Invading Australia: Exploring the Picturesque Melbourne City

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Beautiful view from Albert Park in Melbourne.

For the past 2 weeks I’ve been invading Australia; starting from the southern picturesque city of Melborune to the charming countryside of Adelaide.  Since a number of my Japanese friends have studied abroad or traveled to this country, it’s always been on my radar.  Unlike my previous trips to Asian countries where I have a set itinerary for each day, this trip was a lot more easygoing and spontaneous.  A friend I met at a beach party in Japan kindly let me crash at their place near the center of the city, so together we decided to hit the city while catching up and also experience the seemingly endless nightlife.

A lot of my American friends have asked me what Melbourne was like, and I told them: “Picture a cleaner, safer, version of your favorite American city with slightly less people, and that’s pretty much it!”  One thing I notice about most Australians is that they are pretty laidback and travel more frequently outside the county than a lot of Americans do.  Australia is very affordable to live in, and the tuition fees for education are greatly subsidized by the government compared to America.  The only downside is that eating out is somewhat expensive, but on the plus side, there is no tipping like in the US.

This trip initially started out very rough because I negligently forgot to apply for my ETA to enter the country (I thought I could do so upon arrival), so Jetstar had to reschedule my flight a day later after I applied for it.  Essentially all you need to do is fill out a form online and pay $30 to enter the country so it’s extremely easy, but make sure to do this before your flight!  I have never had issues with tourist visas until this trip, but it was only a small bump in the road because I still was able to do everything I wanted.

Once I landed, I took the Sky Bus to Southern Cross Station to meet my friend.  Immediately he recognized me due to my flamboyant blonde hair despite us not seeing one another for over two years.  We first got some lattes at Mid Town Coffee which I highly recommend, then immediately proceeded to go day drinking at Melborune’s famous rooftop bar.  The coffee and the White Russians somehow helped me fight off the jetlag as we walked around Chinatown and other parts of the city.  What I liked most about Melbourne is that almost all of the downtown area is walkable and there are inexpensive trams available as well.  The system is very easy to figure out.

 

Being in Australia felt like being in an alternate universe America.  Instead of GameStop, they still have EB Games, which seems to have more selection and be far more superior.  Forget about Burger King–it’s called Hungry Jack’s here.  Porn Hub should cum and get their pizza8bit burgers is also a great place to eat out (I love their logo design).  Lord of the Fries is not only a good pun, but they also has an entire vegan menu.  Despite living in Tokyo, I tried a lot of Japanese places here that were a little expensive but overall delicious.  Wagaya was one of my favorites due to its large sake list, but Japanese Gyoza Bar deserves an honorable mention.  Those are just a few of the places that we visited, but there are many more!

 

My favorite dessert places were Chokolait, where I had amazing rainbow pancakes made with pavlova, and a cakeshop called Glace where I had an amazing mushroom pastry.  They also had a really cute marshmallow one I wish I could have tried, but was too full!

 

There are a number of bars along the Yarra river that runs through the city, but my favorites were Storyville where I ordered Butterbeer, and the Croft where one of my Japanese friends DJed.  They also have syringe drinks available that are very tasty and fun to share with others.  All of these places had really friendly and welcoming atmospheres, and I even managed to make friends in the bathroom!

One event I recommend checking out is Delight because they run really fun music events with Smash Bros. tournaments at various locations in central Melbourne.  I met some very nice people here, and was impressed with the quality of music.

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それを考えぬく – EMBRACE

One of my favorite memories in this city was drinking Korean sochu while watching Kenny Beats & Zack Fox with two friends in an office building.  I felt like I was reliving my college days and it was extremely nostalgic.  The above poster I shot inspires you to let go of your thoughts and embrace your surroundings, which is exactly what I did during this trip.  It was really beneficial for my mental health.

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Seeing this Shelter poster hanging in my friend’s room only continued to add to the nostalgia.

Overall I was very impressed with this city and felt like I could finally escape from my high-stress life in Tokyo.  Some people refer to Melbourne as the “hipster” area of Australia, but I think it has a lot more to offer than just chic cafes and murals like other places that have that label.  I will be writing more about the art galleries and wildlife reserves I visited in my future posts so you can get a better feel about what this country is like, but I recommend that you visit it if you ever get the chance!

Seeing in the blue shirt at Kaga Onsen Festival After Party

kagaonOn July 20th, directly after my crazy backpacking trip in Hokkaido, I decided to take a plane from Sapporo to Komatsu airport, where I ventured off to the hot springs town known as Kaga for its yearly music festival.  As a music enthusiast, this was a rare opportunity that I didn’t want to pass up!

About Kaga Onsen Festival

Kaga Music Festival is one of the biggest original music festivals in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, and has a total of 7 stages (some being lounges and some being club stages).  The genre of the festival is mostly electronic, pop, and rock music, though I noticed that there were a number of indie artists that appeared at the after party this year, including one of my favorites from Kyoto City: in the blue shirt.

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in the blue shirt playing a live set at the official Kaga Onsen after party.

Though I was unable to attend the main festival due to time constraints, my experience at the after party made my trip here more than worth it.  If you are looking for a festival that is unique to Japan and isn’t over-crowded like Fuji Rock or Summer Sonic, then this is definitely a solid choice.  Kaga Music Festival has enough variety to keep you interested, but the music lineup doesn’t ever feel overwhelming and you can see almost everything you want.  As an added bonus, there are many hot springs nearby that you can visit on the way home!

Getting to the Venue

To get to Kaga Music Festival, it is recommended to take a bullet train from Tokyo to Kanazawa then take a local train to Kaga Onsen Festival where you can catch a free bus to the main venue.  You can alternatively fly to Komatsu airport and take a local train there like I did.  This is a cheaper option, but the number of flights are limited due to how remote the area is.

Most of the accommodations by Kaga Onsen Station are quite expensive, so I booked a cheap room by the nearby Daishoji Station.  After getting settled, I headed over to the main venue which was called Rurikoh, then walked to the after party located called Mori no Sumika Resort & Spa.  The entrance fee at the door was 3000 yen with one drink.

Attending the After Party

The inside of the venue was absolutely stunning with flattering neon lights, a relatively large indoor stage, and an outdoor pool area you could go swimming in.  The crowd here was mostly Japanese in their early 20s or 30s, but I saw a few foreigners walking outside the area.  After checking out the venue, I immediately grabbed a vodka tonic and went to see the first performing artist.

The first artist was an electronic music producer called Yackle, and I caught their performance right as they were mixing a capsule song into a Nakata Yasutaka song, which was perfect timing because those are two of my personal favorites.  This producer mixes a lot of different genres and makes their own edits so they are extremely fun to watch!  Yackle has recently released an album called Frank Throw which features beautiful vocals and a mix of trap and bass music elements.  This was my first time seeing one of there performances and it was an extremely fun experience.

in the blue shirt played his live set immediately after which consisted of a unique blend of vocal chops and remixes of his own songs, as well as other artists like Pasocom Ongaku Club:

This set was extremely exciting for me, because I haven’t seen in the blue shirt since Large Size in Kyoto which was nearly 5 months ago.  Some of the people that attended that event recognized me here and pulled me to the front of the stage!  I was extremely flattered to see that they remembered me and enjoyed dancing with everyone.

Recollect the Feeling

In April in the blue shirt released his latest album called Recollect the Feeling which is growing to become a respected indie release in the music scene.  With its harmonic and compelling use of electronic samples that are intricately spliced in what appears to be its own language, this album definitely leaves a tremendous impact on the listener. Consisting of both English and Japanese lyrics, each song has an abstract yet nostalgic feel to it using indie electronic and triphop music styles, along with a variety of synths and instruments.  Though some of the songs are short (under 2 minutes), when the album is played as a whole it takes your mind on an unforgettable journey through time.  It’s still too early to say if I like this album more than Sensation of Blueness, but it is a polished release that I truly feel was worth waiting for.

On the latest album, I think “Casual Remark”, “Good Feeling”, and “Bamboo Leaf” are my favorites because they are great to listen to when exploring new places—I feel like I’m completely in my own aesthetic world when I listen to them.  I believe his personal best work is “Cast Off” as it was the first song officially released and has the most consistent composition, but it’s really hard to choose because the album is best listen to as a whole. What’s amazing is most of these songs were played on his sets as WIPs/transitions since 2017 and it’s amazing to see them completed now.

Overall I’m really happy for this artist because they’ve managed to accomplish everything that is most important in album production: they’ve delivered a compelling album with quality merchandise, collaborated and done shows with other artists I really like, uploaded previews and mixes so we know what’s coming, continually have showed their progress, and seemingly created a new record label / collective called The Wonder Laundry.  I’m so happy to have kept up with them through the whole entire release process and see them playing at big festivals now!

Other Recommendations

Of the other performing artists, I also recommend checking out PARKGOLF, Tomggg, and Avec Avec.  All of them have unique electronic styles and are respected performers I have seen at various events in Japan.  I spent the rest of the after party socializing with friends that I met and hanging out by the pool, but here are some of my favorite tracks that I recommend:

I will consider attending the main festival next year if more of my favorite artists continue to make appearances.  I am excited to attend more unique music events similar to Kaga Onsen Festival this summer!

Full Moon Parties VS Jungle Parties (Koh Phangan, Thailand)

About the Full Moon Parties

If you’re backpacking through Thailand, then chances are you’ve heard of the infamous Full Moon Parties on Koh Phangan.  These parties involve dancing on Haad Rin beach until sunrise in colorful costumes, drinking liquor out of buckets, leaping over a flaming jump rope just for the hell of it (at your own risk) while meeting many amazing people from all over the world.  I was really happy I chose to spend my New Year’s Eve here (from 2018-2019), because I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of the island!

The reason I decided to attend my first Moon Party is I watched Travels with My Father and loved the hilarious mixed reactions the characters had to the party, so I wanted to experience it myself!  There is one episode where the son takes his father to Koh Phangan where his father stares at his son in disbelief as he dances (quite hilariously) through the drunk hoards of people and mingles with the locals.  After drinking out of a bucket of alcohol with his son, he then proceeds to read ‘Reporting on Hitler’ with noise-reducing headphones to escape from his surroundings.

Your reaction will probably be one or the other, but one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life is: Try to enjoy the time you have with the people around you.  This is especially important for solo travelers.  Even if the people in your vicinity may not be your best friends or the first people you’d choose, I’ve became friends with the most unlikely people and learned a lot from them just from simply being open-minded.

How to get to Koh Phangan

The best way to get to Koh Phangan is to fly to Koh Samui (or other surrounding islands) and take a ferry.  The ferry ride takes less than 2 hours and start at only $10.

The first time I came here, I made the mistake of taking a 10 hour bus and ferry ride from Bangkok.  The ride was accommodating, but I realized I wasted a lot of time that I could have spent on the beach.

You can book buses and ferries from most destinations in Thailand from 12go.  They will also give you the total amount of time it takes so you can decide the best way to get here.

Koh Phangan has parties almost every weekend, so you can come any time of the month and have a good time!  The Halfmoon Festivals and Blackmoon Culture parties also occur during the month, along with more lowkey parties spread across the island.  I have heard from my friends that the Waterfall Party is one of the best, but I have yet to experience it for myself.  The best way to find the right one for you is to ask the locals!

Where to Stay and Pregame

Once getting off at one of the piers (I recommend Thong Sala), take a taxi or motorbike directly to Haad Rin because that is where most of the bars and people are, and you can walk to the beach party by foot.  The farther away you walk away from the pier, the cheaper the taxi will be (the first people that approach you will try to overcharge you).

Due to the popularity of these parties, a lot of guest houses and hostels require you to stay for 5 days minimum which can be expensive, so what I did was just stay for the night and took the first ferry back at 6am.

Once reaching the beach town of Haad Rin, I decided to wander around.  I found a hostel appropriately named Wild and Wandering where I met some of my best friends in Thailand.  This hostel has a nice stereo, a bar that serves buckets of alcohol, and tons of people to hang around.  I was fortunate enough to meet one of the owners at the bar while I ordered a pink bucket, and I bribed him a few hundred baht so I could store my stuff there for the night (which was a significantly cheaper option).

Inside of the hostel, they had really amazing Princess Monoke murals as well.  I danced and talked to my new friends until around 10pm, then we decided to go to the beach!  The fee to enter is only 100 baht, so it’s not really expensive.

Full Moon Party: New Year’s Edition

The first thing I realized is that most of the people that attend these parties are travelers looking to make friends.  Despite its crazy reputation, the beach is extremely safe.  I have read articles that claim you can buy joints and ecstasy pills on the beach, but that was not the case here.  I did not witness anyone selling or using illegal drugs–everyone was happily drinking out of buckets and no one acted too out of line so it was relaxing.  If you want to get things besides alcohol, you are best off not looking on the beach.

I spent the majority of my time wandering around the beach and doing a lot of people watching.  I enjoyed seeing people jump over the fire rope, dance the night away in their crazy outfits, and a few guys bought me drinks too which was really nice.  There were multiple music stages setup so you could find a genre that you liked and enjoy it with the calm sea breeze.  My favorite was the techno stage which was set up next to this bar called the Swing Bar.  It’s very easy to find–just look for the neon lasers and people sitting on swings!  They have a great menu of buckets and cocktails, as well as swings.

When midnight drew near, everyone gathered on the shore and watched a giant flaming countdown light up the sky as the year became 2019!  I felt extremely accomplished that I made it all the way here, and even though I originally came here alone I was surrounded by people that all shared the same passion for travel as me.

After the countdown, I went back to Wild and Wandering to wish all my friends happy new year!  The rest of the night was kind of a blur; I remember barhopping around the island with some people I had met and then going to a treehouse bar where I fell asleep with one of my friends.  Fortunately I had set multiple alarms so I was able to take a taxi back to the pier in time to make the first ferry.  I was a bit sad to leave, but also I felt like I wanted some time alone to reflect on things so I headed back to my neon pink hut in Koh Samui.  A New Year well spent!

Blackmoon Culture Party

Wanting to experience a party in the jungle, I came back to Koh Phangan in May during Japan’s Golden Week holiday.  The Blackmoon Culture parties take place on the night of the new moon in Ban Tai, away from the beach and surrounded by trees and foliage.  For that reason, they are popular for psytrance music.  Though usually that genre is not my cup of tea, I decided to try it because why not!

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I repeated the same steps as I did before; taking the ferry out for one night only, revisiting Wild and Wandering to store my luggage and see my friends; but this time I noticed the island was much more quiet.  My friend who lives on Koh Phangan informed me that the island is liveliest during the monthly Full Moon parties, but during the low season there’s not as many people attending the parties even though the island has that reputation.  However, this turned out to be awesome because we had the beach all to ourselves for a while.  It was great to catch up with my friends after not seeing them for 5 months.

After drinking a bucket and some mojitos, I took a taxi to Ban Tai around 1am and went to the Blackmoon Culture party.  The entrance fee is 600 baht which is 6x the price of the Full Moon Party, but it’s still affordable.  I immediately met some new friends from CA and we all shared a bucket while dancing to trance in the neon jungle.

At Blackmoon Culture, the sky is dark so you can focus more on the music and your [neon-hued] surroundings.  The music was good, but unfortunately there was only one stage.  The Full Moon Party had multiple stages so this was a bit disappointing, but I still had fun.  Though I prefer beach parties more now, I am grateful I had a psytrance experience in the jungle.  Going during off season let me see Koh Phangan how it normally is and become better friends with the locals, so it was overall worth it!

Those who are looking for a psychedelic night in Thailand: Please see my post on Koh Lanta for more information!

If you have any questions/additional details to add, please let me know in the comments.  I wrote this as a handy guide for those backpacking to Koh Phangan and wish to know more, so I hope you find it helpful.

 

Exploring Shikoku & Seeing Carpainter at Outer Kochi

I never would have dreamed that there was a club scene in the countryside of Japan, but through my travels I have learned that there is an underground scene basically everywhere–you just have to find it!  This time I went on a pilgrimage to Shikoku for the purpose of seeing Carpainter and Onjuicy perform at a venue called Outer located in Kochi.  I was very surprised to meet some very kind friends and enjoy the sights and sounds of a unique part of the country that I had never been to before!

I flew to Kochi from Tokyo a day before the event started so I had enough time to explore the city by myself.  When the plane landed, all I could see was rice fields and I didn’t know exactly where I was, but I knew it was about to be lit.  With a short bus ride to the station, I found that most of Kochi’s attractions were accessible by foot or via a cheap bus ride.  I grabbed some wine from the convenience store, and began my sightseeing trek around the city!

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I first stopped at Kochi Castle, which was quite a lovely sight to see.  I’ve been to a lot of white castles in Japan, but I liked this one because it involved a lot of climbing to reach the top and you could walk all around the castle!  Often you can only access certain parts of castles in Japan, but this one you can fully explore to your heart’s content.

Nearby the castle is the Harimaya Bridge, which is a super tiny bridge located near souvenir shops and the Sunday Market which is fun to see.  I stayed in the Kochi Green Hotel right in this area which my friend helped me get a coupon for only 3000 yen per night.

On the way back I decided to check out the Hirome Market for some delicious sea urchin and egg-like sushi.  There was also a disco ball and a giant tower of fries to see, along with many stalls selling beer and other novelties:

This market was very fun to see because it was so lively.  At all times of the day, you can see people drinking here.  There’s a great selection of seafood, noodles, yakiniku, desserts, and sake!  I could tell that the people of Kochi take a lot of pride in this market, because not only is the food good, but it is also a place where a lot of people come together and pass time.

The final destination on my list before the club was Katsurahama Beach!  Overlooked by the historic shogun Sakamoto Ryoma, this beach had a garden and stunning scenery.  I wouldn’t say it was the most beautiful beach in Japan, but it is definitely worth seeing if you are in Shikoku.

After spending a few hours here, I took a bus back to my hotel and started pregaming for the club.  This event was very special because it was the first time that Carpainter and Onjuicy performed together in Kochi, and also the first time Carpainter had ever been a back-up DJ for an MC (original Tweet).

As a foreigner with blonde hair, I definitely stood out but that was okay because everyone was very welcoming to me here.  I said hello to my 2 friends from Tokyo and proceeded to get drinks at the bar while they got ready for their set.  The event organizer greeted me and personally thanked me for coming all the way here because it was quite a long trip from Tokyo.  I thanked him back for having such a great event, and proceeded to be given shots by some locals and also one of the performing DJs.

The environment of Outer is quite different from clubs in Tokyo because everyone there makes an effort to get to know one another, plus with an indoor and outdoor area it’s quite spacious for moving and dancing around.  It’s not to say you can’t find a venue like this in Tokyo, but often you will find that the city is overcrowded and full of people who just want to party without paying attention to the music.  The crowd here was all very respectful and I really appreciated the time I had here!

During their performance, PAM!!! was played in addition to one of Onjuicy’s unreleased songs:

It was overall extremely fun to be so up-close to the performers and share the thrill  with the countryside people of Kochi.  I am excited to see the next place I end up following my friend’s tour!

“Moment” by Bahi JD Exhibition at Shinjuku Ophthalmologist Gallery

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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!

Menmeiz Retro Aesthetic Vaporwave/Citypop Art Gallery

If you’ve ever walked through the streets of Tokyo, you’re probably familiar with flashing neon lights, the bustling districts highlighting fashion and music, and the fleeting nostalgic moments you feel as people in this city come and go.

In the most recent gallery/pop-up store by Menmeiz, vintage and retro-inspired artwork is on display from various artists on the 4th floor of Beams Japan in Shinjuku. The artist I wanted to see the most was Shiho So, who has not only done VJ work for some of my favorite DJs in Tokyo, but also has designed posters, album covers, and a book cover for “Ring of the Day” too!  Her art combines pastel colors with a retro art style that is reminiscent of the 80s in Japan.

In addition to brightly-colored balloons, shirts, hair accessories, zines, posters, and wands, this gallery also features citypop music by Night Tempo for the best viewing experience!  Conveniently located next to this exhibit, there is a store with vintage Sony stereos and cassettes for sale.

If you would like to know more about vaporwave and how this kind of internet subculture originated, you can browse through zines on the table for more information.  I personally enjoyed the one titled “ももたろう/PEACH BOY” because it was a nice homage of the old Japanese classic.

If you are in Shinjuku, please be sure to check this gallery out!  It is only viewable for the short duration of June 14th – June 23rd, but there will be more events like this available in the future.

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The Adventure of Hakodate, Monkeys, and Squid! (Part 2)

I woke up early on a chilly Saturday morning so I could make my way to the famed Hakodate Asaichi seafood market conveniently located near the station.  There I was greeted by many friendly vendors selling everything from freshly caught crabs to mouth-watering ice cream made from Hokkaido milk, but I already had my eyes set on the famous dancing squid dish from Tabiji:

One of the staff told me they receive fresh shipments daily, and I could definitely taste it! It was probably the freshest squid I had ever had because the fish eggs, rice, and wasabi with the slices of squid had an amazing flavor.  Thought I felt bad for the squid, this was a rare dish that I definitely did not want to miss out on!  Tabiji is currently the only restaurant in Japan that offers the dancing squid dish and they even have their own T-shirts available.  No reservation is required.

Also worth trying are the Kaniman (hot crab buns), and the Hokkaido ice cream!  After feasting on this wonderful seafood, I decided to go to Fort Goryaku, the beautiful star-shaped park:

This park is unique because it has an observation tower you can take to the top floor to see a panoramic view, and you can also stroll through it!  In the center is the Former Magistrate Office (reconstructed), and the spot is extremely popular for cherry blossom viewing.  Once again, I felt at peace while I was here.  I think it’s amazing that they transformed a military fort into such a lovely park!

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Nakata Yasutaka performs at Club Riviera in Sapporo, Japan.

After seeing all of the sights that I wanted to see, I decided to take the bullet train to Sapporo to make the Nakata Yasutaka show at Riviera.  The ride takes nearly 4 hours, but since I was exhausted from all the walking I did, it was actually quite relaxing.  When I got to Sapporo, I stayed in another internet cafe called Kaikatsu Club (conveniently located in the Susukino party district).  I pregamed a bit then headed to Riviera which is a very glamorous club!  This was my third weekend in a row seeing Nakata perform, and I was not disappointed!

Overall my 2nd trip to Hokkaido was relaxing and filled with fond memories.  I was able to reflect on my life and also do all of the things on my trip itinerary so I felt an extreme sense of accomplishment at the end of this trip.  I will come back to Hokkaido in the summer to see the lavender fields and hopefully go to the beach!  My aim with each trip is to combine sightseeing with nightlife, and I am sure I will be going on many more adventures!