Notes from Japan 10
Anyan Hasayo: South Korea
South Korea is to Japan as Canada is to the US. There is a current of mildly anti-Japanese sentiment running
through the country. It seems that this is mostly dismissed, lost or ignored by the hordes of Japanese tourists
who flock to Seoul for the culture, food, low priced electronics, and opportunity to travel abroad to a country
where they can still speak Japanese.
A version of this exchange was part of almost every conversation I had in Korea:
Josh: I am from the States, but now I live in Japan.
Almost Every Korean Person I Spoke to: Japan! Oh. Which do you like better?
Josh: (evasively) I am having a great time here in Seoul. This is really a great city.
Almost Every Korean Person I Spoke to: Don't you think the Japanese are rude? When they come here they
think they can be rude because they are on vacation.
Josh: (uncomfortably) Oh, I think everyone has been very nice to me since I got here.
I arrived in Korea on Saturday night and met up with some friends who had flown in a day earlier. After a quick
dinner we headed over to the kitchen theater to see a performance of Nanta (http://www.nanta.co.kr). The show
is similar to Stomp, except instead of drum sticks and trash cans, they use kitchen knives and cutting boards. At
one point they pulled me up on stage. I was eating soup with another audience member while the actors were
chasing an imaginary fly around the stage. One actor came over to me and distracted me by dangling a watch
in front of me while speaking in tongues, as if he were a hypnotist, while the others caught the "fly" and put it in
my soup. Anyway, I hear it was pretty funny, or that's what my friends in the audience tell me.
Sunday morning I got up and went to the grand Gyeongbokgung palace. This is in the center of town. It is from
here that the Joseon dynasty ruled Korea for about 500 years. The compound is massive and contains
hundreds of buildings. In one small building, the modern written Korean language, Hangul, was developed.
Hangul is supposed to be the simplest written languages in the world today. An expat I spoke with told me he
had been able to master reading and writing in a few hours.
At the palace, I rented an audio tour. This was great to listen to, and I was entertained as each segment ended
with a version of, "This beautiful building was ruthlessly demolished by the evil colonialist Japanese and has
only recently been restored. Please enjoy your day of sightseeing in Korea."
After the palace, I tried to catch up with my group who had partied a bit too hard the night before. At a bus stop
I started talking with a computer programmer named Yung Moon. We waited for the bus, then rode together. I
asked him about the police presence. There were literally miles of police buses and thousands of police officers
in riot gear. He told me there would probably be a civil demonstration, and that civil demonstrations get violent.
He said that, "In Korea, when we protest it gets violent, then the police get violent also."
Traffic was at a stand still so we got out of the bus and started walking. We passed by the US Embassy and it
occurred to me that the protest might have something to do with my country. Evidently there is much popular
support these days in Korea for a group of farmers who's land has been expropriated to make way for an
expanding US base. Yung told me that generally Korean people like Americans. He added that they just don't
like when our soldiers "behave badly".
The Good Spa
Hotel Lobby -
Josh: Where Can I find a good Onsen?
Clerk: You want The Good Spa?
Josh: Yes, a good spa please.
Clerk: One moment...
She gave me a piece of paper with an address written on it and told me to show it to a cab driver. After a quick
cab ride, I was amused that she had sent me to a spa called www.goodspa.co.kr. Inside, I was given an
electronic key for my shoes and locker. The spa room is 4 times larger than anything I have seen in Japan.
There are banks of showers, 4 large tubs in the center, and 2 on the sides. One tub has a number of
ergonomic seats where water shoots out at you from all kinds of jets. There is also a Sauna and a Steam Room.
Unlike in Japan, the towel you are given is not used for "modesty". One service they offer is a scrub and
massage service. For the scrub, the attendant, takes a rough towel and scrubs your body from top to bottom.
He then does a massage for at least half an hour. This service costs less than $20.
After showering again, you can towel off and put on the t-shirt and shorts they have given you. You then
proceed into a coed room with a large heated wooden floor. There are some pillows and you lie down for a
while. There were also smaller rooms. One is filled with spices and has burlap sacks of tea hanging from the
ceiling. Another very hot room is shaped like a tee-pee.
After relaxing out there for a bit, you can return to the onsen for one more dip. Another cool thing about this
place is that they have a barber shop, a few snack shops, and that the whole thing is open round the clock, 24
hours a day.
Note from my audio guide: This beautiful Onsen was inspired by, but then defiled and destroyed by the
Japanese. Please have a good day!
Korean Food - Beyond Kimchi.
OK, so you can't really get too far from Kimchi, it`s a big part of meals here. Kimchi is to Korea what soy sauce
is to Japan. If you don’t like it, you won’t enjoy eating too much. Bibimbop is a great dish made in a heated
stone bowl. It includes rice, Kimchi, different types of vegetables, and a raw egg. You mix the dish when you
get it, and the egg cooks, because the bowl is so hot. There are also all manner of bakeries around the city
serving tons of snacks.
The Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea is a heavily fortified military zone on both sides of the
border. The South has found that tourist are interested, and welcome those who flock to this area. The North
has very few tourists, and soldiers have standing orders to shoot any of their fellow citizens who come near the
boarder because they may be trying to defect.
The first stop on our tour was the 4th infiltration tunnel. This tunnel was discovered by the South Koreans in the
early 90`s. It runs from North Korea, under the DMZ, and stops at the interceptor tunnel dug by South Korea. It
seems that crazy old Kim Jung Ill and his deceased father / president for eternity/ national deity, Kim Sung Ill,
decided that peaceful reunification might be helped along if there were secret tunnels connecting the North and
the South. According to defectors there may be as many as 20, each capable of handling an armed division
After this we were taken to the Dorasan train station which was built using what I think of as the "Field of
Dreams" theory of mass transit route design. It is a modern station, recently completed, with connecting service
to both Seoul and Pyongyang. The Seoul side has very few trips in a week (almost exclusively for small groups
of tourists) and the Pyongyang side has yet to open due to the fact that it's destination is North Korea.
Finally we went to an Observatory from where we could see into North Korea. From this spot, I saw the world’s
largest flag pole, in the North Korean "village", Peace Village. This "village", called propaganda village by the
South, has no laundry lines, no cars and no actual windows on the "homes". It is believed that a few caretakers
live here to keep things clean and to turn the lights on every day. A bit beyond the village is one of over 10,000
giant statues of Kim Jung Ill that the starving people of North Korea have erected throughout their country.
Note from my audio guide: The DMZ is one of the most heavily fortified borders on earth. The US dropped
plane loads of land mines here to keep people from crossing. Somehow the Japanese are responsible for this,
too. Have a lovely day.
Also saw: Everland Theme park, Dongdaemun Market, Itawan, Suewan Traditional Village and the Nandemun
Ni Haow: Taiwan
In Taipei, students finish classes at three or four, but most don't finish their "cram school" programs until closer
to 9:30. This is when the cities night markets come to life. There are many more markets in the town than the
few I visited and they seem to attract large numbers of students as well as some older folks.
Food is big in these markets. You can get just about any part of any animal you desire. You want a pouch of
chicken feet or some fried dog? How about boiled intestines or a milk shake with the blood from a live snake?
You can get that here, too.
I found something delicious called Sho To Fu, deep fired stinky tofu with sweet pickled cabbage and a hot red
pepper sauce. Actually there are all kinds of great vegetarian dishes, you just need to know how to ask. In my
case, I had a card, written by the hotel clerk asking, "do you have anything here for a vegetarian to eat?" I tried
dumplings, all kinds of tofu and seaweed concoctions. Also very popular in Taipei, the Capital of Taiwan, are
I visited Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world. I rode the world’s fastest elevator (37 seconds / 382
meters) to the 89th floor observatory. Here I rented an Audio guide that sadly had no references to the
Japanese destruction of the area; however, it made the request that visitors "please take pictures of this
building and show them to your friends around the world so they may come to visit Taiwan". The tower is
actually a beautiful building. The design is meant to evoke a bamboo shoot, the fast growing, flexible, symbol of
the Asian economy. It also repeats the number 8 throughout the design. This is a lucky number in Chinese
On the ground floor I noted the three large sign pillars were set up to show visitors where companies they were
to do business with were located. Only a little more than half of one of these signs was full indicating less than a
10% occupancy. I have read that occupancy may actually be higher at 30% or more, but there is defiantly still
room if anyone is looking for prestigious office space in Taiwan.
The next day I "hiked" the Elephant and Tiger Mountain trails on the Four Beasts mountain chain. I put hike in
parentheses because the whole 3 hours worth of "trail" was actually paved, so every ascent was actually stairs.
The view from the top was nice, but not really spectacular. A trail sign apologized for the view saying that "due
to concentration of industrial gasses, the skyline sometimes appears cloudy." Right.
After the hike, I was walking along a side street when I came upon a woman selling something that looked like a
cross between a dumpling and a pancakes. I showed her my "do you have anything food for a vegetarian?"
card, and she handed me a sample. It was good so I bought one. I sat down and her and her family just kept
bringing me more and more food.
That night I caught a piano and cello recital at the National Concert Hall.
As a pedestrian in Korea and Taipei, you can notice some subtle differences in road etiquette and driving laws.
Both countries drive on the right (as opposed to the wrong) side of the road. In Seoul you can make a right on
red unlike Japan. In Taiwan, you can also make a right on red. You can also make a left on red, so long as you
stay out of the intersection, driving through the pedestrian cross walk before jutting across the street. In
Taiwan, a red light is only in effect after it has been red for about 5 seconds.
Also saw: Danshui, Jnihshan Night Market, National Palace Musem, Yongan Night Market, Longshan Temple,
Beitou Public Onsen and Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.
Reader 1: Please Josh, are there more school ceremonies you can describe in your blog?
Josh: Why yes there are. Here is a description of the induction ceremony at Menda Sho and Ue Chu.
Reader 2: Oh, I think I’ve had about as much description of ceremonies as I can stand.
Josh: That's fine, you may want to skip the following section. I describe the following because I think it is a nice
window into Japan. The school makes a big deal out of welcoming new students and teachers in formal
ceremonies and wishing them off when they leave. Parents take these very seriously; consequently, the
message is conveyed that entering and graduating from Primary School, Junior High, and High School is a big
deal. Students learn early on that they need to take school seriously.
The 11th of April was the first day of school. I spent the morning at Menda Elementary. At 8:30 students and
parents (in suits, dresses and kimonos) started showing up to register and receive their yellow hat (the students
will need to wear that yellow hat when walking to or from school until they graduate from the sixth grade).
Students walked into their new homeroom classes and found new books, pencils, crayons and loud personal
alarms to be carried between home and school on their desks. The three first grade teachers welcomed the
new students while their parents were ushered into the gym. By about 9:30 we were ready to start the
ceremony. The students, followed their teachers into the gym as the song "Ichi Nen Se" was played over
speakers. The lyrics to "Ichi Nen Sei" are roughly, "The first grade, the first grade, lets go with our friends to the
first grade." The song is cute, and catchy. It’s been stuck in my head for a few days now.
The students filled into rows as the sixth graders escorted them and sat with them. Then their teachers call out
their names and students stand where they are and shout "Hi." Once a class is standing, they bow to the
principal, and turn around and bow to their parents. Then the next class goes.
Afterwards they march out and go back to their classrooms for a quick lesson, with parents standing in the back
of the room. The teachers go over a few items, then teach the students how the end of a school day goes.
Students stand, bow to the teacher and say, "Thank you teacher." Then turn and bow to the student sitting next
to them and say, "Thank you". Then they take their backpack and go home. Tomorrow, they will learn about
Finally, A Warning, For your own Safety
I an passing on to you a warning that has been reported every day by the loud speaker near my house. The
"farm school" (read: Juvi-Hall) in Nishki, a nearby town, reported that one of their "students" (read: Juvenile
delinquents) has gone missing (read: escaped). He was last seen wearing underwear and a towel on his way to
the showers. So, if anyone sees a Japanese boy driving a stolen car, (with a steering wheel on the wrong side)
and he is mostly naked, please call the police or the Nishki Farm School, and they will send someone right over
to pick him up. Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.