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.

Sailor Neptune Nails from Nail Salon Glory (Tokyo)

sailor nept

Since I decided to cosplay a swimsuit version of Michiru Kaioh/Sailor Neptune for a photoshoot, I wanted the most suitable nails for this character.  I looked at various nail catalogs online, but no design fit the one I had in mind so I decided to create my own.  Fortunately, most nail salons in Tokyo are able to create original nail designs using stencils, hand-drawn art, studs, and various gradients of polish.

I booked an appointment at Nail Salon Glory through Hot Pepper, and these were the amazing results I got:

My nails were absolutely gorgeous!  Since I have short nails, I requested the scalp nail course that will extend your tip to a custom length.  The nail artist used a combination of beige and turquoise glitter polish to create a gradient that looks like an ocean.  After painting a shiny coat over it, she added sea shells and pearl studs, as well as hand-drew the insignia on Neptune’s mirror that I requested.  I was almost speechless when our session ended because I was so impressed!

Most fancy nail courses start at 10,000 yen ($93), but they are worth the price for the amount of detail and effort that is put in.  There are various coupons that can be used to lower the price, like the ones featured on HotPepper.

Scalp nails last for typically 3 weeks and are perfect for every occasion.  Not only did I use them for my photoshoot, but they also matched the color of the ocean when I was swimming in Thailand.  I’m sure I’ll be back in the future once I think of more anime-based designs!

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

52508071_10216424423034549_6492416647901478912_n
The Pikachu carbonara topped with a fried omelette and crispy tortilla tail is a one of a kind culinary experience.

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

“Moment” by Bahi JD Exhibition at Shinjuku Ophthalmologist Gallery

65763894_10217258471605242_8831974888395767808_n
Framed album artwork for Carpainter’s “Returning” (2017).

If you have any interest in animation, please stop by the Shinjuku Ophthalmologist Gallery and check out this amazing exhibition by Austrian artist Bahi JD, who has worked as a key animator for various Japanese companies and has created many original designs. Not only has he drawn covers for Carpainter albums (“Returning” and “Digital Harakiri”), but he’s also drawn his own original manga (“地球のマグノリア”) and has worked intricately animating scenes of Blade Runner, Fate/Apocrypha, SSSS.GRIDMAN, and more, as well as his own original GIFs that went viral. I’m really lucky I had the opportunity to meet him here, as I have cherished his art for a while!

For those who would like to see the in-depth animation process behind his works; a room of the gallery is covered with stills and a looping video so you can see each individual frame of his original animation up close:

Most recently Bahi has created the storyboard for and directed the beautiful opening for the anime “Carole and Tuesday” which premiered April 10, 2019:

The dynamic colors and physics he uses in his animations are quite unique and highly entertaining to watch! I hope people who are interested in working in animation can see this, as he is a major inspiration as a foreign artist that is very successful now in Japan.  

For more information on his work, please see his online portfolio, and stop by this gallery which will be available until July 3rd, 2019.  There will likely be more of his works display in the future, which I will be sure to visit and write about!

This is the Future: Shinjuku VR Zone Analysis & Review

Welcome to the VR World

VR

Since the beginning of my early childhood, I had always dreamed of escaping reality and entering a virtual world.  Not because I had a bad life (because I actually had a really good life), but because I was heavily influenced by anime and games as a kid and wanted to live in a fully interactive world where I could freely express myself.  My fascination with VR started when I first watched Digimon as a kid, then later grew as I became engrossed with Yu-Gi-Oh! (specifically season 3) and Sword Art Online.  When I entered college, I had the opportunity to test VR games with an Oculus Rift through my university’s gaming program, and even got to try some indie VR games at Tokyo Game Show last year!  Just recently in 2017 the Shinjuku VR Zone has opened in Tokyo as an experimental VR gaming arcade and playground for the public to try out, so naturally I had to go and visit!  Currently boasting 15 different immersive activities and an interactive VR exhibition by Tokyo Art City, this zone is growing at a rapid rate and was definitely worth the trip!

The System

I came here early Saturday morning with my friend visiting from America who is also a huge nerd like myself.  We purchased 4 different colored tickets online (each for a different selection of games) so we could ensure that we got in.  Tickets are available at the door, but some attractions are so popular that you may not be guaranteed entry so I recommend booking in advance online.  You can buy tickets in sets of 4 (for 4,400 yen) and also individually (for around 1,200 each).  After showing our tickets at the door, we were welcomed in by friendly staff and decided to explore the area!  At the center of the building we saw a hologram projected on the wall and a giant glowing VR tree structure  looking like it was radiating powerful energy.  This was such a fitting atmosphere–I already felt like I was the hero of a sci-fi series!

Immersive Horror Room

After staring in awe at all of the cutting-edge decorations, we made our way to our first game, which was the Immersive Horror Room (IHR), just because we wanted to be thoroughly spooked before we had to wait in line for the more popular attractions.  IHR was overall the best way to start our VR experience because the wait for short and the game was extremely entertaining and high quality.  The aesthetic was very Silent Hill-esque and some parts of it actually made me scream out loud.  Fortunately, I was not the only one!

While sitting down with VR helmets, you and your partner control characters in a wheelchair and navigate through a haunted house full of wicked obstacles and enemies that try to kill you.  It was a bit hard to get used to at first, but you could use a flashlight to choose different directions so the gameplay was easy to learn.  At one point, I triggered an alarm and was blindfolded and captured by the enemy.  Once I regained my vision, I was strapped to the floor and couldn’t move my character was twisted figured surrounded me and other victims.  I watched them murder characters around me one by one with gruesome weapons and was truly terrified that I was next.  Luckily my friend was able to solve a puzzle and save me just in the nick of time!  The game has multiple scenarios, and you can see and talk to your partner through a headset.  Though we won the game, it had a “To be continued…” screen at the end implying that it might be developed into a “real” full-length game someday.  I really hope that it is because it was a lot of fun and it was truly immersive making me feel a lot of terror, suspense and excitement!  I would rather pay for this than go to a horror movie any day.

Evangelion: Throne of Souls

Next, we decided to go to the Evangelion Throne of Souls attraction, because who doesn’t want to pilot a giant robot!?  Since I was 14 (the same age as the pilots) I’ve wanted to volunteer myself at NERV HQ, so I am happy that nearly after 10 years later I can finally achieve my dream!  This VR attraction was extremely personalized and you could choose to pilot Unit 00, 01, or 03, and see a launch sequence that made you feel like you were in midair!  After launching, you need to stealthily navigate through Tokyo-3 and pick up weapons along the way to destroy the AT field of a giant Sachiel with your partner co-op style.  The simulation was amazing because when you looked down at yourself, you were wearing a plug suit, and piloting the Eva felt a bit narrow and clunky just like its frame implies.  It felt genuine–like nothing else I have ever experienced before.  My only complaint is that there weren’t multiple stages and the simulation was so short.  In the future I really hope they give you the option to pay more to continue, because I definitely would!

VR Mario Kart

Next we made our way to everyone’s favorite attraction–VR Mario Kart.  The wait for this was nearly an hour, but there were places to sit while waiting in line (unlike Tokyo Disney and Universal) so the wait was actually quite pleasant.  The game was complete with 4 different players going against one another!  They let you choose your character (Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, or Peach), and I of course chose Princess Peach!  The game sequence begins with the 4 of you lined up at the starting point, and all of you can communicate through the headset!  Then 2 popular villains show up, and you must all race them to the finish!  Along the way you can pick up and throw turtle shells, whack other players with hammers, and also throw bombs at one another!  Fortunately blue shell VR technology has not been developed yet (and for the sake of friendship, it hopefully never will).  The game was very fun and had a lot of obstacles that balanced out who stayed in first.  You could not customize your car so everyone plays on equal ground.  Being launched in the air and flying through the sky was my favorite part!  I came in 3rd but I had a wonderful time and was glowing after the experience.  I highly recommend doing this one, because before a long-term VR world like SAO and Accel World is developed, this is a once in a lifetime experience.

Panic Cube

The last attraction that we did was one called Panic Cube which is a non-VR activity where you are locked in a prison cell and must solve puzzles on a giant touch screen while handcuffed or else a giant balloon will pop and you will meet your end!  We were specifically asked not to publish any hints about this game online by the staff so I will respect their policy, but one thing I recommend is not sharing the cuffs with your partner.  We did this thinking it would make the game easier, but it did not!  We sadly lost in the simulation, but it was still a fun way to die.

Final Thoughts

After finally processing this mind-blowing experience, I am eternally thankful for my trip here. To those who truly interested in VR and have the money, I highly recommend it because currently this is one of the most cutting-edge public areas where you can have a hands-on VR experience.  However, unfortunately the long wait lines and ticket purchasing policy ruin some of the momentum, so if you are just looking to spend the day at an arcade playing with a friend then I would recommend going to something like a Taito game center instead.  I really liked how clean the place was as well.  They make all players wear a face mask before putting on the VR helmet and also thoroughly wipe down the controls before the next players get in (hence the long wait).  It is reassuring to know that the facility is well-maintained and treated with respect so it was last long! It is clear that this is a very experimental project and a lot of the games they have are still in development, but it is drawing a crowd and gradually expanding!  Being one of the first to try it out truly made me feel like a hero.

Because I know that my money is going to a good cause, I will likely return in the future.  I would really like to try the Gundam, Dragonball, and VR rock climbing games next time.  I have high hopes that they will develop more angels for me to fight and more courses in Mario Kart that I can go back and triumph over.  From 8bit to virtual reality, I will always appreciate the glorious gaming world that has forever influenced my life.

One of the Strangest Collaboration Cafes: The Pop Team Epic x Sanrio Cafe

As a person that loves anime and aesthetic food, I have been to many of the strange and unique cafes in Japan.  However, the Pop Team Epic X Sanrio Cafe in Ikebukuro particularly caught my eye due to its hilarious-looking menu items and overall craziness of two unlikely series crossing over!

img_9816

Located in the Gourmet Stadium attached to Ikebukuro Station, this cafe is easy to access and requires no reservation.  We came around 3pm on the Saturday after it opened, and only waited 30 minutes to get in which is a very reasonable wait time.

Once inside, we were presented with this very unique menu including burgers of the Pop Team Epic characters cosplaying Hello Kitty, drinks containing cheese, the classic anime cafe parfait, and my personal favorite–corn on pancakes with an anime face and side of Pompompurin pudding:

The food was definitely very strange, but overall delicious.  I enjoyed the parfait because it had a crepe wrapped around it and also contained some delicious chocolate jello and whipped cream!  I did not have the courage to try the corn, but the pudding and pancakes were very creamy.  I would definitely recommend coming here for some desserts!

There was also a little souvenir shop with buttons, pins, and T-shirts!  I could not resist this adorable keychain of Pompompurin DJing:

img_9820

This cafe is running from February 7, 2019 – April 14, 2019.  As previously implied, I would recommend coming her for the lulz.