Friday, June 29, 2018

Korea + Japan = Koran?

As my Remote Year journey neared its end, I had the realization that I wanted to continue traveling (😱I know, I was shocked too). I somehow got it in my head that I wanted to go to exactly two other places; Japan and Colombia. Why these two places? Great question. How can you truly know why anyone wants to do anything? What actually motivates a man in life to take action? In this case, I'm pretty sure I just heard that these were some great places to visit. So, my company graciously decided to let me spend another two months working remotely (yes I was actually working during this trip) and I planned my months in Japan and Colombia (just to note, don't spell it Columbia because that is a university in New York).

Members of my Remote Year group had all kinds of plans following the trip, but most involved some sort of travel before heading back home to join the rest of you in normal life...ugh. My friend Melissa, who lived in Korea for several years, was taking a group of people to Seoul for one week (Seoul is in South Korea). As I went to book my flight to Tokyo (Tokyo is in Japan), I realized that because of the way the weeks lined up, I would actually have five weeks in Japan and not the four weeks that I had originally thought (and because I'm bad at numbers). The decision was obvious at this point....I was going to North Korea to see Kim Jong Un. No, forget I said that. I wasn't supposed to say anything about that. I meant, I was going to go to Seoul for a week.

A random tower in Seoul

And I feel like that sums up my Remote Year experience, don't you? Decide to go to a different country in a week on a moment's notice.

A foggy day in Seoul

What do you think of when you hear Korea? Sorry, you're not near me so I actually have no idea what you're saying, but I'm going to assume that you said Korean food.

I'm glad you said that. I love Korean food and there was plenty to be had....cause it was Korea.
Family dinner at a Korean restaurant

Bibimbap, Korean fried chicken, dog, lots and lots of kimchi, banchan galore, bulgogi...

An assortment of food items

And Korean BBQ...

I swear, Julianne is excited to be there

What's the next thing that comes to mind when you think about Korea...after Korean food. That's right, K-pop. Well we saw some of that happening right on the streets of Seoul.

I stepped in and broke it down for a while. The crowd went absolutely crazy when I started doing back flips. Unfortunately that video was lost so you'll just have to believe me.

Us white people are a minority in most places in Asia, but we serve a very valuable purpose....helping people practice English. This lovely gentleman came up and recorded a conversation in English with me for school. I charged him $20.

Learning is fun

The other notable interaction that Americans (yes I'm using white people and Americans interchangeably 😑) had with Korea was the Korean war.  I enjoy history, especially around wars and so I took a trip to the Korean war museum. It was pretty pro America.

We did it! We stopped Communism!

A soldier from the Korean war (prob an earlier Korean war than ours)

Even more than the food and the k-pop and all the other things I just mentioned, my most favorite thing in Korea was the dog cafes.

OMG! How cute!

The one on the left was very flavorful....I'm kidding?

OK, they had sheep cafes too

And then I went to Japan.

And it turns out that Japan and Korea are quite similar because they both have animal cafes. So, naturally I had to start out my trip at the Hedgehog cafe.

OMG! That guy is so cute. And the hedgehog is good looking too 🙄

And the hedgehogs eat the humans. So goes the circle of life.

I had always pictured Tokyo as this super modern, futuristic, flashy neon light city. And while it was quite amazing, it wasn't quite that. I think I had just built it up in my head so much that it could never match my expectations.

Kind of neon light super city

And looking out over the city at night, it really could have been any huge amazing city.

View from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Tokyo by night

See that second one wasn't actually Tokyo, it was a picture of New York City. Here's another Tokyo one...

My Tokyo night camera skills are lacking

I'm definitely not hating on Tokyo, it was amazing and parts did match the picture I had in my head. Like Shibuya Crossing, known as the busiest intersection in the world

I hate people

And one thing that did live up to the futuristic city vision was the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo. Although its pretty clear this is just done up for the tourists (that's me), it was quite a spectacle.

Is that a lobster and a crab riding a boat with a giant sushi tray? Yes, duh. What else would it be?

Some drummers on a crazy demon car....why not?

A giant karate panda riding a cow. What else would you expect from a robot show?

Your standard dinosaur ridden by Xena (or similar) eating a person

Don't forget your snacks at the robot show

The Robot Restaurant wasn't the only "interesting" thing that Tokyo had to offer. There is a neighborhood called Akihabara that is full of electronic shops, anime stores and maid cafes. Ya know, maid cafes.

Ya know, Maid Cafes

"Waitresses dressed in maid costumes act as servants, and treat customers as masters (and mistresses) in a private home, rather than as café patrons". Apparently its supposed to be more catering to fantasies of anime watchers than a sexual thing? I dunno. I don't think they really know either.

And you can also see Mario Kart tours driving around the city.

I guess that's cool?

But the most interesting and modern technology I found in Japan was by the far this device in the bathroom that just makes sounds for you so no one can hear you.

The future is here everyone

Another thing Japan had going for it were the parks in Tokyo and Kyoto. Let me tell you, the Japanese sure do know how to put together a Japanese garden (surprise!).

Shinjuku Garden in Tokyo


Japanese Garden in Kyoto


I was there in March which should be peak cherry blossom time late in the month. Unfortunately it didn't work out that way and they came late so we never got to see them in full bloom.

Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo

Another big part of Japan is obviously the food. I'm a huge Chicken Katsu fan (when I'm not being vegetarian) and I ate a lot of it.

Mmmmm Chicken Katsu

And the sushi in Japan was ok, but not really that the stuff you get at the mall.

Non-authentic sushi in Japan

But one of my favorite foods was the Okonomiyaki which is like a Japanese pancake cooked right in front of you. Its normally filled with cabbage, pickled ginger, seaweed flakes and a choice of meat, but Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki has a fried egg, udon noodles, corn, cheese, bacon and is covered in a heavy sauce. Like, holy shit. How has that not made it to America yet? Its basically the perfect fat person food.

Cooking up fat person pancakes

Abe and I getting fat

Another highlight of the trip was going skiing in Nagano. I had always heard great things about the skiing in Japan so it was a must for me. However, it was very late season and I went to the most southern ski resort in the country, so the conditions were pretty terrible. Next time I'm headed to Hokkaido! Obviously it was still a blast and I got to share the experience with some of my RY friends awww.

Skiing with the RY crew

No sleeves Matt lives on in the snow

Oh yeah, the Olympics were held in Nagano. I skied the downhill course

Another benefit of going to Nagano was that we got to see snow monkeys. Yeah I said snow monkeys. They live in the snow and hang out in natural hot springs. They are the pimps of the animal kingdom.

Snow monkeys chillin in the hot tub

Mother and the snow

One interesting and fun fact that I learned while in Japan was that we had a war with them back in the 1940s. I visited the Yukushun war museum in Tokyo and learned all about it. I had heard the museum was more right wing and nationalistic, but it was still very interesting hearing things from the Japanese side. It showed the letters of one Japanese general talking about how the US was starving the island of resources and they couldn't survive much longer. He claimed they had tried diplomatic means with the US, but the US had cut off communication so they assumed the US would attack soon. He felt the only play was to strike first at Pearl Harbor. Of course he left out the part about all the Japanese aggression in Asia leading up to this point, but it was still a point of view I had never thought of before. 

Japanese WW2 fighter plane

In addition to the war museum in Tokyo, I visited Hiroshima where the first atomic bomb was dropped. It is an unexpectedly (from what I was picturing) normal bustling city. Like, you wouldn't even think an atomic bomb went off here (too soon?). However, they do have an area dedicated to the atomic bomb. It turns out the bomb missed its target (a bridge) by 800 ft and instead went off directly above the domed structure below. Because of science, this one building was able to maintain most of its structure and stands today as a memorial.

The A-bomb Dome

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial

There were a number of people hanging around protesting nuclear weapons and handing out literature and I learned some fun facts about nuclear annihilation close calls that I will share with you.

An America B-52 bomber flying a training exercise with live nuclear bombs broke up in the air over North Carolina in 1961. The bombs separated from the plane during the break up and "three of the four arming mechanisms on one of the bombs activated, causing it to execute many of the steps needed to arm itself,". Only one mechanism prevented the bomb from detonating which was 250 times the destructive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. 

During the Cuban missile crisis, a Russian sub lost communication with Moscow and the captain assumed the war had started. In this rare case, because of the type of sub, the three officers aboard all needed to vote in favor of launching a nuclear missile in order to initiate a strike. The second in command officer, Vasili Arkhipov, voted against the launch and eventually convinced the others to hold off until they could get in touch with Moscow. Thank you Vaisili for literally saving the world.

And there are other similar stories of how the human race came very close to potential extinction through nuclear war. But overall these nuclear weapons seem like a great thing to have lying around.

Wow, that was exciting. Now lets talk about small things in Japan. They have tiny bars...

That's the whole bar....literally

Tiny rooms...

Pod hotel room in Tokyo

Row of pod hotel rooms

And tiny fish...

Look how tiny those tuna are

The tiny tuna were from the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.

Fish guts

And we'll finish things off by looking at some of the beauty of Japan (I'm so deep).

Temple in Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Torii Gates

Beautiful People

The Bamboo Forest

Stephen the Monkey

Kyoto Garden

Sensoji Pagoda

Sensoji Pagoda by night


Wasn't that nice?

Total countries visited on my trip: 26 - Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, England, Belgium, Italy, Czech Republic, Ireland, Portugal, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Germany, Croatia, France, Spain, Qatar, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia (Bali), Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea, Japan