Ine: A Beautiful Fishing Village in Northern Kyoto

img_5501
A native Ine bird freeloads on my fishing boat.

When people think of Kyoto, they usually think of the historic temples, people clad in colorful kimonos, and the Arashiyama bamboo forest.  All of these are wonderful aspects of visiting the city, but there is actually a lot more places explore!  In the far north lies a beautiful fishing village called Ine which welcomes visitors.  Ine is extremely important to the history of Kyoto because it is where rice-growing was introduced from China, and it also shows how people traditionally lived by the sea.  This culture has been preserved since its establishment and is truly magnificent to see.

There are a number of boathouses called funaya that are available for visitors to stay in, but they require reservation at least 2 months in advance.  The advantage to staying in one is that you will have a meal plan and can relax while seeing and an amazing view of the ocean.  You can also rent fishing equipment quite easily.  I wanted to watch the weather to ensure it was a sunny day when I arrived, so I opted to just take a day trip here.

I’ve been to Kyoto numerous times, but this is the first time that I’ve ever gone this far north!  From Kyoto Station, you can take the JR Line to Miyazu, then reach Ine by bus in approximately 3 hours.  The trip is very long, but the scenery you see along the way is a great way to pass the time.

The reason I wanted to come to Ine is because it reminds me of Terazzi, a town in one of my favorite PS1 games called Tales of Destiny.  Tales of Destiny is an amazing game because it takes the player through forests, castles, harbors, and even to Utopian societies in outer space.  Namco utilized the Linear Motion Battle System in the game so you really feel compelled by the battles and the areas you travel through are quite memorable.  Though I first played it nearly 10 years ago, I still remember how the towns felt like real places.

Terazzi always stood out to me because it is this beautiful, Venetian-like city but has boat houses almost exactly like those in Ine.  Terazzi and Ine are both have a number of residents living in them, but also feel a bit isolated at times.  In the game, you must navigate through a maze of waterways to find the entrance to the castle, much like how walking around the boathouses is here (although sadly there is no castle).  I can see a clear resemblance of how many port towns in games are inspired by real places like Ine.  It feels surreal when you finally experience them in real life!

Going back to reality, when I arrived at Ine, I decided to take a few pictures by the harbor and walk alongside the ocean.  There are a few houses you can enter and see the boats up-close in.  I went to the tourism office, and they were able to arrange a boat tour for me and a few other people for only 1000 yen.  The boat trip was really fun because you get to learn about the history of Ine, and they also give you bird food so you can feed the local birds!  They really aren’t afraid of people and flew close to the boat.  I was able to capture some amazing photos:

Besides fishing and being on the ocean, you can also walk around and see a few local shrines.  There are restaurants and cafes open during certain times as well where you can try the local cuisine and a lot of seafood.  I stayed here for about 3 hours, and that was more than enough to see everything I wanted.

If you are an adventurous traveler who has already seen most of Kyoto and likes being near the ocean, I would recommend this trip to you!  Please note that this area is quite remote, but easy to navigate on foot.  Just be careful to watch the bus timetable when you get off, and you’ll be absolutely fine.

Amanohashidate: An Eerily Beautiful Beach in Northern Kyoto

Over the weekend I had a wonderful trip to obscure fishing villages, islands, and beaches in northern Kyoto and Shiga Prefecture.  One of my favorite places that I discovered was this sandbar in Miyazu called Amanohashidate (try saying that three times fast)!

Amanohashidate is a 3 hour train ride from Kyoto Station with four different transfers, but its scenic atmosphere and remote location make it the ideal getaway for hotspring vacations or even just day trips away from the city.  Due to my bus itinerary, I arrived here around 7pm just as dusk fell.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to walk across the entire sandbar this late at night, but surprisingly it’s open 24 hours, which is often rare for public beaches in Japan.

When I reached the southern tip of the sandbar (which is just a short walk from the station), the beach was illuminated with backlights in stark contrast to what it would normally look like during the day and some serene music was playing from a speaker.  It was like being at a rave, but with calming music.  I felt as if I was an alien that had landed on another planet!

Though I’ve been to many wild beach parties in Thailand, my stroll on Amanohashidate was something I’d had yet to experience.  I’ve never seen such a thin and beautiful beach lit up like this.  In the middle of the sandbar is a shrine, and there are lookout points on both ends of it.  It takes about an hour to cross the sandbar by foot, but bike rental is available during the day.  I was extremely tired from all of the travel, but during this trek I felt rejuvenated by soaking my feet in the water.

I’d recommend for most people to visit Amanohashidate during the day so you can ride the cable car, but unfortunately I did not have time to do this.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience I had here, and would recommend it to people who have already been to Kyoto and Osaka and are looking for something different.  Walking across a sandbar is definitely a unique experience for most people traveling in Japan!

Before I went back to central Kyoto, I decided to try a course meal at a restaurant near the station called 310 Amanohashidate Japanese Table.  Since I do not eat meat, I requested a fish and vegetable course a received avocado, salad, tofu, sashimi, and some delicious grilled fish and rice:

If you have the time, please consider exploring northern Kyoto.  You will find less tourists and a lot more culture here!

A Reflective Day at Sky Mirror Beach (Malaysia)

IMG_4899
Feeling enchanted at Sky Mirror Beach, Kuala Selangor.

In Malaysia, there is a magical beach that will display a perfect image of your reflection in the water during certain times of the day due to the low tide.  Kuala Selangor Beach, better known as Sky Mirror Beach, is a natural phenomena that attracts many creative photographers and those who wish to see this rare occurrence.

Though the official website states that you can only see this twice a month during the full moon and new moon phases, you can actually see it daily with the assistance of lighting.  At times the beach is completely submerged underwater and appears uncharted, which is why it is required that you book a tour to go to Sky Mirror Beach.  The beach is quite remote and requires a speedboat trip to reach it, but once there you can take in all of its rare beauty!

I booked my tour through Veltra, and I found the tour to be overall satisfactory.  Though I road the speedboat with a group of people, I had my own private driver to the pier that was included in the price.  He picked me up right from my hostel and got me there early so I could relax for a bit.  Once arriving at the beach, they will also help you take pictures with optimal lighting.  I brought my portable tripod, but they had light boxes set up on the beach already.  You are free to walk around and explore the beach on your own too.  Though it’s not really ideal for swimming, there are a lot of interesting sea snails and tiny crabs you can see (and they’re harmless).

Overall, most tour packages are about $100 to see this beach, but I think the experience is worth it.  The trip includes snacks, water, and transportation to an extremely rare area of the country from central Kaula Lumpur, so I think it’s justified.  I’m not sure where else in the world I can see a magical beach like this, so I’m happy that I took this opportunity!

Staying at a Backpacker’s Penthouse in Malaysia

IMG_4814

Ever heard of infinity pools?  Though the sleek concept involving cityscapes and a seemingly endless body of water is popular in some countries, coming from Tokyo, it was a brand new experience for me.  After exploring some remote beaches in Mersing and near Singapore, I took a 6 hour bus ride to Malaysia’s bustling metropolis; Kaula Lumpur, and stayed in a penthouse with other backpackers for the duration of my trip.  During this time I connected with other people from around the world that I’ll never forget.

After browsing a few places online, I settled on Sky Society, a backpacker’s penthouse boasting both a high quality stay and a stunning rooftop infinity pool.  I figured I’d have to try staying in a penthouse at least once in my life, and with dorm prices going as low as $15 per night, who could complain?

My stay there was incredible.  The Regalia Tower in which Sky Society is located has high security making you feel safe at all times, and it feels like a homestay because the hosts take extremely good care of you.  There’s free breakfast every morning, plus they have clean private showers.  Despite staying in the cheapest dorm room, everyone was quiet and respectful of one another.  However, I was able to socialize with other backpackers out on the balcony even after midnight and that’s where I met some of my best friends on this trip.  No matter how social you want to be, you can have a great time here.  Did I mention the pool?

IMG_4714
View from my penthouse room in Sky Society.

That just shows the basic swimming pool.  Here’s the grand infinity pool on the top floor:

It was a bit narrow, but the breathtaking view made up for it.  You can see all of the most iconic buildings, including the Petronas Towers, from this pool.  The number of people up here was just right too.  There’s a minibar, though I recommend pregaming in your room first like I did.  Overall, this is an experience that I think everyone should have.  I will be writing about exploring the city of Kuala Lumpur next.

Exploring the Remote Beaches of Mersing (Malaysia)

IMG_4710
Chasing after Malaysian skies in my Orient shirt.

During my aesthetic adventures in Singapore, I decided to take a side trip to Malaysia via bus and see some of its beautiful remote beaches.  This meant waking up before 6:30am and riding a 6 hour bus from central Singapore to Mersing, but the experience I had made it worth it!  The bus was air-conditioned, and getting through customs early in the morning meant we didn’t have to wait as long.  Singapore’s Sentosa Island has a number of gorgeous beaches, but the ones in Mersing have the essence of unspoiled beauty.

I decided to book a $28 bus through Easy Book online to get to Mersing, Malaysia, and then took a private boat tour through Let’s Go Island Tours for 450 Ringgit to see the islands.  This price was actually a bit cheaper than what I paid for private boat tours in Thailand, and includes some of the same activities like scuba diving and sightseeing.  If you get to Mersing early enough, you can take a group boat tour for a much cheaper price.  Since I was going to central Malaysia later that night and didn’t have a lot of time, I opted for a private tour.

The private boat I rode was only myself and the captain, so it was quite the adventure!  A light storm was approaching so the waves made the boat a bit rocky, but the captain expertly navigated the waters.  Our first destination was Lang Tengah Island, where I stopped for Pina Coladas and got to see the Batu Batu Resort area.  It was quite beautiful, but the beachfront was actually very small and the weather conditions made it difficult for swimming.  However, I still enjoyed walking around and seeing the beach huts and palm trees.  I even saw a baby lizard!

After spending about an hour here, the captain took me to another beach at Besar Island behind the resort area that was completely private.  It looked like something out of a movie or anime, and I had it all to myself!

Swimming here was definitely the experience of a lifetime.  You can see in the third picture that the sky is dark because the storm was approaching, but I fortunately had over 2 hours to swim and explore this beach.  The tour was extremely laid back and I could choose where I wanted to be.  I was so happy to spend some time alone (besides the captain) on this island!

The interesting thing about Mersing is boats don’t always leave exactly on time; the boat companies all pay close attention to the tide and then set the departure time.  Due to this factor, I would recommend staying 2-3 days on these islands so you have enough time to see them.  I was able to see a lot on my private tour, but I wished I could have additionally seen Tioman or Rawa Island, which are extremely popular to stay at.

When it started to rain, we headed back to the Mersing Harbor where I waited for my bus to Kuala Lumpur.  This was yet another 6 hours bus ride that I booked through RedBus for $15, but I ended up having it all to myself!  I don’t recommend booking 2 buses in one day because it’s a lot of travel and it’s nicer to stay on an island in Mersing, but I was on a tight schedule.  If I come back here again, I will be sure to take more time in this area.

In the end, the driver dropped me off right at my hostel and I got to see a lot of Malaysia!  We went from the border of Singapore, all the way up to Kuala Lumpur.  The scenery went from monkeys on the side of the road to bright flashing lights in the center of the city.  It felt great to be in a foreign world once again!

Visiting Shirakawago: A Traditional Japanese Village (Real-life Hinamizawa)

On my trip back home from Kaga Onsen Festival, I decided to stop at a traditional Japanese village called Shirakawago (白川郷) located in the mountainous Gifu Prefecture.  This village is extremely historic because it consists of traditional farmhouses that are over 250 years with the handwork of Japanese architecture that has been honed for many generations.  Visitors are free to explore and enter some of the houses for a small entrance fee, and there are several restaurants as well.  Remote from any major metropolis, this village is also the location of the fictional mystery/horror series Higurashi no naku koro ni called Hinamizawa.

“A flower raised in a greenhouse is still beautiful, even though it knows no adversity. But a flower growing in the field that has braved wind, rain, cold, and heat possesses something more than just beauty.” – Rena Ryuugu, Higurashi no naku koro ni

Since I was close to Kanazawa Station, I was fortunate to take only a two hour bus ride directly here.  From Tokyo, this village can take around 4-5 hours to reach depending on the train schedule (some trains only run once per hour).  The village gets dark at night, so most places close around 6pm-7pm for safety.  There is lodging available for those who wish to stay overnight, though I only stayed for around 3 hours which was plenty for me.

My biggest recommendation in Shirakawago is the Gasshozukuri Minkaen Outdoor Museum.  When you first get off the bus stop, the majority of shops you see are all aimed at tourists and only have souvenirs.  However, the outdoor museum is about a 15 minute walk away from this area and contains all preserved houses and a beautiful creek.  There are a total of 26 buildings you can see here, and the Jin Homura Art Museum is nearby so stop by for an inside look at some of his hand-painted works!

For lunch, I stopped by the Soba Dojo and had some delicious handmade buckwheat noodles–probably the best I had ever tasted!  I also tried some pumpkin bread from a bakery nearby, which wasn’t very sweet but was very wholesome made with all natural ingredients grown on the farm.  There are a number of places that serve traditional Japanese food in addition to soba.

Another place of interest is the nearby shrine, better known as Furude Shrine in Higurashi.  You can see the school and bridge from the anime as well.  The resemblance of the building structures is truly uncanny so those who have enjoyed the series, though the overall atmosphere of the village is very pleasant and welcoming!

On my way back, I decided to enter the Kanda and Wada houses, because they are two of the most famous.  Inside of the houses, you can climb all the way to the top, see the tools that they used in the past (you may see the inspiration for Rena’s hatchet design), and also enjoy some complimentary tea.

The last place I recommend is the Shirakawago Observatory, which is just a short hike up the hill next to the bus stop.  You can see the most amazing view of the village from this point (captured in the first image).

Unlike the eerie sensation the village gives off in the series, the actual Shirakawago is not haunted or fearsome.  It’s actually a great place to relax and take a great from the city, and the people are very friendly too.  All of the tourists that make the journey here are usually interested in history, so I’d rate this as a very good tourist attraction overall.

Backpacking through Canal City (Otaru, Japan)

IMG_3803

I’ve never been to Hokkaido in the summer, but since it’s the only main island of Japan where I haven’t gone swimming yet, I figured I’d explore one of the port towns over the weekend.  The advantage to coming to this island in the summer is there is a lot of flower farms in bloom, the weather is near perfect, and there’s tons of fresh ice cream everywhere!  Well, actually there’s ice cream here year-round since Hokkaido is known for its dairy, but this is the optimum weather for it.

I took a discount flight through Jetstar by booking it a few months in advance from Tokyo to New Chitose Airport, then took the express train from there to reach Otaru.  Otaru is a historic port town with amazing seafood and ice cream.  Almost all of the major attractions are within walking distance from the main station, and it has a very bubbly shopping street.  There are a number of landmarks and famous buildings, as well as the relaxing stroll down canal street!

I started my trip with a stop at Popura Farm Otaru to try their famous melon bowl ice cream.  It did not disappoint.  With newfound energy I wandered to the canal street for some photography.  It truly looks like something out of a Venetian movie!  They offer boat rides here, but since I was trying to steer away from crowds, I opted not to go.  Being in this pleasant weather was sure relaxing though.

Next I traveled to the shopping street right down the road and saw some interesting shops!  You could buy almost anything here: crab buns, green tea, music boxes, sushi, Sniw Miku goods, art, and more.  They also had Peanuts and Hello Kitty themed  restaurants.  What a happening place.  My favorite shop here was LeTAO, because they were giving amazing free samples of cheese cake and cookies here.  Shops on this street close around 7pm, so be sure to come early so you can see everything.

At the end of this street was a very unique music box museum!  They had adorable sushi cake music boxes for sale, as well as the Orpheus music box you could see (not for sale), which is one of the oldest and most famous in Japan.  Although the first floor was a bit of a tourist trap with nothing but souvenirs on the tables, the upper floors had a lot of rare music boxes and were exciting to see.  This museum is very small but has a homey feel.

Afterwards I decided it was time to go to the beach!  The weather was perfect and I was in an elevated mood that comes with traveling to a new place.  I grabbed my swimsuit and took a local bus to to Higashi Otaru Beach, which was one of the closest swimming beaches to Otaru Station.  From the photos and reviews on Google Maps, it looked like quite the promising place for a swim.  However, I was quite disappointed its overall condition and how small the swimming area was.

This beach is right next to the railroad tracks, so you need to walk a long distance down the side of a highway to get to an area where it’s safe to cross.  When I finally got there I noticed the sand was very rough, and there was litter on the beach.  I tried to go swimming but I couldn’t get far–there were a lot of rocks and it just didn’t live up to my previous expectations for it.  Instead, I decided to make up for it by drinking two mini bottles of wine that I had stored in my backpack and relaxed for a while.  This was the first time that I’ve been disappointed by a beach in Japan, but I wasn’t about to let it ruin my trip.  I found a rock to sit on and gazed at the beautiful horizon while I rested.  From this point of view, it looked like a stunning beach:

Not wanting to accept disappointment, I decided to make my way back to the central city and find a hotspring.  Except I was slightly buzzed and couldn’t find the bus stop.  I decided to walk on the side of the highway until I found a taxi.  But I was on the wrong side of the road.  How to cross… That’s when the free shuttle to Otaru Kourakuen miraculously arrived and stopped for me.  I decided that’s where I was going next!  Adorable otters greeted me at the door, and a dip in the hot springs was exactly what I needed to regain my spirit.  I was back again!  Back from disappointment.

IMG_3833
I owe my life to this hotspring.

Afterwards, it was getting to be dusk so I decided to make my way back to the center of the city and grab dinner.  I decided on a seafood place near the melon ice cream restaurant and ordered some delicious crab leg avocado sushi.  If you’re going to try seafood, Hokkaido is the place to do it!

IMG_3837
It looks American!

Feeling extremely satisfied I decided to make my way back to Sapporo where I was staying, just because it has cheaper guesthouse options.  I had a very good time here in Otaru though!  After living in Tokyo for over three years, I am always glad to spend my time in the scenic countryside.