Monday, October 5, 2009
This weekend was Chuseok. Its one of the largest holidays in Korea and can be compared to Thanksgiving as spending time with family is the most important part. Great information about Chuseok can be found here. While in a perfect world I would have liked to celebrate with a Korean family I never scored a invite and planned a trip to Japan for my three day weekend.Chuseok is determined by the lunar calender and the three days change from year to year. Next year teachers get a five day weekend.
Our trip to Japan was epic due to our ferry leaving early from Busan and the only train to Busan leaving at 2:00 AM. I didn't sleep Thursday and took a taxi, train, taxi and then we found our hydrofoil ferry. Its takes 2 and a half hours to travel from Busan to Fukuoka (fuku-oh-ka). Fukuoka is located on the southern island of Kyushu and the city has a population of 1.3 million about half the size of Daegu. We arrived at 11:30 AM Friday (sleeping in train stations anyone?) and I set foot in Japan.
I was like a kid in a candy store. It was a steady downpour for the majority of the day but I couldn't stop smiling. JAPAN! I have wanted to travel here my whole life! Which made me a little ashamed that I didn't know they drove on the left of side of the street.
Our first stop was lunch where I sampled the famous tonkotsu-ramen famous for its white broth made from pork bones. After lunch we checked into our Hotel, the beautiful Hataka B. By this time it had been a few hours after lunch and there was only one thing on my mind. Sushi! We had heard about a great sushi restaurant strangely located on top of a six story electronics store. The escalators opened to a arcade. A mind blowing arcade that makes all the Korean arcades pale in comparison. People of all ages and gender were having a good time with everything from claw machines, fighting and racing games to pogo stick racing?
After the arcade it was time for a Sushi go round. This one was not only delicious and cheap (110Y a plate) and you could order off of a computer menu and it would soon pass you on the belt with you seat number on it.
I tired the tuna, salmon and sea cucumber. The cucumber was...pretty awful. After dinner we went out on the town in the Nakasu district. The Nakasu district was lively to say the least, lined with host bars and other adult entertainment. My group was content to slowly walk up and down the street with the best people watching in the world. The Japanese have a more varied style than in Korea or even America. The mens hair was fantastic with big yellow pompadours and Mohawks. The women wore everything from shiny skin tight dresses to traditional kimonos. We were in Nakasu during a small festival with traditional drum music and teams of women carrying platforms around the streets.
The star of the Nakasu district was its street food. Charts lined both sides of the streets selling everything imaginable. Pan fried noodles (cant find them in Korea), candy apples, octopus bread balls, sake, street meat and entire grilled lobsters!
After getting my fill of the sights and smells of Nakasu I returned to the Hotel. By this time I had been awake for 31 hours and I had to leave early in the morning.
It was a 2 and a half hour bus ride in breathtaking mountains and bamboo forests (the first I have ever seen!)and we arrived in Nagasaki. Nagasaki is famous for a the Atomic tragedy and being the historical Christian center of Japan. From 1550 to 1650 Nagasaki was the only city open to the West. First it was heavily influenced by the Portuguese and later the Dutch. Nagasaki was beautiful and a balmy 77 degrees. Its a small city of 450,000 and easy to travel around by streetcar.
We started the day with the Atomic Bomb Museum. It was riveting and depressing and I embarrassingly teared up a few times. Fat man dropped on Nagasaki on August 9 1945, three days after Hiroshima. The museum starts with a clock frozen at the time the bomb was dropped (11:03) and has water towers the were warped by the intense heat. This picture is of a human hand the was holding a glass bottle when the bomb was dropped.
After the museum we saw the Park and the Hypo-center of the explosion. Many of the statues were covered in paper cranes because traditionally 1000 paper cranes is thought to grant one wish. It became a symbol of peace with Sadako Sasaki and the story of the paper cranes. Their were many memorials in the Peace Park including one for the over 13,000 Koreans who died in the attack. The majority of these Koreans had been brought to Japan against their will in forced labor camps. Many more Koreans died in Hiroshima about 1 in 7. The Hypocenter of the bomb looks very 2001 but more interesting they persevered a piece of Urakami Cathedral. I felt super awkward in this picture. Is smiling appropriate in a place were 75,000 died?
After exploring the peace park and enjoying another sushi cafe, I wanted to see a Shinto shrine. For some reason I had been deemed honorary tour guide and I lead our group of six to Suwa-Jina Shrine. It is a breathtaking Shrine at the top of a hill over looking the city. Its also the location of the cities largest festival which takes place this weekend. I was heart breaking know how close I was to experiencing it. Luckily I caught a photo-op of the child performers.
Founded in 1625 Suwa shrine was just the reminder I needed that I am not in Korea anymore. While Korea has its own share of Buddhist Temples, Suwa is a Shinto Shrine. Shinto is a ancient religion based on the worship of Kami deity's. While the majority of Japanese take part in Shinto ritual they would still describe themselves as Christian, Buddhist or Agnostic. Who can blame them? It must be wonderful to have such a history. The Suwa Shrine had a long path way covered in red Torii (gates) and I once again felt ecstatic. I'm in Japan!
In the Shrine I left some prayers to be burned and purchased a love fortune. You read your fortune (unless your illiterate like me) and then you tie it to a tree branch for the Kami to hear your prayers. Mine tore in half...so...crap...
After Suwa it was time to leave endearing Nagasaki. Our last night in Japan consisted of more arcades, ramen and enjoying the motherland of Karaoke. Much more than a simple nori-bang, this place was seven stories and had a faux-marble entrance hall.
The next day we had to leave early. I did some shopping in the 100 yen store an returned to the ferry. I was time to return to Korea.
I only spent 50 hours in Japan but I fell in love. The only reason I wasn't depressed when I left was that I know I will return. Maybe with Stephany in March or even better, live in Japan for a year after my contract here ends. It wasn't as expensive as I expected. It was about 500 USD for the entire weekend. Japan is clean, friendly, beautiful (palm trees?!) and most importantly I didn't get stared at,spit on, called a prostitute, elbowed or rubbed the entire weekend. Only one person asked where I was from and that was to invite me to the Kunchi Matsuri festival. Japan is also less uniform than in Korea, the apartments aren't all cookie cutter and not every woman under the age of 50 has bangs. I miss Japan already but I promise you. I will be back.