Many Faces of Japan

16 03 2010

There’s a lot to say about Japan, but in a nutshell: it is the cleanest country on the planet; the people are pleasant everywhere in Japan, but more down-to-earth in the Kansai region; it has an amazing history; the best of electronics and convenience; AND the fashion is equivalent and maybe better than New York’s fashion. As it’s my second trip to Japan, including the Kansai region (Osaka, Kyoto and Nara) and Randy’s first, I feel like we covered a different part of Japan that became our own experience. During my first trip, my sister, Mailena, and her boyfriend, Justin, were great tour guides. Justin knew how to get around Osaka and Kyoto like the back of his hand, of course it helped that he knows the Japanese language. And Mailena took me to her favorite spots in their small village, Nishi-Iya, including onsens (Japanese spa), thrift shopping and ‘country’ restaurants. This trip was very special, as it was my sister’s first major move – out of the country and on the other side of the world – and it was my first major overseas trip, by myself. Although it was three years ago, this trip planted the seed to what I am doing now. Justin was teaching English with the JET program and I got to experience one of his classes. So, thanks Mailena and Justin for a wonderful first trip to Japan! And thanks for introducing me to a new world teaching English abroad.

Todai-ji Temple - the largest wooden structure in the world that houses the largest statue of the Buddha Vairocana

As for my second trip to Japan, I fell in love with fashion in Japan. It’s a little out there and I don’t know if Westerners can handle it, but Tokyo is definitely one of the fashion capitals of the world. Not only do the women dress to impress 24/7, but the men dress like they’re about to walk down a runway show. Tokyo is not just a huge metropolitan city with the most modern vending machines that include everything from cigarettes, beer and chicken, but it’s a place to go for people watching. We saw the craziest outfits on the most normal people. Every girl has the same make-up and hair, with fake eyelashes caked on foundation, eye make-up to the max and blonde or orange hair that is curled to the perfect wave. Shibuya is the place to see these women, of which I do not care much for the hair and make-up. But the men have their own style. It seems that every man just came out of an anime cartoon, with their spiked hair and either a suit or ripped up jeans and leather jacket. Enjoy the pictures below!

Harajuku shopping district

Anime-like men in Harajuku

Osaka men fashion





History Museums Around the World

9 03 2010

After our first round of traveling around Asia (Beijing, Hong Kong, Korea, Vietnam and Japan) I have to say that my three favorite museums are the War Memorial of Korea, War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

These three museums are an amazing asset to the local community and to the world. In my experience, some of the best museums charge less than $2 USD. All three of these museums are unique in many ways, sharing destruction and death.

One of the most rugged and in your face museums that I have visited is the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. As soon as you pay (less than a buck) you are directly faced with military aircraft such as big fighter jets, helicopters and military tanks that were used during the Vietnam War (the locals call it the American War). There are hundreds of bullet holes and dents in these amazing machines. It’s great that they have everything in your face and you have an opportunity to see it from Vietnam’s point of view. The memorabilia, photos and artifacts will blow your mind. I kept thinking that in 50 years from now this museum will not be standing because of the poor quality of the glass and security of the items. The glass that separates items from the public is extremely thin and can be easily broken. I wish that the government or some organization would do a better job to protect this museum so that future generations can see a part of history. The pictures in this museum are very real and gruesome, showing you a version of the war that we don’t see back in America. Nonetheless, it’s definitely an impressive museum.

If you’re ever in Seoul, a must see is the War Memorial of Korea.  As soon as you are in front of the museum you will notice the Statue of Brothers, the elder, a South Korean soldier and the younger, a North Korean soldier, which symbolizes the situation of Korea’s division. The Korean peninsula has seen many wars from neighboring powers. The War Memorial was built to commemorate actors and victims in the wars which led to the modern nation state. The museum also has the purpose of educating future generations by collecting, preserving, and exhibiting various historical relics and records related to the many wars fought in the country from a South Korean perspective. If you truly want to see evidence of how Japan invaded Korea and destroyed priceless art and buildings, travel around the peninsula and see with your own eyes. If you get a chance to go to Gyeongju, which use to be the capital you will see the destruction that was left. I have been told by countless Koreans that Japan doesn’t even acknowledge that amount of damage that they did to Korea. Click here to find out more about the Korean War.

Display of the nations' flags that participated with the U.N. during the Korean War

8:15am was the precise time that the bomb was dropped.

One of my favorite museums of all, is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It’s a funny feeling that you get once you step foot into this historical city. It’s like time stopped here (8:15 am on August 6, 1945 was the precise time the bomb was dropped over Hiroshima). I guess this museum is truly unique because how many other places had an atomic bomb destroy their city. This museum does a great job showing you how it was minutes after the A-bomb was dropped. If you’re ever in Japan, do yourself a favor and visit this part of history. After viewing the whole museum we had an opportunity to walk around this new vibrant city. Everyone says the people have moved on and as well as the city. But, you can’t help to think that one bomb so powerful, that people evaporated into thin air or burned into ashes at the drop of the bomb. Later on that evening as we were walking to our hostel, we had to walk pass the existing A-Bomb Dome. In 1966, the city decided to keep this structure in its original condition as a landmark from the war. The dome was registered on UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list in December 1996 as a monument that reminds us of the tragedy of the bombing, according to wikpedia. The city stood quiet as we walked toward our hostel, it was a really beautiful sight but I couldn’t help that the feeling was very eerie. I mean if you think about it, one bomb killed more than 80,000 people instantly. Does the soul ever find peace?

A-Bomb Dome

They said that plants and grass weren't going to grow in Hiroshima for another 75 years - this tree is in the preservation fence of the A-Bomb Dome.