Exploring Hikone: A Castle Town with a Mythical Island and Fierce Cat Samurai

Over the weekend I made the amazing discovery that samurai cats are real!  About an hour east from Kyoto lies a quiet castle town called Hikone with the adorable samurai cat mascot you see here: Hikonyan.  Hikone is in Shiga Prefecture and borders Lake Biwa, one of the most famous lakes in Japan due to its lovely scenery.  I decided to start my trip by taking a ferry from Nagahama Port, which is just a few stops north of Hikone Station on the JR Tokaido-Sanyo line, and visit the mythical island in the middle of the lake called Chikubushima.  See the ferry schedule for reference–a roundtrip ferry ticket is around 3000 yen.

Chikubushima is known as the “Island of the Gods” and is said to be imbued with magical powers.  Though I am not a religious person, I appreciate going on journeys like this because it gives me the chance to see rare parts of the world!  You can walk around the whole entire island within 30 mins and see shrines, a beautiful view of the lake, and also try some local cuisine at the cafes (though the selection is very limited).

The main point of interest here is visiting Hogonji Temple and making a wish with a daruma doll.  Daruma Dolls are a special kind of talisman here that you can write your wish on a slip of paper and put it inside the doll for good luck.  The Japanese people at the shrine were extremely kind and helped me do this.  Though this island was tinier than I expected, it was a very nice way to start my trip!

After the pleasant ferry ride back (which only takes 30 mins), I then decided to go directly to Hikone Castle to see the Hikonyan Show!  During this time, the fiercely adorable samurai cat will come out before the castle gates to greet his visitors.  Hikonyan is treated as a celebrity by Japanese people.  I was surprised to see a line of people with cameras out waiting to see him, but he is definitely worth the hype!  He appears every day and you can see the timetables here.

In addition to Hikonyan, you can walk through the Hikone Castle, see the Genkyu-en Gardens, and also visit the Yume Kyōbashi Castle Road that has shops and souvenirs.  I visited all of these places by foot from Hikone Station, but you can also take buses around the city!  By 6pm, I was exhausted from all the travel so I decided to go back to my capsule hotel in Kyoto.  Hikone makes for the perfect day trip from Kyoto because it is easy to access and full of history.

The Best Desserts in Hong Kong: Egg Waffles, Coconut Jelly, and Hello Kitty Secret Garden

Hong Kong is one of the most bustling island countries of the world attracting a lot of international business, tourism, and backpackers like me.  For that purpose, it’s bound to have have some amazing desserts, and in large quantities too!

Right in the center of the city is Oddies Foodies where you can order delicious ice cream and egg waffle parfaits.  Egg waffles are a huge dessert meme in Hong Kong, and are gradually spreading to other parts of Asia.  They are softer and have more of a milky taste compared to regular waffles.  I ordered the cookie dough flavor and was very impressed with how mouthwatering it was!  The chocolate syrup they drizzled over it made it taste even better.  The best part is, you could eat egg waffles for breakfast and dessert!

While I was exploring the night market near Jordan Station, I found a small food stall that was selling coconut jelly out of a real coconut.  I can’t remember the exact name of the stall, but you can find these all over the country if you walk along the streets of the markets.  Compared to jello found in America, this coconut jello was a lot creamier and tasted more like pudding.  In Hong Kong-styled cooking eggs are often used but the taste is never overpowering.  I thought all of the street food I tried was extremely delicious (yet sadly caloric).

My last meal in Hong Kong was a lunch set at Hello Kitty Secret Garden.  I ordered toast, strawberry ice cream waffles, and a cute milk latte:

This was another caloric meal, but it was extremely satisfying.  All of the portion sizes in Hong Kong are much larger than in Japan!  The food is a bit more expensive, but you really can’t go wrong with it because it’s all delicious.  If you are on a budget, I would check the street stalls because they have a lot of variety as well.

Sailor Neptune Nails from Nail Salon Glory (Tokyo)

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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!

Hello Kitty Desserts at EGG & SPUMA

A diner and dessert restaurant called EGG & SPUMA located in the Shinjuku Lumine building serves up some of the most delicious Sanrio collaboration items you’ve ever laid eyes on.  They serve a lot of comfort food like omelettes, risotto, and pancakes on their menu that changes with new featured items each season.  Cocktails and sweet drinks are also available.

I ordered Hello Kitty pancakes topped with apples slices, custard, and whipped cream.  They melted like butter in my mouth and had an extremely soft texture!  I also tried pink lemonade topped with a Hello Kitty donut.  Thought it was an extremely unlikely combination, it was amazing!  The donut was extremely thick and completely covered in strawberry frosting.  The lemonade size was noticeably large compared to most drinks here.  I wanted to try more, but felt extremely full after this!

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the quality of food here for it being part of a theme cafe.  Be sure to try their seasonal pancakes if you ever get the chance to stop by!

A Somewhat Magical Time at the Unicorn Cafe in Bangkok

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A magical land where all dreams come true, serving up rainbow food and more!

Bangkok is a bustling city riddled with markets, temples, food stalls, clubs, red light districts, and many more curious things, so picking exactly where to start your trip here can be challenging.  After doing some thorough research, I finally decided on the perfect place–one that stood out like a gem from the other places in the city.  A magical land in a not-so-faraway place with rainbow food and dangling stuffed unicorns overhead in the pastel sky.  Yes, you guessed it, the very first restaurant I went to in Thailand was the Unicorn Cafe!

Though some of my friends may shun me for not trying something more authentic as my first meal here, my idea was to try the themed cafes first and then go for the authentic food for the best tasting experience.  Additionally, this cafe has mixed reviews that appear with a quick Google search; some stating it’s the most magical place on earth and others refuting it’s most certainly not.  The controversy surrounding this cafe made me even more curious about it, so I decided to come here and witness firsthand exactly how magical it was for myself.

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The great debate on the Unicorn Cafe: Is it the most magical place on earth or not?                        My answer: It’s somewhat magical.

Coming here directly from the Bangkok airport with my luggage in tow, I took a short taxi ride and reached the so-called magical unicorn haven an hour before they closed.  This was actually a really good time, because it wasn’t as crowded as during the rush hour and I could admire all of the unicorns overhead in peace.  It nostalgically reminded me of the old room I had in America growing up in the 90s, except with 10x the unicorns!

Featuring rainbow spaghetti, waffle cones, cupcakes, burgers, and more, the menu is quite dazzling with a lot of different options!  The downside is the price is a bit expensive–you could get a larger quantity of food at the markets just a few streets down from here and at most restaurants in Bangkok.  However, I came here for the novelty of eating rainbow food, and I wasn’t about to back down after coming this far.  After some more debate, I decided on the rainbow unicorn cupcake:

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A unicorn in cupcake form.

My stance on this magical debate is that if you are looking for something different, you will definitely find it here.  This place has a bright and welcoming interior with an English-friendly menu, extremely unique desserts, and unicorns as far as the eye can see.  However, some may be disappointed by the price and lack of healthier options here, not to mention the cafe is normally overly touristy.  Some reviews have questioned the quality of food here, but it’s pretty much the same for all themed restaurants I’ve been to.  I enjoyed my time here, but I agree there are even more magical places to be discovered despite my love for unicorns!

I will be detailing a lot of unique destinations in Bangkok and Phuket in my next series of blogs, so please stay tuned for more.

 

Petting and Holding Otters at Tokyo’s Otter Room Cafe

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Two adorable otters huddle together for comfort at the Otter Room Cafe.

I never thought I’d have the chance to hold an otter out of water, but after almost 4 years of living in Tokyo, I should know that nearly anything is possible! With my recent visit to the Otter Room Cafe in Ikebukero, I learned they are not only adaptable and highly intelligent creatures, but also quite cuddly ones too.  This animal cafe was newly added as an expansion of the Usamimi Cafe that features rabbits, and visitors can choose a timeslot between 30 minutes to an hour to play with either species by submitting a form via email through the official website (JP/EN).

Upon arriving, my friend and I paid 1000 yen for 30 minutes, and were promptly handed an apron, hand sanitizer, and printed English instructions so we could brace ourselves for the otter outbreak.  We were then led to a room where three adorable otters were sleeping in a cage.  When the cage door opened, one of them was placed on our laps!  The otter was so adorable we didn’t even know how to react.

Wanting to see his friends, the otter would crawl on and off the seats and back to us.  Though otters are not intended to be kept as pets, these otters were kept in a very clean area and seemed to be healthy and happy.  It was difficult to take photos of them as they are a bit finicky, but I managed to capture a few.

The three otters we saw were named Gucchan, Taeko, and Wakabarasu.  Though there were a bit sleepy when we saw them in the afternoon, they seemed happy to be together.  Compared to the meerkats I saw in Korea that were quite scrappy, these bunch were very friendly and pleasant to be around.  Please come if you are interested in meeting otters!

Is Scene Kid Fashion Forever Iconic in Tokyo?

Traversing through the streets of Harajuku–one of Tokyo’s most iconic fashion districts famous for pastel, lolita, goth, and designer street wear clothing–one would not be surprised to see bright-colored styles in all sorts of unique forms.  However, one piece of clothing in particular caught my eye.  It was a bright pink sweater with a green dinosaur on it and felt strangely nostalgic:

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Myself modeling a sweater from the dinosaur line at WC.

Upon looking at it closer, the dinosaur had a very unique expression on its face.  Its lips were parted in an extremely derpy way, and it looked liked it was trying to say something.  Not “roar” like you would expect a dinosaur to say, but perhaps something less intimidating… like “rawr”.  When I noticed this, I immediately thought back to the Rawr xD memes that plagued the internet in the early 2000s.  And it got me thinking…  Is Scene Kid Fashion Forever Iconic in Tokyo?  Or does it just coincide with Harajuku fashion?

Similarly to how Harajuku fashion is influenced by music (especially Visual Kei), scene fashion was originally influenced by rock and other subgenres.  Both styles feature brightly colorful attire that is sometimes paired with excessive hair clips, intricate makeup, big bows, and sometimes piercings as well.  Just like scene lingo exists, Harajuku gyaru lingo exists too.  When you compare pictures of the two fashions side by side, they are slightly different but fundamentally the same:

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Typical Harajuku Fashion.  Photo by Rebels Market.

Although Harajuku fashion started in the 1980’s, the gyaru and lolita subcultures started from 99′ – 00′, which was right around the time when scene kid fashion was starting to form as well.  Though it wasn’t until the late 2000s when the term “scene kid” was coined, a lot of people were wearing the style before then.  Regardless of when exactly they were formed, both fashions express a statement against conforming with societal norms and are designed to express individuality.

Though both styles have received both praise and cringe-worthy reactions from the public, I find that their connections are quite interesting.  Japanese fashion continuously uses inspiration from the west, and western countries often import and find Japanese fashion quite alluring.  I don’t think I’ll ever be a scene kid or a Harajuku girl, but I can appreciate both fashions for the uniqueness (and weirdness).  At the end of the day, I am extremely grateful to whatever influenced my derpy dinosaur sweater!