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Japan and South Korea - Did someone say...Cherry Blossoms?

Updated: May 10





Well, out of all our travels so far, I feel this one was possibly the most extraordinarily different. (Without including Antarctica...๐Ÿ˜‰)

Different architecture. Different culture. Different cuisine.

Different scenery. Different ... everything.


And it was amazing.


As my birthday is in early April, I had been 'threatening' Trev for years that I wanted to travel to Japan for the Cherry Blossom Season. "Great" he thought.

"I just looooove flowers." ๐Ÿ˜œ However, when a great deal came up for a cruise that included South Korea,

complete with a drinks package and wifi, we thought "Why not?"


'Why not', indeed. Compared to our last seven week long UK journey,

this was going to be a breeze to prep for,

plus this cruise line's itinerary had us calling in by Mount Fuji on my actual birthday.


SOLD!


That was until just shortly before our departure I received notice from the cruise company saying that our stop at Fuji had to be pushed to another location,

due to port congestion on that particular day.


Oh no!!! I was gutted!


But, after giving myself a day or so to sulk about it, I pulled up my big girl pants and looked at booking a full day's trip to Mt Fuji, the day before we were to get aboard,

as we had a two night stay not far from the heart of Tokyo city, prior to the trip.


Problem solved.


It's always a good idea to look at the ports you are scheduled to call in at, and check out local tours, rather than spending the big bucks going on a shore excursion from ship.

They book out early when ships are in port,

so its good to look as soon as you know your itinerary.


THAT said, you must scrutinise the details, to make sure you have both the time to get to the starting point, as sometimes you don't really know when you can get off ship,

and more importantly,

make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get back to the ship.

As when you go ashore, without being on a ship booked excursion, you are fully responsible for getting your butts back before departure.

(Always make sure you have your passport on you...just in case.)


You don't want to become a 'Pier Runner'.

Plenty of sad, yet kind of amusing YouTube videos of them. A life goal for me, is to never be one of them!


So, before we board our ride for next three weeks, we had a couple of nights booked in the eye opening district of 'Shinjuku'.

Known for its bright city lights (very reminiscent of New York's 'Times Square')

as well as being the Red Light district of Tokyo,

it is a tourist mecca for shopping and dining,

and we also ended up being absolutely stoked with our selection of hotel.


The Hotel Gracery was to be our digs for the next two nights,

plus one night after our cruise is finished. This is a place I selected purely by chance really,

but it turned out to be such a fabulous choice!


Located bang in the middle of the action, and so very easy to find,

as not only is it the tallest hotel in the precinct,

it is also known locally as the 'Godzilla' hotel, due to the giant life-like monster

located on the side of the building!

It was very easy communicating to local taxi drivers - who couldn't speak English;

All it took was the phrase: "Please take me to Godzilla Hotel!" That would be met by huge laughs and head nods and we'd be on our way!




And here he is, from the 8th floor lobby, but you can't go out there!

It would have been a great place for a roof top (sort of) bar.

Crazy not to make the most of such a cool photo op.


Let me just say here now ... be prepared when you venture out. Should I go here in this blog?

Well, yeah, I will. It is was it is. It's Shinjuku.


However, compared to Red Light districts in other cities of the world, not like we've seen many, haha,

this one was, (or seemed like anyway), so very safe.

Just super casual, with the young people all dressed up like 'Anime', and 'us oldie travellers' being pretty much invisible to them, even though we stuck out like sore thumbs.


The signage, and the young people with signs advertising their services are everywhere.

But what shocked me the most I would say, was the age of them,

and the amount of photoshop applied to the images. Up to you if you wish to use Google Translate. And there were just as many young boys on the road as girls.

So childlike. I'm a mum, I feel so sad for them, and their parents.



Moving on...

Whilst we were strolling around on our first night, we stumbled across what I thought was the famous 'Shibuya Crossing', when in fact it was just a Shinjuku one. Hey, same- same to me basically, so I'll take this one. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Its all fun, when what you've seen online and in images for years,

literally unfolds in front of you, and you're part of it. A human form of 'the great migration' stampede video I took a few years back.

Haha.




Our daughter, who is way more up to speed with the ways of Japan than us,

had told us that 7 Eleven stores are known for having some seriously yummy food.

And as there's one on every corner, its official -

we actually had our first meal in Japan - in a 7 Eleven! Don't laugh!

Yeah, it's ok, you should - we did,

but in fact, these are truly your 'go-to' stores for most things.

Particularly ATM's.

They say you've never had great fried chicken till you've had it from a Japanese 7 Eleven.



So a pork bao bun it was. Bon apetite, Trev!



And check out the Shinjuku fashion in the background.

Wow, I could fill an album with some of the looks we saw.



And the shops! Trev dared me to try some on. Like they'd have MY size! Be an absolute tragic look on me, at my age -

Haha.



---


The following day was our last free day before our cruise,

and I had booked a day tour before I left Australia -

I did NOT want to miss out on seeing Mt Fuji!

Upon arriving in Japan, we discovered that the actual mountain

only chooses to reveal herself on average, a third of the year -

so we had a one in three chance of seeing her in all her magnificence. What do you reckon happened? Yup, its a 'Watson thing', and she was waiting for us...but not for too long!


My first decent glimpse was through the bus window,

as she loomed big and beautiful behind a theme park rollercoaster.



Not the lake front/cherry blossomed picturesque view I had envisioned,

but still awesome all the same.

We were off to a great start - she was visible! We were informed that the 'Umbrella Cloud' over the summit was a sign of good luck. That's cool, but I was aching to see that famous snow capped crater - but alas,

I had to be content with a little cloud.


The snow on the roads inside the Mt Fuji National Park had been freshly ploughed,

enough that we could get into what they call the First Step. There are five steps in all, but only one was accessible by road today.



And as Aussies, who had endured a very long hot summer, we relished in seeing snow -

for the first time in, wait...I can't remember!



Kids in a candy store.

Really, it's a little pathetic. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Hey given a chance, I would have done snow angels!


Moving on to a little village where we had more distant views of the mountain,

and having the opportunity to walk around a very touristy area,

we loved it all the same, as it was crammed with delicious street food,

so Trev was in his foodie heaven. Barely a cherry blossom to be found yet, as we are at least a week early at this stage,

so that suits us - plenty of time to enjoy everything else this island nation has to offer.




Best BBQ'd squid skewer Trev had ever tasted! (Maybe it was his first, but that's beside the point!)


The food delights kept coming at our lunch time food stop - but lucky I was allowed in...๐Ÿ˜‰


Whoops, just rolled my sleeve down.

๐Ÿ˜ฌ

But look what was waiting inside for us...



Do they come in sets of 4 or 8 was my thought?

Hehe.

Just kidding.

Look how our ramen was served - even over a little element to keep it warm.

YUM!


And did you know, that you are allowed to slurp your noodles,

and drink the soup from the bowl?

Men heaven.

Trev heaven.


Unfortunately for us,

by now the weather had turned quite windy,

and our scheduled boat cruise on that famous lake in front of Fuji,

as well as our ride on the ropeway (cable car) had to be abandoned. Whaa ๐Ÿ˜ซ

This below, is what I had been dreaming of -

Even the blossoms weren't out, but that's Fuji, she's there one minute/gone the next.



So instead, we were taken to a lake on the other, more sheltered side,

and managed a wee ride on a tiny boat, to experience a little of Lakeside Fuji. ๐Ÿ’—๐Ÿ”



Swan Lake, anyone? At least this one was in for a little attention...๐Ÿฆข



It was here that we met up with another couple on our bus, (actually sitting right behind us), Bonnie and Kevin, and they also live on the Gold Coast - and were getting onboard the same cruise as us tomorrow. I love how life throws you these blessings... The beginning of fun times ahead, I assure you! You'll see their faces soon. ๐Ÿ˜Š


Last item on our day's itinerary, before catching the bullet train back to the city,

was a lovely Temple, Shrine, and floating Tori Gate,

set deep in a dense cedar forest on the edge of an icy cold lake.

We were to see many of these over the next three weeks -

but the first is always exciting!




Then, after walking down a loooong flight of stone steps

(Trev's knee is going great guns by the way)

to the floating Tori Gates,

Trev saw a guy propose to his girlfriend underneath them.

Awww, so sweet. ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ’ I was just a tad late to the party - too busy helping an Instagrammer get the right shot.

Oh well, teach me to offer. :) I'll always offer though.

We have had some favourite photos of us taken by obliging, random strangers.




Back via bullet train was another great experience, as is navigating your way

through the enormous Japanese train stations. Once you get the gist of it all, of where and how to buy your ticket, its not toooo hard. And its actually super cheap. (You can't pay pass with a credit or debit card, like other countries.) However, there's always help available,

or you can buy a multi train pass and use that without any hassle. We have quite the experience a little later into the trip on a commuter train at peak hour!


But the Bullet train is pretty awesome. They literally fly through some stations, and all you can do is squeal a little as it

explodes past you, then laugh a lot at the madness of the speed!



Tomorrow, is cruise time - WOOOHOOO!


---


All aboard, the Diamond Princess, for a 20 day Spring Flowers Cruise! ๐ŸŒธ

Once onboard, we discovered that it was actually 2 back to back 10-day cruises. ๐Ÿค” I thought it strange that we were going to Tokyo twice! No matter, we only doubled up on Tokyo, Nagasaki and Busan in South Korea. ALL places worthy of a second look in any case!


I was just thrilled, as it was actually going to be one of the longest cruises we've done yet,

and with only a couple of sea days. Win-win!


This is our second Princess cruise,

having done a short one out of Sydney in 2019 on the Ruby Princess,

with my old school buddy.

It is a lovely Cruise Ship, perhaps the general passengers being a little older in demographic than what we usually sail with,

but who are we to complain? We're on vacation!


Its all about the destinations on this one, (I guess it usually is anyway, ๐Ÿ˜ )

and this particular cruise line ticked all the boxes for the dates and places we desired.


Now, time for a wee explore of the ship, and to order their signature cocktail,

a '24 carat Margarita' My choice of poison for this sailing! And maybe some pizza, Trev?





I can sense fun times ahead!

When don't we have fun? Always grateful.



After a relaxing day at sea, we arrived at our first port of Kagoshima. I was very proud to say, that as we were sailing in at dawn

and passing their local steaming volcano, Sakurajima,

I watched her in the sunrise - from the gym! There's a first for everything!



YESSSS!

I was on the treadmill, keeping my fitness up, as we have a huge year ahead of us,

and I was determined not to derail it on this trip! Move more, eat less. Perhaps drink a little bit more though. Darn drinks package, you know...



Doing my research at home before we left,

I had read up about this volcano, and how to get there via public transport.


I actually took this shot from our stateroom balcony whilst in port. What a view, hey?!


And, happily, we had our new travel buddies, Bon and Kev, to come along for the ride. Trusting souls there are!

Time to wing it ashore, and take our chances!


As long as we don't become Pier Runners, right?


First thing I did, was to take a photo of our cruise ship, and the Port - in Japanese. Handy to show to any Taxi driver when we need to return.

I tend to do this everywhere now, in any country. Photograph your hotel address, in their language - it is a life saver, I tell you. Unless you are lucky enough to be staying in a Godzilla hotel!

LOL

And we were on our way, with our new buddies. Safety in numbers, right, and splitting a cab between two couples was way cheaper than the cruise ship shuttle bus, at $25USD per person, I think each way.


The four amigos.


So we took a cab to the ferry port, (about a 40 minute drive),

then proceeded to jump aboard a local ferry for the 30 minute or so ride

across to the island. It was actually super windy and rough, I was surprised the ferries were still going,

but once aboard, it cut through the waves without you even noticing.



We were told, I think by maybe the cabbie, that the udon noodle bowl that you buy on the ferry, is renowned in the land as the BEST around. With that firmly in mind, we thought we'd grab one on our return trip from the island.

And you only paid for the ferry once you got over there,

as the islanders own the ferries, and earn the money for themselves. Go them!

It was super cheap, like about $2USD per person each way.

That's nuts!

So cheap!



From here, there was an island On/Off bus, which goes every hour, and is quite packed when a cruise ship is in port, but we got on,

and used it to take us halfway up the mountain to the observatory. Ice cold winds up there,

but it was an awesome view back down towards our ship and beyond,

and how often do you get up close to an active volcano? As long as it behaves itself...




Not much to do once you're up there, and we were keen to make sure we got back to the ship on time, so we headed back to the ferry,

and both the boys directed themselves straight to the tiny little kitchen window -

where they sold the udon.

We thought we'd just buy two bowls between the four of us, as they were huge,

and we could easily share one between each couple,

(plus - we're from a cruise ship - its not like we ever hungry!)


Ramen bowls often come with a hard boiled egg floating in them, but this 'Udon' bowl (thicker noodles) had a soft cooked egg yolk just floating at the top.

Now Trev loves his runny eggs, so no problem, but when dear Kev was kind of pushing it around, unsure, he eventually got it in his mouth, at the very same time I said

"Go on Kev, suck up that embryo!",

to which he almost choked and snorted it out his nose.


Apparently Kev isn't a fan of the humble soft egg yolk, so sorry about that Kev,

but I still chuckle at the memory as we all laughed so hard at the time.

Bless. Best udon ever. ๐Ÿฒ Great memory with it.

But sadly, no photo of Kev at the time! He just may be just a tad scarred for life. ๐Ÿคญ




---


The next stop for us, was a place who's name, along with one other (a little later) has its own place in history. Sadly.

Nagasaki.


And what an extraordinarily gorgeous port this is.

Nestled along a very narrow entrance, and surrounded by steep hills, and islands,

this mega port, was, and still is, a hive of industry.

It is also where this ship we are on, was built.


But this visit for us, was to learn, and honour the people who perished that fateful day in August, 1945, and for the tens of thousands who suffered for decades afterwards.

The atomic bombing of Nagasaki, August 9, 1945, only 3 days after the bomb on Hiroshima,

will always go down in history as a very bleak time in human history. As they say, the only victor of war, is war itself.


What is astonishing, as we strolled through the Peace Park, paying our respects by the memorial statues and standing silently at the site of the epicentre -

(where the bomb ignited in the skies above them) -

is the fact that life has 'found a way'. Found a way back. Trees, flowers, birds, humans, animals and insects, all occupy the space where mankind truly believed may have remained a toxic wasteland for centuries to come. Nope.

Life clings on, and fights back. And like the people that we will find in Hiroshima a little later in this trip - these cities are leading the way in the pursuit of peace, and the abolition of all nuclear weapons from Earth.

That's a tough road ahead, but they have a history to back them up. We can only wish, pray and hope for such a thing.



The exact location, marking the epicentre of the atomic explosion. Not the kind of site where you stand next to it, smiling. A solemn place of silent respect.










The three images here:

Firstly ; 'Fat Boy'. A replica of the plutonium atomic bomb. Secondly ; A beautiful sculpture, 7 connecting human forms representing the

7 continents of the world. And lastly ; A Peace Bell Memorial. Notice the bottles of water that are at the base?

These are everywhere. People leave bottles of water and even fruit, at the shrines, to represent aid to the people who survived the immediate horror and destruction of the A Bomb -

as they all had an excruciating, unquenchable thirst. All water was clogged with oil and debris, and they were forced to drink toxic sludge. To this day, water is the sign of memory and respect for those who suffered so greatly.


Today was a solemn experience, however our next call into Nagasaki

will depict the beauty of the area.

These days it is known to be the third most beautiful city by night,

after Shanghai and Monaco.

Life found a way.


There is one of these bridges in nearly every port we sailed into on this trip,

and we never tired sailing away underneath them at sunset, towards our next destination.



---


Busan, South Korea.


Crossing the narrow, island filled Kanmon straights overnight,

saw us arrive into the bustling seaport at the base of South Korea; Busan.


The second largest city of the country, Busan also holds the title of being the

fourth largest container port in the world.

When I snapped this photo of a billboard, I could understand why.

Home of Kia and Hyundai...its no wonder!


Today, I had actually bitten the bullet this time,

and booked a ship excursion for our visit ashore.

Seeing that we have another stop here later in the trip,

I thought it was a good way to get 'the lay of the land', so we'd grab the experience of some local knowledge to get out there and explore on our own next visit.


And the thing we were possibly looking forward to the most?

Korean BBQ street food. And for good reason - it was known to be absolutely delicious!!!!!

But first things first - we headed into the hills to explore the very colourful ,


Reminiscent a little of Italy's 'Cinque Terra', with the tiny houses nestled into the hills,

all having been painted in brightly different colours.


Trev actually bought his "I don't work here" cap here in Gamechon.

Being retired now, he often pops in to visit our boys in our 'old factory'

where they are busy slaying it with their businesses...

but Trev wants to make sure he's there incognito.

Hence the hat.

Made us laugh.


Strolling around, we were enjoying seeing all the local teenagers

out in the native dress that they hired from a shop, and they were having a ball,

also happy to pose with 'us westerners'. So proud of their heritage.



Then we found the food...May have given the frozen beer and s'mores a miss,

but Trev found some yummy skewered treats to enjoy!



And how cute is this little guy outside a bakery,

and the Korean version of Love Locks look a lot less heavy that the padlocks

that are hung around the world...




Leaving this colourful village, it was down to the seaside,

where I got to grab myself a lighthouse shot for my growing collection,


... followed by a little mischief making, as we hammed it up around a couple of bronze sculptures, ones depicting the love of a fisherman and a mermaid. You gotta kind of expect this from us by now...;)



From here we visited the live/dry fish markets of Busan.

Jagalchi Markets. What. An. Eye. Opener.


I must say, everything was super fresh, but I'd rather buy something filleted,

that hasn't been trapped in a crowded tank. I am such a sook, but I felt it was more of a living seafood morgue, than a market. But that's just me.


It is, however, how they have been trading since the beginning of last century,

and it's believed to be the second largest fish market in all of Asia.


Seafood is such a major part of their diet here,

and its the older women who present and market the fish, straight off the trawlers, every day.

Men fish/hunt, women prepare and sell. Its how they work, and I'm sure that will never change.


It didn't smell 'too fishy' and there wasn't a fly in sight. And I must say, they had the largest prawns we've ever seen. No way you could call them shrimps! ๐Ÿฆ



And lastly, over to the main market area of Busan,

where they also hold their famous Busan International Film Festival.


They even have their own walk of fame in the pavement.


But there was only one thing we were after - Korean BBQ street food. IT DID NOT DISAPPOINT!





And these little guys, Hotteoks, were my favourite street foods.





Nom, nom, nom.


We've been to many a street market during our travels, and we must say,

we thoroughly enjoyed this one. The sounds, the smells, the kindness and politeness of the vendors was a wonderful edition to the whole experience. No hawking or hassling, and the whole place felt casual, and very safe. Our guide was a lot of fun, and we actually ran into him again a week later,

and he was thrilled that we came up and said hello. Oh, and he was also the one that suggested we should try the little Hotteok buns.

So glad he did!

And lastly, we giggled at the name of the local adult shop.

Bless.

LOL



A great day, and back to the ship! This trip is really starting to warm up!


---


The following day saw us arrive at the port of Sasebo, Japan, and after dealing with hours of waiting to get through immigration, as we had to re-enter Japan -

all it basically left time for us to do was a wander around the local town.

Yes, to me this could be a wasted day, (as I loathe wasting days on holiday),

but we had fun with Bonnie and Kevin, finding shrines and beautiful gardens, and making the most of the down time we had, as we knew there were busier days ahead of us.