So, I promise I haven’t intentionally neglected my blog. My life has become a lot more full in very good ways and I don’t have much free time these days. I have started taking Korean classes because I felt that my skills were stagnating and I missed learning. In addition, I’ve started volunteer tutoring North Korean refugees in English! This is been a goal of mine for many years, and I am finally at a place where I have the time, freedom, and stability to do so. The program I am going through is called Teach North Korean Refugees. They are a fantastic non-profit organization and are always in need of volunteers and donations – check out this link to find out more.
Okay, now to the real meat of this post – in the beginning of May, there was a week-long holiday in Korea! As this is also a holiday in Japan, plane ticket prices were sky-high to pretty much anywhere in Asia, but the cheapest ones I found were to Japan. A lot of my friends growing up were Japanese and their parents helped raise me, so it was about time I made my way over to the land of the rising sun.
- Days 1-3: Tokyo (arrived at around 1am the night beforeand slept in the airport til morning, so I had 3 full days)
- Day 4: Nara
- Days 5-7: Kyoto
- Day 8: Morning –Fly back to Seoul
Places Visited: Harajuku for all things cute, Akihabara (because I was bored and didn’t know where else to go) for all things otaku, Shibuya for shopping/sightseeing, Shinjuku, Yayoi Kusama exhibit at the National Art Center, and other places that are now a blur
I’m going to be honest with you. I was a little under-impressed with Tokyo. I stayed with a Japanese friend of mine and was excited to get a local’s perspective. But she was running out of things to show me, haha. I’ve heard from others who’ve visited that you don’t need more than 3 days in Tokyo, and I’m glad I followed their advice. Don’t get me wrong, Tokyo is cool and quirky, but in the end, it’s another big (really big, even) city. I think I prefer Seoul! I’m also sure that if I had the chance to actually live in Tokyo, I would grow to love it.
Tokyo is clean, safe, and has its own heartbeat. Your eyes are constantly drawn in all directions. There’s a huge focus on fashion and cute-stuff. I’m not so into fashion and didn’t really go shopping (other than for snacks), so perhaps that’s why I was underwhelmed? The city does have numerous parks to escape from the otherwise concrete jungle, which was nice.
Places visited: Nara Park, Todai-ji (temple that houses a huuuge Buddha)
I really wish I spent more time here than I did. Do to a schedule mishap, I ended up getting there later than I had originally planned and didn’t get to see as much as I’d wanted to. I’m really glad I got to go to Nara Park, however, because my main reason of going to Nara was to hang out with all the cute deer. Near Nara Park and Todai-ji, there were lots of street food vendors and I just wanted to eat everythiiiinggg it looked so good.
In the end, I think you can knock out Nara in a day, but I didn’t get a full day Go hungry and eat aalll the street food, haha. There are lots of museums (some of them free) that are within walking distance of Nara Park and Todai-ji. Give yourself some time to check them out!
Places visited (mostly temples/castles): Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji, To-ji, Gion district (think geishas), Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Fushimi-Inari Shrine, Nijo-jo, Nishiki Market (spent almost two hours just eating), and a spent a hot second in Osaka at a Osaka Castle
I’ve always heard that Kyoto is a beautiful city, but was a little skeptical because I know that it’s a very old city with mostly temples and castles. Don’t get me wrong, I like temples, but after awhile, they all kind of start to look the same? At least the ones in Korea are like that, in my opinion. I was so excited to find out that the temples in Kyoto are all unique, special, and each feel magical in a different way. Everywhere you look, you see natural and structural beauty. I was so immensely happy. And my hostel was really cute.
Pro-tip: Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji are two different temples….I wasn’t aware of that. Phonetic spellings can vary in Korean, so I figured that they were the same thing. In trying to get to Kinkaku-ji, I got on a bus for Ginkaku-ji, arrived, and realized it didn’t look like any of the pictures I’d researched. Oh well, I might not have gone to Ginkaku-ji had it not been for this misunderstanding and I was still able to go to both 😛
Pro-tip #2: Head to Nishiki Market! It’s crowded, but you’ll leave with a very full belly and some Japanese snacks and sweets in tow.
Overall, I would definitely say that Kyoto was my favorite place in Japan. Some further observations include:
- Japanese public transportation is confusing and expensive. I spent more on a two hour train ride from Tokyo to Kyoto than I did on 3 nights of accommodation in Kyoto. It was very comfortable, though!
- Japanese people are super nice. This may sound controversial, but from the short time I did have in Japan, I was treated like a person instead of like some strange foreign object like I often experience in Korea. Also, Japan has a lot more foreigners than Korea does and seemed to be more visible in day-to-day life (they aren’t all just English teachers or manual laborers)
- Convenience store food is totally edible and actually quite tasty. Man, I’m always craving salmon onigiri nowadays 😦
- Japan is more aesthetically pleasing than Korea. I think a lot of this is because Korea had to build itself up from essentially nothing due to centuries of oppression (a lot of it from Japan, at that). Korea is an unbelievably impressive nation for all it’s gone through.
- Japanese green tea is tastier than Korean green tea…sorry
- Japanese snacks are amaaaaazing and there are so many funky varieties. I wanna go back just to try more snacks
I definitely want to experience more of Japan’s beauty. I also didn’t get the chance to go to an onsen (spa), so that in itself is worth the trip!
Which city do you want to visit most in Japan?