A Travellerspoint blog

May 2019

From Fukuoka back to Tokyo...

semi-overcast 20 °C

Well after more than ten weeks on the road it was bound to happen... I'm a little behind on my blogging. I'm writing this from Lima in Peru. I had hoped to get this written before departing Japan but the days just got away. We've now completed our time in Asia :( and you can see our route below starting in Tokyo, making our way south before a few days in South Korea and then back to Japan as we made our ascent from Fukuoka up to Hiroshima and Nagano before our final few days in Tokyo.

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We spent our first few days back in Japan in Fukuoka, primarily as it served as cheap hub to re-enter the country. And honestly there isn't a whole lot to do so if you're travelling through the southern part of Japan by train you can probably leave it off your list. It was nice to spend a few days in a lesser known city and with an apartment in the middle of town we almost felt like bonafide locals. They've got a lovely park here known as the Marine Park Uminonakamichi which is located on a narrow cape. Its colorful and exotic flowers are its main attraction.

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Next up was Hiroshima. As you probably well know Hiroshima is regrettably best known for the atomic bomb dropped on it during World War Two. The Peace Memorial Park is not an easy place to visit emotionally speaking but it is a must in Hiroshima. It houses a collection of items salvaged from the aftermath of the bombing and features videos of Japanese civilians who survived but lost many family members and friends. I remember learning about this in school but being here in person it really hit home just how much suffering these people went through. 200,000 people died as a result of the bombing and even though it was more than 70s years ago their memory is alive and well thanks to people who live here and its visitors. You can see below a photograph of a woman paying her condolences and below that a memorial service at the Genbaku Dome, the only building that was purposely left unrepaired afterwards. We were fortunate to witness a school memorial with songs sung by children who made paintings and candles in memory of those who lost their lives. It was very touching and we were glad we could pay our respects.

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Hiroshima has much to offer as a destination. We enjoyed a really nice trip to Hiroshima Castle and a day at Miyajima, a small island off the coast and one of Japan's most visited tourists spots.

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It was a long trip north to our next stop in Nagano. It didn't help that our train got stuck by an hour and a half and although we had Game of Thrones to keep us company it took us a good eight hours to get there. It was well worth the trip though as it's a beautiful town and it gave us the opportunity to experience one of Japan's mountainous regions. Its home to the Zenkoji Temple, one of Japan's most famous temples.

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We were also able to visit the Snow Monkey park in the Joshinestu Kogen National Park. It's a conservation area that provides refuge to the monkeys and allows visitors to observe them up close without any cages or space restrictions. They are free to leave at any time but generally stay close by for the local onsens/outdoor hot spa! During the winter they bath in the water and although we had hoped to see them indulge in a natural jacuzzi we were out of luck given that summer is only around the corner. The monkeys are adorably cute and it was heart warming to watch them in action.

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On our final day in Nagano we checked out of our hotel in the city and took a bus into the mountains to a Ryoken, a traditional Japanese homestay. We had been really looking forward to this and it didn't disappoint. Sliding doors, matted floors, beds on the ground... it was as Japanese as we could have hoped for. We had the most wonderful host who cooked us a delicious dinner and breakfast the following morning.

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Say cheese... I think my clothing added about thirty pounds. #Don't judge me...

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The next day our host gave us a departing gift of matcha Kit Kats (green tea flavour) and then took us to a beautiful nearby lake and then a Ninja museum/escape house which was challenging and a lot of fun. She even took part too.

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Our host insisted on paying our entry fee into the Ninja attraction and drove us back to the city at no extra cost. This was Japanese hospitality at its finest and we couldn't leave our 10/10 review on Booking.com quick enough afterwards. If you're ever in the Nagano region check out the Yadoya Shiroganeya you won't be disappointed. There's even a little onsen so you can relax in a hot Japanese bath.

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Our final few days were spent back in Tokyo. We had packed so many things in only a few weeks earlier we very happy just to revisit some of our favourite areas in Shibuya, Shinjuku and Akihabara. We also checked out the restaurant where part of Kill Bill was filmed, very thrilling if you're a major fan like we are!

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And that concludes our time in Japan. We had the highest expectations and they were definitely met. There's such a variety of attractions, history, culture and quirky experiences on offer all we can say is get Japan on your travel bucket list if you haven't yet been! The Japanese people are the most polite we've ever met and as I said in a previous post you'd struggle to find litter anywhere, not to mention crime (not to say it doesn't exist). We could learn a lot from them when it comes to honour and respect.

So what's next? Well it's the tail end of the trip and as mentioned in our first entry Alberto is spending the next few weeks with his family and friends in Spain before we relocate home to Dublin. I've had South America on my list for quite some time now so I've signed myself up for a three week group tour with Intrepid Travel. I've been in Peru just a few days mostly relaxing but tomorrow is the first day of the trip. Sayōnara for now.

Posted by mattld 14:35 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo nagano hiroshima fukuoka ryoken Comments (1)

South Korea - Seoul

sunny 20 °C

I mentioned at the end of our last entry it was frustrating not being able to find accommodation in Japan during 'Golden Week', essentially forcing us to take a temporary detour outside of the country. On a brighter note we've ended up here in South Korea, a country which we probably wouldn't have visited for another ten years. I'm a self-confessed planning addict (surprise) so this was a welcome reminder that sometimes it's nice to go with the flow and see where life takes you! A really good friend of ours from Sydney has also been here so it's been great catching up. Seoul is the capital of South Korea (SK) and home to almost ten million Koreans. Surrounded by a mountainous and hilly landscape the city is densely populated with skyscrapers not to mention what feels like an unlimited amount of restaurants, bars and shops. Given SK's strong history and relationship with America its own Western vibe is quickly evident from a capitalist perspective. I must admit initially I had wondered if that had come at the cost of their own identity and culture. However once you take a peak beyond the surface both aspects shine right through.

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We spent Thursday evening with our friend Sonia where we had a chance to visit Gwangjang Market, one of the oldest and largest traditional food markets in South Korea. It recently featured in Netflix's 'Street Food' series including this lovely lady below who tells her story behind her restaurant and how it important it has been to her family. We can confirm the noodle soup was delicious.

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The next day we paid a visit to the Korean War Memorial, built for the purpose of preventing war through lessons learned from the Korean War. If you're in anyway interested in the division between the North and the South than this is a must visit. We were lucky to witness a show and demonstration outside prior to entry which included a band and singers.

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Friday evening was a messy one with Sonia... Korean BBQ (rude not to) followed by lots of drinks let us to the best retro game bar I've ever visited and of course some karaoke. Because one can rarely get tired from out-of-tune karaoke!

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On Sunday we spent the day with Sonia on the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) tour. We were driven to the border between the South and the North and had the opportunity to learn more about the creation of the North. I went through a slight obsession phase (!) with North Korea last year so this was a great opportunity to see a glimpse of the country in person. If you're not familiar there is plenty of information available online and it's pretty fascinating. There were a few different stops in the tour including a look at one of the tunnels the South Koreans had discovered in their territory by mistake and was in fact built by the North Koreans to invade long after the ceasefire of the original Korean War.

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Below you can see North Korea in all its glory! There are binoculars available to look through but we weren't able to spot anyone unfortunately.

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We also had the dubious honour of trying North Korean wine, aka the worst wine we've tasted in our ENTIRE LIVES. And that's say something... Blossom Hill come back all is forgiven! To our dearest Kim Jong Un & associates, please don't give up the day job lads.

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Today we visited the Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in 1395 and home to the Joseon dynasty. It reminded us a little of the Forbidden City in Beijing.

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'Children's Day' is celebrated here on the 1st May and although we're not sure if it's completely related there still appears to be celebrations and festivities taking place around the city.

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This is our final evening in South Korea and we've thoroughly enjoyed it. The weather has been ideal at a very pleasant 20 degrees and there's not been a cloud in the sky. Five days has been enough to get a good taste but we'd love to head back in the future and explore the rest of the country. For now though we're heading back to Japan and tomorrow we fly south east to Fukuoka.

Posted by mattld 02:27 Archived in South Korea Tagged seoul asia northkorea southkorea Comments (0)

Kyoto & Osaka

overcast 15 °C

As fun as Tokyo had been it was an action packed few days and Kyoto brought us a welcome change of pace and a taste of old Japan. There hasn't been a 'super fun crazy robot show' in sight. Using the JR line it was a short two and a half hour ride south and we booked four nights here to allow some breathing room. It didn't take us long to realise that Kyoto is a beautiful city filled with quiet temples, sublime gardens and colourful shrines. I had heard of it from many friends who had previously visited and it's obvious quite quickly that Kyoto is a must visit.

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The first major attraction on our list was the Fushimi Inari-Taisha. Now how to describe this... it's a vast shrine complex filled with seemingly endless shrines gates spread across a thickly wooded mountain. It was built in the 8th century (!) and dedicated to the gods of rice and saké. Sure why not.

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We also visited the Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto's famous golden pavilion. It was originally built in 1397 as a retirement villa. Lucky for some!

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The third major attraction in Kyoto is the bamboo forest. It's just beautiful and you can really feel the sense of serenity as you're walking through it.

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There's also a palace and plenty of gardens to explore next to it.

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On Monday we arrived in Osaka via a short 30 minute ride. Osaka is Japan's third largest city and it's not a pretty city in the conventional sense. It's been overcast and rainy most of the time we've been here which hasn't helped either. When you walk through the city it all feels a little 1980s. Still though the main tourist hub spot of Dotonbori provides plenty of entertainment and is easier on the eye.

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Today we visited Osaka Castle, one of Japan's most famous landmarks and it was packed. We learned a few weeks ago that this particular week is known as 'Golden Week'. Most of the country are on holidays so we were lucky to find a decent Airbnb as almost everywhere was booked out.

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On a side note, one observation is that the Japanese are mad about their slot and pachinko machines! Particularly here in Osaka. It's almost like a private joke nobody is willing to let us in on. :(

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Unfortunately I came down with a bad cold for a few days so between that and the weather we've been resting up a little more. Overall it's been a welcome change of pace but we probably wouldn't have missed Osaka too much if we had visited it just for a day from Kyoto. Tomorrow we take a flight to Seoul, the capital of South Korea for five nights! It was not on the original plan but with the country enjoying a week of holidays we thought it wasn't the worst idea to take a slight detour thanks to some cheap flights we found online. We have no expectations one way or the other with South Korea so it'll be interesting to see what it's like.

Posted by mattld 05:18 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto osaka japan asia Comments (0)

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