June 14, 2024

I must thank my lucky stars for granting us our visas to Japan and Korea this year.

It was a momentous journey. Of course, I must also thank Esther Faypon and Eppie Blanco of The Baguio Travel Co.  for helping facilitate  these visas and my sister Teresa Yra for sponsoring our trip for the second time.

The trip was awesome. In Korean slang dae-bak!

We stayed five days in Korea and eight days in Japan. Enough to grant the bucket wish list of a Korean telenovela fan who wanted to see a part of Joseon history and culture; its castles and palaces, a typical Korean environment during that era: a house for the affluent, the ordinary, a market and a typical government office that I usually see on Korean telenovelas.

It was also an opportunity to try the hanbok and roam the palace wearing it and witness the changing of the guards.

Of course, Japan had its usual clean and modern toilets, temples and  shopping areas.

Delayed during our visit was the blooming of the sakuras or cherry blossom trees. But this was compensated by the clear and fantastic view  of Mount Fuji.

It was inviting us to see her closer and to caress and experience her wonderful snow cover. Sugoi or subarashi! Yes, we also tried wearing kimonos while shopping and touring at the same time.

       First on the itinerary was a visit to the Cheongwade Presidential Blue House and the wearing of the hanbok while visiting the Gyeongbok Palace. Then it was Insadong Antique Street. We were taught how to cook bulgogi and gimbap.

Most exciting was the visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at Imjinggak and the DORA Observatory. Sort of reminisced scenes from  “Crash Landing on You”. 

Then there were visits to the Korean Folk Village, Namdaemum market to taste fresh fish and wagyu beef,  the Myeongdong shopping district. We also enjoyed an hour of  non-verbal and exciting cooking show called “Nanta.” It was hilarious.

      Our Japan visit started with Osaka.We went to Kobe Chinatown,  then to the Nara Deer Park in Kyoto on the way to the Todai-ji Temple and the Fushimi Shrine. There were also tours to the famous Golden Pavilion of Kyoto and the bamboo forest.

Entertaining was the Maiko tea ceremony and interaction at Gion district.

The Maiko  played games with us and explained the difference between an apprentice Maiko and a Geisha. Again, I recalled “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

There was also a visit to the Miho Museum and a thrilling  Shinkansen Bullet train ride. We rode a Hakone cablecar  on the way to the 3rd station of Mt. Fuji and a bus rise to the 4th station where we touched snow. 

We  experienced again the unforgettable Shibuya crossing where thousands of people cross coming from different directions.

Tokyo tours included visits  to the Tsukiji Outer market, Imperial Palace, Ueno Park (where the famous giant panda bear Xiang Xiang was born in 2017, to father Ri Ri and mother Shin Shin . She was returned to China in 2023).

Added to the itinerary were stopovers at Asakusa Sensoji Temple and the Tokyo Skytree with a commanding view of Tokyo  and Harajuku sojourn to experience a “Cat Café”. The lessons in sushi making were enriching. The first and second quarters of 2024 was a gift. Thank you, Lord! – Stella Maria L. de Guia