Japan (and a little postscript on South Korea)

Japan                                                              Friday, April 15, 2016

Our last stop in Korea was Busan (aka Pusan), on the southeast coast, and we enjoyed a long day seeing various sights, including some beautiful beaches. We visited a Buddhist temple perched high on a cliff (lots of steps to get to the top, but well worth the climb) overlooking the sea; the temple dates back to 1376, and at its base is a thriving market with all kinds of food, fish, souvenirs and other items. Joe got some great pictures which he will post when the internet connections allow it.

Busan is another one of those cities where entrepreneurship has allowed for incredible success; in the past 2 decades or so Busan was identified as a great location for movies to be shot; now it hosts an international film festival that rivals South by Southwest, Cannes and other leaders. Busan is currently the second largest city in South Korea, and its largest port city.

In Busan one of the tour guides gave us her take on the political situation, which was the first time we heard it openly discussed during our few days in Korea. She indicated that while South Koreans would like reunification with the North under a democratic regime (or even a nominally Communist rule), that seems less like than ever, given the North’s current leadership.

And one last Korean note: Just as I noted that Tiger Woods was born in Thailand, I now know that Lydia Ko is from Jeju Island, South Korea!

And now we are in Japan – 1 day each in 2 relatively small cities (Fukuoka and Shimizu), and a day and a half in Tokyo – very different experiences. Japan is basically 4 large islands (and 4000 smaller ones), of which 70% is mountain and forest. 130 million people crowd into the small percentage left for commercial and residential use (only 20% of Japan is suitable for building), and the cities and towns are dense. Dense, but orderly and beautiful at the same time.

The Japanese practice 2 main religions, Shintoism and Buddhism. Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion founded on the concept that all natural objects (trees, stones, etc.) have spirits and souls. At joyful human events (birth, marriage, new year’s celebrations, etc.) Shinto rites are observed. Buddhism (which came to Japan from India, through China) is concerned with death and the afterworld; accordingly, Buddhist rites are observed at funerals. Thus the 2 religions co-exist.

During our visits in Japan we saw lots of white medical-style face masks (attributed variously to pollution or to pollen conditions), lots of baseball games, lots of cherry blossoms, lots of shrines and temples and Buddhas, and just lots of people in general. We were impressed with the size of Tokyo, and its many colorful neon signs, but didn’t get to anyplace we would really call charming (maybe on another visit we can see some of the gardens and museums that the city has to offer).

Our visit included time at the Shizuoka Prefecture Museum of Art in Shimizu, and we saw many beautiful Rodin schulptures (the Burghers of Calais, the Thinker, the Gates of Hell, etc.) and some lovely gardens.

Outside of Tokyo lies Kamakura, the seat of government when the Shogun (the Samurai class leaders) ruled Japan. We visited a Great Buddha and saw a few monks and some ladies dressed in traditional clothing, as well as the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, founded in 1180 and still in active use by worshippers.

We have also enjoyed some great local entertainment provided by drummers – they are fast as lightning, and perform modern songs as well as traditional ones, in many cases using only drums and no other instruments.

Tomorrow we’ll be in another Japanese town, in the north of the country. We travelled for the past day or 2 into the North Atlantic, and the sun has been out but the weather is choppy – lots of hanging onto handrails while people travel around the ship.

Many of the folks on the ship have traveled out in the past few days to Kyoto and other ancient towns, or have taken the bullet train for the experience, or gone to see Sumo wrestlers practice, or have visited with geishas (hostesses) and enjoyed tea ceremonies. The reports back have been very positive – welcoming local people who are very proud to describe their long history and share their many art forms.

Hope that all goes well with you all.



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