I have totally not been blogging enough (at all) about our time in Korea. I am now going to remedy that by, um, blogging about Japan. Sorry, Korea! I will get to you eventually. (Meanwhile, if you're really hankering for Korea bloggage, feel free to click the Korea label on the left side of my blog page for all the 2005-2006 Korea ramblings your heart desires.)
So, Brian and I traveled to Japan from February 2 - 5. What an amazing taste of an awesome country that quickly catapulted to a high ranking in our lists of world destinations. We were both Japan first-timers, unless you count the layovers I had in Tokyo Narita airport a few years back, lying around for hours and buying water in the international transit zone with my U.S. dollars and getting change in yen. But we all know layovers don't really count. This, then, was my proper introduction to Japan.
Hurrah for Japan! It's a totally interesting, pretty, historic, convenient, delicious, clean, awe-inspiring, lively, relaxing country. We spent time in Hiroshima and Fukuoka (aka Fukuoka-Hakata). Both of those cities are in the southern/western half, not up top and not next to Tokyo. We took the ferry from Pusan, Korea to Fukuoka, Japan, a delightful three-hour hydrofoil adventure. It's fun to take a boat and then go through customs! But the actual boat trip itself is pretty much like being on an airplane, as you go into an inside part, sit in assigned seats in rows, and watch cheesy en route entertainment. You can't go outside because it's a high-speed ferry and you would fall off and die.
Going to Hiroshima was essential. It was basically a pilgrimage for me: to see the sight where such destruction was unleashed, and to see how the city has channeled its rebirth into a true commitment to peace on earth. "When will we ever learn..." We stayed in a fantastic hostel about five minutes' walk from the peace park and peace memorial museum. The museum is one of the better museums I've been to in the world, with history, photos, dioramas, recorded testimonials from survivors, tattered school uniforms that burned through to children's flesh, a watch that stopped at 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, etc. Everything there is super-interesting, like the twists of fate and clear weather that made Hiroshima the target.
There is also a display of copies of the telegrams sent from mayors of Hiroshima to world leaders every time a country tests another nuclear weapon. Year after year, the Hiroshima mayors ask the world to please seek peace and a world free of atomic bombs. There is a letter to (Nobel peace prize recipient) Barack Obama as well. And yet, the nuclear tests march on.
I cannot recommend the city of Hiroshima highly enough. It is sobering and bizarre to think you are walking around where the entire city was flattened and people were incinerated. On the other hand, it is an amazing city with a fabulous rebuilt downtown area and, I might add, tons of delicious restaurants. Hiroshima's specialties are oysters and okonomiyaki, and we definitely had our share of okonomiyaki (minus the seaweed flakes, for me). Happy hour, a used English bookstore, a sushi party at our youth hostel, a karaoke room with fellow travelers, a walk around a Japanese garden, a hike up to the peace pagoda ... I want to go back to Hiroshima again and again and again.
To cap off our lovely Japan trip, we stayed a day in Fukuoka before catching our return ferry to Korea. Fukuoka is so lively! That's the best word I can think for it. Among the amazing things they have are this great system of street food/drink stalls. They're basically little benches around a bar/grill, with plastic tent-like "door"/walls, so you can pop into one of these street stalls and drink on a Friday night and have a snack and chitchat. We passed by tons of them, but we actually had our sights set on hitting up an izakaya for our Friday night drinking and snacking. I'm so glad Brian was on top of that, figuring out that we needed to go to an izakaya, because we found one and ate yummy food and met the coolest people in the world everywhere we went. Japan totally has it all going on, and have I mentioned how clean and convenient everything is? And efficient. The efficiency is something to behold. We got to take the famous bullet train between Fukuoka and Hiroshima, and of course I am now in love with the bullet train. Fast and fabulous.
In short - we will be going back to Japan, and I now totally understand all you Japan people I've known over the years who are in love with/obsessed with that country. It is a great place to be. I have a new language to learn, clearly...