Google Fukushima and you’ll see images from the nuclear disaster and very little else. Determined to visit the capital and see the city for myself, I found planning a little difficult. Fukushima is such a large and beautiful prefecture that most places recommended are outside of the capital; mostly mountains and onsen towns.
Undeterred, I purchased my train ticket and was pleased to discover a wonderful city; full of kind and generous residents, most of whom were curious as to why I chose to visit. As a prefecture still recovering from the aftermath of the Great East Japan earthquake, they need visitors more than ever and I found an impressive community of people working together to promote the region. Here are my favorites from a day spent wandering.
My first stop was Sakamoto Coffee, a cute coffee shop just south of the station. Over my iced latte, I chatted with the kind owner Yamaoka Tsuguya, who generously gave me some lovely omiyage. He makes a delicious pour over and has a great selection of publications for coffee lovers, including the beautiful Standart magazine. Sakamoto Coffee, 〒960-8061 福島市五月町 1-12 メゾン高徳
Cafeteria Hitoto (食堂ヒトト)
Lunch was a magical combination; a minimal Japanese interior, warm service and superb food. Housed on the third floor of a building full of creative spaces, Cafeteria Hitoto serve a daily set menu of macrobiotic foods from their open kitchen. The space is filled with locals and gazing across the tatami room, you can see steam slowly billowing from teacups. My tasty lunch set included tofu with miso, brown rice, miso soup, natto and hijiki. 食堂ヒトト,〒960-8041 福島市大町 9-21, ニューヤブウチビル, 3F
Downstairs is Bloom, a florists space packed with oodles of flowers. The selection is impressive, with not just the usual selection of fresh flowers, but also an interesting array of ferns, succulents, cacti and dried flowers too. Next door you can find Little Bird, a record store that was sadly closed during my visit. Bloom,〒960-8041 福島市大町 9-21, ニューヤブウチビル, 2F
Downstairs again is the most beautiful optical store I’ve ever seen, Optical Yabuchi. The store has an incredible range of glasses, along with a selection of zakka – homewares, jewelry and other trinkets. I had the pleasure of meeting the owner Yoshihisa Yabuuchi, who hand carves eye glasses made with only wood. No glue or metal parts are used and they require such meticulous attention, the waiting list is two years long! Optical Yabuuchi,〒960-8041 福島市大町 9-21, ニューヤブウチビル, 1F
Mens clothing store Pick-Up has a gorgeous selection and interior, along with super friendly staff. The industrial space is small but packed to the rafters with all things sartorial, with lovely bags from Herringbone and boots from Blundstone. One of the staff asked me if I liked coffee and promptly escorted me upstairs to discover my next stop. Pick-Up, 〒960-8033 福島市万世町 4-28, 1F
River Beach Coffee
The kind of place you need to know is there, River Beach Coffee is hidden down a laneway and up the stairs. Inside is a rustic space, full of well-dressed customers with gorgeous interior details that mirror the clothing store below. They were serving Fuglen beans from Tokyo during my visit, which were surprisingly sweet and fruity. River Beach Coffee, 〒960-8033 福島市万世町 4-28, 2F
Women’s clothing store BarnS is the sister store of Pick-Up and stocks one of my favorites Marimekko. The owner of both stores, Shogo Takahashi is a keen gardener and craftsman; he built much of the store himself and can be found tending the local street gardens on weekends. He also initiated the local project F-pins, to help support the community and spread love for Fukushima in the aftermath of the disaster. BarnS, 〒960-8011 福島市宮下町 18-30, 1F
Books & Cafe Koto (Books & Cafe コトウ)
Located upstairs is a sweet bookstore and cafe, Books & Cafe Koto. Owner Yuji Kojima opened the space earlier this year, as the first secondhand book store in the city. With a lovely selection of hand-picked magazines and books, I especially liked some of the children’s picture books and the special Japanese editions of Kinfolk. Books & Cafe コトウ, 〒960-8011 福島市宮下町 18-30, 2F
Japanese sweets shop Urokoya, specializes in beans and is known by all the locals. Slide open the rickety glass door and step into a tatami room with baskets arranged on the floor. Each basket has a different kind of confectionary. The kind owner helped me choose the most popular omiyage from their selection. うろこや, 〒960-8036 福島市新町 7-13
Fukushima Gokoku Shrine (福島縣護国神社)
Located at the foothill of Mt Shinobu, trees and blossoms overlook the Fukushima Gokoku Shrine. As I approached the front gate, I heard familiar sounds, those marking a wedding celebration. I proceeded with trepidation, not wanting to interfere. The bride and groom were dressed traditionally and not only was I welcomed with excitement, but encouraged to have photos taken with the happy couple! A most special honor. 福島縣護国神社, 〒960-8025 福島市駒山 1
Mt Shinobu (信夫山)
This mountain is a symbol of Fukushima and a lovely place for hiking. It has three mountain peaks and a number of shrines and temples to explore along the way. I ambled along, getting lost numerous times as the trail isn’t always signposted nor obvious. I didn’t encounter any other hikers on foot, only locals driving to the top and a handful of cyclists whizzing down the mountain.
Karasugasaki Observation Deck (烏ヶ崎展望デッキ)
The peak of Mt Shinobu is marked by an observation deck at 270 metres high, with incredible views right across the city. Relieved to reach the top, I joined the teenagers perched on the rocks and we watched the incoming thunderstorm. To our left, we could see forks of lightning in the distance and to our right, a glorious sunset over the mountains.
Yamame Gyoza (山女)
As I rounded the corner at Yamame, I was greeted with a long line of people waiting outside. Inside I scored at a seat at the small 10-seater counter downstairs, where I could see the kitchen. I watched hands rapidly folding their famous enban gyoza, a mesmerizing process. Frozen beer in hand, I made friends with my neighbors and ordered a half-plate of the fried dumplings. Served with dipping sauce and pickles, they were plump and filling.
山女, 〒960-8044 福島市早稲町 5-23
As I left, my neighbor insisted on a selfie and passed me a napkin with a note she’d Googled the English for. “I’m so glad to have met you.” I’m so glad I meet her too. Her and all the other lovely locals I encountered during my most charming trip to Fukushima. I urge everyone to visit and help support this incredible community. There’s a lot to love!
Nature is often manicured to do the most amazing things in Japan. The Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi Prefecture is no exception. Located a few hours north of Tokyo, it’s most famous for the wisteria flowers that come into bloom in late April. They appear in a variety of colors, with some of the oldest trees trellised into spectacular canopies and tunnels.
Wisteria only have a short bloom once a year, so visitors flock to the park. To try and avoid the crowds, I chose a weekday and set out from my neighborhood at dawn when it was still eerily empty. After numerous transfers through trains full of teens balancing backpacks and views of schoolchildren wandering between rice fields, I reached the park in the early hours. People had gathered, but there was plenty of space and the silence was peaceful.
The trees were gorgeous and rather overwhelming; they are unbelievably pretty in the gentle morning sunlight. The white flowers were a little past bloom, purple were at their peak and yellow were on their way. It’s hard to capture the beauty of the park on film, let alone the fragrance; but with the whole park flowering, a scent wafted through the air.
With different flowers on show year round, there were also azaleas, rhododendrons and roses on show. Giant bumble bees roamed around while gardeners quietly manicured away. As time passed, the park became more and more crowded with tourists and students arriving on buses. Early morning was easily the best time of day.
The purple wisteria flavored ice cream proved most popular at stalls around the park – so much so it has its own key on the map. Sitting beneath a canopy of flowers, it was a strange but welcome treat in the sunshine. The gift shop and nursery sell more purple omiyage than you could possibly imagine, with wisteria manju, mochi, cakes, soda, cosmetics and more. I left happy to have visited one of the prettiest places in Japan.
Getting There and Around
Admission changes depending on the season. As more flowers come into bloom, entry becomes more expensive! You can find a great map of the park online here. It can be quite the journey from Tokyo, use Hyperdia to check the best train route to Tomita Station. Ashikaga Flower Park (あしかがフラワーパーク) is a 13 minute walk away.
A few weekends ago, I took my second whirlwind trip to Hong Kong and I’ve seriously fallen in love with this vibrant city. A truly multicultural and bustling place, you can find everything here; all jam-packed into a condensed and easily accessible area. A jungle of apartment blocks, full of color, characters and contradictions; the city has an incredible energy which made me feel revitalized and inspired. Here’s a guide to some of my favorites in and around Central!
Man Mo Temple (文武廟)
Forever my favorite temple in Hong Kong, the atmospheric Man Mo Temple is filled with incense smoke. In tones of red and gold, there are lanterns and coils of incense hanging from the ceiling. Dedicated to the gods of literature and war, it’s a place to pray for both success in academia and to settle disputes. Man Mo Temple, 124-126 Hollywood Road, Tai Ping Shan, Hong Kong
Tin Hau Temple (天后廟)
Tin Hau is the Goddess of the Sea and temples honoring her are usually found along the coast. This inner city temple is an exception to the rule; it was once close to the ocean before successive land reclamations took place. Outside it’s surrounded by greenery and the Temple Market in the evenings, while inside, incense lingers in the air. Tin Hau Temple, Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
Victoria Peak & The Peak Tram (太平山)
Offering a most spectacular view of Hong Kong, Victoria Peak is a mountain overlooking the city and the highest point on Hong Kong island. The Peak Tram is the most popular way to reach the summit, with the 120-year-old funicular railway transporting passengers through a vertical jungle of trees and towers alike. The Peak Tram, Lower Terminus, Garden Road, Central, Hong Kong
The Star Ferry (天星碼頭)
The classic trip is quick at only seven minutes, but provides sprawling and stunning views of the harbor. The best views are seen when heading from Tsim Sha Ssui towards Central. The iconic green and white ferries have grand names such as Celestial Star and Morning Star and depart every 6 to 12 minutes. Central Ferry Pier No. 7, Central, Hong Kong
Choi Hung Estate (彩虹邨)
Choi Hung is one of the many sprawling public housing estates in Hong Kong, made famous thanks to it’s geometric architecture and pastel rainbow color scheme. Housing nearly 19,000 people and famously photographed by Michael Wolf, it is particularly photogenic from the sports courts found on the roof of the car park. Choi Hung Estate Carpark, Choi Hung Estate, Hong Kong
Square Street Murals
These colorful murals are wrapped around the buildings on Square Street and the vibrant colors are hard to miss. It took a little hunting to discover the artist, but I eventually found they are by Pasha Wais; an artist based between Hong Kong and Saint Petersburg. They were only recently finished, so now is the ideal time to visit. Square Street, Tai Ping Shan, Hong Kong
Victoria Harbor and A Symphony of Lights (維多利亞港)
The real star here is the night view of Victoria Harbor itself, with reflected lights twinkling in the water. Each evening at 8pm you can also see a light show, with synchronized projections and lasers on buildings either side of the harbor. Though one of the main tourist attractions in town, it’s a little underwhelming; come for the view itself, not for the show! Avenue of Stars Promenade, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Cat Street Markets (摩羅上街)
The Cat Street Markets on Upper Lascar Row are over 100 years old and sell all manner of treasures; ceramics and charms, postcards and coins. The short street offers everything from souvenirs and replicas to antiques and propaganda. Located close to Man Mo Temple, it’s well worth a wander in the early morning when the sellers are setting up for the day. Cat Street Markets, Hollywood Road and Upper Lascar Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Fa Yuen Street Markets & Kee Tsui Cake Shop (花園街市場 & 奇趣餅家)
At Fa Yuen Street and Mong Kok Road, there’s a small fresh food market with a wide range of local delicacies, such as live fish, crab and frogs. Outside, the street market runs north from here and is a colorful maze, with stalls selling everything from exotic fruit to clothing. Stop at Kee Tsui Cake Shop, a bakery offering classic Cantonese pastries such as red bean cakes. Fa Yuen Street Markets, Mong Kok, Hong Kong Kee Tsui Cake Shop, 135 Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok, Hong Kong
Flower Markets & Hing Fat Flower (花墟道 & 興發鮮花)
These lovely markets are a hive of activity and worth a visit, even if you can’t take flowers home with you! The streets are lined with shops offering all manner of plants, from extravagant imported flowers and manicured orchids, to lush ferns and cacti. Hing Fat Flower is easily my favorite, with an amazing range of unusual flowers in a more muted palette. Hong Kong Flower Markets, Flower Market Road, Mong Kok, Hong Kong Hing Fat Flower, GF, 56-58 Flower Market Road, Mong Kok, Hong Kong
Yuen Po Bird Garden (園圃街雀鳥花園)
Located at the end of the Flower Markets, Yuen Po Bird Garden is a gathering place for local bird enthusiasts. It’s certainly not for everyone and is rather heartbreaking, but it is an insight to this local culture. Exotic song birds can be found all around the garden in decorative cages with their owners socializing nearby; some for sale and others for showcasing. Inside, stalls sell all manner of bird related items; including beautiful bamboo cages. Yuen Po Bird Garden, Mong Kok, Hong Kong
Pottinger Street (砵典乍街)
I love when a market stall is dedicated to a single product. This steep cobbled laneway of stalls is no exception, ranging from those specializing in costumes and wigs, buttons and ribbons to lanterns and souvenirs. I love the tassels on display at the ribbon stalls. Pottinger Street, between Queens Road Central and Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
Hing Cheung Fu Kee (興祥富記)
My taste in ceramics is generally minimal, but I’ve really come to appreciate the detail in Chinese ceramics. This tiny pottery store is filled with a range of styles. While there are some more colorful pieces in store, much of the selection comprises of blue and white wares in their many forms – chopsticks, spoons, bowls, cups, vases and more. Hing Cheung Fu Kee, 17 Staunton Street, Central, Hong Kong
Me & Gee (美之時裝入口店)
This second hand clothing shop is a rarity in the middle of central. Downstairs is full of people rummaging but upstairs is the best, especially for men’s clothing. It’s packed to the rafters and really takes time to dig through. There’s a large selection of utility jackets, denim and overalls. Me & Gee, 9 Li Yuen Street West, Central, Hong Kong
Elephant Grounds is a micro roaster with a sprinkling of stores across Hong Kong. Their original location on Gough Street is in the back of clothing store WOAW, with a small counter and outdoor deck for sipping their delicious coffee among the trees. Visitors can take their time here and enjoy their ice-cream sandwiches, which have a cult-following. Elephant Grounds, 11 Gough St, Central, Hong Kong
At Cafe Deadend you’re greeted outside with marble tables beneath flowers in bloom, while inside you find a sleek counter space and a huge print from the ‘Architecture of Density’ series by photographer Michael Wolf. We liked their creamy matcha latte and refreshing ginger lemon drink. Their sister bakery Po’s Atelier is also next door. Cafe Deadend, 72 Po Hing Fong, Tai Ping Shan, Hong Kong
The Cupping Room
A contemporary cafe and coffee shop, The Cupping Room spills across two floors. We saw an incredible eight baristas stationed behind the tiny counter, rushing plates of avocado and poached eggs upstairs to the dining area. The coffees were delicious, as were the pastries we sampled; the chocolate croissant was heavenly. The Cupping Room, Shop LG, 287-299 Queens Road, Central, Hong Kong
Lof 10 (辦館)
This gorgeous little coffee shop is packed on weekends. It has a minimal industrial interior and great iced lattes! Outside you can sit on stools and makeshift tables, where we made friends with a local walking her gorgeous puppy who refused to move away from our feet. They also have a sister whisky bar, don’t confuse the two! Lof 10, 1 U Lam Terrace, Tai Ping Shan, Hong Kong
Located in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong’s maze of nightlife spots, this specialty coffee shop stands out from its neighbors – though follows a similar late-night timetable. The interior is sleek with marble coffee tables and gold cutlery. This location exclusively serves a coffee that comes in a dark chocolate-lined ice cream cone; it’s on my list for next time. Coffee Academics, 24 D’Aguilar Street, Lan Kwai Fong, Central, Hong Kong
Eat and Drink
Mido Cafe (美都餐室)
Mido Cafe is one the few classic Hong Kong cha chaan tengs (see below) that has managed to keep it’s nostalgic interior intact. Grab a seat upstairs and take in the patterned tiles on every surface and the view from the teal green windows. The menu has over 200 items on it and service is brash; but it’s all part of the charm. We liked the baked rice with spare rib in tomato sauce, the fluffy french toast and the iced yuenyueng (a local drink of coffee mixed with tea). Mido Cafe, 63 Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
Yum Cha Central (飲茶)
Yum Cha are known for their adorable dumplings that are almost too cute to eat! The menu includes dim sum, along with modern Chinese dishes. We liked the BBQ piggy buns, hot custard buns, green tea molten buns and crispy sweet and sour wontons; but absolutely loved the sticky honey balsamic wings. Impeccable service in a gorgeous space (including a truck indoors), this isn’t the cheapest dim sum but it might just be the most adorable. Yum Cha, 2F, Nan Fung Place, 173 Des Voeux Road, Central, Hong Kong
Tsim Chai Kee Noodle (沾仔记)
You know a restaurant is probably going to be pretty good when they’ve been listed in the Michelin guide for multiple years. This small shop turns out steaming hot bowls of noodles with incredible speed. The menu is short with only a few variations; shrimp wonton, beef or fish ball. I loved the shrimp wonton, the noodles are light and stringy (in a good way) and the broth is tasty – even better with the homemade chili sauce served on the side. A most excellent breakfast. Note: Mak’s Noodle is another local institution, located directly across the road. Tsim Chai Kee, 98 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
Lin Heung Tea House (蓮香樓)
This two-storey tea house is known for its authentic and traditional dim sum, served in a chaotic, flourescent-lit space that is decades old. Shared seating is the norm here and the dim sum trolley service (6am-4pm) is quite the experience. From the dinner menu, we loved the special pork rib, fried noodle and garlic bok choy. A classic Hong Kong eatery. Lin Heung Tea House, 162 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
Tim Ho Wan (添好運點心專門店)
This dim sum restaurant is famous thanks to its status as one of the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. When you arrive, grab an order slip from the front counter and pencil in your order while you wait. We liked the char siu bao (baked buns with BBQ pork, almost like a scone), prawn dumplings and steamed egg cake (super light and fluffy). This branch can be a little tricky to locate, head towards the Airport MTR gates to find it. Tim Ho Wan, Shop 12A, IFC Mall, Hong Kong Station, Central, Hong Kong
Tsui Wah (翠華餐廳)
This chain of cafes is a local institution, with the most famous one located in the heart of Central. This cha chaan teng (see below) offers many Hong Kong classics; such as milk tea, pork chop buns and sizzling prawns with fried noodles. It no-longer resembles the casual diner I first visited years ago and is now a contemporary space with a golden exterior. Tsui Wah, 15 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
If you can only eat one dessert in Hong Kong, make it the famous Night Wolf from Oddies. This is a chocolate chip egg waffle (eggette) jammed in a cup with soft gelato, butter crumbs, ice cream of the day, passionfruit panna cotta and crunchy flakes. Holy moly, this dessert is indulgent and delicious; I only wish it would never end. Oddies, 45 Gough Street, Central, Hong Kong
Tai Cheong Bakery (泰昌餅家)
Most famous for their egg tarts, Tai Cheong Bakery usually has a line out the door. These treats are worth the wait, the pastry crust is buttery and crumbly with a light and creamy egg filling that is perfectly sweet. They are best eaten warm, fresh out of the oven. Other treats on offer include sugar puffs and pineapple cakes. Tai Cheong Bakery, 35 Lydhurst Terrace, Central, Hong Kong
65 Peel (何蘭正)
Hong Kong has no shortage of bars and nightlife, with endless ways to spend your evenings. One such place is 65 Peel, a craft beer pub with a tiled entryway that leads to a concrete and industrial interior. The menu focuses on Hong Kong brewers such as Hong Kong Beer Co, Lion Rock, Moon Zen, Kowloon Bay, Mak’s and Black Kite. 65 Peel, 65 Peel Street, Central, Hong Kong
Just down the road is 99 Bottles, a concept that combines the local street drinking culture with craft beers. Choose from the brightly lit fridges that line the wall and find a spot on the street outside to soak up the evening. I liked the ‘Oh, Bacon!’ smoked ale from Black Kite Brewery. 99 Bottles, Shop B, 59A Peel Street, Central, Hong Kong
Good To Know
Cha Chaan Teng
A classic style of Hong Kong eatery are cha chaan teng, known for their affordable and eclectic menus; typically a blend of Hong Kong and western cuisines. They offer comfort food – everything from wonton noodles to sandwiches, with popular dishes such as Hong Kong-style milk tea, condensed milk on toast and fried instant noodles. Interiors are often tiled, service is fast-paced and they are an important part of the local food culture that is slowly disappearing. Mido Cafe (above) is one that remains.
Sunday = Public Holiday
Every Sunday is Hong Kong is an official public holiday and since the 1980’s migrant domestic workers have gathered on this day of rest. Domestic workers ‘live-in’ with their employers, so this day is an opportunity for this largely Filipino and Indonesian community to come together. Thousands of women gather in public spaces, creating picnic areas out of cardboard boxes and socializing with their community; playing cards, painting nails, eating lunch. The city is totally transformed and it’s amazing to watch these women come together.
Alcohol is expensive in Hong Kong and the law allows drinking in public. This has resulted in a popular street drinking culture of purchasing drinks from stores and openly drinking them on the streets. The crowds spilling out of the bars blend in with those gathered on the streets – especially in Lan Kwai Fong, an area known for it’s nightlife.
When I first went abroad years ago, I can remember my parents advice not to visit the usual destinations, but to go to places more remote and interesting. I’ve tried to follow their advice ever since. When a place looks hard to reach on a map, I become even more determined to visit. This is what led me to Sado, a large island sitting north of Niigata in the Sea of Japan. With a population of about 63,000 the island is most famous for its mountain ranges and history of gold mining.
NINJIN GUESTHOUSE & BAR (ゲストハウス&バー人参)
I stepped off the Joestsu Shinkansen in Niigata (1.5 hours from Omiya in Saitama) to pouring rain. After a long walk I was relieved to arrive at Ninjin Guesthouse a gorgeous old machiya (traditional wooden home) converted into an inn. My warm hosts were watching an amusing game show in the bar and took me on a tour of the house with its sliding screens and shared spaces. Each guest has their own capsule; a mini room with a futon and lamp, all thoughtfully considered and perfect for a comfortable sleep.
NIIGATA TO RYOTSU (両津市)
I woke with the sun and headed out to explore the Furumachi neighborhood before taking the first ferry. Arriving at the Sado Kisen terminal I was relieved to see other people; at least I wouldn’t be crossing the wild ocean on my own. Konbini snacks served as breakfast before boarding the jetfoil, an express ferry that takes only an hour from Niigata to Ryotsu. It was a bumpy ride but the crowd of unperturbed locals kept me calm.
RYOTSU TO AIKAWA (相川)
My first glimpse of Sado surprised me, it was so much bigger than I imagined; with two huge mountain ranges running along it. I purchased a bus pass for unlimited rides and boarded a Honsen Line bus bound for Aikawa, one of the many towns lined with traditional wooden homes. The bus wound between the two mountain ranges, straight across the island and I was in awe of the landscape either side of me.
AIKAWA GINO DENSHO TENJIKAN (相川技能伝承展示館)
My destination was a traditional skills museum focusing on local crafts, Aikawa Gino Densho Tenjikan. My morning class was in a local specialty, mumyoiyaki pottery. The clay from the nearby mines contains iron oxide and has a distinct red color, with the fired result making a surprising metallic sound when tapped. Our teacher was thorough in background and technique, showing us how to hold our hands and exactly what to do. I created a small tea cup or yunomi, before eating my bento lunch in the sunlit workshop.
I took a neighborhood stroll around Aikawa where I was inexplicably filmed for television while looking at some local sights, before wandering along the river with its ramshackle machiya. The wooden homes formed narrow alleys with the occasional washing hanging out to dry. Due to the season, I also saw many onions and persimmons hanging under eaves and in windows. The persimmons are used to make hoshigaki, the peeled fruit is dried and massaged for several weeks resulting in a chewy and sweet treat.
SAKIORI RAG WEAVING (裂織)
My afternoon class was in rag weaving or sakiori, produced by tightly weaving thin strips of old garments to create new textiles. My instructors were kind ladies and we worked in a gorgeous space. The room was set out with multiple looms and we were surrounded by baskets of fabric. My first task was choosing nuki (balls of rolled up fabric strips) and loom thread colors, an impossible task for a designer. I was overwhelmed by the gorgeous fabrics I could choose from and settled on a collection in pale tonal blues and greens.
I was seated at a ground loom or jibata and taught the simple motions for weaving my first color. I found the process entirely relaxing and soon found myself in a steady rhythm weaving on my own. The ladies sat beside me on the floor, unpicking garments and quietly chatting by the heater. With the last beams of sunlight pouring through the large windows, two hours soon passed. I was pleased to see the result as we unwound my work, a little rough around the edges, but something made with my own hands nonetheless!
AIKAWA TO IWAYAGUCHI (岩谷口)
From the station in Aikawa, my local bus began winding along the northern coast on the Kaifu Line and I was amazed by the views that unfurled from my window. My destination was certainly remote and hard to access, with only a few buses running along the route each day. We wound up and down mountains, passing small towns, facing the ocean the whole way. The sun was setting and orange beams of light shot from the clouds into the water. Passengers slowly disembarked along the way, before only two of us got off at the final stop.
SOTOKAIFU YOUTH HOSTEL (外海府ユースホステル)
I had a tatami room facing the ocean at Sotokaifu Youth Hostel with a warm futon, essential in the chilly weather. Dinner was washoku, a traditional seasonal meal shared with the other guests and our hosts. Much of the incredible array of local sashimi was new to me, so we worked together translating the names of each dish. The sazae (turban sea snails), kamenote (goose barnacles) and awabi (abalone) were highlights. Over dinner we swapped stories and I felt incredibly lucky to spend time with such inspiring people. I took a hot bath before bed, listening to the crashing waves outside as I feel asleep.
I woke before sunrise, leaving me with ample time for a coffee and a wander along the beach. The water was wild, with a pink sunrise and a few fisherman on the shore. The bamboo structures along the coast reminded me of the fish drying racks in Norway, though these haza structures are used for drying rice. Returning to take the bus, my host Hisae emerged from the inn to come and see me off. I’ll never forget the kindness I encountered during my stay, my heart swelled as she waved off the bus. Iwayaguchi turned out to be one of the most special places I’ve visited. One of the other guests has been returning for over 30 years!
SENKAKUWAN BAY (尖閣湾)
The bus wound back along the northern coast, with locals jumping on board every now and then. A kind man gifted me some curious omiyage (or souvenir) a stack of papers handwritten in Japanese. I’m looking forward to finding out their translation! I disembarked at Senkakuwan Bay, an area of coastline famous for its jagged rock formations. I wandered down to the edge and found a hiking trail, which offered stunning views. The sun glowed as it rose over the mountains behind me and out to the ocean. The trail took me between rice fields and the cliff edge and I loved having this dramatic place all to myself.
SENKAKUWAN TO AIKAWA
Given the narrow roads and precarious bends along the coast, it probably wasn’t the wisest idea but I decided to hike back to Aikawa. The views were incredible and the charming towns I wandered were so much more interesting on foot. Few people were awake at this hour, so the villages with their wooden houses felt unreal. Many buildings were sadly abandoned, though beautiful with vines crawling all over them. I passed terraced rice fields and shrines, all with views of the ocean.
AIKAWA TO SAWATA (佐和田)
Curious to see what the town of Sawata had to offer, I took a bus along the Kaifu Line. I wandered along the main shopping street, which was a mixture of shuttered businesses and the occasional clothing shop or bakery. It’s disheartening to see towns with so many places closed. I also swung by a local cafe I’d been planning to visit ever since I discovered Matsushiba-san, though he was sadly closed for the day!
MUMYOUIYAKI GYOKUDOU KAMAMOTO (玉堂窯元)
I strolled along the local beach, which sparkled so much it was blinding; before another pottery wheel class, this time at Mumyouiyaki Gyokudou Kamamoto. I’ve discovered each teacher has their own methods and it’s interesting learning different techniques. My instructor had an open approach; I was encouraged to try whatever I liked and he would chuckle and give me advice as I worked. Watching him craft things so quickly I was in awe. I could watch artisans like him all day, making such fine-tuned crafts look like a piece of cake.
SUWA SHRINE (諏訪神社)
The local Suwa Shrine was beautifully dappled in sunlight. With a large red gate and a number of buildings, I was drawn to the main shrine, a mint green color; something I’ve not seen before. Despite my dream of circling the whole coastline of Sado and the excellent bus network that goes most places, some lines only run once or twice a day – so it was time to head back to Ryotsu, winding back between the mountains.
RYOTSU TO NIIGATA
Before leaving, I found it difficult to choose my omiyage as always! Sado is famous for its gold and toki (crested ibis) along with produce such as persimmons, pears, rice, sake and butter. I ended up selecting some mochi, with the packaging winning me over. I boarded the next ferry bound for Niigata and crossed my fingers for a calmer ocean. I was in luck and scored some lovely views of Sado as it receded into the distance.
THE COFFEE TABLE
Back in Niigata I made a quick detour to The Coffee Table just before closing time. The interior is gorgeous, with concrete walls and modern industrial furniture. The menu includes sandwiches and treats like banana bread, along with goodies to take home like Prana Chai from Australia and Marou Chocolate from Vietnam. It’s a bustling space, with customers constantly coming and going. It was pleasure to meet the lovely owner and barista Wataru, who has also lived in Melbourne! My latte was perfect and well worth the visit.
On the shinkansen home, there was a beautiful sunset making it impossible to focus on reading my book. The patchwork of rice fields was dotted with wooden houses and campfires with farmers tending to them. In the distance the mountains faded to shades of blue before disappearing into the darkness. My trip was a memorable journey to a truly remote and very special place. I hope I can make it back someday!
I must confess that I only discovered Lattest Omotesando thanks to a Japanese television show. One of the contestants on the show works here and after seeing her pour a coffee – I was determined to visit. As the sister of Streamer Coffee Company, Lattest was opened with an aim to promote female baristas. Set back off the main street, look for the sandwich board out front and you’ll find an inviting industrial space inside. The coffee is rich, with intricate latte art to boot. Located just down the road from Maisen Aoyama, it is the perfect stop after lunch. They also have another location Lattest Azabu Juban that’s next on my list.
Each time we visit Melbourne, every meal is precious and we’re overwhelmed by the staggering number of new cafes and restaurants to explore. I love to spend hours researching these new places, only to find we usually end up wandering (a little clueless) for new discoveries instead. This is precisely how we ended up at Something More, whose pale pink exterior caught my eye from a block away. Entering, we didn’t even know what cuisine was on offer, but our hunger wasn’t going to let that stop us.
We were pleased to find it’s Asian and Korean-inspired with dishes full of chili and kimchi. We ordered the Shanghai Ball Sports (crunchy slow-roasted brisket balls, green chili and citrus slaw) and Ms Kims Euro Trip (crispy kimchi and pork waffle, topped with a pickled cucumber, spring onion salad and blue cheese mayo). Piled high, both dishes were incredibly tasty with surprising textures and strong flavors. The warehouse space is large and welcoming, filled with greenery and a regular rotation of featured art.
Whenever I travel, the one thing I will always hunt for is coffee. I love seeing how it’s treated and served in different cities and of course, I love to drink it too. On a recent trip to Nara, my considerable research led me to Minamo (ミナモ). On a lovely side street, my first visit was unlucky; I was disappointed to find the roller shutter closed with a note on the door. I returned the following day with more luck; the gorgeous storefront was open and overflowing with greenery.
Inside they offer a simple set menu and pour-over coffee in a perfectly minimal interior. Small groups of locals were chatting and relaxing in this serene hideaway. After watching the care that went into artfully making my coffee, I wanted to spend the whole afternoon. The attention to detail was lovely. The staff were incredibly kind, gracious and obliging, even allowing a quick portrait!
Hi Melbourne! We’ve been back visiting Australia for a week now, my first time outside of Japan in a year. While it’s overwhelming to be surrounded by English again, it’s nice to be back and making the most of the local coffee culture! Our first morning included a stop at Two Birds One Stone, a cafe in South Yarra.
In the chilly morning weather, we luckily scored the last two seats indoors despite the bustling crowd. Our social interactions have been a little awkward as we readjust to home (especially curbing the urge to bow at everyone) but the staff took it in their stride and were super friendly and warm. The lovely interior made me think of Loading Bay in Cape Town – the layout and styling are remarkably similar!
I was beside myself to see a menu full of smashed avocado and sautéed mushrooms on toast, so that’s exactly what we had. The avocado was served with cherry tomatoes and feta cheese; the mushrooms with pine nuts and poached eggs – both meals full of flavor and the perfect welcome back. The coffees hit the spot and were just the beginning of our Melbourne coffee mission. It’s good to be home!
The Roastery by Nozy Coffee is a single-origin coffee roaster, set back off the shopping thoroughfare Cat Street in Harajuku. Passing by the outdoor seating, you arrive at a dark interior with exposed wood and industrial fittings. A central counter handles coffee orders with the roasting equipment exposed out back. The menu changes daily, with beans from around the world available as delicious espressos, americanos and cafe lattes. They also have soft serve ice-cream in espresso and cafe latte flavors, along with pastries and donuts. Baristas are friendly and incredibly helpful, happy to guide you in choosing beans too!
Maisen is famous for having some of the best tonkatsu in Tokyo; breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet. They have many locations around Japan, but this flagship location is inside an old bath-house and still retains some of the original features and architecture today. There are many different spaces for dining, from the counter style seating downstairs to the traditional tatami floor seating upstairs. Menus are available in English, but are a compacted version of the Japanese one, so just point to order if you’re having trouble!
There are various grades of meat to choose from, along with different sides and set meals. The most classic order is a cutlet with sides shredded cabbage and rice, which have unlimited refills. The cutlets are simply incredible; crunchy and juicy at the same time. The accompanying sauce to be drizzled on top and is both sweet and salty, so tasty you can buy it bottled to take home. At peak hours, you can expect lines – so an outside a window also sells take out portions such as bentos and sandwiches to passers by. Not only my favorite tonkatsu in the city, but simply the best I’ve ever had.
Hailing from California, Blue Bottle Coffee have locations around the world and have developed a cult following in Japan. Despite it’s secluded location on a back street in Aoyama, when this store first opened there were lines out the door! The coffee shop is a sprawling open space above a clothing boutique, with a long outdoor terrace that looks out onto greenery. The ordering system is efficient, with an incredible number of baristas working busily behind the counter; preparing drip coffee, espressos and a range of snacks.
With a remote wilderness that is distinctly Scandinavian, it’s no wonder Iceland has become an incredibly popular destination in recent years. The capital Reykjavik is small (around 120,000 folks) yet one of the coolest cities on earth; full of creative souls, incredible food and world class design. I’m dying to return! For more photos of this wonderful place, see an overview of my trip and all my posts on the area.
GETTING THERE & AROUND
Icelandair – national airline, with free stopovers in Iceland when flying between the US and Europe. Keflavik Airport – the main airport in Iceland is outside of the city and has a pretty range of souvenirs. Flybus – 45 minute airport transfers between Keflavik to Reykjavik with free wifi included. Extreme Iceland – an excellent tour operator offering all kinds of amazing tours around the country. Kexland – also offers airport transfers and trips around the local area (ran by Kex Hostel). Strætó Bus – operates both local and long distance buses from the main bus terminal at Hlemmur.
Kex Hostel – hipster hostel in an old biscuit factory with private and dorm rooms overlooking the water. Bus Hostel – another hip hostel full of vintage decor, with private and dorm rooms on offer. Loft Hostel – contemporary hostel with amazing shared lounge space for working or relaxing. Hlemmur Square – a luxury hotel and upscale hostel, located right across from the main bus station. Centerhotel Thingholt – a chain of modern hotels owned by a local family, this one is in the city centre. 101 Hotel – this gorgeous luxury hotel has monochrome rooms and a collection of local art on display. Hotel Borg – old time elegance in the heart of the city, located near the famous cathedral. AirBNB – so many beautiful homes are available around the country, still my favorite way to travel.
The Blue Lagoon – outdoor geothermal spa, located close to Keflavik Airport. Perfect for watching a sunrise!
Hallgrímskirkja – the largest church in the country is an impressive piece of architecture, with great views. Hafnarhús – the Reykjavik Art Musuem is spread across 3 buildings, showing local and international artists. Harpa – this concert hall is another architectural icon, home to Iceland’s symphony orchestra and opera. Imagine Peace Tower – tower of light created by Yoko Ono in memory of John Lennon, open seasonally. i8 Gallery – an excellent gallery featuring the work of both local and international contemporary artists. Icelandic Phallological Museum – it’s a real thing, this museum has the worlds largest number of penises. Bio Paradis – an independent cinema screening art house releases, documentaries and other specialty films. Laugardalur Swimming Pool – this large pool complex is sprawling, with both indoor and outdoor pools. Sundhollin Swimming Pool – this indoor heated pool feels like a museum as it hasn’t changed in decades. Islenski Hesturinn – experience the tölt while riding beautiful Icelandic horses, gorgeous in the snow!
Reykjavik Roasters – with a couple of locations and offering various classes, these baristas know their coffee. The Laundromat Cafe – outpost of the Copenhagen original filled with a rainbow of books and nice brunches. Mokka Kaffi – midcentury interiors with copper lights at the oldest coffee shop in the city, try the waffles! Te og Kaffi – this chain of cafes can be found around the country; the translation is simple – tea and coffee. Puffin Coffee (closed) – Sverrir Sander sells coffee to passers-by out of his kitchen window for charity.
Grillmarkaðurinn – works with local farmers to offer items such as lobster, whale and puffin mini burgers. Sæmundur í Sparifötunum – inside the Kex Hostel, gastro pub with delicious burgers and Nordic craft beers. Fiskmarkaðurinn (Fish Market) – has a popular 10-course tasting menu that includes lamb and sashimi. Fiskfélagið (Fishcompany) – offers two distinct tasting menus, ‘Around Iceland’ and ‘Around the World’. Pearlan (The Pearl) – this dome shaped building offers views of the city and has a revolving restaurant.
Tiu Dropar Café – Grandma-style cafe with soup during the day and is a cozy wine bar in the evenings. Forréttabarinn – this gorgeous cafe specializes in a wide range of appetizers with a cocktail menu. Snaps – this French bistro and bar is often packed and lively, offering everything from bar snacks to steaks. Bergsson Mathús – vegetarian friendly with great breakfast plates; think rye bread, egg and sliced meats. Café Loki – traditional home-style food such as open sandwiches, meat soup, mashed fish and herring. Tapas Barinn – the Icelandic set menu (puffin, whale, salmon, prawn, char, lamb) has everything!
Hamborgarabúllan – order the ‘Offer of the Century’ at this quirky stand and enjoy a burger, fries and coke. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – famous for their hot dogs with crunchy onions; various stands around the city. Sægreifinn (Sea Baron) – started by a retired fisherman Kjartan Halldorsson, serves delicious lobster soup. Icelandic Fish and Chips – this British-inspired bistro offers fish of the day and hand cut potatoes. Noodle Station – a menu with thai noodle soup in three flavors – beef, chicken and vegetable. Vitabar – another burger bar; tucked away behind an unassuming exterior, try the blue-cheese burger. Isbudin Haaleitisbraut – ice cream shop with a wide range of flavors and toppings such as licorice!
Mikkeller and Friends – from the Danish brewer, this circus-themed interior houses 20 beers on tap. Kaldi Bar and Café – this Icelandic micro brewery serves their own beers on tap alongside light pub food. Micro Bar – this bar offers a wide range of brews, check their website to see what’s currently on tap. Slippbarinn – vintage styled space within the Icelandair Marina Hotel with a cocktail menu and pub grub. Kaffibarinn – a long standing watering hole, full of candlelit tables, part-owned by Damon Albarn. Prikið – this dollhouse-style building is a coffee shop by day and bustling bar by night with live music.
Geysir – my favorite store in the city; everything is absolutely beautiful from the clothing to the homewares. Hrim Honnunar Hus – a totally gorgeous homewares store, where I pretty much want everything! Spark Design Space – filled with all kinds of pretty design objects with a rolling exhibition program. Kiosk – high end boutique featuring clothing by 8 local fashion designers, who take turns running the store. Designer’s Pop Up Market – annual market with local designers goods, held at Harpa during Christmas. Tiger – this Scandinavian chain can be found around the globe, full of all things cute and cheap. 12 Tónar – take a free espresso, settle in and listen to some records while you shop in this music store. Rauði Krossinn – (The Red Cross Shop) – my favorite second hand treasure trove ran by the sweetest ladies. Hertex (Salvation Army Shop) – fingers crossed and you might find an Icelandic sweater or lopapeysa. Kolaporið (Flea Market) – this flea market is open on weekends; a mixture of vintage and handmade goods. Spuutnik – second hand clothing store with selected pieces, think vintage kimonos and birks. Bónus Supermarket – for all your essentials (and local candy) this is the main supermarket in town!
Golden Circle – popular tourist trail that includes a national park, waterfall and the original geysir. Jökulsárlón – large glacial lake, where chunks of ice float out to sea and are washed up again on the shore. Vatnajökull (Vatna) – covers 8% of Iceland and is incredible; hike across or explore the crystal caves beneath. Vik – picturesque town famous for its black sand beaches and iconic white church on the hill.
Viðey – an inhabited island close to the city with a Richard Serra installation, take the Elding ferry. Sólheimasandur – this abandoned airplane wreckage on a black sand beach has become iconic. Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) – elusive but dazzling display of light that can be found during winter. Midnight Sun – during summer the sun can set after midnight, meaning there is very little darkness!
Reykjavik Grapevine – this lifestyle magazine covers news, culture, events and travel better than anyone! Visit Reykjavik – official tourist site for the city; includes accommodation listings, attractions and activities. Visit Iceland – official tourist site for the country; a great reference for planning travel outside of the city.
Quick guides are condensed city guides that outline my favorite places in a city. I love to spend hours researching for incredible places to visit, so this is a way to share my finds. Happy travels!
Located in Omotesando, Café Kitsuné is one of my favorite coffee spots in Tokyo. Created by Paris-based fashion and music label Maison Kitsuné, it’s set back off a quiet street where you pass a courtyard of bamboo and palms before entering a space that is both dark and traditional. Lots of exposed wood and mirrors are mixed with an eclectic selection of wallpapers to create a cozy interior in this former Japanese home.
Espresso shots are poured from a Slayer machine by friendly baristas who certainly know their coffee. The menu also includes pour-over drinks, matcha lattes, simple baguettes and sweet snacks such as fox-shaped butter cookies, a nice touch as kitsune translates to fox. The atmosphere is always warm; from calm during the week to bustling on weekends, with a changing crowd of locals and tourists alike.
There are all kinds of ways to meet the local animals in Japan, including cafes such as Owl Village, parks like Jigokudani Monkey Park and islands such as Okunoshima and Tashirojima, famous for their populations of bunnies and cats. One of my recent trips started with a visit to such a place; Zao Fox Village in Shiroishi, a sanctuary famous for it’s population of over 100 foxes roaming around.
Foxes (kitsune) are revered in Japanese folklore, where they are often considered both intelligent and magical. In yokai culture (dealing with supernatural beings) they can even shapeshift into human form. They’re also a special figure in religion and kitsune statues are often be found protecting Shinto shrines.
The village is home to six breeds of this adored animal in all their various colors. After paying the ¥1,000 admission fee and purchasing optional pellets to feed them for ¥100, you enter a petting zoo area which includes other animals such as goats and bunnies. From there you enter the sanctuary, a large open area where you walk around freely among the foxes and can feed them from a raised platform.
I loved being able to watch the foxes so closely, despite my nerves as they’re wild animals after all. Many of them were sleepy and lazy, curled up in the sun or piled together in huts around the park. The park has mixed reviews for obvious reasons, but from what I saw they seemed well cared for. They showed their true colors when it came to food, but otherwise were relatively uninterested in the visitors around them.
Located in Miyagi prefecture, the fastest way to get to Zao Fox Village from Tokyo is via the Yamabiko Shinkansen to Shiroishizao, which takes 109 minutes at ¥10,350 per adult, one way. From there it’s a 20 minute cab drive through the mountains to the village, around ¥4,000 each way. I’d love to return some day and see these cute little guys when the park is blanketed in snow!
Most famous for its collection of contemporary art museums, Naoshima is a small island located in Kagawa Prefecture. With many buildings designed by Tadao Ando, incredible works on display and breathtaking views – it’s the perfect fusion of architecture, art and landscape. For more photos of this lovely island, see an overview of our trip during Silver Week and all my posts on the area.
GETTING THERE & AROUND
Nozomi Shinkansen – 3 hours 20 mins from Tokyo to Okayama at ¥17,340 per adult, one way. JR Uno Line – around 1 hour via local train from Okayama to Uno for ¥570. Shikoku Kisen Ferry – 20 minutes from Uno Port to Miyanoura Port for ¥290. Runs 13 times a day.
Note: Naoshima is hilly, so most places are best reached by electric bike! The Miyanoura Port area has coin lockers and rental places (Cafe Ougiya, Little Plum) with bikes around ¥500 a day.
There are three main areas on the island of Naoshima.
Miyanoura – the main port includes outdoor sculptures, restaurants and bars but no major galleries. Honmura – includes another port, temples, restaurants and the Art House Project. Benesse House Area – in the south of the island, this is where the major art galleries are located.
Shimacoya – indoor tent camping on tatami in a cute community space in the Honmura area. Benesse House – incredible boutique hotel within the museum itself, rooms are adorned with art. Tsutsujiso Lodge – camp in a yurt, trailer or room on the beach in the Benesse House area. Dormitory in Kowloon – a basic but comfortable hostel close the ferry port in Miyanoura. Naoshima Accommodation – a full list of guest house options, published by the tourist centre.
Note: Accommodation often books out in advance, especially during Silver and Golden Weeks.
Chi Chu Art Museum – the most incredible museum experience! Designed by Tadao Ando. Lee Ufan Museum – a tranquil space, partially set underground and surrounded by sculptures. Benesse House – sprawling museum and hotel, with work displayed both indoors and outdoors. Yayoi Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin – playful yellow and black spotted sculpture, an icon of Naoshima. Art House Project – a collection of 7 abandoned spaces, converted into art experiences. Ando Museum – documents the architects incredible work around the island of Naoshima. I Love Yu – local sento (or public bathhouse) which is also an artwork in itself. Naoshima Noren Project – display of contemporary noren across doorways to preserve local scenery. Setouchi Triennale – contemporary art festival held three times a year, across 12 islands in the region.
Note: All Naoshima museums are closed on Mondays, so don’t plan a visit then!
Cafe Ougiya – located inside the Miyanoura ferry terminal, serving excellent iced lattes. Shimacoya – this accomodation also has a coffee stall, book market and sells second hand ceramics
Shioya Diner – rock and roll themed diner with a western menu featuring charcoal Cajun chicken. Cafe Salon Nakaoku – dark and cozy Japanese restaurant hidden in a residential neighborhood. Cin Na Mon – a curry cafe and bar that can get lively and rather fun at night. Little Plum – with an outdoor deck, offers set lunch plates and seasonal menus in the evenings. Chichu Cafe – serving simple sandwiches, overlooking the beautiful Seto Inland Sea. Cafe Konichiwa – the kind of relaxed place where you can enjoy home style Japanese cooking. Ishii Shouten – cheap and cheerful udon restaurant, rather popular with locals. Yamamato Udon – popular udon place, only open for lunches. On our to-do list for next time.
Note: Many restaurants close rather early so plan ahead, it’s a sleepy fishing island after all!
Teshima – a nearby art island, with it’s own scattering of impressive art museums and cafes. Inujima – another modern art site, this island is smaller and can be explored entirely on foot. Okayama – the capital city of Okayama prefecture, home to the famous Korakuen Garden. Takamatsu – the capital city of Kagawa prefecture and an alternative way to access Naoshima.
Quick guides are condensed city guides that outline my favorite places in a city. I love to spend hours researching for incredible places to visit, so this is a way to share my finds. Happy travels!