper here than in Tokyo, and it always amazes me when people in the countryside understand my Midwest accent!

Accommodation

Because it’s been quite a while since I’ve stayed at a hot springs resort, I decided to splurge on a room at Tazawako Lake Resort & Onsen which was 13000 yen per night but absolutely amazing. There were expansive indoor and outdoor hot springs with a sauna and breakfast included. I stayed in the hot springs for over an hour both morning and evening and felt like an entirely new person when I got out. This is definitely one of the nicest options in the area, but there are cheaper accommodations around central Akita if you’re on a budget. I think staying by the lake is the best place to stay in Akita, but let me know in the comments if you find somewhere else that’s this scenic!

Overall, this was a very travel heavy day but the food, the dogs, and the lake made it worth it! I am not sure if I would recommend Akita to everyone, as it is quite remote and expensive to get to, but I sure had a lot of fun on this day. In my next article I will be writing about the nearby Iwate Prefecture which is also very rural and was the final prefecture on my list to visit. Please look forward to it!

Exploring the Wonders of Teshima Island

A very vibrant Japanese garden displayed outside the Yokoo House.

After a successful two days of sightseeing on Naoshima and Shodoshima, our final destination was Teshima, the smallest of the three islands we visited. This island is famous for its art museum that contains a single sculpture called “The Matrix” and also has houses that were turned into art projects like on Naoshima. Teshima is ideal for a day trip because it is close to the other two islands, but I don’t recommend staying overnight here because it’s extremely rural and there aren’t as many food options available compared to the other islands. However, Teshima is just a 30 minute ferry ride from Naoshima making it very easy to access. You can easily see all of the majors sights within 4 hours so take that into consideration when booking a trip here. The buses here are limited but there is much less ground to cover so you can see things easily.

This is the final article of my art island series, so I hope you enjoy it!

Teshima Art Museum

The Teshima Art Museum is the most famous destination here and contains a single piece of art which is a giant shell called “Matrix” nestled in the hills of the island. This concrete shell has two oval openings at the top so streams of light can reach the inside and you can here the sound of the wind and the ocean when you enter the Matrix (pun intended). Little droplets of water continually trickle from the ground and are pulled by gravity towards the oval openings. The composition of this building is like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life and is said to represent the passing of seasons and flow of time. Though this was the only exhibition in the museum, it was truly awesome.

The disappointing thing about this attraction is that no photography is allowed inside, but it is definitely worth seeing if you come to this island because its architecture is one of a kind.

Entrance Fee: 1570 yen

Finding Food on the Island

We tried to go to two restaurants on the island, but they were full of reservations and had a waitlist which was really surprising because we went on a random weekday. Thankfully right outside of the Teshima Art Museum there was a pizza truck, and the gift shop had bagels and rice gelato (which had quiet the interesting texture). If you want to eat a proper meal at one of the restaurants here, be sure to call in advance or consider packing your own food for Teshima!

Yokoo House

The Yokoo House is a traditional Japanese house that has been completely transformed into one of the trippiest art museums you’ve ever seen. Some of the windows are tinted red which makes the outside area look very neon and retro. The outdoor garden has a golden turtle and the stones have been splashed with bright red, yellow, and green colors. Inside of the house photography is prohibited, but all of the works are worth seeing. There is a room full of mini waterfall tiles, DMT inspired artwork that depict various entities hanging on the wall, and clear glass on the floor so you can see fish swimming below you in the main room of the house. There are a lot of things to take in here. Even the outdoor toilets have metallic surfaces making them extremely aesthetic. The Yokoo House was my exhibition on Teshima for sure!

Entrance Fee: 520 yen

Art House Project (Your First Color)

“Your First Color” is an art house project that has an orb-shaped projector inside and flashes trippy images of flowers and different colors. It is very small and only contains a single room, but it is worth seeing to kill time while waiting for the bus. I personally enjoyed its visuals.

Entrance Fee: 300 yen

Dinner in Takamatsu

After 100% completing our travel itinerary, we decided to head back to Takamatsu via ferry so we could catch our evening flight back to Tokyo. We found a delicious seafood restaurant called Tenkatsu near the port and decided to get a teishoku set there. The meal was so delicious and looked even better than the picture online. In the center of the restaurant is a giant pool of fish that they use in their cooking. While we were eating, one of the larger fish jumped out of the pool, but fortunately one of the workers was able to help it get back in the water. What a way to end our long journey! I would recommend this place to people who love sushi and sashimi.

Final Thoughts

Visiting Naoshima after 5 years and seeing Shodoshima and Teshima for the first time made this trip worth it, because these islands have a lot of unique art that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world! The coexistence between art and nature is forever present in all of the works here, and all of the architects have such beautiful messages to deliver. Additionally, the architecture of the exhibits on these islands teaches you how beautiful natural lighting can be. It is up to you on how you interpret the true message of the artwork on these islands, but to me it shows how minimalism can have a huge impact on the way we view things. The Art House Project also shows how old and abandoned spaces can be completely transformed into something vinrant and new.

My favorite part of the trip was seeing the garden from Kiki’s Delivery Service on Shodoshima, but every day we spent on these three islands was memorable. I would recommend them to people who really love Japanese art and are down for a long adventure. I also would recommend traveling to Okinawa before coming to these islands because it is more accessible and there are more activities to do there.

My next destinations are Akita and Iwate later this month, which are the final two prefectures of Japan I haven’t seen yet! Please look forward to me writing about seeing the entirety of Japan!

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!

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 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!