After breakfast, we rode the rails, first experiencing the thrill of riding the lightning-fast bullet train (shinkansen) from Tokyo to Nagoya. It is one of the world's finest quick-transit trains, and still among the fastest trains in the world, traveling at speeds of up to 200 mph. We’ll then rounded out our travel with an hour-long ride on the local train to Ise Station.
After arriving in Ise we visited the the famous Ise Shrine, which is actually a collection of many shrines—a riverside complex with some structures dating back 2,000 years. This was our first Shinto shrine. We'll enjoyed a walking tour through the shrines and beautiful grounds, learning to cleanse ourselves before entering and how to bow and clap to alert the gods that we were present.
Our hotel for the evening is a destination in itself. The Toba Grand Hotel is a traditional, Japanese style hotel on the shore of the sea. The views are spectacular, our room floors are lined with tatami mats, and we wore yukata robes to a fabulous seafood buffet. Before dinner we enjoyed a traditional communal hot bath. Men and women bath in separate areas - sorry no photos allowed!
Yesterday we took an easy 2 hour flight from Busan to Tokyo and we're in Japan.
We met our guide Helen and she whisked us to a small restaurant for a light snack. This restaurant has been in the same family for 12 generations.
After a short visit to a Buddhist temple we arrived at our hotel, which is well located with multiple restaurants and convenience stores nearby.
Next, we visited the Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest wholesale seafood market in the world. Unfortunately, the inner market where all manner of catch from strips of seaweed to almost 600-pound pieces of tuna are sold is closed on Wednesday. But the outer market with it's many food vendors was open. We took off to explore and enjoy lunch on our own - primarily sushi.
Afterwards, we visited Asakusa where we observed, then participated in a Japanese Dancing Class with Master Yoko Namishima.
This evening we will enjoy a traditional bento, welcome dinner at a local restaurant followed by walk through the Ginza area.
Today is our last full day in South Korea. It was a packed agenda. We started at the Bulguksa Temple, one of Korea’s finest ancient monuments. This temple is the crowning jewel of Silla architecture. Erected in the sixth century, Bulguksa is known for its double staircase, grand halls, statuary, and for having not one but two pagodas (a rarity). The entire complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Beautiful views now matter where you look...
Next stop, Seokguram Grotto, yet another UNESCO site. This man-made eighth-century grotto was designed to house a massive Buddha statue positioned to face out to sea. The Buddha has one hand draped toward the earth (to show his connection to this life) and the other resting in the meditative position on his lap (showing his contemplation).
We heard from our friends in the 3/27 departure date. As they returned from the Day in the Life experience they came across a demonstration on the streets of Seoul. Some of them got off the bus to “join” the protesters. Unlike most o the people we have met who want reunificiation, this group of protesters love Trump and want the US to nuke NK. "One of the activists wanted us to join them for Easter. There may have been as many police as protesters..."
Perched at the lip of the East Sea, yeongju houses an abundance of historic treasures—including South Korea’s largest collection of tombs, temples, rock carvings, pagodas, palace ruins, and Buddhist statuary.
We visited Yangdong Folk Village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where we explored this representative clan village whose roots date back to the Joseon dynasty. Laid out to incorporate the surrounding natural beauty, the village boasts timber-framed houses, Confucian schools, pavilions, and commoners’ huts. Offering the most authentic glimpse of life going back centuries.
Korea is an ancient country. After WWII Korea was divided with Russia supporting the north and the US supporting the south. Then in 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea which lead to a 3+ year conflict which ended in a "stalemate". In 1953, North and South Korea worked out an agreement (with prodding from China and the U.S.) to allow for a buffer zone (the DMZ) separating the ideologically opposed regions. When the two Korea's need to negotiate, they enter the DMZ and work in the JSA (Joint Security Area). As carefully controlled as it may sound, four tunnels beneath the DMZ have been discovered. Monitoring has been constant ever since.
It's amazing to be in South Korea at this moment - yesterday the US and S. Korea reached a trade deal while Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, is in Beijing meeting with Xi Jinping, leader of China and North and South Korea have announced a summit for May. After all these years, will we be seeing significant changes in the Korean peninsula?
Tomorrow we travel to a Buddhist monastery where we'll stay for the night. We'll be without TV or internet, so this blog will be silent for a couple days.
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