Mama Bear in Asia

My gawd!
Everything is in Japanese.

Said my mother, at the crack of dawn, as she peered outside our hotel window.

This was my mom’s first trip to Asia. She retired this year and was ready to explore this part of the world since my mèimei (younger sister) and I now live over here. We decided to spend a week deep in Kurokawa’s onsen country (onsens are what the Japanese call their naturally occurring hot springs). My sister and I visited this area last year, which is where we picked up our onsen addiction. We knew our mom would dig it. Who wouldn’t like wearing a pretty kimono all day and soaking in mineral rich waters nestled in the woods???

Katy in her pretty kimono, aka a yukata

We all flew in separately to Fukuoka (airport code FUK), which is the capital of Kyushu Island, Japan; my sister from Hong Kong, me from Taiwan and my mom from the US. We spent the night eating pan-fried gyoza (half moon-shaped dumplings) and marveling that we were all together which hasn’t happened in a couple years. The next day we tromped around the city of Fukuoka before heading to the countryside.

We arrived first and waited for mèimei to arrive, in our complimentary onsen-lounge wear that is. Yes, even urban hotels have onsens.

The only thing that could derail this trip would be if my mom did get that tattoo of her beloved cats. It was plausible. Now we wondered… did she?

It has something to do with the Yakuza (organized crime).



My mom and the Japanese share an equal love for the Moomin and wouldn’t you know it, we serendipitously stumble upon a Moomin cafe.

The Moominuccino was delish.
Shinto and Buddhism are Japan’s two major religions. Shinto is as old as the Japanese culture, while Buddhism was imported from the mainland in the 6th century.
Ema are small wooden plaques, in which Shinto and Buddhist worshippers write prayers or wishes. The ema are left hanging up at the shrine, where the kami (spirits or gods) are believed to receive them.
Definitely felt like we were in a Haruki Murakami novel.
Let’s get this Onsen thing on!

We hopped on a public bus and in 2 hours got plopped off at our ryokan in Kurokawa (a ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn with tatami mat rooms). We immediately purchased our wooden onsen hopping passes at the town co-op (aka cat central). These gems grant access to any 3 onsens in the town (which is in addition to the onsens at our ryokans). These were the hardest 3 decisions we had to make all week.

Co-op cats! Cats + Japan go together like peanut butter and jelly.
The land of gnomes and onsen eggs
Oyado Noshiyu! The most magical ryokan of all.
Can I get wifi here?
The official snack of onsen champions
The onsen egg hut… eggs hard boiled from an onsen are the best!
The town offers communal umbrellas. Pick one up, leave it wherever.
Dinner is often served in your room which makes for a cozy evening. This is at Ryokan Wakaba.
There’s always a pot of tea around.
Shiitake mushrooms logs
Sister walk to Love Hill about an hour outside of the town center (wearing a Yukata out and about is totally cool)
Mama book lover found a reading nook during a rainy afternoon
Tension tamers
Sake in adorable glass jars? Yes, please. This “kumamoto bear” is the mascot of Kumamoto Prefecture. There’s a mascot for everything in Asia.
Tensions all gone!
The liquor store… and watch your head!

Mama feeling the magic

Autumn is persimmon season
No Johnsons in these Onsens
Open air onsen at Oyado Noshiyu. Men and women bath separately, which makes it the perfect trip to do with lady co-horts.
Dinner at Oyado Noshiyu (not served in our room)

I dedicate this photo to my mèimei ❤️
Saying goodbye to our friends at Ryokan Wakaba
One of the 3 places we “onsen hopped” called Oyado-nonohana.

Rice fields

Oyado Noshiyu had a vintage-nooky-attic lounge called Naya. We sipped Pampelmuse and listened to the rain.

Night night onsen moon

Back in the city of Fukuoka…

Well behaved and talented children doing impressive things

The Tōchō-ji Temple in the centre of Fukuoka. This is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan and houses the largest sitting wooden Buddha in the country which we weren’t allowed to photograph.
One night at the Hotel Croome (yah, our own micro rooms)!!
We sent Queen Mèimei back to China (someone had to work around here)!
Mama Bear & I continue on…

We took the train to Karatsu, a quaint coastal town in the northwest region of Saga Prefecture in Kyushu. We spent 2 nights here in a family run ryokan called Yōyōkaku 洋々閣. The garden features old black pines that are 200+ years old, ceramics (on display and for sale) by Takashi and Hanako Nakazato and of course, an onsite onsen. This was the highest concentrations of corgis I’ve seen in Japan – 1 for every day we were there, which was 2 corgis, therefor, this is my favorite coastal town.

1 of 2 corgis
Karatsu Castle

Mt. Ukidake in background
Black Pine Forest of 1 Million Trees
Nijinomatsubara – a 360-year-old pine forest along the coastline in Karatsu, in the top 100 most beautiful places in Japan and may I add magical and surreal.
Japan’s love of Shinrin-yoku (Forest Therapy)  is evident even in the chocolates
Shabu beef dinner at our ryokan, prepared by “The Terminator” as she called herself
We got the special garden room!
The meticulous pruners of the 200 year old black pines on the property
Garden bathing with the pines

Next stop, Taiwan

We spent the next week and half in Taichung, exploring parks, visiting museums, going to the week long International Jazz fest, eating local treats, getting a couple foot massages and watching mèimei do a rainstick dance.

Taichung, home of the original bubble tea
National Taichung Theater Happy Hour

Taiwan celebrating National Day with this incredible acrobatic show at the Taichung Theater. It’s also referred to as Double Ten Day. It commemorates the start of the Wuchang Uprising of October 10, 1911, which led to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty (ending thousands of years of imperial dynastic rule) in China and establishment of the ROC (aka Taiwan) on January 1, 1912.
And more treats…
Miyahara’s ice cream (not to be missed)
A fav on a hot day… shaved ice. This is a real local treat.
This is a coffee shaved ice of miraculousness with a cotton candy cloud on top (from Coffee Stopover where we buy our beans). If you like coffee you should visit just for this (because it’s way more exciting than us).
International Jazz fest, two blocks from our apt. – a 7 day affair. Most unique guest goes to Finland’s Tuuletar Acappella.

Guinea Pig Drama

We had a guinea pig situation that is still cracking my mom up. In short, let’s just say guinea pigs don’t enjoy the sound of crashing cymbals and/or wide-eyed Caucasian women staring of it with big toothy grins. I dedicate this photo to my mom. ❤️

May we stop and acknowledge just how proud this man is with his pet pig? It’s a thing of beauty.

This group asked us to pose with them, so we did. Taiwan, such a friendly place.
The Botanical Gardens
Botanical garden wonderment
Venson, my mom’s new hair designer
Sassy! (Note: hair gurus are called “designers” here, which I love!)
Oh, la la. Venson wanted photos for his portfolio.
It’s a family affair with Venson
Venson gave mèimei the Daryl Hannah beach look
Happy hour and cheese tasting at Taihu’s taproom – the best beer in town

Crash course in Mahjong
How foot massages start

Thanks for making it this far dear blog fans. I know that was a lot of photos, but I culled them down from 1,500! Blogging is not easy, people. For those interested in learning more about the Kurokawa Onsen area, go here.

And it turns out my mom did not get any cat tattoos, so we were able to visit ALL onsens.

This was such a special trip for us – a once in a lifetime vacation with our mum. And despite my mom’s very early morning rising, crinkling and opening of bags (in our small ryokan rooms), we had a heck of a time sharing this adventure together. Thanks for making the long journey all the way over here, Muumimamma! We’re so grateful you did. Come back anytime, you too mèimei.


Passionfruit (aka jiějiě 姐姐, the eldest daughter)

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10 thoughts on “Mama Bear in Asia

  1. Good show! ….And I had nothing to do with that guinea pig! Venson and I are now a hot item at the International Hair Design & Beauty Convention In Vegas…. and it turns out that Haruki Murakami did lie to me ! He went ahead and wrote me into his new novel. Seems like in this sequel to 1Q84, I’m Mr. Hakata’s mysterious love interest.
    Well, I sure am glad I had that tattoo of Kurt Cobain removed from my right breast! THAT little mistake would have spoiled our entire halcyon onsen days! On Thanksgiving I give my deep love & appreciation to my dearest girls: thank you for a wonderful trip of a lifetime. Corgi love & “I shall return “🌸🐇 KTG

  2. Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to share these experiences with us. I personally LOVE them and wait for them to show up in my inbox. So happy that your Mom was able to do this amazing trip with you and your sister. Travel is the most amazing gift life has to offer!

    1. Gayle, xiexie for taking any time to visit this wee space on the interwebs… aka our online diary of misc. adventures. Since the day I met you, YOU’VE been a wonderful source of travel inspiration so thank you for that (spoiler alert for upcoming blog: Laos). Cheers to the eternal quest to see/do/learn more.

  3. So great to read about your adventures. The onsen + shinrin-yoku looks like the most relaxing and restorative activity imaginable!

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