Autumn Cherry Blossom and Maple Leaves Hunting

IMG_8409.JPGAutumn is here! The weather has cooled and the leaves are changing to a wonderful array of browns, oranges, reds and golds.

In Japan people flock to the countryside to enjoy the splendid selection of autumn foliage. This is called ‘momijigari’ which basically means red leaves hunting. I love autumn and adore red maple leaves so it’s an exciting time for me!

I’d read about a very unusual autumn phenomenon close-by in a place called Obara. It’s famous for Obara Shikizakura cherry trees. Whilst standard cherry trees only bloom in the Spring the Obara Shikizakura also bloom in autumn and are at their best at the end of November and start of December.

The cherry blossoms are interspersed with other trees including maples. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see something so rare, so despite being full of a cold, Ash and I got up early and set off on an autumn leaves and cherry blossom hunt!

We went to Toyotashi station to catch a bus (outside the front of the station by the roundabout) and found that lots of other people had had the same idea as us. We managed to squeeze ourselves on to the jam-packed bus and an hour and a half later (due to traffic) arrived in the scenic village of Obara Okusa.

There are a few different areas dotted around for viewing the sakura (cherry blossoms) and maples together and you can walk at your leisure, drive between the spots or catch a shuttle bus.

Here is a map for anyone interested in going (you can also pick these up at the site):We started at Fureai park, which was host to lots of food stalls and a woman singing in a Kimono, and quickly met up with our friend Alison who had already driven around the site. We got our first taste of Autumn Sakura and found a pretty shrine.IMG_8408.JPGIMG_8407.JPG

Being bunged up with a cold I wasn’t feeling too hot, so from the park we caught the tiny but extremely busy old fashioned shuttle bus up to Senmi Shikizakura no sato, which boasts some of the most spectacular displays. There were two pretty bridges, a temple nestled in the trees and some traditional food stalls. The main feature was the hillside covered in cherry blossoms and maples. It was breathtakingly beautiful so I took lots of pictures:

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As well as Sakura (cherry blossoms) we saw lots of other vivid coloured leaves on the surrounding trees.IMG_8429.JPGIMG_8428.JPGWe decided to follow the map and walk the scenic one hour journey back to the bus stop.  We followed the road and walked past farms and small roadside shops. At one point the roadside was covered in lots of cool scarecrows whose job it seemed to be to attract passersby in to a road side stall.IMG_8436.JPG

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IMG_8441.JPGWe got back to the bus stop with plenty of time to spare so sat outside eating cup ramens and then caught the bus back in to town. It was a really beautiful area and I’d highly recommend anyone in the Aichi area to visit Obara and enjoy the Autumn Sakura phenomenon.

Nagoya Grand Sumo Basho

IMG_8180[1]Wow time flies eh? I’ve been really rubbish at keeping this blog up! I wanted to update it after our summer holiday but we were straight back in to school and it feels like it’s been full on since then, so any down time has been used to chill out with Ash, study Japanese and re-read Harry Potter (well good!). Anyway I’m going to try to pull my socks up and get all updated!

Ash had said since we moved to Japan that he really wanted to see a sumo match. I was happy to go along but really didn’t know what to expect, or if I would enjoy it. But hey, when in Rome eh?

As luck would have it the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament is held for two weeks every July at the Aichi Ken Prefectural gym. Ash and I broke up from school for the holidays in mid-July so couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go if possible.

Sumo is an ancient sport with its origins dating back 2000 years. It has roots in Shinto Buddhism and is rich in history and tradition. I could write about the history of sumo and the intricacies of a sumo’s life but this would turn in to a super long blog so I’ll try to keep it as succinct as possible.

Sumo is one of Japan’s most popular spectator sports and is considered by many to be the national sport of Japan. Consequently the large annual sumo event tickets do sell out fast. Fortunately we’d read online that it would be possible to get cheap on the day non-reserved tickets if we turned up early enough.

We woke up early on Friday 25th July and caught the train/subway (it’s a train line that turns in to the subway line) to Nagoya. As we were leaving the station we caught our first peek of a sumo wrestler! He was all dressed up in a bright yukata and looked a little strange as he merged with the morning commuters heading to city hall scanning his travel card at the gates. We realised then just how big these guys were going to be!

As we followed the path up to the gym we could hear a drum beating in the distance. Once we were closer we could see that the drummer was at the top of a wooden tower. This is sumo tradition. Sumo tournament organisers beat the drum to announce that the sumo matches will be happening soon. This and the fact that the hall is situated very close to Nagoya castle made this feel very atmospheric.

entering the fray

We could see more wrestlers in colourful yukatas entering the gym and started to get really excited.

We arrived at the ticket office around 8:30am and managed to nab some of the final cheap seat tickets. The event didn’t start until 10:00 and we had some boring driving license related errands to run so set off to sort those before returning to the gym.

We came back to start watching matches at 10:00. The trainee non-ranked and lower ranked fighters are the first to wrestle so apart from us and a few old people the arena was pretty empty for the first hour or so. We wandered around the venue for a while taking it all in. It was really impressive. There were fighters milling around being interviewed by newspapers and getting ready to wrestle.

Sumo (相撲 sumō) is a competitive full-contact wrestling sport where a rikishi (wrestler) attempts to force another wrestler out of a circular ring (dohyō). A rikishi loses a match when any part of his body other than the bottoms of his feet touches the dohyo or when he is pushed or thrown outside of the ring. This means that matches are often over quite fast and makes sumo a really exciting sport.

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With the day ticket you’re allowed to leave the gym once and return so we went to Kamimaezu for a delicious chicken lunch at a Brazilian restaurant and returned at about 1:30pm to find the arena bustling with people ready to watch the higher ranked players.

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From about 2 o’clock, the senior division arrived and an entrance ceremony took place. The higher ranked sumos all wore unique exquisitely designed colourful silk aprons and did processions around the stage. It was quite amazing to watch. The fighters varied in size but were generally enormous!

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After the procession had finished, the “yokozunas” ceremony began.  A Yokozuna is a grand champion (the current yokozuna is actually Mongolian). Once in the ring the champions clap their hands and stamp their feet.

Hakuho Sho (yokozuna rank)

The matches later on in the day were really exciting! A big part of the fight focuses on the wrestlers playing to the crowd and trying to psych each other out/intimidate each other before fighting. They puff themselves up, turn their backs on each other and throw salt across the ring. It was really entertaining. Because we didn’t know anything about sumo Ash and I decided to choose a fighter for each match, bet on them (sportsmans bets of course!) and keep a tally of our scores.

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The final match was great and the wrestler who Ash had chosen won. To our surprise the crowd roared and everyone in the expensive sections (which are tatami style with cushions to sit on) threw their purple cushions towards the ring. We were gutted that it was finished!

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I can’t recommend sumo enough. It’s such an interesting and unique event and is a great part of Japanese culture. I hope I get the opportunity to go again whilst we’re in Japan,

A flying visit to Matsumoto

A few weeks ago Ash and I got up at the crack of dawn to visit my friend Mitch who lives in Matsumoto.

Japan is famous for its speedy public transport but unfortunately with speed comes ticket prices that are too high for your standard English teachers to afford. Therefore we opted to take the cheap and slow but incredibly scenic route with a few train changes. We didn’t mind at all as it meant we got to see lots of gorgeous Japanese mountains as we chugged through Nagano prefecture.

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We arrived in to Matsumoto just before lunchtime and spent a few hours walking around taking in the sights. Matsumoto is a beautiful city nestled in the Japanese alps and is popular with tourists. We took some obligatory tourist photos so here they are!

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June and July are rainy season in Japan so it was overcast that day. However the low hanging clouds just added to the beauty of the mountains and scenery. We walked around areas with traditional buildings and visited Matsumoto’s main attraction, Matsumoto castle.

matsumoto 

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Mitch was working during the day so we met up with him in the early evening and went for yummy barbecue. We then went to a rowdy Japanese bar, drank beer and ate bar snacks (including tuna jaw bone meat). He then took us to a bar where he is a regular.

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Finally Mitch went home but shipped us off to another place where we met some lovely people from the Phillipines and Brazil and spent the final hour of the evening.

It was a whirlwind trip but we loved the area so much we’ve made plans to go camping and hiking in Kamikochi as soon as possible!

 

Moving to Japan – Tokyo

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Finally! Three months after leaving Korea I have home internet and am able to update this blog!

In that time a lot has happened including a lovely relaxing holiday in The Phillipines and relocating to Japan to start the latest chapter of our teaching and travelling adventure.

We arrived in Japan on Friday evening March 14th and flew in to Osaka. We needed to travel to Tokyo and we’d found flying to Osaka and then catching an overnight bus to be the cheapest option. This had seemed like a great idea at the time but when actually put in to practice it was a nightmare. We had almost 100kg of luggage between us and had bought a large pull along holdall that wouldn’t move properly (and ended up taking a chunk of Ash’s leg off!). So yeah travelling across Osaka city centre was pretty stressful.

We caught an overnight bus from Osaka to Tokyo that arrived at 7am and then tried to traverse Tokyo’s confusing subway network at rush hour to find our hotel (with the luggage from hell).

The hostel was the cheapest in Tokyo (there is a money saving theme going on here) and was a nice tiny traditional Japanese house. Again we hadn’t thought about the volume of luggage we had when booking and weren’t expecting to find so many other travellers in such a tiny space! Our room was literally like a cupboard with two bunk beds in it! It’s hard to actually describe how small it was but basically only one of us could be getting changed in there at a time and if both of us were in there stood up we couldn’t move!

We wandered around the area, did some laundry, drank coffee and ended up snoozing in the afternoon because we were so tired. In the evening we visited Shinjuku and ate a delicious dumpling ramen before wandering the streets aimlessly for a while.

Day 2 – Sightseeing mission

Yanaka

After an exhausting first day in Tokyo we decided to make the most of our time before starting our new job orientation the next day.

Our first sight for the day was Yanaka, a residential area which has kept an old town traditional ambience in modern day Tokyo. We walked up narrow roads lined with traditional Japanese houses and shops, as well as visiting small temples, shrines and traditional graveyards. It was a really relaxing way to spend the first part of the day and was in total contrast to what we were  to experience next!

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Akihabara

Our next destination was Akihabara, famous for being an area full of electronics shops, game arcades, comic shops and maid cafes. It is renowned as the center of Japanese Otaku (diehard fans/geek) culture. It was absolutely rammed (mostly with men), full of tall brightly coloured buildings decorated with lots of signage, neon and animations. Here are some pictures as they can do a better job of describing it than me.

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We spent ages wandering around the buzzing streets taking in the atmosphere. It was so different to anything you’d encounter in England so was a great experience!

We were pretty hungry after hours of walking around so went for a sushi dinner and then sat in Ueno Park to watch the sunset.

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Job Orientation

The next day we had to spend at the office of our recruiter signing documents and getting registered at City Hall so nothing of much note happened then.

The following day we left our hostel and lugged our bags out of Tokyo to our orientation. It was held in the middle of nowhere in a teacher training centre which was also being used by a university band camp for rehearsals.

Okay so I won’t write much about the orientation because although we met some very nice people it was all quite tame due to be being out in the sticks and having a 9:30pm curfew! Also Ash and I had to share dorm style with other teachers and weren’t allowed to share a room. Something which made me feel distinctly like an untrusted teenager, not a thirty year old woman!

Anyway, we  basically spent the next few days waiting to find out whereabouts we were going to be placed. Our company owned contracts to place ALT’s (Assistant Language Teachers) in schools in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area,  Kanto and Chiba Region so we had no idea where we were going to be (but were really really hoping for Tokyo!)

On the third evening we were all summoned and told our placements. Ash and I had been placed in Futtsu City. A tiny super super rural area at the bottom of Chiba prefecture. This meant that we would be quite isolated and not easily able to travel around. In addition our Japanese language skills were probably the lowest in the group so the prospect of living somewhere so rural was daunting. I wasn’t very happy but went to bed trying to be positive and accept things.

The next day got worse! We found out that between us we were working at 16 schools and would be working across elementary and junior high which would mean a lot more lesson planning.  On top of this we were expected to use our travel expenses which were actually part of our rather low wage on one car and car pool to work each day. Our schools weren’t always near each other and some days we had to attend two schools. Upon hearing this news I got a bit upset and felt that we were being taken the piss out of a bit in expecting to accept the placement. It hit home that we were in Japan in a bit of a weird situation.

We spent the next couple of days avoiding signing any contracts whilst staying in this weird place and being put under a bit of pressure so it was quite stressful.

A change of plans

Luckily once we left the orientation (promising to go back to the office and discuss our placement again) we managed to get in touch with another recruiter we’d previously interviewed with and they told us they still had positions in another part of Japan and offered us a job! We were over the moon! We went back to our previous recruiter and broke the news and it actually went as well as could be expected because they appreciated that we didn’t just do a runner and came in to explain our situation to them.

We now had to move across the country in time to start ANOTHER orientation the following week and would then be living in Toyota City (yup, where the car originated!) near to Nagoya. We decided in the meantime to enjoy more of Tokyo’s sights for a few more days. This was easier said than done!

No room at any of the inns

We began searching for hostels and guesthouses to stay in for the rest of our time in Tokyo and to our surprise it was impossible to find one place to stay for the rest of our journey.  Cherry Blossom season was looming in Tokyo, which brought tourists from all over Japan and the world wanting to experience the beautiful blossoms. This meant that most hotels were booked.

We ended up in four different places:

  1. Going back to the smallest hostel in the world for one night.
  2. Staying a night in a dodgy AirBNB in a totally different part of Tokyo and having to leave at 7am in the morning because the guy who owned the apartment was going to work
  3. Staying two nights in a boarding house in an area full of day labourer boarding houses
  4. Visiting all boarding houses and hotels in the area to try to find somewhere for our last night. Finally we found a hotel near to our previous one.

I couldn’t believe that in such an enormous city it would be so hard to find accommodation. I’ve since been warned that during peak festival seasons this is common.

We spent the next few days:

Eating lots of yummy food.

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Visiting temples and the Tokyo Sky Tree in Asakusa (which is pretty amazing to look at!).ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Enjoying an Andy Warhol exhibition and magnificent city scape views in an art gallery on the 50th floor in Roppongi Hills.

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Shopping in Shibuya and watching the infamous Shibuya Station crossing.

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After a few days it was time to catch another cross country bus to Nagoya to start our new job!

Since then we’ve been settling in to Japanese life and adjusting to the differences between the UK and Korea. But that’s a whole new post!

 

 

Shinsekai District in Osaka

Over the last weekend of January Korea celebrate Lunar New Year so everyone gets a four day weekend. Ash and I went to Japan for a job interview in Osaka so were lucky enough to be able to spend a little bit more time sightseeing in the city. We hadn’t had time during our trip in September to visit the Shinsekai ‘New World’ district. It was built before World War 2 and features traditional styled restaurants and Tsutentaku Tower at it’s centre. 

We were staying in a very cheap hotel with a traditional Japanese room (futon mattress on the floor) in the area so  made the most of being nearby. After the interview we only had one full day of sightseeing so we focussed quite a lot of our attentions on this area. Shinsekai is apparently considered to be quite a seedy and dangerous area but we didn’t get that feeling at all. The buildings were beautifully decorated and there were lots of izakaya’s (small bars where you can buy beer and assorted plates of tasty fried nibbles).

Here are some pictures of the area by night.

ImageImageImageAs it stands we’ve been offered a job in Japan and we move there in mid March! I’m going to miss Korea a lot (especially the food) but am super excited about starting the next chapter of our travelling adventure as I’ve fallen in love with what I’ve experienced of Japan so far.

Seokbulsa temple in Busan

On the first Sunday of December Ash, Keir , Emily and I decided to visit Seokbulsa temple in Busan. It’s been on our to do lists since arriving in Korea and time is running out to do and see everything.

We met Keir and Emily at the bus station at about 6am, hopped on a bus and snoozed our way to Busan.  Seokbulsa temple is situated on Geumjeong mountain so we began by walking through the park at the foot of the mountain. Although it was December it seemed that winter still hadn’t quite reached Busan and the trees in the park were covered in bright red and yellow Autumn leaves. Because it was early the park was quiet so we could enjoy the scenery in relative peace which was lovely!

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It’s possible and faster to catch the cable car that up the side of the mountain but we decided to go on foot and reached the top after about 30 minutes.

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The next part of the walk involved passing through a rather strange place called Namman village which also sat up in the mountain.  It was only tiny and was pretty much deserted apart from a pair of ajummas sat outside their restaurant. After that we followed a path a little way down the mountain until we came to a steep road. We followed the road uphill until we reached the temple. All in all it was an easy walk.

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Seokbulsa differs from most other temples in Korea because the mountain itself has been turned in to a shrine and there are beautiful Buddhist carvings in the surrounding rock walls.  Pictures will do better at describing than I can:

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After taking lots of pictures we walked down the other side of the mountain a short way and stopped for some squid pajeon (Korean pancake) and macheolli rice wine at a roadside stall. As we left the stall we saw a couple of cute dogs on the road. One of them came over and kept following Keir, jumping up at him. We were all awwwing when he started pulling Keir’s glove off. He managed to pull it off his hand and then to our surprise legged it off down the road and up the mountain whilst Keir ran after him and we all stood bent over with laughter at his cheeky behaviour. I jokingly said I bet he does that to loads of passers by and has a collection of gloves in a little hide out! Keir chased him up the hill behind a house and then shouted down that there was indeed another glove up there! I suppose it was one of those situations where you had to be there to fully appreciate how funny it was. Anyway here are some of Emily’s pictures catching the moments scene by scene!

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awww hello cute dog do you like my glove?

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Oh you want to hold it in your mouth…

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Hey come back here with my glove!

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proof that the dog was a weird glove thief and hoarder

I’d highly recommend a visit to Seokbulsa especially because it’s only a short walk and can be done in a morning or afternoon.

Fear and Tribulation on the Yeungnam Alps

A little while back when it was still warm enough to do a weekend’s worth of outdoor activities Ash, Keir, Emily, Sam and I planned two days of hiking in the Yeungnam Alps near Ulsan. Keir and Emily had done one half of the walk before, enjoyed it and recommended it.

After an early train and two bus journeys we started the trail at 9:30am. This was planned to be a two day circular hike, with the first taking us over three peaks in approximately six hours.

After climbing steps for about twenty minutes (I hate steps) we were rewarded with our first view of the day and what a view! There were beautiful mist covered mountains as far as the eye could see.Image

The views were stunning as we made our way across the route and everything was going as planned. The scenery was very different to what we’d experience on Saryangdo a few weeks before but was still breath-taking and had a bleak beauty reminiscent of the Peak District or Yorkshire moors, but obviously somewhat different because this is Korea!ImageImage

We ate lunch at the second peak and continued to our final peak of the day. We would then be following a route down in to the valley to stay in a village called Jukjeon Mal and rest up to complete the second day of the circuit. We arrived at the third peak at 3pm feeling victorious, and took some obligatory victory pictures. Our next challenge was to get down in to the valley and then we could relax.

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This however is when things started to go wrong. Whilst atop the third peak we noticed dark clouds had started to form and it looked like it was going to rain.

We decided to get our skates on in order to get down off the mountain as the weather took a turn for the worse. We headed down and surprisingly Ash and I saw the owner of our local chicken restaurant which was bizarre! We showed him our map in order to check the route down and he gave us some directions and told us our map was wrong. Uh oh…

A little further along we came to a fork in the path and weren’t totally sure which way to go. By this time the sky was black and it was raining. There were two separate groups of Korean hikers discussing which way to go. When we asked them how to get to Jukjeon Mal they all seemed surprised we wanted to go there but proceeded to give us instructions which we thought we understood. They then walked off in the opposite direction. We continued, feeling progressively more and more worried as mist appeared and swallowed us up so we could no longer see down in to the valley below.

Here are a few pictures to show you exactly how wet and foggy it got but they don’t do it justice.

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Earlier in the day I had commented on how much I enjoyed this sloping undulating hike. There had been no real climbing and it had felt much more ambly. That was about to change. We had to climb over a small peak and lower ourselves down on a rope. Not usually a difficult task but it was slippy and the mist encircling us had put us a little on edge.

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We also wondered where everyone else had gone as we hadn’t seen another Korean hiker for a while (and anyone hiking on a well-known route in Korea will know the routes are usually packed with neon clad hikers).

We came to a standstill when we realised that we needed to choose between two routes. We could continue up over another peak, which felt very much NOT like going down in to the valley, or we could follow a route downwards. This route however was cordoned off with a big closed barrier and warning signs. Luckily at that moment two Korean men appeared out of nowhere and advised us that the former route would take us a long time and the latter route would be much faster but maybe a little dangerous. We had a quick team talk and agreed that both weather and time were against us, it was now 3:40 and in a couple of hours it would be pitch black. Therefore we decided to take the closed and ‘slightly dangerous’ route.

At this point I started to freak out internally. None of us had network on our phone and I really didn’t like the thought of taking a closed off hiking route in the late afternoon all on our own with no one else around, but we didn’t really have a choice.

The closed route was extremely closed. The bushes had grown over on to what there was of the path. By the way the ‘path’ felt a lot more like carefully locating and jumping over very big unstable stepping stones covered in leaves. Most of us lost our footing at some point (Sam had a nasty fall) and as the light dimmed my recently lasered eyes found it hard to see (an initial side effect of LASIK can be reduced vision at night) so I was being a right slow coach.

The route continued down in to the valley and was exceptionally beautiful. We walked through trees with vibrant red leaves, a small rock pool and a rocky stream. Unfortunately we couldn’t appreciate them because we were wet and becoming extremely concerned about getting down off the mountain before the light was completely gone. We all trudged, jumped and slipped along in relative silence focussing on one thing – getting out of there before nightfall.

We could tell we were working our way down but it was getting darker and darker and the freak out factor was increasing significantly! By now we’d been descended for almost two hours, it was pretty blooming dark and we were still walking. Would we have to spend a night huddled together for warmth on the mountain with no food or shelter? Suddenly when we saw some lights in the distance! They were coming from a hermitage; this meant we must at least be near a road if not a village! We all gave a cheer and then realised we had to cross a big section of stream. It was now dark and the rocks were really slippy so I had to hold Ash’s hands as I blindly felt my way across the stepping stones. Once on the other side we were safe and within two minutes we were on the road, relief flooded in to our adrenaline filled bodies and we began talking again!

We hadn’t come down in to Jukjeon Mal but we weren’t far and were able to walk there in about fifteen minutes. Keir had booked us in to a youth hostel shaped like a boat but we ended up in our own little chalet. We were all starving so dropped off our stuff and headed to a duck restaurant nearby to refuel and recover from our experience. We worked out that in fact the route down in to Jukjeon Mal is now closed so hikers don’t use it anymore. This explained why everyone disappeared!Image

That evening we decided that we probably weren’t going to do the second half of the walk the following day because of our ordeal, but we’d see how we felt after a good night’s sleep. We slept in too late to start the walk in the morning but had heard that there was a waterfall nearby so decided to visit that instead. We ate a breakfast of kimchi jjigae (stew) and rice and walked two kilometres to the waterfall. It was still autumn down in the valley so we marveled at all the beautiful colours (and took lots of pictures of course!).ImageImage

What a weekend eh!? We can look back on it now, laugh our heads off and congratulate ourselves but at the time I’m pretty sure we were all feeling scared! Still it’s a good story to tell eh?

Autumn Hiking Adventures in Korea – Part 1 – Saryangdo Island

Once the heat and humidity of summer had passed I was keen to start hiking again. However, we don’t have long before the siberian winter draws over South Korea so we have tried to fit in our final must-do Korean hikes before the weather gets too cold.

October – Hiking in paradise on Saryangdo Island

Recently Ash, Keir, Emily and I went on a stunning overnight trip to an island called Saryangdo just of the south coast of Korea. I’d read that there was a brilliant ridge hike that was well known amongst Koreans but not as much amongst us waygookin foreigners. The pictures looked beautiful and the idea of doing a mountain hike on an tiny island had me sold on the idea.

We planned to travel to and arrive on the island on the Saturday and find somewhere to stay in the village at the start of the trail. Then we’d get up early the next day and hike the 6km ridge trail before heading home.

We caught the 7:30am bus to Tongyeong from Daegu Seobu (west) bus station on the Saturday morning, then another bus from the bus terminal to a quiet ferry terminal on the other side of Tongyeong. The terminal was packed with lots of ajummas (middle aged married women) and ajussi’s (middle aged married men) decked out in neon hiking gear so we knew we were in the right place.

The ferry took about 45 minutes and the views along the way were beautiful.Image

Once there, we found a map and worked out that we needed to stay in the village on the opposite end of the island in order to hike back over the ridge trail to the harbour the next day. The sun was shining, we were all feeling pretty energised and the low key atmosphere of the island made us certain we wouldn’t be rushed off our feet with activities when we got to our destination, so we decided to walk the 6 or so kilometres around the island.

About 10 minutes in to the walk a big group of men and women started shouting us to join them. Because we had a fair way to walk we couldn’t stop but Ash went to investigate and came back with a bag of freshly cooked crabs. He was in heaven but the rest of us weren’t really up for walking and eating crab at the same time, especially after looking at the crab guts all over Ash’s hands as he ate the first one! Therefore Ash ate ALL of the crabs himself in quick succession.

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The island was beautiful and the scenery surrounding us was breathtaking. Dotted all over the ocean were tiny islands. It was exactly how I had imagined coastlines in east Asia before I moved here.

It took us about an hour and a half to walk around to the village. I say village, but it was more like a hamlet because it was so small. It was very picturesque and was nestled in a cove beneath the mighty ridged mountains we would be climbing the next day. There were only a handful of minbaks (guesthouses), one restaurant and a few convenience stores/people’s houses. and it took us about 10 minutes to walk around the whole place!IMG_5516

We went to the only restaurant to get lunch and thought it was closed. However a very old woman started shouting and calling to her friend who owned it! She came with a big basket of cabbage (she’d obviously been off doing other things because no one hardly goes there!) opened up, suggested we have some doenjang jjigae (fermented soybean stew) and began cooking for us in the tiny empty restaurant.

We spent the rest of the day playing cards in our shared room and took a quick early evening stroll. We didn’t really mind having a quiet day and an early night because we planned to get up early the following morning to begin our hike.IMG_5524

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Four of us shared this room sleeping on the floor Korean style.

We were up at the crack of dawn the next morning, quite literally, and were sat up on the side of the mountain by 7:30 eating breakfast and enjoying the tranquil quiet atmosphere and breathtaking scenery.

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We knew the crowds of hikers would turn up soon as we’d seen lots of people on the ferry the day before and sure enough as we headed up to the first peak we heard lots of jovial shouting and were soon surrounded by extremely agile ajummas and ajussi’s chattering away as they charged ahead! At one point it was ridiculous how busy the hike became! This picture just about does it justice.

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The walk took us 6 hours and there were some rather hairy sections for someone like myself with leg trembling vertigo issues, but it was really exciting! We had to pull our bodies up over rocks, flatten ourselves and slide along precarious looking edges and watch our feet. There were also some bridges connecting peaks and ropes to guide climbers down sheer rock faces. The sun was shining the whole time and the view just got more and more impressive.IMG_5558 IMG_5555 IMG_5564

When we finished we had to wait a little while for the ferry so went to a sea front restaurant for lunch. We were all totally shattered on the way back so lay down on the back of the ferry and snoozed in the shade.IMG_5566

I actually think this was the most breathtaking and challenging hike that I’ve done in Korea. I’m so glad that I got the chance to experience Saryangdo before leaving Korea as it is truly a hidden gem!

Haeinsa temple and Jinju lantern festival in one day!

I’ve been really busy at school and have been doing lots of volunteering so updating this blog has become less of a priority. However I’m determined to pull my socks up and document my last 4 and a bit months in Korea before our next adventure begins! I also plan to do lots of stuff in the next month or so now that the sweltering summer heat has gone and before the bitter winter arrives!

Ash’s parents came to visit a couple of weeks ago. The first weekend we met them in Gyeongju but I didn’t take many pictures then as we’ve been before. Their second weekend in Korea we all went to Haeinsa Temple and to the Jinju lantern festival, so it was a weekend of firsts for me (Ash had been to Haeinsa).

Haeinsa Temple

We caught an 8:30am bus to Haeinsa on the Saturday morning and it took approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes to get there from Seobu Bus Station in West Daegu. The complex is really big and stretches across the hills for a few miles, but we had limited time there so just visited the main complex.

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Entrance to Haeinsa

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The monks were mean drummers!

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The red bags on the floor were part of an art installation. People were asked to fill the bags with rocks to symbolise how much pain was in their lives. Depressing but pretty

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This would have been nice if it wasnt for that horrible plastic sheeting in the background! Screw you temple maintenance!

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Prayer time

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Gorgeous view of the courtyard and the surrounding mountains

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Haeinsa is famous for housing the Tripitaka Koreana, a collection of Buddhist scriptures carved onto 81,258 wooden printing blocks in the 13th century. It is the world’s most comprehensive and oldest intact version of Buddhist scripture in Hanja (chinese) script. Unfortunately to protect it the blocks are kept stored in buildings at the back of the temple. It’s possible to view at the rooms they are in and get a glimpse of them from outside but you can’t reach out and touch them (obviously). Still, the sheer number of scriptures was pretty impressive!

On the way out of the temple we decided to share this stuffed squid between us. Ash’s parents and Ash loved it but I wasn’t so keen on the filling.

IMG_5382When planning the trip we had worried that we’d need to get the bus back to Daegu and out to Jinju again but as luck would have it we were able to get a bus to Jinju from right outside the temple! We thought this was quite weird as there were only two bus services available, one to Daegu and one to Jinju. We bought our ticket and then settled in for another 2 hour bus journey. The route from Haeinsa to Jinju is really beautiful so it was an enjoyable ride and the time passed quickly!

Jinju Lantern Festival

We arrived in to Jinju at about 3pm and Ash’s parents dropped their luggage at their hotel. We hadn’t booked anything ourselves and just planned to stay in a jimjilbang (public bath house with sleeping area) or a guesthouse.

It was still light when we arrived but we could see the river full of different styles of lanterns and were excited at how busy the festival promised to be. The river was also overlooked by the scenic Jinju fortress and a pretty park which had also been set up for the lantern festival.

We watched some traditional Korean music performances and then followed the steps down to the river where we paid 1000won to walk on a very strange bridge made out of bobbing plastic blocks across the river. As the sun went down the lanterns began glowing and looked beautiful. They were dotted all over the water and there were lots of different types!

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We ate an expensive but tasty pork BBQ next to the river, wandered around for a while longer and then walked Ash’s parents to their hotel. We managed to find a very reasonable guesthouse for 40,000 around the corner and was also showing British football which pleased Ash no end!

All in all it was a very pleasant weekend and I’m surprised how much we actually managed to fit in to one day!

Japan 2013 – Osaka, Nara and Kyoto

In Korea your school’s birthday is a big deal and all students and teachers have a day off to celebrate (if it falls on a week day). My friend Claire and I were lucky enough to have the same school birthday and this year it fell the day before the Korean thanksgiving holiday of Chuseok. A few friends and I had decided to visit Osaka during the holiday this year, so we decided to go out a day earlier together. We caught the train to Seoul on Monday evening and stayed at my favourite place ever – Siloam jimjilbang. We were up very early the next morning to catch the airport railroad to Incheon airport.

Our plane arrived in Japan mid-morning and we mistakenly got on the slowest train ever from Kansai airport to Osaka. Luckily about 40 minutes in to our journey at one of the millions of stations our train stopped at, one of the station conductors told us to get on a faster train and we got there in quick flash time.Image

Upon arrival our first task was to find our accommodation for that night.  We caught the subway (which was really retro and I loved it – apart from the price) to Shinsaibashi train station and then walked around the streets. On the first night we were staying in a capsule hotel, something I have always wanted to do so was pretty blooming excited about!Image

For the rest of the day we wandered around Amerikamura, an area with a lot of independent and vintage shops and a very relaxed feel. We also had a little walk around Namba which was close by and found lots of interesting streets and shops, saw a shrine down a tiny back alley with a moss covered Buddha and walked down tiny traditional streets.  It felt quite unnerving to not be able to understand any Japanese writing as I’m so used to at least being able to phonetically read Korean even if I don’t always know the meaning! With this in mind we went in to the first restaurant with a picture menu and ate there. In the evening we sat in the main square in Amerikamura for a while chatting before heading back for a night in our capsules.Image

1236669_10151886515543633_51023041_nIMG_5475IMG_5486 IMG_5488The capsule hotel wasn’t actually that far removed from a jimjilbang in that there was a shared locker room, changing room, toilets and sauna area for all the women. I found out afterwards that these actually usually just cater to business men and it can be difficult to find women’s capsules. Our actual sleeping areas were compartments with a pull down blind. I thought they were pretty comfortable although I did feel like I was in a space ship.IMG_5481

The next morning we were up and out early for a western breakfast (this doesn’t really happen in Korea much!) and to find our hostel where the others would be joining us later. We then caught the JR line (which is like an overland loop train) to Tennoji and visited Shitennoji temple. It was really beautiful and because it was a weekday was fairly quiet.  There was a lovely view across the graveyard of the skyline and Osaka’s famous Hitachi tower.IMG_5472

Next we headed back to Namba to meet my UK friend Mitch who now lives in Matsumoto and had come to catch up for a day or two. The three of us then went to Osaka castle, which is very pretty on the outside but not that thrilling inside. Afterwards we went back to our hostel to meet everyone, get changed, have a quick beer in the bonsai garden on the roof and then went out to meet Mitch in Namba again. He wanted to show us around Ebisu bridge and Dotombori, two of Osaka’s most famous sights.

The neon lights on Ebisu bridge were pretty amazing! The area was jam-packed and the streets behind the river featured lots of animatronic animals hanging above restaurants in the area. We were starving so decided on a restaurant and ordered lots of delicious Okonomiyaki, delicious pancakes with lots of fillings and cheese. We spent the rest of the night drinking beer in a tiny corridor bar and a rather strange shisha bar before heading home in the wee hours.IMG_5489

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Wonderful Nara

We had a bit of a lie in the next day as we were feeling a little delicate and had already decided to spend a chilled out day in Nara, about an hour away by train. Nara used to be a historic capital in Japan so features lots of famous sights. It is also famous for the tame deer that wander around the park and temple areas of the city.

The first sight we encountered as we entered the historic area was a picturesque pond with lots of turtles swimming in it. There was to be a lake-side festival taking place that evening so lanterns were being set up on the water. We saw our first of many deer here! She came over and nabbed Emily’s (unwanted) sandwich out of its wrapper and wandered off whilst we all squealed (and Keir WWOOOOOYYYEEEDD) and tried to stroke her.1378606_10153297698590343_359487124_n

The next hour or so was spent buying special biscuits and feeding them to lots of quite brazen deer as we walked through Nara Park.1379730_10153297697700343_297928006_n1255171_10153297697040343_1188406670_n 1375762_10153297696800343_59536414_nWe visited a couple more shrines, had coffee and then headed off for one of the main sights. Todaji temple holds claim to being the world’s biggest wooden building and oh my goodness it was absolutely enormous! The pictures unfortunately don’t do it justice. It took my breath away. What’s even crazier is that this temple had to be rebuilt after a fire and is apparently 1/3 smaller than the original! Inside the building is an enormous gorgeous bronze Buddha.IMG_41

After staring at the Buddha (mouth open in awe) for a while, we followed Keir on his mission to find a geocache. Up a hill nestled amongst the trees behind Todaji temple we found another hillside temple with stunning views of the sunset. There was hardly anyone around so the atmosphere was lovely and serene.

We were pretty tired after sightseeing but we wanted to see the lantern festival by the water so went and sat on the grass for a little while as it was really beautiful. After maybe half an hour nothing happened so we went in search of dinner.IMG_47 IMG_48 IMG_49We decided upon a restaurant which served a traditional set meal. Lots of small courses were delivered after each other. We weren’t entirely sure how we were supposed to eat it but an old couple opposite us had the same set so we copied them. It was yummy and included raw fish, miso soup, variations of tofu dishes and rice.

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Full of food and worn out, we headed back to Osaka on an evening train and chilled out in the hostel.

Kyoto – a glance in to the past

We woke up early the next morning to catch a train to Kyoto for another busy day. Not far from the train station we found a bike rental shop and decided to travel around by bike all day. Our first destination was Kiyomizudera temple. We had to walk our bikes up a really steep alleyway to get to the temple. There were beautiful women walking around the temple grounds in gorgeous kimonos and the temple itself which was stunning, was situated up on the hill amongst trees and overlooked the city.

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Next we cycled down to Gion, in the vague hope of finding a geisha. However it was blisteringly hot and we didn’t go to a teahouse, so we were obviously unsuccessful. We didn’t mind though because this area was very pretty, traditional and filled with kimono and souvenir shops. The buildings were all really narrow and made of dark wood.  We decided to splurge and eat a traditional lunch in this area. This time the food was served up almost like a bento box but inside a beautifully intricate bowl. Cue all of us taking pictures of our food!ImageImage

After lunch we cycled around a little and visited a few more vibrant red shrines and temples on our travels. We cycled up the philosophers’ path, a pretty cherry tree lined path and found a really cute café so sat with coffee and cakes soaking up the nice relaxed atmosphere. We were heading for another temple but by the time we had cycled there it was unfortunately closed. We started making our way back to the station, riding our pretty bikes along the riverside looking at all the attractive riverside restaurants and bars. I felt like I never wanted to leave Kyoto but it was getting dark, all the temples were closed and we were staying in Osaka so caught the train back.1382208_10153297691915343_1108613416_n

Once in Osaka we tried to decide where to spend the next few hours before bed and randomly ended up getting off the JR at Kyobashi, a random stop, because everyone thought it looked ‘fun’! The streets around the station were full of neon lights and it was pretty busy (it was Friday evening). There were row upon row of tiny bar/restaurants known as Izakaya, full to the brim with suited and booted Japanese businessmen letting their hair down. We chose a bar and ordered LOADS of side dishes. I can safely say that every single thing they put down in front of us (apart from the mushrooms because I don’t like them) was mouth-wateringly delicious! There were 5 of us and usually the plate had 6 pieces of whatever dish we’d ordered on it. We all loved them so much that we had to pay ‘rock, scissors, paper’ to choose who got the extra piece. I never won!

A day in Osaka

Our final day was spent in Osaka so we took our time having breakfast. Claire had read about a bakery which apparently sold British style cakes only one JR stop away so we decided to walk and follow the train line because it was a lovely day.IMG_5468This wander gave us a chance to see everyday Osaka life. We saw lots of very nice bikes, a variety of different shops, people’s houses (most of which were decorated with plant pots outside) and more ornate looking food and drink establishments. The area leading up to and around Tsuruhashi station was really interesting and full of exciting looking alleyways. The bakery was in an upmarket area and the owner was from Leicester. He’d designed it with a mod theme which we weren’t too sure about. We weren’t too sure about the cakes either, apart from an amazing apple pie.IMG_5487

Afterwards we caught the subway to Namba AGAIN as Keir had read about a craft beer festival being held in the area, which we quite frankly couldn’t resist (apart from poor Claire who doesn’t drink any beer whatsoever)!

After a lot of searching we found the festival being held by the river and boy were there lots of tasty beer selections from all over the world, including the UK.  I thought my holiday couldn’t get any better when Ash noticed someone eating blue cheese! After a short search we discovered a stall selling LOTS of cheese so bought some brie and some stilton with crackers and sat nomming them and drinking tasty ale with grins on our faces.

We split up for dinner that day because Ash, Emily and I wanted sushi, Keir wanted Octopus balls and to find a geocache and Claire wanted a bento box. Emily and I had seen a sushi restaurant nearby earlier in the day so went there. It was reasonably priced and we got to watch the sushi chef make our masterpiece of a dinner. The fish melted in our mouths and we all sat pulling faces and making noises of joy whilst eating.IMG_5294 1376535_10153297690160343_73898469_n

We went back to the hostel and Keir, Emily, Ash and I decided to pay one of the local tiny cupboard bars a visit for a final drink in Osaka. We had a lovely evening with a very hospitable barman before returning to our hostel to get some sleep in preparation for our flights home to Korea the next day.

Needless to say, this trip to Japan further cemented my love for this amazing and vibrant country.  So much so that Ash and I are now looking for employment in Japan when we leave Korea at the end of February. Fingers crossed eh!?

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