Sunday, October 22, 2006


The second part of our trip, Nicole and I took a train to Kyoto, which is only about 2 hours from Hiroshima (by bullet train). Kyoto is the sort of the historical mecca of Japan, so we thought it would be neat to see more of a traditional city.
We stayed in a hostel so we shared a room with 3 other people. It was fine the first night but the second night I thought I was going to freak out. 2 of the girls in our room had to leave at 5 am to catch a train, so they were up til like 2:30 am packing. At that point the money we had saved by staying in a hostel didn't mean a thing. With Hiroshima fresh in my mind, I had to force myself to think about peace. Peace. Peace.
Anyway, Nicole and I saw some very beautiful things in Kyoto. First, the Golden Pavillion, a gilded temple built in the 1200's! It was striking. It was a bit rainy outside, but that only made it look more beautiful and the gold more shiny! On our walk to the temple, a most exciting thing happened: we saw GEISHA!!!!!!! Now, I don't know if you have read the book or have seen the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha", but it sort of was an obsession of mine that I see a real geisha in Japan. We saw 2! It was like I spotted Brad Pitt or something. We casually (but quickly) changed our direction to follow them so we got some pictures from behind and the side. Yippee!! They looked just like I imagined (and in the movie!)

After seeing the palace, we had tea in an open-air teahouse in the palace garden. It was beautiful sitting on the floor, drinking green tea and gazing at the greenery. And boy, was it green!
That night we walked around downtown Kyoto and found some quaint little had a sort of canal (looked like I imagine Venice to look). Then we walked to Gion, an area that is supposed to have the highest population of geisha in Japan. I don't know if we were in the exact right area of Gion, but it was full of trashy sex shops and hostess bars! We definitely did not see a geisha there! I'm so glad we saw 2 that morning....
The next day we went to a temple called Nanzen-ji. It was one of the most beautiful places I'd ever seen. There were so many plants and was so lush and green. Our pictures definitely don't do it justice, but it's the Japan of the movies. Amazing.
Kyoto was gorgeous. As you can see in the pics, geisha, the golden palace, and bamboo trees!


Today it was rainy all day so I just layed around and did absolutely nothing. It was glorious. I'm going to sort of bring you up to speed bit by bit. First, my Japan trip. I think I have to dedicate this post to only Hiroshima, because there is just so much to tell about it.
Nicole (my friend from grad school who is now teaching here in Seoul with me) and I flew to Japan for a week over the Korean holiday Chuseok. It's like their Thanksgiving.
I was really surprised when we arrived in Hiroshima. I guess I didn't know what to expect, but you'd never be able to tell that 61 years ago the city was flattened by an A-bomb. It's beautiful and green with 7 rivers running through the city. There is also a street car system (like trolleys). The city has such a good, strong energy to it. We stayed at the World Friendship Center (WFC). It was founded by American Quaker peace activists in the 60's, and it serves as a guest house (sort of like a B&B) for visitors to Hiroshima. It was run by a couple in their 60' was great, like staying at someone's house! It was Japanese style so we slept on pads on the floor in our own bedroom. Older couples from America sign up (through their church) to work at the WFC for a year's time...what an amazing experience, to come to Japan and work at an organization like that! The WFC is also very active in the community (teaching English, cultural exchanges, and international peace initiatives). One of the staff (Don) was really informative about the city and he set up a free private tour with a Japanese woman for us to see the Peace Park. It was amazing. So much history. Nicole and I went to the Peace Memorial Museum, learned a bit of the history of the attack on Hiroshima, and saw a lot of really moving pictures and read some personal stories of some of the victims. The next morning, a little Japanese woman named Michiko gave us a tour of the Peace Park. There are so many monuments like the "Flame of Peace" (which will not be extinguished until the last nuclear weapon in the world is destroyed!) and the A-Bomb dome...the remains of a building that was all but destroyed by the bomb (pictured). The park is in the hypocenter where the bomb hit. There is a river running through the park and our guide told us stories about how the river was just filled with bodies after the explosion. I learned so much about the effects of a nuke, it was so sad and disturbing. I couldn't help but cry as she was telling us the stories of the families and people who were affected.

One story in particular was very striking. It's about a girl named Sadako. She was exposed to the A-bomb when she was 2 years old. Ten years later, she developed radiation-related lukemia (as many people did). The Japanese have a legend which says that anyone who folds 1000 paper cranes (origami) would be granted a wish. Cranes are a sign of longevity in Japanese culture. Sadako diligently began folding paper cranes in hope that this would cure her sickness. She folded over 1000 before her death 8 months later. Her classmates continued folding paper cranes in her memory and there was a monument erected in the Peace Park dedicated to Sadako and all the children (the most innocent of all victims) who died as a result of the A-bomb. When we were there, a class of children came carrying armfuls of paper cranes which they hung on the monument. It was amazing.

In addition to learning about the bombing, Nicole and I also went to an island close to Hiroshima called Miyajima. (it was far enough away that it wasn't affected by the bomb). It was beautiful! After arriving on the island (by ferry) we were approached by several deer who were completely tame! It was wild! They were like dogs or something! We were petting them and feeding them deer food. They were just strolling around the island, intermixing with the people. We were able to see a beautiful shrine with an orange grand gate called "O-Torii" (pictured below). It was very beautiful. Here are some pictures of our wonderful stay in Hiroshima...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Countdown Begins! 11 teaching days left!!

To all loyal readers (or semi-loyal....all 2 of you)! Sorry for the lack of updates! There's so much to tell, and it continues to build. In short, over the past month:

-I went to Japan twice. Once on purpose, the other time for a two day/one night visa run. Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Osaka are awesome, and have only confirmed my love for Japan further! More to come with pictures.

-I did an overnight Buddhist temple stay. This was also very cool, a day in the life of a monk. I was able to learn a bit about the Korean style of Buddhism.

-My friend Geoff's contract finished and he's back in Canada. Korea isn't the same without him.

-North Korea got all crazy with some nuke tests. There isn't a state of panic here, but we're sort of awaiting the next moves (along with the rest of the world).

-I only have 11 teaching days left!! November 3, my cousin Heidi is flying to Seoul. We are going to Beijing for a week and then Thailand for a week. What a great adventure before I come home on November 20!!

This weekend I plan to sit down and write some longer entries about the experiences I've had lately. Stay tuned...... Cheers!