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!

Aesthetic Food Finds in Taiwan

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.  Since I spent the majority of my time in Taiwan hiking through national parks and exploring mountain towns, I mostly ate Chinese and aboriginal food because it is healthy and affordable.  However, when I was in the city I managed to find a lot of interesting food which I will list below:

PLANTS

My favorite vegan restaurant that I discovered in Taipei was this beautiful cafe called PLANTS in the heart of the city.  With a rainbow flag hung at its entrance, it has an extremely welcoming atmosphere and the staff can speak almost perfect English.  I was amazed at the large range of food they had!  I tried the Flamingo Acai Bowl and also ordered the Macrobiotic Tempeh Bibimbap.  It was so delicious, I came back here again and tried hummus with pita bread, the Adaptogen Bliss Balls, and gluten free donuts for dessert.  This food definitely gave me the energy I needed to explore the city, and I was extremely grateful for the hospitality of the restaurant.  It was clean and had a lot of space so I could relax and plan out my day.

I wanted to try Miss Green and a few other vegan places (they are all located around this area), but sadly did not have enough time.  I was extremely happy with what I ate here and would come again, however!

J.C.co Art Kitchen

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Today’s Aesthetic Food: Hyper-realistic earl gray milk tea-flavored dog ice cream.

Say hello to my new puppy… before I eat him!  J.C.co Art Kitchen in Kaohsiung serves up the most aesthetic ice cream in Taiwan.  This crazy work of [ice cream] art is fully edible even though it looks almost exactly like a real dog (especially when photos are taken with certain cameras).  The detail put into the fur-like texture of the frozen ice cream is almost unreal.  The taste is pretty refreshing on a warm day as well.  The cafe asks that you make reservations in advance, but fortunately I was lucky enough to walk in without one and be served.  Though some people may have qualms about eating something so realistic, I was actually quite thrilled to eat a work of art.

Giant Avocado Smoothies

You don’t have to walk far around Taiwan to find smoothie and milk bars–they’re literally scattered everywhere, even on beaches and remote places you wouldn’t think they’d be.  I’ve been around many night markets in Asia before, but one thing that caught my eye in Taiwan were the giant Avocados.  I am an avocado freak so I ordered an avocado smoothie here.  It tasted absolutely amazing.  I would highly recommend trying a giant avocado here in any form just for the experience.

Vegetable Buffet Platters

While I was in Kaohsiung, I found the most amazing vegetarian buffet called Double Veggie with a huge variety of wholesome food!  I tried mini sushi rolls, rice, quinoa, olives, an egg-like pancake, and heaps of salad.  These two plates really filled me up and I was satisfied.  I had previously biked all of the way from the port to Cijin Island to the Tiger and Dragon Padogas, so I was grateful to eat at a buffet this day!  The quality of food here definitely makes it worth the price, and you can eat to your heart and stomach’s content!

Congee

Congee is a type of rice soup widely eaten throughout Asia, and is often eaten with other vegetable and meat dishes.  After a wild night out at FINAL, a group of friends and I went to a nearby restaurant and all selected different dishes.  I finally worked up the nerve to try stinky tofu (it actually wasn’t even that bad), century eggs (which I thought were very good), and heaps of vegetables.  I definitely recommend coming to these restaurants as a group because then you will have the chance to try a lot of different food!

Individual Takeout Sushi

One thing I really liked about the sushi in Taiwan is that you can choose your favorites that are individually wrapped at certain takeout places near the stations!  I found this place at Tamsui Station near Laomei Reef and really enjoyed it.  Though I would say it’s not as delicious as the sushi in Japan, it still has a lot of flavor and makes the perfect snack on the go.  I tried crab, squid, and shrimp and really enjoyed them!

I hope to come back to Taiwan later this year and go to Tainan, which is known to be the haven of foods.  Please look forward to my future food articles!

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!

Eating Pikachu’s Booty at the Pokemon Cafe ϞϞ(๑⚈ ․̫ ⚈๑)∩ 🍽

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The Pikachu carbonara topped with a fried omelette and crispy tortilla tail is a one of a kind culinary experience.

The Pokemon Cafe in Tokyo is home to many themed dishes, but this one takes the cake.  Or carbonara, in this case.  This dish was available for the Let’s Go Pikachu promotion in late February 2019.  I am excited to see what kinds of dishes they come up with next.

Visiting Baan Teelanka – The Upside Down House & Phuket Fantasea

It was a stormy day in January when all boats were forbidden from leaving the harbor in Phuket that I decided to venture to the Upside Down House.  Having all my previously booked island tours cancelled was a real bummer, but I decided to make the most of it by exploring the the current island I was stranded on and heading to a spa.

I took a motorbike from Patong because the storm hadn’t hit Phuket yet, and made my way to this crazy wayward house in the middle of the island.  A sign greeted me with “Sorry, we’re open” and a bright pink house that looked like it tipped over was sure enough there.  I would definitely do a home stay in this house if I had the chance.

They also have a garden maze and an escape maze here adding to the weirdness of this location.  I paid 350 Baht to get in, and was immediately impressed with the artistic displays that Baan Teelanka had to offer on its three floors.  This place is ideal for silly family photos, but is also fun to just look at the amount of detail that was put into each room:

My favorite rooms were probably the kitchen and the bathroom.  It’s absolutely hilarious to take pictures of the open fridge and upside down toilet.  If you’re a good photographer, you can really get creative with angles and make it look like your model is balancing off the surfaces of some of these rooms.  This was actually the perfect way to spend a rainy day and I was happy that I came here!

Right down the road is a Thai IKEA that is worth checking out.  I decided to go in and try their pineapple smoothie, and they also had pastries available.  It was incredibly delicious!  Phuket really does have a lot of nice gems.

Another great thing to do on a rainy day is to go to Phuket Fantasea!  This theme park is essentially Thailand’s version of Disney Sea but instead of rides, they have an expansive arcade targeted at children, a famous buffet, and a Broadway-esque performance with acrobatics, dancers, and a dazzling display of lights.  Though it might not be as big as other themeparks, it’s still fun to check out.  It has both indoor and outdoors areas with live performances and a lot of fun areas to explore.  Tickets for the show start at 1,800 baht which I recommend seeing because it definitely brightened my stormy day!

The storm fortunately cleared up within 3 days and I was finally able to fly to Chiang Mai to see the most aesthetic temple in the world without having to change my flight.  Listening to the thunder at night alone in my business hotel on the beach, but I still felt safe.

Regardless of weather, Phuket is a great place to explore and the people are very accommodating!  Though parts of it like Patong have an excess of expats and tourists, you can find private beaches away from them to the south, and also catch a ferry from one of the piers to go to other tropical islands.

BRAINFOOD

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Because eating balanced meals is essential to living a healthy lifestyle,
Remember to eat foods that are good for your brain.
Almost all food you consume has at least some nutritional value or health benefits.
In fact, despite what recent diet trends tell you,
Not all carbohydrates are bad.
Food comes in many different forms–some you may not expect!
Of course, soba (as pictures above) is one of my favorites.
Otherwise, what the most important lesson here is:
Don’t forget to feed your brain.

Some of the Strangest Sushi I’ve tried in Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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