Japan on a shoestring

As I write this I’m hurtling along at 200mph (maybe) on the KTX from Seoul to Busan. I’m also taking advantage of the first truly useful item of ‘service’ I’ve received in Korea – a free first-class wifi card for the train.

Within 2.5 hours I will arrive and board a high-speed ferry to Fukuoka in Japan. From Fukuoka my solo-Japanese adventure begins. I plan (and this is really a difficult plan to guarantee) to hitchhike to Tokyo, clean on the other side of the country at a distance of 686 miles (1100 km).

Maintaining the free, if hazardous, theme of my trip, I will further reduce costs by trying to stay with strangers for free. If that sounds a bit mental rest assured (somewhat) that will be doing it though a reciprocal philanthropic online network called CouchSurfing. Actually this may be of limited solace to those of you who may really worry about me (my Mum for example), but of the twenty or so requests I’ve sent so far, two have come back negative (hosts not at home), one has come back positive and the rest haven’t replied at all.

The one who did respond positively was maybe the least practical but most fantastically located of the the requests I made. It’s with a Japanese chap called Tomo who lives in Fuji, resting in the foothills of Mt. Fuji. When I was planning my route I decided it best to take the south road through that province just to get a good look at the magical looking Mt. Fuji. Being able to stay so close to it is a bit of a dream. If I hightail it there I could even climb it! Enough about Fuji for now. As I continue on from Fukuoka I hope to reach a small island near Hiroshima renowned for being the most holy island in Japan.

A day trip there would suffice as I press on to Hiroshima city for a visit to the place the atomic bomb landed.

Not wasting any time I will try to go the full distance of Hiroshima to the ancient capital of Kyoto. These cities are also linked by the atomic bomb (as I recently read on Cracked.com would you have it). Apparently Kyoto was the first choice military target for the bomb as it was the home of the emperor. However, a high ranking (perhaps head? I don’t know I can’t check on-the-fly) commander rather liked Kyoto as he’d spent his honeymoon there. I guess after checking his Lonely Planet he’d decided that Hiroshima wasn’t all that.

From Kyoto to Fuji, as I already mentioned, then to Tokyo to have a good old immersion in J-Culture, find Godzilla, anime-cosplayers, giant fighting robots, Giaru and the other assorted weirdos I was kinda hoping to find in Korea.

One plan for my return trip to the Ferry in Fukuoka is by the Japanese high-speed rail network, turning a 14 hour drive into 4 glorious hours of yet more hurtling.

If I fail, however, to find free or cheap accommodation in Tokyo, I may take the night bus back to Fukuoka and risk being grumpy for my the whole 19.5 hours back to Seoul from Tokyo. A bridge to be crossed later.
Wish me luck and feel free to offer me accommodation!

^ my first hitchhiking sign, says “in the direction of Hiroshima”

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Goodbye Jon – hello Korean classes and Kimchibilly, Japan and uncertainty

Somehow June has been and gone. How did that happen? It seems that I spent the entireity of June saying “blimey is it already June?”. It was mainly in my own head so you may not have realised.

So exactly a month ago Jon, my twice ex-housemate left Korea to rejoin his family and his new fiancĂ© (didn’t see that one coming), Ashley, in Great Britain.

I can’t help feeling a little wrong-footed here. Following my self-assurances that getting a job over here would be too easy if anything, it took months of nothing to happen before I finally got a position, thanks to Jon. We spent a lot of that cold, cold winter wandering about Seoul, socialising with the local teachers and Koreans we knew, watching weird Korean television and talking about breaking technology news a bit too much.

I find myself trying not to be sentimental, so, cheers Jon. You were a pretty good housemate (again), don’t think I’ll enjoy Korea as much in your absence.

I think that I’ve just had a month-long pang for being back in England. I’ve recently missed both the summer solstice and Glastonbury Festival – two of my regular summertime land-marks. Not to mention cycling about to old pubs on weirs, arguing with people who think it’s a good idea to put ice in cider (cretins), wandering about Bristol with my favourite friends and generally soaking up the good times.

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That was the line I’m drawing under that, there’s plenty of time for those things when I’m back at home. Should really be making the best of my time in Korea.

Up to a few weeks ago, I had the rest of my time here pretty mapped out, with only a flourish of details following. I was going to extend until February, possibly take the trans-Siberian back to Europe with Rich and then head back to Seoul for another year (at least). At this moment those plans seem quite a bit less certain and my remaining time here shorter as I’ve been taking about returning to the UK with Ha Young, possibly even this year.

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Other things:

I’ve started going to a more formalised Korean-language class – I joined the CLS (Conversational Learning Seoul) group to get some more Korean practice. It’s been useful and I’ve met some more people, which is always nice. It’s also free and is staffed by volunteers which is just lovely. Click on their logo above for the facebook page with more info.

I saw the RockTigers in Hongdae on Saturday. Their genre is rockabilly with Korean lyrics. They call it Kimchibilly, seriously, they even have a song all about kimchi called Kimchibilly. They are regulars on the Seoul indie scene, not that I knew there was one, so I hope to see them again soon. It’s so refreshing to get some real rock band music in this country where just about every music artist is either singing recycled love-ballad pulp, weird-old-man crooning or as the largest majority, bubbly lobotomy-victims harping on about LCD screens for whichever electronics company owns them. This is exactly the kind of culture I hope spreds in Korea. Click on the picture above for their profile on ReverbNation and links to their facebook/twitter/download stores.

Final thing, my holiday time is looming at the end of this month. 50% of the time I’m allotted per-year at a hagwon. It’s been a bit uncertain as to what I am to do with it. Ha Young and I were planning on perhaps Burma, but since she can only get two days holiday from her company, that’s out the window. It looks like I’m going to go with my original plan and head off to Japan for a week of hitching with a friend I’ve met at the CLS classes! Half way through we may be visited by Rich and his Mum, who’s visiting him over here. I hope the spattering of Chinese symbols goes some way to helping me navigate Japan. I’m going to dedicate tonight to learning their phonetic alphabet. I hope it’s as scientific as hangul.