Autumn Adventures in Kyoto (Part 1)

Over the recent three-day holiday known as “Labor Thanksgiving Day” in Japan, I decided to venture to Kyoto once more in hopes of capturing the beauty of the red maple leaves on camera. The previous weekend I traveled to Ginzan Onsen and had a lovely experience there, but unfortunately since it is located in the north of Honshu most of the leaves from the red maples had already fallen. Since Kyoto is more to the south, I figured that mid-November would be the ideal time to visit. Fortunately I was able to do a ton of photography with both my new iPhone 12 Pro’s camera and my trusty GoPro Hero too. I also managed to eat at a lot of cute cafes and meet up with some old friends while experiencing the true Autumn essence of Japan. Yet another great adventure for the archive!

Nanzenji Architectural Temple

I departed from Tokyo immediately after my job on Friday via the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to avoid the holiday rush. After spending a quiet night at a guesthouse near Nijo Castle (read further below), I made my way to Nanzenji Temple, one of the most famous Zen temples in Japan that practices Buddhism. I’ve been to numerous temples and shrines in Kyoto already, but what drew me to Nanzenji was its aesthetic brick aqueduct that is frequently used as a photoshoot location for visitors wearing kimonos and weddings. During the Meiji Period it was actually used as part of a canal system from Kyoto to Lake Biwa in Shiga. Now its colors and architecture have weathered and faded making it look like a beautiful backdrop with the surrounding forest looming behind it.

I spent about an hour here doing self-portrait photography then wandered through the large complex of temples and gardens that are around here. I highly recommend visiting Tenjuan Temple because it has both a rock garden and a pond garden that make it look lovely in Autumn. I finally got to see the bright red maple leaves that I was dying to see here! The entrance fee is only 300 yen.

If you are interested in additional sightseeing, Kinkakuji and the Philosopher’s Path are really close to Nanzenji. But after all of this walking, I was hungry so I decided to grab some dessert!

Kotoba no Haoto

Since my next destination was located in the mountains north of central Kyoto, I decided to stop at a cozy bookshop that also serves adorable parfaits called Kotoba no Haoto. They have quite the impressive collection of books from everything from Kyoto guidebooks to cat-themed novels and are very welcoming to guests. I decided to order the seasonal parfait which consisted of a cat crafted out of vanilla ice cream and chocolate shavings and fresh fruit. It tasted even better than what I had imagined and was completely refreshing. I liked this cafe because I didn’t feel rushed here and could peacefully enjoy my dessert. After feeling fulfilled, I made my way to Mt. Hiei with renewed energy.

Address: 12-1 Tenjin Kitamachi, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, 602-0087

Experiencing the Golden Hour at Mt. Hiei

Originally I passed by the base of Mt. Hiei while I was on my way to the famed Rurikoin Temple. This temple is situated in a forest and has a pool of water inside that perfectly reflects the surface of its surroundings. The best time to go is in Autumn when the red maple leaves match the same red color of the interior of the temple. However, unbeknown to me entrance required prior online reservation from the months of October to December and I was not able to enter. Since I had traveled an hour by bus to get here, I decided that I would ride the cable car up Mt. Hiei instead and do some photography in the mountains. Fortunately it was only a 5 minute walk from the queue to Rurikoin so I did not lose much time. This is actually the longest cable car in Japan so I’m happy I went for the experience!

Mt. Hiei actually has both a cable car and a ropeway. To ride both roundtrip it costs around 1800 yen which is a bit expensive but the view is overall worth it. At the top you can see Garden Museum Hiei and also hike to see some temples in the mountains. I loved this museum because it had a lot of beautiful oil paintings that were carefully placed around groups of wild flowers and bushes. There was also a pond and you could see all of the mountains surrounding Kyoto and Shiga. The natural lighting and cool mountain air really added to the experience. If you come this far out it’s definitely worth the ascent because it gives you an entirely new view of Kyoto.

I descended around 4pm which was just in time to catch the golden hour when the sun shines through the trees and gradually begins to set. The path around the base of Mt. Hiei started to gleam with the flicker of lanterns and I felt as if I had been transported to a beautiful red world. Luckily I caught it all on camera. I loved how the Eizan Railway train I took back to the city center was marked with a red leaf too. This entire day went better than how I had originally envisioned it despite the minor setback.

Celebrations at L’Escamoteur

After experiencing the golden hour and feeling satisfied with the photos I had taken for the day, it was finally time for celebration! Coincidently one of my friends from Yamanashi was also in Kyoto and invited me to come to L’escamoteur with her. This bar is near Kawaramachi and is named after the French word for “magician” or “illusionist”. As the name implies the bartenders can whip up some pretty mysterious cocktails here. My friend and I have the same taste so we both ordered chocolate cocktails with brandy first. After kicking back the first round, we next ordered matching Kyoto-themed matcha cocktails that kind of look like おっぱい when placed side by side. We laughed at that and shared stories of our experiences in Kyoto. She also tried to go to Rurikoin Temple and could not get in without a reservation. Small world! We vowed to both see it next year during Autumn.

This bar definitely had the perfect atmosphere for catching up with old friends and I am happy I went here. Next time I would like to try a cocktail with an egg and this mysterious concoction I happened to capture on camera:

Address: 138-9 Saitocho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8012

Accommodation: Hostel Mundo

Due to the reduced prices of the hotels that are participating in the Go To Travel Campaign, I was able to stay at a backpackers guesthouse called Hostel Mundo for less than 1000 yen for 2 nights. I liked this guesthouse because it was located in a quiet area away from the crowds, but still had easy access to Kawaramachi and Kyoto buses. The rooms had cozy futons and the interior decor made me feel like I was in Thailand, but Hostel Mundo simulates the feeling of staying at a traditional Japanese house. Bike rental is also available and there are many hot springs nearby. Only a few other woman were staying here so I was able to sleep peacefully each night and wake up early for my next adventure. I would recommend this place to most people as it is very affordable and clean.

Thank you for reading Part 1 of my Autumn Adventures in Kyoto! Part 2 is already being drafted so please look forward to reading more from me soon~

Exploring Aichi’s Floral Oasis: Laguna Ten Bosch in the Winter (Japan)

A few weeks after returning to Japan from my aesthetic adventures in Taiwan, I decided to go to Nagoya City and attend an event called Touch & Go that some of my favorite artists were playing at.  Before getting boozed up and meeting friends, I wanted to explore somewhere that I had never been to before within the area.  Since most of Nagoya’s major attractions can been seen in 2-3 days and I had already seen them all, I decided to go somewhere on the outskirts of Aichi prefecture that was still on the way there from Tokyo.  My research led me to an amusement park named Laguna Ten Bosch (also called Lagunasia).  Not wanting to miss out on yet another aesthetic adventure, I decided to arrive around 5pm so I could catch the winter light shows and practice night photography with my GoPro.  I was not disappointed by the beautiful floral displays and flashing neon lights:

About Laguna Ten Bosch/Lagunasia

Lagunasia is a amusement park/waterpark/spa that is geared towards younger ages but has attractions that everyone can enjoy.  What caught my attention specifically is its brilliant winter illuminations.  Since I have lived in Japan for over 4 years now, I have already seen a large variety of what this country has to offer, but I had never seen illuminations in Nagoya before.  During the winter season, the outdoor waterpark is transformed into a brilliant display of Christmas decorations and lights that produce a mirror-like effect when they flicker at night:

I was amazed to see the different flowers that were in bloom during this time of year (which was January)!  While walking to the garden area shown in the video above, I walked on a transparent bridge where I could see flowers planted below my feet.  It truly was a unique experience.  I saw a cosplayer doing a photoshoot here, so I knew I had come at the right time!  Most of the light shows start around 6pm and last until the park’s closure at 9pm.  You can see detailed information regarding the light shows on their official website.

Access & Entrance Fees

Compared to other amusement parks in Japan, entrance to Lagunasia is actually quite affordable.  Admission only is around $20 USD, and $40 if you want unlimited rides.  Because I have been to so many amusement parks already, I opted to pay the cheapest option for entrance only.  There are a number of roller coasters, bumper cars, and water rides that looked fun, but in the winter I think it’s best to go the cheapest route since not all attractions are open.  I was able to get a discounted nightpass as well (I believe the price changes with the season because it is not listed on their website, but I am unsure).

To get here from Tokyo takes approximately 2 hours and 25 mins.  I rode the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Toyohashi Station.  Then I took a local train to Mikawa-Otsuka Station.  The ride was very easy compared to other trips that I have done, and getting to where I needed to be in Nagoya only took an hour and a half on local trains.

See the Access page of the Laguna Ten Bosch website for more information.

I thought it was funny that random cutouts of Boku no Hero Academia were placed around the park.  It must have been part of a collaboration, but it was very subtle.

So is it worth it?

I give this amusement park an overall positive review because a lot of effort was put into the 3D mapping and light shows here.  However, unless you really love amusement parks or have extra time to kill in Nagoya, I would first recommend checking out Universal Studios in Osaka or Lego Land (also near Nagoya).  I will review these in separate posts when I have time.  These places both have more attractions and are easier to access than Lagunasia, so they are better to see first in my opinion.

If you have been living in Japan for a while like me and are looking for something new to see, or are close to the Nagoya area, then this is it!  This is the perfect day trip or getaway from Nagoya City.  The lines are minimal here–you can easily ride all the rides you want within a few minutes.  The illuminations are great for practicing photography and I had a lot of fun experiencing them.  You may find yourself getting bored if you come too early, so I would recommend coming here in the afternoon so you can catch the light shows (the winter seems the most elaborate, but they change year-round).

I would come here again with a friend if the opportunity presented itself~

Eating Live Octopus in Seoul

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Sannakji (산낙지): Live octopus from a local shop in Sinsa, Seoul.

Since I’m staying in Seoul for the next few days, I decided to be adventurous and try some wriggling live octopus (called sannakji).  I’ve eaten octopus sashimi in Japan many times and enjoy pairing it with soy sauce and wasabi, but the experience in South Korea is a bit different.  Instead of thinly slicing the octopus like in Japan, here they carefully cut the tentacles into smaller bite-sized pieces and give you special spicy sauce to eat it with.  Taste-wise I prefer spicy seafood, but texture-wise I prefer my octopus to be thinly cut so it’s easy to chew.  Though the tentacles were slippery and difficult to pick up with chopsticks, I managed to almost finish the entire plate!

The octopus is selected from a tank outside and takes about 10 minutes to prepare depending on how busy the restaurant is.  This dish is safe to eat when it is served to you, but due to the complex system of neurons in each tentacle, they still wriggle a bit even when they have been severed from the octopus’s body.  If you really enjoy seafood (especially in Asia), then this is something you should try!

Pro Soy Crab is a popular restaurant where people in Seoul go to eat crab and octopus, but I chose to eat at a local shop nearby that had a Japanese menu.  Sannakji is called “生きているテナガダコ” in Japanese, so you can also try looking that up (I cannot read hangal, so I rely on my Japanese skills here).  Earlier this year I ate Dancing Squid in Hakodate, so if you are interested in other seafood adventures, please look at my post here!

Aesthetic Food Finds in Cambodia

As an avid lover of all things that are aesthetic, searching for unique restaurants and trying the most colorful foods around the world is one of my life goals.  Besides the infamous Happy Pizza this country is famous for, here are some of the best foods that I tried in Cambodia:

Siem Reap

Though Siem Reap is mostly famous for Angkor Wat and its other historical monuments, there are actually a surprisingly decent amount of delicious and healthy restaurants around.  My personal favorite was Artillery that had falafel waffles and vegan dragon fruit cake.  They were both amazingly satisfying after a long day of exploring ancient temples and working up an appetite.

I also recommend heading to the Fresh Fruit Factory which is nearby.  They have amazing fruit parfaits and shaved ice you can try with a friendly and welcoming atmosphere:

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My favorite street food that I tried near the night market here was hands down the Strawerry Hokkaido Cheese Toast.  Since I’ve been to Hokkaido twice this year, I felt obligated to try it.  Say cheese~  Surprisingly, I liked the flavor and texture of it.  They also have green tea and other unique flavors here, along with bubble tea.

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Koh Rong

Koh Rong Island is a lot more rural than other areas in Cambodia, but I still managed to find some great food in the small village of Koh Touch!  I tried a falafel wrap from Sky Bar which was extremely fulfilling, and also ate a lot of my meals at the Treehouse Restaurant where I was staying.  I had some delicious seafood noodle soup, muesli with yogurt and fresh fruit, and also some chocolate pancakes with banana.  I was impressed with how fresh the food was and fortunately was able to eat healthy every day while I was here.  They are a number of western-style restaurants that serve pizza and burgers here as well.

Phnom Penh

The capital of Cambodia has no shortage of food options.  My favorite restaurant  was a cozy cafe near the imperial palace called VIBE.  Here I had some delicious avocado flatbread and a delicious chocolate smoothie bowl served out of a coconut.  This gave me a lot of energy for the day so I was very happy to have stumbled upon it.

As far as fast food goes, I found a wonderful cafe called J’ADORE where I had a huge avocado shake and mini prawn burgers.  They were easy to eat and were surprisingly packed with flavor:

Though Cambodia is less-developed than other Asian countries, you can definitely find a restaurant or cafe here that suits your taste, and most food is very affordable.

Free the Bears: Volunteering as a Bear Keeper in Cambodia

Whenever I travel to a new country, I like to spend a day doing volunteer work with animals.  Not only does it help support them, but it also gives me the chance to meet rare species and learn more about the culture of the country I’m visiting.  In Thailand I signed up for a program at the Elephant Sanctuary, and I just recently visited the Cleland Wildlife Park in Australia.  While I was researching animal programs in Cambodia, the Free the Bears volunteer program really caught my eye.  In this program, you will become a bear keeper for the day and get the chance to meet some extremely fascinating Cambodian Sun and Moon Bears!

About Free the Bears

Free the Bears was founded in order to help bears that had been neglected throughout Asia in “coffin-size” cages and milked for their bile, which could be used as an ingredient in medicine.  Fortunately this cruel practice is becoming illegal, but many bears are still being held in captivity.  This program helps educate volunteers on what we can do to save them, and also gives its participants to safely interact with them.  In addition to Cambodia, there are also other locations in Laos and Vietnam.  The Cambodian location is within Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, and free transportation is included when you sign up for the program.

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Several Moon Bears feast on a nutritious lunch of vegetables and honey.

Itinerary

When I accepted to the program, I was sent the following itinerary via email:

09.30 to 10.00 – Arrive at the centre and have introduction and welcome.
10.00 to 11.00 – Guided tour around the bear sanctuary and introduction to the bears.
11.00 to 12.00 – Preparing bear enrichment.
12.00 to 13.00 – Lunch.
13.00 to 15.00 – Tour of other animals at the centre.
15.00 to 15.30 – Helping keepers put out enrichment, feeding bears etc.
15.30/16.00 – Leave centre and return to Phnom Penh by approximately 5.00pm.

Being a Bear Keeper for a Day

My day began with a cheerful tour around the wildlife center.  I lucked out because I was the only person on the tour and that gave me the chance to ask a lot of questions.  All of the staff was very friendly and spoke English.  I got the chance to meet several of the bears and they all seemed well-treated and happy.  Unfortunately you are not able to pet the bears, as their claws can be quite sharp, but you can get pretty close to them and take pictures with them.

After I met all of the bears, we started preparing meals for them.  I chopped up some vegetables and stuffed them in bamboo and plastic balls.  After the meal prep, I was guided to a fence where I could toss the food balls over to them, and pass them the bamboo sticks through the fence.

Watching them eat was extremely adorable:

We also took bits of food and scattered them across their playground.  This gives the bears a chance to exercise their bodies, and they actually looked like they really enjoyed going on the hunt:

I learned that sun bears are actually the smallest and rarest of the bear species.  My favorite bear was this extremely rare one that looks like a lion:

However, all of the bears I met were extremely cute!  I thought that some of them may be in rough condition, but all of the ones I saw had no visible injury or scarring.  They looked like they were living a happy life, and that made me extremely grateful.

Meeting the other Animals

In addition to bears, Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre is home to many other species of animals including gibbons, tigers, elephants, and more!  This was my first time ever seeing a gibbon, and I was extremely impressed seeing them climb and swing with their long arms.

In addition to the gibbons, I also met the most beautiful tiger in the world:

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Who knew such hidden beauty existed here in Cambodia!  Seeing this tiger was absolutely breathtaking.

Overall Review

I was overall extremely satisfied with my experience with Free the Bears, and would recommend the program for all animal lovers.  It doesn’t matter how much previous volunteer experience you have, because being a bear keeper here is actually quite easy!

The program costs $90 for which is a bit expensive, but you receive a free T-shirt which is actually quite stylish, and lunch and transportation is also included.  If you put things into perspective, Cambodia is an under-developed country, and these bears are in need of help so this is a good investment.  I took my money here rather than shopping at the night market, and feel extremely enriched because of it.

I really liked traveling in Cambodia, and I am happy that I made my money count here.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask me!

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Aesthetic Adventures in Cambodia

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Although I have just returned from Australia, I’ve already decided where I’m traveling to next in order to celebrate my birthday; the historic and tropical areas of Cambodia!  I chose Cambodia as my next destination because it has a similar climate and activities as Vietnam and Thailand, which were two of my favorite vacations because of their laidback beaches and inexpensive lodging.  I will be staying in Cambodia for a total of 10 days, though 2 of them will be travel-heavy due to layovers.  I will be bringing my Nintendo Switch and playing Fire Emblem to keep me occupied during these times.

I am most excited to try the local cuisine, explore the famous Angkor Wat temples, and even volunteer to be a bear keeper for a day!  I will also be flying to the tropical island known as Koh Rong to soak up some sun and party on the beach.  Then I will be flying to the capital to learn about the sad history of the killing fields and visiting the memorial.  I hope to keep a good balance of exploring and taking part in cultural events here to make the most of my experience.

My planned itinerary (so far) is listed below:

Tokyo → Siem Reap → Angkor Wat → Tonle Sap Village → Siranhoukville → Koh Rong → Koh Rong Samloem → Phnom Penh → Killing Fields → Siem Reap ↺ Tokyo

Oct 1st: Arriving to Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the cheapest city to fly to from Tokyo, so I booked a $450 flight through Vietnam Airlines from Narita Airport.  This is a discounted flight that includes a 3 hour layover in Vietnam, but from my experience, this time usually goes by quickly (especially if you pregame in the airport).  Since it is my birth week, I will not be holding back on indulging.

Once arriving to Siem Reap, I plan on hitting Pub Street and trying the infamous happy pizza.  I will be posting my own review to let everyone know about my experience.  I have extremely high expectations for it, but even if it’s not “happy”, there are tons of other restaurants and bars around to explore.  I definitely want to try the bar Angkor What? not only because of its hilarious name, but also because I will be visiting the historic Angkor Wat (temple) the next day.  If there’s time, I plan on visiting the Old Market too.

I will be staying in a private room at the Jasmin Hotel for less than $20 a night.  I chose this hotel because it is close to the center of the city and has a pool, so I am excited to go swimming here since it was too cold to during my Australia.  I already know this is going to be an awesome trip!

Oct 2nd: Exploring the Angkor Wat Temples

This will be a travel-heavy day as I explore the most famous temples on a sunset tour I booked from GetYourGuide.  This tour is highly rated and only costs $19 to go with a group of people, so that will give me a good opportunity to meet fellow backpackers.  We will be heading deep in the jungle to see the main Angkor Wat temple, and also trekking to the other aesthetic Buddhist temples around it.  The tour last for 10 hours, but I am more than ready to go hiking again!  I think it will feel like going through ruins in a videogame, which makes me feel a little like Lara Croft from Tomb Raider.

Oct 3rd: Sailing through the Floating Tonle Sap Village

In the morning I plan on waking up early and jogging through the city to see the famous Preah Ang Chek & Preah Ang Chorm temples.  I also want to try some street food and familiarize myself with more of the local shops and parks.  Maybe even do a little souvenir hunting too.

In the afternoon, I booked another cheap tour from GetYourGuide to see the the floating village on the Tonle Sap lake.  This is a fishing village that is similar to Ine that I visited in Kyoto, and looks very relaxing and interesting to see.  I love being out on the water and feeling the wind in my hair!

Once the day comes to an end, I will be taking an overnight bus from Siem Reap to Siranhoukville that I booked through 12goAsia for $25.  Though this is a 10 hour trip, it’s way more cheap than flying, and I really want to experience it at least once.  The reviews on the website are quite mixed, but I had a pleasant time riding buses in both Malaysia and Singapore so I think I will be okay on this trip.  It will be an adventure, at the very least!

Oct 4th – 7th: Partying at Koh Rong

From Siranhoukville, I will be taking the very first ferry to Koh Rong so I can begin relaxing and partying on the beach!  I booked a single room at Treehouse Bungalows right near Police Beach where all of the parties take place.  My room is less than $30 per night and is in a real treehouse!  I am so excited to take pictures and see the beautiful view of the oceanfront.  There are many bars and hostels around the area, so it’s extremely easy to make friends on this island.  I have been to the Fullmoon Party in Thailand before, so I already know what to expect here.

I also plan on sailing to Koh Rong Samloem, which is another beautiful and more private island that is easy to get to by longboat.  It has the gorgeous Saracen Bay to explore as well as a variety of other nightlife options.  I might also attempt a jungle trek to Long Beach on the main island if I have enough energy.  Basically I’m just going with the flow to see where life takes me!

October 8th: Visiting the Killing Fields

To reach the capitol city of Cambodia; Phnom Penh, I will be taking another inexpensive bus from Siranhoukville that I booked through 12goAsia.  This trip will only be 6.5 hours, and I’m sure I will be tired from my island adventure so I won’t mind the travel time.

Once I arrive, I will be going on the Killing Fields tour I booked through GetYourGuide.  I do not know much about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge Regime, but I do know it is a tragic part of the history of this country and I would like to learn more about it so I can write a proper article.

During my stay in Phnom Penh, I will be staying at a place with the hilarious name of Lovely Jubbly Villa.  Once again, this is a conveniently located accommodation with a beautiful pool, so I had to book it.  I expect to have a “lovely” time here!

October 9th: Freeing the Bears

As I have said before in my previous blog entries; whenever I travel to a new country I like to volunteer with animals.  I have been accepted to the Free the Bears Bear Keeper Program, and am excited to help rare species of bears in Cambodia!  This program also has other locations in Thailand and Vietnam.

While being a bear keeper, I will be preparing food for the bears, cleaning their habitat, and grooming the ones that are friendly.  I am always happy to contribute to the well-being of endangered animals, as I am lucky to have a lot of things in my life already.  I hope to look for more programs like this in the future if it goes well!

October 10th: Exploring the rest of Phnom Penh

Before taking my late night flight home, I plan on exploring the city of Phnom Penh and see all that it has to offer.  Some of the places I’m interested in seeing are: The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, National Museum of Cambodia, Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh Night Market, The Russian Market, and of course experiencing the night life.

At the end of the day, I will have to fly from here back to Siem Reap, where I will take my overnight flight to Tokyo.  I hope to sleep well after all of this travel!

October 11th: My Birthday

For the last few years of my life, I have always spent the day of my birthday on tropical islands, but this time I really want to spend it with my friends in Tokyo.  I am leaving this day open for spontaneous shenanigans to ensue, but I know for sure that on October 12th I will be going to a footwork party called Battle Train Tokyo CLIMAX in Ebisu!  My favorite underground DJ Carpainter is playing, and I know that it will be an awesome event.

I am extremely excited to turn 26 this year because each year that passes I am able to experience more of the world and learn more things about myself.  Overall I will always feel very young at heart and still plan on traveling as much as I can!

Exploring Aesthetic Art Galleries in Melbourne

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Upside-down kanji has never looked better in this florescent lighting.

While traveling on my spontaneous two week trip to Australia, I decided to peruse the National Gallery of Victory (NGV) in central Melbourne to see some aesthetic works of art.  Needless to say with their large collection of traditional paintings, sculptures, stained glass, and pottery, I was not disappointed by their selection.  Most of the exhibitions here are completely free to enter.  Only the rotating featured exhibit has an entrance fee.  Since it was one related to Asia (where I currently reside), I decided to skip it and see the other permanent parts of gallery instead.  Most of them were pretty awe-inspiring with pieces of art from all around the world:

The first room we entered had European oil canvas paintings that I found to be quite thought-provoking.  Some of the art were beautiful portraits of woman and landscapes, but others depicted quite sad themes like war and death.  I really liked how the portraits were juxtaposed on the bright red wall–I had to walk around this room several times so I could fully let the context of it all set in.

In the connecting hallways were displays of pottery from various centuries (I was especially fond of the vase with booty painted on it), sculptures, a rocking chair, and other interesting works; like a horse with a lamp on its head.  On the top floor is a beautiful stained glass window that illuminates the performance hall.  They also had some really derpy paintings of animals, and one wall of art depicted a hint of bestiality, but it was discrete and as tasteful as possible.

My favorite exhibit was definitely the neon upside-down kanji room.  It only exemplifies the difficulty of learning kanji as a westerner:

The final room we entered had shapes made completely out of pages from books which gave them a unique texture.  There was also the “Ship of Time” exhibit you could walk through to find the inner peace depicted in Zhuangzi’s parable.  Once again it was a lot to take in at once, but I managed to successfully cross over:

Overall this was probably the best free museum I have stumbled upon in my travels.  I was impressed with all of the diversity it had to offer, and despite my initial jetlag I had a lot of fun reading about the exhibits.  Be sure to check out the NGV if you ever are in Melbourne!  There is also the Eureka Skydeck nearby where you can see a beautiful view of the the city.

Seeing Penguins on the Beach at St. Kilda

While selecting activities for my trip to Australia, I came across many tours for penguin watching on the beach online.  As an animal lover, I decided that this was something I must definitely experience!  However, most of these tour packages were priced at over $100 to go on a two hour trip to Phillip Island, which is a bit expensive for people who are backpacking.  With a little more research, my friend and I figured out that you can see them pretty much every night at the beach in St. Kilda, which is just 20 minutes away via tram from central Melbourne.

After knocking back a couple drinks at the bars in CBD, we hopped on the tram from Southern Cross Station and made our way to the pier at St. Kilda Beach around 7pm a little after the sun set (we confirmed this time via the weather app).  At first we weren’t sure if they were going to come out, as spring had just started in Australia and it was a bit chilly.  But we saw a large group of people gathered at the pier and sure enough, a group of penguins started to emerge from the rocks!

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Sometimes they are hard to see in the dark, so usually a fluorescent light is shone over them so people can view them from the wooden docks.  Park rangers are present to ensure the penguins’ safety, but sometimes they wander close to people.  One even climbed up to say hello to us (I apologize for the low video quality, as no flash photography was allowed):

I really enjoyed this experience a lot because it wasn’t like going to a zoo–it was a completely natural phenomenon!  Compared to other penguins I’ve seen in other countries, these ones looked a lot tinier.  In addition to Melborune, there are several other places in Australia where you can see penguins frolic on the beach.

St. Kilda also has botanical gardens that I recommend going to during the day!  My friend and I were able to see some sakura blossoms here and along the Yarra River.  Though I thought the weather here was quite cold compared to Tokyo, I am really happy I was able to see the beautiful sakura once again this year!

No matter what time of year you come to Australia, I think you can always find something beautiful to enjoy!

Invading Australia: Exploring the Picturesque Melbourne City

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Beautiful view from Albert Park in Melbourne.

For the past 2 weeks I’ve been invading Australia; starting from the southern picturesque city of Melborune to the charming countryside of Adelaide.  Since a number of my Japanese friends have studied abroad or traveled to this country, it’s always been on my radar.  Unlike my previous trips to Asian countries where I have a set itinerary for each day, this trip was a lot more easygoing and spontaneous.  A friend I met at a beach party in Japan kindly let me crash at their place near the center of the city, so together we decided to hit the city while catching up and also experience the seemingly endless nightlife.

A lot of my American friends have asked me what Melbourne was like, and I told them: “Picture a cleaner, safer, version of your favorite American city with slightly less people, and that’s pretty much it!”  One thing I notice about most Australians is that they are pretty laidback and travel more frequently outside the county than a lot of Americans do.  Australia is very affordable to live in, and the tuition fees for education are greatly subsidized by the government compared to America.  The only downside is that eating out is somewhat expensive, but on the plus side, there is no tipping like in the US.

This trip initially started out very rough because I negligently forgot to apply for my ETA to enter the country (I thought I could do so upon arrival), so Jetstar had to reschedule my flight a day later after I applied for it.  Essentially all you need to do is fill out a form online and pay $30 to enter the country so it’s extremely easy, but make sure to do this before your flight!  I have never had issues with tourist visas until this trip, but it was only a small bump in the road because I still was able to do everything I wanted.

Once I landed, I took the Sky Bus to Southern Cross Station to meet my friend.  Immediately he recognized me due to my flamboyant blonde hair despite us not seeing one another for over two years.  We first got some lattes at Mid Town Coffee which I highly recommend, then immediately proceeded to go day drinking at Melborune’s famous rooftop bar.  The coffee and the White Russians somehow helped me fight off the jetlag as we walked around Chinatown and other parts of the city.  What I liked most about Melbourne is that almost all of the downtown area is walkable and there are inexpensive trams available as well.  The system is very easy to figure out.

 

Being in Australia felt like being in an alternate universe America.  Instead of GameStop, they still have EB Games, which seems to have more selection and be far more superior.  Forget about Burger King–it’s called Hungry Jack’s here.  Porn Hub should cum and get their pizza8bit burgers is also a great place to eat out (I love their logo design).  Lord of the Fries is not only a good pun, but they also has an entire vegan menu.  Despite living in Tokyo, I tried a lot of Japanese places here that were a little expensive but overall delicious.  Wagaya was one of my favorites due to its large sake list, but Japanese Gyoza Bar deserves an honorable mention.  Those are just a few of the places that we visited, but there are many more!

 

My favorite dessert places were Chokolait, where I had amazing rainbow pancakes made with pavlova, and a cakeshop called Glace where I had an amazing mushroom pastry.  They also had a really cute marshmallow one I wish I could have tried, but was too full!

 

There are a number of bars along the Yarra river that runs through the city, but my favorites were Storyville where I ordered Butterbeer, and the Croft where one of my Japanese friends DJed.  They also have syringe drinks available that are very tasty and fun to share with others.  All of these places had really friendly and welcoming atmospheres, and I even managed to make friends in the bathroom!

One event I recommend checking out is Delight because they run really fun music events with Smash Bros. tournaments at various locations in central Melbourne.  I met some very nice people here, and was impressed with the quality of music.

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それを考えぬく – EMBRACE

One of my favorite memories in this city was drinking Korean sochu while watching Kenny Beats & Zack Fox with two friends in an office building.  I felt like I was reliving my college days and it was extremely nostalgic.  The above poster I shot inspires you to let go of your thoughts and embrace your surroundings, which is exactly what I did during this trip.  It was really beneficial for my mental health.

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Seeing this Shelter poster hanging in my friend’s room only continued to add to the nostalgia.

Overall I was very impressed with this city and felt like I could finally escape from my high-stress life in Tokyo.  Some people refer to Melbourne as the “hipster” area of Australia, but I think it has a lot more to offer than just chic cafes and murals like other places that have that label.  I will be writing more about the art galleries and wildlife reserves I visited in my future posts so you can get a better feel about what this country is like, but I recommend that you visit it if you ever get the chance!

Aesthetic Dining Experiences in Kyoto, Japan

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Soft mochi and iced green tea at a traditional sweets store in Gion.

Whenever I travel to a new place, I like trying a combination of the local cuisine and the most crazy places that I can find.  Kyoto is known for its tofu, noodles, kaiseki (vegetarian dishes), and of course; matcha sweets (which includes green tea-flavored ice cream, parfaits, and more).  Here is a list I have compiled of the most unique dining experiences I have had in Kyoto:

Gold Ramen at Zundoya

Zundoya is an extremely popular ramen chain in Japan because of their affordable and delicious bowls.  In their Tokyo and and Kyoto branches, they have the option to purchase gold flakes which you can sprinkle on any ramen dish on their menu.  This comes with a hefty extra 5000 yen charge, but was fun to do just for the aesthetic purpose of eating golden ramen.  You can buy these gold flakes at souvenir shops in Kyoto and Kanazawa.  They can be used as a topping for virtually any food due to them being flavorless.

The regular bowls of ramen are also packed with flavor!  The funny thing was I came here after a music workshop with some of my Japanese friends per their recommendation.  That’s when you know it’s a good place to eat!

Kichi Kichi Omurice

Omelette and rice dishes (dubbed omurice) are an extremely popular food combination in Japan, and this restaurant does it best!  When you see the head chef, Yukimura Motokichi, slice a freshly baked omelette and have it perfectly melt over the rice in an almost cinematic fashion, you’ll understand why this restaurant is so popular.

This meal was seriously the best omurice I had ever tasted because the omelettes are cooked to be extremely fluffy.  Since this website is so popular, it is recommended to make a reservation on their website.

Kitten Company Cafe

As the name implies, this cafe has cat-themed sweets, and is extremely vegan-friendly.  I tried their vegan curry, chocolate cake, and kitten cookies.  All of them were scrumptious, and I was delighted to see the curry arranged in the form of a happy cloud!  No reservation is required for this restaurant, but you can see their website here.

Menbaka Fire Ramen

NO RAMEN NO LIFE” is the English slogan that greets you at this ramen restaurant.  I immediately liked the atmosphere the minute I entered.  Menbaka puts a large amount of green onions and pours oil right over the dish before it is served to create an explosive fiery effect.  Just watch the video of me seconds before the fire starts to burn:

The taste of the ramen is quite ordinary; maybe a little more oily but otherwise unnoticeable.  It is worth going to once just to see the fire!  This restaurant does not accept reservations; you must lineup and take a numbered ticket.  You can explore other places in Kyoto while you are waiting, so it’s not so gruesome of a wait.

Green Tea Soba Noodles

Tsujiri Teahouse offers one of the most unique noodle dishes I’ve ever seen in my life: green tea soba and tofu in a white milk-like broth.  Though that doesn’t sound appetizing at first, it actually has a refreshing taste!  I ordered mine chilled and they really hit the spot.  If you are feeling adventurous, this is definitely a good thing to try!  In additional to noodles, there are many parfaits and sweets here.  Next time I come to Kyoto, I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for more unique food like this!