Having left Korea just after Christmas, the move to Japan during the New Year’s holidays is quite a shock with its mix of old and new traditions. The sights and atmosphere made quite an impact and, in retrospect, captured the essence of today’s Japan.
If someone wants to feel a connection to the past, Tokyo holds a large variety of temples and shrines. Buddhist temples around Japan ring their bells 108 times to get rid of the 108 human sins (108 Defilements of Buddhism).
If someone wants to get lost in the numerous temptations of the material world, in the first few weeks of the year, many (if not all) shops, big and small, prepare the popular Fubukuburo (“Lucky/Mystery Bag”). They are usually just plain red bags with only a price tag on (to get an idea). Each shop gives smaller or bigger hints as to what each different type of bag can contain and how much the items could be worth.
With Seoul behind, after a relatively short journey, the little town of Yaro is a refreshing experience of Korean countryside and calmness. Surrounded by rice/onion fields, hills and rivers, I really enjoyed the change of pace. Sometimes visiting manly cities can make one forget that the world isn’t always so hectic.
During a day-off from volunteering for a family in Yaro, I headed to the Haeinsa Temple, just a short bus ride away.
Jeonju, just a few hours ride away from Seoul, is an active little town famous for its food culture. Called the food capital of Korea and added to the Creative Cities for Gastronomy by UNESCO, it is truly an interesting place for food explorers.
Cute cafe surrounded by lots of toys
The town is also famous for having its local version of bibimbap (popular Korean dish made with sautéed and seasoned vegetables over a bed of white rice), giving it yet another food-related reason to visit Jeonju.
Discovered on Atlas Obscura (a website collecting the most curious and strange places in the world), a travel friend and I set out to reach and explore the Gonjam Psychiatric Hospital, in Gwangju.
As we had read, the hospital had been closed but left on its own, making it a great place for made-up horror stories and creepy adventures.
Walking through the city, the view of the palace, making its way through the modern skyscrapers, is definitely a refreshing one as downtown Seoul can become a bit overwhelming (old illustration of the palace).
Gyeongbokgung Palace, surrounded by parks and museums, is definitely worth a visit for anyone interested in Korean history.
Inside the palace, youngsters, wearing traditional clothes and holding selfie sticks and cameras, walk around the stunning location trying to immortalize the past, or at least a representation of it.
In fact the palace, during the Japanese rule of Korea, went through a systematical destruction by the Japanese Imperial Army. Their goal was to eradicate this symbol and heritage of the Joseon dynasty, which ruled over Korea before the Japanese occupation.
The journey from Beijing went smoothly and by early morning, I reached the center of Qingdao.
The city is quite modern with many interesting features to make it stand out from the rest.
Whilst the downtown is rather unimpressive, the seaside is what makes this little coastal town excel.
With a 40.6km path, the seaside should be fully traversed to fully enjoy the mix of architecture styles, natural beauties and bits of history still present in the area.
The Temple of Heaven makes great use of colors and space to convey the importance this location had in Ancient China. Surrounded by a beautiful park (straightforwardly named Temple of Heaven Park) and, often, by storms of tourists, it dominates the scene. As well as being a temple, it is an imperial complex containing multiple structures and buildings.
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
In fact, as the name hints, this temple is where emperors, regarded as Tiānzǐ (literally Son of Heaven), would go to connect with Heaven to pray for good harvest. Two special ceremonies were held here each year: one on winter solstice and the other on New Year’s Day. The winter solstice ceremony was deemed of utmost importance, any imperfection would be a bad omen for the harvest of the entire year.