Tuesday, September 7, 2010


J and I returned from our month-or-so of travels to Korea a few days ago. Our trip was a lot of fun and we saw some pretty amazing things. In fact, we saw so much stuff that I have forgotten a good chunk of it. Fortunately, I kept a travel journal while I was away so I will be able to write about all the cool stuff we did and about a lot of the not-so-cool stuff that happened too.

[I haven't yet decided on the format, so I'm going to try quoting from the journal word-for-word and if it gets annoying I'll write it in the past tense. I'll also be editing out some of the boring stuff, correcting for errors, and condensing information. At some point I lost track of dates and haven't been able to figure them out, so bare with me.]

J and S's Grand Adventures in the East Part 1 : Tokyo 

We arrived in Tokyo today! After leaving at 7AM, attempting and almost succeeding at getting to the airport via subway (we took a wrong line and had to take a taxi part of the way), catching a flight, getting through immigration (and some horrendous lines), taking a train to Tokyo from the airport, and then riding the subway to the hostel...we were finally able to put our things down and rest. It was a physically and mentally taxing day so we didn't do much. Tokyo is very humid and I've already been bitten my many mosquitoes.

First Impressions: Expensive! The train from the airport to downtown was $30 and we have a feeling from the price of the hostel that this will be a very expensive trip. We're not so impressed thus far with the Tokyo subway, but that's probably because we're used to the amazingly efficient and cheap Seoul subway.

The last few days have been jam-packed with sightseeing. J and I are exhausted and are finally taking the evening off to rest.

On Monday (8/9) we set out for Harajuku. It was a long boulevard filled with crazy teeny-bopper punk-esque merchandise. It reminded me a lot of the Camden marketplace in London.

That evening we headed to the Ginza district, an upscale area, to see an old bridge Jon had read about. It was very cool and had dragon statues, but there was an expressway built directly above it.
Afterward we kind of wandered around until we found a subway station and then made our way back to the hostel. A quick note about the hostel: it's OK, but it gets very hot and there is no air conditioning or fans. On the first night here, Jon killed a huge cockroach. We try not to stay inside for too long and I can't wait until we get to Kyoto where our hostels are AC-d.

Yesterday (8/10) we went to Ueno Park, which houses a few shrines, a zoo, some museums, and other stuff. Because it was raining lightly there weren't too many people out and it was easier to get around to see things.
My favorite thing at the park was the peony field. I had never seen peonies before and I'd never realized just how huge they were. The flowers were about the size of my head and the leaves were even bigger. There were also koi and turtles swimming around in the pond.

When it began to rain harder we ducked into the Tokyo National Museum, the highlight of which was the flamboyant samurai armor and awesome bathrooms*.

For lunch we got some authentic ramen at a ramen shop near a subway station. It was an experience. First, we had to go to a vending machine, which has pictures of all of the menu items. You pick the one you want and pay for it, and it gives you a receipt. Next,  you go inside and hand your receipt to the cook, who prepares it fresh in front of you.

Ramen with a rice-based thing, a root vegetable and seaweed.
I tried slurping like the other patrons, but the soup just splashed all over me. It was pretty good, but tasted very fatty and I think I'm fine with not having it again.

Today (8/11) we woke up early to go to the Tsukiji fish market, the largest fish market in the world. It was incredibly hot and sunny and we were both feeling lethargic. It didn't help that we couldn't find the entrance to the fish market for a long time and ended up walking past it for a while. We did finally get inside, though well after the buying/selling takes place. The warehouse is huge and there are signs warning tourists that the floor is wet. It's true. The vendors are constantly washing away the blood and fish yuck from their stations. We saw an assortment of live and dead sea creatures, from huge slabs of tuna to sea urchins (do people really eat these?) We even saw a guy cutting an enormous slab of fish, about the size of a person, with a machete. Unfortunately, the fish vendors prefer not to have pictures taken of their offerings. One of us honored their wishes. When the other one uploads his photos I may steal one or two and post it here.

Next we went to a Buddhist shrine that was the location of the 47 Ronin (samurai without a master) attack. Apparently, their master was ordered by the emperor to commit ritual suicide after getting into a tussle with another nobleman. His samurai then avenged his death. (I believe this is what happened though I did fall asleep during the informational video.)

For lunch today we went to Yoshinoya's, a Japanese fast-food place where you can get bento boxes. It was cheap and pretty tasty.

We then went to Shinjuku, which is an upscale downtown area kind of like the Gangnam of Tokyo, to look for a place called Tokyu Hands, a 6-story shop that sells a bunch of random stuff. It calls itself a "creative life store." I found and bought an awesome leather purse there.

Finally, we went to Shinjuku gyoen (garden). It was pretty and serene.

At the garden there was a group of napping cats hanging out in the shade.

*When you walk into the stall the lid of the toilet seat, which is down, automatically lifts up. Then, when you leave the stall, it automatically flips down again. The sinks had auto soap, water, and hand dryers built-in.
It's not supposed to look like a cycloptic bunny.