Why do people leave Japan? Why do those who are often obsessed with anything Japanese end up leaving their dream job and dream home? These people spend their lives working towards the goal of living and working forever in Japan, only to give up that dream after having lived in Japan for only a couple of months or years. Why is that? Why does that happen?
Recently, I have seen videos and read Facebook posts from those explaining why it is they have changed their mind. Some were surprising to me, while others were not. However, I did notice that their reasoning was all the same. Every single person had the exact same reason for changing their minds. I empathize with them. All of those things they have explained, I have experienced at least once. So I can easily understand why they would choose to leave. On the other hand, I also feel that some of those reason are not fully comprehended and are often misunderstood.
The first reason that everyone always starts out with is being different or being gawked at because they are foreigners. I understand that. Being a blonde hair blue-eyed foreigner myself, I fully understand the uncomfortability of being stared at. It can be disheartening to have it always happen day after day. It becomes easier to toon it out over time, and if you constantly take the same commute route every day, the people will always see you and eventually get used to you always being there. In my prefecture, no one really stares at me too much anymore because I always take the same commute route. They expect me to be there. I am often greeted by fellow commuters daily. A few actually know my name. The thing that still has me confused is how they avoid me when sitting. They will always leave the seats beside me completely free. They would rather stand, than sit next to me. Apparently, I have a scary gaijin disease and it is rather contagious. Oh no!!
I would like to follow-up this complaint with some advice to anyone else who wishes to travel or work in Japan. The more you stand out, the more they are going to stare. Of course there are obvious things about your appearance that you cannot hide/change and that is fine. What I mean is to follow the culture. People watch. Try to match what other people are doing. They most often stare not because of your appearance, but because you are doing something outside their culture and it is making them uncomfortable. They never will approach you about it because they figure you only speak English. There was one person I knew who was from another country, who always did their own thing when on the train. They would talk loudly to their friends, eat food on the train, take out a notebook and start sketching people sitting across from them, all of these things are not what Japanese do. If you are not mindful to your surroundings and don’t accept that you are in an entirely different culture and country, then the staring will never stop.
Another thing they all complained about was racism and prejudice. Yes, in Japan there is a lot of racism. The more rural the area, the more racist people become. On the other hand, the more urban the area, the more prejudice the people become. People often confuse racism with prejudice and they are not the same. Someone being prejudice is assuming that you only speak English so they refuse to assist you in stores. That isn’t being racist. That is just them being afraid of talking to you in English based on their past experience with other foreigners. Someone kicking you out of their store right when you walk in because you are a foreigner is racist. Someone giving you a fork instead of chopsticks is not being racist. It is them trying to be kind but it comes off as prejudice sometimes. Someone walking up to you and assaulting you just because you are a foreigner is racist. Both of those things regularly happen in Japan. How often they occur is based on your appearance and area. In Gunma, I’d say both happens once a week. When I was in Tokyo, racism rarely happened but there were plenty of prejudice people.
My advice is to not make a big deal out of either instance. You don’t know the intention behind the act. They may very well be trying to help you but it came off wrong. If you do get assaulted for racism, report it to the police as soon as it occurs. The police are very rarely prejudice against foreigners when it comes to assaults. They will help you.
Lack of food was another reason. Or that food was expensive. I see posts on Facebook all the time from people complaining about how much produce costs or how there is a lack of breakfast foods in Japan. Well, yeah. This is all true, but that is because you are still trying to eat food from your home country and not Japanese food. My husband and I struggled financially a lot in the first year because we kept trying to eat Americanized foods. Those are expensive here. It wasn’t until I accepted that we live in Japan, and must start eating like the Japanese that I started to realize how cheap the food actually is. We save hundreds of dollars on food a month because of this.
My advice is to eat like a Japanese people and only splurge on your home country’s food once in a while, or have care packages sent to you. It might be hard at first, but there are thousands of videos on YouTube for Japanese cooking, and hundreds of cookbooks in Japan that are written in English. I know because I have some. “But Jeny, Tomatoes are so expensive in Japan.” Of course they are. There are barely any recipes, if any, that call for tomatoes as an ingredient. Carrots, on the other hand, are quite cheap, and are the size of my arm. Almost every Japanese recipe includes carrots. Bread is expensive in Japan, but that is because they just don’t eat it. They will sometimes, but it is not called for in most of their recipes. Once you start thinking like a Japanese person, you will see that the food really isn’t expensive at all. I plan on making a video soon about some of the most easy Japanese meals that take minutes to make and cost less than 500 yen.
The next reason is the small space. Well, duh. It should be a no brainer that Japan is small and they have to cram 125 million people into a tiny space. Of course the apartments are going to be small and not spacious. I find this argument to be invalid because they should have known before coming here that your living space was going to be small. There is no way around it. If you want to live in a large place, you have to fork over a ton of money. Most people can’t do that. If you can’t handle small spaces, then don’t come to Japan. Simple as that. I can understand feeling cramped in your tiny space, but there are so many efficient ways of storing things to make your tiny apartment feel spacious. There are thousands of videos and articles online for tips on how to do this. There really is no excuse for complaining about space. If you are one of those people who feel cramped in your tiny place, then I suggest you look into how to consolidate your items to make the most of your space so it doesn’t feel so cramped.
Finances is another reason people leave Japan. Everyone always says that Japan is an expensive country to live. Maybe if you are living extravagantly and are only eating western styled foods. Unless you work for an independent company, such as a combini, the company will subsidize your rent and even reimburse travel. Every company my husband has worked for has reimbursed his travel. When you stop thinking about cost of living in terms of dollars and start thinking about the cost of living in yen, you will see that there is virtually no difference between the cost of living in America and in Japan. We live quite comfortably and are able to travel often.
My advice is if you are struggling financially in Japan, maybe you should take a step back and really analyze your spending. Where exactly is your money going? What bills are you having to pay? Is your salary sufficient enough to live off of? Dave Ramsey has excellent financial advice, as well as many other websites and blogs. Start using those resources to actively live more financially stable. You will have to exercise self-control and maybe even a little will-power, but a struggle free life in Japan is very much possible.
The final reason that everyone always stated, and coincidentally always mentioned last, is work ethic. Now, I cannot comment on other jobs that are not conglomerate or government jobs as I have never worked for them, but I will tell you what I know and have learned via interviews.
One thing everyone always says is that 5 minutes early is 10 minutes late. This has never been the case for me. Every Japanese person I have ever met, is either exactly on time or 5 minutes early. No one arrives to anything early. Even to work. People arrive exactly on time, sometimes late, but never early. I have arranged several meetings with my coworkers and other Japanese, and they always arrive exactly on time. Every once in a while it is early, but only by like 2 minutes. Only one person I know freaks out about getting to places on time when reservations are called for. Such as a movie, a theatre, or some other performance. He gets there an hour early. He is extra ridiculous though because he has high anxiety. Even other Japanese call him ridiculous. To summarize, Japanese have no concept of “5 minutes early is 10 minutes late.” That is something made up by westerners.
People also say that Japanese expect you to work extra hard and take on extra tasks. I have heard over and over that workers cannot leave until the boss says they can leave. Companies expect you to give 1010% in all you do and make your life revolve around your job. On the surface, it very much appears this way, but this is just not true. There are parts of that that are true, but only on an individual basis. I have spoken to several people who work in 3 separate companies and job types, and all of them can confirm that this is untrue.
Companies in Japan work on a rotational basis. Meaning, you will never stay in one place for more than 10 years. The average transfer rate is 5-10 years. Unless you own the company or work for an independent business, you will never build tenure anywhere. Any and all professions will transfer locations within the company. Because the transfer rate is so high, this is why employees have their homes subsidized and why their travel expenses are always reimbursed. The company knows that it is a major burden on their employees to be constantly moved around, so they offer all kinds of benefits to their employees to keep them working for the same company. The higher up in rank you are with the company, the more benefits you receive. Let’s say you are a factory worker, and want to move up to secretary. If you over work, and produce high quality materials, your work will be recognized and a promotion will be granted. I believe this is the reason that Japan has the stereotype of over working. It has nothing to do with making work your life and more so to do with wanting to be recognized and promoted. Unlike America, employees are promoted based on the quality of their work, not how popular they are with the boss. I have always hated that about America. It doesn’t matter how good you are at your job, if you are not best friends with the boss, you will never see that promotion.
Are teachers in Japan required to participate in club activities? Yes they are. However, they are fully compensated for their over work. They are typically rewarded in extra time off. One teacher told me that he takes on as many extra tasks as possible so that by the time school vacations come around, he doesn’t have to worry about how many days off he has because he has more than enough days to take a super long summer vacation or winter vacation. I get this too. Whenever I over work, it is exchanged for time off at a later date to be used whenever I feel like it.
The overworking case is all individual. There are people I work with who leave the second the clock strikes their ending time, and there are people who stay an extra 2 hours getting work done. It is all up to the individual and how they manage their work. My friend works for Toyota. She entered as a factory worker, was promoted to secretary, and is now working in advertising. During each promotion she was offered paid leave for 2-4 weeks in celebration of her promotion. With each promotion she was also give an additional bonus and they paid for her to attend special training classes. Her apartment is fully paid for and all her travel expenses are reimbursed. Her end goal was to work in advertising so she most likely won’t work towards a promotion again, but before that, she was overworking every day and even on weekends. She did this strictly because she wanted to get promoted as quickly as possible. She didn’t need to do this, nor was she required to do this, it was a choice. There are many many people who work overtime purely because they want to be recognized for their hard work and promoted. It has absolutely nothing to do with being required to work more by the boss or company.
This past month, I have been working 10 hours a day 5 days a week because of the speech contest. For 12 days I had no days off. It was straight working. Did I have to do this? No. I could have easily refused to accept the extra work. And just like I said before, they gave me extra time off in exchange for working more hours. For foreigners especially, we have extra labor laws to protect us. If anything is occurring with you in Japan that you feel is unjust, speak with a lawyer. They LOVE the chance to get companies for mistreating foreigners. Those are basically open and shut cases for them. Unlike the US, the Japanese lawyers have a good reputation.
Sorry this post went longer than expected. I wanted to share my opinion on the matter. If you don’t agree with me, that is fine. I would love to discuss it with you. You can leave a comment, sign the guest book, or send me an email and we can discuss it further. I can see why people would be uncomfortable with staying in Japan long term. I get that, but these reasons that everyone is always giving are just excuses to me. It means that they didn’t take the time to really learn and adapt to Japanese culture and life and are running away from the issues. I have nothing against any of my friends who have left Japan and want to only visit. I do believe that Japan is not for everyone. Not everyone can handle drastic cultural change and I respect that, but don’t go around spreading lies and excuses just because it didn’t work out for you. The way these people presented their reasons painted Japan with one color when really there are 100 sides. There are some complaints I hear from foreigners currently in Japan that make me laugh to no end. I will save that for another post. For now, thanks for reading!
My oh my oh my. It has been 2 years since my journey to Japan on the JET Program. My Japaniversary is
July 26th. I went through my first blog posts from when I got to Japan and also I went through my first Japaniversary post, and decided to talk about what has changed and what has remained the same. If you wish to check out those posts for comparison, you can check them out here for the 1 year and here for the first arrival.
Let's first discuss the first impressions and how I feel about them now. Ok, so number 1 is trash being confusing. Yes, trash is a pain in the rear. Nothing about this has changed. I think you have heard my feelings enough on the matter so I won't bore you with the details once more. Just know that it sucks the same as ever. NEXT! Wash your garbage. Yes, you do have to wash your garbage. I have gotten a little lazy with this and cut
corners whenever I can. Sometimes, there is just no way around it and you HAVE to wash your garbage, but there are other times when I would just put a plastic piece of trash in burnable because it had just enough guck on it to make me say that it can't be washed. I am such a bad foreigner in Japan!
Number 3 is bike laws. I have gotten used to this actually. The bike laws aren't anything I think about much anymore. It has become second nature much like driving was for me in the US. Number 4 is cars driving on sidewalks, and I must admit, that Japanese drivers make me really angry with this one. It is one thing, to drive on the sidewalk and another to be a jerk about it. Some people will get so angry that I am on my bike and delay them from getting to their destination faster. Actually, it is not some. It is mostly all of them. They zoom out of blind corners and take no care if there is a person there or not. I understand their qualms with people on bikes, most of the people suck at bike riding and have accidents all the time, but people are also walking on the sidewalks too. You can't just zoom out of a blind corner and expect nothing to happen to anybody. What if a kid just ran out of nowhere? Or an old lady fell and you ran over her head? They need to be more careful. Josh and I have had some close calls in the past. Just recently, this guy was in a hurry to turn and didn't pause to make sure that no one was coming on their bikes before zooming his nose out. I was able to stop in time, but Josh rammed right into me. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Just bicycles. Then they get mad at us for riding bikes on the only place we are permitted to ride bikes. Bike riding is part of your culture!! What do you expect?!
Ok, 5 and 6 are one in the same, banks and ATMs close early or have odd business hours. The bank thing doesn't bother me because I rarely need to go to the bank. And when I do need to go to the bank, I can get free time off to go from work. They understand that sometimes it is necessary. The ATM thing, I haven't come across an ATM that closes, but I have come across and ATM that hadn't opened yet in the morning. So far, the ATM thing hasn't been a problem. The only thing that bothers me about ATMs is that they charge you a fee to use your own money. That is just something that annoys me to no end. It is like we are still stuck in the 90's here in Japan.
Number 7 is about ERs being on rotation. Again, I haven't had the need to go to the ER, thankfully. So I don't
see this as a problem for now. I am sure that once we have kids I will start to see how annoying this is, but as of now, no notice of it what so ever.
Number 8 is that the post office closes really early. This isn't an issue for me because I have a husband who doesn't work during the day so if I need to go to the post office I can just send him to go instead. So, again, like number 7 this isn't an issue for me.
Number 9 is that it is hot. YAAAASSS!! It is soooooo hot! I think I have said this before, but Arizona is hot, but there is something about the Japanese sun that just makes it unbearable here. It is ridiculous how hot it is.
What makes it worse is that my classes still don't have air conditioning. Why? I feel so bad for those poor students. Also, they just refuse, outright refuse, to turn the AC on to an acceptable level. They seem to believe that 80 degrees is a perfectly reasonable temperature indoors. I know they don't actually feel this way because every single person in the office is using a fan as wespeak. I think it is safe to assume that 80 degrees is not a reasonable temperature and it should be lowered.
Number 10 is sitting on the floor, and I am not Japanese nor do I entertain much, so I have completely forgotten about this and don't feel the need to elaborate on it.
Well that was....boring; let's move on to something else. Like things that are hard to find in Japan and what I miss.
First on the list of things hard to find is crayons. Well, actually, I have found crayons. You just have to know where to look. Once you understand how they organize their art supplies, finding crayons is actually really easy. So I would no longer consider crayons to be hard to find.
Cereal is next. Oh my goodness yes! Recently, less and less variety is available in terms of cereal now. Why?? I don't see the point. They used to have some, not good options but some, variety of cereals to choose from besides corn flakes, but now, it seems like even those are leaving. I have been eating granola for cereal because there is just no cereal to be had. I don't understand this sudden change of having cereal to no cereal. It makes no sense to me. Needless to say, if you are reading this and send me a care package, be sure to include several boxes of cereal. Thank you!
Pencils are hard to find. Yeah, this goes with the crayons thing. Once you know where to look they really aren't that hard to find. Same goes for loose leaf paper. Once you actively search for it, you realize that it was right under your nose the entire time. So.... This was also a pointless conversation. Moving on.
Let's talk about the things that I miss. Well, in my first post about things that I miss from American, the first thing I wrote was Wheat Thins. And I have to admit, I still crave those, and want those. I think those things are
something that I just need to have. I don't know why wheat thins specifically, but I just need me a good cheese and cracker snack.
The next thing I wrote was tampons. Yes, yes, and another big YES! I have since given up on buying tampons from Japan. I have been buying them from America. When I went back for a visit last year, I pretty much bought out the entire stock of tampons from Walmart. Those lasted me almost a full year. My mother has been kind enough to resupply me with more tampons. My body has been much happier since then.
Oooo! White chocolate reeses. Yes, while I still miss those, I don't crave them right now. I kind of go through phases. At least when it comes to food I do anyway. Recently, I have really been wanting pasta roni. And thankfully, we just received a package with just that in the box! I also have been missing skittles. They don't have anything equivalent to those here. It is either hard candies, gummies, or chocolate. No chewy stuff. It is not so common.
Ok, for these last 3, they are related, so I am just going to put them all into one. That would be craft supplies. In
my post from last year, I mentioned that I missed sketch books, scrapbooking supplies, and yarn. I still miss sketch books, because those are hard to come buy, but I haven't been doing much in the way of crafting so this desire is not so strong. Until just last week, I had been spending all my free time studying Japanese for the JLPT N2 (Japanese language proficiency test). If I pass this test, then I can certified in translation and can work in virtually any business with little difficulty.
Anyways, for the yarn, I am in no need of yarn right now. I was given boxes upon boxes of yarn from my grandmother. I think I am set for a while. Besides, I am currently working on a knitted blanket with said yarn, and I still have boxes of yarn left. I think it is safe to say that my yarn cravings have been satisfied.
Well, hopefully that wasn't too boring for you and you found it somewhat interesting. In conclusion, anyone who lives abroad is going to have moments or phases when they are craving something specific or are homesick. It is normal to desire these things. I am sure that if I return to the US that I will be craving melon soda, salmon bowls, and yakimanju. This is all a part of life. After having lived here for 2 years, and after rereading my old posts, nothing about me has really changed; just my perception of things has changed. More so, my perception
of the world. I have been to 4 countries, and each one is unique in its own way. International travel really teaches you culture and open mindedness, if you let it. I say this to say, that no matter how many years I will be in Japan, who I am is never going to change. The things I miss are going to change, but who I am will remain the same. I honestly don't feel like I live in another country. Maebashi has become my home and I can't fathom living someplace else. I have made connections here. I have a wonderful job, and I LOVE my apartment. No matter where you are there are going to be things that you miss. It is human nature and it is a part of life. Being in Japan has opened my eyes to a lot of things about myself, and about my home country. My trip to Korea even furthered this. I think Korea more so made me realize this than anything else.
Well, that is it for this post. I know it has been a while, and I am sorry for that. I have been slacking in my YouTube channel as well. I really wanted to have tunnel vision and only focus on my studies, so I took out all outside distractions. This weekend is a 3
Sorry this post took so long. I was wanting to take a few days to let the ideas come to me then write them down as I thought of them. Because I did that, however, I forgot that I was wanting to write a post about this topic and found myself writing things down without any reason why. Have no fear! Here I am now to ease your wondering minds, and bring you this final instalment of travel advice in Japan. In this final topic, I will talk about cultural things that you may or may not know about. Head's up, as I am American, I can only talk about things surprising to me as an American. So if things are similar in your country, then disregard that section and move to the next one.
First, let us tackle the most common and obvious difference when shopping in Japan. That is paying in trays. You never, ever just hand the money to the clerk, you must always put the money on a tray. If a tray is not available, the put the money on the counter. You will see this happening all over Japan. The same goes for credit cards too (that is if you find a place that accepts them), you put the cards in the try. 80% of the time, they will hand you the change, but the other 20% they will put the change in a new tray just for you to pick up.
One thing you will notice right away while shopping at a mall or department store is the incessant need for all the employees to say, on repeat "irasshaimase." Do not, and I repeat, DO NOT say this back to them. If you do, they and anyone else around you will laugh at you. It means "welcome to our store." It literally means "you
come/go" which is funny, but it really means "welcome."
Let's say that you want to try on some clothing. Usually, they will let you just take the clothing off the rack and try it on, but sometimes they have a special item just for trying on that is literally the same exact thing without all the tags. Right before you head to the fitting room, they will either point out to you, or hand you a strange bag. This bag is not an actual bag, it is to put over your face to protect the clothing from getting makeup stains on it. All dressing rooms in Japan carry this, and it is encouraged that you please use it. Another important thing to note, is that you must remove your shoes. But don't take off your shoes, stand right next to them, then step up on the carpeted area to try on clothing. This is what most foreigners will do. You need to take your shoes off as you are stepping up. This means that your shoeless foot should never touch the same ground shoes walk on. Take off one shoe, then step up on the carpet, then remove the other shoe, and continue stepping up. Please, please, please, PLEASE do not step on the same ground as your shoes. The employees will yell at you might refuse to let you try on clothes. Don't gaijin smash! This web site is not about gaijin smashing.
After you have made your purchase, you have correctly put the money into the try, you are ready to take your purchased item and leave. Yet, the employee isn't giving to you, despite the fact that your hand is outstretched. You have encountered a store that requires the employees to pass on the shopping bag at the entrance of the store. 50% of the time they will just give you your bag (taped closed I might add. Don't ask me why), but the other 50% of the time, they will be expecting you to walk with them to the front of the store, take the bag, then walk away. If you look back, they will be bowing deeply for several seconds. This is normal. Some foreigners really find it strange and odd and often make fun of them, just let it go. Please don't be rude. This is their culture, not yours. I am sure your culture does things that they don't understand as well.
After shopping things can get a little tiring so you stop at a local restaurant to grab a bite to eat. You get seated, you check out the menu, and you start to notice that everything include bread or flour and you are gluten free. "No biggie" you think. "I will just ask for a gluten free option or exchange an item for something else." While that works fine in your country, things don't work like that in Japan. You cannot, under any circumstance modify an order without causing utter chaos to the entire restaurant. It is impossible. The waiter doesn't know what to do, the chef doesn't know what to do, and the manager doesn't know what to do. No one knows what to do. Even if you are asking for something as simple as putting dressing on the side, they just cannot fathom anyone
deviating from the set menu's recipe. The good news is, you can ask for minor modifications at Starbucks or fast food chains, but actual sit down restaurants, this is out of the question. A word of advice, check the menu first, BEFORE you decide to eat there. I have yet to see a restaurant in Japan that doesn't post their menu outside the place. You literally have no excuse to step into the store, then ask if they have anything you can eat. The sign is right there.
Let us move on to having found a restaurant that accommodates you. You found what you want to eat, and are ready to order, but there is no waiter to be found. This is because you need to press a call button. They are usually on the table near the napkins or box of silver wear (oh yeah, they put all the spoons and stuff in a little box on the table). Just press that, and someone will be with you shortly. If there is no button, then just put up your hand and say "sumimasen!" If you hear a "hai~!" Then someone will be with you shortly. If nothing, then
repeat it louder.
Now you are finished eating your delicious food and are ready to pay. If there is no receipt/bill already on the
table then you have to get up to the counter and tell the clerk what you had. This part is easy even if you have
0 Japanese. If you are with someone and want to pay separately, then just say "betsu betsu." If you have a bill at your table, you must bring it with you to the register. You never leave money on the table. Which brings me to my next point, no tips. You can't. I have tried. They will refuse until you are blue in the face. Just don't bother, no matter how good the service was. You can't do it. As a matter of fact, no tips anywhere in Japan. No one accepts them.
Now you have been shopped out, and would like to travel back to your hotel. Well, now you have to take a train/bus/subway. (I will not be discussing buses, as their system is different in every area). If you have the JR Pass, you are taking the train. You cannot take the subway, however you can take very select buses.
If you don't have the pass, you can take whatever you so please. The subway and trains are very similar with minor differences but for the purpose of this analogy, they are the same. There are so many train lines in Japan that they can feel overwhelming. Rather than just standing there staring at the map and trying to make sense of it, why not try using hyperdia? This site is helpful in finding your way around Japan. It might take a bit to get used to it if you have never used a transit system before but after a few tries it will make sense. You just need to type everything in capitals or it doesn't know what you want. Speaking of standing there searching for your train, be considerate and stand to the side by a wall or something. Don't just stand in front of the ticket counter or kiosk. Move to the side, find what you need, then go to a kiosk or train. People are constantly moving very fast to catch their trains. It is best not to be in their way.
You have found your train, you have your ticket/pass, and head to the escalators to the platform. You see that everyone is standing on one side while the other side is completely free. This is because one side is meant for standing, while the other side is left open for people to walk up or down. In the kanto area (Tokyo), you stand to the left. In the kansai area (Osaka/Kyoto), you stand to the right. If you don't know, people watch. That is the best thing to do.
Now you got on your train and it is packed. You have to squeeze your way into the train and mush yourself amongst many people, so you start uttering "sumimasen" (excuse me) over and over and over. You are probably garnering strange looks too. This is because no one uses "sumimasen" to actually mean "excuse me." They use it to mean "I have a question, please help me." "Gomen" (I'm sorry) is probably better to use, but when it comes to crowds, you are going to bump into people. Unless you notice that person react to you or drop something, there is no need to say anything. Everyone knows that physical contact is inevitable.
While you are on the train you get a phone call from your friend asking where you are because she wants to see a movie. So you answer and start talking. This is a big no-no. You must not answer your phone. You can text if it is on silent mode but no talking. Quiet talking with your friend on the train is ok, but definitely no phones, no horseplay, no big gestures, and no loud talking. You must be very quiet.
You have arrived at your stop, you meet up your friend to see a movie but you still are carrying all your shopping bags from earlier. You don't really want to take them with you all over the place. Never fear! There are coin lockers! Coin lockers at the station are usually more expensive, but nothing too extravagant. Most facilities have coin lockers. If they cost 100 yen, then it is actually free. Just open it up, put your stuff in, insert the 100 yen coin, lock, and you are good to go. When you are ready to retrieve you items the coin will be returned back to you. Simple, and convenient.
Ok, first off, don't ask for the bathroom in Japan, they will all be thinking of a bathtub. Instead, ask for the toilets,
or "toile" in Japanese. Before the movie, you need to use the bathroom, so you find one, and unfortunately, the
only stall available is the dreaded hole in the ground. Dun dun DUUUUUUUUH! They really aren't that bad. It is just stigma. And they aren't holes in the ground either. It is an actual toilet. Just pull your pants down, face the piping, and do your business. Then it comes time to flush the toilet, but there is no handle. What do you do? Oh no! There is no handle! The toilet is broken! What do I do!?! Relax it's on the wall. If it doesn't say "flush" it will say "流". That means flush. The button will be obvious so don't worry.
Now you are ready to wash your hands. Yay! Sparkly clean. Uh oh. There are no paper towels. There are no hand dryers. Are you.....are you supposed to use your shirt?? Not unless you read my previous posts and prepared well by bringing a hand towel. 99.9% of public toilets in Japan do not include anyway of you drying off your hands.
You and your friend enjoyed the movie, you enjoyed your popcorn and soda. No you are ready to toss those away and head back to your hotel. But wait, what's this? Multiple trash bins???? I know why Japan does this, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. Congratulations, you have encountered the annoying Japanese trash system. It should be pretty straightforward. Paper goes in paper, and plastic goes in plastic, and bottles go in bottles, there will be pictures so it should make sense. If you are unsure, you can ask someone. They will gladly help you.
Another thing to note, it is considered rude to eat/drink while walking. So make sure you sit somewhere to finish your snack or stop walking for a moment to take a drink. Another thing that is rude is licking food off your fingers. Unless you want people to avoid you then by all means, lick away. Just use a napkin.
Hooray! You have survived your first imaginary outing in Japan! Throughout this post, it progressively got more real. Sorry about that. Unless you liked it then, you're welcome! If there is anything that I forgot and you feel should be mentioned, feel free to let me know by leaving a comment. Thanks for reading!
In this post, I am going to focus on what to consider packing for you trip to Japan. I am not going to talk about
obvious things, such as clothing or sunscreen, because that should be obvious to anyone with common sense. Just make sure you research the climate/weather of the area you will be visiting. Each area is different, much like the US. The things I will be listing are in no particular order. You also don't have to take my advice, I am just someone who has traveled a bit and can offer some advice. Without further adieu, here is a list of items I feel are important for you to consider packing on your trip to Japan. The first tip I have for you is when packing,
pack light. You will be wanting to buy things while abroad, so make sure you leave space. Also, Japan is small. If you are from anywhere in the US, Japan is tiny. You need all the space you can get, and lugging around huge suitcases is a real pain in the behind. Plus, some tour buses or transport buses have a size limit. So try to pack as small and lightly as possible.
This may sound like an unnecessary thing, especially since I just got finished saying to pack light, but hear me out. You want to make sure you have enough clothing to last you a few days in your carry on in case your luggage gets lost. Japan is usually really good about returning lost luggage but your luggage isn't originating in Japan. It first has to get to Japan. If you haven't already purchased your tickets it is best to read reviews of the airline to see how often customers get their bags lost. I have had my luggage missing before. Thankfully, it was returned to me the same day but I know people who lose their bags for days and even weeks. There is nothing worse than arriving to your destination and having no belongings except the ones you are wearing. (#0_o)
I will first discuss prescription medications. If you have a prescription, as long as it meets the laws then you are ok to bring it in up to a 30-day supply. The same goes for contacts and contact solution. Be sure you have the original prescription (not the bottle, the written prescription) from your doctor in case they ask for it at customs. Chances are, they won't even acknowledge you have luggage and just let you move on through, but just in case be prepared. You can find information on medications in Japan here. (This says it is from the US but it applies to everybody). Right off the bat, I can tell you than any mood suppressant or mood-altering drug is illegal even if you have a prescription. Also, narcotics are off the table.
Aside from prescriptions, you are going to want to bring some meds to Japan. You can find prohibited ones in the link above. You will want to bring anti-histamines. Not just your everyday allergy pill, specifically anti-histamines. There are a ton of bugs and mosquitos in Japan. Bug spray does not work. Bugs are attracted to the histamines in your blood. Mosquitos can smell you from yards away and hone in on you. If you take anti-histamines, this blocks the bugs from being attracted to you. When I first came to Japan, I was eaten alive by bugs. It didn't matter if I wore long sleeves or not, they still got me. It wasn't until after I started taking anti-histamines that the bugs left me alone. It really does work. You may still get bitten by other bugs such as worms or spiders, but the flying ones won't touch you.
On top of anti-histamines, you will want to bring another allergy medicine like Benadryl in case of an emergency. Benadryl is fast acting so if you discover you have an allergy to something from Japan, you want to make sure you have this on hand to help relieve you. Unless of course you have a severe allergy, then call 119 (the emergency number).
You will feel very happy if you have anti-diuretics on hand. Japanese food lacks chemicals and other processing (for the most part) which means the food is very cleansing. That being said, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised to visiting the bathroom over and over for the first couple of weeks. To help alleviate this,
it is best to bring anti-diuretics with you.
Last on this medications list is cold meds. Tylenol cold and Sudafed are illegal in Japan. Any other cold medicine is acceptable. If you are not sure, please check the link above. Japanese over the counter cold medicine is very strong, yet it is very expensive. 3 doses of cough syrup will cost you at least $15. You will finish those doses in one day. Should you suddenly catch cold, it is best that you have medications you are familiar with on hand rather than spending upwards of $50 for OTC drugs.
If you are staying at a hotel for the entirety of your stay, you will have all your toiletries supplied to you daily.
So this means, things like soap, shampoo, conditioner, razors, facewash, etc. will all be available to you no matter what hotel you stay at. This is not true for hostels, Air BnB and some pod hotels. I still recommend bringing your own razor, but this info still gives you piece of mind knowing that you don't have to make sure you remember everything. If you have a shampoo that you absolutely cannot part with, then go ahead and bring it.
Knock yourself out. There are 3 things I do suggest you pack even if you are staying at a hotel. 2 things if you are a guy.
First thing is toothpaste. The toothpaste in Japan does not have fluoride because they believe there is enough fluoride in toothpaste to cause cancer, yet they have horrible teeth. It is better to bring your own otherwise you
may as well just be brushing with water.
Second thing is deodorant. They have this in Japan, but I don't know if people don't use it or if it doesn't work. In the summer, the trains and buses smell so bad of BO. Whoever said that Japanese don't sweat or have BO clearly only visited Japan from the comfort of their own home while watching "Memoirs of a Geisha." Do Japan a favor and don't stink. BYOD.
Lastly, if you are a girl, and don't mind using maxi pads, then you are in luck! Japan is the place for you. If you are a tampon kind of girl, then bring your own. Even if you think you won't have your period during your trip, bring a backup box just in case. Sometimes your body does weird things during international travel and you never want to be caught red pantsed. They have tampons here, but they suck. I hate them, my friends hate them, everybody hates them. Just bring your own. You will be much happier.
Unless you specifically pay extra for a breakfast coupon at a hotel in Japan, you will not be getting breakfast. The breakfast in Japan is not going to be something you are used to in your home country. I personally find the soy diet rather harsh for the morning, so I advise that you either buy some food beforehand at a convenience store near your hotel in Japan, or bring your own box of pop tarts (or something equivalent). Milk is rather rare but yogurt is EVERYWHERE. If you are a yogurt person then welcome to heaven. If you are a coffee person, your hotel should be equipped with coffee. I think pod hotels and hostels also include coffee or tea. Air BnB is
up to the individual. Also, if you have a food allergy, it is best that you bring plenty of snacks to last you until
you can get used to figuring out what you can and can't eat. Snacks are a must in my book.
Most, if not all, public bathrooms in Japan do not include any means in which to dry your hands. No paper towels, nor blow dryers. You will need to dry your own hands using a towel that you carry around with you. You can buy them in Japan, but the first thing I am usually thinking of when I land is finding the bathroom. It is not looking for a store, which sells hand towels. You best save yourself the wet shirt and put a hand towel in your purse. You will be using it frequently in Japan.
I am sure that you plan on bringing your camera or personal computer with you. Maybe even a cell phone, however, how exactly do you plan on plugging those in? Japan uses 2 prongs similar to the US without the ground plug but all computers and some cameras require that they be grounded when plugged in. You can't plug those in in Japan without either a surge converter or an adapter. You can find a rather good surge converter at Best Buy in the US or you could just order one from Amazon. The voltage is 100-110v in Japan. That means, if you are coming from the US, you can still use your curling iron or blow dryer (hotels include blow dryers btw) just fine. Some people say that it takes longer to heat up or charge something, but I have never noticed this.
Speaking of electronics, sometimes computers from the US have a hard time connecting to a foreign server so it is best if you wire your computer to the internet. Most hotels include an Ethernet cable but to be on the safe side, just bring your own. Especially if you have a newer Mac or Chromebook, you will need to buy a special adapter to connect via Ethernet. If you are staying via Air BnB or going to someone's house, you shouldn't
have a problem connecting to the internet. All our electronics work just fine with our internet. The only time I ever encountered a problem was in hotels.
As I mentioned before, sunscreen should be obvious so I will mention it again. Also, if your area sells it, I would bring a collapsible UV umbrella. That way, if it rains (it rains a ton during the summer) or if it is really sunny one day, you are prepared. I am from Arizona and thought I was used to the sun trying to murder me everyday, but the sun in Japan is different. It is much harsher here and I will burn within 15 minutes. If carrying an umbrella isn't your thing, then just make sure you have a wide brimmed hat and good sunscreen on hand. In the winter, this isn't so bad but come late spring to mid fall you will want protection.
As I wrote in my last post, have a phrasebook or pocket dictionary on hand at all times. You never know when you will encounter a problem, and the only people around are the ones who don't speak English. Phrase books are especially helpful in this instance. The phrases are already there and you can just look up what you want, and they can look up the answers. If you are more advanced or daring in Japanese, then the dictionary is better for you in case you need to look up just one or two words.
This concludes part 2 of advice for your trip to Japan! The next and final post will be about customs you may not be aware of in Japan. If I forgot something that you think should have been added, please let me know! You can leave a FB comment or visit the guestbook page.
I was going to talk about this topic at some point anyway but since my mother has recently purchased tickets to come and visit me I figured now was a more than appropriate time to post this. This post is talking about preparing for your trip to Japan and some things to keep in mind while visiting. I will create a completely separate post regarding what to pack later. This post would be excessively long otherwise. You can use some of what I say here to apply for other countries as well. I will try to put these in a somewhat order of importance not necessarily in a timeline. Also, I am not even going to mention money because if you are seriously considering a trip to Japan then you already know about the costs.
The first and most important thing to consider is your visa status. Now, I can only answer for Americans as I am
an American myself, but I do know that most countries don't really need to worry about this. For American tourist, you can just show up and stay there for up to 90 days. Just so long as you have a passport, you can arrive in the country and they will give you a visitor visa upon arrival. Same with Korea icyww. If you are unsure about your visa standing, then check with your local embassy. You should do this first before you even consider traveling to another country.
2. Check the weather
You need to think about the type of weather you like. During the summer, Japan is seriously humid. Not to mention it rains pretty much nonstop. If you come from a dry climate, this can be shocking to your health. On the flip side, winter is very windy and dry. Plus, almost everything is dead so unless you love snow there won't be much to see nature wise. Be sure you check the weather and plan accordingly. There is nothing like planning a trip to see snow only to discover that the month you thought would have snow does not have much and you basically just wasted your money.
3. Travel Agent/Flights
Ok, so now you have checked that your visa requirements are met and you have chosen a time to visit, now it is time to talk money. The best way to see Japan is via a travel agent because they can offer you great deals on hotels as well as tour packages, which are wonderful. If you do not know any Japanese, but want to see as much as possible, a travel agency is the way to go. You will get English tours with other people as well as be assigned an agent to help you navigate around the country during your stay. I know that not everyone can
afford a travel agency, so that is why I suggest you check out flight prices. The best way to handle international travel is to purchase tickets via the airline directly. You can use expedia to find out which has the cheapest then check with the airline company themselves to see if they offer the same prices. Most of the time, they will match it if you call and ask them. This way it eliminates the intermediary. Say you buy tickets through expedia.
The times are perfect and you are happy with them. Then suddenly, one of your flight times gets changed. You would have to contact expedia, explain your dilemma, then wait for expedia to contact the Airline Company, then expedia will contact you back; it is a huge mess and most of the time the 3rd party provider will do nothing about it because it is a huge hassle. Whereas if you contact, let's say, United directly, they can solve all your problems right then because you purchased from them.
If you have somewhat of an idea of what you want to do in Japan then you can go ahead and book now that you have your flights, but I mostly am putting this as number 4 because of financial reasons. If you are planning to stay in Tokyo, Okinawa, or Osaka, it's expensive. Just basically plan on paying at least $150 a night. If you are staying in other areas like Nagano, Nagoya, or in my case, Gunma, then you can find a hotel for around $50-$80 a night pretty easily. An important thing to note: Japan, and I think most of Asia, charges per person, not per room. This is important to factor into your budget. If you are planning a group trip with some friends, make sure that everyone knows the rates of rooms. They are expensive and tiny. Hardly enough legroom, but usually enough space, if you are good at Tetris, for all your belongings and you.
Now, if you are young and plan on "backpacking" through Japan, then you are probably ok using a hostel, Air BnB, or pod hotels. If you are a woman traveling alone I highly advise against a hostel. Japanese people are safe, but hostels are co-ed and filled with people from other countries that you don't know anything about. Those are the people I wouldn't trust. At least with pod hotels you get lockers and private little pod beds. With Air BnB, book at your own discretion. If you are traveling with some friends then I'd say hostels are ok.
Any one over the age of 35 should start considering staying away from hostels and pod hotels and if you are in your 40s and up just don't even do it. It is just not good on your body at that point. Plus, you will look like a really poor older person lol.
If you are over 25, you have a couple of options. You are able to rent a car in Japan should you choose to. However, you need to obtain an international driver's license. In America, those are easy to obtain. They cost about $15 and all you need to bring is your current license, your passport, and a passport photo. You can go to any AAA office and apply in person. The process takes 15-30 minutes depending on how busy the offices are.
If you don't want to drive or are too young for Japan to be ok with giving you a car to drive, then I recommend the JR Pass. You can find more detailed information here: http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/. You can purchase the JR Pass here: https://www.japan-rail-pass.com/jr-pass. The JR Pass allows you to ride most shinkansens (bullet trains), all the JR trains, as well as the JR buses throughout all of Japan. This means that if you buy the standard pass, then you can go from one island to the next without any limits. It basically pays for itself in 2-3 shinkansen rides. They also have area passes if you plan on only visiting a specific area or island, and those
all have varied prices. You can find all of that info here: https://www.japan-rail-pass.com/pass-regional.
In short, if you don't want to drive, you are fine with just taking the trains everywhere. Unless you are wanting to go to Iwate, which has basically no trains, you should be able to navigate without problems. Especially since all stations include English.
Japan is not a Wi-Fi nation. Meaning you can't just go to a store and use their free Wi-Fi because they don't have that. Starbucks offers free Wi-Fi but there are not that many Starbucks in Japan. Some other restaurants also offer free Wi-Fi but only if you have certain Japanese cell phone providers. All hotels offer free Wi-Fi and limited stations in Tokyo do as well. So if you feel comfortable navigating Japan without Wi-Fi then go for it. Most of us feel uncomfortable without our phones so here is my suggestion. If you don't need anything fancy but just want to be able to call your family back home or be able to call someone in case of an emergency then this site https://www.piccellwireless.com/ is my suggestion. I have used them before without a hitch. Many many JETs used them when they first arrived as well as when I studied abroad everyone in my program used them too and had no problems. You place your order ahead of time, then they send you a phone with
instructions. After you return, you can just ship it back.
If you are more tech savvy or are prone to being lost a lot, like I am, then you may want to use a pocket Wi-Fi. This site http://japan-wireless.com/ is my recommendation. You can order the pocket Wi-Fi in advance then pick it up either at your hotel or at the airport's post office. Before you return home return the pocket Wi-Fi to the post office at the airport and they will take care of it.
This isn't that high on the list because it really isn't that important. However, knowing Japanese will make your life easier but it isn't required. If you feel it is more important than I am making it out to be then by all means, take some lessons. If you want affordable lessons at your own pace, I recommend www.italki.com. I have been using it and I love it. You basically find your own teacher (they are all professional teachers) then you pay for about one hour at $20 (US) each. And again, it is all at your own pace.
Japanese is the hardest language to learn for native English speakers plus they have 3 writing systems and you are not going to master this language overnight. Carrying a phrasebook around with you might not be a bad idea. Most people can speak English, but will refuse to speak it to you or pretend not to know it. If they see you struggling in Japanese they will appreciate the effort and end up helping you in English. When this happens, don't suddenly spout off in native jargon and speeds. Speak slowly and clearly. Don't be rude about it, just be mindful. I know it sounds odd that it would happen this way, but trust me, this will happen in 75-80% of cases of asking for help to a Japanese in Japan. Having a phrase book with you will actually help you more than embarrass you. Even if they don't speak any English, there are enough words and phrases in those books that you guys can just point to what you want in the book. That actually happens.
I will start off by saying that Japan is not a credit card society. Rarely will you find places accepting your credit card, those places are usually secluded to highly tourist areas, and even then it is not that common. You are better off bringing cash with you.
The cheapest way to get yen is to exchange your currency upon arrival at the airport in Japan. If you do choose this option, make sure you choose a flight time compatible with the hours of operation of the currency exchange counters. Arriving with cash in your home currency but all the offices being closed is not going to help you. (Side note: You can use any currency in an international airport as payment for products. You will just receive you change in the home country's currency). In Japan, those offices close at 6pm (or 18:00 in Japan time) so make sure you plan to arrive at an accommodating time. If the time is just not going to work with you and you cannot change your flight, first check with your hotel and see if they offer currency exchange. Most big name hotels offer this service, especially in Tokyo, their rates vary, but it is an option.
If both of those options feel uncomfortable to you or you plan on bringing a lot of money with you then it is best to order it ahead of time with your home bank. You will need at least 2 weeks to receive your yen. Each bank charges a different amount, but I have found that Bank of America is the cheapest. Check with your bank on the rates and decide if they are worth it to you. If you don't have a bank account, you can still do this, it will just cost more money and you must pay in cash up front.
9. Walking shoes
This may seem like a very trivial thing, but you will be walking everywhere in Japan. Even if you plan on using a car, you will still be doing heavy amounts of walking. It is important to invest in a good pair of walking shoes. Don't worry about them not matching your outfit, many places have you take your shoes off when entering anyway so how your shoes look doesn't matter. Plus, most people in Japan don't match their shoes to their outfits. It is comical really. I suggest you people watch after you arrive and you can see their strange shoe matching habits. It is entertaining.
10. Make an Itinerary
Have a map of Japan on hand with the prefectures clearly listed so you can make a good itinerary. Check out some travel sites or buy some guidebooks. I recommend Lonely Planet books because they not only advice locations, but they also provide directions and prices of places. They are a great resource and I never use anything else. Even if I find some location online, it will be listed in the guidebook with even more info. They are really helpful.
It is good to make a list of things you want to do in Japan, and try to achieve as much of them as possible while there. Don't overdo it. Be sure that you let yourself rest the first day you arrive. Do light traveling if any. You will have plenty of time to check everything out tomorrow. Don't strain yourself that first day.
That is it for the pre Japan stage! Next, I will be working on what to bring or not bring to Japan and then what customs you may or may not know about.
Here is day 4 and 5 of our trip to Korea. Day 5 was just our return journey so nothing special really happened except for one funny story.
We woke up to the sound of catholic music and "Glory Glory, Hallelujah." On repeat. It was annoying. At first, I thought it must have been because of church, but it was a Saturday so there was no church. Unless Korea is different in that regard. I came to find out later that day that it was due to a protest that was to take place outside of city hall.
Anyway, we got ready to meet up with my Korean friend. I met her online through Globalpenfriends.com. It is a website where you can meet people from around the world and become either pen
pals or language partners. We met online and instantly hit it off. We sent IMs back and forth for about a day then we decided to skype. I didn't have a Skype account at the time, so I had to make one just so I could talk with my new friend. She happened to be a Christian living in Seoul and learning English. The first day on Skype, we talked all day/night. For her it was all day, for me it was all night. We started our conversation at 6pm my time. She ate 2 meals in front of the computer talking to me that day. By the time we finished it was 3am my time. We spent several hours at a time on Skype whenever we decided to talk. This was about 7 years ago. We kept in touch ever since. I was excited to finally meet her face to face. She was nervous about my English pronunciation and if she would be able to understand it. I asked her if she was used to watching American TV shows because that was what I sounded like. That actually helped her feel better.
We arrived at the station in Insadeong and waited for her. She sent me a message that she was running late and would arrive when she could. While we were waiting outside the station, a fire had started at a vender and the fire department came, only no one told them where the fire was so they were frantically running around looking for the place. What surprised me was that there never was a crowd of people gathering around to see what was going on. It was as if the people knew that it was an emergency and should stay out of the way.
My friend finally arrived and I was so excited to meet her! One thing I learned immediately, is that Koreans are touchy feely. She hugs me and says she was sorry to be late, then grabs my hand and starts leading the way to Hanbok village. Very surprising to me only it shouldn't have been. I had been witnessing many lively Koreans hanging all over each other at Lotte World. Even guys were doing that. It felt like Koreans were more intimate than Japanese. Americans often touch each other, but Koreans take it to a different level. I still don't know if I like it or hate it. Maybe if I spent more time there I could build a better opinion but for now, let's just call it surprising.
First, she took us to a hanbok rental place. There were so many to choose from! They were beautiful, but cheaply made. They were held together with Velcro. My friend informed me of this before going and she said that if we were to get a real hanbok it would cost hundreds of dollars. Being used to wearing the cheap yukatas in Japan, I was totally fine with wearing a "cheap" hanbok. There were two styles. They had the plain style, which is just one solid, bright color (usually bright pinks and reds), and they had the ceremony style, which has lots of designs and deeper colors with sparkle (usually deep blues or purple). I chose ceremony style and picked a light blue shade because my friend picked a dark blue. I wanted to not look like twins so I picked a lighter colored one. They took us to a dressing room and because it was cold outside, they let us keep wearing our clothes underneath. It was the first time I had ever worn a hoop skirt. I felt like a bell.
After getting dressed, they took us to get our hair braided. They braided really fast, it was over in 2 minutes. Then we picked our purses and hair accessories and paid for a 4 hour rental. Because it was cold, we also made sure to rent scarves and a jacket so all together it cost 27,000 won for Josh and I. Which is $25. Plus, you can get discounts for wearing hanboks at stores, restaurants, or castles. You can go free to any castle wearing a hanbok. After going outside, my friend was embarrassed. Not because she was wearing a hanbok, but because I was wearing one with her. I know this because she said as much. Lol. She eventually got over it and we went walking around.
She is a blogger that has many hits so she was taking 100 pictures of us walking around in our hanboks. She took pictures of everything we did. Many Koreans came up to us to ask to take pictures together. I could overhear so many of them say how beautiful we looked in them and how cute we were. Josh looked silly to me. It was the pilgrim like hat that made me giggle every time I looked at him. We found a vender making honey filled snacks that were really good, but extremely chewy. It hurt my jaw to eat them. (If you subscribe to my YouTube channel youtube.com/jandjinjapan you can see all the things I have written about on my site). The guy was pretty funny. Switching very quickly from Korean to English. Very entertaining.
We spent about an hour just walking around, occasionally going in a shop to look and gaze. She had a hard time finding the old village town and kept apologizing but I wasn't bothered. I was having fun looking at everything. She found a restaurant that served Korean food in the traditional way, which is everyone gets a main dish, then share all the side dishes. They come with a plethora of side dishes. One food item I had
wanted to try while in Korea was bibimpap, which is a rice bowl with various seasoned vegetables mixed in. It is not really spicy to my taste, but there was a very mild flavor. On a Taco Bell hot sauce packet scale, I give
it below mild sauce. Josh got some beef stew of some kind and my friend got kalbi (spicy chicken and rice soup). Everything was so delicious and some of the food was so spicy it was nostril clearing. There were plenty of tissues used during that meal for our noses more than anything.
After we ate, the restaurant owner gave us directions to the old town and we laughed because it was literally just 2 blocks up the road. We would have found it had we kept going. At that point, it felt like a photoshoot because she was having do various poses together in a lot of places. She had to have taken over 100 photos. It was fun tho. I think we walked around for about 2.5-3 hours because we got too cold and needed to return.
After hanbok village, my friend said she wanted to keep hanging out with us until her husband came home at 8pm. (She got married Oct. 31st, 2016. They had a honeymoon in Spain). I asked if Korean women change their last name, and apparently, they do not because they like to keep a record of their heritage. With her, she was lucky because her last name is Kim and so is her husband's. When children are born, they take on the father's last name, not the mother's. Just an interesting fact.
She took us to Myeongdon, which has a famous outdoor shopping mall. It was filled with Japanese people. It was unexpected. She helped me find some skin care products that she likes using and says that it helps her skin. I have been using it every other day since I got back from Korea, and already I can see a difference. My pores are clearing up which is nice because I hated my nasty pores before. It is a natural product made with volcano ash. I have heard that ash helps with your skin because that is a major selling point in Kusatsu, Gunma but never tried it before. If you ever get any products from Innis Free in Korea, I recommend them.
We found a Daiso and H&M so we wanted to go there. On the way there, my friend decided that she wanted to buy some cute socks from a vender. She wanted to pay 1,000 won for 2 pairs and tried to haggle with the lady. The lady refused so we started leaving. Just as soon as we were leaving, the lady changed her mind but my friend was like, "too late." So the lady says 3 for 1,000 won and my friend agreed, but it didn't matter anyway because she didn't accept credit cards. I felt bad for the lady, but haggling happens all the time in Korea. She didn't even look phased by it.
Josh bought some nice shirts and a pair of pants for a really good deal. Korea actually knows what sales are unlike Japan lol. Then we got way more excited than we should have been at Daiso. Daiso is a Japanese
company, but they had it in Korea. I bought so much stuff from there for my students. They actually had cute stickers. Normally Daiso doesn't carry good stickers, but they did this time in Korea! They had similar products, but things were just Korean styled. Koreans are not really into cute characters like Japan is, so there was an entirely different feel when shopping. It felt more like shopping at BB&B.
Josh was hungry so we went to Krispy Kreme first so I could say that I ate at Krispy Kreme in Korea. Each country has their own flavors. I got a glazed doughnut and a Strawberry one with powder and jelly inside. Yes, the doughnut itself was strawberry flavored. It was good. The glazed doughnut was very similar to the US but they must be using something different. Either the flour is different or the oil they use to fry it in is because it was clearly different from Japan, Japanese Krispy Kreme's are not really sweet and taste like soy doughnuts, but Korean ones were sweeter, but some kind of after flavor I can't pinpoint. It may have been the oil they used. It was good tho.
We went to McDonalds next. This one was very futuristic. You place your order at a kiosk then go and pay at the register. It was fun. They even had spicy curly fries. Which were awesome btw. After eating, we talked for a bit more, then needed to head back because we were leaving for the airport at 5:30am and we
hadn't packed yet. We parted ways at the station then headed back to the hotel. Upon arriving at the hotel, there were a huge number of police around the hotel. It seemed like every police in Korea was there. They were there because of the protests happening. At city hall, it wasn't large of a crowd. There were more police than protestors. Most people went to Insadeong to do a candle light protest. My friend sent me pictures afterwards and the crowd was massive. They didn't do anything. Just shouted some and listened to some speeches. At 10pm everyone left.
The next day, the peppy tour guide picked us up again and took us to the airport. It was about an hour drive there. She was going to help us check in so I wasn't worried at all. Josh, on the other hand, thought he was going to die because he really needed to pee. REALLY needed to pee. About halfway there. As soon as we got out, he grabs his luggage, and literally runs into the airport. The tour guide jumps back then looks at me as Josh ran past her and I started laughing and said that he REALLY had to pee. I guess she was concerned because she ran after him and pointed him towards the nearest bathroom. Apparently, Josh scared her by suddenly dashing out of the car after driving in complete silence.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed our journey through Korea. Remember to be sure to check out my YouTube channel for videos of the week as well as other various occurrences in my life in Japan.
This is day 3 of our trip to Korea. Enjoy!
This day started off with me not feeling very well so I didn't really want to do anything. I took some medicine and Josh went out to get some coffee while I waited to feel better. The plan was to hit Lotte World Adventure that day and maybe even a castle. I remember looking up where those places were beforehand and writing down directions but I must have not completed writing them or something because we didn't go to the right place I was expecting. When I was at home, I looked up where Gyeongbokung palace was in relation to our hotel stop and saw that it was only a few stops away and the stop name was relatively simple. It was called Gyeongbokung. I also looked up where Lotte World Adventure was and it was quite a distance away from the hotel. About a 30-40 minute train ride. In the hotel before we took off, we discussed heading to Lotte World first then hitting the palace, so I looked up my notes and only saw Gyeongbokung written under Lotte World and I must have figured that was where it was located so we went there. We got there rather quickly, which confused me because I specifically remembered thinking that Lotte World was far away then to my surprise there was a castle before me. I guess we secretly wanted to go to the palace first.
The palace was rather huge and reminisced Japanese style palaces in design. Some minor things were different, but for the most part, all Asian palaces look the same. The biggest differences are the roof styles and the colors used. Japan tends to use a lot of neutral colors with maybe some red or orange thrown in there, and from what I noticed in Korea, Koreans seem to like using bright colors like reds, blues, and greens. Also, another thing to note too is that almost all Japanese castles have angry looking golden fish on top of the roofs because it is a good omen. I didn't see any of that in Korea.
They had turned the palace into a museum so we went inside. I had heard there was admission of like 3,000 won but I couldn't find a counter of where to pay. I people watched what others were doing and it didn't appear that you needed to purchase anything. There wasn't anyone yelling at us, looking at us funny, and not a single person standing at the entrance checking admittance. So we just walked on in and looked around. No one came to us or anything. Guess the museum was free.
I don't know much about Korean history, and to be honest, the museum didn't interest me much at all because Korea is not a culture I am very into so I skipped most of the signs. The only Korean history I know is when Japan took over. My point being, if you want to know more about Korean history apart from what I write here, then you should do your own research because I am not going to be 100% reliable.
Before Japan decided to rule Korea, Korea was a monarchy. They had 27 kings from the 14th century until about 1909/10. Once Japan took over they abolished their monarchy and they began to be governed by the Japanese dynasty, which would have been during the Meiji era in Japan. (Side note, I am going to make a lot of comparisons to Japan in this part, if that bothers you then you can just skip this section). Koreans were heavily influenced by Chinese Confucianism. Confucianism is where you need to die to yourself and only live for those who are above you. In a government, that means how best you can please your leaders without receiving all the praise. It is really a messed up way of thinking. You cannot think about yourself, you can only think about how your actions will best improve the life style of the government leaders, in this case, the king. The King's job would then be to live for the ancestors. When you die, they believed that you become a higher being in control of everything. Since the king is already the highest in the country, he needed to please the ancestors. They had all sorts of interesting and wasteful rituals. They had an ancestral food ceremony. They would lay out all kinds of food in a ritualistic way and then prepare the meal. Once the meal had been prepared, no one ate it. They just burned it and offered it as an offering to the ancestors. I think this is very wasteful. The amount of food they offered was absurd. No one was receiving it. They were just burning it for no reason. Japanese are not Confucian they were more influenced by Shinto and Buddhism. Buddhism is about removing one's desires
because having a desire is considered selfish. They believe in being pure and good. Shinto believes that everything has a god. There is a god of leaves, a god of ice, a god of grass, a god of water, everything. In Shinto, it is believed that you must respect and honor all things as they are given as gift and not something to be plundered and taken advantage of. So Japanese believe that you must so respect and honor towards everything, and at the same time removing your selfish desires by thinking about the needs and desires of others. So there is a pretty big difference between the two cultures.
Whenever a king died and the new king was appointed, they did this as part of a funeral ceremony. Then the new king would do a procession for a number of days. The longest recorded one was about 8 days. These were huge processions also. Hundreds and hundreds of people were involved wearing ceremonial garments,
which were made from heavy fabrics; they carried the king around the city. They never went anywhere they just walked around in a circle for a week making noise.
An interesting fact about the kings of Korea is that the first-born son to the king, be that from a concubine or the queen, began his training in preschool. He started learning to become a king almost immediately. His entire life was all about ruling the people of Korea. During his reign, the king needs to develop some sort of scientific innovation. He is considered a failed king if he did not create any sort of innovation. The most famous ones were displayed at the museum. Most of them were about medicine but one was about a water clock. It is basically a huge machine that uses water to tell time. It had chines that went off every 2 hours. All they had to
do was reset the marbles from time to time but other than that, the clock worked by itself.
In the basement of the museum, they had a history of cars in Korea. They have nothing to do with the palace, but car manufacturing is a major part of their history so we had to check it out. They originally had their driver
sit on the right side of the car, but they continued to drive on the right side of the road. A few years later, they
realized how dumb that was and switched the driver side of the car to be on the left. The had some original model cars there too. It was cool to look at. It also only went about 10 miles an hour. Wow! So fast!
We walked around the palace grounds and saw many people wearing han boks, which is the traditional Korea dress. At first, I thought that the staff were modeling the history but then I saw that a number of people were
walking around with selfie sticks wearing those garments and figured that they were just rentals. We did find out where you had to pay to get in. There is a second part of the palace grounds that you can go to but you have to pay to get in. I have no idea what is there, as we didn't go.
We were going to have lunch at the palace but when we walked into the restaurant, no one said or did anything. We stood there for a good 5 minutes. I guess we were supposed to seat ourselves or something but we didn't know. We had never been to an actual restaurant before. Since we had a long train ride to Lotte World, we left and decided to eat at Lotte World.
Lotte World is a huge shopping center in Korea. HUGE. We spent a good 15 minutes walking through the shopping center looking for the amusement park. Lotte World Adventure is a huge indoor amusement park. It came highly recommended on every blog, book, website, and even from my Korean instructor. It was a must on our list. We found some ticket kiosks and tried to use them. They had English and Japanese language options on the machine, but for some reason it wasn't working. I tried Korean and it was working. I just couldn't figure out what the different options were. I pulled out my phone to try and use one of my dictionaries when a guy approached us and said that the machines don't actually offer Foreign Service and that we had to go to the counter. Which was weird. Why would you bother having signs that say you can use a kiosk in 3 languages when you actually can't? He directed us towards the actual ticket counter and we bought our passes. We arrived after 4pm so there was a discount. They have another discount after 7pm, but the park is only open until
about 10 so there really is no reason to come at that time. I guess if it is during a school day and it isn't that busy then it might work but it was a Friday and a school holiday so everyone was there. It was packed! And noisy! We were practically yelling at each other the entire time.
Walking in to the park blew our minds. It's incredible! They packed so many attractions in a 4-story mall. It was the coolest place I had ever seen. In the middle of the first floor was the largest ice rink, I think, in existence. There was enough room for there to be free skating lessons, speed skating lessons, and for the other guests to skate around. Had I'd known that Lotte World has a giant ice rink; I would have brought my skates! I left them at home, because the outdoor rink was closed due to protests. I didn't think I was going to get the chance to skate. Apparently, I was wrong. We walked around the 2nd floor looking for someplace to eat and we found Lotteria. It is a burger shop. They have Lotteria in Japan but the one we went to wasn't very good. Since Lotteria has originated in Korea, we thought that we would give it a try and see how it compares. It was here that I was able to use all the Korean I had been studying. I took the order completely in Korean. She didn't speak English to me once. Or Japanese for that matter. I even made aware of my caffeine allergy when she automatically gave me coke instead of asking me what drink I wanted. Everything went smoothly. I felt so proud. I really do know Korean! Yay me! As for the food, it was really good! I don't know why the one in Japan was so terrible, this one was great! Well worth it.
During lunch we were discussing what to do first. There were so many things to do it was overwhelming. We knew we weren't going to be able to do all the rides so we tried to pick ones we really wanted to try. They had hot air balloon looking ride that went all around the entire park, we wanted to get there first. It took a long time to find the ride, then there was a 90 minutes wait. This was when we realized that going on Friday was poor planning on our part. In the end, we were only able to ride 4 rides because of the long wait times. We still had fun anyway. While waiting in line, we met a nice American couple with their tiny human waiting in line. We ended up getting the same balloon to ride. It was fun to be able to see everything. It helped JD and I decide what to do next. At the end of the ride, it took us to an Egypt part where things started moving, there were
fog machines, and a pharaoh putting curses on us in Korea. Hearing an Egyptian statue speaking Korean was pretty funny.
The next attraction we went to was a haunted house. We actually had to pay an extra 3,000 won a person ($3) just to go in. It had better be good if we had to pay extra! There was a father with his young son in front of us. We walk in, and immediately things were dark, but nothing was happening yet. It was just dark. The kid took 2 steps, and decided that he had had enough and was already freaked out. The dad laughed and told him nothing happened that it just started so the kid took about 3 mores steps and started clinging to his father and crying. The dad laughed and waved us past him. Apparently, the kid is afraid of darkness. I don't get scared easily and haunted houses have never scared me. I think this is because I know it is fake so anything that happens to pop up as a jump scare is to be expected. We laughed when one guy jumped out of a wall to try and scare me, but nothing happened and he got annoyed. Was it worth the extra money, eh, not really, but I wouldn't consider it a complete waste though. It was too small of an amount to worry about. I am sure that others would find it scary, but I never do.
The next attraction we chose was a ride that just went in a constant loop de loop. We stood in line for another hour to ride this ride. I like roller coasters, but I don't like rides that just let you hang upside down while not moving. Since I am so small, I feel like I can easily slip out of the seat and fall to my death. The last time I rode a ride that did that was in Six Flags Valencia. They had this new ride with the biggest loop in the world. It is so big, that you will just hang upside down for a few seconds before it keeps moving. Normally, they have hose overhang harnesses so you don't fall off and die, but in this ride, it was just a seat bar that didn't even reach to my legs! And no seat belts. Little kids were riding this ride! I didn't feel safe at all. I almost fell out of the chair!! This was 3 years ago. Since then, I have been freaked out by hanging upside down. The ride at Lotte
World had harnesses but it didn't swindle my fears. I was still freaked out. I should have thought about it better before standing in line.
We decided to hit a log ride since that loop ride freaked me out. Log rides are easy and nothing really happens. We had to stand in line for another 75 minutes to ride this thing. Why can't they build wait lines with mini benches? Instead of barricades, why not just use benches? That would make the waiting in line part more bearable. I guess in Korea they really want to make sure every seat is filled on rides because they wouldn't let just JD and I ride a boat alone. We had to share it with 2 other people. The ride had 2 good drops. It was actually nice. We weren't expecting anything good to happen but this ride impressed us. It was well worth it.
We got hungry again so we got something to eat. Like true theme park fashion, everything was overpriced.
Delicious, but overpriced. At least the drinks were American sized! It was the first time we had seen that in Asia. They had churros too that tasted like they do in Arizona. So happy! I got some cheese fries but it was like a creamy cheese. It was supposedly deli cheese but it was a mix between sour cream and cream cheese.
It was so so.
After eating, we had time for only one more ride. There were a few VR rides at the park and we really wanted to try out at least one of them. We chose French Revolution 2. There was no French Revolution 1 ride so I am assuming that they are just making a joke on the fact that there was already an actual French Revolution. The wait time was again ridiculous, but this is most likely because we went during a Friday and school holiday. There were several instructions on how to use the VR goggles in multiple languages, and the English on those signs were hilarious. At one point, it says to wear your face. We were cracking up.
The time finally came for us to get on the ride. We put our stuff in the side lockers, strap ourselves in and put on the headgear. It was very heavy. It ended up bruising my nose real good. It is still sore. I feel it every time I put make up on. Anyway, you had to adjust the focus of the image logo then they checked that everyone can see it ok. You shoot by tapping the touch pad on the side of the goggles. As soon as we started moving, the game started up. At first, you are riding a horse and buggy shooting stones at an impressive rate with a slingshot. There was no refill time. It seemed very western. The VR experience was super real! The image wraps around your line of sight on all sides so no matter where you turn you can see something. It was also 3D. The signs leading up to the ride all were saying to enjoy the peaceful shooting game. I don't know what their definition of peaceful is but my definition doesn't include devils and cyclops trying to eat me! Since you can't see anything except for what the goggles let you see, you have no idea what part of the ride you are nor
what is coming. Usually you have time to brace yourself when on a ride because you can see what's coming, but with this, you have no idea so the feelings are stronger. I was screaming with delight the entire time. I almost lost my voice. If you know me with gaming, I tend to REALLY get into it. Perhaps a bit too much. Sometimes I freak out and jump because enemies surprise me. With this game, it felt like you were actually IN the game. Like actually a walking and moving character in the game. I am glad they had me strapped to a chair otherwise, I would have been knocking over furniture or something.
At some point in the game, a devil takes your slingshot and you are completely at the mercy of the gigantic cyclops. Your horse and rider at this point are of course dead so only the cyclops is controlling your buggy. Whenever he would fling you around, you would feel it because you would come up to a drop in the ride or a loop. The 4D type effects added to the gaming experience and it made it freakin' AWESOME! It blew my mind! My brain exploded from the awesomeness! I can't harp on it enough. It was truly amazing. I didn't think that VR was really the future of gaming like I had heard because I hadn't experienced it until that point. After that ride, I truly believe that VR is the next step in the gaming industry.
When the ride finally ends, you have to wait for the next car to take off so they provide just some peaceful shooting. This time it was actually peaceful. You are standing at the top of a castle and shooting devils that try to take your fellow soldiers away to the cyclops. (Your slingshot comes back at some point). I successfully
saved all the soldiers, a sign pops up that says the end, and then a devil bursts through the sign trying to take you. I shot my slingshot so fast!! I was screaming and kicking like crazy. Josh was next to me and had apparently been pressing the wrong button because it shut off his game so he didn't really see anything. So me just suddenly screaming and kicking in my seat was a real shock. He was laughing and asking what the heck happened? My fellow soldiers and I defeated the devil and I was not taken Yay! Then the game ended. That was when I realized that I should not be playing VR games in a room full of people and furniture. Some or something is going to get hurt lol.
I couldn't stop talking about that ride. It was so fantastic! Josh was amused by how much I loved it. At this point, it was really late and all the stores in the shopping center had closed so we just went home.
Such a fun day!
Welcome back to day two of our excursion to South Korea.
I was still feeling pretty discouraged from the night before but really wanted to make the most of the time in Korea, so we decided to take it easy and just go shopping. Nothing fancy, just check out some of the famous areas. During my studies of the Korean language in college, I had learned of a shopping mall that was basically open all night. It is called Dongdaemun mall. We had brought our guidebook with us, so I looked up the directions on how to get there via subway and headed on our way. I triple checked exactly how to get there because I was expecting the subway system to be similar to Tokyo's system. Tokyo is so confusing and it is easy to get lost. I wanted to make sure we were at least going in the right place.
We walked down a very long hallway with various shops that weren't even open yet. It was nearly 11am and hardly anything was open. This was the first sign that Korea is a night society. It was a pretty long walk to
the actual station but everything was clearly marked in English and Japanese along with the Korean, so it was pretty hard to get lost. The ticketing system was new to me. You apparently don't just buy a ticket and stick it in the machine; you buy a card and just tap the reader. When you reach your destination, you return the card in another machine and it gives you a refund for what you paid to get the card. It is really only 50 cents but I find that quite interesting and a rather unique system. Finding the right train to ride was very easy. Much easier than any other system I have used be it in the US or Japan. Everything is marked so well, you don't have to worry about anything. Why can't Japan be like that? The most interesting part about the subway, are the doors to get into the train. Normally you can see and feel the train coming and you get a gust of wind but there they had the trains traveling behind closed doors. Like the train was traveling in a hallway of sorts and two sets of doors opened. One set for the hallway and one for the train. Again, a unique system.
We arrive in Dongdaemun and I had to refer to our guidebook as to which exit to take. The exits are the only confusing thing about the subway system. We go out what we think is the correct way and head into Dongdaemun market. Now, there is a difference between market, and mall. The difference being that one of them is highly packed with all sorts of things and the other is an actual shopping mall that we are used to. We
took the exit for the market thinking that they were the same thing because there was no actual sign for the mall. We wondered around Dongdaemun market for about 30 minutes before we realized something didn't match up with the pictures and descriptions of our guidebook. So we headed back to the station to walk across to the other exit. The other exit said fashion center exit so I guess that is what they mean by "mall." I don't know, either way, we found what we were looking for. It wasn't very busy because, like I said, Korea is a night society. Things were so packed full in the stores. I don't know how anyone has time to see everything. It was super overwhelming. So much stuff. If all the craft fairs were to gather in one tiny space at one time, that would be what this place looked like. We quickly went through it all; otherwise, we would have been there all day just looking at stuff.
We were starting to get hungry so we looked for some place to eat. We happened to find a bookstore and that stole our attention away from food. The bookstore had actual board games. Japan has this aversion
to board games for some reason. They prefer video games and arcades. I saw only one arcade in Korea, but then again, we weren't really looking for them. We bought Jenga. It came with dice and numbers, but I couldn't figure out the rules so we will just ignore them. I also bought some Korean language books. The more we kept walking in the bookstore, the more we realized that it was part of a shopping center. The center was a mix of America and Japan. The fashion was similar to American clothing while still having a touch of cute stuff here and there. I felt that I could wear more Korean clothing than Japanese clothing. Japanese clothing is too doll like for me. One thing that is exactly like Japan is that both the top and bottom floors have food. So we went to the basement level and checked out all they have. They had menus displayed in front of their restaurants so it was easy to decide if you could afford to eat there or not. I don't know much about Korean food, but I did have a couple dishes that I most wanted to try before leaving the country. Ttokbokki (AKA Dokbokgi) was one of them. From what I understood, it was spicy noodle soup. We found an affordable place that had it and we ordered. I got to use Korean that day which boosted my moral. The food was glorious! Oh my goodness was it amazing. I made sure to order it with cheese because milk dampens spice. I have heard that Korean food is a lot to handle but I didn't want to ask for it without spice. I like spicy food. We don't get enough of it in Japan. This was spicy but nothing I couldn't handle. On a Taco Bell sauce packet scale, I put it at just barely above fire sauce, but with loads more flavor. I find that the Taco Bell packets have heat without flavor. Ttokbokki had SOOOO much flavor it was amazing. I normally don't hoot and haw over food, but this was so amazing! I was actually really sad when it was gone. I was full, my mouth was on fire, but it was so sad to see the food gone. You can order food without the spice so if you aren't fond of spiciness but want to try ttokbokki then you can ask them to put it on the side for you. There are also many types of ttobokki as well. The one I had was with dumplings and radishes instead of noodles. The soup was sweet but the spice hits you a couple seconds later. This is real spice too. Not that wasabi nose clearing spice.
I also had orange Fanta. It might not sound like something that is amazing or extra special, but when you live in a country that frequently doesn't have the same things you are used to having in your daily life; you start to appreciate the simple pleasures. One of those simple pleasures happens to be orange Fanta. To be honest, I didn't realize Japan doesn't carry orange soda until I saw it and drank it in Korea. Everywhere we went after that, I ordered orange Fanta. My countries are starting to be known by their drinks. Japan is melon soda country, US is root beer country, Mexico is apple soda country, and Korea was just dubbed orange Fanta country.
After eating we walked around the mall some more and tried on a few clothes. We also got amazed at just how much Koreans love coffee. Every floor had a coffee shop. So much coffee. In Korea, it is expected that you haggle when shopping. Not at a shopping center but at one of the local markets. I had practiced with my Korean instructor for a couple of weeks on how to barter in Korean, and I had the phrases ready to use when I found a pair of gloves I wanted to buy from a local market. I asked the guy how much they were and he told me they were 7,000 won ($7). I didn't find that unreasonable so there was no point in bartering so I just bought them as is. Guess I didn't need those phrases after all.
Our feet were tired so we went back to our hotel and got some snacks from a convenience store. We watched a stupid show on the History channel for some reason, then played some Jenga. After relaxing for a couple of hours we decided to head out to Namsan tower (Seoul Tower). There was a bit of a walk to the tower
because the tower is up on a mountain. You could either hike it or ride a cable car. We chose the cable car because how often do you get to ride a cable car up a mountain? Google maps was of no help to us because it kept insisting that we go to another station instead of the one that the station in city hall recommended we take. It turned out that we didn't need Google maps at all because once we looked up there was the tower. Several other people were also headed the same way so we just followed them. It was about a 10-minute walk or so to the cable car.
At this point, I hadn't figured out how to really calculate the money in won. My brain was still thinking in yen. So when the lady told me it was going to be 16,000 won, ($16) am standing in line frantically trying to gather together 160,000 won ($160) because I was thinking that the amount was actually in yen. The lady was nice enough to help me figure it out tho. (Side note, if you do go to Korea, it might be best to just use a Master card because they accept those in Korea).
I was expecting to be sitting as we rode the car up the mountain, but there were no chairs. They just packed as many people as possible into the car and we all stood while the car went up the mountain. Koreans have this tradition that you buy a lock, write your and your lover's name on it, then lock it to the railing. We didn't do it, but thousands of other people apparently had. Locks were EVERYWHERE. Namsan tower is a romantic
spot in Seoul so many people go there just to put their lock on the guardrail.
To go up the tower they have several ticket packages. They have different events and shows going on so you could buy a deluxe package to be able to go to all the shows, restaurants, and museums at the tower, as well as go up the tower. They also had one where you get 2 drinks and a tub of kettle corn included with your tower ticket. Not sure why you would do that but ok. We just got 2 basic tickets to go up the tower. Since Josh and I have been to several towers at this point, we basically compare them all and can tell you which ones are the best and which ones aren't worth it. Tokyo tower, for example, is a not really worth it. Only one part is cool and that is it. Tokyo Sky tree, on the other hand, has been the best tower we have been to yet. So basically everything gets compared to Sky Tree. I have to say, that Namsan tower is pretty comparable to Sky Tree. The tower itself is not nearly as tall as Sky Tree but Namsan tower was built on top of a mountain so it is almost the same height. The view is amazing. Especially at night. I love city lights. There weren't so many people either. I was expecting it to be packed with people. It wasn't so bad. They had a cute little souvenir shop inside where you can buy post cards and mail them immediately from the tower. You can only send them domestically but a fun idea nonetheless. We were there for quite some time. It was fun to see Seoul at night.
Basically, that was our second day in Seoul. We went to the Myeondon shopping street for a bit so we could grab something to eat from a street vendor then we just went back. It was pretty late by the time we returned. Almost midnight. It didn't feel that late tho. I think Korean nightlife was starting to rub off on us.
Tomorrow I will be at my visit school and will not have access to a computer, so you are going to have to wait a couple of days for day 3. Cheers!
So this past week, my husband and I traveled to Korea. I had planned on writing what we did every day the evening of each day, but we ended up being out so late every night that it didn't work out. As it turns out, Korea has a very healthy nightlife. So much so, that nothing opens until well into the morning and sometimes even the afternoon. Anyway, I plan on writing something every day except on Thursday, as I will be out of the office. I hope you enjoy what I write!
We were scheduled to ride our airport bus at 5:40am. We needed to check in at the airport no later than 10:30am to make our flight that left at 12:30pm. Not sure why the travel agent felt that we needed to leave for the airport 5 hours early but oh well. It only takes about 2.5-3 hours to get to Narita airport from Maebashi. We were running late on that freezing morning so we were basically running with our bags to the stop. We made it just in time and get situated on the bus, but then I notice that I forgot my wallet. At first I was like, no big deal, Josh has money, and I have my passport, but Josh reminded me that I need my resident card in order to come back into Japan. So that was a big deal. Had my husband not said anything, I would made it all the way to the airport thinking I was ok only to be shocked when I reached immigration. At that point, there would have been nothing that I could have done. I would have had to miss my flight on purpose and cancel the entire trip. Thankfully, that didn't happen. I spoke with the driver and he arranged for use to take the next bus leaving the following hour. I checked with the ticket lady regarding the time being ok because around 8am traffic in Tokyo starts to pick up. With 25 million people commuting to and from Tokyo a day, it gets backed up pretty quickly.
She believed that I would make it just fine. We got off the bus, Josh went into the waiting room with our bags and I slowly walked home to grab my wallet. There was no need to walk quickly as I had had a whole hour until the next bus arrived.
When I got home, I made the bed. We were in a hurry so nothing could be cleaned like I would have liked. I took the time to make the bed at least and clear up the bedroom. Then I grabbed my wallet, and tripled checked that nothing else was forgotten before I headed out back to the bus stop.
The bus came and picked us up at 6:40am and we were headed on our way to the airport finally. I was so anxious because I don't like flying, plus I was also worried about immigration in Korea. I always get anxious about things I have never experienced before. I couldn't relax or sleep on the bus at all. I was so nervous. Plus, I didn't know where our seats were on the plane. I was hoping I had a window seat, but nothing was certain. This was mostly on my mind. The anxiety was so bad I was shaking. Josh didn't know how to comfort me.
After we get to the airport, we had to find the agency to check in before actually checking in because they had our boarding pass info. I actually didn't have it. I just knew was time and
airline, but that was basically it. So we go there, and they give us more coupons that were basically useless unless you were planning on spending like $500 at one time. It was all in Japanese, and she spoke so fast, I only caught like 20% of it, but thankfully that 20% was the most important part anyway. All the rest was
just fluffy stuff. We get our bags checked in, and we had 2 hours until our flight left. I took the time to get my yen exchanged to Korean won, then we headed to security. Every time I have gone through security at Narita, it was really quick. Either they have multiple TSA spots, or they are just really efficient. I have never needed to wait more than 5 minutes to get through. Immigration has also been rather quick too. Not too long. Pretty decent. At least, for leaving anyway. More people come in than go out. Anyway, I was expected the officer to ask us a bunch of questions so I was teaching Josh what to expect and how to answer. Every other time I had gone through immigration they always asked me stuff. This time, they said absolutely nothing at all. That was easy.
The next step was boarding the plane. The plane was huge! But the line for boarding was really short. We were finished within 30 minutes. I think it must have been a connecting flight from somewhere else because that giant plane was filled. Praise Jesus I actually had a window seat. I was so glad. The flight was only 2.5 hours long to Korea. There were entertainment systems (mine was broken) and they even served us lunch. Basically, it was take off, serve lunch, take garbage, serve drinks, take garbage, and land. I colored the entire time. It was so short. I was amazed. We didn't even change time zones. It was the first time I had traveled via
plane and it didn't involve time changes. 0 jet lag for us!
Now the time came for immigration in Korea. I expected them to speak to me in Korea, so I was reviewing the little that I know in my head, and he didn't say anything at all. He just had me read things off a screen. Then we grabbed our bags, and headed to customs. Absolutely nothing happened at customs. I am not even sure why they bothered with customs. No one even glanced in our direction. We just walked on through. Weird.
We had to meet up with our "guide" of sorts. I am not really sure what to call her. I worked with a travel agent to arrange our trip, and he said that transportation to the hotel was covered, but we would have to arrange our own travel back to the airport. He also said that I had no included meals. She was picking up several of us and basically acted as a tour guide for that first couple of hours in Korea but she really didn't do anything except pick us up and give us more useless coupons. When we met up with her, she was speaking English, but you could see the strain on her face. It was too much for her. So she asked if we could speak Japanese. So my first experience of speaking a foreign language in Korea was Japanese. I spoke Japanese, to a Korean. Interesting. She was very outgoing. She must have had 12 cups of coffee before picking us up or something. She would not shut up. What she was saying mostly had nothing to do with Korea, she was just talking for the sake of talking. All in Japanese too. We had to wait for 2 other people to get off their plane for about an hour, so we watched a cool acrobatic show at the airport. That was different. There was also Christmas stuff everywhere. Just everywhere! The entire airport was decked out in Christmas to the extreme. I think they
beat the US in the Christmas decorating department. Totally unexpected.
About an hour later we were on our way. Incheon is one hour away from Seoul and our hotel was in the heart of Seoul. We were next door to city hall, which happens to be the central hub of Seoul. All the shopping is easy to get to from city hall. Very convenient place. On the drive to the hotel, the lady just kept
talking. Her switch must have been broken. She asked us questions here and there, but never paused enough for us to answer. She just kept going. It was like he hadn't seen people in days or something. We get dropped off first, and she helped us check in. That was new to me. I also found out that the hotel we stayed at, was primarily Japanese speaking hotel. Most of the guests were Japanese.
The first thing we noticed in Korea, apart from the Christmas, is that they drive on the right side of the rode and the left side of the car. I didn't expect them to be closer to American traditions of driving. There were also a lot of Kias and Hyundais but that is to be expected. I mean, those are Korean cars. The city is not as packed as Tokyo because their population is not nearly as dense. The hotel room was quite spacious. We had two twin beds, but it was still spacious. We even had a table and chairs. Something you would never get in Japan. Also, we did in fact get breakfast included for the first day. Not sure why the previous guy said that wasn't going to be a thing.
After we checked in and got our rental pocket Wi-Fi working, we decided to head out and grab a quick bite to eat. There were many places within walking distance so we decided to go to Burger King and see what
they did to make it Korean styled. Koreans sure do love their coffee. I think they love coffee more than Americans love coffee. There had to have been at least 7 on the same street corner as our hotel. I am not
kidding you. There was coffee EVERYWHERE. At Burger king, they didn't have any fish burgers like in Japan so we went to a sandwich shop first to get something for me. Josh ended up getting a bulgogi burger. He said it
tasted good. I had a crab sandwich with corn bread. That was delicious too.
I started to feel overwhelmed with the events of the day, plus, I was so eager to speak Korean and no one seemed to give me the time of day with Korean and only spoke English, it really discouraged me. I didn't want anything more to do with the country. We walked around for a bit more and made a stop at a convenience store to grab snacks and headed back. It was about 9:30pm or so and people were still up and about on the streets. That gave me the impression that Korea is a night time society.
So that was the first day. Nothing much happened besides traveling. So please check back tomorrow
for another update!
I want to talk about a hot topic
today. The election results. Many Americans are excited about the results
and can't wait for Trump to begin his days as a president, while others are
absolutely furious. They couldn't be
more livid. People are taking off work
to mourn, taking to YouTube and Facebook to vent their feelings and talking
about this "racist" America that Trump is creating. People are rioting and protesting in the
streets in predominantly blue states, ironically. Americans are angry and they are hurt, and
they want to be heard. Is their outcry
being heard correctly? Is their
protesting painting a picture of what America truly is? Or have they forgotten that they aren't the
only people in the world? I want to talk
about what Japan thinks about the election, and what the Japanese people think
about the Americans rioting and protesting the results in the street. I asked quite a few people. Some I knew, and some I never met before, and
here are the collective findings of my interviews.
For starters, Japan is most
conservative. I know that their dominate
party is called the liberal democratic party, but that doesn't mean they are
democrats or liberals. The LDP is
actually pretty far right winged. That
being said, there are still many people who do not agree with the LDP and are desperately
seeking for the current prime minister (Shinzo Abe) to leave office. I know because they drive around in their
campaign cars and their megaphones quite often as they spew their reasoning
behind their distaste for Abe. They don't
throw anything, they just peacefully drive by, wave, and tell you what they
think Abe is doing wrong and how he should fix things. More than half the people I talked to claimed
to identify with the LDP.
Second, the only news sources that
Japanese tend to receive on political matters of the US are CNN and MSNBC. Very rarely do they get news broadcasted from
NHK World, which is also a very liberal news source. Their newspapers tend to be more conservative
I have found but for the most part, unless they are speaking with an American
who is conservative, they are only getting one side of the argument. Most of them get that.
On the day of the election, I watched
it closely. I could hardly take my eyes
off the screen. It was causing me so
much anxiety. Everyone I work with knew
who I was rooting for so when the results came that Trump had officially won
the presidency I was congratulated many times.
I was stunned. Shocked. I couldn't believe my eyes. Trump, actually WON?! How did this happen? I thought for sure Hillary was going to win. I thought for sure that she was going to be
the first woman president and that all the Americans would be jumping for
joy. That is not the case. Apparently, America is annoyed with liberals
running the country and are desperately seeking a change. Clearly they want something different from
the white house.
No sooner had the results been posted
had the ALTs (from various countries) displayed their dismay on Facebook. I expected as much. They lost.
This was probably their first election that they had lost too. So it was understandable that they would take
to Facebook to be upset. I think most
people expected that to happen. However,
it started going a bit too far. Rather
than just accept defeat and move on, the foreigners took to whining and
complaining. They acted like cry
babies. It is one thing to cry about it
silently at home, have a drinking fit at home, alone, it is another to involve
people in your whining. That is exactly
what the ALTs did in Japan. They whined,
they cried, they drank, they threw mourning parties, and they took time off
work. Who does that? Who actually does that? It is not a death in the family or a close
friend, this is simply the presidential election which takes place every 4
years. Have they forgotten that annually
there are state elections? Have they
forgotten that? Not only are they taking
time off of work, IN JAPAN, but back in the states, people are taking time off
school! They are needing time to "process
and mourn the results." Really? Just
because you didn't get your way? REALLY!?
In the wake of these events, I decided
to ask Japanese what they think of Americans and their reaction to the election
results. I was very surprised with what
many of them had to say.
They started off by saying that taking
time off of work because of results not going your way is ridiculous. They found it absolutely childish and
rude. They couldn't believe that people
would even consider doing such a thing. Your
job will continue to be there after 4 years.
The president will change. It is
not that big of a deal. The Japanese
that don't like Trump, don't hate him.
They know that it is really none of their business who is and isn't our
president. One pointed out that the ALTs
are in Japan, and not in America. And
taking time off work to mourn for a country that doesn't directly affect the
one you are living in is uncalled for.
Most of the Japanese have lost respect for the foreigners in their
When news hit here that Americans were
rioting and protesting in the streets.
Do you know what the Japanese did?
They laughed. They laughed at
Americans. They laughed because they
were too appalled to do anything else.
They couldn't believe what they were hearing and seeing. All of them said that "that is not how your
protest." Also, "this is not something
worth protesting. You already
voted. Accept what happened and move on."
One video in particular made it viral
in Japan, and that was of a group of people beating up a Trump supporter. They were proud of beating him senseless and
stealing his car!!! Who does
that!!? 2 of my coworkers were planning
a vacation to the US during the winter vacation. They were going to go to Hawaii and
California. After seeing the protests,
riots, and beatings going on in America, in BLUE STATES I must add, they
canceled their trips. Those 2 in
particular, said that they have lost all interest in going to America and never
want to meet another American again.
The people whom I had just met when I
interviewed them, said that they will think twice now before they approach a
foreigner because they don't know if they are a violent American or someone
from Australia who is friendly. They
told me that they believe "all Americans are selfish children. Don't bother coming to Japan." The ones who work with other ALTs said that
they were told there is going to be a WWIII.
I had to console an entire class at one of my schools because they were
being told that America will abandon Japan now, and they will be nuked by North
Korea. These lies are really having an
impact on how Americans are viewed and the stereotype has really been affected
in a majorly negative way.
These are horrible statements made by
very peaceful Japanese. It is very hard
to upset or offend the Japanese because of the zen society. Congratulations America, you managed to piss
off Japan. To the rioters and
protestors, I hope you really sit and think about what it is that you have done
to the peaceful Americans in the world.
You have tarnished the reputation of America. You have made prejudice and racism a much
larger issue in Japan. Since the
election, my encounters with racism and prejudice have doubled. All because you weren't thinking about
others, you were only thinking about yourself.
You are all selfish, and you are all to blame for the stereotyping you
have put upon us. This is YOUR
fault. And this is YOUR doing. YOU are only to blame for this. YOU and YOU alone. I hope you are happy with yourselves. I hope you are proud for what you have
done. You have successfully made the
world hate you and be afraid to even talk to you. Japanese are now afraid to come near
you. You have some SERIOUS apologizing
Great job America. Great freaking job.