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:

20139721_10212099713159505_5526190530322620188_n

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)

21106474_10212424504239079_3534490303559010146_n
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

img_5109

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

img_5106

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!