Having a Tea Party at the Umineko Manor (Kyu-Furukawa Gardens)

Another destination that’s been on my bucket list for quite a while is the Kyu-Furukawa Gardens located in western Tokyo, and last month on one of my days off I finally had the chance to visit! These gardens are very famous for their Western meets Japanese design, and the guest house from Umineko no naku koro ni was actually inspired by the manor that acts a as a centerpiece here. You can walk through the interior of the manor and order tea for an extra cost which was extremely worth it. I really felt like I was Beatrice sitting outside on the balcony and gazing upon everyone that walked by!

If this is in Tokyo then you’re probably wondering why it took so long for me to go, but the gardens have been completely closed for over half a year due to the pandemic. From June 4st, 2021, Kyu-Furukawa Gardens have officially re-opened and now everyone can visit! They are limiting the number of visitors but you can reserve a ticket on e-tix for free. I reserved mine three days before and was able to enter without any problem.

Here is a real life to anime comparison of the Western-styled manor I took with my tripod (click to enlarge the images):

To my knowledge the rooms of the manor are occasionally rented out for meetings because I accidentally walked in on one while I was exploring the interior! But without a doubt the main draw is the rose garden outside of the manor and the traditional Japanese garden in the back. Both of these gardens have a lot of rare flowers and I even saw hydrangeas while they were in season. I can see why ryukishi07 chose this location as inspiration for his visual novel series because it is very beautiful and feels like it has an air of mystery to it.

Access

Kyu-Furukawa Gardens are easily accessible by taking the Yamanote Line to Komagome Station and walking 10 minutes. You can walk around the gardens in 1-2 hours depending on if you explore the inside of the manor or not.

Address: 1 Chome-27-39 Nishigahara, Kita City, Tokyo 114-0024

Garden Entrance Fee: 150 yen
Manor Entrance Fee: 400 yen
Tea Set Fee: 500 yen~

A Huge Step Forward in Robotics for the Earth Federation of Yokohama: The RX-78F00

If you’re a fan of Mobile Suit Gundam, you’ve probably heard of the life-sized models of RX-78-2 and RX-0 Unicorn that were built and displayed in Odaiba, Japan. I was lucky enough to see both while studying abroad in Japan in 2013 and recently while living here. Though various parts of their armor can transform and become illuminated at night, they unfortunately are not advanced enough to fully move like the Gundam in the anime series can. However, thanks to cutting-edge advancements in robotics from the Earth Federation of Yokohama, a full-scale moving Gundam now stands at the Gundam Factory available for all to see as of December 19th, 2020!

Like in the original series, this Gundam (named RX-78F00) is almost the exact image of the RX-78-2 and is 59 feet tall. It even was designed with a realistic cockpit although it currently cannot be operated. However, there is hope that it will be fully implemented some day! For the time being there is a 5G pilot experience sponsored by Softbank available within the museum area called the Academy which simulates the controls from a first-person viewpoint. The Gundam performs slightly different movements every 30 ~ 60 mins depending on what time of day you arrive then returns to standby within the dock. I arrived with my friend around 13:30 on a Sunday afternoon which was perfect because we were able to watch two different movement productions. While waiting you can easily kill time at the cafe or in the Academy reading about the technology behind this amazing mobile suit.

In the video that I captured below, you can see the Gundam emerge from the dock and fully operate its arms and legs which is unbelievable for a robot of its size. As it becomes activated, its eyes flash and audio plays along with it to heighten the tension of the moment. It truly does feel like a battle is about to begin on the pier at first, but the Gundam’s movements are completely friendly and non-hostile. Think of this as a test run:

Weekday Hours: 11:30 ~ 19:30
Weekend Hours: 10:30 ~ 19:30
Admission Fee: 1650 yen for basic entry // 3300 yen for the Gundam Dock Tower*

*Tickets need to be purchased in advance from the official website, but can be purchased on the same day. I recommend buying the normal entrance ticket unless you really want to see the Gundam up close from the viewing deck. I was satisfied with what I saw with the basic admission fee.

Currently with every ticket purchase you are given a 1/200 RX-78F00 Gunpla upon entrance. How cool is that!?

Once you show your ticket at the door and proceed to enter, the Gundam is impossible to miss. The area around it is quite spacious so I never once felt like it was crowded though there were a number of people here. We were fortunate enough to come on a sunny day so the sky and the clouds were clearly visible. The sun was shining on the ocean too. This was almost better than anime! Almost. I deeply appreciated the thumbs up I got at the end of this performance:

How does it move?

In the Academy you can read various infographics on how the Gundam was built and also leave your own message on paper notes outside. Though it doesn’t use Minovsky Particles or Luna Titanium Alloy, this mobile suit is biologically structured similarly to human anatomy and utilizes the latest technology in robotics to move. I will summarize my most interesting discoveries in the passage below:

Gundam Prototypes?

Within the Academy you will also see two Gundam prototypes; or robots that helped inspire the blueprints and framework for the moving RX-78F00. The first is WABOT-1 developed by Waseda University in Japan in the 1970s, which is credited as the first robot that could naturally walk like a human. The biggest challenge of getting a robot to walk is balance, as weight must be controlled on each leg with perfect timing or else the robot will fall over. Humans naturally pick up this ability while learning to walk as babies, but programming this habit into a robot is a different story. Due to the massive size of the RX-78F00, a device called a “reducer” also known as a gearbox was used it control its movements during bipedal walking. Even though the Gundam cannot currently walk on its own using the latest technology, the fact that it can move and form various positions is a huge step forward for science.

The 2nd prototype (or inspiration) is the HRP-2 which was designed by AIST and Kawada Industries to assist humans with various work-related tasks. This robot weighs 58kg and is 154cm tall making it the same size as a human. The HRP-2 was created in 2003 and can walk on uneven terrain while maintaining its balance. It can even get back into an upright position when falling down making it an extremely advanced robot. While it is still limited in what it can do, the HRP-2 displays signs of self-awareness which is vital in the future of developing AI for robots.

So what is in store for the future of robotics?

Though it is still unclear, there are many people backing the Gundam Global Challenge and anyone is free to contribute their ideas! It’s amazing to see how much this project has advanced since the first RX-78 Gundam was built in 2009. Nearly 10 years later we have a fully moving scale Gundam in Yokohama, and perhaps we will have a hovering one by the end of this decade. The writers of Gundam ZZ’s opening song “Anime Ja Nai” knew it all along, but here is proof that Gundam is not just anime—it’s the real driving force behind the Earth Federation of Yokohama.

Souvenirs & Final Thoughts

Because no trip around the space colony is complete without souvenirs, you can find all of these Gundam goodies and more available for sale at the factory’s gift shop! Since I’ve been to the Gundam Cafe in Akihabara already, some of the merchandise was already familiar to me, but my personal favorites here were the Haro popcorn balls and “milky marrons” because they had the best aesthetic design. I also loved seeing the standalone Gundam-themed Coca Cola vending machine outside too. Like a custom paint job on a Gunpla, you gotta admire that customization. My friend and I decided to order hot Gundam lattes and split the Haro-shaped red bean bun because why not? That’s exactly what Gundam pilots would do if they visited the Gundam Factory in Yokohama between battles, and we were here for the full experience!

Overall I had much more fun here than I originally imagined learning about robotics and seeing the Gundam move perfectly in synch with the audio. I would love to come back here at night and see it illuminated too! I hope that when I next visit the RX-78F00 will have even more moves for me to see, but until then I will fondly remember this experience.

A Leisurely Stroll through the Heart of Osaka

After my Autumn Adventures in Kyoto, I decided to stop by Osaka to see a college friend and hit up some interesting cafes with her before heading home to Tokyo. My friend has quite the interesting career history of freelance English teaching in Vietnam and then moving to Japan to eventually accept a software engineer position for Rakuten. She will be moving to Tokyo at the end of this month and I am beyond excited to go on more exciting adventures with her! Crazy how we both met at Michigan State University and ended up here. I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by people who constantly drive me to be a better person!

In celebration of her new job, we bought white wine and chocolates from Family Mart and talked about our recent endeavors. Though I see Osaka as a bustling city full of opportunities, she expressed that there is a lot less to do here than in Tokyo and she can’t wait to make the move. Though Osaka was once a city I considered working in, after hearing this from her it re-affirmed my belief that Tokyo is one of the most exciting cities in the world and has endless things to do and see. More than anywhere else. Despite this reflection, Osaka will always have a special place in my heart as a fun city to travel to. ♥

For more information on Osaka, please see my Super Aesthetic Adventures in Osaka article series!

Cafe Stop #1: TKG Osaka

TKG Osaka, or “tamago kake gohan” as my Japanese friend likes to call it (literally translates to “egg over rice”) is a popular yakitori joint around Kansai. Fortunately it is centrally located and was just a 10 minute walk from my friend’s apartment in Nipponbashi. Though I don’t eat meat, the adorable egg face created with carefully-sliced seaweed completely won me over. This is a dish that you can easily make yourself at home, but this restaurant has special lunch and dinner sets that you can order as a complete meal. I chose a set with vegetables that cost around 1200 yen. Not everyone likes the taste of raw egg over rice, but once you get used to the texture it’s quite the hearty dish.

Address: 〒542-0076 Osaka, Chuo Ward, Nanba, 3 Chome-7, Gems Namba 8F

Cafe Stop #2: Cafe Twinkle’s Recipe

After eating our smiling egg rice dishes, we came across a brightly-painted cafe blaring K-pop with a strong retro vibe called Cafe Twinkle’s Recipe. Not wanting to dash our aesthetic cafe streak, we decided to stop by for a quick drink here. Let me tell you that the banana juice and interior decor was off the chain. Plus the waitress noticed I was wearing a BLACKPINK hoodie so she decided to play “Lovesick Girls” for us. This was the highlight of my trip. Honestly if you have time I would recommend stopping by here because you never know exactly what you’ll walk into. Next time I would love to try their cakes and macarons!

Address: 〒556-0005 4-chōme-17-10 Nipponbashi

Cafe Stop #3 Osaka Panda

Here it is—my main reason for coming to Osaka: to eat panda ice cream!! Osaka Panda is extremely small but serves up delicious baked goods, ice cream, and drinks. I originally discovered it through my Instagram algorithms and was enamored by its adorable design. Though there are panda pies and ice cream drinks galore, we decided to try the seasonal panda parfait. This included ice cream, chocolate, pie crust, granola, and sweet potato flavor which created a rich taste full of flavor. I would recommend this cafe to my friends because it is near Denden Town and offers takeout options. If you go, please tell me what the seasonal parfait looks like! I see the December one had reindeer antlers which really makes me wonder what other new sweets they’ll introduce here.

Address: 4 Chome-13-15 Nipponbashi, Naniwa Ward, Osaka, 556-0005

Pit Stops

Now that we had nearly limitless energy from all of the delicious food we ate, we decided to go sightseeing around Osaka by foot! We first dropped by the Pokemon Center where we were immediately handed a limited edition Pikachu card. The festive kimono it was wearing really fit the mood of this trip. I picked up some Pokemon cookies for my coworkers and then scurried out because it was extremely crowded for the holiday. But really, when is the Pokemon Center not busy? Sometimes you just gotta [politely] push past the crowds to get what you want!

We next walked around Denden Town and looked through the anime shops just for fun. There was an outdoor flea market going on much like the ones you see in Akihabara selling figures, plushies, and DVDs. Though nothing caught my eye, the memories of all the anime I watched between freelancing came to mind and I felt happy. Revolutionary Girl Utena was one of the best anime I had discovered this year. We also stumbled upon a poster with Tifa advertising a game music event called VGM-FUN. Though the event had already passed, we decided we would try to check out a similar one if our paths crossed again in this wonderful city!

Heading Home

Due to the large number of people that came to Osaka through the GoTo Travel Campaign, I decided to head home around 3pm. The reserved seats on the shinkansen were already sold out so I bought a non-reserved ticket. Fortunately there was enough room that I was able to take a seat! But in the future I think I will try to reserve one in advance so I don’t have to stress about it.

When I arrived home, my cat Leo was waiting for me. Though I had a lot of fun and took a ton of amazing pictures, I was extremely happy to be back! This was my last trip of 2020 as international travel is restricted and even domestic travel is discouraged. In 2021, I have my sights set on Okinawa and Kyushu. I would also like to go to Awaji and Aomori in the spring if they are open.

In my next article I will be talking about the limited things I was able to do in Tokyo over the New Year’s holiday. Though there are more things to do here than in other countries, it definitely felt weird to me not spending NYE on a tropical island. However, I was able to make the best of the situation and do a lot of freelance work for extra cash. When the opportunity for travel comes again, I will be more than ready!

Thank you to all of my readers in 2020, and I hope to update even more this year. Please stay safe and look forward to more articles from me!

The Great Bike Trip Conclusion: From Yoshinoyama to Tokyo (Day 4)

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Yoshinoyama Shrine on a warm summer day.

After finally making it past the rain to our lovely ryokan in Yoshinoyama, we decided to spend the final day of our great bike trip leisurely exploring its hiking trails before heading back to Tokyo.  The summit of Mt. Yoshino is quite easy to reach from the hotel area, only taking around 20 mins of climbing.  From here you can get a great view of Nara and there are a number of old shrines you can visit too.  Obviously the best time of year to visit is during spring when the sakura trees are in bloom, but coming during summer was probably the second best choice.  Staying here made me feel refreshed and closer with nature.  I never would have known about this place have it not been for my driver!  With a positive attitude, we set off to the summit to begin the last day of our grand adventure…

For the introduction and full context of this trip, please see Day 1 (From Tokyo to Ise), Day 2 (From Mihama Beach to Kawayu Onsen), and Day 3 (From Kawayu Onsen to Yoshinoyama).  This article will cover the final day of our great bike trip.

Departure

The 4th day began on August 4th at 7:00am.  I woke up at 6:30 to go for a run around the mountain paths of Yoshinoyama and also wander through the garden in the backyard of our ryokan.  Our original plan was to depart early explore places around Takayama, but since I already did a pilgrimage to the town from Your Name, I wanted to see more of the mountains of Nara.  I have actually only been to Nara during my study abroad trip to Japan in 2013.  Seeing the rare areas by motorbike was a grand opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.  We planned to return to Tokyo at dusk and I was to ride the shinkansen home from Nagoya so my driver’s load would be lighter on the busiest highways.

Our updated map travel map looked like this (of course we were stopping at many places in between the 3 hour ride):

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Chikurin-in Gumpeon Road

One reason I’m happy we took our time at our ryokan is because there’s so much to see around it!  Additionally our reservation included a hearty breakfast that consisted of fish, salad, vegetables, egg, rice, tea and water mochi for dessert.  This set was so filling and delicious:

 

After checking out, we strolled down the road to the summit.  Along the way we saw a restaurant with a Shiba Inu, a workshop labeled “Mad Garage”, and a shrine guarded by tengu statues called Sakuramotobou.  This street is extremely narrow but has a lot of interesting things to see.  Due to the pandemic some stores were closing early, but everyone here was friendly and did their best to make us feel welcome.

 

Yoshinoyama Shrines

The main shrine of Yoshinoyama is called Yoshino Jingu and is located to the north of the hotel area, but there are dozens of others that you can see on the way.  Some of my favorites were Kinpusenji due to its old wooden architecture, and the smaller inner shrines of the because they had variety in their design.  What I liked most about Yoshino Jingu was it was adorned with wind chimes during this time of year:

 

After walking around for a while and soaking up the atmosphere, we decided to pay to have our fortune told… but there was only one fortune remaining!  So we did what two responsible adults would do and shared it.  And in return the fortune rewarded us with the best luck possible!  I really hope this helps me with future trips and job interviews!!

 

Here is a video we took of the wind chimes dancing in the breeze.  Up in the mountains there are few other noises to drown them out so their sound resonates beautifully:

 

When we reached the summit of Mt. Yoshino I had my first encounter with a Japanese Murder Hornet.  I could guess what it was immediately due to its immense size.  My driver confirmed my suspicions and told me to stand still and act as naturally as possible.  Their behavior is quite similar to that of normal bees so it’s best to not run from them as that will make them more defensive.  Fortunately these creatures are not vehement and even then it’s hard to die unless you’re stung by a group of them.  I managed to take one super-zoomed in photo to commemorate my survival:

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The not-so-murderous murder hornet.

After we saw the shrines and took pictures at the summit, we road back towards Tokyo while stopping at some viewpoints in the hills along the way.

Soni Highlands

 

While riding through Nara, we decided to take a pit-stop and try the famous blueberry ice cream made with Hokkaido Milk here.  I was not expecting that much, but the taste was actually creamy and delicious.  Plus seeing the deer/human mascot of this area was hilarious!  My driver thought it was an atrocity though.

Since the Soni Highlands were on our way back, we decided to ride up the plateau and see the pampas grass.  Though there wasn’t much to see at the top, the breeze sure did feel nice.  If we would have had more time and preparation, I would have loved to have a picnic here!

The Sonikogenonsen Okame Hot Spring is conveniently located next to the highlands, so we stopped there on our way back.  Due to being in the hills this onsen is extremely sunny.  What I liked the most is that there were straw hats in the outdoor onsen area you could wear to keep the sun out of your face.  The entrance fee is only 750 yen so it’s a good deal.

Returning Home

 

Feeling completely satisfied by this enthralling experience, I was finally ready to head home.  We drove from Nara to Nagoya where my driver dropped me off on the Meitetsu Line so I could take the shinkansen back to Tokyo.  Since I was sunburned and feeling quite tired, I could sleep off the exhaustion versus ride back on the highway.  This also gave me some time to reflect on trip and made the baggage on the bike lighter (I carried my helmet and clothes back with me) so it was a smart move.  We had succeeded in the great bike trip.  I’ll never forget this feeling for the rest of my life!

Day 4 Itinerary: 80% Completion

Though our original plan changed when we reached Yoshinoyama because decided to explore the mountains more, I’m happy things turned out this way.  Our ryokan stay would have been rushed if we drove to another prefecture so quickly and we would have missed out on the breakfast and lovely hikes that we took.  After getting to know the area of Yoshinoyama, I would really like to come back here during sakura season and see how beautiful it is!  This day was definitely slower-paced compared to the rest, but the hikes gave me a good workout.  4 days of biking was the perfect amount and I was lucky to be accompanied with such an experienced driver.  If you ever have the chance to go motorbiking through Japan (both as a driver or passenger) please do it!  It will open up a whole new world and take you to places that you can’t reach by public transportation.  Many people have been road tripping and camping during the pandemic to avoid public places and it is a much safer way to travel.

Future Opportunities

My sponsor and I both agreed that this trip went extremely well and we would like to plan more in the future.  Though we both normally travel solo, we learned a lot of new things through one another and agreed the trip was more fun together.  For example, they enjoyed guiding me through ancient places like Koyasan and I was grateful for their history lecture and taste in ryokan.  The only con was they don’t nearly enjoy the beach as much as I do, and I don’t like to camp when rain is forecasted.  Fortunately we were able to compromise on these things and got along quite well.  That is a vital skill we need to learn to live a happy life.

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Cheers to a successful trip!

Future Destinations

Some of our potential destinations this year include camping sites in Nagano and Shikoku.  We would also like to travel around Tohoku because I haven’t explored much of it yet.  Our departure date will depend on my work schedule, but I am doing my best to balance work and play!

Please look forward to future road trip articles from me or share your own experience in the comments~

The Great Bike Trip: From Tokyo to Ise (Day 1)

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Bite the bullet, baby.

Thanks to all of my crazy adventures around Asia and the 200+ articles I’ve published here on Resurface to Reality, I finally got an offer for a sponsored motorbike trip around the Kansai region of Japan (meaning all expenses were covered). The trip lasted for a span of 4 days and we road to many places including shrines, beaches, and mountain paths that are impossible to access by car or other vehicles. Granted I wasn’t the one driving due to not possessing a full Japanese driver’s license, but I was in charge of doing photography and video as well as preparing our camp. Even though I rode on the back of the bike it was still one of the most thrilling and exciting experiences of my life. I loved the feel of the wind in my hair and the clear view of the mountainous landscape and rivers as opposed to looking at them through a foggy train window.  Yeah, this is the life!

About the Bike

The bike model we rode on was a BMW F900XR that had extremely powerful capabilities.  It can carry a lot of weight and has high long distance performance.  I rode with an experienced driver who I had previously met before and trusted. They also were a fan of Ghost in the Shell and loved obscure places in Japan so naturally we got along well. Usually we both prefer traveling alone, but for the sake of trying something new we agreed to go on this trip together. It was amazing to have such an experienced guide with me so I could learn more about the history of the places that we were visiting. If for whatever reason our itinerary failed (which fortunately it did not), I had the option to return home via train. That’s one of the best parts of living in Japan━for the most part the road and train system is impeccable.

What’s that about a Sponsorship?

I want to iterate that there’s really no big secret to getting sponsored. This opportunity was presented to me without me seeking it. I’m just extremely passionate about travel and am always sharing my experiences with others (on this website and in real life; drunkenly at bars too).  I prefer to waste no time and have no hesitations when I travel somewhere new. Naturally that draws me to other people who have similar interests. If you are interested in travel and have the time, then I encourage you to go for it and keep a detailed log of your journeys. You will thank yourself later and also have stories for ages.  I am lucky that my sponsor offered me the option to go on future trips like this because I took the chance and succeeded!

Departure

The 4 day journey began on August 1st and I departed Tokyo at 6am. We had practiced riding on highways in Tokyo a few times and I was pretty comfortable with the feeling of it. However, I decided to ride the shinkansen to Nagoya Station and meet my driver at Kinjofuto Harbor so we could ensure a smoother trip. Morning traffic on the highways can be a bit rough so this way the load would be lighter and my driver wouldn’t have to take as many breaks. Kinjofuto Harbor is hilariously located next to Lego Land (which I visited exactly 3 years ago), and has easy access to the country roads.  We met up around 9:30am (exactly as planned), I put on my helmet and gear, and then we rode to our first destination: Ise Shrine.  This trip took approximately 3 hours with breaks in between.

Ise Shrine: Home of Amaterasu

Ise Shrine, known as “Japan’s most sacred shrine” actually consists of two shrines: The Inner & Outer Shrine.  These shrines were built over 2000 years ago and are said to house the Goddess of the Sun, Amaterasu.  If you’ve played the Shin Megami Tensei series, you already know that this goddess is a big deal.  The outer shrine is easy to access and has areas were you can pray and buy good luck charms.  I bought a pink one that looks like a magatama for hopes of safe travel.  As you walk further into the forested area, you will come across a large wooden bridge that will lead you to the inner shrine.  Photography is strictly prohibited here, but you can take photos from the bottom of the stairs.  Reaching the inner shrine is like reaching the origin of Japan.  This sanctuary is built out of sacred wood and is a cherished relic of this country.   I would highly recommend coming here if you ever get the chance because I definitely felt enlightened here.  For Japanese people and believers of the Shinto Gods, this is the holy ground.

Okage Yokocho

After visiting Japan’s most sacred shrine, we walked through the old-school street reminiscent to ancient times called Okage Yokocho.  Here you can get your fortune told (I got moderate luck), buy all sorts of souvenirs, and try some delicious seafood!  The oyster on a stick coated with soy sauce I tried was amazing.  There were also cute stray cats basking in the sunlight and wind chimes adorned on some of the buildings.  Though it was somewhat touristy, if definitely had an atmosphere of its own.

For lunch I had an amazing seafood ricebowl from the very first restaurant we walked passed because I was starving.  You kind find udon, unagi, and sushi places all over this street but this was my all time favorite.  You can’t beat the freshness of this shrimp:

Iseshima Skyline

After eating we rode for around 40 minutes and drove up a large hill to see Iseshima Skyline.  You can only access this viewpoint by vehicle because the incline is quite steep and the road is around 16km.  I have a video of us driving here that I will upload when I finish editing.  This skyline is famous because on a clear day you can even see Mt. Fuji!  I am happy that I traveled here by bike so I could experience it.  My video doesn’t do it justice.

Camping on Mihama Beach

Mihama Beach was hands down my favorite part of the trip!  We rode about 2.5 hours to reach here and arrived right before sunset so I could go swimming and do photography.  The sunset was breathtaking and looked like something you’d see in Southeast Asia.  Not to mention the beach was so remote that hardly anyone was there—just the way I like it.  The people I did run into were very friendly and asked me where I was from and the usual.  I wish I would have talked to them more but I was so focused on the aesthetics that it was hard for me to do anything but swim and frolic on the beach.  I was supposed to go the the Philippines and Bali this year, but due to the pandemic my trips were cancelled.  Mihama Beach is likely the closest I will get to being in a tropical paradise this year so I will forever travel my experience here.

My driver set up camp while I was swimming (that was super nice of them).  It was a simple tent that fit two sleeping bags.  I was pretty exhausted by that point, so I fell asleep immediately and barely remember “camping”.  However, our campsite was gorgeous because it was right in front of the beach.  I’m happy that this could be my first camping experience in Japan.

Day 1 Itinerary: 100% Completion

Though this was my first full day riding a motorbike and it was pretty intense, we successfully went to every destination we planned.  The rainy season had just ended and it was extremely humid, but other than that it was a perfect ride.  My legs were a bit sore from riding but I got a lot of exercise in so I was fine.  I am so grateful for all the rare things I was able to see.  The next few days had their itineraries slightly altered due to rain, but the setback led us to see other amazing things.  Please stay tuned for the next 3 days!

Super Aesthetic Adventures in Osaka (Day 2)

After exploring the Kaiyukan Aquarium and meeting a fire bender on our first day in Osaka, we decided to take our second day at a more leisurely pace.  Or so we thought.  Despite all the drinking we did the night before, we surprisingly weren’t hungover so it was somewhat of a miracle.  Craving Mediterranean and Halal food, I found a Michelen Star restaurant called Ali’s Kitchen right near our hotel.  They have a large assortment of Pakistani and Arabic food that we heartily feasted on.

I ordered the Arabic salad and the Baba Ganoush that tasted like nothing I had ever eaten before.  It was clear that a lot of special ingredients were used in this style of cooking to give it such an amazing taste.  Plus it was extremely healthy too!  My boyfriend ordered the keema curry and I could tell by the look on his face that he thoroughly enjoyed it too.  This restaurant definitely deserves 5 stars:

Feeling satisfied, we decided to walk around American Street (also called Ame Mura) to see some of the latest Osaka streetwear and colorful architecture.  Honestly, the aesthetics here were off the chart.  Some of my favorite things that we found was a coffee shop called W/O Stand with a fake vending machine door, a shoe brand called “Dr. ASSY”, colorful fashion and logos, random shrines, and a giant mall with jungle-like foliage called Big Step.  I snagged an ASICS jacket for half-off here and they had neon bathrooms too!  Plus free table hockey!  The highlight was when my boyfriend lost the game by ricocheting the puck off my side and directly into his goal.  Good times.

We then decided to explore the “Kyoto of Osaka” and see Mizukake Fudo, a beautiful Buddhist statue that has been covered in moss.  This temple is very small but is surrounded by a lot of unique restaurants and bars.  The path is connected by Dotonbori’s central streets but it has more of a Gion feel to it.  While we were here a small ceremony was going on.  Monks were humming and chanting prayers.  We left a donation to show thanks and then quietly made our way to our next destination.

My boyfriend decided we should first see Denden Town (the central otaku hub), and then proceed to the old arcades in Shinsekai.  I remember going to a maid cafe in Denden Town years ago while I was interviewing for jobs in Osaka.  However, I don’t think I had ever seen Shinsekai before because usually I stay in Dotonbori (for sake of parties).  Fortunately the two areas are close enough that you can easily walk between them on foot.  I was so happy to experience Shinsekai because it preserves the old 80s feel of Japan with its smokey Mahjong parlors and 50 yen arcades.  The claw machines here are absolutely hilarious too.

We played Street Fighter and Time Crisis 3 here for a long while and walked around the illuminated streets.  There were less people around due to the pandemic but this place still had a lot of charm.  I could see Tsutenkaku Tower here and snap some really good pictures.  I would really like to come back here and try some sushi in the future!  Maybe even spend a night here too!

As we were walking back up Dotonbori to go to the famous hammock cafe called Revarti, we came across a completely random, unannounced matsuri here.  Gotta love the Osaka life.

Sadly to our dismay the hammock cafe’s hours had been drastically changed due to the pandemic.  Instead of staying open until midnight, they now only stay open until 5pm.  Closing at happy hour should be a crime but I vow to come back here some day when they are open.  We decided to initiate our backup plan which was the 200 yen bar called Moonwalk and drink cheaply to our heart’s content.  The entrance fee is 500 yen, but every drink you order after that is only 200 so you can drink like a sultan.  They have all sorts of liqueur that you can experiment with too.  My personal favorites are the Dalgona Coffee made with Kahlua and the ice cream grasshopper.  Each drink has stats like a Jojo character so you can strategically plan out how shit-faced you’re going to get:

After about an hour of this we were tipsy and ready for the next destination.  Our friend who owns the best gaming bar in Osaka, Space Station, invited us out and we drank more coffee drinks and an original cocktail called “Ecco the Dolphin”.  We then plopped in the most Australian Bomberman (Bomberman 3) and also played some Nidhogg.  I enjoyed looking out the Slime-tinted windows and into the night.  The design of this bar is iconic.

After chatting for a good while, we were invited to a music party at Sound Garden.  The genre was supposed to be house and techno so I was totally down.  The best part about this bar was it had a super comfy couch with a pillow that said “Fuck Tokyo. I [heart] Osaka”.  We sat on the couch and laughed about this for a good while.  It’s really true.

I was talking about music in Michigan and right as I mentioned Eminem, the DJ started playing “Sing for the Moment“.  That was our cue to get up and dance.  I was completely lost in the moment and let go of my fears and anxiety.  I can’t believe how amazing this trip had turned out!  Though our initial plans had slightly derailed, I was so happy that we were here together.  A sensation of euphoria came over me and after a while I wanted to wander by the river outside.  The music ended around 3am and we decided to make our way there.  There was a light rain in the air but it felt fantastic on our skin after dancing that long.  The river in Dotonbori had the most beautiful reflections that night:

As the sun rose we cuddled and listened to “P.S. You Rock My World” by Eels.  There were kids blasting EDM under the bridge and their playlist accidentally shuffled to “Last Christmas”.  It kind of felt like Christmas in July, in a way.  I really didn’t want for that night to end but eventually we drifted off to sleep.  What happens in Osaka stays in Osaka.

We left a few hours later at 11:30am via the Willer Express Bus and headed back to Nagoya.  However, we couldn’t leave without first picking up a souvenir:

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Takoyaki-flavored Pringles. The best parts of American and Japanese culture combined.

This was hands down the best trip to Osaka that I have ever had.  There was never really a dull moment—all of it was a highlight reel.  I hope to travel again with my boyfriend to Kyoto in the fall and hopefully make another trip back here.  Thank you all for reading up to this point!  Since we are currently unable internationally, this is the best alternative we could have asked for.

Radio EVA Cafe at 渋谷PARCO

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Unit-01 is looking fresh as ever.

Though the theatrical release of the Evangelion 4.0 movie has been indefinitely postponed due to the pandemic, official Evangelion collaborations are still going full swing in Japan.  Last week I visited the Radio EVA Cafe located on the 6th floor of the Shibuya PARCO building and tried some of their delicious desserts.  In addition they have some custom merchandise for sale.  Their menu had a lot of options, but my personal favorite was the purple mousse rose with leaf-shaped chocolate:

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I’ve eaten a lot of desserts in my time, but this was my first time trying purple mousse!

This mousse was perfect because it was super soft and creamy, but not too sweet!  The little bits of pancake also added to the texture.  Though the food is quite expensive (averaging 1500 yen per dish), the pro of coming to this cafe is that you get to see special scenes from the movie!  Unfortunately recording them is not allowed, but I was able to take a lot of pictures around the cafe:

I really enjoyed seeing the comic book art-style they chose here.  The interior design was really thought out and it was interesting to see fully English quotes.  Unfortunately there were not a lot of vegetarian options, but I loved the flavored drinks and desserts.  For the full menu, please see their official website.

The cafe will be running from 6/1/2020 – 8/2/2020.  There is no online reservation system so you can just walk in.  I went on a weekday at 6pm and was immediately seated.  For those who are unable to go, fear not!  There will likely be another cafe when the movie is finally released.  When that happens, I will be sure to check it out!

Exploring Hanoi City: A Tropical, Colorful, Communist Tokyo (Part 2)

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Hanoi — my favorite city in Vietnam!

Since I published my introduction of Hanoi yesterday, I’m now going to be detailing my experience here in tropical, colorful, Communist Tokyo!  I only stayed in Hanoi for 2 days because I spent most of my time in Ho Chi Minh City and Phu Quoc Island, but it actually ended up being my favorite city in Vietnam.  Hanoi is super condensed and has a lot to see, so backpackers will rejoice at how easy and fun it is to explore.  I made a lot of friends here that I hope to see again during my future trips!

Hanoi VS Ho Chi Minh

The biggest decision that first time travelers to Vietnam will make is what city they want to see the most.  All of my Vietnamese friends in Japan recommended Hanoi because they think it’s prettier, but Ho Chi Minh is cheaper to fly to from most Asian countries so I started there.  I researched both cities thoroughly and couldn’t pick a favorite so I decided I’d see them both!  Fortunately roundtrip flights between the two cities are only $40 dollars, so you can easily see them both during your trip to Vietnam.

Reasons to go to Hanoi:

  • The streets are condensed making it easy to get around on foot.  Ho Chi Minh has a lot more traffic and you need to take a taxi or motorbike to get to some places.
  • You can access the emerald waters of Halong Bay from Hanoi.  Halong Bay usually takes 2-3 days to fully experience but is one of the prettiest areas of the country.
  • I found it much more easy to make friends here.  Ho Chi Minh is more spread out so meeting people outside of clubs was difficult.
  • There are more parks and nature around Hanoi.  You can also reach Sapa, a beautiful mountain village with terraces, from here.

Reasons to go to Ho Chi Minh

  • HCM is a huge international business hub which is why flights into this city are less expensive.  If you have an international driver’s license and are not afraid of motorbiking through huge crowds, you might save money here.
  • Though HCM isn’t near any beaches or beautiful waters, Mekong Delta is definitely worth seeing.
  • HCM has a lot of international cuisine and upscale restaurants.  I ate some of the best food I had in Vietnam here.
  • If you are a history buff, you will enjoy seeing the Cu Chi Tunnels here!

I recommend a minimum of 3 days and 3 nights in each city if possible.

Main Points of Interest

Here are the main points of interest I explored in Hanoi.  For food recommendations, please check out my Aesthetic Food Finds article!

  • Hỏa Lò Prison – One of the most historic prisons used during the Vietnam War.  Tickets are around $10.  
  • Ngoc Son Temple – A beautiful white temple located on Hoàn Kiếm Lake in central Hanoi.
  • Chua Tran Quoc – A pagoda on an islet in central Vietnam.  I walked here from my hotel and reached it in 30 minutes.  On the way there you can see beautiful parks!
  • Cat Ba Island – A beautiful island in Halong Bay.  I did not visit it because I went to Phu Quoc Island instead, but I would love to go in the future!
  • Water Puppet Shows – Vietnam is famous for its water puppet shows and my biggest regret is that I didn’t book a ticket in advance to see one.  I recommend using a website like GetYourGuide to buy one before your trip because they will deliver it directly to your hotel.
  • The Obama Combo – You can eat at the same bun cha restaurant as Obama did and order the Obama Combo in Hanoi!

Honestly the highlights of Hanoi were just wandering around the streets and seeing the culture here.  This was my first time traveling to a tropical Asian country so it truly felt like an adventure to me.  I loved going for morning runs and watching people do yoga in the park.  I bargained for a scarf at the Đồng Xuân Market and ate a lot of fresh fruit.    Seeing all the different markets influenced by the doi moi policy was eye-opening.  This is what I imagined Tokyo would be like if it hadn’t radically reformed after World War II.

However, aside from a few people most residents I encountered in Hanoi seemed truly happy.  This made me happy as well!

The Toilet Club

Have you ever dreamed of throwing a Communist party in a toilet?  Because at the Toilet Club (formerly known as the IP Club) you totally can!  This is where I spent my last night in Hanoi before flying off to the tropical island of Phu Quoc for my 25th birthday.  I chose this club because of its meme-worthy name, but the variety of music the DJs spin here is pretty decent.  They have regular house and trance nights along with an international selection of artists.  You can expect to see a lot of foreigners here, but it’s still a high-class club.  Worth the experience in my opinion.

I can’t even remember what I drank here, but I remember coming here on a Monday night so the entrance was free.  I met a bunch of backpackers from Australia and we exchanged travel stories.  I had so much fun dancing!  The club closed around 1am so I ordered a motorbike through Grab back to my hostel because that’s what was most convenient.  It was my first time ever riding on the back of a motorcycle, but fortunately I didn’t fall off!  What a way to end my night in Hanoi.

Accommodation

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HANOI GOLDEN -HOTEL-

Most accommodations in Hanoi are extremely inexpensive, so I decided to book a private room in the center of the city at Hanoi Golden Hotel for $20 per night.  The neon sign outside of the hotel makes it look like the entrance to a brothel, but the rooms were extremely clean and the service was outstanding.  They upgraded me to a family room for free because they had extra rooms available which was awesome.  The staff called me beautiful (in a respectful way) even though I had been walking for hours and my hair was super frizzy.  I couldn’t help but smile even though I know that flattery is cheap.  I definitely felt good vibes during my entire stay here.

What I liked about Hanoi was that there was no strange cultural or language barrier here like there is in Japan, so temporarily escaping that was nice.  Though I could never live longterm in Vietnam because I’d get tired of all the attention and vendors chasing me down, I do see myself vacationing here.  The main advantage is that travel in Vietnam is much cheaper than in Thailand or Japan.  Just be sure to watch out for taxi meter scams!  And learning how to bargain at markets will also be helpful to you.  I’ve learned through trial and error, plus a lot of negotiation (while sometimes buzzed).

Another strong point is people have a lot less in Vietnam but seem happier.  Woman seem more liberated too.  There’s a lot that you can learn by observing the life style of people here.  In my next article, I will be writing about my experience staying in Phu Quoc Island.  Please anticipate it, because Phu Quoc is my favorite part of Vietnam!

MOTHER Gallery at Shibuya PARCO

The worst days will end.  The best days will end.  Remember that.  From 6/25/2020 – 7/12/2020, there is a special MOTHER exhibit featuring works by Americart and 35 different manga artists on the 8th floor of the Shibuya Parco building.  As an avid fan of the series, I had to go the very first day the gallery opened up.  It’s completely free so if you live in Tokyo you have no excuse not to check it out.  You won’t be disappointed!

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All three MOTHER games on display.  A wonderful sight.

Though I wasn’t initially familiar with the artists, the artwork on display has a tasteful style that fits the theme of the games.  You will see familiar characters from all of the series and be lost in nostalgia as familiar music from the series is plays overhead.  Seeing this really made me want to go back and play all of the games again:

There are photo spots where you can pose with Ness’s hat and various characters from the series.  I love how the hand sanitizer was creatively incorporated into this exhibit too.  It definitely gave me a laugh!  There is a monitor where you can see the speed paint process of Americart’s work too.  There was a ton of effort put into this and it really shows:

In addition to the Pollyanna art book and comic anthologies, there are T-shirts, bags, pixel charms, jewelry, and plushies for sale.  Unfortunately the giant Mr. Saturn plushies on display are not for sale, but you can purchase a miniature one that comes with a house for 2500 yen.  I picked up the Mr. Saturn bag for a mere 600 yen.  It has amazing quality and is super stylish.  I can’t wait to wear it out!  I am so happy I had the chance to experience yet another nostalgic videogame exhibit.

For more information, please see:

『GRATEFUL IN ALL THINGS』art gallery by Osamu Sato & Deconstructing LSD

If you’ve ever heard of the PS1 cult classic LSD Dream Emulator, then you might already recognize this art.  It was created by the game’s producer: Osamu Sato.  This trippy exploration game has gained quite the reputation over the years for its aesthetic visuals and for the fact that it rejects most common game principles such as having a clear objective for the player to accomplish.  At the start of the game the player is given a diary based on the dreams that director Hiroko Nishikawa recorded for a decade (see Lovely Sweet Dreams).  The music and environment changes completely based on your actions making it so each playthrough is entirely unique.  Depending on what objects you interact with, you can see very psychedelic dreams or dark and catastrophic ones.

Each time you do an action in the game (such as running into a moving object or falling off the map), your progress on the dream chart is recorded and a day advances.  The chart has four labels that produce different visuals: Upper, Dynamic, Downer, and Static.  Different cutscenes and pages of the dream diary will be unlocked depending on your actions.  There is a “Flashback” option in the menu where you can review your progress.

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The LSD Dream Chart.

Many players try to see the dark parts of the game by running off the map and “killing” their character, but this won’t necessarily produce a downer dream—sometimes an upper one is generated instead.  People have tried to write guides on this but how exactly the game evaluates your actions is unknown.  Still to this day there is much unknown about LSD…

Since the game was never officially localized outside of Japan, physical copies are quite rare and coveted.  LSD Revamped is a popular fan-made version of the game that tweaks the original in a more user-friendly way.  The web author describes it as:

“The genre isn’t adventure, it’s not action, and it’s not even an RPG. If I had to define a genre, it would be a ‘walking dream emulator’.”

Ironically during the same month that the original LSD received its full English patch via fan translation, digital artist Osamu Sato held his “GRATEFUL IN ALL THINGS” art gallery at B-GALLERY in Tokyo.  The exhibition is free and available from 5/25/2020 – 6/7/2020:

Osamu Sato is a graphics designer and photographer originally from Kyoto that has created digital art exhibitions and also worked as an artist for Sony.  He has traveled abroad and used many of his photos as design materials for his works.  He also produces music.  In his website biography it states his ideas are drawn from both consciousness and unconsciousness in his intellectual level.  These ideas are clearly reflected in this exhibition as some pieces appear to have a sense of identity.

“GRATEFUL IN ALL THINGS” is not only the name of this art gallery, but also his latest music album which I managed to purchase along with a T-shirt:

I am very grateful that I could make it to this exhibition.  I respect artists that reject the principles set before them and seek to create things in their own methodical way.   I hope to attend more of his events in the future and continue to deconstruct the human mind.

For more information, please see: