Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Sojourn in Japan: Part 1

Konnichiwa! I have just returned from a 10 day visit to Japan and have much to share. I will probably tell about the adventure in multiple blog posts. This first will outline generally what happened. I went with my fellow YAVs (Katie and Becky), our site coordinators, 3 Korean college students, and a Korean college chaplain. This was a cross-cultural study trip. We visited three universities in Japan and had presentations on environment, peace, and discrimination. I spoke in Hiroshima about peace.

Our home base was Kobe. But, from there we took the public transportation, including the super sweet bullet train, all over southern Japan.

In Nagasaki, we saw many temples and shrines, but the highlight was the Atomic Bomb Museum and the Peace Memorial Park. I can't begin to describe or understand the horrors that Nagasaki experienced, but atomic bombs should never, ever again be used.
This monument marks the hypocenter of the explosion, where the bomb detonated 500 m in the air. Around 70,000 people died in a matter of moments, with thousands of more deaths in the next months and years related to the bombing.

But rather than responding with more violence, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki have become international leaders in the peace movement to rid the world of nuclear weapons. This is a statue in the Peace Memorial Park in Nagasaki.
We also explored the city of Kyoto, a city rich in history as it was the imperial capital of Japan for centuries before the capital was moved to Tokyo.
Here is a beautiful pagoda at Kiyomizu shrine.
And this gem is the breathtaking Kinkakuji pavilion at a Buddhist temple.

Also in Kyoto we saw the walls of the imperial palace, the imposing Nijo castle (one-time home of the Shogun), Nishiki traditional market, and other temples and shrines.

In Osaka, the highlight was seeing Osaka Castle.
It really is stunning.
At the Osaka History Museum, Katie and I got to be dressed in Japanese kimonos.

I spent a day in Tokyo. One of the great parts of the day trip was getting to meet up with Dr. Nordmann, a professor from Coe, and his wife Stephanie who took me around Tokyo where they are living for the year.

This is Sensoji temple, where these lanterns were pretty amazing.
Meiji shrine is one of the top places to see in Tokyo, and it is a very tranquil, historically rich place.
This is the Akihabara district, which is known internationally for electronics and technology.
This building under construction will be known as the Tokyo Sky Tree or the New Tokyo Tower. When completed it will be the tallest tower in the world.
Finally, we went to Hiroshima, which you can imagine, was interesting and challenging. It was fun to see sites that are famous, but the fact remains that they are recognizable because of horrible tragedies. This was the A-bomb dome. We went to the museum, which was well done and devastating, and the peace park is beautiful. However, it makes you pause when you realize you are walking on ground that is elevated several feet from where it was before the bomb. This is because there was so much debris and so many bodies that they couldn't all be removed, so dirt was just brought in and covered over the area to make a new ground level. Again, atomic bombs should never, ever again be used.

Finally, we went to Miyajima, which is an island off the coast of Hiroshima. This area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the top three most beautiful places in Japan. The most recognizable feature is this gate in the water, but the island is quaint; it is covered in majestic mountains among which are nestled temples, shrines, and little shops. It was a nice way to end our travels.

Stay tuned, I think the next Japanese blog post will be about the food!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The holidays and Brandon's visit.

As you can imagine, one of the hardest things about being abroad is missing the yearly traditions of friends and family, the sorts of things you look forward to all year, every year. The Christmas and New Year's holidays here could have been really tough. We didn't have much going on for either holiday--no tree, only paper stockings, very sparse gifts mailed from overseas, and nary a Christmas light to be found. New Year's was even less of a celebration, as it is the lunar New Year (in February) that is heartily celebrated.

Fear not, though, the holidays turned out not to be a gloomy affair after all, because of one huge factor: Brandon came to visit! I had not seen my boyfriend for four months, so this was a very very welcome treat. He stayed for three weeks, and we had a wonderful time. In just this short time, he traveled up and down the peninsula, met dozens of people, and very impressively sampled an astonishing array of Korean foods...some that I had not even tried (nor did I want to, like chicken feet and pig's feet.)

We did too many things to go into detail here, so I will just put up some photos that highlight Brandon's time in South Korea. Now all we have to do is make it another seven months before we see each other again...

Brandon had been dreaming about Korean dumplings for months, so on his first night in the country we ate these monstrous, delicious, meat-filled steamed dumplings.

We visited Gyeongbuk palace, the main palace from the 600-year Joseon dynasty, where Brandon got to dress up like a historical Korean gent. I think he looks dashing.

We got into the holiday spirit more when we found this outdoor ice skating rink in the heart of downtown Seoul.
Brandon helped me to celebrate my graduation from Korean language class. Do I still deserve to graduate even if I can't read what my diploma says?

We ate a not-so-traditional Christmas meal of dumplings, fried pork, and French fries.
This is us at Cheomsongdae, an ancient astronomical observatory, in Kyongju, the capital of the ancient Silla kingdom.
The most impressive part of Kyongju was seeing Bulguksa temple (pictured) and Seokguram grotto.
In Busan, we saw some awesome ocean views!
We also hiked around an ancient fortress.

Eventually we made our way back to Seoul, and saw some interesting sights, including National Treasure No. 2, this ancient pagoda.
And we enjoyed a bit more Korea cuisine.

All in all, we had an amazing experience. It was great for Brandon and I to be able to enjoy each other's company, and having shared this time together will help us to get through the next seven months apart. We were able to take in so much of the Korean culture and take in a lot of sightseeing that I don't get to do here normally. So, thanks, Brandon for an awesome trip. Go Korea!