Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Week Later.... Reflections

Since I have been back I have been trying to figure out why it is so hard to summarize the experience of this trip for people who ask me how it was. Most of the time people are interested, but only have a few minutes to listen to my babbling. It is good to have a sentence or two that summarizes the experience. For some reason this time I cannot come up with one.

This week I have had a good friend who listened to me for longer than a few minutes and I was able to put into words what was different about this trip. What bothered me was that I did not feel the need or desire to learn the basic words (hello, excuse me, thank you) in Japanese or Korean. I also had a few times when I just wanted "normal" food. One day I made Steve search with me for food I recognized and we bought an apple, string cheese and crackers to eat! I actually had McDonalds in Japan and really enjoyed cooking a home meal in Hawaii. Usually I am glad not to ever cook while traveling.

I think that the main thing is that I felt so foreign, like I did not belong there. I was the wrong color and the wrong size. It didn't matter if I didn't learn the language or like the food somehow. 

Also, I think that European food is more similar to ours and so it is an easier transition. Japanese food has a different taste that is unique. I have heard the word umami to describe what I think it might be (Wikipedia says, "Since umami has its own receptors rather than arising out of a combination of the traditionally recognized taste receptors, scientists now consider umami to be a distinct taste."). Korean food included things like chicken feet and textures that I was not used to. Philippino food often came with bones and had more of a fish flavor or fish broth for soup. Each evening when it came time for dinner I had to try to figure out where to eat and that got tiring. Don't get me wrong, there were delicious things and food that I enjoyed, but in general I felt wary. 

The final issue is being a tourist. I don't like the kind of traveling where I am a tourist, even though I always really am. I like being in one place for a while rather than just seeing the sights in a place while racing on to the next place. Going to three (four?) very different places in 5 weeks made it impossible to be more than someone just passing through and made just seeing the sights the main thing to do. As I write this I realize it is not totally true. In each country we were in there were people we knew that showed us places out of the ordinary and gave us insights.

So, all of that is to say that I do not want to discourage anyone to visit this part of the world or any other. It was not my favorite, but I have totally expanded my understanding of the world. When Philippines, Japan, or Korea is in the news I feel much more connected to what I read. Geography of that area has taken on meaning and I am fascinated by history there also.  Those are great reasons to travel.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Trip Summary and The Dateline Again?

This is the final post for this trip. For me, the flight to Hawaii was not the best. It was with Korean Air and so it had the same selection of movies and TV shows to watch. There is a pattern to these long flights. You are served a meal (this time I chose chicken, which was a pretty American meal – salad, chicken, rice, a roll and custard for dessert. Steve chose Bi-bim-bap which has become his favorite Korean food (I think it is because he can pronounce it). Bi-bim-bap is what we had when we came over, only then we didn’t know what it was or how to eat it. Now we learned that it is a bowl of a bunch of different things and rice on the side. You put the rice in and some of the sauce packets you are given and mix it up and eat it. I think he had kimchi rather than salad and the same dessert and roll.

On this flight we crossed the dateline again, only this time we left Japan on a Friday night and arrived here in HI on Friday morning before we left Japan. I still have trouble getting my head around that!

Looking back this has been an amazing trip and we have connected with some good friends along the way. In some ways it is not how I like to travel. I like to be in one place for longer. I feel sort of confused between Korea and Japan and the Philippines seems so long ago. We were not in any particular place long enough to meaningfully connect with people there. We did benefit from knowing people in each place who guided us and showed us things from a local perspective at least.

Here in Hawaii I am getting to meet several people that I have not seen for years. There are a few friends that I made while here living in HI from 1990-1993. There was also a friend who I have not seen since High School who is living here and that I reconnected with through Facebook!  It has been a good way to gradually return home. Tomorrow is the crazy night flight from Honolulu – Maui – Los Angeles – Austin. It will be good to be home.

Miyajima Island, Mt. Takao, Kabuki Theater, Tokyo Dome

I am going to combine the last few things we did into one post because I am actually in Hawaii right now and I don’t want to spend my whole time inside writing a blog!

Miyajima Island
Near Hiroshima (a short train and then ferry ride away) is Miyajima Island. If you do a search for it you will see LOTS of pictures of the gateway (Torii) to the Shrine which is in the water leading up to the Shrine. It is actually very beautiful.  I did not take a picture of that because there are so many others on the web which are much better than what I could take. Here is a link to one:

Instead, I took a picture of these two practices that many people do at shrines. There is more about this on a different post:

The other is getting a fortune (they usually cost about $1) and then you tie your fortune onto a string where others are.  I guess it is sort of a talisman that protects you. In this temple you
pay about 1 dollar. Then you shake a cylindrical tube until a stick falls out and then that number was the number of the drawer that you opened to get your fortune. Each drawer had different ones.  I didn’t try it because I could not read the fortune even if I did get one! You read your fortune and then tie it to the strings with all of the fortunes as requests to the gods.

The island is very small and nice and mostly consists of temples and little souvenir shops and restaurants for tourists (lots of Japanese as well as people from lots of other countries). A half day was enough for us and so we took the ferry and train back to Hiroshima.

Mt. Takao
Since we travelled so much through the country we got a Japan Rail Pass. It allowed us to use all of the JR (Japan Rail) trains with our pass. The pass is not inexpensive, but we really got our money out of it!  However, being frugal Mennonites, we decided that we needed to use it one more time before it expired. I told you earlier (in the post about the baths) that we walked up Mount Takai.  It was about an hour outside of Tokyo. 

It was beautiful and there was a walking path. We decided – or maybe I should say that I convinced Steve – to take the chairlift UP the mountain and then walk down. It was a good decision. Again the main highlight (except for nature which is wonderful) was a shrine. It was huge with lots of interesting statues and buildings. It is hard to imagine something like this being built before there were paved paths up the mountain. I think there are a lot of Buddhist and Shinto monasteries on mountains like this.

We walked down and as we often do got ice cream. This is Steve enjoying black sesame soft serve ice cream. I went for a more conventional chocolate/vanilla combination. Soft serve ice cream was easy to find all over Japan, but Gelato places were few and far between.

Kabuki Theater
It was raining when we returned to Tokyo from Hiroshima (and the day after Mount Takao), so we decided it was a good time to try Kabuki theater. I will not try to describe the whole experience, but I am glad we went. The actual play lasts several hours and is quite expensive to attend, but you can pay a partial fee and stand in the top balcony for an act. One act was amazing, but enough.

Tokyo Dome
See the roller coaster going through the mall!
It was raining again, even harder and it was our last day in Tokyo. We had a night flight to Hawaii that evening. What to do??? I have found one of the best ways to decide what to do in a new place is to read other people’s blogs about the experience. Even if people talk about hating something you can learn about it and decide if it is something you want to do.

One of the best things to do in Tokyo is shop. There are high level shops and areas all over town devoted to different types of things (an electronics area, a place aimed at young girls especially, a place for anime aficionados, a hairbrush area, a shoe area, and a kitchenware area. There are probably many others. If you are a fanatic shopper, you might want to come to Tokyo with an extra empty suitcase.

We are not good shoppers, so none of those places sounded very interesting to us. There was also an important Imperial Temple and Shrine, but it did not sound fun to visit it on a rainy day. Also we had already seen a few shrines. So, on a blog, I read about the Tokyo Dome. I think it started with the main baseball stadium in Tokyo. Somehow what was added to it was a large shopping mall and an amusement park. It is the only mall I know of that has a huge roller coaster running around and even through it. There are lots of other rides and a huge ferris wheel. There is also a water ride that goes through the first level of the mall and a fountain that plays music and has a light show 4 times a day.

We are not roller coaster people, but it was fun to walk around and watch it. We did go on the Ferris wheel and eat ramen there. We looked through lots of shops and bought a few gifts for people. We do not bring an extra suitcase, and do not like shopping much, so we buy small things for specific people.

Then it was time to head back to the train station and get our luggage which we had stored in a locker there and go onto the flight to Hawaii.

Thursday, July 28, 2016


We decided that since this might be our only chance we should visit Hiroshima. There is a large museum that was very crowded (on a Monday). I think the most interesting exhibit was the one pictured here that shows the fireball over Hiroshima and the area that it devastated. 

I learned that it happened because the Japanese did not agree to a peace treaty to end WWII and so we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima (I think-and hope-we did not realize the kind of devastation it would have on civilians) and still Japan would not agree, so we dropped one on Nagashima also. 

I also learned that because of WWII schools were closed and lots of middle school students were helping with demolishing buildings to create fire lanes because of the war effort. Most of the students were not found because they were close to the epicenter and just turned to ashes. The museum showed a lot of artifacts that were found by family members who searched through the ashes. There were a few shoes, torn clothes, and other items.

This is a small marker and monument honoring all of the students that were killed.

I think one of the most tragic things is that the bomb did not only damage and kill that day, but it has had an effect on the families who were there since then. Many suffered cancer several years after the bomb and there were children born with defects. There were so many families who lost relatives also.

The museum is in a park with several other exhibits. There is a Peace Memorial for the Atomic Bomb Victims which lists the names of all known casualties on a wall and also has a really interesting Victim’s Information area where you can see pictures and more information about each individual or search for a relative or someone you know who perished. There is a slideshow that rotates all of the people and several computers where you can put in a name and search for an individual.

An important part of the park is one building that is left where you can see the kind of destruction the bomb caused.

Stories of individuals were emphasized. There were exhibits in several places where you could play video of a survivor telling their story. I was glad that they were videotaped because I bet many of those people are not around anymore even if they lived to a ripe old age. There are also regular sessions where a survivor talks in person with a group about their experience. This article about who will tell the story after all of the survivers are gone is interesting.\

There is also a monument with paper cranes dedicated to Sadako whose true story is that she was a survivor of the original blast, but died of cancer when she was 14. She was in the hospital and folded cranes because of a story that if you folded 1000 cranes you would get better. She did not make it to 1000, but she has inspired people from all over the world by her life and story.

In spite of Hiroshima being remembered for the devastation of the Atomic Bomb it has become a very active city. We went out looking for food on our first evening and were amazed by the streets and streets with huge flashing lights and all of the people walking about. Granted, we were no,t staying in a normal neighborhood, but a hotel near the exhibit, but still you would never know what had happened except for the Museum and park. 

If you are interested in signing a petition supporting the end of Nuclear Weapons by 2020 here is a link to the Mayors for Peace website. The organization was started in 1982 by then Mayor Takeshi Araki of Hiroshima. Later the mayor of Nagashima and many other mayors around the world have joined.