Gettin JAPpy With The Japs

As many of you know, I have been super top of the pops over here in the visitor department.  So popular in fact, I actually can’t even keep track of how many people have visited me over the past 26 months, but I’d ballpark it somewhere around 15 or so.  October marked by faux-teen visitor, and one of my most anticipated because it has taken her forever and a freakin day to get her JAPPY ass out to see me! But let’s remember, all good things come to those who wait!

Well, it had been nearly 2 years since Cori and I painted ourselves florescent on the beach of Koh Phangnan, so we were long overdue for a reunion of loving and bitching and bickering til death do us part.  She came to the land of pig, where we ate lots of chicken, for 6 days, and then we flew our JAPpy selves on over to Tokyo for some bright lights, robots, green tea Kit Kats and some Japanese culture.

Starting with the Kokoness of her journey, I took her to all the visitor must-see hot spots, and she met most of those awesome folks who are left of my friend circle in the country. That was actually maybe the weirdest thing.  This was my first visitor since nearly everyone left, and part of the fun of having visitors is introducing them to your family in your home away from home. But c’est la vie and on with the show!

First things first, I’d just like to say how impeccable our timing was upon meeting at my subway station after her arrival! As I was coming up the escalator on my way home from work, Cori was walking just past the exit! It was pretty perfect. And there was embracing and extremely loud laughing, because it wouldn’t be a Diamond & Schaeff reunion without it.

Now let’s take a little jaunt through some of the highlights shall we. As it turns out, the spicy dakgalbi with an over-abundance of ramen, was her favorite meal in Korea. The chicken, vegetable and rice cake dish is also one of my fave Korean foods as well. Nom!

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We tried to kick her jet lag by going to Hongdae for some makkoli and dong dong ju times with Tim. We wanted his opinion on our new hairstyles. What do you think?

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Next we visited ZEN 1, a VERY old faithful staple of Hongdae times, where we met up with Jee, and I ducked down to look like a midget for this photo.

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The next day was filled with the clusterfuck that is Seoul shopping. We paraded around Myeongdong, then headed over to Namdaemun where she got acquainted with the efficiency of purchasing fancy new spectacles accompanied by prescription fillage. She also ate her second hotteok of the day while enjoying the ever-so-slight constant drizzle.

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Next came my super slutty moment. We hiked up Namsan Tower and locked our love down overlooking the glorious city of Seoul. Our 23 years of sisterly love is officially locked down forever. I am a slut because this was my third display of love to be locked up. But I guess as the saying goes, third time’s a charm.

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We even did this cute lovers pose on a love bench.

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We began our day of culture with a smidge of a bust, as I had no clue that the huge palace, Gyeongbukgong, is closed on Tuesdays. Here we are in front of the palace door, but we could really be anywhere with massive red doors since you can’t actually see the ornateness of the palace! Grrr!

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We did however meet a new friend, Darshan, who was very taken by the giddyness of the elementary students who were swarming around us. It does feel good to be a celebrity, I must admit! And in Korea’s homogenous society, there’s no shortage of celebrity status.

I ended up playing tour guide to both of them for a little bit, and introduced them to King Sejong and his concoction of Hangul (the Korean alphabet).  Then in Gwanghwamun Square, we got dragged in by a very persistent ajumma for a rendition of the “Conga”, and got a taste of traditional Korean dress, dance and song before heading off to a naengmyeon and bulgogi lunch in the traditional Hanok Village.

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The most fantastical part of our “Day of Culture” was by far our afternoon of traditional Hanbok dress up. We went to a place on the main Insadong road that Veny actually told me about. There you have several different options ranging from getting full hair and makeup done for a professionally airbrushed photo session, to the bare minimum of just trying on the hanbok to take your own cell phone photos in their gallery.

We opted to have our hair done in full traditional Korean fashion, and then couldn’t have chosen our hanbok any more appropriately. Cori was the Queen, and I was her faithful entertainer.  We took the professional photo and then tore up that gallery area. I’m surprised we weren’t asked to vacate the premises prematurely.

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The next thing we did, which I have done more than a handful of times since moving here, is something I am EXTREMELY proud of Cori for trying! Before coming, I kept telling her I was going to force her to try the live octopus, which is a super Korean thing to do, and every time she squirmed with a big fat HELL NO. Well, that got flipped upside down!

My favorite person to do the Noryangjin Fish Market with is Joshy, because he will pretty much try any slithering sea squirt that lies in those tanks.  So he met up with us for the venture and helped initiate Cori into the world of live octopus eating!

On her final day in Seoul, she came to school with me and got the chance to see what a Korean elementary school is like, and meet my most adorable 4th grade baby dolls. Unfortunately my 5th and 6th graders were gone for the week so she didn’t get to meet them. I thought the 6th grade girls would especially love her because they are obsessed with all things girly and fashionable. Bummer!

Most importantly, these little peaches were SO excited to meet her, and have since thrown her name into the greeting each class! “Good morning Ms. Jin and Ms. Danielle and Ms. Wanda and Ms. Candy and Ms. Cori Di-A-mond!” Pardon the awful bottom picture, but, please take note that my little peach Paul is holding Cori’s hand. Not enough hearts to go around!! ❤

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And with that, two Jewish American Princesses were off to get all kinds of Jappy in the land of Japs!

To begin, I absofuckinglutely LOVED Tokyo! I already knew I loved Japan after going to Osaka and Kyoto, but Tokyo really solidified it. As the cliche goes, it’s like a breath of fresh air stepping onto Japanese soil from Korea. People dress to their own heart’s desire instead of blending in with the next, and something about Tokyo just feels HUGE. I love Seoul, but Japan just has this huge heart pumping through it. The buildings seem bigger, the lights seem brighter, and the people make a conscious effort to not shove into you like you’re some inanimate object.  Aside from their facockta subway system and the radiation, Tokyo is one of my favorite cities I’ve traveled to.

We were there for 3 glorious days, and our feet shlepped us and our wallets so many places, each offering its own unique vibe, of which I’ll highlight my favorites.

1. Robots vs. Pandas vs. Dinosaurs vs. Pole Dancers in Kabukicho, Shinjuku’s Red Light District

Yes, I know what 3 letters come to mind. WTF. And that’s exactly what you should be thinking, because we were thinking it during the whole show, and I’m still thinking it now, even though my mind was utterly blown into fantastic smithereens.

After getting a few snickers from asking where Kabukicho was (this is the Red Light district), we could not find this Robot “cafe/bar” for the life of us.  We actually thought it was just a cafe/bar type place where robots served you and you could come and go as you pleased. But no no. After scouring the district for quite some time, passing it unbeknownst to us several times, we decided to give up, til we met our new friend Frank, who was innocently looking for a Penguin bar while on a business trip. He remembered seeing the robots, and threw searching for said Penguin bar out the window to come find this Robot joint with us.

We found it, and it was NOT a cafe, bar, whatever you wanna call it. But rather, it was a full blown show encapsulating the above title header. And it was worth every last penny of those 5,000yen (~$50), even the horrendous bento box dinner we were served.

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2. Barbie Lingerie In Harajuku

Cori’s top priority in terms of districts to see was Harajuku. These are the girls made immortal by Gwen Stefani in the early 2000s. We actually went to Harajuku a couple times over the course of our trip, but we only really saw 2 true Harajuku girls, which kind of bummed us, but mostly Cori, out. That, and we didn’t ask to get a photo of or with her because we thought for sure we’d see plenty more. Negatori Yakatori.

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We may have missed out on the Harajuku girls, but we did find the Barbie lingerie store, which to me is equally, if not more, fascinating, and a bit deranged.

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I also was overly and oddly excited about this Sanrio Surprises on Takeshita-dori, which smelled of gumdrops and cotton candy. I am made more aware of my Asian-ness in such moments.

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There was also this creepy rabbitequin.

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3. Writing A Note To Hang On the Tree Of Life At Meiji-Jinju Shrine

Cori and I took a break from Harajuku girl stalking to add a little Japanese culture to our lives.  We visited Meiji-Jinju shrine, located right by Harajuku station, which is the largest Shinto shrine in Tokyo and was built to honor the soul’s of Emperor Meiji and his wife.  The shrine was dedicated to them in 1920, and completed in 1926.

It’s a beautiful walk into the shrine, filled with Iris gardens and so much lush greenery.

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And absolutely no shortage of decorative fermenting Sake.

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Once reaching the shrine, you are face to face with what I instantly called the Tree of Life. I don’t really know if that’s what it’s called, but it seemed properly suited. Here visitors have written hopes and wishes for the future, or struggles they hope for their family or friends to overcome, and just need some sort of little mighty push.

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I decided I had some things that needed some push, so now they are fully displayed for the daily world to see.1382924_10102721202275657_1361541361_n

4. Taking a Magic Carpet Ride & Meeting King Triton At Tokyo Disney Sea!

For starters, I had no idea that Tokyo Disney and I have been in the same grade all along! We just so happened to be there during its 30th Anniversary party! Lucky us!

If you sense an air of irritation in the photo, it’s because we were so rudely being pushed out by what I believe to be an intrusively rude Korean couple.

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We went to Tokyo Disney our first night, and actually barely rode any rides. In fact, the only ride I rode was a magic carpet in Agraba. It was a solo ride though, because Miz Diamond feared her tummy would act up. Hmph. At least I was thrilled with joy to have King Triton grant me such a warm welcome to his kingdom beneath the sea!

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5. Shoving Takoyaki Balls In My Face

One thing I regretted when I went to Osaka and Kyoto was being too scared to try Takoyaki, which are these fried octopus balls that are served slathered in mayo (vomit), and crispy onions. Well, I told myself that I would definitely shove them in my face this time around.

Turns out I didn’t see them anywhere, until our last day while visiting Senso-ji shrine. Due to the scarcity of them, I’m led to believe that Takoyaki is primarily a regional food of the Osaka area.  Either way, I grabbed 6 balls, NOT slathered in mayo, and ate 3 of them before contracting a stomachache.

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One little side note while on the topic of food, I did eat a fair amount of sushi whilst in Tokyo, because it would be an utter shame not to. But, one thing I was very aware of was the amount of searing being done to the sushi.  I’m not sure if this is normal in Japan, but I saw it done so frequently that I figured they were doing it to maybe sear out some of the radiation in the fish. Who knows, but just a thought!

6. Cleansing Our Dirty Mouths & Fortune Telling At Senso-ji Shrine

On our last day we decided to actually stay in our neighborhood, Asakusa, which was a remarkable hub for all the super cultural attractions. We visited Senso-ji shrine, which is another huge Shinto shrine.  Despite the rain, I really loved the walk into this shrine. It felt like real old Japan, and women in traditional kimono and parisol were not a scarce site.

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The shrine was gorgeous and massive on a rainy day.

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And there were tons of people dropping coins into the prayer boxes and carrying on with their prayers. One of us saved the praying for later after we chose our fortunes from these here boxes.

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You are supposed to politely shake that silver box, make your wish, and then pull out a numbered stick that corresponds with one of the numbered drawers. My fortune was a “small fortune” and said I have many good things coming my way if I put in the work.  Cori however, well, she got bad juju and went to smirk thru her prayers.

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Then we both cleansed our mouths. Nice try holy water, but not sure this is strong enough.

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7. Sensory, Porn & Anime Overload in Akihabara

This was by FAR my favorite district of Tokyo. Not because of anything I very much enjoy, but because it was SO (pardon my French) fucking bizarre! Akihabara is the electronic district, which also boasts a huge porn and anime scene.

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While here we saw so many different kinds of cafes being advertised, ranging from Maid cafes, to Domestic cafes, whatever the heck THAT means. Not to mention, I have never seen so much anime since my family’s family friend’s cousin used to dress up as Sailor Moon just on a regular Saturday. It was ODD.

Maybe the funniest thing though was the 6 floor porn building prominently situated right by the subway exit. The walls were plastered in Polaroids of naked girls and naked girls having sex. Then once on the floors, there was anime sex props up the ying yang, whips, dildos, vibrators, pretty much anything imaginable. And tons of people were just perusing at their leisure.

I especially loved pausing behind some creepy old man staring rather intensely at a leather whip.

Here I am with my gazoongas and kimono ready to get educated in Japanese sex culture! My, was it a thorough education!

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Kind of fun fact: This is a great district to do your duty free shopping in, as duty free shops are EVERYWHERE. I had a really early flight out the next morning and wasn’t able to buy my green tea Kit Kats at the airport, so I just did it here.

8. Romancing A Spider For An Exquisite View Of The City At Roppongi Hills

Prior to visiting Tokyo, I read that going up to Tokyo Tower for the city view was quite overrated, and that the view from the 54th floor viewing deck of the Mori Building in Roppongi Hills is far more breathtaking.  Not to mention, you get to see Tokyo Tower as part of your view and seduce a giant spider before making your way to the top.

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It cost us between 1,500-2,000yen ($15-20) and an ear pop in the speedy elevator to the top!

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9. Failing Miserably In A Japanese Photo Booth

I think it’s just an East Asian thing, the whole photo-booth-make-your-eyes-ginormous thing, but even coming from Korea, a photo booth in Japan was high marked on the to-do list! Especially since there are some pretty stunning glamour shots in mine and Cori’s past that desperately need recreation.

We found a Cherry Cherry booth and scurried in, only the whole thing was in Japanese so we had a few minor difficulties in navigation and procurement. Once we took our photos, filled with a heaping amount of awkward face, we waited for definitely over 5 minutes at the photo retrieval machine to no photos being dispensed. We then realized that we had skipped part 2. Part 2 being doodle all over and make your eye balls HUGE, obviously the most important step! Well, the language barrier interfered again and we ran out of time sans huge eyeballs, plus lots of Cherry Cherry baby.

Maybe our “thing” is just taking awful photo booth glamour shots! That’s it, it’s settled.

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10. Starf*ckers Come To This Starbucks

Located smack in the middle of Shinjuku’s busiest intersection, lies the busiest Starbucks in the world. When the lights turn red, the entire intersection opens up for pedestrians and it is a massive clusterfuck of humans, which can all be seen in perfect flourescent light stricken view from the top of said Starbucks. Stopping in the middle of the intersection, you know, to document it or something, is apparently similar to asking for a death wish.

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Last, but certainly not least, I’d like to highlight a couple things we attempted, but much like the glamour shots, failed at.

1. Radiation Overload At Tsukiji Fish Market

We had read about the tuna auctions that happen every morning starting at 4am on the docks at Tsukiji Fish Market. The fishermen catch fresh (radiated) tuna straight from the water and auction them off to bidders, and then everyone somehow kills themselves with radiation for breakfast.

We weren’t 4am ambitious, but we didn’t realize that the entire fish market shut down by early afternoon.  Coming from Seoul, I assumed it would be open all day, but just more insane in the wee hours. I was wrong, and after mazing through the endless back warehouses of the market, this is all we saw.

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So, if you decide to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market, plan to get there EARLY. I imagine they close by 12 noon, so plan on making a Japanese breakfast out of the venture.

2. Hopping A Moat To The Imperial Palace

We didn’t really jump over or swim through any moats, but we didn’t get to tour the gardens surrounding the Imperial Palace where Japan’s Imperial family currently lives, as it was closed the day we went. We did however get this documentation of us in front of the moat in the rain.  The palace is also behind us in the distance.

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3. Bicycle Riding In Nakemeguro

Biking around Nakemeguro was highlighted as a must do in Tokyo, and since one of my favorite activities to do in a foreign country is whimsically bicycle around, I was all about it. Unfortunately we were totally let down when we couldn’t find where to rent the bikes! We found a bike parking lot, but our lack of Japanese speak and the worker’s lack of English provided for no such luck.

It wasn’t all a bust though, seeing as two vintage loving gals found themselves wandering down a quaint street lined with pink lanterns and littered with vintage shops GALORE. We ate our eyeballs out!

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To get here, you’ve got to get to Nakemeguro Station, and after exiting, it’s going to be down the first street you can turn down on your right.

After 10 days with each other, my Diamond and I had a wonderful trip, with a smattering of bickerings here and there, but overall just lovely!  Twas another adventure to add to our chronicles of taking over this fascinatingly beautiful continent!

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Dokdo & Ulleungdo: Where I Got Lucky

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but my luck has GREATLY increased over the past few weeks.  Why?  You ask? Well, because according to Korean thought, if one lands on the island of Dokdo, you are a very lucky person. And well, I am of the less than 1% of the Korean population to have stepped foot on the sacred and prized and heavily disputed over island of Dokdo in the East Sea or Sea of Japan.  It’s all relative depending on your location in the east, or the map you chose to peruse, I suppose.

SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education ~ my employer) was generous enough to take 36 of the almost 700 native English teachers in Seoul, on an all-inclusive 4 day 3 night trip to Samcheok, Ulleungdo, and the mighty Dokdo.  Dokdo is comprised of 2 islands that have been in heavy dispute with Japan for many years over who’s territory it actually is.  So, we knew that in signing up for this trip we were in for a weekend fueled by propaganda and many a botched map to take many ganders at.  And it was and we did.

I actually didn’t know much about Dokdo prior to my trip to Japan back in September, when Josh decided to jokingly shout “TAKESHIMI TAKESHIMI” everywhere we went. TakeshimA is actually the Japanese name for Dokdo, so of course this was a controversial stance for a giant white man to make whilst being employed by the Korean government! 😉  Both Joshua and I, and our friend Art, ended up being part of the lucky (highly weird) few to go on this trip, so I was very happy to be in extra FUN company on a long weekend to Takeshimi. 🙂

Our first stop on the trip was Samcheok, where we struggled to listen to the translation of the first propaganda lecture regarding “the correct understanding of Dokdo for peace in East Asia”.  We ogled at some artifacts from the Joseon remains and General Isabu’s time, and took a walking tour down by the water, which was really beautiful.  I felt like I wasn’t in Korea which was amazing on my peepers and lungs.  Being stuck in a concrete jungle can really wear on you.  We also visited a temple which is said to be the coolest (in temperature) place in Samcheok.  Many people would come here to pray before traveling to Dokdo because they didn’t know if they would return to the mainland alive due to the roughness of the water.  Many also used to walk through this rock in hopes of being impregnated with a son, so I took the liberty of forging my way through (without falling) said rock.

Looks like I’m having a boy guys!

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When we finally checked into our pension for the night, we were shafted to the one next door to the “nice” hotel we were originally scheduled for. This place gave me and one other interesting fella bed bug bites for days!  I also got cursed with a ridiculously bitchy roommate who got an overdose spoonful of the “Schaeff’s-not-listening-to-you-sideways-up turned-head-tilt”.

Bright and early the next morning, we had Korean breakfast of gamjatang, AKA pork spine soup, and kimchi.  My breakfast therefore consisted of rice and the few bits of kimchi I struggled to shove into my mouth that early in the morning.  With an awful taste in our mouths, we were off to the Sunflower 2, our ferry over to the beautiful island of Ulleungdo.  This journey was about 3.5 hours.

My first thought after landing on Ulleungdo was that it was so strikingly lush and gorgeous. The abundance of green had me feeling like I was in Jurassic Park. We were taken on a tour of the entire island and heard many age-old myths about the different rock formations, the volcanic origin and the people who call the island their home. Currently, less than 7,500 people live on Ulleungdo, and it houses 3 (if I remember correctly) elementary schools, 1 high school and oddly enough, 3 universities.  It’s special delicacies include dried squid (sold in Dokdo packaging), and a sweet pumpkin type bread and pumpkin candy similar to taffy. Brought some of that goodness back for my Principal and Vice Principal.

Here’s me, Josh and Art Turtle Rocking out. This rock is said to have many tiny formations that look like little turtles climbing all over it.

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The walk up to our pension overlooking the ocean.  Seriously beautiful and nothin’ but fresh air for days!

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We went to this temple where we heard an old Korean myth about a young boy and girl who were left behind by their families.  They never came back for them and both ended up dying here. Or so the tale goes.

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And we walked along these massive cliffs overlooking the sea. Super gorge!

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The next day was the BIG day! After all the praying we were told to do, we guzzled down our seasickness drugs, filled out our tickets and hopped aboard our righteous boat to the beloved Dokdo! We took one of the 45 journeys per year that the boat makes, and got inducted into the tribe of the lucky.

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Here’s an aerial shot of the islands that make up Dokdo.  The eastern island is where we went, and the western island is home to the two people who actually call Dokdo their home.

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2.5 hours and no seasickness later, we made the arrival of a lifetime.  We were ushered off the boat and told we had 30 minutes to take pictures with the Liancourt Rocks, signs and guards that protect the land. I’m not quite sure why our stay on the island is so short, but let me tell you, Josh and I with our “DOKDO IS OUR LAND” signs made fantastic use of it! If two grown adults could run around an island like kids in a candy store, that is what we looked like.

We gained some enemies along the way when Joshy “bali bali’d” an old Korean woman to hurry up and take her photo in this exact place.

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We also acquired a fan club of Korean women who wanted to hop in every photo with us. Here is the sign mandating that this here is Korean territory.  We saw nothing indicating it was otherwise Japan’s. Questionable I tell ya!

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These are the guards who live on Dokdo.  The only time they have other human interaction is when a boat reaches Dokdo.  So, any of the less than 45 days a year the boat actually docks.  You can also see stairs behind us which we weren’t allowed to climb up.  I’m not sure what is on the other side, maybe something Japanese?

dokdo guards

And with that we were off, but not without bidding some fond farewells.

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ajumma phone dokdo

The 3 of us were the last ones to get back on the boat, as we kept getting whistles blown on us to hurry up! Round trip, the entire journey consisted of 9 hours spent on a bus, 7 hours on a ferry and 5 hours on a boat, so we definitely make that 30 minutes count!  That night we met up with our groups to think up a speech to give on our final day.  Josh and I must have been sipping happy water, because when we told our group members that we had so much fun on Dokdo, they looked at us like we were crazy faces from another planet. Sour puss foreigner freaks.

Later we celebrated our new found fortune by noraebanging our hearts out. We bonded with a few others on the trip and shoved ourselves into a massive VIP room for what seemed like 3 hours. I broke a glass, there was table dancing, and no shortage of mic hogging on my part, per the usual.

The next day we were forced to eat fish and tofu soup for breakfast (awful to begin with, more awful when you’re hungover), and then were given a tour of a South Korean Coast Guard ship where we learned that they do not skimp on their entertainment, event whilst at sea protecting Korea’s oceans. This ship was fully equipped with a jjimjilbang (sauna) and a noraebang (karaoke room).

Our last stop was to a little ocean side town.  We stopped to look at some more historical Isabu sites, but we opted to check out the ocean view and vibrant murals instead.  I really find myself appreciating how beautiful Korea is whenever I get out of Seoul and visit places so tranquil and remote like this. I don’t know why I don’t do it more often.

old man and muralsstu ocean

The trip was really wonderful, and I’m extremely grateful that SMOE was so generous in offering such an opportunity to a group of us foreigners. I know we look at the island of Dokdo much differently and with less seriousness than Koreans do, and mostly viewed this as a chance to A) get out of teaching for 2 days, B) take a free trip out of Seoul to a couple islands that we probably would never seek out on our own, and C) a weekend filled with propaganda. However, seeing as so few Koreans actually have the chance to make this journey, I’m very grateful to say that during my time in Korea I got to check off such a huge cultural experience from my list. As far as who’s territory it actually is, I don’t know. I think there has to be something more than fishing rights and lines being drawn on a map, but I think Koreans are so passionate about it because the Japanese have been so awful to them.  So, they want the right to that land. Or there’s oil.  Who knows.

Here’s a video that Jon Pak, the SMOE head coordinator, made of the trip.  See if you can spot me for the smattering of nanoseconds that I make an appearance.

And just for good measure so you can see how serious Koreans are about this island, and because who doesn’t love a flash mob set to the Dokdo song.

Konichiwa Bitchez ^^

Chuseok a year ago marked my very first “I’m so happy I’m in Korea moment.”  My newly found group of friends and I took our haven’t-been-paid-yet-broke-asses to Muuido island off the coast of Incheon, and it was magnificent.  I couldn’t help but think back to that long weekend a year ago as I was taking off from Seoul headed to Osaka, Japan.  A year ago I had found a group of 3 girls who at the time were my best friends in Korea.  2 of them have come and gone from our lil circle, and one fine lassie was added to the mix for good.  A lot can happen in a year, and it has definitely been the best year of my life so far.

And the number one reason why this year has been the tops, is because as of Chuseok 2012, I have traveled to 6 countries in Asia.  Since we are now making monies, a group of us decided to peace out of Korea for the long weekend and cross the sea on over to Japan! We ended up snagging expensive-for-flights-to Japan, but reasonably-priced-for-the-holiday flights to Osaka.  Steph went a couple days before, then me, Katie and Josh(ephine) joined, with Jeewon a day behind us.  It was an awesome girls trip plus Joshy boy.  He really practiced patience, and learned a lot about Adele and the cleanliness habits of girls during the long weekend.  Props to you sir.

The three of us arrived in Osaka around 5pm, then had to navigate through the horribly organized train system that makes up Japan.  We are definitely spoiled with the brilliant and user-friendly subway on this peninsula, lemme tell ya! Luckily Josh met a girl on the plane who, along with giving him useful phrases to add to his list, also helped us figure out how to get to our hostel. Bless our giant Joshephine! My first thoughts upon arrival in Japan were that it is so clean and everyone on the street has their own STYLE.  It was so refreshing to see, because while Korea is stylish, it’s also super buttoned up and repressed for individuality.  I was also amazed by the amount of people reading BOOKS and not on their smart phones.  This was like a cool drink of refreshing water!

So we made it to our hostel in the funky Americamura district, got some nomtastic bubble tea (boba) and a dinner of the most delicious beef I have ever had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into.  It must have been because we were eating amidst an angel.

Here is what our hostel looked like.  It was as if we went to sleep away camp for the weekend! Or a frat house, however you want to spin it. Minus the uncleanliness.

And this is our bathroom.  I envisioned 6’4″ Josh like Buddy the Elf trying to cleanse himself in that teeny little space.

The next morning we woke up bright and early and were off to Kyoto, which was about 30 minutes by train.  We dropped our bags off at the guest house and were off to bike around the city for the day.  Kyoto felt like such a quaint little city, not like we were in a big city at all.

Our first stop was at the Golden Pavilion, or Kinkaku-ji.  It was this massive golden palace with no windows set beside a beautiful lake.  Once we got in it was like we stepped into a Sailor Moon field trip.

We were also greeted by this very polite Japanese man and his spread legs.

Joshy and Steph were also celebrity status when they got  interviewed by a slew of giddy Japanese school girls.

After looking at the temple, we tried a bunch of delicious flavors of mochi (Japanese rice cakes) and the most AMAZING wasabi peanuts.  I almost died and went to wasabi heaven.  Here is Katie trying to figure out which nuts to buy.

Next we biked to the Imperial Palace, but since we could only go inside with an appointment, we biked around the perimeter and scoped out the lush flora.

After the Imperial Palace we needed to orient ourselves, so Katie and I took the liberty of hopping into the map to grab our bearings.

Then we were off to bike along the river.  This area was just beside the Gion district of Osaka, which is also known as the Geisha district.  While biking along the river I felt like I had been plopped down in Europe somewhere.  It completely did not feel like Asia to me.  There were street musicians and dancers and painters and everyday people just sitting on the side of the river reading books and drawing and talking.  It was gorgeous and it was one of the things that made me fall in love with Japan, especially Kyoto.

After riding along the river we parked our bikes and went to see what Gion was about.  It was a small area with a lot of hustle bustle, but still very quaint and historical feeling.

We crossed the road with a couple of geishas.

Saw some more geishas.

Saw the Gion Red Temple gate.

And gawked at the amazingness of Japanese snacks.  And this is only the deli-ish section.  Korea please take note.

We had then planned to bike further south to another shrine that we all wanted to see, but unfortunately it was starting to rain and getting late and we had to return our bikes.  So, we headed out for a much earned and DELICIOUS conveyor belt sushi dinner that our homie Moe from the guest house suggested. It was bomb….except for the accidental sampling of raw horse.  SICK.

The next day, thankfully not sick from the horse,  Steph and I planned to splurge on a day trip to Hiroshima to see Miyajima Island and the Atomic bomb museum, however a typhoon decided to hit Japan and we opted to save our $300 and stay in the typhooning Kyoto for the day.  We didn’t realize how bad the weather was til we were on the outskirts of Kyoto at a Bamboo forest, which would have been gorgeous had it not been for the awful weather.  Here are my homies trying to figure out what direction the bathroom is in.

So we called that quits fast and got the train back to Kyoto where we traded in our umbrellas for full body ponchos, and decided to spend the afternoon eating Japanese nomz inside.

Yakisoba noodles with seafood!

Okonomiyaki pancake, which I swear tasted like the holidays to me.  Almost like a gingerbread cookie oddly enough.  It was okkk

After stuffing our faces, we tried to figure out a plan for the evening.  Moe helped us decide on going to a Kabuki/Geisha/tea ceremony show in Gion, which we were really excited about….that is until we got there and saw THIS SIGN.  If you can’t read it, it says that the theater is closed due to the typhoon.  Angry birds we were.

OH WELL, guess we’ll go get shitfaced on sake and sushi and hit up a karaoke room instead. Cue sloppiest, most fantastical night ever. God bless the little Japanese fellas who had to clean up after our disaster.

This is what 30 bottles of sake….

 

and Celine Dion looks like, if you were curious.

It was an awesome last night with all of us together, and the next morning we checked out and popped back on up to Osaka for a day of exploring, and saying bye to Steph.

Our first matter of business was to rest after our wild night, and then hit up Osaka Castle, which played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century.

Once inside we read about all the different wars and heirs that occupied the castle…..and most importantly, we got to play geisha for 15 minutes.

We were getting hungry (and one boy quite cranky) and decided to head to Namba and the River walk.  We got the most tasty ramen at a little hole in the wall place on Dotonbori street, which is the most famous street in all of Osaka.

I regret to say I didn’t eat any Takoyaki (octopus balls), but here is what they look like and how they’re made.  Next time I go back to Japan I promise myself I’ll try, because apparently they’re bombtastic.

After stuffing our faces, we did what any normal person in Japan does.  We went to an arcade and Katie and Jeewon broke it down on the DDR with a silly looking, hardcore DDR Japanese boy.  Here’s a video to show you just how asian they are.

We ended our last night in Osaka by trying to ride an extremely ginormous ferris wheel on the river, but failed miserably when we got there too late.  Instead we decided to sit, talk, eat the massive amounts of mochi and snacks and green tea kit kats (and a 1/5 of booze for Josh) on the side of the river before catching the last train back to our hotel.

Overall, Japan was awesome!!!! I am so in love with it and glad I got to experience it with the lovely bunch of friendsies that I did.  The people there are so polite and exude attitude and style and individuality, which I love, especially after coming from Korea.  Obviously Korea will always hold a special place in my heart, it was just that they’re such different cultures, and I wasn’t really expecting that.

Until we meet again, sayonara Japan!!!