Capture Japan: Karuizawa

Karuizawa, Nagano

I know summer is creeping up on us already, so I wanted to post about a famous resort area in Japan that I recommend visiting! Karuizawa is a quaint city located in Nagano Prefecture (about 1hr away via Shinkansen). Many famous celebrities are known for frequenting the area… such as John Lennon and Yoko Ono as well as other Japanese celebrities. The luxury inns or ryokan in Karuizawa offer beautiful private villas for its upper class customers. Many of the buildings look distinctly European or Japanese, so the city has a very unique appeal and aesthetic.

Karuizawa is most popular in the summer due to its cool and breezy weather and lush greenery. In the 1900s, many wealthy merchants who owned ritzy boutiques in Ginza would set up second stores in Karuizawa in the summer to escape the scorching hot weather in Tokyo (hence the old shopping area in Karuizawa was named “Ginza” after its Tokyo counterpart). However, the newer area of Karuizawa, south of the station, is host to a brand new outlet shopping mall, which includes all the luxury European designers (Prada, Saint Laurent, Gucci, etc.). Aside from shopping, there are many hikes, golf courses, and other activities tourists can partake in!

While I wasn’t able to visit Karuizawa in the summer, I did get the chance to go this past February. During the winter, the city turns into a ski resort with relaxing hot springs or onsens! We ended up staying at one of the Prince Hotels (which is a Western Style Hotel). The hotel had a shuttle that would take us from the hotels (West, East, and Villa, The Prince, and Asama, I think) to the ski area, shopping mall, and station, so it was incredibly convenient. Although the winter scenery was beautiful, I would love to visit this city again during summer if I get the chance. Any chance to escape the summer heat!

Capture Japan: Uchiura

Uchiura Gulf, Shizuoka

Although I definitely consider myself a city girl, Japan never ceases to amaze me with the beauty of its nature! Last November I was lucky enough to travel to Uchiura, a small town in Shizuoka prefecture, for work and it was absolutely gorgeous. Although it took about 3-4 hours to reach the small town of Uchiura, riding along the coast of the Uchiura Gulf was an amazing site to see, especially at dusk! Across the gulf, we could see a stunning view of Mt. Fuji (unfortunately it was a little cloudy when I took the picture). The gulf is apparently one of the few places in Japan where you can view Mt. Fuji from across the water! The small town is mainly known for its fishing and its orange orchards, and i’s also famous from the anime, Love Live! I’ve never actually heard of this show, until I visited this town; however, it seems to be quite popular! I would definitely check it out if you’re ever in Shizuoka!

Capture Tokyo: Mori Building

Sky Deck, Roppongi Hills

When it comes to city views, Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Sky Tree might be the initial obvious choices; however, I would recommend visiting the Sky Deck on top of Mori Building in Roppongi Hills! Mori Building stands at 238m tall at the heart of Roppongi and houses some of the world’s most prestigious international companies as well: Google, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, etc. just to name a few. The observation deck is on the 52nd floor of the building. It’s also the entrance to the Mori Art Museum and houses the popular cafe/ high-end restaurant, THE SUN & THE MOON, where you can enjoy the beautiful night view while dining. The building also features an open air sky deck on the roof of the building. The 360 degree view is absolutely gorgeous. I definitely recommend going during the warmer months though (perhaps from April-October), as when we went this past winter, it was unbearably cold! The winds were quite strong as well on the top of the building, so I would recommend bringing some warmer clothes for going up to the deck if you’re planning on visiting in the colder months!

Taste Tokyo: Ginza Shabutsu

Ginzatsu Shabushabu Course, Ginza

You can never have enough meat! Aside from Rangetsu, the high-end sukiyaki restaurant I wrote about earlier, my second favorite Ginza restaurant would have to be The Ginza Shabutsu, known for their shabushabu or hotpot dishes. We normally order the Ginzatsu Shabushabu Course, which is about 5,000 yen per person (plus we don’t need to tip in Japan so it’s quite a good deal for the amount of food you get)! The course includes top grade A5 kuroge wagyu beef, Japanese pork loin, an assortment of vegetables, noodles, and dessert. The restaurant also offers all you can eat courses for about 6,000 yen (although they don’t include the kuroge wagyu beef)!

Capture Tokyo: Cat Cafe

Nekobukuro, Ikebukuro

I finally had the opportunity to visit a cat cafe the other day! I normally consider myself more of a dog lover, but my friend convinced me and I must say, the cats were pretty adorable! Although there was no cafe aspect (it was more of a cat petting zoo), there were chairs for us to sit and about 10 or so cats walking freely around the area. It only costs 600yen and there is no limit on the time you can stay. I will say that the people to cat ratio was quite high though, so there were around 2-5 people on average surrounding each cat. It seems the poor cats couldn’t catch a break, so many of them seemed a little grumpy… especially the ones that were smothered by the young children running around. In any case, it was a fun experience, albeit it left me feeling a little sad for the tired kitties!

Capture Tokyo: Tokyo Disney Sea

Tokyo Disney Sea, Maihama

Since Halloween is coming up, I just thought to remind everyone that in honor if its 15th year anniversary, Disney Sea is holding a villain themed Halloween celebration at their park! The park is currently all decked out in Halloween decor in preparation for that one spooky night! We were lucky enough to catch their special harbor performance, “The Villains World: Wishes and Desires”. The performance was an absolute delight to watch, and the Disney villains sang and danced on large floats while tiny motor boats with kites attached whipped around the lagoon, creating a beautiful choreographed kite dance! In any case, if you’re in Tokyo, I would definitely recommend checking out Disney Sea’s Villains themed park before Halloween ends… although I’m quite looking forward to a Christmas/winter themed Disney (that I’m sure will pop up soon after)!

Capture Japan: Okinawa Glass Bottom Boats

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Glass Bottom Boat Ride on the South Shores, Okinawa

I had the pleasure of visiting the tropical paradise of Okinawa last week! Although the weather has gotten a little colder in Tokyo, Okinawa is still sunny and warm (albiet a little hot). I was only able to visit the main island this time, but there’s quite a lot to do for first time visitors. Okinawa is sprawling with beautiful beaches at every coast. I visited the Southern part of the island in one day and covered the Northern in another. It takes about 3 hours by car to get from one tip of the island to the other! At most beaches, there are also fun marine activities available for visitors such as jet skiing, parasailing, surfing, fishing, etc. I opted for the less physical activity though and hopped on a glass bottom boat tour instead (perhaps I’ll try the parasailing next time, haha)! On the tour, the guide took us out pretty far from the shoreline, where I was able to get a glimpse of Okinawa’s beautiful coral reefs and its fishy inhabitants. In any case, Okinawa is a great place to visit, especially if you’re craving that warm sunny weather!