Monday: It started the Monday before, well I suppose it started earlier with buying tickets and frantic printing of train times and the uncertain and awkward packing of underwear and clothes (someone may have miscounted on this front). The first place I went to was Osaka.
One night there, a very fun night indeed, then onto Hiroshima.
Tuesday: First I took the streetcar, which was nice and easy to navigate, with an abundance of English and clear cut instructions, to the Atomic Bomb Dome:
The building was haunting, but nowhere near as harrowing as my next stop, the Hiroshima Peace Museum. The first floor of the Museum started off factual and historical detailing changes in the port city leading up to the second world war and the events leading up to the detonation of the first nuclear bomb in war time, but then upstairs, things took a darker turn as the museum went into depth about the 6th of August 1945's bombing of Hiroshima. The museum was incredibly moving, my eyes watered and though the room was full of people reading the exhibits, it was almost completely silent.
An overwhelming message of peace filled the museum. Another beautiful message of peace was visible in the millions and millions of paper cranes donated to the Children's Peace Memorial. The inspiration for using the paper crane as a symbol for peace comes from the story of a girl called Sadako Sasaki, who died of leukaemia, ten years after the atomic bomb fell. She had believed that folding paper cranes (she managed to fold far more than the lucky thousand) would make her better.
For the night, I found a traditional Japanese style hotel to stay in. A small place, with a lovely lady at reception. Here, at this humble inn, a small miracle happened. (No, no virgin births) I managed to book the room and even discuss the city's speciality, Okonomoyaki (cabbage and other vegetables in batter with egg, pork and squid and noodles all mixed in with a delicious rich sauce on top with the option of melted cheese or mayonnaise as well), entirely in Japanese with less than a handful of English words thrown in on either side. She was a lovely lady and recommended a place I go to eat that evening. Eating out alone was something I wasn't hugely familiar with in the UK, but it's a lot more common here and it's quite enjoyable, especially for Udon or Okonomoyaki, which they cooked in front of me on a massive hot plate. With continual refills of water given, I watched the cooking. The dish was delicious and in true Japanese fashion the three men beside me who'd each ordered a variant of Okonomoyaki took their cameras out in sync and took snaps of their supper. Who was I to break the trend?
I loved it, though next time I'll probably not opt for mayo as it was a little much.
In the evening I met up with Gavin, a friend I'd met in training, and had a few drinks in the park, discussing our experiences in Japan so far.
Wednesday: The next day, I got the Shinkansen (I've come to be quite fond of the lady's voice when she announces: "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Shinkansen" (bullet train)) to Fukuoka, which is where 5 months ago, I arrived in this beautiful country (and yet I still for some stupid reason was surprised to see planes landing, "oh there must be an airport here" I said.) I met up with another friend from training, Anthony and his friend Matt, and then Barrett, my to be travel partner.
We wandered around the city (mostly the station, which in fairness is huge and has a lovely roof garden) a little bit and then headed (chased by imminent rain) into the Shooting Bar, where for a price you can shoot BB guns at targets and drink and eat. The BB gun idea really didn't appeal to me at first. Oh but when I fired the first one, I wanted more and by the second (an automatic machine gun!) I was a huge fan. All the while thunder and lightning roared outside.
Then came the eating of "live" squid. As to whether it was actually alive, I'm not sure. It had reflexes, but don't headless chickens too? It definitely acted like it was alive, but it had no internal organs, including brain, which does sound like it was medically dead to me. It was tasty, albeit strange and a little disturbing. There was a lot of horror at me eating it (on Facebook) but as my friend Manisha puts it "out of context it sounds cruel/strange/horrible, but in context, Japan, a culture that loves to eat raw fish, it's not bad." (paraphrasing). There are photos of the squid in question, but for the sensitively dispositioned, I will omit it (though it features in the video above, warning/spoiler)
Thursday: After a night in the small town Barrett lives in, we headed back to Fukuoka, ready to embark for South Korea (or as it is often called in Japan (when speaking English): Korea) We caught a bus Matt helped us find and checked in at the ferry port. The journey started off calm and relaxing but ended with us being told to stay in our seats and to keep hold of sick bags just in case. A storm had rolled in and it had heavy winds, heavy rain and high waves.
In Busan, our first few minutes were sketchy, we had arrived, easily enough, but finding our hotel proved to be a bit tricky. We took a taxi and ended up a little lost in heavy rain. In hindsight it's rather amusing. We found our hotel in the end, taking the underground and it was soon clear it was both in a great location and most likely a Love Hotel with a double bed for two of us. (also amusing in hindsight,) We found a Korean BBQ place as soon as we stepped out the door and unlike the Yakiniku of Japan, the waiter not only delivers the raw meat to us on a plate, but also cooks it for us. It was delicious, it is quite easily my favourite food in Japan (though it's Korean). Pig skin was surprisingly the winner in taste and after saying how lovely it was, the waiter gave us a complimentary extra plateful, which when dipped in the nut powder provided is incredibly tasty.
Then we passed several places to drink, one called Thursday Party, which looked nice enough and hey guess what it was a Thursday? So we went there. There was beer pong and beer and beer pong and Korean people and beer.
Friday: The next day, slightly later in the day than we had intended, but we did go drinking the night before, we headed to Busan's Aquarium, which features a lot in the video at the top of this blog, so I won't mention it too much, but it was amazing. The tunnel underneath the tanks was particularly cool.
Then Barrett napped and I went further up into the city, seeking to see more of Busan's Haeundae region. I passed lots of little carts stacked with vegetables for sale and open air food places, selling strange things I'd never seen before. There was a particularly fish-tank-containing street of stalls, which I loved, they stocked, eels, crabs, fish, squid, and I almost got splattered by a woman as she gutted a squid. I walked up hill, hoping I'd know my way home and found a temple overlooking the rest of the city. There, a Buddhist monk spoke to me, asking where I was from and what religion I was, he didn't seem to abashed by my lack of a religion, which was nice. A sweet man, who also hinted at the tensions going on between Japan and Korea over the resource rich islands.
On the way back down the slopes, after taking much too many photos, I saw a hairdressers and went for it. I got a haircut in Korea, not knowing a single word of Korean (though by the end I could just about say thank you 감사합니다 (gamsahabnida)) and the hairdresser was efficient and good and his English wasn't too bad either, well he did stare at me several times in utter confusion, but fluent English speakers do that too.
Friday night: well it wasn't a Thursday but we went to the Thursday Party place again, there were lots of foreigners there, lots of drinkers, we were at home :) That night I may possibly have been a little sick... Not sure how as I drank a lot less, but it wasn't pretty.
Saturday : we spent most of the day in the hotel, hungover (well I did anyway) and then we headed to the beach as the sun had decided to come out. The beach was packed, so so so many people and Koreans like to wear clothes on the beach, closefitting ones, but clothes all the same, even in the sea. The waves were amazing, huge and really warm. There's definitely a build difference in Koreans though, the men are a lot buffer and broader than their Japanese counterparts. In the evening, we met up with Katy, my old workmate from ICWS, and had italian food and headed out for some drinks. Her friends were lovely though there may possibly have been far too many jokes about slavery...
Sunday: Back to Fukuoka, Shinkansen to Fukuyama, where I met Anthony and hung out with him again. He has a nice place, I'm jealous, he has tatami flooring.
Monday: Home to the lovely, the glorious, the beautiful, Shodoshima.