Exploring Aesthetic Art Galleries in Melbourne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Most Colorful Temple in Kyoto: Yasaka Koshindo

Before heading to Nanoboro Festa, a famous underground music festival during my trip to Kyoto, I decided to rent a yukata (casual summer kimono) and do some sightseeing in the Gion district.  Historically, this area was one of the most famous for its tea houses and traditional sweets, upscale lodging for visitors, and the extremely aesthetic Yasaka Temple that attracts a lot of people with its brilliant colors.

Yasaka Temple is dedicated to the three wise monkeys and a guardian warrior known as Shomen Kongo.  The colorful cloth balls that are attached to it are called “kukurizaru” which are talismans that provide good luck by taking away greed and impure desires.  Like ema and other talismans in Japan, you are able to purchase one at the gate if you would like to make a wish or prayer, but there is no fee to enter the area where the temple is.

Back in the day, many geiko (who are similar to geisha, but are known more as “woman of art”) resided in this area.  Nowadays there are many bars and restaurants as well as hotels for travelers, but much of Gion’s history has been preserved and it is a very relaxing are to visit.  You can see beautiful parks, temples, a river, and bamboo growing around Gion Station, so it is definitely worth checking out.

For those who are interested in renting a kimono, I rented one for 4000 yen from Kyoto Kashin in Gion.  This is actually a very good price because it includes hairstyling, accessories, and shoes as well.  At first I was a bit nervous about wearing one because I am a foreigner in Japan and it is not native to my culture, but I realized they are very flattering and fun to dress up in when you are seeing temples in Japan.  I encourage everyone to try it at least once~

Ine: A Beautiful Fishing Village in Northern Kyoto

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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.

A Reflective Day at Sky Mirror Beach (Malaysia)

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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!

Gudetama Sushi Cake in Singapore

Sushi cakes that actually taste like cake.

This looks exactly like grilled tamago sushi… But it’s actually made of cheesecake! Instead of soy sauce and wasabi, maple syrup and a sweet cream that is colored to resemble wasabi comes with your order. Though I knew what I was ordering, this still came as a very impressive feast for the eyes.

You can find this amazing sushi cake dessert at the Gudetama Cafe in the Suntec Mall of Singapore. Dedicated to everyone’s favorite lazy egg mascot hailing from Japan, this cafe has a beautiful egg-shaped interior decor and some very original menu items.

Though I’ve been to the Gudetama Cafe in Osaka, this one is actually bigger and has more menu items! This restaurant serves many different dishes including burgers, pastas, teas, and desserts in decent portion sizes.

The Suntec Mall is on the way to the famous Gardens at the Bay in Singapore, so this is the perfect place to stop for some food before you go. I hope you have an eggscellent time here!

Aesthetic Adventures in Singapore

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Singapore as it appears in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.

Starting this Thursday, I will be taking a six day backpacking trip through Singapore from Tokyo, and also visiting Malaysia!  I chose Singapore as my next destination because it is a highly condensed city with futuristic garden displays, beautiful man-made beaches, and unique food, so it’s been on my travel list for quite a while.

During my recent trip to Hokkaido, I met a traveling couple from central Singapore and they inspired me to come here myself.  I think the people and culture of this country are extremely kind so I’m excited to learn more about them on my trip.  The best thing about this country is you can see all of the major attractions on foot or via train due to its small size.  It also is extremely English-friendly and has a low crime rate, as well as being welcoming to international tourists.

Another perk of visiting Singapore is that you can easily book a cheap bus to Malaysia, and flights between the two countries are as low as $48.  The downside will be the extremely hot temperature, but I plan on wearing a light jacket and sunblock to protect my skin.  I am most excited to see the Merlion Statue!

My planned itinerary (so far) is listed below:

Tokyo → Singapore & Sentosa Island → Mersing (Malaysia) → Rawa Island → Kuala Lumpur → Mirror Beach → Singapore → Tokyo

Aug 1st: Arriving to Singapore

I booked a $500 flight to Singapore in June departing a little after 5pm from Narita Airport through Delta Airlines.  I plan on playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses during the long 6 hour flight.  I will arrive to Singapore around midnight and be staying at the sci-fi themed Spacepod Capsule Hotel!  I’m already excited for this next big adventure!

Aug 2nd: Exploring Temples, Galleries, and Clubs

As soon as I wake up and finish my daily run, I plan on heading straight to the Merlion Statue to get some pictures with it!  People say it’s extremely small in person, but that doesn’t damper my enthusiasm for it.  I still think it’s cute!  From there I plan on walking to some of the nearby temples and landmarks including Thian Hock Keng Temple, the Abdul Gaffoor Mosque, and stopping at the Gudetama Cafe for dessert.  If I have time to see both the National Gallery Singapore and Art Science Museum, I definitely will, as well as try some street food on the way!  My aim for the first day is mostly walking around and getting acquainted with the atmosphere of this new country.

At night I definitely want to visit the Gardens at the Bay!  The futuristic neon lights and expansive greenhouses look amazing!  There’s also a ton of nightlife in this area.  I plan on checking out the videogame-themed Nineteen80 bar first.  According to the reviews, it’s awesome and I think I’ll very much enjoy the retro aspect of it it.  There’s also a Korean bistro called Don’t Tell Mama that I’m excited to go to!  Despite the name, I know my mother will eventually find out I’m there through social media…  So I might as well enjoy it!  I’m excited to try their shochu cocktails and also check out some nearby dance clubs!  This should be an extremely exciting first night full of crazy memories.

Aug 3rd: Sentosa Island

Before I hit the beach, I plan on checking out both the Harry Potter Cafe and the Durian Cafe for my daily dose of aesthetic food.  After I’m fully satisfied, I’ll ride the skyline from central Singapore to explore the exciting Sentosa island.  Here I will sunbathe on Palawan Beach which resembles the Caribbean with its white sand and tropical trees!  There’s a total of three beaches here and I hope to go swimming at them all since this island is also small and very walkable.

Sentosa also has Universal Studies, an aquarium, wildlife centers, and many bars and resorts so there’s a lot to do!  I hope to enjoy the attractions here as much as I did in Thailand.  Either way, I will definitely enjoy being on the beach again!  The beaches in Japan just don’t compare.

Aug 4th: Rawa Island

Rawa Island is a beautiful private island in Malaysia which is an extremely popular day trip from Singapore, so I decided to go here!

From the Golden Mile Tower in Singapore, I booked a $28 bus through Easy Book that leaves at 6:30am (ouch), and arrives at the Mersing ferry port of Malaysia before noon.  From there, I will purchase a ferry ticket directly to Rawa Island.  According to what I’ve read online, ferries depart every 1-2 hours depending on the tide.

Once I arrive to the island, I plan to go swimming and also rent some snorkeling gear.  I hear there are water slides here as well, so I really want to try them out!  Essentially this will be my relaxation day.  Hopefully the weather will cooperate too!

At 5:30, I booked a bus to Kuala Lumpur from Mersing for $15 where I will be staying for 2 nights of this trip.  The bus trip will be long, but it takes about the same amount of time from Vegas to the Grand Canyon which I endured at the beginning of the summer (5 hours).  I chose to stay at the Sky Society hostel because it has a beautiful infinity pool and is less than $30 per night.  Infinity pools are usually found on top of high buildings and create the illusion that they’re connected to the sky.  I’m more than enthralled to swim in one!

Aug 5th: Exploring Kuala Lumpur

Once I wake up, I plan on taking a taxi or bus to the famous Batu Caves for some hiking and sightseeing.  I am looking forward to seeing the famous Lord Murugan Statue there as well!  I then plan on seeing some famous landmarks in the city like the Petronas Towers and Merdaka Square.  If I have time, I want to see the Museum of Illusions and the bird park too!

At night, I want to wander around Petaling Street and try some street food.  This area of the city sounds like it’s always bustling, so it should be a great place to start the night.  There’s a bar called Skulldaggery around which caught my attention as well.  If I have enough energy, I plan on checking out some clubs too.  I’m not sure how Malaysia’s night life compares to other countries, but I’m willing to check it out!

Aug 6th: Sky Mirror Beach

One of the most mesmerizing attractions in Malaysia is Sky Mirror Beach, which clearly reflects your reflection on the surface of its low tide during certain times of the day!  Because it is a bit remote, I booked a tour through Veltra to go there from my accommodation in Kuala Lumpur.  I will be doing some experimental photography there while enjoying the beautiful natural phenomenon.  There is also some unique sea shells and marine life that you can see!

At night, I will be returning to Singapore via a cheap flight I booked through Jetstar airlines.  Though this trip is only a few days, I know it will be extremely fulfilling!  I also know I’ll be extremely exhausted from all of this traveling, so this time is sufficient.

Aug 7th: Returning to Tokyo

I will fly back to Tokyo via the very first flight of the morning at 5:05am!  The time is a bit dreadful, but I am extremely fortunate that I was able to take a budget trip here.

Please look forward to my future posts!  I’m extremely fortunate to be able to see two more gorgeous Asian countries and their beautiful beaches.  I aim to share my backpacking experience so others may enjoy it and use it for reference.  I’m excited for yet another aesthetic adventure filled with unforgettable memories.  I love traveling alone because it gives me the chance to reflect on my life and prepare for the future!

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.