Yoyogi Park is a huge park in the northern part of Shibuya, home of the Meiji Shrine, as well as the location of the first powered aircraft flight in Japan (back when the place was called Yoyogi Army Parade Ground).
After WWII, during the Allied occupation of Japan, the grounds were used by U.S. officers for their military barracks. It was only after the occupation ended and the area was used for the Tokyo Olympics of 1964 that the grounds were turned into today’s park.
Barrels of sake donated every year by the brewers for the soul of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken
In 1920, after the death of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, the Meiji Shrine has been established as people “wished to commemorate their virtues and to venerate them forever” (more info).
People from all over Japan and overseas donated over 10,000 trees and voluntarily planted the forest which people can enjoy today.
Torii marking the entrance to the park and the Meiji Shrine
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.
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.
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.
During my stay in Beijing, I hung out with my two Argentinian travel mates and their local friend who they had met back in Europe.
Extremely friendly, easygoing and like-minded, he showed us bits of student life, excellent food and places.
After mentioning our interest in visiting the Great Wall, he told us he would bring us to a less well known spot near the village Changyucheng, as other parts of the wall can get crowded and partially icy.
A moment after sunset – View from the top of the mountain
And so our team, equipped with excitement, cameras and very little else, jumped into the car to head to Changyucheng.