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.

Osaka Summer Highlights: Tsukenkaku and Unique Gourmet Experiences

Braving the skies of Shin Sekai at Tsutenkaku Tower!

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

Tsutenkaku Tower

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

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

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

Osaka Castle

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

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

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

The Latest Aesthetic Gourmet Experiences in Osaka

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

Dogyan

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

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

Egg Takoyaki

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

W Osaka

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

Sushi at Tiffany’s

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

Moonkery

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

Accommodation

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

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

Revisiting the Tropical Cities of Naha and Okinawa-shi

Though it’s called “Moon Beach”, you can definitely soak up the rays here!

Exactly one year ago before the Golden Week rush, I decided to fly to Okinawa to visit Naha and Miyakojima for the purpose of practicing underwater photography and traveling to newly opened dream destinations such as the Sanrio Hotel. The trip was a total blast and later helped me discover my love for free diving while I was in Hawaii this winter. Since I am planning another trip to Hawaii this month and am going to be diving with an experienced friend, I decided to book a spontaneous trip from Tokyo to Naha, Okinawa, last week so I could get some practice in. I am happy to say that this year’s trip was also a success and I saw a lot of aquatic wildlife all by myself! It’s fantastic to see such an improvement in my diving ability in just a year while travel was extremely limited. I am excited to dive in other Asian countries in the future as the world starts to open up!

If you live in Japan, then Okinawa is hands down the best place to enjoy beaches, surf, and dive. Last year I flew to Miyakojima during my trip so I could go scuba diving tour in a pumpkin-shaped limestone cave. This year I decided to focus on the Kerema Islands that are just a short ferry ride away from Naha’s central Tomari Port. They have beautiful beaches that are easily accessible and great for seeing turtles. Like last year, I decided to stay in Okinawa for 6 days so I could both practice diving and spend time with friends. Roundtrip tickets from Tokyo to Naha are between 15,000 – 20,000 yen this time of year. Please read my previous Naha article on how to best travel to Okinawa from Tokyo. This year due to there being no state of emergency, I noticed more travelers than last year, but the weekdays were still pretty quiet.

Exploring New Cafes in Naha

I arrived to Naha Airport around 12:00pm and was hungry so I decided to hunt for the most aesthetic food on the main island. Since I wanted my first day to be relaxing, this article will mostly focus on cafes, beaches, and restaurants I explored in the major cities before setting sail to the Kerama Islands. Here are my top discoveries for 2022:

DAISY

Like the name implies, DAISY encompasses all food that is aesthetic and floral. I loved the pastel walls and hanging lightbulbs from the ceiling because they definitely added a flair to the dining experience. My very first meal in Okinawa was flowery pizza topped with lemon and lime, a flowery grapefruit drink, and flowery ice cream for dessert! This cafe popped up in my recommendations on Instagram and in all my days I have never seen a pizza in Japan that looked this crazy. It tasted like naan topped with melted cheese and a hint of fruity flavor (and yes, the flowers on top are edible too). Would I recommend this to my friends? Oh, absolutely! If you love cheesy bread then this is the perfect starter for you. The grapefruit drink complimented its tropical taste too. And let me tell you, ordering the ice cream for dessert was a very satisfying way to end this meal. It was a combination of vanilla and raspberry flavors that really hit the spot on a sunny day. After this I had all the energy I needed to set off to my next destination!

Address: 2 Chome-28-24-103 Ameku, Naha, Okinawa 900-0005

LaLa Zorba

Another wonderful restaurant I recommend is LaLa Zorba, which serves ethnic food that is 100% vegan. The shop is owned by a female chef who cooks everything from scratch. I went here as soon as it opened on my second day in Naha and ordered the curry platter which included soy meat curry, rice, vegetables, fruit, and tofu. I could tell all of the food was organic because I felt very clean and healthy after eating it. They also have vegan desserts available for purchase that change daily, though I was too full to eat anything else! I am happy to see that more high quality vegan restaurants have opened here since my initial visit to Okinawa in 2016!

Address: 〒900-0014 Okinawa, Naha, Matsuo, 2 Chome−2−32 2階

Heading to Moon Beach & Toguchi Beach for the Sunset

Moon Beach is a popular resort area near Onna Village that a lot of travelers rave about, so I decided to drive there with a friend for a private photoshoot. Fortunately even if you are not staying at the resort, you can still visit the beach and use the facilities. I was mostly here to catch the aesthetic sunset because I have already seen the beaches in southern Okinawa, and I think the ones to the north are much more beautiful. Though the beach is small and not ideal for swimming or diving, the surrounding scenery is luscious and ideal for photography. We spent around 45 minutes here and decided to drive south to Toguchi Beach after.

Toguchi Beach is rockier and sometimes has low tides during this time of year, but has an amazing arch rock fromation and private areas where you can swim and take photos. The reflection of the clouds on the water was absolutely breathtaking and I had never seen such a beautiful sunset in Okinawa before. I think the scenery here is unrivaled and this was a fantastic place to end the night (though we planned to go barhopping afterwards).

Address: 1203 Maeganeku, Onna, Kunigami District, Okinawa 904-0414

Though we had a car for this trip, you can take a city bus towards Matsuo from central Kokusai Street in Naha to reach the Moon Beach Bus Stop. This trip takes about 1.5 hours and costs 1200 yen but is worth the price.

Moon Beach Sushi

After witnessing arguably one of the best sunsets on the island, we decided to stop at Chinuman for some mouthwatering sushi. This is a wonderful izakaya-styled restaurant with high quality fish that is perfect to relax at with your friends. I ordered a California Roll with a traditional Japanese 10 piece nigiri set, then some extra octopus and eel sushi because I love Okinawan sushi. The fish here hit differently than back in Tokyo. To understand you’ll just have to travel here and try it for yourself! Whatever fish you order here, you really can’t go wrong.

Address: 〒904-0414 Okinawa, Kunigami District, Onna, Maeganeku, 73

Barhopping in Okinawa-shi

Since one of my good photography friends was leaving Japan this week, we decided to go hard by pregaming then barhopping in Okinawa-shi (also known as Okinawa City). This area is more north from Naha and close to the beach resort areas of the central island, but you can still find accommodations here that are cheap. Since I am a lover of fancy cocktails, I decided to order an alcoholic avocado smoothie with a side of sweet azuki beans and a blue cheese Kahlua milk drink at a high-end bar called Bobby’s. Like the cafes I listed earlier, these cocktails were right up my ally because not only were they extremely aesthetic, but the quality was top notch too. We next wandered to an Italian Gyoza restaurant a little ways down the street that had just opened. They had a lot of unique entrees like mozzarella gyoza, Spanish omelettes, and herb fries. By this time we were pretty lit so we just ordered a ton of food and drinks and enjoyed the atmosphere. I can’t stress enough how much I love Okinawan restaurants because the owners here are never afraid to try new things. Italian Gyoza is definitely something that shouldn’t be slept on!

Accommodation

This year I mostly stayed with friends living near Moon Beach, but I highly recommend staying at Hotel Aqua Citta Naha like I did last year because it has free drinks during certain times and a beautiful infinity pool on the top floor. A standard room is around 6000 yen and this hotel is located near Tomari Port so you can reach other islands easily. Naha Airport is also close to this area as well as many bars and clubs. I will be detailing other hotels in my next articles where I visit the Kerama Islands. Please look forward to more island adventures from yours truly!

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

Riding a Bike through the Sky in Okayama (Washuzan Highland)

After hitch-hiking around Okayama and seeing all of the major sights it had to offer, I decided to make my way to Washuzan Highland so I could ride the “most terrifying rollercoaster in all of Japan” (that’s really not so terrifying).  Washuzan Highland is a Brazilian-themed amusement park about an hour from Okayama Station.  The park has everything from roller coasters to swimming pools to petting zoos.  Because it’s located in the countryside of Japan, it has a huge amount of attractions but not nearly as many tourists as other amusement parks.  With the tropical plants, Brazilian performers, and the vibrant atmosphere, I really did feel like I was in a different country here!

The terrifying rollercoaster, called the “SkyCycle”, is actually a pedal-powered roller bike that’s extremely high up in the sky.  Although I didn’t find it scary, the fear likely stems from the fact that it’s not automated like other rollercoasters; the bike is entirely in your control and you go around at your own pace.  Looking down might cause panic for those who are afraid of heights, but this is a great ride for people like me who love adventure.  The ride is only about a minute long but you get an awesome view of Okayama Prefecture and Shikoku Island from it:

I was a little disappointed that the ride wasn’t a bit longer, but I understand that people may get scared over time if it were.  The bike has two seats but you can ride it alone.  I rode it twice so I could experience it from both the inward and outward seats.  The outward seat is definitely more thrilling because it faces the edge and you can feel the motion of the turns more.  Though it looks a bit dangerous from all of the media exposure, SkyCycle is completely safe because each chair has a seat belt, so you don’t have to worry about falling off.  You should be careful of dropping your camera though!

After surviving the most terrifying rollercoaster, I decided to go swimming for a while in the pool.  It’s not very deep but it’s extremely refreshing on a hot day in August!  Next I did some rollerskating at the roller rink.  I specifically remember that the song Cookie by banvox started playing on a loudspeaker, and I picked up the pace.  It was really cool to hear one of his rare older songs played in his home prefecture!  By that point I was exhausted, so I bought a melon and hung out at the petting zoo.  I enjoyed seeing the white hens and hamster tree.  I ate some nice egg sushi from a place nearby as well (the tamago sushi here is ginormous).  Though this happened nearly three years ago, I still remember what an exhilarating experience this was!

Unfortunately I didn’t take many pictures of the park, but trust me it’s worth riding the SkyCycle for this view:

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I may come back here again with my GoPro if I have time in the future.  If you have the time, consider checking out Okayama!  It’s such an under-rated city and has much for you to discover.

Access

303-1 Shimotsuifukiage, Kurashiki, Okayama 711-0926

Admission Fee: 2800 yen (worth it because there’s hardly any wait time for the rides)

Adventures in Arashiyama (Kyoto)

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Arguably one of the best views this forest has to offer.

With its vast nature including a bamboo grove, the Oi River which you can go sailing on, and a monkey park, Arashiyama is hands down one of the most popular day trips from Kyoto City.  Though this area attracts a large number of tourists each year, it’s easy to avoid them by taking side trails off the bamboo grove trail.  I was able to find complete bliss in solitude while hiking to several areas and listening to my favorite music.  I originally traveled here in 2018, but came back to try the delicious chilled soba noodles at a famous restaurant last year.  In this article I will be writing about the highlights of my Arashiyama hiking adventure and hopefully will inspire more people to visit!

Floating Down the Oi River

When you get off at Arashiyama Station, one of the first things you’ll notice is the gently flowing Oi river.  There are several shacks where you can rent boats and go on tours down the river and into the forested area.  This is one of the best ways to explore Arashiyama, so I opted for a private boat tour for 3000 yen.  Group tours are also available for a lower price.  The wooden boat has padded seats so its quite comfortable, and you can see beautiful scenes from floating down the river that you can’t see on foot!

While we were sailing a food boat (food truck but in boat form) sailed up to us and offered to cook me something.  I decided I wanted grilled squid and they made it right in front of me.  It was truly and amazing experience!  I’ve explored a floating village in Cambodia before which was quite large, but this river is much smaller and more relaxed.  If you love boating then there are a lot of amazing places in Asia that are worth checking out.  I aim to explore as many as I can.

I didn’t have the best camera on me at the time, but here is some footage of me sailing down the river on a wooden boat.  It was a pleasant trip that only takes about 30 mins:

Sunset at the Kimono Forest

If you come to Arashiyama, then you definitely need to stay and watch the sun set slowly on the mountains before you leave.  First the sky will flash to a bright gradient of red, orange, and yellow, then fade to a gentle magenta and pink hue.  Afterwards there is a garden of kimono-patterned pillars near Randen Arashiyama Station that becomes illuminated at night.  I had a fantastic time walking through here and taking pictures—it felt as if I had slipped into another world with all of the colors!  These memories still burn very bright in my mind today.

Bamboo Forest and Monkey Mountain

The main tourist attraction of Arashiyama is the bamboo forest which is about a 10 min walk from the station.  The massive stalks of bamboo that surround you are truly astounding.  Back in America I had never seen anything like this before, so I was very impressed by this area.  There are normally a lot of tourists on the main path, but you can find paths that lead into the mountains like the one pictured on the right to avoid them.  If you aim your camera towards the sunlight that is partially blocked by the bamboo stalks you can get some really nice pictures here.

When I hiked up the path shown above, I spotted a very interesting building structure from afar and zoomed into it.  It looks like either a shack with clothes hung out to dry or small shrine.  Climbing to that area seems like quite a feat because it is not connected to the main path of Arashiyama.  “Who lives here?” I wondered 2 years ago, and I still think about it to this very day:

After exploring the paths around the bamboo forest which really don’t take that much time to climb, I recommend checking out the Monkey Park atop a small mountain called Iwatayama.  The climb takes about 10-15 mins and you can see a nice view of Kyoto from the top as well as several enthusiastic monkeys.  Be sure not to make direct eye contact with them as they can be quite aggressive!  However, a barrier will protect you from being attacked my them.

Compared to the monkeys in Thailand, the ones in Kyoto are actually quite nice.  However, if you are in Japan for a long time and are able to go to Hokkaido, the Monkey Park in Hakodate is actually much more fun to see.  You can watch them bathe in a hotspring and have a clearer view of them with less tourists around you.

Chilled Soba Noodles at Tempura Matsu

While searching for aesthetic food in Kyoto (which is not that difficult to find), I stumbled upon a tempura restaurant that serves soba noodles in a one-of-a-kind bowl made out of ice.  As far as I know, no other restaurant besides Tempura Matsu serves soba quite like this.  The egg topping mixed with soy sauce gives it an amazing taste.  It is best eaten in the summer because it will cool you down.  Amazingly even in the warm temperature the ice bowl will hardly melt.  I was impressed with the craftsmanship of this dish:

Since I had a long journey here, I decided to reward myself with the course meal that was around 12,000 yen at the time.  This is quite expensive, but I believe you are able to order individual items off the menu if you request them.  From my experience, it was well worth the price.  Carefully prepared seafood, soup, rice, vegetables, soba, and dessert were served to me in this course.  Vegetarian options are available as well.

Getting to Arashiyama

Kyoto Station take Sagano Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station.  This takes about 15 mins and costs only 240 yen making it an extremely cheap trip.

Please note that accommodations here are quite popular, so you might want to book 2 months in advance if you want to stay in a nice onsen resort.

If you are a solo traveler or are on a budget, I recommend day tripping here from Kyoto City since accommodations there are cheaper.  If you want to use a day hotspring in Arashiyama, consider trying Fufunoyu.  It is only 1000 yen to enter and has a lovely outdoor hotspring that you can use.

I will be writing more about my adventures in Kyoto and accommodation options in my next few posts.  Please stay tuned for more info~

Aesthetic Food Finds in Kansai Vol. 1

Here is a collection of recent aesthetic food finds in the Kansai region of Japan focusing on Kyoto and Osaka (Volume 1). ♥

This country has no shortage of of aesthetic foods so I will continue to share cafes that I stumble across in future posts!

AKICHI

While wearing a butterfly-patterned dress, I managed to find butterfly ice cream at AKICHI in Namba (Osaka) that perfectly matched my drip.  This colorful little alley functions as both a photo space covered in murals and a nook full of bakeries and cafes.  I tried the strawberry and vanilla milk-flavored ice cream from Deglab; the “soft cream laboratory”.  Not only was it topped with an elegant white chocolate butterfly and edible pearls,  but it was also mouthwatering delicious!  It felt like a dream come true.  There is also a tapioca shop and bakery upstairs if you are looking for other desserts, but the ice cream is some of the best in town.

Wagurisenmon Saori

There’s nothing like eating a bowl of noodles in Kyoto.  Or a Mont Blanc ice cream dessert disguised as noodles, because that makes perfect sense.  At Wagurisenmon Saori in downtown Kyoto, you can confuse your taste buds by digging into these dessert noodles with a spoon and tasting a thick layer of cake and ice cream below.  Kansai cooking is nothing short of amazing:

The taste of this dessert was average due to the “noodles” being somewhat tasteless, but as an aesthetic food enthusiast I could not pass this opportunity up.  Definitely try it if you like the concept, but regular Mont Blanc sold in French bakeries throughout Japan taste a lot better and are cheaper.  I will never forget this experience though.

Jinen Sushi

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All of my Japanese friends that travel to Osaka continually talk about butter unagi (eel) sushi, so I wanted to see what all the hype was about.  I’ve eaten eel many times and think that it’s tasty and a good source of protein, but the downside is it’s considerably expensive compared to other foods.  However, Jinen Sushi offers a pretty good deal on their nigiri and sushi rolls and you can order them individually.  I eagerly ordered the unagi butter and confirmed that it was worth the hype.  Eel normally has somewhat of a tough texture, but the sticks of butter add a softness to it that you normally wouldn’t expect.  Because you can only get this in Osaka, I ordered another round.  In America butter is a normal topping found in mass quantities, but here it’s far less common so you really treasure moments like this.

Happy Labo Popcorn

While I was going to a show in Osaka one day, I noticed mysterious steam coming from a street vendor.  Curious to see what it was, I was surprised to find that it was actually frozen rainbow popcorn that turns your breath white!  Happy Labo Popcorn definitely has a unique theme going for it and sells some interesting ice cream too.  Usually I’m not a fan of flavored popcorn, but when frozen it actually has a sweet but still mild taste.  It’s definitely attention-grabbing and fun to walk around with.

Cocochi Cafe

I was browsing Instagram one day when I came across an orange on my feed, but it wasn’t just an ordinary orange.  It was an orange (wait for it)… WITH A FACE.  Not just any face, but it had googly eyes and mustache.  Truly blessed with poise and perfect symmetry.  Whatever it was, I had to order it.  My aesthetic food journey took me to Cocochi Cafe in Kyoto which is a cozy dessert place near the Imperial Palace.  I can proudly say that drinking orange juice out of an orange with a handsome face is one of my biggest life accomplishments.  There is also a cute dog at this cafe that is happy to greet you!

JTRRD Cafe

JTRRD Cafe started out as a small restaurant in Osaka that eventually became so popular that it opened branches in Kyoto and Nagoya mainly due to its patterned rainbow smoothies.  Unfortunately the day I went they were out of ingredients for the smoothies, but I still enjoyed the paprika curry and omelet rice (which I shared with a friend because the serving size was so big).  It was probably some of the best curry I have ever tasted due to the way it was seasoned.  Paprika is truly an underrated ingredient.  Next time I come back to this area, I will make an effort to try the famed smoothies too!

Panbo

By this point I’ve experienced a lot of unique desserts in Japan, but pancake skewers are a new thing to me.  At Panbo Osaka, you can choose the size of skewer you want (which consists of mini pancakes and fruits on a stick) then add chocolate, sprinkles, and other toppings to flavor it.  The mini pancakes are surprisingly filling, and the marshmallow at the top makes me feel like I’m at a campfire.  Speaking of camping…

Hammock Cafe

Picture a hammock cafe where you can relax and drink with your friends in hammocks.  Now picture that same cafe with all you can drink alcohol.  Welcome to Revarti Osaka, maybe one of the best watering holes in all of Japan.  I’ve been to hammock cafes in Tokyo before, but they sure didn’t have the all you can drink option (maybe they will in the future, but this place was way more relaxed).  I was brought here with my bartender friend from Space Station, and with a group of 4 people I’m pretty sure we only paid around 1500 yen each.  They had everything from wine to high balls to vodka cocktails too so I indulged in everything.  We also tried dunking crackers into chocolate fondue with huge marshmallows baked into it.  This was by far one of my best drinking experiences in Osaka that was followed by a 12 hour party at club dapnia.  A night I will never forget!

The Longest Softcream in Japan

At Long Softcream on American Street in Osaka, you can eat the longest soft-serve ice cream in Japan standing at a whopping 40cm.  But be quick~  It will melt fast if you try to eat it during the summer.  The irony is perhaps compared to the average size of American desserts, it’s not so long after all.  The taste is pretty ordinary, but I bought it mainly for the meme factor.  I will be writing more in detail about the wacky things you can find on American Street in the future because this is just the beginning!

BONUS: Individually Sealed Sliced Pieces of Bread

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I can’t remember exactly where this place was, but the fact that it sells individually sealed sliced pieces of bread is simply amazing.  All it needs is a side of unagi butter!

EDIT: The location is Sakimoto Bakery in Osaka.

Thank you for reading Volume 1 of my aesthetic food journeys in Kansai.  If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the comments!  I will be writing Volume 2 focused on Nagoya in the near future.

 

 

Adventures in Adelaide (Southern Australia)

Since a huge part of why I traveled to Australia was to see wildlife reserves and nature, my friend and I decided to fly to Adelaide for 4 days from Melbourne since this is the place where he grew up.  Like Perth, Adelaide is considered to be one of the smaller and more remote cities of Australia, but it actually has a number of unique attractions worth seeing.  Not only is it one of the two places in the country where you can hold koalas at the Cleland Wildlife Park, but it also has a yearly event called the Fringe with a number of theater and festive events.  Though my time here was very short compared to Melbourne, Adelaide left a huge impression on me and I hope to visit here again in the future!

After landing, the first thing I noticed about the city was the beautiful trees and architecture of the houses.  Though the spring season had just begun, the temperature here was much warmer than it was in Melbourne.  We were staying with a friend who conveniently lived near the airport so it was fortunately convenient to get around by using Uber and the trams.  Since the weather was in our favor we decided to go to Glenelg Beach and soak up the sun for a while.  This beach is perhaps one of the most popular because it is near Jetty Square that is filled with shops and boutiques.  I enjoyed the laidback atmosphere here and managed to relax a lot.  It was just what I needed to rejuvenate myself.

All of the food we had here was absolutely amazing.  I had a delicious chai latte sprinkled with cocoa powder at a cafe called Cibo, which I highly recommend.  Though I currently reside in Japan, I was curious to try the sushi here so we decided to eat at the conveyor belt sushi chain Kintaro.  Surprisingly, their sashimi selection was quite tasteful, and I enjoyed the heaping amount of sauce they put on my avocado crab sushi.  Next up were the Japanese Wasabi Doritos we found at Coles Supermarkets.  They were almost overpowering, but worth it for the meme factor.

We spent a lot of our time here catching up with friends, watching anime, drinking at home, and relaxing, but we were still able to see a lot of the city in the time that we spent here.  My friend went through his anime figure collection and found his Rei Ayanami piece that was actually the top of a pachinko machine in Japan, so it was definitely worth the trip.  One of my favorite landmarks here were the silver balls, or “gintama” as you would say in Japanese:

Apparently they are quite a popular meetup spot in central Adelaide–kind of of like a miniature version of the bean in Chicago.  We also visited an anime store called Shin Tokyo which surprisingly had quite a good selection of goods (way better than where I grew up in Michigan), and hilariously I found stuffed kangaroo balls at a souvenir shop nearby.  There was also something mysterious for sale for $15.  This city seemed to be full of humorous content for some reason:

Another awesome place I highly recommend checking out is called MOD.  This is a futuristic museum with interactive exhibits that will help you discover “hedonism”, or the pursuit of happiness.  They had various happiness simulators here; including one that gave you believable compliments to boost your confidence, and another that had classic games like Solitaire and Minesweeper that would auto-win the game for you with just the press of a button (but it seemed like a fair game at first).  They also had surveys regarding what makes the ideal workplace, and we found some interesting results (see the picture of the coffee cups for reference).

I jokingly called this museum the teamLab of Adelaide, because some of the exhibits have similar concepts with lighting and projected images.  I was actually really impressed with the technology they used for their giant globe that you could spin and interact with.  You could create your own character using touch screens to live out various scenarios through the Symbiosville simulation.  In this exhibit, you will learn through trial and error how to keep you and the people around you happy.  I think this is a vital skill in life.

In my next blog entry, I will talk about my experience hanging out with kangaroos, koalas, and other wildlife in Adelaide.  I hope that more people will make the journey out to this city, because it truly is an interesting place!

Gudetama Sushi Cake in Singapore

Sushi cakes that actually taste like cake.

This looks exactly like grilled tamago sushi… But it’s actually made of cheesecake! Instead of soy sauce and wasabi, maple syrup and a sweet cream that is colored to resemble wasabi comes with your order. Though I knew what I was ordering, this still came as a very impressive feast for the eyes.

You can find this amazing sushi cake dessert at the Gudetama Cafe in the Suntec Mall of Singapore. Dedicated to everyone’s favorite lazy egg mascot hailing from Japan, this cafe has a beautiful egg-shaped interior decor and some very original menu items.

Though I’ve been to the Gudetama Cafe in Osaka, this one is actually bigger and has more menu items! This restaurant serves many different dishes including burgers, pastas, teas, and desserts in decent portion sizes.

The Suntec Mall is on the way to the famous Gardens at the Bay in Singapore, so this is the perfect place to stop for some food before you go. I hope you have an eggscellent time here!

Some of the Strangest Sushi I’ve tried in Japan

I’ll admit when I first started eating sushi, I wasn’t very adventurous at all. I’d stick to the basic avocado and cucumber rolls, maybe get wild sometimes with the omelet nigiri, but it wasn’t until many drunken nights out later that I daringly started picking sushi off the conveyor belt.

Behold, 2 of the best tentacle sushi that I have ever eaten (squid and octopus):

My favorite kind of tentacle sushi is slightly cooked (not fried), and glazed in soy sauce. The texture of tentacles is definitely more chewy than regular fish served in nigiri, but for whatever I enjoy the taste of it more. You could say I have a thing for food tentacle porn.

Additionally, there was another sushi called “Black kite kid”, which I find very interesting because Black Kites are actually birds.

It was actually surprisingly delicious. The topping actually tasted like slightly minced fish eggs (which took me a while to acquire a taste for), and was slightly seasoned. Whether it was actually fish or bird–it tasted amazing!

Since I was already a 500ml bottle of sake in, I decided to dive even deeper into the strange sushi realm and pick up this green sushi that looks abhorrent at first glance but actually tasted amazing:

If I was sober, I would have never picked this up off the conveyer belt (and it had been rotating around for quite some time already), but I was in the mood for something different than your typical nigiri or maki so I boldly grabbed this one. If memory serves correct, it was avocado spread and some kind of minced octopus. I really hit the jackpot that hit my tastebuds! I promptly ordered 2 more plates afterwards and my friends thought that I was crazy, but I am not at all ashamed of my tastes.

Quite buzzed and full, but wanting to end my meal on a good note with the Neon flying squid.

No, I did not see colors, but yes, the Neon Genesis Evangelion theme started playing in my head. At that time, I knew it was time to start heading back. All of these sushi dishes were extremely affordable and high quality compared to other kaiten sushi chains.

If you’re craving something that’s both familiar but also has some variety, then I highly recommend going to Kaisen Misakiko in Shinjuku because you won’t be disappointed!

Also worth mentioning, on Halloween in Shibuya, I was served chirashi sushi in a pumpkin at one of the popular Genki Sushi chains:

Life can be pretty surprising sometimes. I recommend that you try as many new things as you can because you might actually surprise yourself and find some food you really like! I evolved from a strict vegetarian diet in the states to a more healthy pescatarian diet here in Japan.

As for tips on how to work up the nerve to try new things? Drink a lot of sake with a group of Japanese friends and all order dishes together! Being intoxicated has made me more fearless when it comes to trying food, but I still have yet to try natto. Someday! Many aesthetic food journeys await!