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  • Writer's pictureKevin Gary

Japan and Korea 2019

For three weeks Kevin did an introductory exploration of Japan and South Korea. Recommended travel books I used:

Japan- DK Eyewitness Travel Japanese-English Bilingual Pciture Dictionary (was very useful at a local doctor's office)

Seoul - Lonely Planet A summary of my summer 2019 travels in Japan/Korea:

Pre-Trip: 6/21 to 6/23 Day 1, 2, 3 : Berkeley, California I decided to run a half marathon before leaving on my trip and opted for a trail half marathon on Angel Island which is located within San Francisco Bay. Running the half marathon allowed me some extra time to get last minute things ready for 2-3 days before departing to Japan, Mt. Fuji and Korea. 6/21: I arrived in Oakland, California, picked up my rental car through my preferred car rental company AVIS, and made it to my AirBnb rental in Berkeley; a city with a lot of 20th century history. Visited the local Trader Joe's and rested. With students gone for the summer at UC-Berkeley this area made for an affordable Bay Area stay; not to far drive to Angel Island for the next morning's half marathon run. 6/22: Ran the Angel Island Half Marathon in the morning. Angel Island is located in the middle of San Francisco Bay and has a fascinating history. After the run drove back to Berkeley and explored the city.

6/23: Explored downtown Oakland and visited Lake Merritt; walking around the lake. Sadly Lake Merritt is somewhat polluted as described by this blog (click link) but still makes for a nice 4k walk . After Lake Merritt I visited Alameda, California . My Dad's first Coast Guard assignment in 1968 was Alameda and my parents lived here for a short time from 1968-1970; I even visited their first apartment which is very close to the downtown Alameda area. In Alameda is the USS Hornet Museum ; home to the historic USS Hornet, which is is an Essex-class aircraft carrier built for the United States Navy (USN) during World War II. The $20 admission fee was well worth it to walk through a WW2/Vietnam era aircraft carrier and talk to former crew who served on board. The USS Hornet was also the aircraft carrier which picked up astronauts from the historic Apollo 11 and 12 moon landings . Returned back to Berkeley.

6/24: Checked out of my AirBnb Rental and then explored the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. This was my second visit here and I never get bored reading about some of the technical history of mankind. Then proceeded to San Jose International Airport to drop of my rental car. Interesting fact: San Jose, California is the only major California airport I have never visited until this day. My flight to Tokyo departs the next day from LAX so I was able to get a cheap airfare from Alaska Airlines to LAX and spend the night at the LAX Westin.

6/25: After a nice run on the treadmill at the LAX Westin I checked out and made my way to Los Angeles International Airport; also referred to as LAX. I had one-way, non stop flight to Tokyo-Narita airport with United Airlines; one of my go-to international airlines. The one way flight cost about $589 and I was able to 'upgrade' my flight to Polaris (business) class for an additional 30,000 United Air Miles + fee. Well worth it for the 11 hour flight. Interesting fact: Most people who sit in first or business class use their miles or loyalty flight status with the airline to upgrade. Rarely does someone pay the full business/first class fare unless it's a business expense someone is trying to write off. I sat next to a friendly lady from San Diego who was going to the Philippines for a business trip. Lunch, various snacks and breakfast were served. United Polaris class had the option for the western menu or Japanese menu. After reassuring the flight attendant I wanted the Japanese menu I was offered a very tasty dish of rice, soup, and other Japanese delicacies.

6/26: Arrived at Tokyo-Narita and after retrieving my luggage proceeded to purchase a "Pasmo Card" which would allow me to easily travel with the various transport companies and local services (such as the subway/metro) with one card. You can also use the card at convenience stores such as 7-11 and other places. After an hour train ride and connection using the Tokyo Metro I arrived at my hotel , The Tokyo Stay Shinjuku, which I booked through .

6/26 - 6/29:

A summary of what I did in Tokyo:

1. Attended the touristy "Robot Restaurant" show in the Shinjuku neighborhood.

2. Explored the Shinjuku neighborhood; visiting a wide variety of shops and eateries.

3. Visited the Imperial Palace. It's important to note that a reservation is required.

4. Visited the Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree; which is the tallest structure in Japan.

5. Visited the high-tech entertainment and shopping hub called the Odaiba

6. Visited a wide variety of shrines and temples; too many to go into details.

6/30-7/1: Mt. Fuji My goal was to explore Mt. Fuji and successfully make it to the top. I signed up with for this trip and it was well worth it. Day 1 we met in a Tokyo Metro station and proceeded to a bus which took us through Gotemba, Japan and up to the Mt. Fuji Subashiri 5th station. From there we hiked up about 2,000' feet to the 7th station and stayed the night at a nice hut which a warm shared room, bed and meal was provided. The weather the entire time up was very wet and windy. The next morning we woke up, enjoyed the sunrise and proceeded to the top of the mountain. Unfortunately due to typhoon damage to the summit the last 150-200 meters to the true summit was closed off by the government. However, the crater rim is fairly close to the summit plus we were socked in with clouds so there would have been no view. Afterwards we hiked back down to where we stayed in the 7th station, retrieved our belongings, and proceeded back to the 5th station where started. Weather wise: wet, windy and more rain. Mistakes: For some reason I packed my heavy winter parka thinking it was going to get very cold. One really doesn't need a heavy winter parka for Fuji.

A fun time nevertheless.

7/1-7/2: Fuji Lakes Region - Lake Kawaguchi

After Mt. Fuji I returned to Gotema Train Station where I took a series of buses that led me to the Lake Kawaguichi area. I stayed the night at a modest Japanese style Ryokan hotel. Highlights included taking a boat tour and going up the Panoramic Ropeway.

7/3-7/4: Kyoto, Japan

After taking a series of buses and trains I made it to Kyoto, Japan. In Kyoto I explored:

1. Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine and surrounding area.

2. Gion neighborhood and surrounding markets

In Kyoto I came down with a bad case of swimmer's ear. My hotel did a wonderful job finding me a clinic nearby. When I checked into the clinic I was glad I had my handy Japanese-English Bilingual Dictionary which I was able to point out my ear (mimi) . The Doctor understood English well when I got to meet him and was able to take out large amounts of ear wax in my ear thus making me hear again. Ironically this visit only cost $18.00 which is less than my typical co-payment of $30.00 in a USA facility (my insurance covers everything after the $30.00). What a deal in Japan!

7/5-7/8: Osaka, Japan

In Osaka I did a wide variety of experiences including:

1. Exploring Abandon Railway tunnels and walking 5k of a former railway; this was a tour I signed up through on AirBnb.

2. A hiking tour up Mt. Kongo; a popular hike among the locals. Would have never known about this without going through the same guide I went with in the Railway tunnel tour on AirBnb.

3. Miles of exploring various markets and neighborhoods.

4. Visiting the Tsutenkaku Tower at Osaka and Umeda Sky Buildling

5. Osaka Castle

6. Some of the metro stations themselves act as underground shopping centers; it's easy to explore/walk around for about an hour in some of these metro stations.

Overall, I felt I had a good introduction' of Japan and hope to come back to explore other areas. Unique experiences found on AirBnb such as hiking/exploring in Osaka was one of my highlights along with Mt. Fuji. 7/8 - 7/12: Seoul, South Korea Recommended book: Seoul - Lonely Planet

I highly enjoyed my visit to Seoul and was very impressed with a lot of things here. The dollar went very far in Korea and there was lots to see and do. Some highlights:

1. Again, when on a hiking experience through AirBnb hiking up Gwanaksan Mountain.

2. Exploring various neighborhoods, shopping markets, and more. Koreans like to shop, shop, shop.

3. Visited the DMZ and peaked into North Korea from an Observatory and enjoy other exhibits/surrounding areas of the DMZ.

4. Ventured up the N Seoul Tower and to the tallest building in Korea the Lotte World Tower.

5. Visited the Gyeongbokgun Palace and Bukchon Village.

Summit of Mt. Kongo - Osaka, Japan
Summit of Mt. Kongo - Osaka

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