Japan (Hiroshima and Kyoto) and Jeju, Korea

Hiroshima was a very neat experience. It is a modern city with very friendly people. I think the best English I heard in Japan was in Hiroshima, everyone spoke so well… It reminds me of Bratislava a little bit, but it is of course much larger.

The A-bomb museum and A-bomb dome were quite a shock therapy. I was quite surprised how critical the A-bomb museum was about Japan itself, they took much of responsibility. They were educating people about nuclear catastrophes, physics and history, it was very interesting and very sad at the same time.

Anyways, we had only one day in Hiroshima and I believe it’s worth to spend more time there, there’s really a lot to see there.

Kyoto was a little bit strange for a while (mainly because of subjective reasons). It’s mainly about temples. We started with one shrine with garden in the night. The Gion district is famous for Geisha. It has kind of oldish or traditional feeling and is very neat at night.

We went to Kiyomizudera temple the next day.

It has a beautiful view of Kyoto and there were not so many people there (I don’t have problem with “many people” anyways, they want to see what I want to see, because it is nice and they are usually very friendly anyways, so being there with more people is not a bad thing for me actually). We took a walk through a cemetary down the hill, we met only one or two people during our way down.

There were more temples, most of them were nice. We ended up in one fairly remote, sitting there during divine service. It was kind of an experience for us, they were singing a lot and it was like the most hypnotic singing in low voice I ever experienced live (I have Mantra Om recording on a CD, which is kind of similiar, but this is more rhytmic, they actually used some instruments: a chime and some kind of deep drum).

We went to some museums the next day and were just walking around. Then we realized we are quite tired and would like to go to some onsen. Lonely planet listed two, one of which looked good: Funaoka Onsen. We tried to get there by bus, but it was kind of difficult (it may not seem so from the description on the site, but it really was: the bus stop names were in Kanji, no one wanted to speak with us at first and the bus driver charged us twice, I don’t even know why).

Anyways, getting in was great, there were bunch of weird baths like the electric one. They had a TV in sauna, which was pretty much the thing I would not expect in sauna anywhere in the world. They played some kind of japanese posh tv game, the game host was probably buying clothes in Harajuku and he was like on amphetamines, he kept throwing his feet and hands away from his body, walking around and laughing. Everything was covered in flowers and there were young styled japanese girls telling something “really important” to the world: it was their five minutes of fame.

Anyways, I went out (I kind of don’t like saunas – they are fine, the only thing I hate about them is the freaking hot air:) and this japanese guy started talking to me (pretending he speaks english “a little”, he spoke really well). He was asking me about my country, what I do, why I am in such a remote onsen (Lonely Planet listens two of them, as I said, this one is not even on a Lonely Planet’s detailed map, so navigating by street names is impossible). We kept talking and he suggested, that he can take us home. He agreed with his wife to get out half an hour earlier than me, so they waited for us in an inn outside. We entered the car and he took us to his home first. It was such a nice place: in the middle of a mountain (there are mountains around Kyoto), air was so good, the house was quite big with a garden. He showed us some of his pictures from Kenya and Crete (he is a retired professional photographer) and we were talking for quite a long time. He was really an interesting guy. He showed us his “onsen guide” and we agreed to go to some together the next day. They invited us for a dinner.

The next day we saw Nijo castle. It was kind of nice, it had nightingale floors that made squeezing sounds. It was a protection against sneaking. The garden and tea house was very nice. It started raining, so we went back to our hostel and preparing for the dinner.

They picked us up in our hostel. Prepared a great dinner. It was not traditional japanese in any sense (Chi lived in Kenya for ten years, then from time to time in Crete, so it was like a multicultural dinner). We had lots of seafood prepared in a fireplace in a house, great salad and few beers. We actually ended up pretty drunk (except for Chi, who was going to drive – he had only one and half can of beer). Chi boosted volume and we ended up listening to Pink Floyd – dark side of the moon and preparing for karaoke. Then he drove us to a remote onsen, where we kept talking about things.

His house was kind of a place for people to meet, they usually held some concerts (garden was more of like a place for concerts) and parties for people. Chin, a younger guy, was some sort of japanese hippie, who kept moving around. He lived with Chi and his wife for now, helping them with house the just bought for Chi’s wife’s mother (it was 4 million yen, very near Kyoto city, which is very cheap, it’s like $40,000, I expected houses to be much more expensive there. Anyways, normal house in the city would cost like 40-50 million yen and it would be like 80 square meters).

Chin was working on a pig farm (feeding pigs) before and even before that on a small hippie island in Japan.

These people were so friendly and so interesting, I hope they will come visit us to slovakia. They were really interested in doing that and I plan to send them some book about Slovakia when I come back.

Sadly, we had to leave Kyoto, which I liked very much and we went to Hakata, took a ferry to Pusan (or Busan) in Korea nad from there we flew to Jeju to meet our wonderful friends Katka and Hugo. We were really looking forward and as I type this, we are here on Jeju. It’s a honeymoon island, there’s a lot of nightlife (the Jeju-si population is roughly half of Bratislava’s).

We went to Jeju Love Land . As Jeju is the honeymoon island, it kept it’s role of a place for sexual education for newly married couples (much of them were arranged marriages) and this is a park with sexually oriented sculptures and movies. It was fun just looking at people exploring the park. There were several South Korean soldiers there. I took some pictures, they are taken by my cellphone which really sucks at taking pictures, I’m sure you could find better pictures by searching on Flickr.

After coming back, we went to korean karaoke. As opposed to what I was thinking about it, it was really, really fun. First: it’s a private room, so it was just us (the friends). It also has kind of scoring system (I got 97 points out of 100 for Sex Pistols, but hey, anyone can sing better than Sid Vicious). Hugo thinks that the scoring system is pretty much random and I agree. Anyways, it was great fun.

Today we went to Udo island. I am too tired to describe it, but it was wonderful. Click on the link and read the article.

Anyways, we met Karin and Peter – the dutch guys who are cycling around the world for six years now. They were so nice and some of their stories were so unbelievable. Yet, they were very very friendly and smart. I loved talking to them and I will certainly read much of their website. They have lots of experience travelling (obviously), they travelled through Africa, Europe, China and now they are on Jeju. We also met (the night before) Michelle and Robyn, who are also very nice and intersting. This is what I love about travelling – meeting new people. Sights and adventures are nice, but nothing compares to meeting people like Katka, Hugo and the others we spent lot of time with. I believe the Jeju experience is the best part of our trip. Most of people would probably ask us more about Japan, because it’s more trendy, but Jeju is so great, that I wish I have spent more time here. If you are interested in Jeju, check Jeju Life, it’s a magazine about Jeju (in English) and Katka and Hugo are participating.

I almost forgot to mention two great places. One is indian restaurant called Bagdad cafe (apparently it’s the name of the owner’s favorite movie). The food was very good and atmosphere there is just above all restaurants ever. They play great music and are very friendly. Today, I was twittering from there (they have a free twitter connection) that I’m sure I’m in heaven.

The only thing I did not like there was, that they put buckwheat into my green tea – this is quite a usual practice here. Everything else was great.

The other place is a bar called Led Zeppelin. They are also very friendly and you can request music you want (they have lots of CDs and DVDs on the shelves and if they don’t have what you want, they just download it for you). They also have a projector screen, so if they’ve got a DVD (from concert or what), it’s also with video.

I’ve seen there some kind of alternative Korean rock band’s video, which I really liked and I have to learn the name of the band and get their DVD.

It’s quite late, so I’ll better get to sleep. I’m already bitten several times by that evil mosquito, that is flying around and I can’t kill it. I am scratching myself around more than I am writing now…

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Written by Juraj Bednár //