You would think biking 50 miles would have presented us with a challenge, flat tire, accident, something of that sort, but we were lucky to avoid that. It's a bit ironic really that the problem we encountered didn't come until the final day of our trip, and had nothing to do with our bikes, but instead our group leader and the van(s). After waiting around for a while we finally got a hold of William at which point we learned there had been an accident, thankfully no one was hurt and there weren't really any damages either, but he wouldn't be able to come get us. Um, excuse me, what?
We just kept going and going and going....
With one loooong day of riding behind us there were still two remaining, although these were promised to be less difficult, I crossed my fingers that this was true. Sara and I took advantage of the beautiful weather and walked down to check out the nearby Watazumi shrine, before leaving for the days ride. Probably the most interesting aspect of the shrine was that the tori (gates) were situated so that as the tide came in and out they changed from either submerged in water, or on dry land. After a quiet stroll through the shrine and multiple pictures we made our way back to camp to enjoy breakfast before heading out for the day.
One year after my first visit to Japan I found myself making plans to return, however this trip was guaranteed to be vastly different than the first time around. I hadn't even been planning to go to Japan again, but a few failed plans a fast approaching Chuseok holiday led me there anyway. While my first trip was solo, busing cross country, Couchsurfing and exploring, this time I was signed up for 3 days of biking with 40 other foreigners. Although I'm not one for organized travel, I didn't want to stay in Korea alone, and thus signed up with my friend Sara for a [kind of] organized group trip to Tsushima, an island of Japan I hadn't even known existed. Our trip started with a few hours sleeping on the floor at Busan station, after being turned away from a Jimjilbang (sauna) for being foreigners, and with that I knew this was going to be an interesting few days.
After a morning filled with the beauty and calmness of nature it was time for me to get a bit of a history. I took the streetcar back into town which took a good 45 minutes, but not quite peaceful enough for me to sneak a nap. Conveniently, the A-bomb dome has it's own stop so it was extremely easy to find. This was likely the most tourist trap portion of my trip, I was soon surrounded by westerners, but I felt that it was a must see, especially since I didn't retain much from my high school history classes.
Tuesday morning, after another long overnight bus, I arrived bright and early to a still sleeping Hiroshima. The station was more like a ghost town with few people coming and going on their early morning commute, not even the information booth was open. With little to no luck in finding a map in the station I wandered to a nearby hotel lobby and took full advantage of the resources at the concierge desk. Seeing as I had an early start to the day I decided to make my way to Miyajima island, hoping to beat the crowds. I bought my train/ferry combination ticket and about an hour later was arriving on the island. It was still only about 8:30 so with the high tide predicted for 10:45 I decided to explore the rest of the island before heading for Itsukushima Shinto Shrine.
My second morning in Kyoto, as I showered I heard pots and pans clattering in the kitchen and was a bit surprised when I came out to a full spread for breakfast which Haruka had prepared. Such a fantastic host and did I mention she insisted I take the bed while she slept on the floor mat? Too nice. I was soon out the door and on my way back to Kyoto station via bus (which yes, to the dismay of my Korean co-workers, I was able to navigate by myself). Today's main objective was to make it to the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, so I set this as my first destination. The shrine is one of the most visited in Japan and notably so, as it contains over 5000 orange torri gates, winding through the hills behind the shrine.
After an enjoyable overnight bus ride I found myself in the city of Kyoto. As I entered the station I felt like my sleeping pill from the night before was still in effect, it seemed like I was wandering around in a cloud not really comprehending what was in front of me. After a quick change, brushing my teeth and washing my face I emerged back into the station like a new person. I soon met up with Haruka, a girl I met through Couchsurfing , who agreed to show me around Kyoto for the day and provide me with a place to stay for the night. After organizing our plan over a coffee we set out for the Higashiyama part of town, starting with the Kiyomizu-dera temple. This temple was high on my list of must sees so I wanted to head there before the typhoon hit Kyoto. The temple is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites and the name comes from a waterfall that runs through the complex meaning "clear water". The temple is known for the main hall and large veranda that juts out of the hillside offering impressive views of the city.
After my ferry experience I arrived in the land of Fukuoka at a cheery 7:30am. My first destination was the bus terminal where I planned to store my bag until my departure later that night. I also took the opportunity to change, brush my teeth and wash my face in the bathroom classy, I know. I grabbed a city map and decided since I had a large amount of time to kill that day i'd cover the city on foot. I decided to start with the nearby Gion district which held many temples and shrines, plus it was only a short distance from the terminal, perfect! My first stop was Tochoji Temple, which is the head temple of the Shingon Buddhism Kyushu sect, and promised the largest seated Buddha statue in Japan. I wandered around the outside and was greeted by a friendly old man inquiring as to where I was from, it was pretty but I wanted to find the Buddha.
While living in Korea I rarely became homesick, however missing the holidays wasn't always easy. My first year there I taught a "Thanksgiving vs. Chuseok" lesson and was quickly dreaming of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie - but then my focus shifted back to the present, the fact that I was leaving for Japan in two days! [the pie can wait]
Chuseok is, simplified version, the Korean Thanksgiving, many go to their hometowns to visit and spend time with family and remember their ancestors, for me it only meant a 5 day weekend. With 5 days off of school what better idea could I have then to venture to Japan. As Friday afternoon came to an end I prepared my escape , left school a bit early and was soon on a bus to Waegwan where I would pack into the train with dozens of other travelers on my way to Busan, to then hop on the ferry. Oh transportation, the love hate relationship I have with you is unreal.
Recognized for great Sushi and Ramen, there's so much more to this country than its food. Rich with history and culture this small group of Islands is a place not to be missed.