Author: Cindy

Yakushima: Shiratani Unsuikyo

In Japan, there’s a major holiday week called Obon (Golden Week) that falls smack-dab in the middle of August. Being the travel-crazy person I am, I wasn’t going to pass up a free week and stay put in Tokyo. I was originally torn between Okinawa and Yakushima, two islands famous in their own right, but in the end, my indecisive self had to make a decision before rising flight prices could. Also, I kept staring at photos of Yakushima’s forested landscapes and I knew I was a total goner. When you’re presented with photos

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such

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as

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these,

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how can you say no?

Spoiler: You can’t.

Let’s talk about Yakushima, though. Yakushima is a small island off the coast of Kyushu. It is famous for its ancient cedar forests, banyan trees, monkeys, and oranges. It has become so famous for its forests in particular that Hayao Miyazaki visited the ancient trees of Shiratani Unsuikyo and got inspired to make a movie that we know and love called Princess Mononoke. In fact, it has become so famous that a section of Shiratani Unsuikyo is colloquially known as the Mononoke Forest, because tons of travellers to Yakushima not-so-coincidentally happen to be Studio Ghibli trash (hi, it me) who would love nothing more than to experience the otherworldliness of these landscapes (hi again).

So it should be of little surprise that my first full day was spent hiking in Shiratani Unsuikyo. I went on a tour with YES! Yakushima, and Steve did a fantastic job of guiding us away from the throngs of tourists.

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The forest itself is — in a word — verdant. Moss is sprawled all over the trees, the rocks, everywhere. The trunks and branches have all but twisted with time, creating an organic web of curves across the ground. If you’re lucky enough, you can see the indigenous Yaku macaques among the green-brown-black color palette of the landscapes.

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Before we hit Mononoke Forest, Steve had warned us that it might be easy to miss, because it’s a relatively small section of the park, and there are less-crowded variants of the forest nearby. He did have a point, though, as it’s pretty missable when your view is shrouded by lots of tourists trying to take photos.

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princess mononoke vibes 🐺

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It doesn’t make the view any less stunning, though.

MISCELLANEA:

  • It rains a lot. Yakushima runs on a subtropical climate, which means that it can be completely sunny one minute and a torrential downpour the next, like some weather god is flicking a power switch for funsies. Even though the hiking itself isn’t very physically demanding, hiking gear is a must if you don’t want to turn the trails into a Slip ‘n Slide.
  • Go to the bathroom before you head out to the trail, because peeing in the bushes is not a thing people do in Japan, ya barbarians.
  • Mosquitoes aren’t a huge deal in this part of Yakushima, as they don’t tend to hang around the heavily waterfalled areas. You have no idea how relieved I was.

Hiroshima, Miyajima, Okunoshima

Three weekends ago, ya girl went to Hiroshima.

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Hiroshima had been on my Japan travel bucket list for several reasons, chief among them history, okonomiyaki, and bunnies, but squeezing in trips outside of Tokyo within a 2-day timeframe was a challenge like any other.

Saturday brought about too much rain for my flimsy $2 drugstore umbrella to handle. Between visiting Miyajima Island versus Okunoshima Island (Rabbit Island), the latter seemed like a better option in the rain.

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The train station at Tadanoumi — a far cry from the city life in Tokyo and Hiroshima

I took the Shinkansen from the Hiroshima station to Mihara, switched to the JR Kure line from Mihara to Tadanoumi, walked a few minutes to the terminal at Tadanoumi Port, and then boarded the ferry for a 15-minute boat ride to Okunoshima. If I choose not to include the amount of time waiting for the hourly trains during the transfers, it took a little over an hour. However, door-to-door, I’m looking at over two hours of long transfers and hoping that my phone and external battery would last me the better part of the day (thankfully, it did). But hey, I used to commute 90 minutes each way to-and-from work, so I should have been used to it, right?

Anyway, work may have given me many perks and benefits, but work has never graced me with the presence of hundreds of cute bunnies.

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Okunoshima Island is a small island off the coast of Hiroshima that is host to hundreds of feral rabbits. (Mind you, these cuties are absolutely tame and the exact opposite of what feral implies.) The exact origin story of how the bunnies populated the island is shrouded in vagueness, but either way, bunnies have taken over Okunoshima so much so that one step onto the island and you will be approached by a colony of rabbits.

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After feeling peckish, I ventured back into Hiroshima before the sunset. Dinner that night was at Koshida, where they serve my favorite food: okonomiyaki.

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Okonomiyaki — besides having the incredibly distinct honor of being MY FAVORITE FOOD — is a savory pancake, often made of eggs, flour, cabbage, and meat, and topped liberally with bonito flakes, an okonomiyaki sauce not unlike Worcestershire sauce, seaweed flakes, and Japanese mayonnaise. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, however, is a slightly different beast, as:

(1) the ingredients are mixed
(2) there are more layers of cabbage that uncooked okonomiyaki resembles a literal cabbage patch
and
(3) they cook it with noodles

THEY. COOK IT. WITH. NOODLES. The only thing that could make a savory pancake even better? MORE CARBS!

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It goes without saying that I scarfed this bad boy down within minutes.

While it may seem that my culinary adventures in Hiroshima would be over after having peaked at okonomiyaki, Hiroshima is actually rife with really good food options. The next day had a pretty decent weather forecast, so I finally made it to Miyajima Island, an island known for its forests, temples, and Great Torii Gate. While I witnessed and appreciated all three things, the first thing I did as soon as I got off the ferry was eat oysters.

Protip #1-#1.5: Hiroshima is well-known for their oysters. So much so that Glico makes Hiroshima-oyster-flavored Pretz, which is good, but I’d still recommend eating the real thing over the Pretzed-up version.

Protip #2: Kakiya grills some damn good oysters.

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Hiroshima, or rather Miyajima Island, is known for momiji manju, a red bean cake shaped like a maple-leaf. In fact, these cute little cakes are so well known and synonymous with Hiroshima that the Kit-Kat regional flavor is a momiji manju.

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While tourists (and deer — see above) normally overpopulate the main street of Miyajima, the number of people dwindled by the time I hiked the upward ascent to Miyajima’s peaks. You’ll find that the island itself is a juxtaposition of verdant forest and the blue ocean tides that surround it, should you choose to venture ahigh.

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The rest of the day was a quiet afternoon spent at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park. A sobering testament to the city’s past, the park is home to the two Peace Bridges, the Peace Memorial Museum, the Memorial Cenotaph, and the ruins of the former Hiroshima Prefecture Industrial Promotion Hall.

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I’d rather be in Tokyo, I’d rather listen to Thin Lizzy-oh

tl;dr I’m in Tokyo. This blog is ten years old.


Hello!

So for those of you who keep up with me on another social media outlet (or any other medium, really, like IRL), you might know that I’m in Tokyo (!) for the summer.

I’m working as a UX designer, and so far my experience has been good, if not a little routine:

6AM: Wake up at this hour, every day without fail, FOR NO REASON AT ALL other than the fact that my body clock is a bitch???
6AM-9:30AM: Make a futile attempt to go back to sleep. Suck it up.
10AM-7PM: Work.
7PM-9PM: Grab dinner with my limited Japanese skills. This is usually ramen or soba or some other noodly variant.
9PM-11PM: Watch a World Cup game. (Interchangeable/negotiable, depending on the match)
11PM-12AM: Get ready for bed, but debate internally if I should watch the next World Cup game
12AM-2AM (?): Decide screw it, I’m watching the match! Sometimes I can stay awake through the first half. Sometimes.

That said, it’s not my first rodeo when it comes to Japan, though it’s my first time being here for more than 2 weeks. Hell, the last time I was living abroad for more than a few months was back in 2008, when I studied in Beijing during the summer. Fun fact: this blog started because I needed a way to update my friends on my whereabouts with LiveJournal being banned in China. It feels weird coming full-circle a decade later, but here we go.

Anyway, I’ve been here for ten days. I don’t think I’m quite settled yet, though the amount of times I have eaten an egg salad sandwich from my neighborhood Lawson or run to the 7-11 in search for a workable ATM show otherwise. I haven’t even used my camera yet. But that’s ok — I’ve got a good amount of time to explore this city and country (I’m lookin’ at you, Hokkaido and Okinawa).


Let me tell you, being in a country whose national team just landed a hard-fought win in the World Cup is An Experience. I remember going to a block party in Vila Madalena the night Brazil defeated Chile in the knockout stages of the 2014 World Cup, and to this day, that memory wins all the awards for the biggest moshpit ever. Anyway, Japan had just scored an upset defeat over Colombia, and — well. Pandemonium descended upon Tokyo. I just so happened to be coming back from a watch party in Shibuya, which may or may not be THE BUSIEST INTERSECTION. Just imagine the amount of crowds in Times Square but with a fraction of the space. This photo was taken right before I decided I actually valued my phone and quickly stowed it away before a throng of drunk and (rightfully so!) excited fans could knock it out of my cold, dead hands.

Here’s a live recording. Turn those speakers up for full effect.


Udon noodles with grated yam at Kokuwagata. Despite (or even because of???) the slimy texture, I am ridiculously endeared to grated yam. The name is a pretty poor descriptor of what it actually looks and feels like (who knew that yams, when grated, would turn mucuslike?!), but this was delicious.


Speaking of yams, the KitKat Chocolatery sells purple yam KitKats, and yes, they are as delicious as they are purple.


This is Yodobashi, also known as the world’s largest electronics store. I poked my head in here last Sunday because I needed to replace my broken Fitbit strap, but alas, the world’s largest electronics store didn’t have my size.

getting into the weeds #latergram

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gorillaz!

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On Friday, I went to the Gorillaz concert, where they premiered their new album, the Now Now. Also, I’m really impressed by how punctual the concerts are. Case in point: The show was done at 9PM. 9PM! Even after the encore! A concert schedule that actually agrees with my old-lady sleeping habits is downright revolutionary.