Spa Resort Hawaiians

Part of the waterpark

Nestled seemingly in the middle of nowhere, Fukushima Prefecture, Spa Resort Hawaiians is a massive indoor waterpark and onsen that inspired a movie in Japan a while back called Hula Girls.

The waterpark themed on Hawaii has the following pools for your enjoyment:

  1. Kiddy pool with three slides
  2. Baby pool that’s a very wide puddle basically
  3. Two onsen pools you can go into while wearing a swimsuit
  4. A lazy river (closes at 5 p.m.)
  5. A grand pool where people were goofing around and throwing beachballs at one another
  6. Something like five waterslides (these cost extra, though)
  7. An extra kiddy pool for slightly older kids with a slide

It should be noted there is no place for professional swimmers or anyone hoping for some serious exercise to swim laps. I got a good workout, however, just walking around the lazy river about 50 times.

Inner tubes for one of the waterslides

Time, I think, hasn’t been too kind to the waterpark, which has paint peeling in places and outdated decorations, but I think it makes up for the overall look by how the place is.

This is a place that seems to have dedicated more of its time to making life easier for visitors than making the place look good, and that makes me able to handle the cheesy decor.

For example, they have places where you can blow up inner tubes for free, a baby room for nursing mothers, lifeguards (of course) everywhere, a food court next to the pools, a baby pool right next to a little kid pool, and a massive ceiling stretched over all of it so you can visit year round.

There’s nothing like escaping the winter and its breathtaking cold to enjoy a nice pool while surrounded in humidity.

The place got really quiet after around 5 p.m.

I also have noticed – and I have no idea how standard this is around the globe – that places in Japan with a pool have these machines in the locker rooms where you can stuff your dripping wet swimsuit into it, push and hold a button for five seconds, and your swimsuit will come back to you only mildly damp. Where have these machines been all my life?

I think the most genius design, however, is an onsen pool you can go into while wearing your bathing suit that is right next to the main kiddy pool. While I was there, I saw dozens of parents relaxing in the onsen while watching their kids splash around in the kiddy pool or go down one of three slides available to them.

One of the waterslides after it had closed for the day

As I only just visited the waterpark, I thought I’d share a few tips that will make your visit a lot easier, I hope:

  1. It can be a challenge just getting to the resort if you don’t have a car, though I know there are busses that can take you. It’ll take a bit of research to figure this out, though, if you don’t have a car as an option.
  2. Bring four 100-yen coins for the locker room. Only one 100-yen coin comes back to you, too, so be prepared to say a fond farewell to anything you leave in there until the very end of the day.
  3. You can bring a plastic swim bag with you to the main pool areas. People stashed their bags on any available ledge. I put my cellphone into my bag, along with my glasses, and a small amount of cash for the food court.
  4. A lot of the foodcourt closes at 5 p.m. This waterpark technically closes at 9:30 p.m., but they spend most of the day encouraging people to leave through maneuvers like this.
  5. The foodcourt does take cashless payments, but it might be wise to have a tiny bit of cash on you in your swim bag.
  6. Bring any inner tubes or beach balls from home or buy them somewhere else – prices for that kind of stuff at the waterpark are insanely high.
  7. Unlike most of Japan’s indoor pools, this place doesn’t require that you wear a swimming cap.
  8. No tattoos are allowed, but if you happen to have a small tattoo, cover it in a large waterproof bandage before arriving at the waterpark.
  9. You can go straight to the onsen in your bathing suit (assuming you have clothing to change into), where you can find showers accompanied by shampoo, conditioner, and body soap. Be aware that this onsen closes right at 8 p.m., however.
  10. Getting to the onsen is also a nightmare. They do not do a good job of providing signage for the onsen, which is basically buried deep within a maze, so please force someone who works there to walk you all the way to the entrance of the changing rooms for the onsen.
  11. All pools at the waterpark close at 8 p.m. The actual building shuts down at 9:30 p.m., but they will kick you out of the pools at 8.
  12. However, even on a Saturday, I found that the entire waterpark got considerably less crowded after around 5 p.m. That left me with a good few hours of having a waterpark almost entirely to myself, and it was awesome.
Possibly the most ridiculous mascot I’ve ever seen

Unicorn Froot Loops

This is my tale of woe.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is frootloopsjpg-679x1024.jpg

Once upon a time, Kellogg’s imported Froot Loops to Japan. They called it Unicorn Froot Loops, but it was the same thing.

It was a magical time, with every grocery store’s otherwise incredibly dull cereal aisle (you have a choice between Frosted flakes, corn flakes, and granola) lit up by the Unicorn Froot Loops’ magical glow.

But then, one day, they vanished from the shelves.

Poof!

Gone, without a trace.

Unfortunately, this happens all the time in Japan.

This is a nation that seems to have a zeal for introducing a food product, leaving it in the market for a few months, then taking it away. I try not to get attached to anything, or to snap it up as much as I can while it’s there and horde it like I’m a dragon guarding treasure.

I should’ve learned this lesson of impermanence at least ten years ago when, for some reason, the grocery store Seiyu had Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups just there, on their shelves.

I still remember observing them on the shelves and thinking, “I can grab those anytime now.”

And then, they disappeared.

I should have learned from that mistake.

But I didn’t.

Time and time again I’ve been met with disappointment. Whether it’s Honey Nut Cheerios suddenly vanishing from Costco here or Annie’s macaroni and cheese being a product the store’s employees have suddenly “never heard of” weeks after promising me the food would always be there, I have been living a life of disappointment when it comes to imported food.

I know there are some naysayers out there who are probably shaking their heads at this post, thinking, “But you live in Japan! Eat what they do.”

To them, I say, “You must not know what it’s like to live abroad.”

There’s a reason there are places in America like “Little Italy” or “Chinatown.” That reason, I think, is people who live abroad feel the profound loss that comes from not being able to readily have the food they grew up eating. Food is a huge part of one’s culture, and suddenly being denied it can be tough. So, people band together and make places that offer that comfort food.

There are American restaurants here, which help, but when it comes to snacks and such, those can be really hard to find.

I like a lot of Japanese food, but I miss American food, even though I know it’s mostly snacks and junk food.

So if Kellogg’s is reading this, please bring back those Unicorn Froot Loops.

Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

In deciding I don’t need to follow strict rules, such as defeating Breath of the Wild first, I decided to put aside Breath of the Wild for a bit and have fun in Tears of the Kingdom for just a little bit.

I thought I was going to play for a couple of days just to see what the differences were, then dutifully head back to Breath of the Wild to finish up the game (as in defeat Calamity Ganon).

That was weeks ago, and I’ve almost completely forgotten about Breath of the Wild because I’m having way too much fun in Tears of the Kingdom.

My God this game is fun. I love skydiving, I love the towers shooting you up into the sky, I love the side quests.

Though the Gloom Hands scare the living daylights out of me (I was actually way more comfortable with the guardians in Breath of the Wild), the rest of the game is just way too much fun to put down.

And it is a distracting game, not just from reality, but all the various things in the game distract you from just about anything you’d intended on doing.

For example, I started off playing last night with the goal of finishing up a few shrine quests I hadn’t completed, but then I saw some ruins falling from the sky, so I rewound time on them (it makes sense if you’ve played the game) and went up to the sky islands, where I found a treasure chest containing an old map. The old map marked in the Depths (creepy place below the surface) where I could find treasure. So off I went into the Depths, only to discover I didn’t have any Gloom-resistance food, so off I went to a stable to cook some food, but then I ran into the white bird journalist dude (it makes sense if you’ve played the game) who has a new side quest for me to do, so then I went off looking for a prophetic chicken.

And that seems to be about the typical gameplay I’ve read about from other gamers online. “Distraction” is the real name of this game.

That’s not a bad thing, either. I’m in no hurry to finish this game, so wandering around getting distracted is enjoyable for me.

Maybe at some point, whether it’s becuase I defeated the Demon King or because I got bored, I might go back to Breath of the Wild, but for now, I’m really having the time of my life with this game.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I’m extremely late playing this game, but after seeing how amazing its sequel, “Tears of the Kingdom” looks (and hearing all the good reviews for this game), I knew I had to give it a try first before going into the sequel.

I’ve been playing Zelda games since they were out for the NES decades ago. That being said, I am horrible at them. I hate fighting the bosses, and I’m terrible at the puzzles.

For a long time, I didn’t really like the games, and I didn’t play them so much as watch my older brother play.

All of that changed when I started the Nintendo 64’s Ocarina of Time. I was still horrible at the game, but I loved the storyline and playing it. My brother was also there to help me beat the bosses I couldn’t or solve the insane puzzles I couldn’t.

Life with Zelda games got infinitely better for me when I bought a guidebook for Majora’s Mask. I lived and breathed that guidebook as I had it in front of me like a security blanket while I played.

I know there are people out there who enjoy the stress and frustration of solving Zelda’s puzzles on their own, but I am not one of them. I like the side-stories, the weapons upgrades, the random battles. I like wandering around and only progressing when I feel like it.

And Breath of the Wild delivers that for me. While it’s still a harrowing experiencing running into a massively strong enemy while exploring the wilds of Hyrule, for the most part I’ve been biding my time doing the side quests, defeating shrine quests whenever the mood strikes, and taking my time to rescue Zelda from her 100-year struggle containing Calamity Ganon.

Whenever I finally do get around to defeating that major evil boss I still think of as a pig, then I’m going to go out and get “Tears of the Kingdom” and start the whole meandering process all over again.

Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour at Tokyo Dome

Just before the concert

As an introvert, I’m not much of a concertgoer. The entire experience is quite frankly stressful, with the massive crowds complicating every task that’s normally fairly easy to complete (using the bathroom, getting food, riding a train).

I didn’t go to concerts when I was in high school and college thanks to being an introvert and not having a lot of money set aside for things like that.

I’m also a casual fan of Taylor Swift. I have been for well over a decade now. By casual, I mean I focus on her music rather than her, and I don’t particularly care about her beyond that. I’ve always liked her lyrics and songs, but I have to say her album Evermore really sold it for me that she is truly fantastic at writing songs.

I also have to admit I have a friend who is a casual fan like I am, and we went to Taylor Swift’s concert together about 8 years ago when she played at Tokyo Dome. I want to say it was her 1989 tour, but I couldn’t tell you for sure. It was a fun concert, and we both promised we’d go to a concert together again if we ever had time.

This same friend told me half a year ago that Taylor Swift was coming to Tokyo, and by then her Eras Tour had kicked off and was incredibly hard to get tickets for. Knowing this, we entered the ticket lottery system fully expecting we wouldn’t get anything. I also chose the cheapest tickets because I really didn’t see the point in spending what could have paid for a vacation somewhere on a single seat.

We got really lucky – we got tickets for her February 10th concert.

Extraordinarily expensive souvenirs for sale outside Tokyo Dome

It was crowded at Tokyo Dome, of course, but my friend and I waited in line outside the dome to buy t-shirts since we’d gotten one at her last concert, too. Everything was selling out fast, but we managed to at least get shirts.

Seating proved to be a bit tricky. We were shoved to the right of the stage (stage left), but because signs everywhere said we were on the second floor, we thought we’d lucked out with our seats being pretty close to the stage. Confirming with security, however, sent us up to what is actually the fourth floor but what security was calling the second floor, and we soon understood we had indeed been banished to the “nosebleed” section.

Just before it started

Taylor Swift, when she appeared, was a spec of dust on the stage to us.

That dot in the middle of the stage was apparently Taylor Swift

Still, being surrounded by diehard Taylor Swift fans actually helped make the concert more fun to watch. It felt like being at a highly controlled party, with teen fans a couple rows up from us waving their hands to the beat and acting like their minds might explode every time Taylor Swift announced the next song. We were all given wristbands that lit up in varying colors according to whatever the lighting programmer wanted at any given time, which I think helped the audience feel like we were all helping to make the concert amazing.

The best way I can summarize it was that it was fun.

My friend has been to other concerts, she said, where the performer was extremely late starting the show, but Taylor Swift was out and ready to go right at 6 p.m., and even though the entire world knew she had to fly back to America for the Super Bowl, she acted like we were all just hanging out at Tokyo Dome together with all the time in the world.

I know she’s a professional performer, but I still found it amusing that she kept asking the audience “Do you have time for one more song?” or “Do you have 10 minutes to spare?” Did anyone say no?

Going to that concert, I can understand why people shell out a ton of money to be crushed by other people and have their eardrums assaulted. It’s not just about that, it’s about finding other fans and singing and dancing along to the music together. The music was so loud, I could see the people around me singing because their mouths were moving, but all I could hear was Taylor Swift’s voice crashing against the ceiling.

I also quickly regretted we hadn’t spent even a little more on tickets so we could see better. It was nice the organizers put everything up on a massive screen, but I think it would’ve been amazing to have at least been able to see Taylor Swift’s face with my own eyes instead of on a screen.

Maybe next time.

The Kirby Cafe

The hardest cafe I’ve ever had to get into

The Reservation

After battling online reservation systems from Tokyo Disneyland, The Pokemon Cafe, and the Sunrise Seto, I feel like at this point in my life I’m a veteran of dealing with reservation systems under fire. That is, reservation systems that handle everyone on earth seemingly trying to reserve one of only a few spots available.

(Tokyo Disneyland, I’d just like to note, is usually really good with their systems, but there was a point two years ago I think it was where kids were half off for the summer, and the reservation system for that was absolutely bonkers.)

Reserving four spots at the Kirby Cafe at Tokyo Skytree’s Solamachi shopping center has been my white whale of reservations. I’ve been trying for the past four months to get one.

Reservations open online at 6 p.m. (Japan time) every 10th day of the month for reservations that would be for the following month, and spots fill up literally within the first minute of them becoming available.

I looked around online for any tips and tricks and read the recommendation of refreshing the page for the next half hour in case of cancellations, but I think maybe it was because I was going for four seats that nothing budged even an hour after.

Then, last month, fates smiled on me. Or maybe it was because I nearly slammed my finger through my phone tapping on the exact date and time I wanted, but I managed to finally get the reservation.

The Kirby Cafe is outside on the fourth floor in a terrace-like area of Solamachi.

Make sure you bring I.D. with you when you finally get to this cafe because they will check it against the name you wrote when you made the reservation (it looks like people selling or giving away their reservations has become a problem.)

I think the reason this cafe is so hard to get into is for three reasons.

  1. The food was amazing. It was cute, and it was delicious.
  2. Kirby is popular right now for some reason for being cute. I don’t know – I got the feeling a lot of the patrons didn’t love Kirby for the video games so much as because Kirby is cute. That was just my impression.
  3. The cafe is much smaller than I thought it’d be. There’s room for maybe 20 people at a time, and you’re given about 90 minutes to eat, I think it was.
Inside the cafe

The Food

The food is expensive, so just prepare yourself if you do get in and plan on going.

Another thing to note is you need to order everything you plan on eating all at once. You’re not allowed to call the server back to your table to order again. One time, then you’re done.

For four of us to have a main course, a special drink, and a dessert, it was about 20,000 yen (or only about $134 for people lucky enough to be converting from the American dollar). A lot of the menu items included souvenir plates and cups, but of course for an extra fee.

A Waddle Dee chilling in an “omuraisu” rice omelette option

The nice thing is at least the food also tastes amazing, rather than it just looks cute. I think considering how fast the food came out, too, it was really impressive.

A dessert to celebrate the “Kirby and the Forgotten Land” video game
A strawberry latte with a winter-only decoration on top. The mug cup is also available to purchase as a souvenir, of course for a fee

Can’t get a reservation?

For anyone who wants some Kirby Cafe gifts but can’t get a reservation, there are two Kirby Cafe gift shops in Solamachi to choose from.

There’s a relatively small one you can access inside Solamachi on the fourth floor just behind the actual cafe, and there’s another, bigger, one on the opposite end of the fourth floor across from The Pokemon Center store.

A mug I bought at the Kirby Cafe gift shop

The Kirby Cafe shop opposite the Pokemon Center also offers desserts and some drinks that are also on the menu at the Kirby Cafe, but they sell out really quickly so you’d need to get there first thing in the morning to get one.

Takeout from the cafe is also available without needing a reservation. You just talk to the staff at the Kirby Cafe (or manning the cash register at the shop just behind the actual cafe) and ask for takeout. Just be prepared to go back to that gift shop an hour or so later to get the food.

It was a great experience, though I think considering the price and how difficult the reservation was to get, I won’t be going back for a while. I think this was something I’m going to mark down as a once-in-a-lifetime experience and leave it at that.

Watching rugby in Japan

While I’ve only ever seen rugby tests in stadiums in Japan, and only about four at that, I’ve heard that there’s a drinking culture to rugby fans in other countries that I don’t see here.

The rugby tests I’ve seen involve spectators who are almost silent, like they’re watching golf, with the ocassional shouts here and there, followed by collective gasps, cheers and applause if something exceptionally exciting happens. Otherwise, it’s quiet enough that I can usually hear the players shouting at each other.

A recent rugby test I attended

I’m a supremely casual fan of rugby, by the way, but watching the tests in Japan has been a complete pleasure.

I love seeing people out with their kids, waving flags and enjoying snacks while watching. I don’t go to these tests worried about supremely drunk people bothering me, and for me, that’s a nice feature to Japan’s culture of rugby.

While there are plenty of places in Japan where you can run into extremely drunk people, I’m personally glad I haven’t had to deal with any at the stadiums. It’s just nice, to be honest, and I’m not sure if that holds true in other countries.

I’m looking forward to attending more rugby tests in Japan in the future.

Jinro Game

I’m a fan of the actor Takeru Satoh. While knowing nothing about him beyond his acting career and whatever he puts on Youtube, I can’t help but try to watch anything he’s been in.

I’m also a casual fan of Jin Akanishi – I was more a fan of his in my 20s than I am now, I think mostly because I don’t really have the time or energy to be a fan of too many people at once. The hobbies he posts about on his Youtube channel also don’t really align with mine. That being said, sometimes he posts things I like.

A few years back, especially during the pandemic, I was stunned to see Takeru Satoh and Jin Akanishi actually know one another as their two Youtube channels did a collaboration involving a game called “Werewolf” in English, apprently, and called “Jinro (werewolf) Game” in Japanese.

I started watching because I’m a fan of both celebrities, and seeing them together was altogether intriguing, but as I watched the game unfold, I fell madly in love with it not only for being so maddeningly simple in terms of preparation but also because it seemed like an amazing game to flex your acting skills, not to mention your memory. Jin Akanishi and Takeru Satoh also played with a group of other famous Japanese celebrities, which made the game all the more fun for me just to watch.

Knowing nothing about this game beyond what I’ve seen on their Youtube channels, I do know that it’s now become one of my dearest ambitions to play it someday.

The rules are (basically, and only from what I’ve gleaned from watching the Youtube game): You need a group of at least 9 people. One person is the moderator, the other 8 play the game.

Of the 8, there are two werewolves. The remaining are villagers or a fortune teller. It is the job of the villagers and fortune teller to figure out who the werewolves are walking among them, and it is the job of the werewolves to stay hidden and try to get other innocent people accused of being a werewolf. Each round is about 6 minutes long, at the end of which everyone accuses one person of being a werewolf.

Jin Akanishi’s Youtube channel suddenly posted a few days ago what is turning into a marathon of “Jinro Game” spread across a plethora of Youtube channels that features Takeru Satoh alongside a host of famous people in Japan (though I still have no idea who Jimmy Martin is).

In this version, a knight, shaman and a hunter have been added into the group, each with their own tricks they can pull to sweeten the game. Also, after six minutes, the person with the most accusations gets “killed”, then night falls, and another player might get killed if a werewolf is still among the group. This continues for two rounds, sometimes three.

If the villagers and non-werewolf players successfully boot out the two werewolves, then they win. If even one werewolf remains after about three rounds, however, the werewolves win.

I think in terms of preparation, you just need 8 playing cards that have the identities written on one side. That’s it. Ridiculously simple.

The fun and complications comesin trying to guess who’s lying about who they are and who isn’t. Werewolves happily declare they’re actually a villager or sit back and let the accusations fly around them while looking innocently confused.

Some people have a natural talent for this game, and Takeru Satoh is one of them. He is the teacher for the game in the videos even in this newer installment to the “Jinro Game” series for them, but all the while he’s pulling out all kinds of tricks and devious schemes as he eyes each person the way I think a lot of detectives might. While most of the other celebrities are fumbling around trying to grasp their way through the nuances, Takeru Satoh is in his element.

Just once, I wish I could try to play this game against him just to see if I could beat him at his own game. I think I’m going to add it to my bucket list the same way a lot of people might write “Win the lottery.”

The 2024 game is currently up to volume 4, and unfortunately it’s only in Japanese, but for those of you interested, the first volume is here:

This entertains me to no end

Rejections over the holidays

I’ll keep this brief since it’s Christmas (at least in Japan) and we’re heading into the great New Year’s holidays (which is Japan’s version of Christmas in that all of Japan seems to shut down for a few days).

As someone who has, in the past, received rejections on holidays, I’d like to take this moment to ask anyone in the publishing world reading this right now to do us poor writers a favor and wait at least one day or two after a major national holiday before sending a rejection of some kind.

For this time of the year, with its various holidays, I think it would be kindest to stop sending rejections on around December 15th and put them off until maybe around January 10th.

Perhaps you could have a nice roughly one-month break to maybe close submissions while you sift through everything, then just send out those rejections on the 10th, a day which we writers could dub “The Great Dump.”

Thank you for your time and consideration, and happy holidays to everyone reading this!

Pokemon Violet DLC

I’m what’s considered to be a casual gamer, in that I don’t play for hours at a time every day. That said, I love video games, especially RPGs like Kingdom Hearts and the Legend of Zelda series. For me, it’s like the ultimate interactive form of reading a book, making it endlessly fun.

Since I was in middle school, one of my favorite series has been Pokemon. As I grow older, I’m more and more disturbed by the idea of capturing animals and forcing them to fight one another, but at least it’s not real life. As a side note: I do find it interesting how a lot of Pokemon captures in the anime are just the trainer saying “Do you want to fight with me?” and the Pokemon agreeing, something I’ve never seen in the games.

When I first came to Japan, I basically shunned video games, thinking they were a waste of time as I focused on work, writing and life in general. However, I’ve recently realized how much I missed playing them. They helped me enjoy life more and relax at the end of a crazy day at school when I was younger. Thus, I started playing again in earnest, though still as a casual gamer.

I just bought a Nintendo Switch last year, meaning I’m still wrapping my head around the idea of the Switch’s “bonus content” (downloadable content, or DLC for some reason) you have to pay for to enjoy, on top of the money you already spent on the basic game.

I have a love-hate relationship with DLC because on the one hand, I hate having to pay even more money for a game. However, if it’s a game I really like such as Pokemon, it’s nice knowing that even if I finish the game, there’s still more to do. It feels like finishing reading a book only to find a bonus book at the bookstore (which there should be more of, let’s face it).

The Pokemon Company just released Part Two of their DLC for Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, called The Indigo Disk, and I have to admit time contraints have meant I’m still muddling my way through Part One, the Teal Mask.

I love the Teal Mask for how brilliantly it portrays what feels like, to me, a small town in Japan during the summer. For years during the pandemic, there weren’t summer festivals like the one portrayed in it, and this year’s summer festivals were jam-packed with people like me who sorely missed them, making them difficult to enjoy. Thus, it was nice being able to really take my time at the one in the game and enjoy it.

I would’ve loved some side games, though, besides the “Ogre Ousting” one. Classic summer festival games include using a hook attached to swiftly dissolving paper to try and fish a balloon half full of water out of a kiddie pool or using a paddle covered in that swiftly dissolving paper to try and scoop out bouncy balls or little plastic toys from a kiddie pool (there’s a lot of water at these festivals). I would’ve loved to have seen that kind of side game, but oh well.

With the second part out, I’m going to try to push my way through the Teal Mask a bit more, strictly because I’m a sucker for even over-the-top adorable Pokemon like Terapagos, which looks to be the main focus of the Indigo Disk. I want one, so I’m going to have to bid farewell to the summer festival and, from the looks of things, head underwater for that turtle.

Ah games are fun.

The trailer for Part Two.