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  • Writer's picturePaula Cullison

Enchanting Japan and Korea

                                      Himeji Castle by Paula G. Cullison

Enchanting Japan and Korea by Paula (Giangreco) Cullison

'The Journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.' Lao Tzu

And so, it went. Our journey to Japan and Korea began with the AA/JAP flight from Phoenix to LAX to Osaka. Flying First Class (FREE with frequent flyer miles) on Japan Airlines was heavenly. I had cancelled this trip twice due to the pandemic. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to have been able to book this trip again in first Class with the least amount of ff miles (60K per leg). I selected the travel dates April 26 – May 23 (good weather conditions). During this four-week period, we only encountered one heavy rain day and two with brief light showers. The average temperatures were in the mid-70s and the days were sunny. Having planned over a dozen international trips using frequent flyer miles, I was confident in my itinerary. I had been in Japan during the summer of 2001. This was Tim’s first time. Neither of us had been to Korea.

Decorated Rice Containers by Paula G. Cullison

After arriving at Osaka Kansai airport (with carry-on luggage), we exchanged our Japan Rail vouchers (which we purchased before leaving) for the JR Green Passes and took the JR Haruka train into Kyoto where we stayed at the Century Hotel for nine nights. This hotel hit a high note for us. I generally select hotels within walking distance of the main train station and central to a majority of the popular sights. This was the perfect beginning to what was a dreamlike trip. The staff bowed to us each day when we entered the reception area and when we entered the restaurant for (a sumptuous) breakfast. WOW! Unfortunately, my knowledge of the Japanese language is limited to a few phrases: Origato (Thank You) Sumimasen (Excuse me) Konichiwa / Konbanwa (Good Day /Evening). Eke Kyoto dokodesu ka? Where is the Kyoto train station? Oishi (tasty) / Eigo (English) / Ego ga wakarimasu ka (Do you understand English?)

Gion District - where women dress in traditional Kimonos by Paula G. Cullison

On our first day, we headed to the historic Gion District where we encountered a Shinto wedding at the Yasaka-jinja Shrine which was built over 1,300 years ago. The shrine is a popular site with many school children on outings and with locals and tourists alike. Walking along the Kamo River, the Shirakawa Canal, and across the Tatsumi Bridge was like taking a step back in time. While in the Gion area, we decided to attend a Myako Odori Kabuki show at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo / Minamiza Theater, featuring a beautifully costumed cast of 40, which was first rate. The audience was most appreciative. We then attended Gion Corner, a touristy show (like community theater), which presented an overview of traditional Japanese culture with about 10 minutes of each: Chado - tea ceremony, Koto music, Kyomai dance, Bugaku puppetry, Noh, Kyogen, and Ikibana. That was just the first of many such days on our travels.

The next day, Lillian, a Phoenician who has been teaching English in Himeji for almost 5 years, met us at the hotel. We spent the day together walking along the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto. The path runs along the lovely tree ladened canal between Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji in the Higashiyama district. We stopped at Ginkaku-ji Zen Buddhist Temple, also known as the Silver Temple for some afternoon tea.

Kinkaku-ji Temple by Paula G. Cullison

Kinkaku-ji – the Golden Temple is a must for all tourists. Bulit in 1397. The Zen Buddhist temple, with its Phoenix Bird on top, is an outstanding example of period architecture; the extensive grounds are beautifully manicured. Don’t rush – savor the time there. A short distance away is Ryonan-ji Temple and Zen Garden – take time to relax and meditate. Originally, a private villa during the Heian Period (Golden Age), this Buddhist temple became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994.

While walking in the area, we stopped at the Insho-Donoto Museum and sculpture garden which houses the artist’s extensive collection. To thank us for our visit, we were given a sweet cake by one of the curators – a lovely gesture.

Todai-ji Temple - Great Buddha by Paula G. Cullison

On another day long outing, we took the train and visited Nara Park in the Yamaguchi Prefecture. In this beautiful area, oodles of tame deer roam freely and love to be hand fed special food items. Within the confines of this lovely park is the Todai-ji Temple which houses the Great Buddha (Diabutsu). Made of bronze and weighing 500 tons, this enormous statue measures 15 meters = 49 ft (its face is 17ft). This, the largest statue of Buddha in Japan, is flanked by two Bodhisattvas (on the journey to enlightenment). We were impressed by the large number of very well behaved / uniformed school children, as they enjoyed these educational trips.

Our trip to Kurashiki enabled us to reconnect with friends Noriko and Shuji with whom I had stayed during my WYVEA trip in 2001. They came to Phoenix and stayed in our home about 10 years ago. Their son Yoshi, who came to AZ for a short English language course at the UofA, is now an English language teacher in Japan. Kurashiki, located near the capital of Okayama City, is a beautifully preserved historic town set alongside a lovely canal. The area dates back to the Edo Period 1603-1867, when the city served as an important rice storage and distribution center. Many of Kurashiki's former storehouses have been converted into museums, boutiques and cafes. On my previous visit, I spent time in the impressive Ohara Museum with its collection of famous European (mostly Impressionist) artworks. We spent a lovely day walking through the historic section of Kurashiki where we saw two of Shuji’s signs. He continues to work as a graphic designer; they maintain an active Airbnb with visitors coming from all parts of the world. Noriko was keen to show me what I had written in their Guest Book in 2001. This meeting was a special part of our wonderful trip.

Arayshiyama Bamboo Forest Grove by Paula G. Cullison

We spent a day enjoying the Arayshiyama Bamboo Forest Grove (6.2 sq mi). Being in the midst of these giant trees makes one realize how important it is to take periodic walks in nature and to appreciate the sound of silence.

We were also lucky to be visiting the very impressive Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine which is situated at the base of Mt Inari and is famous for its thousands of red torii gates. It is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice. We were there when the Spring Maiden Festival and Blessing of the Shrines Ceremony was happening.

Boat ride along the canal - Himeji Castle by Paula G. Cullison

We took the train to Himeji and met with our friend Lillian and Saori, a volunteer city guide, who accompanied us on our visit to the famous Himeji Castle. Himeji is a Sister City of Phoenix and where our daughter Pamela had been selected for a cultural exchange when she was a high school student. The Castle, also known as the White Heron Castle is both a national treasure and a UNESCO world Heritage site. Considered Japan’s most spectacular castle, it is very well preserved and the grounds are awesome.

Completed in 1609, the castle complex is composed of a maze arrangement of buildings, walls, gates and a six-story tower at its center. Since it was Golden Week, tourists were plentiful.

At the Pachinko Palace in Kyoto

We went to the top of Kyoto Tower for a lovely view of the city and then to the Pachinko Palace to have a chance at luck (which I did not have). We then took the Karasuma Subway Line to Marutamachi station in order to visit the Kyoto Imperial Palace. It was the residence of the Imperial family until 1868 when the capitol was moved to Tokyo. The huge Palace (and lovely park) is located in the center of the city.

Typical train station ticket machine by Paula G. Cullison

Fortunately, signs at the train and subway stations are in both Japanese and English.

That doesn’t mean that we didn’t get lost … but that’s part of the fun of traveling. Kyoto Station is like a city unto itself with a huge number of shops, stalls and restaurants. The PORTA Dining section was our ‘go to’ for dinner. We were always very pleased.

The food was delicious (pronounced oh-she) and the beer was always very cold.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial by Paula G. Cullison

Nine days in Kyoto was all too short a stay. We headed to Hiroshima for three nights – hopped on a JR Shinkansen super-fast train (reserved seats Green Car). We used local bus service to get around. Fortunately, we were there a week before the G7 meeting when the Japanese government closed just about everything in Hiroshima and Miyajima Island. We spent a full day (the only day it rained) at the Peace Memorial Museum, Atomic Dome, Flame of Peace, the thousands of origami cranes, the poignant sculpture of mother and child, etc.  The day was one of serious reflection and the rain seemed to be a downpour of endless tears. When will humankind ever learn that we must have international understanding for global peace! We remain optimistic. 

Atomic Dome - Hiroshima by Paula G. Cullison

Later, we stopped at the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art designed by Kisho Kurokawa and the Hiroshima Manga Library (with over 125,000 books). Both are located in Hijiyama Park. The works of Shirin Neshat, an Iranian born photographer who lives in NYC, was one of the featured exhibits at the museum. Nearby, both adults and children were reading at the Manga library. Manga are comic books and graphic novels which originated in Japan and enjoy an international popularity.

Miyajima Island - Floating Torii Gate by Paula G. Cullison

The next day was so lovely – perfect for our time on Miyajima Island whose history dates back to the 6th Century as a Shinto holy site. After breakfast, we took the JR train and ferry. The island is picturesque with its main attraction of the Itsukushima Shrine and floating’ Torii Gate (16.8 meters high – about 51ft). The shrine is on a small inlet while the Torii Gate is in the Seto Inland Sea. One can walk along paths, and of course, into the shallow water; it’s the setting for many a photo. The shrine is a complex of several buildings connected by boardwalk and supported by pillars set above the sea. Many deer roam the island and approach the visitors for handouts, while others are just hanging out. Oysters are the local specialty and they are delicious, as is Okonomyaki, a cross between an omelet and a pancake.

We had decided to spend time in South Korea and I was able to use ff miles Osaka to Seoul on Asiana Airlines, a partner of UNITED and a week later to fly from Seoul to Tokyo on Korean Airlines, a partner of DELTA. I got lucky as each leg only required 8K miles /pp.

After arriving in Seoul – Incheon Airport, we took the KAL Airport Limousine Bus to the hotel. The bus stops by several hotels in the Myeondong section of Seoul which is central to the major sights. This was my first time in Korea, so I was up for a brand-new adventure. Also, the Korean language was new to me. All I could master was: gamsa hamnida (Thank You); annyeog haseyo (Hello)

Sculpture in front of the Sheraton Hotel in Seoul by Paula G. Cullison

The drive took less than one hour and as it was night time, we enjoyed a lovely ride over the Han River and across the impressive Incheon Bridge. While viewing the city lights, I felt that the trip had taken on a dream-like quality. The bus stopped right by the Sheraton Hotel Josun and we received a warm welcome. The hotel was also a few steps away from the Euljuro 3 subway entrance exit 12 (near Pine Avenue). I later found out that these details were very important, as there are three Sheraton properties close to each other. We settled into our week’s stay and enjoyed another high-quality buffet breakfast each morning. I was delighted to see that the Japanese and the South Koreans have embraced the coffee culture. We are late risers and tend to begin our ‘tourist work days’ after a leisurely breakfast and at about 10:30am.

Seoul - lovely city park by Paula G. Cullison

Our first day was to get to know the area, so we walked past the LOTTE Department store (our point of reference) and over to the Seoul Museum of Art which is located in the Deoksugung Palace / Jeongdong Theater area near the Seoul City Hall. The 1920s historic façade of the building covers a very modern interior which was renovated in 2002.

Since entrance to the museum was via a timed ticket, we had time for some people watching which is always fun. The current exhibit featured an extensive collection of the work of American artist Edward Hopper on loan from the Whitney Museum in NYC. Amazing! In addition, the museum also featured the work of the notable feminist Korean artist – Chun Kyung Ja. In her personal commentary about her international travels, Ja noted that being in Italy had a profound and positive impact on her life.

Wokers' Rights demonstration in Seoul by Paula G. Cullison

As we walked back to the hotel, we encountered a huge demonstration for workers’ rights. The demonstrators were accompanied by about 500 police dressed in riot gear, as they marched down one of the main avenues of Seoul. Later in the week, we encountered hundreds of nurses marching for higher pay.

That morning on the lawn of the Seoul City Hall, we encountered a major event; namely, an art contest and exhibit for hundreds of disabled children. Later in the week, the lawn hosted a ‘Read In’ which attracted a huge crowd. I was in ‘my element’. Seoul is a city with a huge soul.

While planning this trip, I reached out to friends and members of SERVAS, an international cultural and peace oriented non-profit to which I have belonged (off and on) since 1996. Through a mutual SERVAS connection - Danielle from France, I was introduced to NamHee who was fluent in English. She was so very kind and attentive. Before our arrival, NamHee contacted Choi, the current President of the SERVAS Seoul Chapter who invited us to his Powerpoint presentation on their 28-day trek on the Annapura Trail in Nepal . Thinking that his presentation would be in Korean, I asked NamHee to translate. As the SERVAS group gathered, I learned that the talk would be given in English as a favor to us. The group was so very welcoming. The dinner meeting was held in a restaurant situated on the fifth floor (walk up) which is rather typical for small locally owned spots. Many of the members then walked us back to the hotel, so we didn’t get lost. We were moved by such kindness.

Bukchon Historic section of Seoul by Paula G. Cullison

Earlier that day we were treated to a fabulous gourmet lunch in the Bukchon Hanok historic section of Seoul. Our hostess was Hyeyong, a noted artist and long-time friend of InHee, my Phoenix friend. This is a small world – after all. Although NamHee and Hyeyong had not met previously, they had an instant rapport. They both met us at the hotel and Hyeyong drove us to the recently renovated Samheonggak Restaurant which is located in a complex of historic hanoks and pavilions. All are within a beautifully manicured park. We had such a wonderful time together.

We walked with NamHee through Insadong where we visited several art galleries (met artists) and relaxed in a traditional tea house where she treated us on such a lovely afternoon. At times, I felt as if we were on a movie set.

Gyeongbokgung Palace - Seoul - girls dressed in tradition Hanboks by Paula G. Cullison

A day at the Gyeongbokgung Palace was absolutely amazing. We went there via the subway (with ease). The palace, located in the Jongno-Gu area, was built in 1395, three years after the Joseon Dynasty was founded, and served as its main palace. The grounds are huge and well maintained. It was fun to see so many young women dressed in rented hanboks (traditional dresses) and posing for photos at this historic site. Gyeongbokgung is the largest of the five main palaces.

Changdeokgung Palace Roof Tiles - Seoul by Paula G. Cullison

On another day, we visited Changdeokgung Palace (Anguk subway stop) which is set within a large public park in the Jongno District. This lovely park is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Later that day, we visited the Bukchon traditional Culture Center, the original home of the Min family. They were the last family in charge of finances during the Joseon Dynasty. Architecturally, these Hanok structures evoke a sense of serenity. We certainly enjoyed walking around this hilly and picturesque Bukchon Village section of Seoul.  Atop Gahoe-dong, one of the main streets, (actually a passageway), we were treated to a great view of the city and a wonderful photo-op. The Bukchon Village area is still a residential district, so tourists are advised to speak softly and to leave by sundown.    

Leeum Museum of Art - outdoor sculpture in Seoul by Paula G. Cullison

A visit to the Leeum Museum of Art, established in 2004 by the Samsung Foundation, featured a beautiful display of exquisite antique Korean pottery and, by contrast, a rather questionable modern exhibit by an Italian artist.  

We arranged for a day trip to the Demilitarized Zone DMZ and off we went. Our guide was very knowledgeable and the day was a ‘not to be missed’ experience. Looking into North Korea with a telescope (near the 38th Parallel) made one wonder if there is hope for a unified Korea and its peoples. It certainly was heartbreaking. The trip included an opportunity to go underground to the infiltration tunnels. I opted to stay above ground. There were several memorials in the Imjingak area. One of which is dedicated to US President Harry Truman who served as the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces during the Korean War. Factoid: On the 25 June 1950, North Korea, supported by the Soviet Union under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, invaded the South, which was supported by the United States. Between 1950-1953, 1.8 million Americans served in the war; of them, 36,500 were killed and 8,000 are still missing. The memorial to the ‘Comfort Women’ is very moving. It is estimated that about 200,000 mostly Korean women were forced into sexual slavery during WWII.

Nami Island by Paula G. Cullison

By contrast, a day trip to Nami island and the surrounding area was like a trip to a hidden paradise. It was only while researching for this trip, did I learn about Nami and I was intrigued. This day trip included a stop at the Petite France where you can meet the Little Prince and recall being in a French town and the Italian Village where you can stand underneath a giant Pinocchio and enjoy reproductions of Italian masters.  Both are located near each other in Gapyeong on the hillside above Cheongpyeong Lake.  They are ‘adult type theme parks’ which are well designed, educational and interesting. This was the idea of Han Hong-son, a Korean entrepreneur and global thinker who seeks to increase international cultural awareness. it seems to be working.

The ferry ride (or you can zipline) to Nami was short. The ‘island’ is one huge well-maintained park with walking trails, waterfalls, small art gallery, children’s play areas, cafes, UNICEF children’s library with books in many languages. I was surprised that no Dr. Seuss books were in the collection.

Garden of Morning Calm - a horticultural paradise - near Seoul by Paula G. Cullison

On the way back to Seoul, we stopped at the Garden of Morning Calm. It showcases the beauty of Korean horticulture with its 5,000 species of plants, beautiful shade trees, walking paths, and several elevated viewing platforms, set against Cheong Yeong the backdrop of Chungryeongsan Mountain. The garden was opened in May 1996 by Han Sang-kyung, Professor of Horticulture at Sahmyook University. His inspiration for the oldest private garden stemmed from a poem written by Tagore, the great Nobel Prize winning Indian poet, who described Korea during the Joseon Dynasty as ‘The Land of Morning Calm’. The garden has over 300 varieties of plants which are native to the Baekdusan Mountain, known as the spiritual mountain to the Korean people. Our stay in Korea was all too short. I wish that we had time to visit Busan and Jeju Island; this is a good reason to return.

It was now time to head for Tokyo via Korean Airlines (partner with DELTA) from Gimpo airport to Haneda. I informed the Mitsui Garden Hotel (near Tokyo Station) that we would be arriving late. It is aways wise to give the hotel an update on arrival time, so there is not a problem. When we arrived at the airport, a young man helped us buy the train tickets. The best way to get into the city is by train.

Shinkansen Trains (sleek and fast).by Paula G. Cullison

The Japanese Rail system and Metro subway lines are amazing. It really requires a ‘3-credit course’ to study this complex network before taking the trip. Most of us just get by with a little help and kindness from passing strangers. Train stations in both Japan and Korea are worlds unto themselves. As a native New Yorker who spent many years riding the NYC subways and buses, I am totally taken by how wonderfully well these two countries manage public transportation.

Tokyo National Museum by Paula G. Cullison

We awoke well rested, as we entered the final leg of our trip. As I planned this trip, I thought about an artist whom I met in Brooklyn Heights in 1973. Noriko and I had six-month-old daughters. Her husband Hakuo had been assigned to work at the Japanese Consulate office in NYC for three years. A print maker, Noriko had gifted me with one of her smaller works which was signed Noriko ’73. I lost touch with her after we moved to Arizona in 1974. Was it possible for me to locate her in Tokyo? My faith in Google proved to be strong. Without even recalling her family name, I found that my search resulted in several results. The Kamakura Gallery owner (near Tokyo) replied that it was possible that she was one of the artists whom they represented. I sent them a jpg of her work. BINGO! Long story short: she and her husband remembered me and invited us for an awesome lunch at the Sushi Kenzan Restaurant at the Intercontinental Hotel. Since returning to Tokyo, Noriko has successfully shared her artistic talent and has had numerous exhibits both in Japan and internationally. As a result of our reconnecting, I hope to find an opportunity for Noriko to exhibit here in the US. Noriko presented us with a book of her works 1964-2017 which we will treasure.

As I planned our trip, I also made contact with Yoshiko whom I have known for about 54 years. She stayed with my parents in NYC and with us in AZ. Yoshiko has worked with professors, writers and filmmakers (e.g., Tora Tora and Kurosawa). I met with Noriko and her sister in 2001 during my visit to Japan. They treated me to a fabulous lunch at the Park Hyatt Tokyo in the Shinjuku section which afforded us a fabulous view of the city. That gourmet luncheon was outstanding and our meeting was most memorable. We planned to meet again after so many years. Yoshiko’s niece Sayaka, a well-traveled professional woman who was born in CA when her father worked on assignment for the Japanese Consulate, stopped by the hotel to meet us. We then met Yoshiko for dinner at Zakuro, one of the best Shabu-Shabu restaurants (Ginza section) in Tokyo. It was quite an incredible experience.

Seeing her after 22 years was so special.  We had a wonderful evening of stimulating conversation; all in a private room. The food was beyond outstanding and the service was impeccable – resulting in a most memorable evening. It’s definitely a small world – after all. Yoshiko’s younger sister married an American, who is a University Professor in Indiana, and their son, a talented violinist, is with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in NY. Amazing!

Tokyo National Museum in UENO Park by Paula G. Cullison

While in Tokyo we took a tourist bus which brought us through various areas of the city and drove by major sights (Tokyo Sky Tree, Tower, Asakusa, Senso-ji, Ryogoku - Edo, Teleport, etc). Taking the tourist bus is generally a good way to get a feel for a city.

We spent a few hours in the Imperial Palace East Gardens which was a lovely way to take a break from the busy city. We enjoyed being surrounded by so much natural beauty. Since the Imperial family lives in the Palace, only the East Gardens are open to the public until late afternoon. The historic complex of over 2 million sq ft features: buildings, walls, moats, gates and a sprawling garden in a park setting.

Samurai Costume - Tokyo National Museum by Paula G. Cullison

Spending the day at Ueno Park, we visited several of the museums. At the Tokyo National Museum, we enjoyed their extensive collection of kimonos, sculpture, paintings, pottery, and archeological finds. The Asian Art Gallery (Toyokan) features bronze sculptures, paintings, scrolls, pottery, artifacts from: China, Korea, Taiwan, Egypt, and India. What a fabulous area! One could easily spend a week in this park.

Halfway through our week in Tokyo, we spent two full days in Nikko (2-hour train ride). This World Heritage site’s beautiful setting and sacred mountains have been important to Shinto and Buddhist worshipers since the Edo Period of the 8th Century.  After checking in to the hotel near the station, we bought a two-day tourist bus pass. We then headed past the sacred red Shinkyo Bridge to visit the Toshogu Shrine. Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine is set in the Nikko National Forest.

Karamon Gate - Chinese Gate in Nikko by Paula G. Cullison

At this UNESCO World Heritage site, we also visited the Futarasan Shrine dedicated to matchmaking and the Rinnoji Temple which houses the Sanbutsudo and three gold leaf statues of Buddhist deities. Plan to spend the entire day here, as you will be surrounded by natural beauty.

Lanterns along the walkway in Nikko by Paula G. Cullison

We spent our second day at lovely Lake Chuzenji, which is located at the foot of Mount Nantai, a sacred mountain in the Nikko National Forest. Also known as the Sea of Happiness, it is Japan’s highest mountain lake measuring 4 miles long and with a 16-mile hiking trail along its perimeter. The one-hour boat ride was so relaxing. We explored the surrounding area with visits to the Italian Embassy Villa (built in 1928) and for High Tea at the British Embassy Villa (built in 1898). All walking paths are marked throughout the lovely wooded area. We had a wonderful time in Nikko. Plan on two (or more) days for a visit.

Hachiko sculpture - Shiboya Scramble Crossing in Tokyo by Paula G. Cullison

We were now at the last day of our trip.  I remembered that the Shiboya Scramble Crossing is a ‘must do’; a real happening. The world’s busiest intersection is huge and people cross in every direction - every which way - at the same time. It is located in front of the Shiboya Station Hachiko Exit (near where the statue of the famous Akita dog is located). We marveled as pedestrians inundated the entire intersection. It is estimated that about 3,000 pedestrians cross at every green light (every 2 minutes) 1.5million / per week. Since the viewing deck on the top floor of the office building was sold out, a friendly tourist told us to head for Starbucks for a good viewing spot which was located across the street and on the second floor of a record store. The things you learn when traveling! Next up – we found the bronze statue of Hachiko, the faithful Akita dog who waited for his master to return from work. Ueno Hidesaburo, a Tokyo Imperial University professor, had died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Sadly, Hachiko continued to wait every day for 9 years. The sculptor was Takeshi Ando. There is a movie made of this touching story.

Ryogoku SUMO Stadium Tokyo by Paula G. Cullison

I had purchased tickets for a SUMO Wrestling Tournament on line. The tickets were mailed to our hotel; and they were waiting for us when we checked in. What a great service! The stadium filled up as the matches progressed to those featuring the ‘super stars’. This is such a truly unique experience when in Japan. I still recall the matches I attended in Nagoya in 2001.

SUMO Tournament at Ryogoku Stadium in Tokyo by Paula G. Cullison

When entering the Ryogoku Stadium, one can view the small museum and the trophy cases. Like with all sporting events, there were souvenir and food stalls. I noticed a crowd gathering around a man selling biscuits (with his picture on the packaging). I was informed that he was a retired wrestling super star. When I approached him to buy a few biscuits, he insisted on giving me a bagful. Oh My!!!   It was quite a comical encounter. We cheered as the wrestlers were introduced and when each match was won. At one point, about 150 young middle school male students arrived. They were enthusiastic fans. We watched 15 of the 20 matches and had a most enjoyable time. Apparently, I was lucky to have gotten the tickets, as they go fast - matches are sold out. Not wanting to deal with rush hour on the Japanese subway, we headed out at 4:30pm.

A few additional observations / experiences: Bus drivers thank every single passenger, as they exit the bus. Train personnel bow to all passengers as they move between train cars. Airline staff bow to passengers when they open gates for check-in at the airport. Bowing is an integral part of the behavior. One can easily generalize about politeness, respect and cleanliness. The vast majority of the Japanese and a significant majority of the Koreans continue to wear masks. We did too. Both are fairly conservative in their dress, especially the Japanese, where the primary wardrobe colors were black, white, dark blue, grey, beige and light blue. The only men or women who were wearing shorts and or brightly colored tops were European, Australian, or American tourists. During our one month, we noted that the vast majority of tourists (80%) were the Japanese and other Asians.

Our awesome adventure came to an end all too soon. We decided to take a taxi to the Tokyo Haneda airport. Our driver was one of the few female taxi drivers in Tokyo. At the airport for the flight back on American Airlines we were greeted by the entire staff with a welcoming bow. As AA is part of the Oneworld Alliance, we relaxed in the lounge. Flying for FREE on First Class (using ff miles) was heavenly. My hobby continues to reap rewards.


As with all international travel, it’s fine to see the sights, but it’s really about the kindness of the people. Children’s book author Dr.Seuss says it best: Oh, the Places you’ll go. Oh, the People you’ll meet!

Lillian and Saori in Himeji

Noriko and Shuji in Kurashiki


with NamHee and Hyeyong in Seoul


The Three 'Seoul Sisters'


with Choi and the Seoul Korea Chapter of SERVAS

SERVAS - Seoul Chapter

with Noriko and Hakuo in Tokyo

Noriko and Me

with Sayaka and Yoshiko in Tokyo


KANPAI - GEONBAE - CHEERS - SALUTE - Here's to the next trip!

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