Wednesday, April 30, 2014

gondolas and tea in maokong

The day started off with some green mango for breakfast. I've got my friends hooked on them now - too bad they are a hit or a miss item. Sometimes super delicious and other times super sour.

so addicting - sad that I haven't seen these anywhere else...
Then met up with my friends to grab lunch near Shirley's university where she is studying Chinese. When I was teaching English in Taiwan, Shirley was teaching in Japan. Funny to see how we have now flipped locations.

a famous Taiwanese dish: beef noodles - but this one was just meh
Lunch consisted of my friends and some of Shirley's classmates, one of them who was Japanese so there was English, Japanese and Chinese being spoken at our table. Very international. I'm pretty sure I just let everyone talk while I stuffed my face - no surprise there.

After lunch we all headed to Maokong, an area famous for its tea growing. The one and only time I had been here was when I had just moved to Taiwan a couple of years back. In order to reach the top of the mountain we took a gondola. More specifically my friends wanted to take the Crystal Cabin which are gondolas with a glass floor. There are only a limited number of them and I remember there were long lines for them but because it was the middle of the week, we didn't have long to wait.

floating over the trees
It started raining when we reached the top so we found shelter in this cute cafe that Shirley brought us to.

I think the name of this place is called Cafe Cat (symbol)

We sat here for hours chatting and eating, waiting for the rain to stop. Everyone was required to buy something at least over $100 TWD so I got some ice cream.

bouchong ice cream w/ strawberries, cheese? and tea jelly - $180 twd
The ice cream here is flavored with tea and I believe bouchong/baochong? is green tea. When I saw cheese on the menu I was kind of scared because what kind of parfait has cheese inside it but it was fine. Can't recall what it was actually now...

Pretty sure we ended the day with more potstickers. Of course we ordered the curry and kimchi potstickers but we expanded our menu and ordered some dumplings too.

curry and regular pork dumplings - potstickers are still my favorite!
For more information and my previous trip to Maokong click here.

The Details
Maokong Gondola
Access: Taipei Zoo Station -  Wenshan-Neihu Line (Brown MRT line)
Facing traffic walk left to reach Maokong Gondola (if you see the Taipei Zoo you are walking in the wrong direction)
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 9:00am-9:00pm; Friday 9-10pm, Sat/Sunday 8:30-9/10pm respectively
Closed: Mondays
Fare: There are three stops on the gondola starting at $30, $40, and $50 TWD (the top is where all the tea houses and cafes are located) - one way journeys
This price is for either regular or crystal cabins. You just need to wait in line for a crystal cabin to pass by.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

waterfalls and wishes

I thought I would play tour guide and show the girls Shifen and Pingxi, a place I've been to many times. I've always taken the regular trains to Ruifang, which is where we need to switch to a local train to Pingxi, but since we were traveling in style we got a limited ticket which cost less than $3 USD! Why did I never take this before?!!? The bathrooms were super pimp and so fast. Oh man the price, $3 is how much it costs for a 15 minute train ride in Japan or a couple subway stops.... Love these prices!

Of course I had to start my day off with a drink. You think you're reading a blog but actually it's a log of milk tea beverages.

black tea with ice cream (of course!)
Of course had to show them the famous Niagara Falls of Taiwan :D

The rocks right across from the waterfall. Look at those mini steps carved into the boulders. Too bad this area is restricted or it would be an awesome waterfall pool to swim in.

fried battered squid
Also another must have while visiting Shifen is the fried squid! So delicious. I was looking forward to this so badly but when we arrived I couldn't find it in its usual spot. But as we were heading to Pingxi the stall was open! Had to get some but the train was about to leave so we were running to catch it. I'm not sure but it seemed like the seller wanted me to run and catch the train and he would follow or something with the food... Turns out we ran for nothing because it wasn't the correct train but the train conductors and everything were like hurry and held the train for us! So nice. That never happens in Japan. If you aren't inside the train when the doors close - they are gone.

Took the train to Pingxi and showed them around the small town before lighting a sky lantern.

We went baller status with a multicolored lantern - gotta maximize those wishes!
hahah who is the odd one out here??
If I wasn't part of this picture it would look so surreal as they released the lantern. I'm obviously jaded and was like whatever let's get a move on. But really I was just turning to the lantern seller aka photography to get my camera. The seller had another idea and SHE WOULDN'T GIVE ME BACK MY CAMERA! I wanted to take pictures as the lantern flew away but she kept hogging it....and why is Ellen doing a peace sign?? Haha

lantern colors & meanings w/ different color combos available - huge leap from a couple years ago!
Ending the post like how I started it, with a drink!

papaya juice
For my previous trips and to see what other attractions there are in this area please click here.

The Details
Shifen & Pingxi Access:
Take the train from Taipei to Ruifang and then transfer to the Pingxi Line
At Ruifang Station can purchase one day pass for unlimited rides on the Pingxi Line - $52 TWD
One way tickets cost $20 TWD
Taiwan Railway Website
*please note that the spelling on the Taiwan Railway Website is different due to a different romanization system

Shifen Waterfall
Hours: 8:00am-6:00pm
Admission: $100 TWD - which includes a $30 TWD coupon off a drink at the newly added cafe. Drinks are ridiculously I didn't get one
A free youth card will get you a discounted admission $80 TWD

Colored Lanterns
One color - $150 TWD  4 colors - $200 TWD
Can be found everywhere in Shifen & Pingxi

Sunday, April 27, 2014

taiwan - I'm back!

Golden Week is here and finally we get a break from school! Next stop - Taiwan! When I left Taiwan a little more than a year ago, I knew I would be returning. I feel like Taiwan is a place I will always come back to which isn't something I can say for all the other countries I've visited. I might want to go back to them but I rarely do repeat visits. It helps that I have a bunch of awesome friends here that I can visit and that I love to eat and shop here. It was also cool to be able to introduce my friends to some of the sights and eats of Taiwan - unfortunately not my Chinese skills cause I don't got any.

goodbye ichinomiya - hello long night of sitting on the streets!
Our flight from Osaka left super early in the morning so we had to head to Osaka the night before. Our original plan was to sing karaoke all night long but that fell through when the karaoke place we had planned to go to was closed. We were also in some really sketchy area; there was graffiti, trash on the ground and we even saw a cockroach. I felt like we had stumbled into some alternate universe or some other Asian country.

After a bit of walking around we stumbled across a McDonalds which also turned out not to be open for 24 hours. Both such rare occurrences since these are the two places people in Japan can rely on to be open at all hours. We ended up sitting on the streets in front of the train station waiting for it to open and we were joined by some Americans. Turns out they were all surgeons who had just finished med school. If only my parents knew that I would be meeting doctors on the streets after midnight they would encourage me to go out all the time in hopes of me nabbing myself one.

The first thing I did upon arriving in Taiwan was to split off from the group because I was heading back to my home away from home - Hsinchu. It was awesome to be able to take a high speed train that didn't break my bank. When I arrived I realized I didn't know how to get downtown since I usually went home so I got onto a bus which turned out to not go where I wanted it to. So then I ended up in some unknown part of town where I caught a train into the city. Glad to know my urban survival skills are still intact. First thing first while waiting for my friends, all of them were late like they always are, I grabbed my all time favorite, been desperately counting the days, the real reason I wanted to come back to Taiwan - the one and only black tea with ice cream! I know I know I should go for the pearl milk tea but every drink store sells those but not every store has the black tea with ice cream so had to get it when I spotted 50lan. So glad to be able to navigate this area after being away for so long! Also thanks to some friends who told me how to order this drink again although I think I might have just used English or just did some pointing...too ashamed to try out my Chinese...

so happy I drank most of this in a couple of seconds - I think I finished it before my friends came...
Had lunch at Din Tai Fung, best xiao long bao I've ever had, where my friend Yvette works and she treated us to lunch. Thanks Yvette! The place was bustling as usual but thankfully we had the hook up and didn't have to wait long. Lunch was followed by more drinks at a cafe. I have noticed a lot more cafes in Hsinchu now and the ones in Taiwan are so much better offering a huge variety of drinks from milkshakes to coffee!

in the previous picture I was the only one doing the peace fingers and then they all do it when I don't...
You would think that since I hadn't been back in Hsinchu for so long that I would want to go exploring and checking out the markets and such but instead after the cafe I went and got my hair cut. Thanks to Yvette and Cody who stayed with me trying to take ugly mid cutting hair pics...Also I still got a student discount for the bus from Hsinchu to Taipei! Mwhahah

The next day was a day dedicated to shopping! But first had to grab some lunch and I have been raving and raving about the different types of potstickers that they have here in Taiwan so it was kismet when a shop happened to be so close to their hostel.

potsticker models & drastic hair change

There are a whole bunch of interesting flavors but the favorites had to be kimchi and curry! So delicious just looking at those curry potstickers in the picture makes me hungry. Also had to redeem myself and get a pearl milk tea to start off the day. My goal while I'm here is to drink a milk tea a day minimum.

After lunch we spent the rest of the day shopping at Wufenpu. So glad I still realized how to get here. Till this day I still love it there with its endless rows of shops. Can be quite overwhelming but such cute clothes!

The Details
My friends stayed at Homey Hostel. Great location, clean, and awesome communal space.
I would stay there myself if I wasn't staying with my awesome friend Shirley. Thanks Shirley!

Access: MRT Houshanpi Station - Blue Line heading towards Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center
Take Exit 1 (Wufenpu Commercial Zone) and it will be a few minutes walk across the intersection.

Monday, April 14, 2014

being sneaky in kyoto

Please don't continue reading if breaking the rules makes you squeamish. You have been warned. I don't want any judgey comments or side eye action from you!

So there was a reason Dani and I headed to Kyoto besides eating and that was to see the Miyako Odori. More information about that later. We started the day off by heading into the Higashiyama District which is where I always find myself whenever I'm in Kyoto. No matter how many times I go I still love this area with its preserved buildings and its rows and rows of souvenir shops. We just went around filling ourselves up with samples! I love these samples and its the best way to get a taste of Kyoto for free!

Since we were in the area we decided to drop by Kiyomizudera. This is where we get sneaky. Hold your tongues people. Because we have both seen this temple before we weren't really interested in seeing the grounds or even the temple itself. We were walking around the gardens below Kiyomizudera, head to the right instead of climbing the steps to the entrance, and when we saw the exit we just kept walking, pretending to be super absorbed by the nature around us. No one stopped us and there wasn't anyone guarding the exit so hurrah! However there is someone checking tickets if you want to go into the main hall and the wooden stage it is so famous for. We could have paid to go in but it was more fun being all sneaky about it and thinking we were badasses.

Too bad cherry blossom season was ending or the view would have been even more astonishing with a sea of pink and whites. The temple is under construction right now and will be undergoing renovations for the next few years. Better hurry there now while the main hall is still untouched.

After gorging on samples and having a little bit of sneaky fun we headed over to the nearby Gion District to check out the Miyako Odori. The Miyako Odori is an annual performance where you can see geikos (geisha) and maikos of Gion Kobu Hanamachi (Japanese geisha district) perform. Each of the hanamachi in Kyoto have their own dance performances but the Miyako Odori is by far the most famous. We got there super early because we had bought second class tickets (the cheapest) and it was first come first serve seating on tatami mats. We were the second group there so we got the first row of tatami seats slightly off to the center. Unfortunately a family in the neighboring tatami had freaking annoying children who kept running around making noises during the show. Hecka wanted to tell them to STFU! Ugh who thought it was a good idea to bring young children here?!?! After an unbearable amount of time one of the parents finally took them outside so they could run around and shit without disturbing everyone else. Parents do not bring your children to this show the dancing is very slow paced and precise, children are gonna get bored I guarantee it.

these happy faces will happily give a smack down
Picture taking isn't allowed once the performance starts but that wasn't always the case. I think only recently did they start implementing this rule and I was so freaking annoyed. I paid all this money and I wanted to document my experience so I sneakily took some photos and videos :P Man I freaking love Dani, she and I are on the same wavelength about everything! Sneaking into places, taking pictures when we shouldn't, etc she is down for it all which I love! So glad she wasn't shaking her head at me or telling me that I shouldn't be doing it.

The performance was spectacular! The stage sets and the kimonos were breathtaking. Each season was represented with different dances and skits. It was super hard to take pictures because employees were wandering around holding their don't break the rule signs and we were so exposed on the tatami. Especially funny trying to hide my tracking light on my camera and Dani trying to cover her picture taking noise on her Japanese cellphone. Scarves, jackets, and inventive positions were used to hide our sneakiness. Sneakiness at its best :P

Can you guess what we did after the show? If you guess getting more parfaits and taking even more photo booth pictures then you are absolutely correct. We are so addicted! Same ice cream place and even the same area for the photo booth pics. Haha

left: apple pie, chocolate, and soft server parfait, right: caramel and cookie parfait

The Details
Kiyomizudera Temple
Hours: open everyday 6:00am - 5:30/6:30pm depending on the season
Admission: 300 yen for adults or 400 yen for special night events
Access: Take bus #100 or #206 (be careful there are two #206 buses one goes in a clockwise direction and the other counterclockwise the trip can take 15 minutes or over an hour and a half if you go in the wrong direction) to Gojozaka (recommended) or Kiyomizu-michi stop. From the bus stop it will be around a 10 minute uphill walk.
Bus Fee: 220 yen flat rate or 500 yen for a one day bus pass

Sneaky Tip: buy a one day pass and use it over several days, bus drivers never check and if you don't get the date stamped you could possibly use it forever, well as long as the design is current

Miyako Odori
Gion Kobu Kaburen-jo Theatre
570-2 Gionmachi Minamigawa Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0074 Japan
Access: Gion Bus Stop - #206 from Kyoto Station
*Head for Gion Corner which is at the end of Hanami-koji Street (the street filled with old looking buildings can't miss it, everyone is taking pictures here)
Performance Period: April 1-30
Performance Times: 12:30pm, 2:00pm, 3:30pm, 4:50pm every day during performance period
Ticket Prices: 4500 yen, 4000 yen and 2000 yen
The theater is small and all the seats are good so don't be worried that paying for cheaper seats will give you a bad view.
easiest way and very fast response rate, pay cash in person on the day of the performance
For information on the other geisha dances please check out this website

Karafuneya Coffee Sanjo Head Office
39 Daikokumachi, Kawaramachi Sanjo-dori Kudaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
Hours: 9:00am-1:00am
Telephone: 075-254-8774

Sunday, April 13, 2014

a culinary exploration of kyoto

Dani and I've been to Kyoto many times and have seen pretty much all the tourist attractions here. Instead of doing the same route over and over we were going to go exploring! I don't know why but I've never put much thought into Kyoto cuisine even though I make it a point to eat regional food whenever I travel. So first stop of the day was at a restaurant called Manshige which serves kyo-ryori (kyoto cuisine) at an affordable price. In kyo-ryori emphasis is placed on fresh seasonal ingredients, delicate flavors and beautiful presentation.

this set cost 1850 yen before tax
I had ordered something completely different and didn't realize until I had already eaten some of the above dishes so instead of getting meat or tempura in the set I originally wanted I got a more expensive set that included a whole lot of veggies. Honestly I wasn't a big fan of this meal because there were so many raw or pickled vegetables that were used and all of it was cold. I can't appreciate the delicate flavors of Japanese cuisine, to me it just tastes bland. Dani on the other hand loved it! But for me I need to have some meat and I left this place still feeling hungry. Tofu just isn't gonna cut it. The prices here don't break the bank so its a nice place to try something different and unique.

After lunch we headed to the Philosopher's Path, a pretty stone path adjacent to a canal that is lined with hundreds of cherry trees. The first and only time I saw this place, it was in the middle of winter so the sight wasn't as lovely as what we saw today. Of course by the time we came to visit cherry blossom season was coming to an end so a lot of trees had turned green but some trees were still crowned with pink blossoms!

the coy maiden shyly peeks out of a curtain of cherry blossoms
Oh man does anyone get the reference with this picture? All my Asian friends should recognize this quintessential girl pose of peeking out behind a tree, wall, rock, etc. Hahaha. I highly recommend coming here when shops are still open so anytime before 4/5pm because along the path are a bunch of cute cafes and shops for you to explore. If we hadn't eaten lunch already we would have sat down at one of those cute cafes instead we got ice cream...

my cherry blossom ice cream was homemade and I got it for 200 yen (50 yen discount) - delicious!
After trying and failing to find Nishiki Market, we ended up taking a ton of purikura (photo booth pictures). When we say a ton we meant it...spent a couple hours doing this! Haha

oink oink
Since we still had some time to kill before dinner we thought it would be a great idea to eat more ice cream...don't judge us... We came across this amazing cafe that had a hundred different ice cream parfaits so how could we resist?!? You could come here and buy a giant ice cream parfait that comes up to your hip for $500! We didn't get that one but there were so many delicious flavors to choose from that we decided to share to maximize the tastiness!

left: mango and caramel parfait, right: milk tea & apple pie parfait

These parfaits don't run cheap costing around 800-930 yen for each one. I would never spend that kind of cash on a parfait in America but I swear being in Japan you start getting into this mindset where anything less than a 1000 yen (the first paper money denomination) is considered cheap.

To continue our day of nonstop eating we went to Mame-cha, a restaurant that specializes in obanzai, the traditional home style cooking of Kyoto. Obanzai is made up of many small dishes that are usually pretty simple to prepare. Mame-cha was very hard to find and we had to GPS our way there. It turns out that it is located in Ishibei-koji, a lane I have been trying to find for ages that is lined with beautifully preserved buildings. Need to come back because I couldn't see anything in the dark.

It was very hard to find the restaurant because all the buildings looked similar and the only distinction one could see were tiny name plaques on the walls, which you couldn't see until you were literally standing in front of the entrance. There are also no menus outside, because its such a classy place, so we couldn't tell the prices of the food before entering and when we saw how posh the outside look we got kind of scared that this place might be out of our price range. Turns out the prices weren't too extravagant so I guess don't let looks deceive you.

love the inside all wood and sliding screen doors but sitting on the floor is super uncomfortable!
mame-cha's meat and potato stew - 550 yen
grilled salted chicken with yuzu pepper - 800 yen
That is all I ordered because for those two dishes it was already over $10! Kind of too pricey for my blood. Good thing we were given an appetizer and some green tea with a sweet for free. Also since we had been eating nonstop all day we weren't really hungry so this really hit the spot. I definitely enjoyed this meal more than lunch because there was meat! The atmosphere of the restaurant was really relaxing and intimate with the mood lighting, perfect for couples!

The Details
Manshige Restaurant
Hours: 11:00am-10:00pm
Telephone: 075-343-3920
Price: Lunch 1000-2000 yen
Access: In Porta, the underground shopping center, in front of Kyoto Train Station

Philosopher's Path
Access: Ginkakuji-michi Bus Stop
From Kyoto Station can take Bus Lines #5, #17 or #100

Karafuneya Coffee Sanjo Head Office
39 Daikokumachi, Kawaramachi Sanjo-dori Kudaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
Hours: 9:00am-1:00am
Telephone: 075-254-8774

463-16 Shimokawaracho Shimokawaradori Yasakatoriimae Sagaru, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0825, Japan
Hours: 5:00pm-11:30pm
Telephone: 075-532-2788
Price: expect to pay from 500-1300 yen for each dish. Only 2-3 dishes are over 1000 yen. Most of them are around 800 yen or so.

Monday, April 7, 2014

kanazawa in a day

To salvage this weekend we headed over to Kanazawa, the second largest city after Kyoto to escape destruction by air raids during World War II. Because of this large parts of the old districts have survived in pretty good condition. I was excited to be able to see all the old historic areas but the most famous attraction here is Kenrokuen, one of the three best landscape gardens in Japan.

We started the day off at Omicho Market filled with fresh seafood. There were a lot of restaurants but most of the food were pretty pricey. We stopped at this combo restaurant and seafood market where I got a bowl of unagi-don for 1200 yen!

Not the best unagi I've ever had but can't beat the price! Then we headed over to Myoryuji Temple also known as Ninjadera, called this not because of its association with ninjas but because of the temple's defenses against attackers. This temple was designed to serve as a disguised military outpost where its defenses and escape routes would allow defenders to alert the castle to attacks.

The temple had a bunch of secret rooms, traps, hidden staircases, etc.You are only allowed to view the temple via a guided tour in Japanese. However a very detailed English brochure is available upon request. Pictures aren't allowed inside and so none of the cool ninja elements were captured on film :(

The staircase is made of wooden slates and paper with a hidden room beneath it. When attackers rush up the stairs, the defenders can spot their shadows through the paper. Defenders can also stab attackers through the paper, hindering their progress.

One last stop at Kenrokuen Garden before Paige had to head home. The entrance we entered through was very obscure and didn't have anyone manning the booth so I though we had somehow managed to get in the park for free. Turns out that for two weeks during cherry blossom season the garden is open to the public for free! Of course because it was free there were so many people there. I would rather pay the entrance fee and have it be less crowded.

flying wild geese bridge

I really enjoyed the gardens especially with all the cherry blossoms in bloom. The grounds are huge with several ponds and streams surrounded by some amazing greenery and humongous trees. Unfortunately Paige had to leave early so I had to view most of the garden by myself. The castle grounds are located right across from the garden but I didn't have enough time to visit those. So many spots to hit up so little time!

Next stop was to see the chaya districts. Chayas are exclusive teahouses where customers are entertained by geisha. In Kanazawa there are three well preserved chaya districts and I manage to see two of them, Higashi and Kazuemachi, the largest and smallest respectively.

higashi chaya district
kazuemachi chaya district
I had a hard time finding the Higashi Chaya District and when I finally arrived I was quite disappointed. I was expecting it to be a bigger area than it was but its really just a small courtyard and maybe a single street where all the houses looked very kitschy and from the past. In Higashai Chaya District you can pay to enter the Shima Teahouse which was an ochaya in the past. It was cool to be able to see how a teahouse looked like since the average citizen usually wouldn't have a chance to see the inside of a chaya. Still true to this day! So all you ever see when you enter this districts are just rows of closed up shops. I actually preferred the Kazuemachi Chaya District because it was situated along the Asanogawa River. The light wood used here in the buildings combined with the cherry blossoms, river scenery and the lack of people made this area very serene.

The Details
Transportation within Kanazawa - Kanazawa Loop Bus
There was a bus every 15 minutes and it had stops near every attraction!
One Day Pass - 500 yen or adults - 200 yen every time you get on
We purchased the one day pass at the Kanazawa Tourism Office located conveniently at Kanazawa Train Station. Passes can also be purchased on the Loop Bus
This pdf provides you with a route map, stops, bus times, etc

Omicho Market
Access: Musashigatsuji Bus Stop - Left Loop (LL1) or Right Loop (RL16)
If heading here straight from the train station take the Left Loop (LL) or you will go all the way around the city before reaching it via the RL
Hours: 9:00am - 6:00pm (shops vary)

Myoryuji Temple aka Ninjadera
Access: Hirokoji Bus Stop - Kanazawa Left Loop (LL5)
At the bus stop you will need to cross the street. The temple is 5 minute walk down the street on your right hand side.
Hours: 9:00am-4:30pm
Admission Fee: 800 yen
Reservations are required call 076-241-0888 (Japanese only)
However if you don't make a reservation and show up they will allow you to enter if there is space in the tour. It seemed like they had a tour every 30 minutes or so.
website (Japanese only)

Kenrokuen Garden
Access: Kenrokuen Garden Bus Stop LL9 or RR8
Hours: 7:00am-6:00pm (March-October 15), 8:00am-5:00pm (October 16-February)
There are also free early admission times starting around 4 or 5am but you must depart the park before regular opening hours.
Admission Fee: 310 yen - adults

Higashi & Kazuemachi Chaya District
Access: Hashiba-cho Bus Stop RL5 or Higashi Chaya District Bus Stop LL11
To reach the Kazuemachi Chaya District just head towards the river and then walk along it around a 5 minute walk away from the bus stop. To reach the Higashi Chaya District you must walk away from the river and the main street. These two districts are diagonally across from each other. 

Shima Teahouse
Hours: 9:00am-6:00pm
Admission Fee: 400 yen but you get a discount if you show your One Day Bus Pass
They have an English info sheet that describes the function of each room.

failed toyama firefly squid tour

I had mentioned previously that my Nagano trip in February was cancelled due to a sudden snow storm (yes a storm cause it sounds more badass). What I didn't know was that that was just the beginning of my bad weather curse! In this blog post I will tell you the detailed instructions of how to book a tour to see the Toyama Firefly Squid. Let me first mention that it was extremely difficult to plan this trip and if you can't speak Japanese or know anyone who speaks Japanese you won't be able to register for this trip.

After doing a lot of research on the internet I discovered that a lot of English websites and blogs had the same copied and paste text and used the same photos - which wasn't much help. This is what everyone expects when they get there. This is what I expected!!

source: Amusing Planet

However I think the above photo won't be what you see on the tour but something more like this..

Source: Pink Tentacle
Unfortunately I didn't get to see either of these views but more on that later... The first thing you have to do is make a reservation. These sea tours allow for visitors to get on a boat and see the firefly squid as they are being caught in nets. If you look at the above photo the nets have to be jostled in order to agitate the squid so they light up.

Anyways the tour only last for a month from the beginning of April to May. The Namerikawa Tourism Association is the only company that does these tours and they start taking reservations on March 1st from 9am-4:00pm. When the day comes I'm dialing them like crazy, but I'm getting a busy signal every time. Finally after trying for a couple of hours I give up and just eat my lunch. On a whim I try one more time around 2pm, a little before class starts and I finally get through! When they answer no one speaks English and I'm trying to speak slower and be like yes you can understand me because I'm speaking slower. Of course that's a fail and my assistant finally takes over and because I have class I have to leave it in their hands. What I gather is that already by 2pm of the first day of reservations most everything is booked up. Forget about the weekends or even Golden Week holiday - those are already full. Thankfully I have a Monday off so was able to secure a spot but they require a lot of information like my address, phone number, etc etc and since my assistants didn't know those answers I ended up having them reserve a spot for me but I had to e-mail them the rest of the information. They require your address and all this other info because they will send you a card that you must bring with you in order to get onto the boat.

This tour is definitely targeted at locals. Not sure if you can have this card sent to a hostel or hotel. Since the tour starts around 3am it would be best if we could find a hotel in the area but there is only one that I know of in English with an online reservation system and it was completely booked. The only other choice was to catch the last train there and then wait the couple of hours until the tour began. My friend Paige and I sat in the train station as long as we could before they had to close up and then we started wandering the streets. We ended up sitting inside this room near the Hotaruika Museum that had a nearby bathroom and provided shelter from the wind and cold. We sat there for hours munching on snacks and trying to nap (so difficult when there weren't any chairs).

Finally the museum opened at 2:30am and we got to try samples of the firefly squid or hotaruika as they are known in Japanese.

firefly squid with kimchi flavor
Oh man I so did not want to eat this but all my adult students had told me how delicious it was and since this was the only time I would have the chance to eat this I had to woman up and eat it. It was nasty! I hate raw squid and the kimchi flavor did nothing to mask the rubbery taste of it, it just exacerbated the grossness of it all! Paige loved them and there were a lot of different flavors to try.

proof that we were there!
We were taken into the museum, all the information is in Japanese, and we were given a demonstration of the firefly squid. They were in a little pool and we got to shake the nets and see the firefly squid light up. Pictures didn't turn out well since I just have a point and shoot camera. Afterwards we got to go to this little tide pool setup that they had where we got to touch the firefly squid!

me holding the squid - my mouth is open cause I'm about to pop it into my mouth :P
After all this demonstration I was ready for the tour. But as we exited the museum everyone started heading for their cars. We were like WTF is going on? There had been no announcement or anything, not even in Japanese because Paige understands Japanese and she said they hadn't said anything. Apparently the tour was freaking cancelled because of the "strong" winds. The winds were not strong - the trees weren't even rustling! DAMN YOU WEATHER!

So after all this time, waiting, work and money to get here all we got was a sorry trips cancelled nothing we can do about it! Not even getting rescheduled for another tour or anything! Ugh so fking pissed off. I just went out into the steps looking over Toyama Bay and just screamed and cursed while Paige looked on. She was probably thinking have I saddled myself with a crazy person?!? Sorry Paige! Then we spent another couple of hours trying to sleep on the uncomfortable chairs in the train station, which was thankfully unlocked, and waited for first train to get us back to our hotel room. All in all I would probably never do that again - so not worth it. Better yet I've discovered that to see the view like the first picture above you can just go to Yaezuhama Beach and see it for free!

The Details 
Bus from Nagoya Meitestu Bus Station to Toyama
Price: one way - 4630 yen round trip - 7410 yen
for bus schedule check out their website (japanese only but entering into Google translate works wonders)

Namerikawa Tourism Association
phone # : (076) 475-0100
reservation begins March 1st
hours: 9am-4:00pm
price: adults - 4500 yen & children - 3000 yen
website (Japanese only)
e-mail address:
They can respond in English in the e-mails so you can try booking via e-mail but not if you want prime spots like the weekend or during Golden Week. They reply really quickly but never heard back after I complained about the trip. Everyone talks about the awesome customer service here but if there are any problems that customer service goes out the window.

In the e-mail I had to provide my address, name, age, telephone number, gender (why?), how many people are going, date of tour and I think that's about it. If you and your friend live at different addresses they will also ask for your friends address so I guess they can get a separate card too and not have to rely on you being there to go.

Access: Namerikawa Station - JR Hokuriku Line 
last train departing from Toyama 10:24pm and takes about 15 minutes cost - 320 yen
You can also take a taxi from Toyama to Namerikawa instead of staying overnight but it takes around 30 minutes and could cost around 7000 yen or more.

only hotel here that I know of in Namerikawa - Hotel Sunroute Namerikawa 
website is in English but by the time I had secured my reservation for the tour all the rooms were already sold out - didn't call them but their website was all booked. I would definitely recommend this especially if you need sleep. Though I can't understand how all the rooms were booked before people got spots on the tour and this city is pretty rural to be that popular.
Places to actually see Toyama Firefly Squid - Yaezuhama Beach
Access: Toyama Chitetsu Bus bound for Yokata from JR Toyama Station and 10-min walking from Yokatamachi Bus Stop
website - person who actually went to this beach and saw the firefly squid (can find a map of where this beach is at)

However if you go at midnight in order to see the firefly squid all the buses and trains would have stopped by then so either catch the last bus here and then wait or maybe catch a taxi here. The closest train station is 45 mins away by walking.