Monday, April 1, 2019

THEPENGYO IN JAPAN Part 5: What to Do in Less than 24 Hours in Osaka

A bustling street in Dotonbori Osaka Japan

I never planned on visiting Osaka, but this ended up being one of the highlights of my trip. That whole thing about planning versus not planning? Turns out that no matter how extensively you plan your trip, things like the train selling out days in advance can happen to you, leaving you unable to get back to Tokyo when you wanted to. Me being a crazy person figured that I could just make a stopover in Osaka, go out all night, and take a nap in an internet cafe rather than find a place to sleep (and waste money).

Thanks to the Couchsurfing app, I was able to meet with some awesome and equally-as-adventurous folks to spend the entire night with. You haven't really gone to Japan if you haven't seen the sun rise over a city, youth stumbling out onto the streets as the first trains begin their roars. Thus, my plan sounded slightly less insane once I framed it as, "Things I Need To Do While In Japan."

A cute dog on the Osaka metro

The cutest dog on the Osaka metro.

Journeying by train from Okayama, I finally arrived at Shin-Osaka station around 9PM. I decided to lock my backpack in a coin locker nearby, packing a few toiletries and essentials for the night, as well as my camera. Then I hopped onto a local train headed for Namba. Things were still bustling, with students and youth starting their late dinners and Chinese tourists just finishing up their cosmetics shopping on Dotonbori. After some coordination with my new Couchsurfing friends, it was finally time to begin the night.

Anything Drink You Wish at Bar Nayuta

Speakeasy bar with punk cocktails at Bar Nayuta Osaka Japan

We decided to find some drinks, and ended up at Cinquecento. It was basically an American dive bar, seemingly airdropped into the middle of Osaka. Cheap drinks, sticky tables, the whole lot. Needless to say, we didn't stay very long. We picked up one more couchsurfer and headed to our next destination - a well-known hidden bar called Bar Nayuta. While it is already a popular "hidden" destination, it was still challenging to find. Spoiler alert: it's in a lit-up building with a shady lift that you take to the 5th floor or so. Which building, you'll have to figure out for yourself.

At Bar Nayuta, there is no menu. Just a very knowledgeable bartender who will make you any drink based on what flavor profiles you ask him for. It's definitely not the place for people who can't really differentiate their liquors; don't order something like a Sex On The Beach unless you'd like a healthy serving of eyeroll. If you're a cocktail enthusiast, you'll be in heaven. If you're a heavy metal rock enthusiast, make that a double.

Bar Nayuta: Bottoms up at this punk-inspired hole in the wall atop a nondescript building. Come thirsty, come creative. 
Address1-6-17 Nishishinsaibashi, Chuo-ku | Mario Bldg. 5FOsaka 542-0086, Osaka Prefecture
Hours: 17:00 - 03:00 daily

Seafood izakaya in Osaka Japan

The bartender at Bar Nayuta recommended we try an all-night seafood izakaya, which we happily went to and indulged in grilled fish, sushi, and skewers while partaking in the usual late-night rambling topics. At some point, we all yawned and stepped out into the warm summer morning air, realizing that the sun was indeed rising. I stumbled into the internet cafe that I had scoped out earlier and promptly bought a seat.

Budget Stay: Internet Cafe

Budget accommodation at popeye mediacafe in Osaka Japan
The blankets in Popeye Cafe Osaka Japan internet cafe
Seat for sleeping in at Popeye Mediacafe Osaka Japan

Let me talk real quick about Popeye Cafe, an amazing institution which offers seats, corners, and even entire tatami mats for hardcore internet gamers and weary partygoers alike. This place is LEGIT. Open 24 hours a day, you'll be able to fulfil most of your basic needs by paying a few hundred yen for a set amount of hours. The most basic package gets you a plush seat which unlocks access to a few blankets, a pillow, toilet, and unlimited beverages. Upgrade for a sofa -- or if you're really balling out, a tatami mat room. I think I paid around 600 yen for a few hours; I had walked in around 5am and wanted to catch some sleep, albeit very little. Far more worth it than paying 3000 yen+ for a hostel room which I'd only have stayed in for a few hours anyway. The next time I'm visiting a city in Japan for one night, I am definitely taking advantage of internet cafes.

Mediacafe Popeye Dotonbori: An internet cafe to some, a refuge in the night for others.
Address:  DiO BOX, 1 Chome-2-1 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka-fu 542-0071

Hours: 24/7

Morning Stroll

Shuttered stores in Shinsekai market with a view of Tsutenkaku Tower

Awakening from my slumber at the internet cafe, I took a walk to Shinsekai, a market seemingly preserved in the folds of time. Although not many stores were open at 8AM, it was still a lovely stroll (and nice to be around relatively few people). You'll find super retro, 80s-looking storefronts, little knick-knacks and snacks perfect for souvenirs, and glowing arcades. I munched on a few mochi and bought myself some premium grade tea at a small kiosk. Closeby is the iconic Tsutenkaku Tower, which is a lovely sight in itself. While I enjoyed a daytime view of the tower against a beautiful blue sky, I can only imagine the exciting pulsating energy of the entire area when it glows in the night.

An old fried snacks store in Shinsekai area of Osaka Japan
A tasty corn fritter for breakfast in Osaka Japan

Nearby Shinsekai is a famous snack shop selling fried sticks of corn and glutinous dough. Not sure exactly what it's called, but they're actually quite a nice snack. If you go early enough in the morning, an ancient old lady will fry it for you fresh. Once you've gotten your snack fill, it's time to explore the rest of the city.

Must-See: Namba Yasaka Shrine

The intimidating entrance to Namba Yasaka Shrine in Osaka Japan
The lion's mouth opening at Namba Yasaka Shrine in Osaka Japan
Another angle to view the iconic Namba Yasaka Shrine in Osaka Japan

Next, I headed to the rather impressive Namba Yasaka Shrine, a Buddhist shrine in the shape of a very intimidating lion. The kind of lion that would make DJ Khaled proud. Everything in the shrine is - go figure - lion-themed. Aside from the mythical-looking lion that composes the main shrine, there are several other smaller lion statuettes scattered around the complex. For those looking for a dose of good luck, this is the place to be; the large lion's mouth swallows bad luck and evil spirits alike. 

The iconic shrine is one of its kind; I'd imagine it attracts quite the number of tourists, so early morning is the perfect place to go. It's perfectly tucked away in the city; while only a few minutes from Nankai Station, it still feels a bit hidden. Walk around a few residential streets and suddenly you'll hit it. Makes for an even more satisfying experience - like finding a hidden gem in the middle of bustling Osaka. 

Shopper's Paradise: Dotonbori

Ebusu-bashi bridge view against a beautiful blue sky in Osaka Japan
A specialty ceramics shop in Dotonbori Osaka Japan
A specialty store for food replicas found in Dotonbori Osaka Japan
A bustling shopping street in Dotonbori Osaka Japan

Dotonbori is where you want to be for everything consumptive - shopping, eating, drinking. There are probably more Chinese people than Japanese people here; walk into any beauty store and the attendants will likely be able to converse in fluent Chinese with you. While beauty shopping is always fun, what I found far more interesting were the specialty stores, selling extremely specific items. One store, for example, specializes in fake plastic imitation foods that restaurants often put on display in their storefronts. Another sold only ceramics. Yet another sold Japanese banner art and calligraphy. While you might not purchase anything from these shops, they're so much fun to poke through and ponder upon. 

In Dotonbori you will also find the famous Glico man - an iconic light-up advertisement dating back over 70 years. Stop by the Ebusu-bashi bridge and throw a Glico pose for the gram, or watch the other 20 tourists hilariously attempt the same. 

Premium Coffee Break: LiLo Coffee Roasters

A barista dressed in a kimono making manual brew coffee at LiLo Coffee Roasters Osaka Japan
Manual brew black coffee from LiLo Coffee Roasters Osaka Japan
Fluffy and light matcha chocolate cheesecake from LiLo Coffee Roasters in Osaka Japan

Need a getaway from the hustle and bustle of Dotonbori? Look no further than LiLo Coffee Roasters, a local coffee chain that takes its coffee real seriously. Aside from your classic milk-based drinks, you can also select some high quality beans of your choice and have your coffee black. I ended up with an amazingly smooth cup of coffee served in delicate porcelain, as well as a perfectly fluffy matcha cheese cake on a golden plate. Talk about a classy coffee experience.

LiLo Coffee Roasters can be found in several locations; the one I visited was tucked away upstairs in the second floor of a buliding in Dotonbori. The wooden interior, polite service, and kimono'd woman whipping out manual brews made the experience all the more special.

Okonomiyaki Time!

The takeaway storefront of Ajinoya Okonomiyaki in Osaka Japan
A closeup of the okonomiyaki from Ajinoya in Osaka Japan
Capturing the swirl of Ajinoya Okonomiyaki in Osaka Japan

Ajinoya Okonomiyaki is possibly the best okonomiyaki I've ever eaten. I'm not sure why exactly: the thick chunks of pork? The perfectly crisp edges of batter? The proportion of cabbage? Their secret sauce on top? Nobody knows, but everybody comes to this spot for okonomiyaki in Osaka and for good reason. The shop actually has two locations - a main location which always has a huge line, and a small takeout shop a few doors down with limited seating but no line. No idea why so many people were lining up for 30 minutes to an hour in the hot summer heat when they could have just walked a few meters down and gotten the same okonomiyaki, but hey to each their own. 

Ajinoya Okonomiyaki: Flavor-bomb of goodness. Get. This. Okonomiyaki. Queue optional.
Address1-7-16 Namba, Chuo-kuOsaka 542-0076, Osaka Prefecture
Hours: Tuesday - Friday 12PM - 10PM; Saturday & Sunday 11:30AM - 10PM; closed Mondays.

Live cooking at Okonomiyaki Mizuno in Osaka Japan
Fried gyoza from Mizuno Okonomiyaki in Osaka Japan
One pork okonomiyaki from Mizuno in Osaka Japan

Another tasty place is Okonomiyaki Mizuno, located in Dotonbori. I arrived at their doors at about 9PM or so, and there was still a line; if I weren't one person, I likely wouldn't have been able to wait it out. I got seated at the grill and watched as the chefs mesmerisingly rolled out one okonomiyaki after another. The okonomiyaki here are thick, with big slabs of bacon slices topping a generous bunch of yakisoba noodles. 

Also recommended were the gyoza here, which are an interesting triangular shape. Super crispy, but a bit on the salty side. I'd stick to the okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki Mizuno: Tasty okonomiyaki, cooked and served live on a teppan grill
Address1-4-15 Dotombori, Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0071, Osaka Prefecture
Hours: 11AM - 9PM

What I really love about Osaka compared to Tokyo is how much more down-to-earth it feels. There's far less glitz and glamour, and many more people just living their damn lives. And that feels great. While only there for less than a day, I can safely say that Osaka is a city worth visiting. Many would say choose either Tokyo or Osaka, as both are quite similar. However I'd recommend both -- Osaka has great vibes, amazing food, a ton of shopping, and some real retro happenings all around. Add Osaka to your travel plans, whether for a couple of days or just for a few hours. You won't regret it!


And that's a wrap on this Japan series -- I hope you've found it to be informative! Miss a story? Not to worry! To read my other posts, check out these links: Tokyo, Nara, Koya-san, & Naoshima

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Silhouette & Chill: Cold Weather Looks Without Compromising Shape and Style

Full body of slim winter look in NYC

Ah, winter. The colder air can mean so many things to so many people. To some, it's a signalling to new beginnings, holidays, get-togethers. To others, it's just four months of pure misery. Me, I like a good winter. Not face-numbingly cold, but cold enough to feel uncomfortable enough to huddle under layers and layers of blankets, coats, and scarves. I love that winter months allow you to layer different textures, fabrics, and looks to create unique silhouettes that are oftentimes unattainable in the prohibitively hot summer months. During my time back home in New York, I was finally able to don my much-missed winter wardrobe and power walk through the streets with the assurance that no motorbike taxis would run me over. Here are a few ways you can style a winter wardrobe without losing shape and form.

1. The Museum-Goer

Walking upper east side streets of NYC in winter
Sunset and traffic in NYC winter upper east side
Architecture details of a building in upper east side NYC
Hats off in NYC upper east side ootd manhattan
Blue door and beret on in upper east side NYC manhattan
Side angle ootd near Morgan Library in NYC manhattan
Upper details winter outfit NYC manhattan
Shoes and bottom details winter NYC lookbook
Winter traffic and bluster in NYC manhattan
Quick turn around yellow cab outfit nyc winter manhattan

Black beret | Mom's closet
Peacoat | Uniqlo
Pullover dress | Streetwear shop in Seoul
Black mock turtleneck | Mom's closet
Boots | Zara

This look is all about long, feminine silhouettes. I chose this mustard pullover dress for a few reasons. First, the fabric is a thick suede - it can stand its own against the cold. The length is long enough to look elegant without looking frumpy; in fact, paired with a peacoat there is a nice lengthening effect involved. The dress design itself keeps everything playful and young - a bright pop of yellow never hurt anybody and will be sure to make you stand out when the rest of the city is in drab blacks, greys, and whites. 

In Jakarta, I usually layer this dress over a casual t-shirt for a fun, Asian-inspired vibe. For museum-hopping in New York, I wanted to level up the dress by pairing it with a sleek mock turtleneck. Some comfy black knee-high socks and boots help maintain a dark palette while keeping in the warmth. No heels, no worries, since this combo will give the illusion of long, slim legs without compromising on comfort. Trust me, museums in heels are no fun.

Slap on a beret to keep your crown warm, apply a bright lipstick, and you're ready to hit town. 

2. Structured and Sleek

Pink hair and floral blazer look in chelsea harbour NYC winter
Hair fix with floral blazer in chelsea harbour NYC manhattan
Side look winter lookbook blazer chelsea manhattan NYC

Blazer | H&M
Dress | H&M
Boots | Vintage

Winter months don't have to mean giving up your favorite crisp, sharp lines. Find a blazer that can double as a statement piece and you'll be good to go. Underneath, keep it simple and neutral - something that won't clash. In this look, we kept it all black with a form-fitting black sweater dress, black tights, and knee-high black pleather boots. Up top, we chose a funky floral blazer. It lends structure to the look while keeping things warm. Instant transformation, from the usual all-black to an up-beat, androgynous vibe. It's definitely more of a fall-to-winter or winter-to-spring transition outfit, but the great thing about blazers is that they're slim enough to throw on a few extra layers over them. Or, if you aren't afraid of the cold, feel free to prance around without the coat. You do you. 

3. Oversized Everything 

Sitting on bench with layers of plaid and tartan in NYC chelsea
Outfit full body chelsea plaid red oversize NYC manhattan winter
Winter oversize sunglasses winking coat NYC winter
Side angle on bench sitting NYC chelsea winter ootd
Strolling on waterfront in NYC winter layering
Knit details and plaid oversize NYC winter outfit

Oversize coat hood up in NYC manhattan chelsea

Oversized plaid coat | Vintage
Green plaid shirt | Tokyo
Knit crop top | Goosefoot
Skirt | South Korea

A fan of bundling up but don't want to look like you've just been swallowed by a blanket monster? Try pairing oversized coats with long, slimming bottoms. This red plaid coat is one of my all-time favorites. It's effortlessly oversized but in all the right places. You know what I mean. There are some oversized pieces that will drown you in fabric, hitting you in all the wrong spots. Then there are those oversized pieces that make you look like you walked out of a normcore Pinterest board.

I decided to layer up with this green tartan shirt. It's a loose-fitting piece that runs long, which makes it the optimal layering piece. Plus, the extra pockets and warmth don't hurt. Combined with the jacket's red and green tones, they act almost like inverses of one another. Underneath that is a cozy knit crop-top with yellow button details. I love how whimsical it is; the yellow buttons give it almost a faded 70s vibe, while the intricate knit pattern make it texturally rich and delicate despite its material. Afraid of wearing a crop top during the cold months? Just pair with a high-waisted piece and you're all set. In this case, I wore this cozy midi skirt made of sweater material. The slits on the side give you mobility, and the athletic-style side details lend to the casualness of the look.

And don't forget - it may be cold out, but the sun still shines. Put on a pair of sunnies to protect your eyes from the glare (or to glare at other people while they walk slowly in front of you).


And that's a wrap on these winter looks, shot in the one and only New York City. What was your favorite outfit? How do you like to dress for the cold months? Or are you someone who lives in a warmer climate and are longing to layer? Let me know your thoughts!

Monday, March 11, 2019

THEPENGYO IN JAPAN Part 4: Naoshima Island - An Art Lover's Paradise

A yellow Yayoi Kusama pumpkin on Naoshima Island Japan

Yayoi Kusama pumpkins in front of the sea? An island literally filled with art? Bike-friendly streets? How have I not been here earlier?

Naoshima Island is an art lover's paradise. Originally an industrial site, the town has been transformed into a cultural gem, housing a diverse range of international and local contemporary works. These works can be seen in museums, in open air galleries, and in special art projects scattered along the coasts. A perfectly bike-able island, it is a quaint and thoroughly enjoyable getaway from city life.

GETTING THERE: Over Land, Over Sea

A glimpse of the Japanese countryside with its rolling green hills and short houses en route to Naoshima Island Japan

Getting to the island itself is a real journey. There are probably a dozen other blog posts detailing how to get's my take. Get to Shin Osaka Station somehow. From there, take the shinkansen to Okayama Station, where you can transfer to a train headed for Uno Station. At Uno, you walk to the ferry waiting room where you can buy tickets. Here, beware -- check where the boat is leaving. The boat bound for Honmura departs at some undisclosed location with zero signage, while the boat for Miyanoura departs in front of the ferry waiting room (as it should). This caused me to miss not one, but two boats.

A view of the islands from Uno Port en route to Naoshima Island Japan

While it was at least a scenic wait, it wasn't so nice to cut it so close. The last ferry to Miyanoura Port departs from Uno at 00:35, while the last ferry to Honmura departs at 18:35. However, the hostels and accommodation on the island may have a last check-in time; in our hostel's case, it was at 19:00. Be sure to notify your accommodation of your arrival time, lest you're locked out. In addition, if you miss the last Honmura ferry, you will have to catch a bus from Miyanoura to Honmura, which is on the other side of the island. The last bus departs at 20:45. If you cannot make this, you must walk - which isn't too bad. It takes about 20-30 minutes depending on your pace; however, be mindful that lighting is limited in this small town.

The interior of the ferry liners that service the Uno to Naoshima route

The boat itself is quite nice, equipped with indoor air conditioned seating, plush sofas, and vending machines serving a variety of beverages and snacks. Upstairs there is a lovely deck with open seating and even sculptures for your viewing pleasure. I would recommend a deck seat, as the view pulling into Naoshima with a big red Yayoi Kusama pumpkin greeting you is definitely memorable.

The full schedules for the ferries can be found here. The bus schedules can be found here.

STAY: Naoshima Backpackers Guesthouse in Honmura

Backpacker hostel we stayed at on Naoshima Island Japan

A boat pier in Honmura near the hostel on Naoshima Island Japan

If you're looking for budget accommodation options, check out Naoshima Backpackers Guesthouse. Located next to Honmura port, it is a cute and cozy hostel with boho vibes. Each guest is assigned their own capsule bed, which are comfortable and clean. There are two bathrooms for guests to share, and a full kitchen. Since you presumably won't be in the hostel for very long, it is a pretty decent option in terms of both price and comfort. Plus, you get a lovely view of the harbour every time you step out.

Naoshima Backpackers Guesthouse: Budget accommodation for the free-spirited and relatively broke.
Address: 761-3110 Kagawa, Naoshima, 845-9, Japan
Price: 3300 yen / night (~US 29)
**Note: Check in before 7PM!


The beautiful seaside vista lining Naoshima Island Japan

A cliffside view seen on a bicycle route in Naoshima.

I highly recommend folks to rent a bike to get around Naoshima. Yes, there are shuttle buses, but why be tied to a schedule when you can explore on your own time? The entire stretch of the island can feasibly be biked across in 25 minutes; it's pretty flat for the most part as well. What I wouldn't recommend doing is biking through the Benesse museum areas, which are far hillier and difficult to park. Because they close off certain paths to bikers, you are forced to use a very steep path to get from one museum to the next; we ended up pushing our bikes in the hot sun to get from point A to point B. Everything else is fair game, though. 

Bikes are easily rented at both Miyanoura and Honmura ports. Pricing is similar across rentals; it will run you 500 yen per day to rent.

BREKKIE TIME: Breakfast in Honmura

A delicious western style Japanese breakfast in a Honmura Cafe on Naoshima Island Japan
Happy and content eating breakfast in Honmura on Naoshima Island Japan

Start off your day right and eat breakfast at one of the many cute cafes in Honmura. Most things open around 8AM, and there are a few good options around. We opted for this cute and homey cafe with both Japanese and Western breakfast options. My set included toast, eggs, salad, yogurt with honey, and an amazing yuzu tea. I loved the relaxing vibes, the sunlight hitting the wooden table, the delicate meal and the care put into it. 

LUNCH BREAK: Bukkake Udon(?!) at Kinosaki Udon

Delicious bukkake udon found in Kinosaki Udon on Naoshima Island Japan
Outside of Kinosaki Udon in Miyanoura Naoshima Island Japan

Specializing in bukkake udon (not a joke - it's real!), this joint is the real deal. The noodles are freshly handmade. You can definitely tell by their perfectly chewy yet doughy texture. You simply order a size at the counter (a small is plenty enough; larger size just means more noodles), pick up any additional skewers or toppings you want, and add your own scallions. It's cheap, good quality, and fast. Get there before 3PM, which is when the place closes. They'll likely sell out before then, though.

Kinosaki Udon: A no-frills udon place with amazingly fresh udon. Local beer available.
Address2071-4, Naoshima-cho, Kagawa-gun 761-3110, Kagawa Prefecture

Hours: Friday - Wednesday 11:00 - 15:00, closed Thursdays

DINNER: Late Night Diner & Local Beers at Shioya Diner

The kitschy quirky interior of Shioya Cafe in Miyanoura Port Naoshima Island Japan

All smiles before eating tacos at Shioya Diner on Naoshima Island Japan
A rare bottle of hotsauce from Shioya Diner in Naoshima Island Japan
A shot of the interior at SHioya Diner on Naoshima Island Japan
Moomint at Shioya Diner in Naoshima Island Japan
Tex mex style tacos at Shioya Diner on Naoshima Island Japan

Fun fact: Thursday is, for some strange reason, a vacation day on Naoshima Island. Meaning if you go on a Thursday, chances are most things will be closed. While finding this out after missing two ferries in a row was a real bummer, we luckily found that some savvy restauranteurs kept their establishments open precisely for this situation.

One of those establishments happens to be Shioya Diner, a retro, spunky Americana diner which seems almost misplaced on the tiny island. The seafoam green walls are lined with memorabilia, old posters, and fruit-patterned curtains. A kindly woman runs the counter, where you order directly; we split a platter of Tex-Mex style tacos which were honestly not half bad. Plus they have hot sauce! Wash down your American-inspired meal with some local craft beers, and you've got yourself a good time.

Shioya Diner: A kitschy diner experience with delicious local brews.
Address: Japan, 〒761-3110 Kagawa Prefecture, Kagawa District, Naoshima, 2227
Hours: Saturday - Thursday, 17:00 - 20:45 (last order at 20:00), closed on Fridays

Explore: Honmura

A beautiful palm tree in the neighborhood of Honmura Naoshima Island Japan

A cute design in front of a house in Honmura Naoshima Island Japan
A beautiful sunset from Honmura on Naoshima Island Japan
A beautiful and dark sunset at Honmura port Naoshima Island Japan
The ceiling and beams of a bicycle rack in Honmura Naoshima Island Japan

Sunny streets of Honmura in Naoshima Island Japan
The streets of Honmura at sunset on Naoshima Island Japan
A mysterious sculpture lining Honmura port in Naoshima Island Japan
A general storefront on the streets of Honmura on Naoshima Island Japan

The Honmura neighborhood is an adorable and quaint enclave of art and cafes. Walking around the narrow streets, you'll find short houses, Bali-esque shops and restaurants, and a lovely path lining the port. Honmura is also home to the Art House Project, one of the main things to see in Naoshima. Whether you're there to visit the art or to grab a bite, the neighborhood's good vibes and winding lanes make for a lovely afternoon of exploring. It's the tiny, subtle things that will delight your heart here.

Honmura Art House Project

This was probably one of my favorite art concepts by far. Essentially, several old houses around the island are transformed into entire art concepts. That's right. Using neighborhood architecture, the most mundane buildings are repurposed into meaningful and thought-provoking art work.  Stepping into each of the houses was like finding an easter egg, which upon opening seemingly revealed some sort of revelation about the human condition.

To access these works, you must first buy a ticket at the Honmura Lounge. Single site (410 yen per site) and multi-site package tickets (1030 yen for  all houses except Kinza) are available. The multi-site is ideal if you'd like to visit every house; otherwise, it's not worth your money. Keep in mind that last entry for these houses is at 16:15; you'll be on a bit of a time crunch if you start too late. I ended up sprinting between houses in an attempt to visit them all.

Contemporary art in traditional houses - Honmura art house project on Naoshima Island Japan

Kadoya: An unassuming traditional house on the outside, this contemporary installation is breathtaking once you enter. The floor is completely covered in water, with bright LED lights floating on top. Each light is a number, indicative of time. It feels as if you've entered another dimension, where time has completely warped. 

The outdoor shrine as part of the Honmura Art House Project Naoshima Island Japan
An installation from the Honmura Art House Project in Naoshima Island Japan
A magical forest tree arch leading up to one of the Honmura art house projects on Naoshima Island Japan

Go'o Shrine: Tucked away in a forest, you must walk through a lovely cliffside path with arching trees and stone torii arches to get to this installation. You are handed a flashlight and allowed to crawl into a tunnel, where you can see the shrine through a completely different perspective.

Crazy architecture and design of a Honmura Art House on Naoshima Island Japan

Haisha: Formerly the home of a local dentist, this crazy structure pops both inside and out. Each room has its own concept; one is painted completely black, while another houses a replica Statue of Liberty within its walls. You'll find the most bizarre things on the wall, from satirical cartoons to 1970s Americana memorabilia. 

Honmura Art House Project: A creative concept transforming neighborhood fixtures into contemporary art.
Hours: 10:00 - 16:30 (last entry at 16:15) Tuesday - Sunday (closed Mondays)

MUSEUMS: Benesse Art Complex

You can't visit Naoshima and not visit the Benesse art museums. This is where the most impressive art museums are concentrated. International art works are curated and displayed in a wonderfully tasteful manner, in buildings that are so impressive architecturally that they may as well be considered as artworks themselves. Photos are virtually not allowed in any of the museums, but here are a few snapshots of outdoor installations to give you an idea:

Benesse House Museum:

A yellow Yayoi Kusama pumpkin in Benesse outdoor sculpture gallery Naoshima Island Japan
A lone chair looking out into the ocean near Benesse House on Naoshima Island Japan
A fun camel sculpture in Benesse outdoor sculpture garden Naoshima Island Japan
Metallic square sculpture in Benesse outdoor sculpture gallery Naoshima Island Japan
Reading up with a sculpture in Benesse Museum Naoshima Island Japan
A perspective work in Benesse art museum Naoshima Island Japan

It is at Benesse House's lovely open air sculpture park where one of the famous Yayoi Kusama pumpkins can be found sitting against the waters near the Benesse gift shop. The sight is truly magical, with waves crashing behind the bright, yellow icon. Many of us have likely seen a Yayoi Kusama indoors, but outdoors in the open? Now that's something worth talking about. 

Further along is the Benesse Museum, which holds a moderate-sized collection of contemporary and international works. I particularly loved the layout of the museum, which winds and loops around itself, lending a special spatial context to the artwork it houses. My favorite piece was actually an outdoor installation: two large, smooth stones of which you lie upon, gazing into the sky framed by concrete. The geometry of the walls, the smoothness of the stones, and the warmth of the sunlight against the blue vibrance of the sky created such a unique and perfect experience. 

Hours: 08:00 - 21:00 (last entry 20:00), Sunday - Saturday
Price: 1030 yen


The tall cement walls of Lee Ufan Museum on Naoshima Island Japan

Next along the route is the Lee Ufan Museum. Architecturally it is beautiful, with its high concrete walls zigzagging to create a labyrinth towards the museum itself. We didn't actually go inside as it seemed quite small for the fee -- four rooms of sculpture for 1030 yen. The exterior was sufficient for us, and we moved on happily and content.

Hours: 10:00 - 18:00 (Last admission at 17:30) Tuesday - Sunday (closed Mondays)
Price: 1030 yen


Beautiful cement walls of the Chichu Contemporary Art Museum on Naoshima Island Japan
Delicious and soft madelines for dessert at the cafe of Chichu Art Museum Naoshima Island Japan

At the end of the museum loop is the Chichu Art Museum. This museum really touched my heart; stepping in the Walter de Maria room and feeling as if I myself was in a surrealist painting, viewing the Monet waterlilies in such an intimate setting, having my mind blown by the James Turrell room, and admiring the architecture's way of framing the sky -- these were such beautiful experiences that I can't really describe in words.

Tickets can be reserved online on their website. Highly recommended if you don't want to wait in line (the queue can be outrageously long). 

Hours: 10:00 - 18:00 Tuesday - Sunday (closed Mondays)
Price: 2060 yen

Explore: Miyanoura 

The other major neighborhood of Naoshima Island is Miyanoura. Located on the opposite side of the island from Honmura, Miyanoura is considered the more bustling of the two neighborhoods. For late night happenings, shopping, and serious eats, Miyanoura's got your back. Here are a few notable Miyanoura highlights:

Wet on Wet: I Love Yu Bathhouse

Cheers to a relaxing session at I Love Yu Bath House in Miyanoura, Naoshima Island Japan

A traditional bathhouse transformed into a 70s-inspired joint, the I Love Yu Bathhouse is one of the most unique bathing experiences you can have in Japan. Towels, tickets, and bathing amenities are dispensed in coin machines in the front. There is one main pool and a couple of side pools in a large, sunlit, tiled room filled with beautiful mosaics. Mosaic subject matter includes (but is not limited to): tropical motifs, animals, and the female form. Definitely check this place out for a relaxing time, especially after you've seen all of the museums.

Hours: 13:00 - 21:00 Tuesday - Sunday (closed Mondays)
Price: 650 yen 


A bright red Yayoi Kusama pumpkin in Miyanoura Port, Naoshima Island Japan
The port seen from the inside of a Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin on Naoshima Island Japan

Waiting for your boat back to Uno Port to come? Have a gander at Yayoi Kusama's second pumpkin installation, this time located in the bustling Miyanoura port. While the yellow version in Benesse gives off majestic vibes, this one is certainly more fun. You can actually climb into the pumpkin and interact with the sculpture, peering out into the ocean through its many holes. Not many can say they've been inside of a Yayoi Kusama piece! 


A lit-up outdoor installation on Miyanoura on Naoshima Island Japan

Perhaps after a nice dinner or a few drinks at one of the pubs close to the port, you'll want to stroll along the waterfront. A good choice, as there are several night installations which you can check out and interact with as well. What makes Naoshima so fun are all of the interactive pieces which invite the viewer to touch, feel, and even enter the artworks themselves. While I'm sure the pieces rotate every few months, there should definitely be something year round for you to explore and see.

The ferry back to Uno Port in Naoshima Island Japan

It is hard to leave the quaint Naoshima Island, with its wonderfully creative vibes and world class exhibitions. For the artistically inclined or those looking to expand their minds with some seriously mind-blowing installations, Naoshima is a must-see in Japan. Provided you have the time, I would highly recommend squeezing a couple of days in for this unique destination. If not to say you've been inside of a Yayoi Kusama (still can't get over it).


Read the rest of this series: Tokyo Guide, Nara Guide, Koya-San Guide
Stay tuned for the next and last part of this series on Japan: Osaka!