Saturday, January 16, 2010


It was so quiet of the trolley that I could hear the person standing next to me swallow. Of all the descriptions I've heard concerning Japan, "quiet" was never one of them. However, I found the Japanese people to be quiet to the point of discomfort whenever I had something to say to Amanda. I was whispering on a public bus because you could hear a pin drop!

Silence is referred to as "golden" for a reason though. What a serene and revitalizing country. Amanda and I's trip began with a frantic dash to the train station to travel to Busan, the famous port city of South Korea. We had to ride a taxi to Busan International Port where we boarded the "Camilia," a large white ship that ferries passengers between Fukouka (and other cities) in Japan and Busan in Korea. I swear Amanda and I were the ONLY 2 foreigners on the entire ship. Tweens were begging for the opportunity to take their picture with us and it was difficult to go anywhere on the ship without being gawked at. Since we bought economy seats (still almost $200 bucks) our sleeping quarters (16 hour overnight trip to Fukouka,Japan) were in the "public" rooms. I can only describe these so well, so here are some last minute photos I snapped before pulling out my floor mat and trying to sleep among 15 other male and female strangers.

The smell of soju and BO was overwhelming!!
Amanda and I stakes out a table and chairs to watch movie on her computer to pass the time.
It was more entertaining to watch Korean families plop down into chairs to drink, drink, drink soju, eat tangerines, persimmons and dried squid and just have a uproariously good time getting drunk together on a boat. And as a side note- Koreans drink first thing in the morning, so these folks were plastered.
7 in the morning at Hakata Port in Fukouka, Japan. It was a good 10 degrees warmer than Korea so Amanda and I were frolicking on the deck; celebrating.

Unfortunately, Fukouka port did not have a card-reading machine to exchange money, so I had to bum money form amanda until we could make it to a 711, the only store with a global ATM. I withdrew 30,000 yen (330 bucks!) and turned to pay and was slapped in the face with this magazine display:
In Japan, pornographic magazines aren't kept behind the front counter... and it's quite the popular section in the store. It took me 10 minutes to get a photo without a man in it ;)
To save money since the exchange rate is so atrocious, Amanda and I made a reservation at a hostel before we left. The Khaaosan house was wonderful, very homey because it was just a house owned by a Japanese couple. We got to lounge in the kitchen, use their computers and take looong showers after our long day of touring (which you haven't even begun to read about yet).

I'm always jealous of other country's public transit and bicycle systems. This was a row of coin-operated public locks for bikes.
I decided to thug it out with my won AND my yen.
Amanda and I took the Kamome (a.k.a.-old and decrepit) train to Nagasaki. We were the only people in the train car for the majority of the 2 1/2 hour ride, so that gave us lots of time to fall asleep, take pictures and fall asleep again.
I was trying to take pictures of the countryside and got myself instead.
The train ride was a treat since the tracks run alongside the coast.
Once at Nagasaki train station, we needed to transfer to a trolley to navigate our way around town. We were packed like sardines each time we rode, but the trolley was quiet as a graveyard. When it came time to get off, I felt rude for having to whisper to Amanda to make sure we had the right stop! Japanese people take silence very seriously, and they also seem mortified when it comes to making eye contact. I would try to smile and nod a hello to someone on the train and often I was left feeling awkward because the Japanese person would move to get away from me and my over familiar way of behaving around people. it was nice to have the personal space I am accustomed to from back in the US but I found myself missing the "Korean squish" as I call it. Koreans can be loud, boisterous and are often laughing loudly, patting each other on the back and just having a swell time. The Japanese seem serious as a heart attack, but austerity was the word of the day when it came to Nagasaki.

As you know, Nagasaki is 1 of the 2 cities that was bombed by the US, and that factoid was largely why I wanted to visit Nagasaki instead of any other portion of Japan. Before taking the "Peace Tour" (how the brochure referred to foreigners visiting the Atomic Bomb memorials), Amanda and I headed straight for China town to sample "Champon," which is noodle soup with lots of seafood. Nagasaki is a port town with an identity crisis. Founded by the Portuguese, heavily influenced by the Dutch and home to Japanese, it's surprising that there is even room for a China Town in all of that cultural clutter. But the China Town district of Nagasaki is alive and flourishing. Rising up like a gold and red dragon figurine and paper-lantern-stuffed explosion, Nagasaki's china town was so much fun to wander around in.

I love plastic food display cases- it always makes ordering so much easier.
Champon (seafood noodle soup)
Gua Bao (pork belly) sandwiches. Sold in every nook and cranny in Nagasaki. This is a very common Chinese street food, which is why it was prevalent all up and down China Town.
Japanese Venice
Fried sweet rice ball with black bean filling and crunchy sesame seeds on the outside!

Far and away the most popular food item in Nagasaki, "Castilla" is a type of pound cake originally brought over by Portuguese traders. They make it in regular, lemon, chocolate, green tea and cheese flavors. I ate enough free samples to equal a while loaf.
Beautiful old homes with gardens right up against the ocean.

Castilla is so popular, that they make castilla keychains, glass figurines (above), cellphone cases, pillows, etc.
From any street in Nagasaki, you could catch slivers of ocean in the distance.
The biggest persimmon I have ever seen
I've already had my fill when it comes to buying a county's traditional footwear. Can't find room from my clogs form Holland let alone these.
Oura Church- oldest church in Nagasaki
Awkward statue

Castilla bread pillows!
An overwhelming cigarette vending machine
We took this photo about 5 times. Every Japanese person on the ferry strategically looked elsewhere. It was so crowded and people still found a way to lean away from me.

With only around 2 hours of daylight left, Amanda and I made the long trip across the city to the atomic bomb memorials. The "peace tour" consists of visiting the Nagasaki museum and memorial for peace dedicated to victims of the atomic bombings and peace park, which has the exact point of impact and statues dedicated from countries all over the world in the name of peace.

I am notorious for taking illegal pictures. I snapped photos of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling and snapped a few of the statue of David and Westminster Abbey despite almost losing my camera to the gaurds! But when it came to the atomic bomb victim's memorial...I couldn't do it. Underground, there are 12 massive glass pillars that contain books with the names, photos and information on every bombing victim. There was a library dedicated to displaying video, photos and written accounts from survivors...all of it horrifying and gut-wrenching. The whole complex is so still, so quiet my own breathing offended me. There are pools of water everywhere and when I read one of the English plaques... I realized why. Immeadiately after impact, the people hit by the bomb's blast who weren't completely destroyed had all of their skin and hair burned off. The testimonials all say the same thing- that people were dying begging for water.
I signed my name on the remembrance book.
Each card is the name of a peace museum in Nagasaki. JUST Nagasaki.

More water..
Paper cranes left at all the memorials
Exact point of impact

Statue erected on the 50th Anniversary of the bombing.
So much more beautiful than flowers.
We chose the most perfect moment to walk to the top of Peace Park. With the sun setting, the peace statue was glowing and it was a very emotional experience to see so many elderly Japanese coming to visit the memorial.

After walking all day, we decided to go and russel up the one and only food I absolutely had to eat while in japan... SUSHI!!!!!!!!
Salmon and nori rolls
Chef's specialty. I ate the egg one by accident before I remembered to take a picture :/

After dinner, Amanda and I had to hop back on the train for another 2 1/2 hour ride to Fukouka where we crashed at our hostel. Sunday we opted to ride the "Beetle" ferry back to Busan, which was pretty nifty. It's a jet-powered ship that hovers 2 meters above the water and travels at a very fast speed. It feels like you are speeding across glass even though there are whitecap swells all around.

To sum up the trip: I think I will return to Japan. The Japanese people are fascinating because of their demeanor and their history and both cities were clean, easily navigable and inviting to explore for endless hours. Japan seems like the wise grandparent of Asia. Battle-worn yet still powerful. It's easy to see why Korea feels so overlooked and underappreciated next to such a titan of a country.

Another country down...continents and continents to go. I can't wait to see where I will explore next!