Wanderlust: Japan

BiBi & GeorGe Kobe Fukurou Cafe

16:15

Animal cafes are so deeply entrenched into Japanese society now that it is not hard to find a cat cafe in every city. What IS hard to find, surprisingly, is a proper dog cafe. I have to conclude that nobody wants to deal with animals that are more high-maintenance and vigorous compared to animals like cats, bunnies, and birds.

Owl cafes have been popping up in Japan, too. Harry Potter definitely contributed to their popularity.

Being a city female to the highest degree, I have never seen an owl up-close and personal the way owl cafes promise owls to be, and I pencilled one into my schedule.

So, this time around, I ended up going to the BiBi & GeorGe Kobe Fukurou Cafe, a small shop with multiple different types of owls from around the world.

Note: Owl cafe sounds fun, and it really is. However, for me, one visit to see these creatures up close and personal is enough, and I do not think I will be pencilling in another trip to visit an owl cafe next time I am back in Japan, unless I am with people who really want to go. I will not suggest an owl cafe as a must-do. Why? You will see.


To get to the BiBi & GeorGe Kobe Fukurou Cafe, you get off at the Motomachi JR Station. You then leave it up to your gorgeous Japanese friend to find the cafe on their Japanese phone, because you have nearly run out of data on your own phone and need to rely on them.


 Don't have a gorgeous Japanese friend? Too bad.

The cafe operates with a vending machine outside its premises. You can buy tickets indicating what drinks and snacks you will like to have during your hour in the cafe.

I am not too sure about this, but I believe each visitors get to go in only on the dot of each time change. If you are hanging around outside at 4.30PM, you can wait until 5PM. The minimum you have to spend per hour is ¥1,000. The fare increases with the drinks and snacks you choose.

The shop has three floors. On the first floor, you will meet Sakura, a 3KG owl that is not impressed with you.


Sakura is sort of like the greeter, though she does not seem impressed to see guests at all.

At her feet is the reason why I will not recommend owl cafe as must-visits.

The second floor is a space devoid of owls (except stuffed ones), and is for you to consume your beverage and snacks. You can also leave your bags there when you make your way to visit the owls. Apart from Sakura and some tiny owls on the bottom floor, the majority of the owls will all be on the third floor.


Oh hi. This is the first owl I saw upon exiting the stairs. Behind each owl are several pictures of them in their growing stages, as well as an information card that contains their names, their breed, and their weight.

THEY ARE SO SOFT TO TOUCH. 

There is a watchful staff member who will watch your interactions with the owls, and tell you what signs to look out for to see if the owl is in discomfort with/ hates the way you are touching it. One of the owls were on a break during my hour in the cafe, which means no one gets to touch or interact with that one.

There are plenty of other owls to pay attention to and take pictures of, however!


I fawned over their beautiful feathers and cute faces, though I am always mindful of the sharp beaks.





Each of the owls had their own distinct personalities, of course. Some of them revelled in the attention and adored being touched.

Others would pretend you didn't exist. The above owl is the smallest in the shop, and is named Nanami. Nanami weighs only 118 grams. At first glance, with her unmoving stance, I actually thought she was a toy until it was proven otherwise.


You get to take pictures with one of the owls on your arm. You have to wear a thick leather glove to avoid being digged in with those talons, and I got to hold Nanami on my arm in the duration I was there. :)


Aforementioned gorgeous Japanese friend in a picture with me. Nanami looks disinterested in this picture.


This owl was one of the cutest, derp-iest looking owls on the premises. A Snowy Owl, I remember this breed only because of Hedwig from Harry Potter. It was hard getting a picture with her! Yuki the owl was interested in my friend's hair, and kept turning her head to peck at it.

I enjoyed my time at the owl cafe, getting to see and touching all these beautiful creatures up close. It is definitely an opportunity, but at the same time, another part of me found my excursion to the owl cafe uncomfortable.

They were all chained to their positions by their feet, which made me feel uncomfortable for them.

Now, I am sure that these owls are well-fed and well-taken cared of. For a human, that is probably a life many want and do not get - to be fed and taken cared of, with a shelter over one's head.

If I am an owl, however, I imagine that I would prefer something else even more... and that something else will be to use my wings and soar in the sky at night.

I suppose this is no different to owning birds and keeping them in bird cages. There is a reason why I have never wanted to own birds, however, and that reasoning felt intensified during my time in the owl cafe.

For a novelty factor, sure the owl cafe is fun and great to visit. Some of the owls may even like it there. Honestly, though? After the novelty factor wore off for me, however, I just felt like I would not want to come back again, the way I would to a cat cafe. It sort of feels like buying from a pet store, when I should really be buying from a responsible breeder or consider adopting.

It is, however, definitely an fairly pleasant unique experience, seeing so many owls up close. I will treasure these pictures I took with these magnificent birds. :)

Wanderlust: Japan

DisneySea: Birthday Edition

18:06


People who know me well will know I have a thing about hyping up my birthdays. You can attempt to annoy me on all other days, and I will be agitated before letting it go... eventually.

Maybe.

Annoy me on my birthday, however, and woe betide you. I will remind you for the rest of your life how you ruined this specific birthday when it was supposed to be a day celebrating, well, me.

So yes.

In order to avoid being annoyed by people who irritate me usually, I do not throw parties or have anything so attention-seeking in a crowd of people. I try to go on holidays with select few people who I know will not annoy me. Failing that, I lock myself up in my room and just read the day away by me, myself, and I.

This year, the latter did not happen.

Sometime last year I decided that this year I will be spending my birthday in Japan. It is my birthday gift to myself, rather than spending a huge amount of money on a party where no one really cares about me anyway... and I still have to look after their feelings, ugh.

I am such a misanthrope.

One of my closest university friends who I see about once every two years now (SIGH AT INTERNATIONAL FRIENDSHIP'S DISTANCES) also decided to join me on a five day girl's trip in Tokyo. She was also fairly receptive to spending my birthday at one of my favourite places in Japan, despite not being such a big fan of the brand as I am.

T_T

Thank you.


And so, on one of my best birthdays since entering my 20s... I went to celebrate it at Tokyo DisneySea with a close friend.

I have been to both Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea before, and let me tell you, DisneySea far surpasses Disneyland in my regard. From architecture to the laidback vibe and attractions, I love DisneySea way more than I do Disneyland. Luckily this year my birthday fell on a Tuesday with no school holidays or public holidays, and so crowds remained bearable this time around too.


It was kind of gloomy on my birthday, but luckily there was minimal rain. This is the entrance of DisneySea, with the huge globe spinning in front.


Oh hi, it's me in DisneySea on my BIRTHDAY.

Oh yes, see that on my arm?

It's, well, it's a birthday sticker.

Shamelessly I went to the ticket counter, and told the counter girl that it was my birthday, so I would like the birthday sticker, thank you very much.

The power of the sticker is such that when DisneySea staff members see you, they will wish you a happy birthday cheerily. Sometimes the characters will also pick you out to take pictures with you first, if they see it.

They do not check if it really is your birthday, but I hope people who want to go to DisneySea will not abuse the Disney spirit by lying about it.


At the entrance, we caught the attention of Marie, who liked both my top and also the sticker on my arm. Thank you for pulling us to take pictures with you, Marie! <3 I knew I always liked you. ;)

Once upon a time, a friend said "The Disney character you are most like is Marie", so take of that what you will.



The 'centerpiece' of DisneySea is the volcano and lake, which one can see as soon as you walk in through the entrance. The parades take place on the lake, giving many people ample space to see the characters and intricate boats on the water. My favourite parade takes place right on this lake at night.

DisneySea has seven themed areas, with the lake located in the Mediterranean Harbour. It takes on an Italian feel, with Italian restaurants in the area. I honestly prefer the snacks in Disney resorts to the actual food, however. Too much lining up to eat expensive pale imitations of good food, though the decor is nice.



That day, I walked around DisneySea in an anticlockwise circle. Having been here before, I was less concerned with taking rides and more into soaking in the laidback atmosphere and vibe. Still, the crowds that day were significantly small, and so I enjoyed getting into rides like '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' and 'Sinbad's Storybook Voyage' in under 30 minutes.

My favourite attraction in DisneySea, by the way, is Mermaid Lagoon, which is right after Mysterious Island, the area with the volcano. Even though the Disney story of The Little Mermaid irritates me (she's 16, and therefore is a brat that put her entire kingdom in danger for an admittedly nice man, but surely no man is worth going to a sea witch that hates your king father's guts?), the interior decor of Mermaid Lagoon is absolutely eye-catching.


Mermaid Lagoon is really targeted at small children, and adults who are really children on the inside. They have a multitude of 'cute' rides like bobbing up and down slowly on jellyfishes, teacup rides, and swing rides.

The swing ride was memorable, mostly because the staff member manning the swing ride said "We have a special guest today and it's her birthday, everyone say happy birthday!"

See, this is an example of not being irritated on my birthday by strangers. ;)

Unfortunately the one attraction I wanted to see in Mermaid Lagoon, the 'Mermaid Lagoon Theatre', was closed that day for renovations. Sigh. DisneySea's best attractions, mind you, are not the rides. Their best attractions are their shows, such as the 'The Magic Lamp Theatre' in the Arabian Coast, 'Mermaid Lagoon Theatre' in Mermaid Lagoon, 'Broadway Music Theatre' in American Waterfront, and so on.


After Mermaid Lagoon, we went to see the 'Magic Lamp Theatre', which is located next to Mermaid Lagoon. I honestly adore the architecture at this place - each place has buildings that fit the mood of the themed area perfectly. The above picture is taken at Arabian Coast.

DisneySea is always so clean, which is a plus point.

After the 'Magic Lamp Theatre' we went to the Lost River Delta area, and on the way passed by a few characters from Aladdin.

Of course, we had to wait in line to take pictures! Lilo and his girlfriend was there too, but they both had 30 minutes of waiting time, so we zoomed to the lesser known characters.


Genie reminds me of Robin Williams.

It's, by the way, extremely hard to get the attention of characters if you are not a child. We stood around in front of Jafar for about 10 minutes before giving up. I believe it was hard for Jafar to see in front of him as well, being that tall.

Still, we managed to snap this rather adorable picture of Jafar and a tiny Jasmine.


Although tiny Jasmine is fraternizing with the enemy, so to speak. I wish there was a real life Aladdin there, for, um, reasons.


Here I am at the Lost River Delta area! In DisneySea,the most thrilling ride I am willing to take here is the Indiana Jones Adventure ride in Lost River Delta. It took me less than 30 minutes to get in, something that was impossible before.

At this point, I was finally hungry enough to eat some snacks, and luckily one of my favourite snacks in DisneySea is sold in the Lost River Delta area.


Smoked chicken legs at the Lost River Cookhouse. That is a ravenous face right there before I start digging in.

At that point my feet were starting to hurt from the half day of standing around and walking, so I was rather relieved to sit down and chomp on my chicken leg before going on an adventure with Indiana Jones.

There is also a greeting trail in the Lost River Delta, where you can meet Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Donald. I did not go in until the evening, and so I could only take pictures with Minnie after a long wait.


A conversation with Minnie on my birthday:

*Minnie points at my shirt and starts making pawing motions*

Disney staff member: "The kitty is cute isn't it Minnie?"

*Minnie nods*

Me: "The kitty is cute? Am I cute too, Minnie?"

*Minnie nods even more enthusiastically while my friend throws me a dirty look*

The end. 

It was worth it. Hahaha.

Yes, sometimes I question if I am a 20-something too.


We walked past the Port Discovery area and ended up in American Waterfront, where we rushed to catch a session of 'Broadway Music Theatre'.

On this trip, I somehow seemed to be broadcasting maternal feelers. Nothing else explains why babies kept smiling at me on this trip. I ended up sitting next to a small, perhaps six month old baby in the theatre, and he kept smiling at me and touching me. While I was in Lost River Delta, a one year old kid kept smiling at me from the end of the bench where I was seated too.

Well, I much prefer babies smiling at me rather than creeps, so I will take this.


*dreaming of a future where I am a bestselling novelist*

I also ran into Scrooge McDuck. He was also into the babies and also the ducks.



See what I mean?

Oh yes, there are ducks in DisneySea, particularly in the American Harbour and Port Discovery area. I love running after them too.

Yes, I promise I am a 20-something young adult.

DisneySea is great for taking pictures with beautiful backgrounds as props. Here, let me show you.


Tower of Terror, a ride I resolutely decide not to go on.


The S.S. Columbia, with a dining room I cannot afford to eat in.


One of the numerous cute houses in American Harbour.


The outside of a shop.

When I was in DisneySea, they had a spring 'Easter' theme going on, hence all the flowers and eggs on display.

After that, too tired out for anything else, we headed to Mystery Island and had some Mickey churros (best churros ever) while waiting for Fantasmic! to start.

Fantasmic!, by the way, is that all time favourite night parade in DisneySea.

NEVER MISS FANTASMIC AT DISNEYSEA.

It is a visual delight of lights and pyrotechnics to music, and leaves viewers with a fuzzy feeling in their hearts and stomachs. It may even induce you to cry, even if you are watching it for the second time in your life.

Okay, that may be just me.


This is just a taste of what Fantasmic! is about, and does the show no justice. It takes place on the lake, and you will stare at the entire display practically slack-jawed to its end.

After Fantasmic! ended, we left the theme park, not willing to spend more on the food inside for dinner. Theme park food, you know. I am sure there are decent offerings inside for an expensive price, but if I can get better food outside, I might as well.

And I did.

Ichiran ramen, thank you very much.


More satisfying and cheaper than any theme park food at filling up the tummy, I assume. I heard Magellans was good, but the price is apparently doubly so as well.

Apart from the lack of eating, DisneySea this year was another beautiful memory, and I am thankful I decided to go to DisneySea for my birthday.

 Next time, I hope I'll get to stay at Hotel MiraCosta and eat at Magellans, once I can justify spending that kind of money.

...

Perhaps for my 30th birthday? ;)

Wanderlust: Japan

Hiroshima: Peace Museum & Miyajima

14:20

The last time I was in Japan in 2013, I told myself that I would make a trip to Hiroshima the next time I went back.


I wanted to go to Hiroshima for these particular reasons - 

A) to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to pay my respects to those who lost their lives due to the nuclear war, 

B) To visit Miyajima, which is apparently one of the most scenic spots in Japan, and 

C) to eat Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki

In one day in April, I managed to do all three after setting off in the morning from Shin-Osaka station in a bullet train. I had gotten the 2-week Japan Rail Pass, after all. To not utilise it to its maximum value will be a waste of money (RM1500, to be exact - those bullet trains don't come cheap!).

I arrived in Hiroshima around noon, and proceeded to make my way to the museum with the help of my trusty smartphone. 

The smartphone said to get on the #1 Hiroden tram, and I, in my confusion, still managed to board the wrong Hiroden tram from Hiroshima Station. The tram I got on stopped at the #2 stop, which was near enough the #1 stop for me to get confused. 

Luckily, I realised my mistake and got off at a station that was within walking distance to the museum. It took me about twenty minutes to walk there, whereas if I got on the right tram in the first place I would have arrived right in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome. 

Oh well. It was not like I was in any hurry, though I suspect any travel mates would have teased me to death about it. 


The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is located inside the Peace Memorial Park. The Atomic Bomb Dome is located at one end, and the Peace Memorial Museum is located at the other end. The above picture is the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims. Behind this Cenotaph is the Pond of Peace, and behind the pond is where the Flame of Peace is located.

The park holds an air of quiet contemplation and reflection, occasionally interrupted by the loud chattering of tourists. The most off-putting display of tourist behaviour here, I feel, are the people who are taking selfies with a selfie stick. Right at the moment I am taking this picture, another guy is standing right next to me holding a selfie stick taking pictures of himself at the Cenotaph.

While I have nothing against selfie sticks, using such an object which was created for blatant narcissism in a park dedicated to the memory of nuclear war victims seems inappropriate. Then again, what do people nowadays know of propriety and decorum? I recall the moment the Sydney siege happened at Lindt cafe, and people were hanging around and taking selfies outside going "OMG A SIEGE IS  HAPPENING NOW RIGHT BEHIND ME IN THIS PICTURE ASDFGHJKL".

I weep for humanity.

But I digress.

I walked around the park in areas away from the hordes of noisy tourists and school students. The spring wind quietly breezed through, and it is hard for me to dig into the depths of my imagination and remember that this beautiful place sprung out of an area of terror and fear 70 years ago.

I decided it was time to confront humanity's past, and went inside the museum. I was charge ¥50 for entry, a surprising amount to me considering that I have seen flower exhibitions in Japan charging ¥700 for entry. The guard at the museum cautioned me against using flash in the museum, but he had nothing to worry about.

After taking one discreet picture after going through the entrance, my camera remained firmly around my neck and against my chest as I walked through the museum.


This is aforementioned discreet picture, a model display of where the bomb hit, and the immediate destruction that levelled through the city afterwards from the blast.

I spent around half an hour to forty-five minutes in the museum. I was faced with a wall replica of what it would looked like immediately after the blast - dark, with angry red embers and crumbling walls and shattered glass. Two figurines were 'making' their way through the dark burning 'building', their face encrusted with black soot and injuries.

That was the least confronting image I saw in the museum.

There was a stone slab with slight human-shaped white specks on them. The description alerted me to the fact that someone was sitting right in front of this bank building waiting for the bank to open - perhaps a worker or a bank customer - when the blast happened and he/ she was blown to smithereens. No one ever knew who this person was, because nothing was left except for the sobering specks on the wall.

That was the first time tears sprang to my eyes. They made on-off appearances in my eyes, and I could hear sniffing around me.

The area that probably set off the tears the most was the area with relics that belonged to the victims, donated by their family members. A dented and damaged lunch box, the uneaten lunch becoming black charcoal within. School uniforms belonging to junior high school students, who were sent into the city to do works on the buildings. There were bags, cases, notebooks, and so on. There was even a tricycle which belonged to a three year old.

All these mementos were accompanied by short and concise paragraphs depicting where they came from. The little stories end harrowingly, such as mothers and fathers going into the city to find their children, but only finding items, or only a limb or some bones to bury.

In there, I couldn't help but feel slightly ill, thinking about a multitude of things at once.

I thought of how humans were so fragile, that the things we make can survive a blast much more than a human can.

I thought of the poor civilians who were caught up in war, their lives ended too quickly just so the USA can make a statement,and also test out their nuclear weapons.

I thought of how cruel humans can be to each other, something that is still ongoing in this day and age i.e. the ISIS situation, or even things closer to home.

I wondered, and I still wonder, if achieving peace is but a dream, because humans are all inherently violent.

When I walked out, feeling depressed and sobered all at once, I slowly walked over to the Atomic Bomb Dome. I passed by the Children's Memorial, the Peace Bell, and so on, but my thoughts were already pre-occupied with what I just saw and read in the museum. The bomb did not just injure people in the immediate vicinity. The nuclear fallout also affected health, with children and adults developing health problems like cancer.





This is the Atomic Bomb Dome, which used to be the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. After the bomb, most of its framework was surprisingly left standing. It was left this way to show how Hiroshima looked like after the bomb. Some in-utero survivors were standing near this building, explaining how their families coped in the bomb blast.

70 years have passed since then. It was speculated that Hiroshima will never be able to recover within the next 100 years, but look at it now. It is a quiet city, but underneath the quietness is an amazing progress that speaks volumes for how the Japanese can recover from tragedy.

Though it left me feeling disconsolate, I am glad that I went to the Peace Museum.

The museum reminds us to be grateful for the relative peace we have, especially for those of us who live in first-world countries. It reminds us to strive for negotiations and solutions that does not require violence. Most of all, it asks us to pay our respects to the innocents who have died for a cause they could hardly grasp the meaning of, and to be grateful to live a life that they never had to chance to for crummy reasons of 'being in the wrong place at the wrong time'.

I urge people reading this to go, and make your contributions towards the city which strives for international peace.

***

After the museum, I made my way to Itsukushima, more popularly known as Miyajima. It is the island of the gods. It is famous for being the place that hosts the torii gates that seem to float on the ocean when the tide rises.

It is fairly far from the Peace Memorial Museum. When I arrived at Miyajimaguchi Station, I was sauntering down the pier to get to the JR Ferry, when this guy started waving at me and saying I was the last passenger.

Me: "What?"

I started running down the pier anyway, and as soon as I got onto the ferry, they started letting up the side of the ferry. Apparently I had just made it in time to catch a ferry about to set off. Otherwise I would have to wait another 20 minutes for the next one.

Yay, go me!


I enjoyed the short 10 minute ferry ride, hanging outside and waiting to catch closer glimpses of the torii gates. I snapped a lot of pictures, despite my hand shivering in the cold spring evening, with almost nary a trace of sun. My trip to Japan this time was pretty gloomy, though thankfully the rain only attacked on one or two days.

I am glad I reserved Miyajima for after the Peace Museum. As soon as I got onto the island, the tranquility of the island washed over me, quietness permeating the air. This island is home to a gorgeous shrine (Itsukushima Shrine) and deers. As though it knows its reputation as island of the gods, it was gorgeously still in the way I imagine heaven would be like. No car honks, no shouting, and no loud talkers. Just the sound of the sea, and occasionally being greeted by deers.


The view of Hiroshima from Miyajima.


Deers, incidentally, are considered messengers to the gods in Japan.

The architecture of the buildings in Miyajima was fairly old-fashioned, but I did not have time to admire them as I walked quickly towards the shrine. I was afraid of not getting in, as I assumed it closed at 5PM. I need not have worried, for that day it closed at 6PM.



The architecture is built on raised wooden stilts, which I assume means high tide must be really, well, high.

Of course, while the shrine is lovely to behold aesthetically and spiritually, the highlight of this shrine is the torii gates built on the sea.


I have been told that the view is lovely over sunset, but clearly that is not going to happen here. This place is also apparently gorgeous to behold at night, which made me determined to come back to Miyajima again and stay a night or two to soak in the peaceful ambiance.

I stayed there for about half an hour, just looking out at the sea. Many people were like me, sitting around and taking pictures idly of these gates.


This picture evokes Ghibli-ish scenes in my mind. I am quite proud of this picture, actually.

While the town section of Miyajima had all but shut down as evening approached, a few restaurants were open. With time to kill before my bullet train back to Himeji Station, I decided to eat my Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki at a restaurant in Miyajima instead.

The thing I love most about Japan is that you don't get weird looks if you are eating by yourself, which is precisely what I had been doing as a solo traveller so far.


I love how even putting mayonnaise on food must look like a work of art. I must say that I am a Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki convert after having this. The combination of egg, noodles, fish flakes, cabbage, and bacon before being drizzled over with  sauce, onion rings and mayonnaise is perfection on a steaming hot plate.

As I left for the ferry, I noticed a whole bunch of backpackers arriving my way to stay on Miyajima for a night. I was quietly envious - I had wanted to stay in a ryokan in Miyajima, but the price tag put me off. I am after all, still living the life I had as an 18-year old (now complete with extra bills!), a fact which makes me sad whenever I think too much about it, so I will not think about it.

Someday I will definitely return to stay on that ryokan with private onsen bath I dream of. I imagine to see the torii gates as the sun rises would be a lovely sight to burn into my retinas as well.

Ah well. Someday.