Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Seoul to Japan to Seoul - Hiroshima

After a short flight from Seoul to Fukuoka, and my favorite noodle dish of the entire visit to Japan!, it was time for my first bullet train ride ever!

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I was really excited to experience these famous trains. Getting the ticket wasn't too difficult, but traversing the station for the first time was impossible. I'm well versed in traveling foreign transit and can almost always find my way around fairly quickly and rarely have to ask for directions. I actually had to ask a passerby for help trying to read the track schedule. Once that was figured out I made another error not realizing that the trains are different lengths so for some trains you use one set of boarding numbers and for other lengths you use different sets of numbers. I know now :)  I didn't miss the train though so that is good!

The train was quite nice and comfortable and quite. But as soon as we started there was an instant pressure on my ears. My ears don't ever pop. Even if I fall asleep on the ground and awake in the air during flight, I'll be nearly deaf and in some pain because my ears haven't popped at all. This train pressure was different though. It didn't build up, but was instant and wouldn't go away if I swallowed or chewed gum or yawned really big. After a few minutes it hurt and I was miserable for the remainder of that ride and into the rest of the day as my ears recovered from the journey. I was carrying three-tiered decibel lowering ear plugs with me and used those as deep as I could get them for the remaining rides throughout the week and it seemed to confuse my ears and brain enough to keep the pressure pain tolerable and let me sleep or focus on other things.

           

After the train ride from Fukuoka to Hiroshima, I checked into the favorite named hotel of the trip....drumroll...Hokke (I pronounce it "h"okay). Is that Hokke with you?? haha!! Making fun of that name never got old and never will.

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The Hokke Hotel had an onsen so I tried that out one night. It was very hot and very relaxing and quite nice, especially since I had the whole place to myself :)

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The Hokke (lol) Hotel was perfectly located just a couple of blocks from a large covered shopping area with a couple bakeries and a slew of restaurants.

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The first night was a tasty traditional meal that was literally cooked over tea light :) with some sake on the side ;-p

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But the second night was a not so tasty okonomiyaki dish. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake (I much prefer pajeon, the Korean pancake). They cook it right in front of you on a hibachi grill and it's a popular local dish because there are many okonomiyaki restaurants and they are usually full, but I'll stick with my pajeon thank you.

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I also got to have my first time at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant! It was great and one of the sushi chefs even came over and asked us if we wanted something specific a few times. It was super tasty, super friendly, and super awesome!

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The full day I spent in Hiroshima I walked through the Hiroshima Castle and the Hiroshima Peace Park. Both places were nearly completely flattened by the atomic bomb. The A-dome in the Peace Park is still standing and there are various foundations on the grounds and one section of a wall of the castle that still remain, but the rest was all rebuilt.

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The Castle has a nice museum that's multiple (I think 5) stories.



Although each ascending story gets smaller so it's not near as daunting as it sounds. Once you reach the top there is a nice view out over the city.

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The Peace Park is much larger. Most of it is located across the river from the A-dome structure. After crossing the "T" bridge, that was the target for the bomb, you walk through the park visiting numerous memorials along the way.

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The A-Dome


At the far end of the park is the museum. If you're a reader like me, this museum will take several hours to go through. There is a solemn attitude that is set with a video right at the entrance and it's a quiet mood as people transition slowly through the displays. There are a couple of sitting areas located throughout in case you get tired of standing or reading or fighting the crowd.

Nothing survived.


Hiroshima was the first city in my Japanese tour and one of the big things I noticed was how much cleaner Japan was/is. There are numerous articles about rules to follow when visiting Japan. The ones I witnessed on a regular basis were no cell phones (either talking or ringing) in public areas, no blowing your nose in public (I totally broke that one), and it was about half and half on the rule about no drinking while walking. I saw some people eating and drinking while they walked and many others who stood near the shop or vending machine to consume their purchases. There is a rule about women not showing their teeth when they smile or laughing with an open mouth, but the young people seemed oblivious to that. Only the older grandmas covered their mouths with their hands.

Coming from South Korea, where people just walk right into you, no apologies, Japan was a bit of a shock. Everyone was so overly polite and went far out of their way to communicate and help and there was definitely no bumping in the crowded streets or subways without apologetic bows.

 

One other big difference for me between the two countries is that Korea is a connected country. You can practically walk down the street and always be connected to the internet. Everyone has it and no one secures it. It's wonderful! In Japan, few people and businesses have it and of the ones that do, 99.9% secure it. Even museums and public office buildings that I would expect to have free wifi often don't have wifi at all, and if they do, it's not for free. This was a more difficult issue just trying to access all the data on my smartphone the way I had in Korea.

Did I mention Japan is clean? OMG! They even soap down and wax their sidewalks! One day I went into a public (think a small one stall per room at the local park where they clean it once a month and it smells from a mile away in America kind of place) toilet. This was a typical squatter although many of the buildings had super nice, heated seats, bidets, music mufflers, air your butt dry toilets. When I went in, there was not a single piece of toilet paper or trash anywhere (there never is), and as I pulled on my toilet paper roll a small piece tore off and fluttered down onto the floor. I looked around and felt terrible that the place was so clean that I reached down and carefully picked it up and put it in the toilet. I miss the pride the Japanese took in their cleanliness. Americans could take a cue...

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