Exploring Sadoshima: The Island of Gold Mines, Washtubs, and the Japanese Crested Ibis

Remember the washtub scene from Tales of Symphonia? On Sadoshima you can live the dream!

After seeing Skrillex close the first night of Fuji Rock in 2018, I decided to spend the next day sailing to Niigata’s obscure island with dark past: Sadoshima. Through a large portion of history this island was used as exile for heinous criminals but also for free thinkers who had critical opinions of the emperors at the time. Many people were contained in detention centers, but after the discovery of the gold mines on the islands they able-bodied were used as forced laborers. People from the mainland were also selected to help mine the gold. Nowadays the island is filled with luscious nature and the mines and prisons have been turned into museums. There are a number of activities that you can do on Sadoshima including swimming and taking a boat tour, but my main reason for coming is so I could ride in the washtubs (also known as hangiri or tarai bune).

Getting to Sadoshima

I purchased a ferry tickets from Sado Kisen for 2380 yen in advance and rode the car ferry. There are multiple boarding points, but I boarded at Bandaijima Ferry Terminal because it is closest to the shinkansen station. I would definitely recommend booking in advance so you can better plan your trip because only certain time slots are available.

The boat ride to Sadoshima from Niigata takes one hour and is a pretty smooth trip. I would recommend doing a day trip unless you plan on swimming a lot because most of the island can be seen in a day. There are various Sado Bus Tours you can reserve from the official website that take you to the main points of the island. You can also try renting a car or take a taxi, but the bus tours have the best value. I took the half-day course that included the gold mines, wash tubs, and Toki Forest Park for 4900 yen. I can happily say that my experience was worth the time and money because I got to witness a lot of rare sights!

Boarding the Ship

I boarded the ship at 6am and was surprised to find out that it was ginormous with a total of 6 floors. I booked second class seats because they were cheaper but the first class tickets come with small beds you can nap in. The ship even had anime mascots and cosplay that you could wear and take pictures in! Not to mention you could buy a lot of food and alcohol from the vending machines and staffed stalls. The view of the ocean from the top was amazing too and I still remember the gentle summer breeze. After backpacking in Asia for 3 years I was really getting used to the no frills ferries, but this was maybe the most luxurious boat I have ever ridden in my life. Even 3 years later while writing this I still remember how amazing it was!

Riding the Washtubs from Tales of Symphonia

As a child I adored Tales of Symphonia, and specifically remember there being a washtub scene in the game. In this scene the characters heroically board washtubs at the pier and sail to their next destination, some characters enduring the ride better than others making it comedic. Little did I know that I would get to experience the same thing here on Sadoshima! Fortunately the washtubs here are extremely pleasant to ride and you have your own captain to steer for you. A true luxury that is unique to this island.

In the past these boats were extremely popular for fishing due to their durability and low cost, but now there are much more powerful tools available so only remote villages are keeping this tradition alive. In Ito, Shizuoka, the Matsukawa Washtub Races are sometimes held, but these washtubs are leaner and meant for sports. Sadoshima is the best place to experience them and fortunately you can reserve them on the same day you arrive to the island. The ride is only for around 15 minutes but you can choose to ride multiple times. I had a blast reliving a scene from one of my favorite games!

Here is a video I took on my old camera. Sadly this was before my GoPro days but I remember how fun this was:

Kinzan Gold Mine

According to Japan Guide, Sadoshima’s Kinzan Gold Mine was the most active gold mine in Japan that produced over 400kg of gold and also silver and other metals too. It has two main paths that you can walk down and read the history while you explore the inner tunnels. One path has tiny robotic workers that reenact some of the activities in the mine and another has restored tunnels from the Edo Period. There is a gift shop that sells all sorts of crazy gold souvenirs including gold sake and sponge cakes with specks of gold in the frosting. It looks kind of tacky now but at the time I really enjoyed these kinds of places! I still have a gold necklace that I occasionally wear out that I bought from Sadoshima. I’d say the gift shops here are pretty top notch and it is always fun to look around~

Toki Forest Park

The Toki, or Japanese Crested Ibis, is an endangered species that is kept under special watch at Sadoshima. At Toki Forest Park you can learn all about them and observe them from a safe distance. The park is very beautiful and contains various facilities. There is an outdoor area where you can take a stroll through the garden and may have the chance to meet the costumed Toki mascot. There is an indoor area where you can see different pictures of Toki and learn all about their characteristics. I personally loved the distinct red color around their eyes. Sadly the Toki are on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss and starvation during the winter, but the preservation center here is aiming to take care of them and eventually release them into the wild. There were 6 birds here when I visited in 2018 and I am hoping there are more now. I bought the Toki change purse as a souvenir and as a reminder to not forget them.

Overall my experience to Sadoshima was very vivid and I definitely recommend coming here during the summer in Niigata. One day on the island was enough for me to do everything that I wanted, but if I come with a friend or a group of people I may consider staying longer. I hope to visit Niigata next year for the sake festival!

Urban Exploring in Takeo, Saga

An abandoned onsen exhibition reflecting the results of the Third Impact in Saga, Japan.

After having a fabulous day in Fukuoka exploring local shrines and temples, seeing the sunset on the beach, and relaxing at my onsen hotel, I decided to travel to Saga on the second day of my trip in Kyushu to do some urban exploring. When I was first researching prefectures in Japan years, I didn’t think Saga was that interesting compared to the others because it is extremely rural and is mostly known for its farmland and onsen. However, thanks to the hit anime series known as Zombieland Saga, a number of people have been flocking to Saga to visit real life places from the anime. This has greatly helped the economy of Saga during the pandemic and also brought light to many amazing places that were previously overshadowed. In this article I will be focusing on writing about urban exploring in Takeo Onsen and surrounding museums.

To reach Saga you can either fly to Saga Airport or take a train from Fukuoka like I did. Hakata Station to Takeo Onsen Station is about a one hour trip and costs 3100 yen. Though Saga is rural, I was able to use a combination of local buses, trains, and taxis to get around. Please look forward to reading about my adventure!

Exploring Abandoned Onsen

The first stop on my Saga itinerary was Takeo Onsen, which is small town of hot springs including a museum of abandoned ones making it ideal for urban exploring. This hot spring area is over 1300 years old making it a celebrated part of Saga’s history because many famous people have visited here. The museum is about a 15 minute walk from the station and is free to enter. It was really surreal entering a hot spring without water, but fortunately there were some non-abandoned hot springs nearby that you can relax at for the day. Plus the two story museum and vermillion gate are really worth checking out because they have interesting architecture. This area was actually featured in a manga splash page for Zombieland Saga. Interestingly the convenience stores in this area appear a solid color of brown instead of their original colors. My theory is this occurs because they have already been zombie-fied!

Takeo Shrine

Right down the street from the Takeo Onsen main area is Takeo Shrine! I decided to stop by and pay my respects. The pastel colors of this shrine really surprised me because they are really unusual but very pretty. I was happy to witness architecture of so many colors here!

Minefuyama Rakuen Lantern Exhibit

Despite being a rural part of Kyushi, Saga actually has quite the selection of interesting museums! The one that I was most looking forward to visiting was Mifuneyama Rakuen which you can actually walk to from Takeo Onsen. This museum has multiple rooms with cutting edge LED displays by teamLab and a beautiful outdoor garden as well. The first room that you enter has hundreds of flashing lanterns making it a popular destination for photographers. However, since I came here after Golden Week had already ended, there were hardly any people here at all! I had so much fun shooting here with my tripod. The staff was very lax here and let me set it up without any issue. That is one of the pros of traveling around rural places!

Minefuyama Rakuen Onsen Exhibition

The 2nd floor of Mifuneyama Rakuen had multiple rooms with hot springs and highly aesthetic projections. The room with the protruding pillars from the ground reminded me of a post-apocalyptic scene from Neon Genesis Evangelion and it was awesome! You cannot enter the baths here but walking around was an adventure initself. It felt surreal to be in a familiar scene with this abstract sci-fi theme going on:

Overall this museum takes about an hour to see and is my top pick in Kyushu thanks to all of these animated displays. The cheap entrance fee makes it more than worth it too! Unfortunately I did not have much time to see the outdoor area, but the museum featured in the next section fortunately had a lot of scenery!

Entrance Fee: 800 yen

Address: 843-0022 Saga, Takeo, 武雄町武雄4100

Yoko Museum

My last stop of the day was the Yoko Museum which is about 10 mins of walking from Mifuneyama Rakuen. This museum has a beautiful outdoor garden with a red bridge that takes you across a river with several waterfalls. There are also some terraced crops that slightly resemble the famous rice fields in the western Saga. If you continue to follow the main path you’ll find a lookout point that you can climb up to. The indoor part of the museum has famous pottery, but since I have already been to many museums in Japan I opted for just the outdoor part. During certain times of the year there are illuminations, but there weren’t any going on when I arrived at this time. I explored all of this museum in about 40 mins and was very happy with what I saw. The flowers that bloom in Saga sure are pretty and this garden is arranged beautifully!

Entrance Fee: 600 for the garden only and 1000 for the garden & museum

Address: 843-0022 Saga, Takeo, 武雄町4075-3

Breakfast at Re Cell Kitchen

Before embarking on this long aesthetic journey through Saga, I decided to eat a hearty breakfast at Re Cell Kitchen in Fukuoka near Tenjin Station where I was staying. The restaurant has some of the best organic food on the island. The breakfast set I had with fish, salad, soup, vegetables, and brown rice gave me enough energy for almost the whole entire day. I also tried their strawberry banana yogurt and granola dish for dessert and appreciated the heart-shaped fruit. Before setting off to Saga I highly recommend eating a nutritious meal here! I will be talking more about Saga cuisine in my next two articles.

Address: 810-0021 Fukuoka, Chuo Ward, Imaizumi, 1 Chome−1−4 石松ビル1F

Thank you for reading the first part of my Saga article series! In my next article I will be talking about Ureshino, which is a popular hot springs resort area featured in the Zombieland Saga anime. Please look forward to it!

A Flawless Day in Fukuoka

Sunset at Momichi Park in Fukuoka, Japan.

Given the nature of my project-based job plus the economic effects of the pandemic, this Golden Week I found myself with more free time than ever before. After returning to Tokyo from Okinawa and checking my work email, I learned that I had three extra days to kill before I returned to the office. Not wanting to waste this newfound vacation time, I looked at places on my travel destination list and decided that Fukuoka and Saga had the best weather so I spontaneously booked yet another plane ticket to Kyushu from Narita Airport for around 17000 yen. By this time most people had returned to Tokyo from their long holiday so tickets were slightly cheaper than they were the previous week.

I left at 8:45am and landed at FUK Airport (Fukuoka Airport’s brilliant abbreviation) at 10:50am. One of my friends texted me and told me they didn’t know anyone else who travels as much as me and it really is true. I am highly determined to make the most of my life here and explore lesser known regions of Japan so I can better understand the culture of this country. I also love the thrill of going somewhere new and trying delicious food on my journeys so I can recommend it to others. I am happy to say that this trip was another huge success! Fukuoka is a tropical city with beaches, temples, amazing hot pot, and plenty of memes. This was my sixth time going after over 2 years and fortunately there still was a lot to see!

Hedgehog Pastries for Breakfast

My first stop from the airport was a small bakery called Patisserie Pas De Deux which is uber famous for its adorable hedgehog-shaped pastries. They also make custom cakes and and cute cookies that resemble animals. The first morning that I went they were already sold out of their hedgehog pastries so the owner profusely apologized for me and asked if I wanted to reserve one the next day. I filled out a form and was able to try one the following morning as soon as the store opened. Inside of the pastry was custard cream that tasted way better than anything that you could buy in stores so it was definitely worth the wait. I also bought a hedgehog cookie because it was irresistibly cute. If you come here, be sure to arrive in the morning so you have first pick of the pastries!

Address: 2 Chome-1-38 Takamiya, Minami Ward, Fukuoka, 815-0083

FUK Coffee

The second stop on my itinerary was a local coffee shop that was geniusly named FUK Coffee. Not only is the name hilarious but the mango smoothie I had was above the average quality of smoothies that I had tried in Japan. I’ve been to Fukuoka around five times but this was the first time that I had ever seen it. But I had to admit the concept was truly original and unique. Look at these guys, capitalizing on memes! My friend who lives in Kyushu came here to meet me and ordered their latte. We were both giggling at the artistic latte art they used all day. Definitely come here for the laughs—it’s a great way to kill time and meet up with friends since it’s near Tenjin Station. This is also one of the few places in the world where you can say “FUK” and have it be non-offensive.

Address: 3 Chome-21-17 Haruyoshi, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka, 810-0003

Tochoji Temple

After our hilarious meme coffee, my friend drove me to a local temple called Tochoji in central Fukuoka. At first glance I already loved the contrast of the bright red pagoda against the city skyscrapers. Once entering the temple, you can go through a pitch black tunnel underneath large golden Buddha that will lead you to enlightenment. The journey is really fun because you lose all of your senses in the darkness, but you can hold on to the walls to guide yourself. As I emerged I was greeted with bright sunlight arising from the parting clouds, so I definitely felt the after effects! I would happily recommend this temple to all of my friends because even if you’re not religious, exploring it is quite the adventure.

Address: 2-4 Gokushomachi, Hakata Ward, Fukuoka, 812-0037

Atago Shrine

After finding enlightenment, we decided to go to Atago Shrine because it has a great view of the skyline of Fukuoka. The climb to the top only took around 5 mins but there was so much to see! We took pictures of the mountains and the ocean as well as the tall city buildings that really didn’t look so big from up here. Near the shrine is a tea house that serves delicious sweets. I ordered the deluxe mochi set with macha while my friend tried their giant dango. We both couldn’t believe how delicious it was! Outside of the tea house was a forested garden that had smooth green leaves. Once again I was blown away by the architecture of the city—it really did feel limitless!

The best thing about Fukuoka is that even without a car you can take local buses around to see all of these aesthetic shrines. Everything is extremely reachable and you can relax and enjoy your day without being strict with time.

Address: 2 Chome-7-1 Atago, Nishi Ward, Fukuoka, 819-0015

Lunch at Bistro Shirokuma

Continuing the theme of animal-shaped meals, we stopped at Bistro Shirokuma for lunch. Their most famous dish is their Shirokuma Pasta which features creamy Italian carbonara topped with fluffy bear-shaped foamy cheese. It was almost a cheese overload compared to my regular diet but fortunately wasn’t too heavy on the stomach. Since I wasn’t driving, I also ordered a high ball. This restaurant was cheaper compared to ones found in central Tokyo and I was definitely taking advantage of it!

Address: 810-0023 Fukuoka, Chuo Ward, Kego, 1 Chome−15−50 アークタウン 2F

Watching the Sunset at Momichi Seaside Park

After saying goodbye to my friend who lives a bit outside of the city, I decided to spend the remainder of my evening at Momichi Seaside Park. Similar to Aoshima in Miyazaki where I traveled to a year ago, this beach is one of the best places to watch the sunset on central Kyushu Island. When I arrived there were a number of people playing volleyball and drinking on the benches near the beach. I was happy to see that even amidst the pandemic that the island culture I loved so much here was still alive. While sipping on some sparkling sake I bought at Bic Camera, I watched the sky turn vivid colors and Fukuoka Tower light up. This was truly the life. I will never grow tired of watching the sunset on the beach in Asia!

Accommodation

In my previous trips to Fukuoka I always stayed with my friends in Hakata, but since they sold their house I decided to try a city hotel with an onsen so I could fully relax This time I stayed at Candeo Hotels Fukuoka Tenjin because it was central to the city and looked like it had amazing facilities. Every time I went to the onsen I had it completely to myself so I was lucky. This hotel is also close to the bars and night club district so the location is pretty amazing too. Rooms are around 4200 yen per night, but you can find way cheaper options around. Some hostels in Fukuoka are less than 1500 yen so I would recommend looking for what suits you best because there are a lot of places to choose from.

Thank you for reading the first article in my new Kyushu series! In my next article I will talk about exploring Saga from the hit anime series Zombieland Saga! Please stay tuned for more updates.

Final Day in Miyakojima: Exploring Irabu Island & The Great Bike Crisis that was Averted

A scene from Non Non Biyori: Okinawa e Ikukoto ni Natta recreated on Irabu Island.

After a sublime day of scuba diving on the best beaches in Miyakojima and exploring the pumpkin limestone cave, I was about ready to wrap up my Okinawa trip and fly back to Tokyo. However, before my flight departed at 4pm that day, there was one more island I wanted to see early in the morning. Irabu Island is connected to the mainland of Miyakojima by the appropriately named Irabu Bridge and can be reached by car, bike, and even on foot! It is roughly 11km from the main resort strip of Miyakojima and is extremely rural but has some beautiful beaches, cafes, and resorts to see. I figured it would be the perfect final destination to end my trip and reflect for a bit before taking the 5 hour plane ride home.

I woke up early, rented a regular road bike from my hotel, and set off for Irabu Island! During my morning run I had the chance to see the sun rise and it looked absolutely stunning on Painagama Beach. The blue colors of the ocean that surrounded Irabu were also impressive as I crossed the bridge. I had flashbacks to the Grand Tethe’alla Bridge from Tales of Symphonia as I made my way to the other side. This almost didn’t feel real!

It took me about 50 mins to bike to the main beach of Irabu called “Day’s Beach” but the view was definitely worth it. It looked just like the beach in one of my favorite anime movies Non Non Biyori: Okinawa e Ikukoto ni Natta. Even though this was slightly different from the setting of the movie, it still had the same vibe:

Here are some more photos that I took of Day’s Beach. If I had more time I would have went swimming! I noticed that there were a lot of farms and plantations here. One of the highlights of biking was stopping to see all of the tropical plants on the way:

After walking along the beach and feeling refreshed, I decided to stop by a nearby restaurant called Blue Turtle. Here I tried their signature rum cocktail called the “Blue Turtle”, ate some fried sweet potato and octopus, and drank a dragon fruit smoothie for dessert. The food here was top notch and the view of the beach was even better. Despite not being able to see any turtles during my scuba trip the previous day, this feast sort of made up for it.

Finally feeling fulfilled that I accomplished everything on my itinerary, I went to unlock my bike and set off back off across the bridge. But that is when disaster struck—as I started riding back I noticed I had a flat tire despite not feeling it at all before. I’ve ridden around Tokyo with flat tires on my bike when I’ve been short on time, but having this happen on a rural island is less than ideal. I thought about biking the 11km back or even walking if I had to since I had enough time, but I instead decided to do the smart thing and stop at the nearest resort and ask for help. Fortunately the staff at Azure Villa were more than willing to help me!

Initially I thought it was just a flat tire (パンクしたタイヤ) but after inspection the staff confirmed the tube was damaged too. This is the danger of renting bikes on rural islands—you truly never know what you’re getting and sometimes weather conditions can hasten these damages. Fortunately the staff drove me 11km back to my resort for free (because I don’t think most Okinawan taxis could carry this bike) and were super empathetic. I offered to pay them the normal taxi fee but they refused me. I couldn’t have asked for more kindness than what they had showed me. Okinawan culture is truly amazing!

When we arrived back at my resort on the mainland, Hotel Locus, the staff there was also super kind to me, gave me my bike rental money back, and added 様 to my name which was the greatest honor. I was able to make my flight with time to spare and saw everything on my itinerary, but if this would have happened the first day it would have killed the vibe a bit. However, no adventure is complete without some obstacle, and we all handled this in the best way possible so I’m proud.

Thank you to everyone that has kept up with my Okinawa article series! I am so happy I was able to make this trip safely in between emergency states and have such a phenomenal time. In the future I will be writing a spin-off series of my previous trip to Okinawa in 2016 mentioning all of the heritage spots I visited. This weekend I will be going to Kyushu to have some more island adventures, but they will be more a lot more relaxed than this. Life is never calm for an adventurer but I am loving every second of this life!

Super Aesthetic Adventures in Okinawa and Miyako

Okinawa in a bottle as it appears in Non Non Biyori.

With the end of sakura season in central Japan, it’s time to start thinking about plans for one of the craziest holidays of the year—Golden Week. Though I’ve taken a number of 3 day trips this year, it’s been quite a long time since I’ve created a multi-day itinerary. In fact, the last time I’ve an extended trip was in January 2020 to Taiwan. I’ve decided that this month I’m going to beat the Golden Week rush and take a 5 day trip to Okinawa focusing on Naha and Miyakojima since a number of attractions have been added since my last trip in 2016.

The dates I have chosen are 4/23 – 4/27 which should give me enough time to see everything I want. My planned itinerary (so far) is listed below:

Tokyo → Naha → Miyako → Naha ↺ Tokyo

My itinerary in 2016 was similar but replaced Miyako with Ishigaki. Both islands are worth seeing from what I’ve heard and while my last trip was focused on sightseeing, this trip is more focused on photography. There will be plenty of relaxation and adventure as well of course!

Though Japan is currently between emergency states and still not open for international travel, a large number of companies are forced to close during this holiday and inevitably people will be traveling domestically. Roundtrip flights to Okinawa from Tokyo usually cost between 16000 – 23000 yen depending on which airline you choose, but I found a reasonably priced fight with Jetstar for the average of 20000 yen and purchased it because I want to arrive there early in the morning. Even if certain places have curfews or restrictions, I will make the most of what I can enjoy.

Day 1: Relaxing at Naha’s Sanrio Resort

I will be departing from Narita Airport at 8:10am and arriving to Naha Airport at 11:05am.

On my first trip to Okinawa in 2016, I mostly stayed in budget hostels so I could use my money for bus tours to see the highlights of the main island. This time since I have more money saved up and wanted to try nicer facilities, I fortunately found the perfect place to spend my first night in Naha. When Hotel Okinawa with Sanrio Characters opened just a few years ago, it was spread all over my timeline and I knew that I was destined to stay here eventually. This hotel has rooms with 66 individual designs of Sanrio so picking my favorite series was difficult, but I decided on the My Melody themed double just because I love the bright pink colors in the artwork. These rooms cost roughly 11000 yen a night and have a nice location so I think the experience will be worth it! You can definitely find slightly cheaper facilities around Naha, but they won’t be as aesthetic as this. Expect a lot of photos of this place from me!

After I get checked in, I plan on checking out Ti-da Beach Parlor for some high tier smoothies then checking out the surrounding beaches. I will also walk down the main street for old times’ sake and see if Epica is still going all night. I intend for this day to be chill but I’m open to whatever comes my way!

Day 2: Dessert Museum at Stem Resort

Another amazing attraction that got added to Naha after my first trip was the Stem Resort theme park with an extremely photogenic dessert museum. Like Sanrio Puroland in Tokyo that I just visited last month, the museum is very cute and has a number of photo opportunities. Though I am mostly coming here for the sake of photography, I am looking forward to enjoying the inflatables and dinosaur museum if I have time afterwards. Also the rooftop bar doesn’t sound like a bad idea either. The admission fee seems to vary from 1800 – 3000 yen depending on what attractions you want to see so that is actually quite cheap to enjoy a resort of this caliber.

After I finish shooting here, I plan on heading back to my hotel at Hotel Aqua City and enjoying some fine wine. This resort is cheaper than the Sanrio one and has an amazing pool. I will need to rest up because the next day I am flying to Miyako!

Day 3: Getting Acquainted with Miyako Island

I will depart from Naha Airport at 9:40am and arrive at Miyako Airport at 10:30am. A one way flight costs approximately 8000 yen but is overall worth it. Ishigaki (which I previously visited) and Miyako are the most popular islands to visit aside from the main one so I’m looking forward to comparing my experiences of the two.

On my first day I will mostly be getting acquainted with the island and taking it easy, but the places I want to see the most are Miyako Shrine, Kamamamine Park, and bike to Ibaru Island which is extremely rural but has some scenic points. There are a few bars and restaurants I have in mind too if they’re open. I’ve heard Miyako is much smaller than Ishigaki and has less things to do, but the beach game is still strong and I want to go somewhere that I’ve never been before. Regardless I am looking forward to getting away from the city and getting to know this little beach town!

I chose to stay at Hotel Locus for 2 nights just because it is located right on the beach and also has a beautiful pool. It is around the same price as the Aqua City Hotel in Naha so it’s affordable. I plan on renting a bike and also using taxis if needed to get around but overall most of the things I want to see are near my accommodation so it should be convenient.

Day 4: Snorkeling with Turtles & Cave Exploration

Since I still haven’t been able to travel to the Philippines and snorkel with turtles in Cebu like I originally planned last year, I decided to try it in Miyako! I found a good tour on Klook that includes the turtle experience with the exploration of a pumpkin-shaped limestone cave and figured that was right up my alley so I immediately booked it. I am beyond stoked to try underwater photography with equipment I bought last year for my GoPro but haven’t been able to use yet! This tour will take me around the Kerama Islands and has a lot of activity so it seems like a great deal. There are also kayaking and boat tours available, but I have already done that stuff in other countries already and am going for the more unique experiences. This tour lasts for around 6 hours so I know I will be exhausted by the end of the day, but it will be a blast!

Day 5: Final Day of Enjoying the Beach & Heading Home

On my final day I just want to go swimming at Sunayama Beach and explore any last place that I haven’t had time to see yet. I have to catch two planes to get back to Tokyo, but I will leave Miyako at 4pm and reach Tokyo at 10pm. I have a layover at Naha Airport so I can do souvenir shopping and photo editing while I wait. Though it seems like a long while, I am sure the time will go fast. Overall I love tropical weather so just the warm atmosphere is enough to make me happy. It’s been almost a year since I last had a beach vacation in Miyazaki, so I am more than ready for this trip! It’s going to be another one for the books. Please look forward to my upcoming Okinawa article series!

My Homie Totoro: Traveling to the Iconic Bus Stop of Takaharu, Miyazaki

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My Homie Totoro.

After spending a lovely evening in Aoshima chasing sunsets and eating fresh crab, I decided to catch the very first train to Takaharu—a quaint farming town in Miyazaki where the life-size recreation of the Totoro Bus Stop is.  According to Oddity Central, this Totoro statue was built by an elderly couple residing here as a surprise for their grandchildren.  However, its design is so immaculate that it has attracted Totoro fans from all over Japan.  There’s not a whole lot to see in Takaharu as it is mostly a residential area in the mountains, but the backdrop of the mountains and fields behind the bus stop look like they came straight out of a Ghibli movie.  If you are obsessed with rare destinations in Japan like me then you might want to put Takaharu on your bucket list!  The countryside of Kyushu is simply stunning.

Traveling to Takaharu for Totoro

The journey to Takaharu from Miyazaki will take around 2 hours and cost 1500-2500 yen (which is not bad).  From Miyazaki Station, I took Kirishima Limited Express to Miyakonojo Station then transferred to the Kitto Line that took me to Takaharu Station.  You can also take local buses which are usually cheaper.  They will usually drop you off at the same locations depending on what time you leave.  From Takaharu Station, I asked the station attendant to hail me a taxi directly to Totoro.  If you simply say “Totoro” to your taxi driver they will know exactly what you mean.  This is a short drive that will only take 5 mins.  Once you reach Totoro, a warm feeling of nostalgia will wash over you.  Congrats, you have successfully completed your pilgrimage!

I should also note that there is a red umbrella you can rent for 100 yen so you can recreate the famous scene in the rain with Totoro.  Since the money goes directly to the people who built it, it’s a simple way to donate and show thanks!  I took many pictures with it on my GoPro and made some postcard-quality content.  If you come here alone like I did, there will likely be other people here to help you take your picture (or your taxi driver always can).

For information on accommodations in Takaharu, I would recommend checking out Guesthouse Nagata because it is right next to Totoro.  There isn’t much to do in this town as it is pretty residential so I spent another night in Aoshima, but if you have a lot of time in Kyushu you might enjoy staying here.  Getting your picture taken next to Totoro definitely makes the journey worth it!

Since I came here in the morning, I still had 2/3 of the day left to enjoy other activities in Miyazaki.  Here are some other fun things that I recommend doing:

Aoshima Hammock Cafe

Aoshima Hammock is a relatively new and unique experience that I hope more people seek out!  Unlike most hammock cafes in Japan, this place also includes a workshop and hammock rental system for those who are looking to relax in a hammock outside by the ocean.  Their system is relatively cheap and affordable.  If you go outdoors a lot you might consider buying one because they are made of high-quality yarn and come in many beautiful colors.  You can even sign up for a class to knit one yourself.

Since it was scorching hot outside, I decided to buy a drink at the cafe and relax on a hammock indoors (which is free).  However, outside the cafe is a beautiful park and rose garden by the water so I am considering renting a hammock in the future if I come back.  They will teach you how to install the hammock and give you all of the materials and are foreigner-friendly.  It’s a fun opportunity for you to learn how to better enjoy Aoshima life too!

Miyazaki Fruit Parfaits

One of the best things about coming to Kyushu is they have some of the freshest fruit in Japan.  Most notably the ice cream fruit parfaits in Miyazaki are to die for!  My top parfait recommendations are Sakuranbo and Fruit Ohno located near Miyazaki Station.  Even if you don’t like ice cream, they have dragon fruit, fresh strawberries, and melon that you can try without it.  I was thoroughly impressed by the design of these parfaits:

Sun Messe

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The Moai of Miyazaki.

Who would have guessed that Kyushu has Easter Island motifs on it??  Sun Messe is a bizarre tourist attraction where you can take pictures with Moai statues.  Your pictures can actually turn out pretty cool if you take them at the right angle (these were taken in 2018 so I regret not having a better camera).  While we were here, we chatted with two nice guys from Kumamoto who were here on vacation and later went to the beach with them.  What a strange place to socialize, but this place definitely has a powerful aura.

Nearby Sun Messe is the famous Udo Shrine and a beach that you can swim in!  This beach isn’t as pretty as Aoshima in my opinion, but it’s definitely worth checking out while you are here.  The atmosphere is pretty relaxing and you can make out mountains in the distance as you swim towards the horizon.  A great experience overall.

Entrance Fee: 800 yen (worth it for the weirdness here)

Florante Miyazaki

Flower lovers rejoice because there are beautiful flora growing in Miyazaki year-round!  At Florante Miyazaki you can see different types of plants being raised in outdoor gardens and greenhouses next to a beautiful pond in the summer.  I remember seeing citrus oranges being grown here for the first time of my life.  In the winter some facilities are closed but the park creates gorgeous illuminations.  I believe they happen year-round now.  I sadly could only come here during the day due to my busy schedule, but I hope to catch a night show here in the future!

Entrance Fee: 310 yen (very cheap)

Beach BBQs

Since Miyazaki borders the ocean, you can easily find seafood restaurants all over the city and beach fronts.  In 2018 my friend took me to a place where you could order fish and seafood to be grilled right in front of you.  It was such a fun experience trying Miyazaki specialties together!  I encourage you to try the shrimp because it is especially zesty.  You could also buy fish from a fish market and cook it on the beach if you have your own grill.  Not to mention there are sushi and sashimi restaurants galore.  You really can’t go wrong with food here because it’s way cheaper than in Tokyo!

Thank you for reading the 2nd article in my Miyazaki Series!  In my next article, I will be writing about my adventure to yet another rare gem—Takachiho Gorge.  Please look forward to it!

Spending my 25th Birthday at a Hut in Vietnam (Part 3)

After going on a grand tour of Phu Quoc Island on the day of my birthday, I decided to spend my final day in Vietnam going to Hon Thom Sun World amusement park.  To reach this amusement park, you must go to the south end of the island by taxi and ride the world’s longest cable car to another island.  You will pass over a cluster of fishing markets on your way there so it really is worth it for the view.  I remember the ocean looked so beautiful from above.  I’m really grateful I got the chance to swim in it when I landed!

As soon as I entered the park I noticed I was starving, so I ordered some vegan spring rolls, a seafood noodle dish, and a strawberry smoothie.  I was surprised at how big the serving sizes were!  There are restaurants all over the place so you’ll never go hungry:

Next I decided it was time to explore the park.  I’ll admit that my main reason for coming here was to ride the cable car.  I didn’t put much research into what attractions there were, but I figured I’d go and have fun no matter what.  I looked at a local guidepost for direction, except there was only one destination on it:

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There is only one direction!! ONE!

I thought this was some kind of joke until I looked on Inspirock and realized others had run into this same situation:

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So okay, Trao Beach it was!  At least I could ride a air-conditioned van there from the park for free.  Since it was October, there wasn’t many people there so I could relax and enjoy it all I wanted.  It was essentially a private beach.  This was one of the scenarios where it was not about the destination, but they journey.  I had a lot of nice time thinking to myself and listening to all my favorite music.  The tiki statues and chairs made out of tires that I saw here also added to the ambiance:

Even though there wasn’t a lot to see at Sun World, being on a remote tropical island was more fun than being stuck in the city.  What’s interesting is that some pictures of the park online show a water park, but it only seems to be open during certain seasons.  There was no mention of it when I went in 2018 so I wonder if it’s under renovation.  I saw all sorts of construction going on in the main pavilion near the restaurant I was eating at.  I would guess that there is some plan to expand this park because it is in a beautiful area that has a lot of nature.  It really could become something amazing!

Is it worth it?

The cost for the cable car ticket is around $15 USD (roundtrip) and entrance to the park is around $25 USD.  This actually isn’t that bad for a day on an island in Vietnam, but you could definitely go cheaper.  If you have an extra day to kill this excursion is great because of the unique cable car view—especially if you have a camera.  However, there may be only one destination available when you reach the island… you won’t know until you get there!

Upon further research, I noticed there is another amusement park called Sun World Ba Na Hills in Vietnam with the same logo (so they must be owned by the same company).  Search engines are likely confusing them in English.  Perhaps Phu Quoc’s Sun World (the one I visited) is going to be designed as a miniature version of the larger one.  Who knows?  I hope to return to Vietnam and visit the other, larger, park when it’s safe so I can expand this article!

Exploring the Rocky Coast of Yehliu Geopark (Taiwan)

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The coast of Yehliu Geopark (captured with GoPro).

Located on the north coast of Taiwan, Yehliu Geopark contains uniquely-shaped rock formations such as the Queen’s Head and Fairy’s Shoe making it a popular hiking and sightseeing destination.  Besides the famous Taroko Gorge, this is one of my most favorite parks in Taiwan.  Since this park is a bit remote from Taipei City, I decided to book a cheap bus tour through GetYourGuide that stopped here and the famous lantern towns of this area (Jiufen and Shifen).  The tour was extremely laid back and you could freely wander around all the areas, so I would recommend it to people who are trying to make the most of their day.  I came here on the 2nd day of January, but the weather was sunny and I managed to take some decent photos despite the crowds:

Though I have been to a number of parks similar to this in Asia, the architecture here really amazed me!  The surface of the rocks reminded me of craters on the moon so I felt as if I was in my own sci-fi adventure.  Definitely be sure to follow the guideposts to the elegantly-shaped Queen’s Head rock (fortunately most of the signs are written in English).  The hike around the cape was very pleasant and it was awesome to see the ocean.  The entire park is walkable within 2 hours so you can definitely fit in other activities if you plan your day out.  The signs below indicate the major points of interest in the park (as you can see, there’s quite a lot):

I asked my guide on how these rock formations were formed because I was curious, and apparently it was due to seawater erosion.  Each layer of contains a different level of hardness (I recall learning this long ago in primary school), so the unique shape of the rocks is caused by the ocean waves weathering them over time.  It’s amazing how flat some of the surfaces are, yet others look like they have circular shapes in them like coral.  You can get a great view of the entire park if you follow the trail to the lighthouse:

Located next to the park is Yehliu Ocean World if you’re interested in seeing dolphin and sea lion performances among other aquatic lifeforms.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see them, but I’ve had the chance to see them before in Thailand and Japan.

This was a fantastic 2nd day in Taiwan, and I will be covering the lantern towns in my next post!  Yehliu Geopark was the first outdoor area where I used my GoPro, so it will always have a special place in my heart!

A Magical Journey to King’s Cross: The Harry Potter Cafe in Seoul

Laughter is timeless.  Imagination has no age.  And dreams are forever.

I never thought that I’d be spending the first night of my third trip to Seoul dressing up in Slytherin robes at a Harry Potter cafe, but recently life has been taking me to some interesting places.  943 King’s Cross Cafe is located in the Hongdae district and features magical concoctions, beautiful Hogwarts-inspired interior decor, and costumes you can borrow and dress up in.  Immediately I was seduced by the Dragon’s Blood and eyeball cocktail upon entering (fortunately no advanced reservations were required).  After my long flight, sipping on some vodka and relaxing at this 5 floor cafe seemed like the perfect way to relax.

I have been to the Harry Potter cafes in both Tokyo and Singapore before, but Seoul’s by far was the most extravagant.  I appreciated the long boarding school-like tables they had on one floor, but they also had couches and tables for small groups on other floors.  Each floor had a unique theme and the top floor even had a Christmas tree since I came here during the winter.  Many paintings were hung on the walls mimicking the Hogwarts portraits.  Although they couldn’t talk, under the fluorescent lighting they almost looked like they could!  A dementor was hidden in one of the stairwells and gave me a great surprise.  Luckily I didn’t stare it in the eyes, or else my trip would have ended there.

The menu had a lot of desserts that you could order individually, but unfortunately the food menu was designed for large groups (like many restaurants are in Seoul).  Fortunately I wasn’t bothered by this because cocktails and desserts were all I wanted anyway!  The main draw of this cafe is the free robes that you can borrow on the 5th floor.  I had so much fun taking pictures and all of the people around me were genuinely thrilled to be here.  There’s also a gift shop with some very cute Slytherin earrings that I almost bought (but I decided to look at the night market instead).

Experiencing childhood memories in a foreign country is truly something special.  I would recommend coming here if you are a fan of the series because it is truly something magical.

Address

Sageun-dong, Seongdong-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Experiencing the Raccoon and Meerkat Cafes in Seoul

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Raccoons are surprisingly friendly creatures–not home wreckers!

As an animal lover, I have been to every single animal cafe in Japan so during my first trip to Korea I decided to visit all of the ones that Japan doesn’t have.  My research led me to find two separate animal cafes for raccoons and meerkats in two of Seoul’s major districts.  In this article I will be reporting my experiences from both cafes as part of my ongoing Korea article series.

Meerkat Friends

Before being locked in a cage with dozens of these creatures and having one try to crawl up my skirt, I had no idea that meerkats were such feisty mongooses.  I thought they would behave similar to ferrets–finicky but overall pleasant and holdable.  Instead these meerkats loved play-fighting with one another and could never sit still so it was very difficult to interact with them (and also take photos, but that’s beside the point).

Upon further research I discovered that they are actually carnivores, so this kind of behavior completely makes sense!  They are so entertaining to watch and this is a rare opportunity to see them up close, so I would recommend coming here if you get the chance.  Just be careful of what you wear because it may get stuck on their claws!  You will be lent an apron when you enter the meerkat playpen.

In addition to the playful meerkats, this cafe also has cats and wallabies in separate areas, so it really is worth the money!  The wallabies were a lot more friendly and could easily be pet and fed.  I was happy to see that the cafe was clean and that all the animals seemed to get along with one another.

Meerkat Friends Address

364-3 서교동, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Entrance Fee: 10,000KRW

Blind Alley

Blind Alley is one of the best animal cafes that I’ve been to!  In America, raccoons have quite bad reputations as animals that break into houses and are quite greedy with stealing food.  However, the ones at this cafe were very calm and relaxed.  The store asks that you do not pick them up, however, if you offer them food they will likely come to you.

A sign at the store reads:

Do not try to hold or put the raccon on your head, it’s the raccoon’s choice, not yours. Only lucky people will be able to enjoy that kind of moment. Sorry

I thought that was very funny!  Fortunately I was one of the “lucky people” and the raccoon climbed on my head for a brief second.  It surprisingly did not hurt at all.  The raccoons have a lot of space at this cafe so they can choose to climb into the rafters or freely interact with visitors.  I think that Blind Alley had a pretty good setup.

In addition to raccoons, there was one baby pig there as well when I visited in 2018.  I was able to hold him in a blanket for a while.

Overall both of my animal cafes in Seoul were very pleasant and the system was similar to Tokyo.  At the raccoon cafe, I was able to stay as long as I wanted so I was very grateful for that.

Blind Alley Address

76 Cheongpa-ro 47-gil, Cheongpadong 2(i)-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Entrance Fee: 6,000KRW