Merry Christmas

Trip Start May 15, 2007
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Trip End Dec 10, 2007


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Flag of United States  , Washington
Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A merry Christmas to all.  I would feel really nervous by saying that, but after being in primarily un-Christian countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, and Japan -- and seeing their love of Christmas as a manifestation of their love of SHOPPING -- I don't feel bad about saying it at all.  These experiences have convinced me that a love of Christmas is universal!

Well, I have been home in good 'ol Port Orchard for nearly two weeks now, and I wanted to make sure to write an entry for the last two weeks of my trip, especially considering the fact that they were probably the most bitchin' two weeks of my trip in general.  I have also been thinking a lot about this trip and what it all means to me now that I am safe and secure back home, if only so I can be embarrassed by it much later, like an old lady reading the obnoxious journal entries of her youth (not that I am so young, but you know...)

After I parted with my parents in Gyeongju, I went to Busan in the southeast corner of the country.  I had my final "hiking" experience when I climbed around Mt. Geumjeong (which you really ascent via cable car unless you are hardcore), where there is an old fortress and several temples.  The part of the stroll where I exerted myself was when I visited this out-of-the-way temple, whose name is escaping me now since I don't have my book with me where I wrote all of this stuff down.  Once I get an idea in my head, I tend to just keep on trucking until I get to Location X, wondering if it is really worth it.  And most of the time it is, this temple included.  The temple was perched on the side of the mountain and featured Buddha images carved into the rock.  A lot of the charm was that it was so out of the way, so there weren't many people there, making it really peaceful.  I was walking up this winding road when I approached the temple, only to look up and see this beautiful sanctuary.  It really did feel like Shangri-La.

As I mentioned in my last entry, I had realized a few days earlier that Japan is a quick and easy boat ride from Busan.  So after one night in Busan, I took an overnight boat to Hakata and then went directly to Tokyo the morning I got there.  I had purchased a 7-day railpass, which is only available to tourists and gives fantastic rates, so I was eager to get to the big T.  I was unsure about whether I should go to Tokyo, since it is a little far north to make it perfectly convenient to go to.  However, I had recently read that Tokyo had unofficially been designated the best food city in the world, thanks to its ratings in the Michelin guide, so this tipped the scales in my decision to visit it.

So is Tokyo the best city in the world?  Well, it is certainly the most city city in the world, by which I mean that I think it is the ultimate embodiment of a city, in all the craziness and excitement that cities represent, which says nothing of things like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Central Park in NYC, or all of the history you can find in London.  I think the perfect example of this is the capsule hotel, which is a hotel for short-term (one night?) stays where your rooms are basically the size of a coffin.  I am not sure of their exact origin of the capsule hotel, but it seems to be ideally suited for businessman coming late into town or people who have missed the last subway home (they stop running at midnight).  You just put your bags downstairs, if you have any.  Go up a couple of floors to find a locker, where you will find pajamas and a toothbrush.  A lovely bath awaits you, and in some places they even have spa services.  So there's no reason to rush home or stop drinking with the pals, even if home is way across the city.  Why haven't more cities thought of this?  I read there is also something like DVD cafes, where you can go and just hang out in a comfortable chair all night, take a nap, or play video games.  Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!!

While I was in Tokyo, I had the chance to meet up with Ernie and Mikako, who are the brother and sister-in-law of my sister's good friend.  I think the meal that they took me too was definitely one of the most unique and probably one of the best meals I've ever experienced.  The meal consisted of a succession of small courses, which incorporated great presentation (usually unimportant to me, but it is really nice), interesting flavors, fresh and tender meat, and live fish squiggling around in my mouth (well, almost...).  Ernie and Mikako were also great company.  The next day I spent some time with friends of my folks whom had hosted my parents when they were in Japan.  They were incredibly charming and also took me out to a great meal.  As anticipated, the food was worth the long trip to Tokyo.  Now that I am home, I have a hard time eating greasy food because the food in Japan and Korea is so clean and healthy.

After Tokyo, I headed to Himeji for the day, to see a castle that is supposed to be "the most beautiful castle in Japan," and then made it to Hiroshima that night.  The castle was really lovely, but when I think of Himeji, the image that will stand out in my mind is the yellow and red trees lining the central road in town, joined by bicyclers lazily pedaling down the street. Himeji and Hiroshima provided a nice counterpoint to Tokyo, because they aren't nearly as large and hectic as the capital city, but had the same Japanese charm and character to them. 

The next day in Hiroshima, I visited the A-bomb museum and memorial park.  The museum was really well done and the park was a great tribute, creating the atmosphere to really think about and absorb the events that took place there.  The museum ends with an appeal to fight nuclear proliferation.  Traveling has made me aware of how much history has gone over my head and how much there is to learn.  I hope that an interest in history will be one of the legacies of this trip.  It also made me really annoyed that they are rebuilding on the Two Towers site instead of creating a similar tribute.  

So Japan, Japan, Japan.  I didn't realize how much there was to see in Japan until I really started reading about it in the guidebook.  And I wasn't even able to visit Kyoto and Nara, which have some of the most beautiful temples and palaces, so I feel like I just skimmed the surface of this beautiful and complex country.  The people are such an interesting and endearing combination of uniformity and individuality, and the giggling Japanese schoolgirl routine is super cute.  Let's face it -- I do love the culture of cute.  AND the food really is fantastic. 

Downsides: Tokyo subway system is the most fucked up system I've ever seen.  They wear too much black there, and this is coming from someone who loves to wear black herself.  The lack of English there makes it a little more difficult, but this is only half a downside, as it's not as intimidating as I anticipated honestly.  Signs were still printed in English as well as Japanese, which has the strangest script ever -- how do Japanese people ever learn it???  I think for the foreigner Japan is this interesting combination of safe (because it is so modern and orderly) and challenging (because of the lack of English and solid-as-a-rock Japanese-ness of the place), so I can see why so many people love to come to Japan and teach English there.

I am remembering why I never wrote on this blog very regularly -- because it takes me forever to write!  So I will conclude this entry and write about the rest of this trip later.  Actually, since my trip is now over, it is great to relive these moments and impressions...
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