I'm over Korea

I haven't posted in a while from Korea, but then again I'm on vacation, and have been doing a lot of traveling to get to and from my destinations. 

I'm not having a good time.

Today is the first day it won't rain. Four days straight there has been light rain off and on. I can deal with rain in most cases. When I went to Hiroshima, it rained pretty hard the whole time I was there. I still got in my sightseeing.

The problem is, this trip has a lot of amusement parks. Every weekday included a stop at one or two parks. A lot of the sightseeing is done, because when I came in January 2013 I visited all the museums and temples and palaces. 

Light rain at American parks means fewer people, but the rides still run. Light off-and-on rain in Korea shuts everything down. 
Lotte World on Monday had manageable crowds. The rain was consistent but light. Everything outdoors was closed. I missed one of the coasters and three rides because of that. And two of the indoor attractions I wanted to ride were closed for maintenance. I stayed only half a day - despite the lack of available attractions the crowds got fairly heavy and I had ridden everything I could. So I did a little shopping at the Seoul Folk Flea Market. At least I picked up a couple cool things. 

Tuesday, I went back toward the Busan area to visit two other parks. I had gone to Gyeongju World before, missing their best coaster because of the cold weather in January. The woman working the ticket booth said all the rides were closed because of the rain. It wasn't raining at the time. But whatever. 
Saving my money and leaving the park, I got a bus toward Tongdo Fantasia but I missed my stop. That's okay because it started raining and I'm sure the park would have told me the same thing. So I wasted an entire day. At least I could go to the baseball game that evening. There were occasional light sprinkles in Masan but that was all. 

My plans included another return to an amusement park in Daegu, called E-World. It rained in the morning pretty hard but I got there just after the rain stopped. The ticket lady had difficulty communicating with me and she seemed to indicate all the coasters were open now, but if it started to rain around noon (expecting another wave to move in?) they'd close. Well, turns out nothing was open. At all.

I walked around and took pictures of empty rides. The skyway ride to the observation tower started running so I spent about an hour at the tower area before heading back to the park. I realized she meant that the rides would start opening around noon. Okay, I can deal with that. 

And true enough, several of the rides opened by 1pm. But only one of the four coasters ever opened, and while I rode the kid's coaster on my last visit that still leaves the two best coasters at the park closed and un-ridden. Again, the baseball game was fine. 

So now it's Thursday morning. I had planned a return to Lotte World because I had known at least one of the rides was going to be closed on Monday. And I was really looking forward to today - sunny skies, but it's a weekday so crowds should still start light at the park so I can quickly ride all the attractions I missed on Monday. 


Everybody and their best friend are at Lotte World right now. The automated ticket machines don't seem to be working (again - they didn't work on Moday either) and there were absolutely massive lines at the regular ticket booths. Don't Korean children have school? Are they skipping school? Is there a holiday? My only thoughts as I was walking toward the ticket gates were "F this". 

I expect some setbacks on a trip. But this is downright depressing. There have been some good things: the food, getting to see all the baseball games so far, and a little bit of good shopping as I mentioned before. 

Two trips to Korea. Both of them supposed to be filled with thrilling rides. I want my vacation back. 

I'm heading south, back to Daejeon. Hopefully I can ride a couple coasters at at amusement park there before I catch another baseball game, this time in Gwangju. 

Karaoke Captures

 Everyone knows karaoke is big business in Japan, and I love to go belt out a few tunes with friends. It's also a comfortable place to kill an hour or two before catching a train or bus. I've even spent the night in one once as emergency lodging. I don't recommend it. The video you see here in my photos is the screen showing the lyrics to an AKB48 song called Heavy Rotation. It's quite a provocative video showing girls wearing cat ears and lingerie... and not much else. It's a fun song, regardless of the video. I blame my friend for introducing me to this song.
At least it has some English lyrics in it. I tried to sing along once and it's way too fast for me right now. Perhaps some day I'll be able to read Japanese as fast as this song goes.

Here's the video:

How pretty!

 A few flower photos for female followers. And males too. If you haven't guessed, I'm posting quick, short things because I'm on vacation! Until computers include scratch-and-sniff monitors, you'll just have to enjoy with your eyes.

Rock and Roll!

I've posted about crane games several times, but arcades almost always have one of these drum machines, and one of the guitar machines you see behind it. And I frequently see someone hacking away at one of the two.

Timed reaction gaming has moved from DDR, to the instruments above, to touch-screen or button responses. There are some Kinect-style arcade games which are popular with middle/high school girls, but button-whacking is quite popular with the guys - and girls too. Maybe next time I'm in the arcade I can sneak a few shots.

I'm in Korea!

I arrived in Seoul early this afternoon to start my Golden Week vacation. The forecast called for rain all day and it was right, but it was a very light rain that darkened the skies but didn't darken my spirit. 

The Nexen Heroes baseball team were able to host the Samsun Lions today despite the rain, thanks mostly I'm sure to the artificial playing surface. 

I arrived during the 5th inning, so I got to see exactly half of the game. Unfortunately all the runs were scored in the top of the first so I have no idea how the Lions won the game. Despite being the visiting team I think the Lions had more fans in attendance but it was pretty close. 

I enjoyed a sausage on a stick and some chicken served yakitori style (grilled on a stick) and coated with spicy sauce. I had the chicken when I came to Seoul last year and this one seemed a lot milder. Still good. 

I bought a couple team souvenirs and somehow found a batting practice ball in the stands while wandering around and taking pictures! 

The fun game was similar to a Japanese game in some ways with lots of cheering in the stands with complicated chants, but the weather must have kept the cheerleaders at home. Oh well, I'm going to five more games if plans work out so I should see them at least once. 

After the game I headed to Dongdaemun. There's a historic city gate there and lots of fashion shopping. I browsed the stalls for future discussion and took pictures but didn't buy anything. I had some street food too, a hot dog wrapped in a sweet pancake-like batter. After getting over the surprise of the sweet coating I found it to be really good. 

I decided my best bet for dinner was to go to Taco Bell, something I had on my list of things to do when I came back. It tastes exactly like I remember it, except perhaps the Fire sauce being even spicier. That's a good thing too, though!

Sweet Ride, Dude!

I don't know what this car is, but I saw it in Tokyo. It's certainly a nice ride! There are two distinct kinds of cars in Japan, as far as I can tell: functional and flashy. Sure, the functional cars have style, but they're designed to be as small and as roomy as possible at the same time. And as for the flashy cars, they are almost exclusively expensive sports or luxury cars. Sometimes you see a teenager's souped up car like you would see in the Fast and Furious movies. You know, the ones with loud exhausts just because?

Are you Sleepy? Junior High Edition

I asked one of my junior high school girls how many hours of sleep she got the night before. Her answer was three; a few more questions revealed that she usually gets about five per night.

You and I both know that five hours isn't enough for a teenager, or anyone else for that matter. So I asked her if she takes naps, and she told me she always sleeps on the train.

If you wonder why Japanese people are always so tired, you have your answer! I've seen some of my junior high students almost fall over from exhaustion at times. One of my five year olds is frequently tired before class. I've only had one student actually fall asleep in class, though: the girl I mentioned above.

And I'm pretty tired too, and with only a five minute train ride I can't nap on the way too and from work. So, good night!

Osaka: A Walk Around Town

When traveling in the Kansai region, most people will focus their trip on Kyoto. There's a good reason for that - it's where all the temples and culture is. But Osaka is a 30-minute train ride away and has plenty to see and do itself. It also serves as a good hub for those with an extended trip to the area, because it provides good access to Nara, Himeji, and Kobe in addition to Kyoto.

Accomodations are cheaper in Osaka. I stayed at a hostel with a good sized bright private room (shared showers) for about $15/night. And there's lots for people to see just by walking around town.
 The Organic Building is a great stop for those interested in architecture, though it's a little ways from other tourist stops. In a nation where urban greenery is reserved for parks, it's a departure from the glass-fronted skyscrapers. There are restaurants, stores, and offices inside, but the outside has planters filled with local plants and trees.
 Osaka's nightlife and shopping is centered around Namba Station, in Minami (South).
 It is Namba where you'll find the electric signs that Japan seems to be known for, plus restaurants, stores, and bars as far as you can see. There's another shopping area around Umeda Station in the Kita (North) area, which includes a Ferris wheel.
 Shinsekai is another nightlife-filled portion of town, known for Tsutenkaku Tower and my favorite food in Japan, kushikatsu.
 Many of the restaurants are open 24 hours, but this area is most popular in the late evening. You'll see these Billiken statues all over the place. The restaurants are heavily decorated in the front, too, with lots of strange statues and other things on the facades.

 One of the pachinko parlors in the area had this fan wall for the Hanshin Tigers, and specifically George Arias, who played for the Tigers 2002-2004.
 At the far (southern) end of Shinsekai, there's an old streetcar. The area was developed about 100 years ago, based partly on Paris (northern half) and partly on Coney Island (southern half). The tower you saw above, in the middle of the area, was built in 1912, scrapped during WW2, and rebuilt soon after.
 Just south of the nightlife core is Spa World, a bathing complex with several themed pools that use natural hot spring water. There are also some water slides and such for children; the hot spring pools are naked and gender-segregated, while the family area is naturally mixed and requires bathing suits.
 Wandering around Osaka, you can find other signs of modern development and interesting architecture, including a building that looks similar to the Organic Building, and some interestingly designed chimneys which must be vents for the underground train system.
 Tokyo has Akihabara, the mecca for gaming, comics, and other things "geeky" but I think Osaka has the second best otaku neighborhood. Den Den Town has electronics stores in an area that's probably about 1/4 to 1/2 as large as Akihabara, plus several game, comic book, and anime retailers (look out for the large number of adult video stores) and cosplay and maid cafes.
 Sometimes prices here are better than in Akihabara, and you might be able to find things here that have long since disappeared from Akiba's shelves. Or things that never appeared! One "store" was just a promotional gallery for whatever it is you see in the photo above.
I have heard about some of the cafes being "traps" with exorbitant charges just for entry, or overpriced drinks or food, or other scams of that sort. You should be aware of this and ask questions before going into any cosplay or maid cafe, especially if you are "escorted" there by a girl on the street. Many cosplay cafes charge small entry fees (about 500 yen or so) and food is generally overpriced. But I read stories of 2000-3000 yen cover charges. Do your research before you go!

Osaka was cool. I'm very happy in Tokyo - there's just so much here. But if I had to, I could "get by" in Osaka.

Nara National Museum: Buddhist Art Galore!

 Just beyond Kofukuji, in Nara Park, the Nara National Museum holds Buddhist statues, scrolls, paintings, and ceremonial objects from all over Japan and abroad.
 The original building, built over 100 years ago, is still used, though you couldn't tell from the outside. Once inside, though, you are treated to a great collection of interesting Buddhist works spread over two buildings. The entrances are covered to protect the works inside, removing sunlight and opportunities for dust to enter the building and damage the artifacts. You can enter this building from the opposite side, or you can enter via an underground passage that leads to the other wing.
Many artifacts are posted on the museum's English website, but for those into Asian, religious, or Buddhist art, I highly recommend this spot. That's saying a lot, because I am not very interested in historical Asian or religious art. (I live in Japan. Go figure.)
The museum is open 9:30-17:00 (sometimes later), closed on Mondays. Admission is 520 yen for both wings. Simply walk straight from Kintetsu Nara Station toward the park; getting around Nara is pretty easy.

Nara's Kofukuji Temple: Old and Beautiful

 Kofukuji was established in 710. Yes, 710. 1300 years ago. At one point, when the Fujiwara clan was at its most powerful, the temple was so large that the grounds held over 150 buildings!
 The Eastern Golden Hall, one of two buildings that require an entry fee, holds a large wooden statue of the Yakushi Buddha.
 I visited on a Golden Week holiday, so the line to get in was quite long! The other building that requires admission is the National Treasure Museum, full of the best, most important Buddha art in Japan. The collection includes a three-faced, six-armed Ashara Statue, one of the most celebrated Buddhist statues in the country.
 The five-storied pagoda is the second tallest in Japan, was built in 730, and was most recently rebuilt in 1426.
 There are two octagonal halls, each holding a few more artifacts. These buildings are open only a few days a year. As you can see, my visit coincided with an opening date, so I was able to peek inside!
 There are some beautiful flowers here.
 I tried to make "homemade" macaroni and cheese tonight. These flowers are much nicer.
Here's the other octagonal hall. I'm surprised that lines weren't long for the halls, though it was mid afternoon by the time I reached them. The tour groups must have moved on to the Eastern Golden Hall and the other temples in Nara.

The main building, the Central Golden Hall, is being reconstructed, but it won't be completed until 2018. Kofukuji is certainly still worth a stop.

Nara is a very important cultural location, and Kofukuji might be the most important site in town. Nara itself is just a short train ride from Kyoto (about 45 minutes by Kintetsu Railways) or Osaka (about 30 minutes by Kintetsu Railways). You save a few minutes using Limited Express trains but I don't think they're worth the extra charge over the regular express service.

Kofukuji is the first important destination you'll reach when walking east from the Kintetsu Nara Station - about five minutes away. The museum and Eastern Golden Hall are open daily 9:00-17:00, though the grounds are open 24 hours a day. Admission for the museum is 600 yen, the hall is 300 yen, and a combination ticket for both is 800 yen.