The Great Bike Trip: From Mihama Beach to Kawayu Onsen (Day 2)

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Yunomine Onsen – A colorful hotspring where you can cook eggs in the boiling water!

After a peaceful night of camping at the gorgeous Mihama Beach in Mie, we next planned to make our way to some remote World Heritage sites in Wakayama Prefecture.  I had never traveled there before, so I was lucky that my driver was well-acquainted with the area.  If you ever travel to Wakayama, I recommend skipping the city and heading straight for Nachi Falls.  It’s one of the most beautiful waterfalls that I have seen in Japan aside from those in Yakushima and has a bright red pagoda you can climb.  Honestly you could spend the whole day wandering through the forests here, but we decided to divide our time between shrines and hotsprings!

For the introduction and full context of this trip, please see Day 1 (From Tokyo to Ise).

Departure

The 2nd day began on August 2nd at 4:30am.  We packed up our campsite at Mihama Beach and decided to choose Nachi Falls as our first destination because it was where I wanted to do photography the most.  We had booked a ryokan in Yoshinoyama for the night which was roughly 5 hours away from our starting point (with breaks in between).  However, we figured that there was a ton of places we could stop at on the way so we wouldn’t get tired.  Unfortunately due to heavy rain we had to take refuge at a river onsen and spend the night there, but we still visited 4/5 of our planned destinations so I was happy with what we accomplished.

Our updated map travel map looked like this.  Fortunately we had already arrived in Wakayama and seen everything we wanted before it rained:

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Nachi Falls

Nachi Falls is the tallest waterfall in Japan that falls vertically.  It also has lovely surrounding scenery and a series of Shinto shrines you can visit.  The forest has a mythical feel to it as there are trees, bamboo, and all sorts of plants growing in it.  If you look at Wakayama travel websites, the red pagoda is the image that is featured the most!  That is why I had to come here and see if it was worth the hype.  As most places I put a lot of time and research into, I enjoyed seeing it to its full extent:

Nachi Falls is so huge that you can see it as soon as you enter the World Heritage site.  The first viewpoint is marked with a yellow tori and only takes a few minutes to reach.  However, the best viewpoints are a little further out.  The red three-storied pagoda takes about a 15 minute hike to reach, but you can borrow a walking stick for free to help you climb the stairs (mine looked like a bamboo stick).

This area is completely free to see, but the pagoda costs 300 yen to enter.  The top floor is fenced but has a hole where you can clearly view the waterfall and feel a nice breeze.  You will also receive a piece of paper with a brief history of how it was constructed.  If you climb up the hill next to the pagoda, then you can take the iconic shot of it next the waterfall.  Pure aesthetics, baby!

While Mihama Beach was my favorite destination, this was likely my 2nd favorite.  Nachi Falls is much more pretty than anything that surrounds the major cities in Japan.  Only temples in Kyoto can compare to it, but there are far less people here in Wakayama!

Kumano Sanzan

Kumano Sanzan is another one of the most popular World Heritage sites in Wakayama which consist of a series of shrines.  There are tons of Kumano Shrines located throughout Japan, but the three in Wakayama are said to be the originals, or the “headquarters” as my sponsor calls it.  The three Kumano Shrines (called Kumano Sanzan) are: Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine, Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine (by the waterfall we visited), and Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine.

Since we had already seen the one by Nachi Falls, we decided to travel to the other two by bike.  Fortunately they only take 15-30 mins and a simple hike to reach.  Kumano Sanzan is actually my sponsor’s favorite series of shrines so that is why it was high on our list of places to go.  He even has a custom sticker of the Kumano’s bird mascot on our bike (which I had hilariously left my swimsuit out to dry on)!

The pilgrimage to Kumano Sanzan is extremely relaxing and there is fortunately a lot of shade.  I can see why it is one of the most sought-out journeys in Japan.  If you only have time to see one of them, definitely go to the Grand Shrine in Nachi Falls!

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The origin story.

We stopped for a quick bite to eat at Cafe Alma at the base of the last shrine.  I couldn’t helped but laugh because “Alma” is actually the name of my obscure home town…

Yunomine Onsen

Since we were making perfect time, we decided to ride for 30 mins and stop at a small hotsprings town in the mountains called Yunomine Onsen.  It looks big from the first picture I took, but it’s actually quite small.  It’s comparable to the onsen you’d find in Takasaki or Gifu but still has a lot of unique charm.  Yunomine has a few public baths but mostly consists of private ryokans.  It’s perfect for travelers to stop at for a quick break, however.  After some debate, we decided to try the medicine bath with sulfur water from the natural hotspring.  It’s extremely hot but it’s supposed to relax and heal your muscles.  I lucked out and had a private bath completely to myself for a while!

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Eggscellent.

I spent about an hour in the bath house, and when I got out my driver had bought some eggs for us to boil in the hot water that was flowing through the town.  The eggs tasted absolutely delicious!  Hotspring-boiled food is one of the most unique dining experiences in Japan.

Then the rain hit…

We packed up all of our things and were about to take off when suddenly it started downpouring.  We debated about heading out because we had proper rain gear packed, but since we planned on driving deep into the mountains it wasn’t safe.  My sponsor called the ryokan he had booked and was able to change the reservation to the following day, but we were temporarily at a loss of what to do.

We tried to make a reservation at a guest ryokan in Yunomine, but unfortunately they were on holiday.  The others were extremely expensive.  My phone was dying and I was starving.  The rain started to subside where we were at after 45 mins, but it was predicted to fall heavy in our next destination.  I suggested that we get a hotel so we would be safe for the night versus camping.  Luckily my sponsor was able to find a cheap ryokan near Kawayu Onsen that was just 10 mins away by bike.  This was our lucky break.

Though our plans were delayed, bathing at this river onsen actually turned out to be one of the most fun experiences on this trip and made up for the rain:

Kawayu Onsen

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Kawayu Onsen: A secluded hotspring resort with a river you can bathe in too.

When we reached Kawayu Onsen, the rain had completely stopped and the town was enveloped in a beautiful white mist.  I liked the aura of this place already.  We stayed at Sansuikan Kawayu Matsuya for 7500 yen a night (fortunately paid for by my sponsor) and had a spacious ryokan room.  We ate some cheap Chinese food that was nearby and decided to go for another bath (because that was really all there was to do).  This onsen was ingeniously laid out because the hot bath was surrounded by thick rocks, but you could climb down and swim into the river the cool off.  At one point at I got relaxed that I laid down on my back and almost floated away… Just kidding!  The river is too shallow to do that but it does get deeper of you enter it from outside the hot spring entrance.  My body felt absolutely amazing after this bath and I was ready to take on the next day!

Day 2 Itinerary: 80% Completion

Though the rain delayed us from reaching our final destination, we were still able to go to 4/5 places so it was overall a successful day.  By this point I had completely gotten used to riding on the motorbike and fortunately the hotspring visits restored my HP.  These onsen villages are extremely hard to reach by public transportation, so yet again I had gotten another rare opportunity to see more of rural Japan.  I have many fond memories here in Wakayama and am actually thankful that the rain led us on this path.  If we would have skipped Yunomine and left earlier, we could be stranded on the highway or forest.  Perhaps the gods of Kumano were really looking out for us…

Please stayed tuned for the next 2 days!

Super Aesthetic Adventures in Osaka (Day 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spending my 25th Birthday at a Hut in Vietnam (Part 1)

When people think of tropical destinations in Asia, Vietnam usually isn’t high on the list.  Most people in Japan flock to Okinawa, Thailand, Philippines, Guam, or even the Gold Coast in Australia for vacation.  I wanted to experience something different so I decided to fly to Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam from Hanoi and stay in a beach hut on my 25th birthday in 2018.  This was one of my first times staying on a remote island alone, but it was completely safe and turned out to be one of the best birthdays of my life!

I stayed on Phu Quoc for four days and three nights and managed to learn a lot about the island culture of Vietnam.  Being here is completely different than from being in the city which is truly eye-opening.  In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh you’ll get a lot of stares and attention from the locals, but here you’ll find complete and total privacy:

Getting to Phu Quoc

A roundtrip flight from Hanoi to Phu Quoc only costs $65 through VietJet and takes two hours so it is quite cheap and easy to plan out.  I’ve researched other islands in Vietnam such as Cat Ba, but Phu Quoc is by far the most beautiful.  Long Beach is the best place to stay on the island because it has a lot of restaurants and you can see the best view of the sunset.  The beach looks pretty 24/7, but swimming in the ocean and watching the sky turn that lovely mixture of pink, blue, and red makes it feel as if you are living inside of a painting:

The island hut I stayed at was called Viet Than Resort.  I chose this resort because I liked the design of the thatched huts and it was only around $35 per night.  Plus it was right on the beach and had a swimming pool too!  I came during the off-season in October, but I still had a lot of fun here because the weather was perfect.  I spent my entire first day here exploring Long Beach and going swimming.  It was definitely the relaxation that I needed after several days of trekking through the populated cities.

Cuisine on Phu Quoc is cheap, healthy, and extremely satisfying.  I tried a restaurant near my hotel and ordered seafood ramen and an omelette.  After hours of swimming, this was exactly what I needed!

Another perk of staying here is you’ll often run into Phu Quoc dogs.  An islander informed me that these dogs are friendly towards people but completely independent.  They’ll let people wash and feed them, but they spend most of their time frolicking on the beaches.  I wish I were a Phu Quoc dog!

Unlike places in Thailand and Bali, Phu Quoc is NOT a party island.  It does have a lot of bars and places to socialize, but you won’t find any recreational drugs here.  I really wish that there were more islands in Japan like this.  I went to Okinawa for my first birthday in Japan and had fun, but it does not have a lot of beach huts and the best beaches require renting a car or riding a infrequent bus to reach.  I liked Phu Quoc because everything was accessible, and if I needed to get somewhere I could use Grab or ask my hotel to call a cheap taxi service.  This would honestly not be a bad place to retire.

In my next article, I’ll be talking about my island tour and how I rode a cable car to Sun World!  Thank you all for reading my Vietnam article series!  Though this happened almost 2 years ago, this island is still a very popular resort destination and a place that I would recommend to all my friends.  It’s really easy to have fun here no matter what your budget is.

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

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Hanoi — my favorite city in Vietnam!

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

Hanoi VS Ho Chi Minh

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

Reasons to go to Hanoi:

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

Reasons to go to Ho Chi Minh

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

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

Main Points of Interest

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

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

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

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

The Toilet Club

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

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

Accommodation

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HANOI GOLDEN -HOTEL-

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

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

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

Hakone: Journey to the Real-life Tokyo-3

If you’ve ever looked up day trips from Tokyo on the internet, Hakone will be one of the most prominent results.  With it being the real-life location of Tokyo-3 from Evangelion and having many hotsprings, temples, and a great view of Mt. Fuji, that status is well-deserved.  It’s also home to one of my favorite museums in Japan which has sculptures that resemble vaporwave visuals called the Hakone Open Air Museum.  You should also try swimming in the famous red wine onsen at Yunessan to smooth your skin.  Wherever you go you’re bound to discover something interesting here because the nature is vast.

I’ve been to Hakone five times by myself and also with friends so I’ve seen all its major attractions.  Here are some of the coolest things that I’ve found:

Eva-Ya: The Evangelion Goods Store

As you exit the station and begin your wonderful journey here, one of the first things you’ll come across is Eva-ya; Hakone’s own original Evangelion Store.  Here you will find a number of goods from the anime including water bottles based off the characters’ designs, food with the NERV logo on it, and a life-sized Rei Ayanami.  Asuka fans don’t fret because she has plenty of merchandise too!  One of my best purchases here was Misato’s cross-shaped necklace (not pictured).  I also enjoyed the Unit 01-colored ice cream.  Of course you can visit the official Evangelion stores in Tokyo too, but this is the one located where the anime takes places and has slightly different merchandise.

Owakudani

Owakudani is Hakone’s volcanic crater that has sulfur vents and hotsprings making it a beautiful mountain getaway.  The sulfide causes the rocks to gain their lovely red hue.  In order to reach Owakudani, you must take a cable car ride from Hakone Ropeway.  There are black eggs sold here that are said to increase your lifespan.  I bought a four-pack of them and thought they were very delicious!  Only time will tell if their effect is really long-lasting.  Unfortunately due to the danger of the volcanic gas some of the hiking trails have been roped off here, but watching the plumes of smoke form from the main viewpoint is an amazing sight.  This crater is definitely worth seeing!

Cable Car Fee: See discounts on the Hakone website (I recommend getting the one with the pirate ship fee included too).

 

Yunessan

Yunessan is my favorite onsen in all of Hakone because of its famous red wine onsen you can bathe in among many other unique hotsprings and pools.  This is a mixed-gender hotspring so swimsuits are required in most areas unless you rent a private onsen or pay to enter the gender-segregated bath called Mori no Yu.  The plus side is that you can enjoy Yunessan with all of your friends!  Last time I went they had coffee, sake, and pearl-water baths too.  Some of the baths rotate while others are permanent additions.  The outdoor area has water slides, a mystical cave that you can explore, and various hot springs positioned so you can get a clear view of the mountains.  This is always the most relaxing part of my trip.  During certain times they serve free glasses of red wine too so be sure not to miss out!

Entrance Fee: 2,900 (a bit expensive, but worth it for the variety here)

Outdoor Museums

I’ve already mentioned that the Hakone Open Air Museum is by far my favorite museum here (see my article The Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums for more information), but I also want to point out beautiful Hakone Venetian Glass Museum.  This forest of glass has beautiful Venetian-inspired designs and adornments like nowhere else I’ve ever seen.  Outside you can find trees and a bridge intricately decorated with glass ornaments as well as a miniature pond.  Inside there are many hand-crafted glass sculptures and jewels as well.  I was very impressed with the aesthetic here:

The Okada Art Museum is also worth checking out.  Though I don’t have any recent pictures, they have many beautiful sculptures in the mountains and footbaths you can use too.  There are some traditional Japanese handcrafts and artifacts displayed too.

Entrance Fees: Varies on the museum, but I would research beforehand and budget 3000 – 5000 yen depending on what you want to see.  Keep in mind these are some of the best museums outside of Tokyo and have that awesome mountain view!

Hakone Shrine & Pirate Ship Tours at Lake Ashi

A trip to Hakone isn’t complete without seeing Lake Ashi and the famous Hakone Shrine along the shores.  I first saw it in the winter when snow was on the ground, but the summer is the ideal time to go if you want to experience the lake.  My friend and I decided to buy the tickets to ride the pirate ship and drank a bottle of Captain Morgan on it in true spirit.  The ship was very spacious and we could feel the gentle breeze of the lake while staring at the view of Mt. Fuji in the distance.  It was exhilarating—an experience like nowhere else in Japan!  I think the only other place where you can ride a pirate ship quite like this is at Tokyo Disney, but you don’t have the awesome mountain backdrop that you do here.

Cable Car Fee: See discounts on the Hakone website (I recommend getting the one with the cable car fee included too).

Access

From Shinjuku Station, you can take the Romancecar Express to reach Hakone-Yumoto Station in 1.5 hours for 2300 yen.

Once reaching the station, all of the places I listed can be reached via bus within an hour, but I would allow yourself 6-8 hours here at least.  It took multiple trips in both the summer and the winter for me to see everything here, but you could probably see these things in approximately 2 days.

If you decide to stay here overnight, Hakone Japan has some good choices.  I plan to stay at a ryokan in the future and will write about my experience.

Riding Camels through the Tottori Sand Dunes in Japan

The pictures you see above look like they might have been shot in the desert—or at the very least somewhere barren like Mongolia in East Asia.  However, they were actually taken in Tottori Prefecture on the west coast of mainland of Japan.  As a person who loves exploring unusual places, I had to research this place and plan a trip here immediately.  I was especially excited to meet the camels (who I naively thought were native to Japan at the time, but one of my Japanese friends informed me that they were likely imported from India).  I tried to research the origin of the camels online, but gathered that nobody really knew where they came from or how they got here like some kind of ominous mystery.  Regardless of their origin I was extremely stoked to see the!

Much to my delight, I found out that Tottori was the real-life location of the anime Free! and discovered the first ending song was inspired by the Tottori Sand Dunes.  This series was one of my favorite anime in college so traveling here was like a dream come true.

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Free! cast in the desert of Tottori with their non-native-to-Japan camels.

Tottori is almost a six hour journey by train from Tokyo, but flying here only takes one hour and is half the price (see the “Access” section for more information).  These are the biggest sand dunes open to the public in Japan so I would definitely recommend coming here if you have the chance.  This place is just too bizarre not to see and it has a lovely beach!  In addition to the camels, there are cable cars you can ride, specialty pear ice cream you can try, and a sand sculpture museum.  Sandboarding is also available for the adventurous!  Please see the official tourism website for more info.

Climbing the dunes was a bit of a challenge, but was worth it to see the gorgeous beach at the other end.  I had never experienced a desert-like landscape in my life and was amazed at how far the dunes go down.  Walking from the entrance to the park and climbing them took around a half an hour, but you can easily spend 2-3 hours here enjoying the views that are unlike anywhere else in Japan.  The cable car ride is only 300 yen and will help you save energy if you get too tired.

Here is an old video I took of the camels in August of 2017.  There were only a few of them around but they seemed to be kept in good care.  It costs 1300 yen to ride them and 100 yen for just a photo with them.  It was a very surreal sight for Japan:

After camel watching, I made my way to the beach a sip on some specialty sake I bought from the souvenir store.  It definitely felt like some kind of weird scene out of an anime:

After fully enjoying the sand dunes and the camels, my last stop was the Sand Museum.  Similar to the snow festival in Sapporo, there is a sand sculpture festival in Tottori.  The Sand Museum is open year-round but some exhibits change.  When I was there a sand sculpture of the detested president Trump greeted me at the entrance.  Regardless of my strong dislike of his presidency, I thought it was hilarious to see this here in the “desert” of Japan, of all places.  There was also a recreation of the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty, and several sculptures with inspiration from Hollywood and outer space.  You really can’t miss out on this place because it’s too iconic.  The admission fee is only 600 yen.

Access

From Tottori Station, take the Tottori Sakyu Bus to the very last stop which is the sand dunes (you can clearly see them from outside your window).  This takes 20 mins and only costs 380 yen.

A roundtrip flight from Tokyo to Tottori only takes one hour and costs around 20,000 yen.  However, I didn’t know this at first and road the train one way 6 hours for 18,000 yen (making it almost double the price round trip).  Unless you have the JR Pass, I would recommend flying there.

In my next post I will be talking about how to get to Iwami; another bug location from the anime Free!  Please look forward to it~

My journey to the real-life village from “Your Name”: Hida-Furukawa

Right before Japan declared its widespread emergency state in response to the COVID-19, I took a final trip to a place that has been on my travel list for quite a long time: Hida-Furukawa.  Located in the mountainous region of Gifu, this town is the real-life location of the fictional town “Itomori” in the movie Your Name.  Like its fictional counterpart, it is removed from the city and has a lot of wonderful nature you can explore.  In this post, I will be detailing my experience here and all of the main places captured in the movie.

Please see my photo documentary for detailed side-to-side comparisons with the anime!

The major points of interest are:

  • Hida-Furukawa Station (so you can see the cattle mascot Hida-gyu)
  • Hida City Library
  • Ajidokoro Furukawa (the same restaurant where the characters eat mochi)
  • 旧落合村バス停 (the infamous bus stop)
  • Hie Shrine in Takayama

But there are many other museums and hot springs to see during your trip!

Traveling to Hida-Furukawa Station

I woke up at 6am and rode the shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Toyama Station which took around 2 hours but was a scenic trip.  From there I switched to the Hida Limited Express and traveled 1.5 hours to reach Hida-Furukawa Station—the main location of the movie outside of Tokyo.  The journey takes 3-4 hours and costs around 14,000 yen in total, but is worth it for the amount of things you can see.  Even if you’re not a diehard fan of Your Name, Hida has a rustic charm that you won’t find in other places in Japan.

As soon as I got off, I was greeted by a cute cutout of Hida-gyu.  Hida is famous for its beef so it would make sense that its mascot looks like this:

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Welcome to Hida City!

Dining in Hida

Since I was starving I decided to stop by a local eatery called Fab Cafe Hida.  This restaurant is not in the movie, but it’s definitely worth trying because they have sweet sake chai and delicious salmon sandwiches.  I came here in early April so it was still snowing a bit even though there were some cherry blossoms in bloom.  I was happy to see that they had space heaters scattered throughout their cafe so I could stay warm.

A restaurant that is in the movie however is called Ajidokoro Furukawa, where the characters feast on glutinous mochi.  You’ll know this place when you see it because it has posters of the movie hung up around it.  The staff is extremely friendly and will give you a guestbook to look at and draw in while you wait for your food.  I was amazed by all the detailed drawings that people had sketched inside.  In addition to mochi, there is a lot of Japanese food here that you can order too.  I’m not a huge fan of mochi, but this was exceptionally delicious.  I can see why the place was featured in the movie now!

Hitting the Library and Local Shrines

One of the early scenes in the movie takes place at the Hida City Library which you can easily reach on foot from the station (almost all the major attractions I listed are within walking distance from here).  It’s quite an expansive library with multiple floors, toys and reading circles for children, and a number of classic titles.  This is the biggest library I have ever been to in Japan so I will always remember my experience here.  It brought back the memories I had renting books as a child in the days before ebooks existed.  What a time it is to be alive!

In addition to the library, you can check out the Hida Tourism Center for a free map and also stop by some of the city’s local shrines.  There are three shrines that are said to bring good luck in love if you visit them: Enko-ji, Shinshu-ji, and Honkou-ji.  Every January 15th there is a festival here that celebrates them.  Though the festival had long ended since I arrived here, I still had a lot of fun checking them out!

One of the major shrines in the movie (called Hie pictured above) is actually in Takayama.  Fortunately, Takayama is very easy to reach.  From Hida-Furukawa, you can take the Takayama Line to reach Takayama Station in 30 mins for 290 yen. Hie Shrine is around a 25 min walk from the station and is free to enter (or you can take a taxi).

There’s not much else to see in central Takayama, so I would recommend coming here after you fully finish exploring Hida-Furukawa.

The Infamous Bus Stop

This bus stop is arguably the most difficult place to get to, but is totally worth it for the comparative picture.  It’s literally out in the middle of nowhere—forests and a single vending machine are the only things that surround it.  Only a few number of buses stop here per day making it a real challenge to get here and back (you may be waiting for hours).  The nearest train station is Tsunogawa Station, but since this area is somewhat remote the trains are infrequent too.  But if you come all the way out to Hida, you might as well go for the gold.  I opted to pay a taxi driver 6900 ($60) for a round trip from Hida-Furukawa Station to here and fortunately he cut me a deal.

Inside the bus stop are more sketch books and posters of the movie.  It’s amazing to see how many people have made it out here!

Address: 旧落合村バス停  (If you show this to any taxi driver in Hida, they will know).

Other Points of Interest

While walking through Hida, be sure to look out for the Setogawa Canal!  This street is lined with beautiful buildings and you can also see koi fish swimming around.  It’s extremely picturesque:

There are also a number of sake distilleries you can walk in and see.  I found a sculpture of a life-sized robot near one of the shrines too!  It truly surprised me how much there is to see in this little town.

Though I didn’t have enough time to visit any museums, here is a list of some I’d want to visit in the future:

Final Remarks

Traveling to Hida and Takayama was definitely a great excursion out of the city for me.  I had the chance to relive some of my favorite parts of Your Name and also create my photo documentary so I will forever remember this trip.  However, even if you’re not a fan of the movie you will still enjoy this area if you like exploring rural Japan.  I did this entire trip in one day, but you could easily expand this into a 2-3 day trip if you stay at an onsen resort or ride the Hida express all the way to Nagoya or Osaka.  The local train that runs through Gifu is considerably less expensive than the bullet train.

In my next article I will be writing about Gero Onsen which is between Hida-Furukawa and Nagoya so it makes the perfect side-trip for those who are traveling here.  Please look forward to my future adventures!

Quitting English Teaching and going on a Job-hunting Adventure in Osaka (Part 1)

Downtown Osaka – a bustling metropolis full of delicious food and opportunity.

Year 2015

I had only been working as an assistant language teacher (ALT) in Japan for about a month when I came to the realization that teaching was not for me.  I was a introverted nerd that majored in IT and Japanese who honestly preferred desk work to talking in front of people for hours.  It took a lot of improvisation when my students were too shy to talk and I continually had to prompt them.  Not to mention the endless amounts of paperwork I had to fill out that could have been easily recorded with a spreadsheet.  I noticed the technology in Japanese classrooms was extremely outdated too.  Everything from the software to the textbooks was nearly a decade old.  Was it really okay to still teach with these?  A part of me felt it may be better to request new materials, but the Japanese teachers insisted that sticking to to the given curriculum was important and that everything was fine.  As a newly hired English teacher, all I could really do was grin and bear it.  There was nothing in my power that I could do to change things.  You could argue that a lot of things in Japanese society are like this, but I knew I could find a career more suited for myself if I gave it another try.  I had to get out and find something different.  So if I was so capable in my abilities, why did I take up English teaching in the first place?

The simple answer is: English teaching is the easiest way to get a working visa in Japan.  You could say this for almost any country (keyword: almost).  All you need is a bachelor’s degree, basic social skills (bonus points if you’re overly enthusiastic), and the ability to speak English.  If you speak Japanese then that gives you an even greater advantage, but if you don’t it’s not a huge weak point.  As an ALT you are only expected to speak in English and leave the rest to the Japanese teachers and staff unless otherwise instructed.  Most English teaching jobs also provide you with subsidized housing, assist you with getting cellphone service, and signing the necessary contracts to live here long term as a foreign worker.  Sounds like the perfect first job right?  Well, it’s really hit and miss.  I remember reading this thread on reddit as I was applying, and the mixed experiences are still very true today.

Some people will tell you that English teaching is a “throwaway job” because it wastes time you could have spent gaining experience in your field, but I would argue that that’s not entirely true.  Working in another country looks good on a resume, plus the connections and memories you make with people here are invaluable.  You life and perspective will also be changed in ways unimaginable.  I was planning on networking my way here since I had already met some people in the IT and gaming industry during my study abroad trip in 2013 at Michigan State University.  However, I found that most IT jobs required you to already live in Japan to be hired.  That is what led me to English teaching.  *I have met animators and artists that have been hired here from other countries, but they were extremely skilled and had much more experience than I did.  They had previously worked on films and games by famous companies, while I had only worked on indie stuff.

Before I left America, I did a ton of research on different teaching programs and opportunities in Japan.  I definitely wanted a full time job because I planned on living here long-term.  I applied to the JET Programme and passed the initial interviews—which were quite difficult and took months to hear back from—but due to lack of experience I passed but got wait-listed.  If other JETs resigned from their job I would have a chance of being randomly place somewhere, but I did not have the luxury of  waiting since my university job was ending and I would likely be unemployed.  I decided to look into applying at smaller English conversation schools and teaching jobs instead.  Some of the companies I applied to were: NOVA, Hello English School, various listings on GaijinPot, and Interac.  I ended up getting hired at some of these, but I chose another relatively new school that offered to give me a 5 year visa (most teachers start with 1-2 years unless they are highly skilled).

Due to the contract I signed when I quit the teaching company I worked with for 3 months, I cannot mention their name in this article series.  Interestingly enough, after I quit they shutdown due to lack of profit.  What I can do give others advice on what I’ve done career-wise besides travel around Asia, go to music events, and eat aesthetic food.

Quitting my job took a lot of guts and I was trembling as I handed in my letter of resignation, but I had a lot of support from my friends and had already been hired at another job so I felt secure.  In this article series I will be writing tips about job-hunting in Japan and what you should do if you feel unsatisfied with your career.  As much as companies here try to threaten you for quitting, they legally cannot blacklist from other companies in the same field unless you break a major rule.  It’s important to note that quitting your job will affect your housing (if the company pays for it), your healthcare, and how you pay your taxes, but your working visa will still stay active as long as you continue to pay your bills and living expenses each month.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask me.  Since this introduction is long, I will get into the actual details of my job-hunting adventure in the next article.  It starts with taking a 2 hour bus ride to the city Osaka.

Helpful Resources:

  • Jobs in Japan – An English listing of current jobs in Japan that gives you an overall view of what type of careers are available.  I get occasional offers on LinkedIn as well.  I used to use Career Cross but it seems to be less active now.
  • ALT Handbook (by the JET Programme) – A detailed textbook on the activities an Assistant Language teacher is responsible for.  This varies from company to company, but JET hands down has the best guide.
  • Hello Work – Comprehensive guide on employment for those already living in Japan.  This company can also help you find employment if you live here.

“Success is the Best Revenge”: Witnessing Pasocom Ongaku Club’s Night Flow Tour in Hiroshima

POCINTROPIC
Pasocom Ongaku Club performs live at ONDO in Hiroshima, Japan.

At the beginning of the month I traveled all the way from Tokyo to Hiroshima in order to attend two events that were part of Pasocom Ongaku Club’s Night Flow Album Release Tour.  The first was held at Mondo Cafe in Fukuyama, and the second was at a food and music venue called ONDO in central Hiroshima.  in the blue shirt—who is one of my favorite indie electronic producers in Japan—was also a part of this Hiroshima tour so I was ecstatic to go on this trip!

Hiroshima is typically a place where people go to visit historical sights, so before my arrival I had no idea what the nightlife was like.  I was pleasantly surprised to see how interactive the music scene is here.  Not only did the quality of music and talent of the artists exceed my expectations, but I also have fond memories from both events because they connected me with a lot of different people.  I also had the experience to see rare parts of Japan, so coming here was worth all of the time and effort.

In my previous articles, I covered how to travel around Hiroshima and Fukuyama, so in this article I will be writing a detailed report on the music producers that I saw here.

Who is Pasocom Ongaku Club?

POC

Pasocom Ongaku Club (パソコン音楽クラブ in Japanese; also stylized “Pasocom Music Club” in English) is a unit formed in 2015 focused on creating desktop music (DTM) of the new age.  They have an adorable dog mascot named Maron (マロン) that appears in a lot of their photos and merchandise.  Pasocom Ongaku Club have performed at numerous venues in Japan and utilize modules and digital synthesizers like the Roland SC series and Yamaha MU series to create 90s style music.  They have also participated in music production and remixes with other artists, commercials, and a wide range of other activities.
Official Website

A Brief Timeline of Pasocom Ongaku Club’s Releases:

  • 2015: The unit was formed and started uploading DTM tracks on their Soundcloud.
  • 2017: Released their first major album “PARKCITY” on Maltine Records.  Also self-released a miscellaneous album “SHE IS A“.
  • 2018: “DREAM WALK” and “DREAM WALK REMIXES” were released and extremely well-received, gaining them a lot of recognition.  They also released their CONDOMINIUM. – Atrium Plants EP.
  • 2019: “Night Flow” and “Night Flow Remixes” were released with critical acclaim.  Arranged “Pokémon Shiritori” (ポケモンしりとり)━the ending for the latest Pokémon anime based on the games Sword/Shield.  The group of children singing the lyrics to their song are called “Pokémon Ongaku Club”.

One of the most popular Pasocom Ongaku Club songs out right now is “reiji no machi” which features lovely vocals by Inoue Warabi:

I first saw Pasocom Ongaku Club in 2018 at a music/Q&A event called “ゆパ交流戦” in Osaka.  I was very impressed by their music production method and how they sang through what looks like a talk box to record some of their vocals.

The event was held again this year [2019] with a slightly different lineup.  I could not attend the event this year because I was in Korea, but the highlights were uploaded to in the blue shirt’s YouTube channel.

Who is in the blue shirt?

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Born in 1991, “in the blue shirt” is the solo project of a trackmaker named Arimura Ryo who currently resides in Osaka.  He started creating music in 2012 and also has managed sound production for commercials and web advertisements.  Released his 2nd album, “Recollect the Feeling” in April of this year.  Recently he has been organizing a recurring trackmaker/DTM workshop event called “Potluck Lab” and working on his own vlog series tentatively titled “Travels in the blue“.
Official Website

*I have previously written about this artist and his music in my Kaga Onsen Festival and Kyoto Metro LARGE SIZE articles.

A Brief Timeline of in the blue shirt’s Releases:

  • 2012: First started producing music━early demos and samples of his work can be found on his Soundcloud.
  • 2013-2014: First EP “Impasse” was released.  Worked on various compilations and remixes; most notably a remix of Porter Robinson’s “Flicker” on “Re:Flicker“.
  • 2015:toward morning” is self-released, and mini-album “Cyanotype” is released on Maltine Records.
  • 2016: First official album “Sensation of Blueness” is released on Trekkie Trax with much success.  Tracks are also featured on “Trekkie Trax The Best 2012-2015“.
  • 2019: Created a trackmaker/DTM workshop event called “Potluck Lab” held in Kyoto.  Releases 2nd album “Recollect the Feeling” and all vinyls sell out.  Preview of new EP is teased on Twitter.

in the blue shirt also released a remix of “reiji no machi” on “Night Flow Remixes”:

The First Night: At Mondo Cafe

After seeing all of Hiroshima’s major sights, I arrived at Mondo Cafe in Fukuyama around midnight.  This was my first time ever going to a music event in Hiroshima so I was a bit nervous by myself, but I was happy to see that some of my friends I had met at Kyoto Metro were here too!  It had been several months since I had last saw them so drinking together and catching up was a very pleasant time.  Some nice boys from Hiroshima also bought me drinks and I was grateful for their hospitality.

Though I didn’t know many of the local Fukuyama DJs, all of them had great talent.  The night was a mix of DTM, disco house, electronic, indie, and funk music.  During the event I tried to make conversation with other people, but the music was so good I didn’t want to leave the dancefloor!!

Pasocom Ongaku Club’s set consisted of their own custom intro, hit tracks Night Flow, and some nostalgic tracks from PARKCITY like “oldnewtown”.  It was very refreshing to see how much they had improved since I first saw them over a year ago!  I recommend their music to everyone.

in the blue shirt’s set consisted of many different genres; his own songs released on Sensation of Blueness, Recollect the Feeling, and toward morning were mixed in with songs from other international artists.  He also played “Don’t Wanna Fall in Love” by KYLE, “Nishio 2” by Lemaitre, and “Whatever You Want” by 95 Royale━which is one of my favorite house tracks of all time!  This is one of the best in the blue shirt performances I had ever seen!

By the end of the night I was filled with happiness and inspiration from all of the amazing tracks I had danced to that night.  It was extremely hard to sleep, but I managed to get a few hours in before the next event on Sunday.

Address

モンドカフェ
〒720-0077 1 Chome-9-21 Minamihonjo, Fukuyama, Hiroshima

The Second Night: At ONDO

The second event was on a Sunday evening so it started early around 6pm.  Much like Mondo Cafe, this event space was very homey but well-suited for the event.  Most of the people from last night also came here, so I had the chance to talk to some of the DJs and also see my friends again.  I was very grateful for everyone’s kindness and the hard work put into this event.  It felt more like a house party than a club event!

What made this event extremely unique was that Pasocom Ongaku Club dropped “Pokémon Shiritori” in one of their sets for the very first time.  The composition of this song is brilliant because they sampled the Pokémon Center healing SFX.  You can see the video I captured of it (this is one of my most-viewed videos):

Additionally, the VJ here was very talented.  The series of flashing logos and animations was the perfect level of stimulation for this kind of event.  The lighting at Mondo Cafe was ambient and soothing, but I liked the way ONDO was set up even more.

in the blue shirt’s set was once again filled with a high level of energy and precise mixing of multiple genres.  This set had his famous song “Seven Bridge” on it that made the club go insane as well as several tracks that I did not recognize.  I am now even more excited to hear the new EP he is working on!  I was really fortunate to talk with him and buy one of the few remaining vinyls of Recollect the Feeling.  He signed it with my name on it too!  I left the venue with a very good feeling.

Afterwards, I went to a lovely Chinese restaurant with some of my female friends.  It was so nice to catch up after all this time had passed and share these moments together.

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The last supper in Hiroshima.

Address

音楽食堂 ONDO
〒730-0026 Hiroshima, Naka Ward, Tanakamachi, 6−3, ​音戸温泉ビル

Final Remarks

Traveling around Japan for music events has been extremely rewarding for me.  I’ve learned much about the world, the people, and the culture of different prefectures of this country through music, and I’ve still got much to learn!  I go to clubs and events in Tokyo almost every week, but the atmosphere of the venues in Hiroshima and Kyoto are much more welcoming.  The artists and listeners are able to connect so much more freely with this type of event.  I will cherish all of the memories that I made here.

I do not have any big trips planned for the rest of the year, but I am planning to go to Nagoya in 2020.  Please stay tuned for more updates, and thank you always for reading. ♡