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

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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Tiananmen square is a majestic and wide area which connects to the Forbidden City through Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace.
Now commonly connected to the massacre which occurred during student protests of 1989, the square has quite a long history.

Built in 1415 during the Ming dynasty, it went through many renovations including an expansion by Mao Zedong in 1958, who wanted to make it the most spectacular square in the world.
After Mao’s death, a mausoleum in his honour has been built on Tiananmen Square.
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For the first few days in the Lapland, the weather went against all my hopes of seeing either the stars or the northern lights; the sky was completely covered in clouds, day and night.
On the third day, walking back from the center of Inari, I experienced almost a déjà vu of my first adventure here. Again pitch dark and again trying to survive the cold and the passing cars on the side of the road.
It was just 4 o’clock in the afternoon but already as dark as it gets.
Just moments before being rescued (once again) by Jussa’s father, I noticed a light in the sky. At first excited, I quickly realized it must just be a small hole in the clouds, from which a small spot of light was coming through – nothing like the clear sky I was hoping for.
It was just after dinner that the single spot was joined by a multitude of other lights.
Taking this as a sign, I started checking aurora forecasts regularly to keep an eye on the solar wind gauges. (Funny thing about the aurora forecast service: every day, a single guy, in Finland, checks the solar data, the sky and his gut feeling and updates the website with the forecast of the night.)
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Dropped off at the nearest bus stop, I headed to the husky camp by foot.
It was just 3.30PM but, in Inari, it was already pitch black, especially because there were no streetlights in that part of the road.
Equipped with my massive backpack and phone/flashlight, I started my 2.5km walk. It was an interesting experience: walking in the middle of the forest, the path only dimly light, snow falling; it was thrilling. The darkness and the trees surrounded me in a chilling embrace, which is how I imagine it would have been before electricity.
While all these thoughts stormed through my head, one of the rare passing cars stopped by and a voice called my name.
It was Jussa, the owner of the sled dog camp, and his family, coming to rescue me.
We had a quick dinner and headed to the camp so that I could get settled.
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