Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hookah!

 My friend had a great birthday party at a hookah bar in Gangnam (a great area in Seoul) called the Rainbow Lounge.  It's about as hippie as you can get in Korea, or about as "hippie" you can get in Korea:)  I had a great time and the atmosphere was great.  Everyone sat on the floor (not a rare thing to do in Korea).  The band was great.  I believe this was the first time I saw a Korean with dreads. 
 What is hookah?  Well, this is my first experience with hookah...and really, I'm not even sure I know what I'm doing because I've never even smoked a cigarette before.  It's a waterpipe used for smoking in which the smoke is cooled and filtered by passing through water.  It's just nicotine and you can get it in several flavors like apple, raspberry, mint, etc...

There really aren't drugs in Korea.  I read once about a foreign teacher who brought drugs in his suitcase after going on vacation to Thailand.  He got three years, solitary confinement!  So...this is about as dangerous as it gets in Korea.  And yes, Mom...it's totally legal.  It's about the same as smoking a cigarette.
 Everyone gets their own cover.  Koreans are constantly sharing their food - the concept of everyone getting a seperate plate is not common - but I guess they're practicing "safe-hookah."
 Happy Birthday!
 Yum Yum!  I don't know how strawberries are in season, but they are...and this cake was delicious!
Nice pot leaf in the background:)
A short video of the band and some sweet dance moves.  These dance moves fit alongside the "Flower Power" signs.  But all-in-all I really liked this bar.  I'm not really a fan of the hookah, but I'd go back based on the atmosphere.
  video

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Japan: Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle was my last sightseeing adventure before catching my flight back to Korea.  The Osaka Castle was built by feudal lord Hideyoshi Toyotomi in 1583.

The area around the castle was beauitful.  It was a common place for locals to relax, run, or take a walk. 
I was a big fan of the moat!

The stones used to build the castle were enormous.
A man on a bike stopped to talk to me.  At first it was nice he was trying to show me around, but I would have learned a lot more if he would have just let me stop to read the signs in English because he couldn't speak English at all.  He got to be quite the nuisance because he kept pointing me away from the direction of the castle that I wanted to see (probably because you had to pay money to get in); so I did an old-fashioned look over there and quickly snuck into the ladies bathroom.  He took this photo before I ditched him.  He kept wanting to take my photo by these things and not with the castle.
In the castle, you could go to the top floor and look out at the city.  What a nice way to look over the kingdom.




The rest of the floors were a museum.  One point I found interesting was that the man who built this castle was born of a poor farming family.  He distinguished himself as a great leader while serving under Nobunago Oda, who was trying to unite the country.  When Nobunago died, he succesfully united the country and built the castle.
 



Before getting on the bus to the airport I went to the Dotonbori area once again and stopped at a famous restaurant called, Chibo.
I had okonomiyaki, a pancake stuffed with cabbage, meat, cheese, etc. drenched in sauce.  It was delcious and too big to eat.  I would have never imagined eating something like this in Japan.

I had a great time in Japan.  I squeezed a lot of things in a very short time.  My entire body was sore by the end of the trip.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Japan: Capsule Hotel and Dotonbori

Q:  What is a capsule hotel? 
A:  A capsule hotel is popular among businessmen in Japan.  Often times they work late and miss the last train home; therefore, needing a quick, quiet, inexpensive hotel with all the necessities.  Enter capsule hotel.  You literally sleep in a "capsule."  The one I stayed in was two levels high (luckily I was on the bottom), but I think some go three high.  It was hard finding a capsule hotel to stay in because most are just for men.  However, in Osaka I found one with a women's dormitory as well.
Everyone is given a key to enter their area:  men or women's.  In your area there is a locker room, public bath spa, laundry facilities, and the dormitory rooms of capsules.

They give you pajamas and you can even buy business-type clothing for men upstairs.  Everything you need...

Here are some pictures of inside the capsule. 
 Some open to the side, but most open on the ends.
 The capsule has everything you need, including television (only Japanese channels).  The coin machine you see under the t.v. is (I think) for porn...I'm not sure as I didn't investigate!
 alarm clock, radio, light and sound controls....
 mirror...
 I took a silly pic with me inside so you could get a better idea of the size.  I thought it was very comfortable.  You could sit up in bed, the mattress was comfortable, long enough, etc...
 The women's side had a really nice sink area to get ready.  It included makeup remover, face cleanser, etc...
 Disinfected brushes...
 There was also a public area for both men and women.  That included:  a t.v. area with wi-fi and slot machines/pachinko...
 That brings me to Pachinko.  I found Pachinko parlors all over Japan.  I guess they are a slot machine/pinball machine.  In Japan, legally you can't gamble for money.  So people exchange their prize balls for prizes and then go outside the establishment to a window where you can exchange the prize for money (illegally).  This is a pic of one of the parlors.  They are huge and have frosted windows so you can't exactly see what's inside.  When the door opens, I'd sneak a peak and get a huge waff of smoke.  If I hadn't been traveling alone, maybe I would have gotten the courage to try it.
 I forced myself out of my luxurious capsule to check out the nightlife in Osaka.  I left Kyoto's castles and temples and stepped into Osaka's Harry Wintston, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton Heaven or Hell...depending upon how you look at it.  I loved people-watching as young women would drive by in their cute bicycles (with baskets) in high heels, short skirts, and incredible up-dos.  I'd never seen women so dressed up before...not even in NYC.  Anything you'd imagined - from movies or what-not- is truly what you'll find in Osaka.  I think of Osaka as being little Tokyo. 

Bike Parking.
 Dotonbori is a famous area in Osaka.  It was a really cool area with fun restaurants, bright lights, enormous arcades, and interesting people.  It was the only time in Japan I really wished I wasn't alone.  It's the sort of place to visit with your friends, get a drink, something to eat, and relax and enjoy the nightlife.  It made me happy I chose to visit more historical sites instead of Tokyo.  I would love to visit Tokyo someday, just not alone.
This is the most famous sign in Dotonbori - the Glico's Man - because this same sign has been hanging here since 1919...an icon of the city.



 I really wanted to check out the arcades, but I kinda chickened out!  They would huge and crowded and BRIGHT!
 More bikes.
Osaka is a pretty cool city.  Not much for historical sightseeing but a cool city to visit to see modern Japanese culture.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Japan: Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari is a Shinto Temple in Kyoto on Mount Inari.  It was built in 711 AD for Inari, the Shinto god of rice and patron of business.  Therefore, many merchants and manufacturers worship Inari for wealth.  In gratitude, many businesspeople donate a torii (the orange gates) to the Shrine.  This shrine was unique because it had over 10,000 small toriis (the majority of the ones you will see in this post are the small ones).  It costs 400,000 yen (today is $4,809 USD) or one million yen for the big toriis (today $12,022 USD).  Within the Shrine there are about 40,000 smaller shrines.

You will often find statues of foxes at the Shrine because foxes are believed to be Inari's messengers.








And here, the path of toriis begin...
and continue...
and continue...

and continue...
and here are some more...
and some more...
Some smaller shrines.  I really like the areas with so many shrines.  You could tell they were so old and it made me reflect upon what good fortune made this person erect this shrine for Inari and what that particular time was like in Japan. 
smaller shrines.
Back to the toriis.
Older Shrines.






The sun is going down and the toriis keep going up and up and up the mountain.


Whew...what a view...means I'm getting closer to the top!
Woah woah woah...wait a minute...i'm only half done?  I climbed a little longer and realized my capsule hotel I was going to that night in Osaka only had a public bath and so I probably wasn't going to shower the next day.  So I decided to quit my hiking and go back down to catch the train to Osaka.


Small Shrines.
Stray cat is hoping to fill up on some holy water!  I hope that is the spring for washing and not for drinking.


Again, I still haven't found the reason for this.
I found this outside someone's home...haha...it's a frog.
Back to Kyoto Station...which is huge...and off to Osaka.