A Travellerspoint blog

Korea, Part 1

韓国

Beside Japan, Hippo Family Club also has a division in Korea, based in Seoul. One day, I decided to muster up enough chutzpah to ask the head office if I can go visit Hippo in Korea. Being the wonderful company that it is, Hippo granted me my request and sent me to Korea to participate in a upcoming camp for exchange students.

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At the airport in Korea, I was met by Guri-Guri-san, a Japanese Hippo member currently in Korea through WIP [World Internship Project]. He asked me what I wanted to do first, and I promptly replied; "I want to go to GUNGNAM!"

You see, I've always thought it would be cool to dance Gungnam Style in Gungnam-gu, a very fancy district of Seoul.

With that, we were off to Gungnam-gu, where I danced Gungnam in Gungnam.

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I'm sure everyone knows about PSY and his world-famous Gungnam Style song and dance. But, my parents also read this blog and I don't think they know. So, the following video is for you, Mom and Dad:

Now, I have my own Gungnam Style video!

Aside from Gungdam-ing in Gungdam, I had fun just looking around and making observations of Seoul and the Korean people.

I thought Korea was going to look like a mini-Japan, since Korea was colonized by the Japanese until the 1940's. Well, the airport, Gangnum, and the center of Seoul did resemble Japan a bit. But as soon as I left the city and went into the suburbs - the environment was completely different! Seoul definitely has more trees than Tokyo and tons of identical high-rise apartment buildings that make it look kinda like Russia.

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Another thing I found interesting was the amount of churches. Churches everywhere! And they are easily identifiable by their tall steeples with crosses that glow in red or white at night. You can count multiple crosses from anywhere in Seoul, and I remember once counting 8 from a certain point where I was standing.

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Lastly, I enjoyed the large amount of advertisements that used Korean pop stars to lure bait. K-pop is a huge industry, popular in the US as well as Japan. K-Pop stars can really sell.

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I remember seeing the above ad and was almost convinced to by some DUN.SUM.COOL -- just so that I could feel like "part of the band... ":)

Spending time in Korea was great, and I'm very happy for the experience. I'll write more about my Korean adventure in upcoming posts...

Posted by DanPan 20:19 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

I Have Guests!

訪れていた

After a trip to the Middle East, my sister and her husband decided to return to the US flying over Asia instead of Europe, so that they could stop by in Japan and say "Hi".

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Y-A-A-A-A-Y.

It felt really good to see some family after seven months away. Unfortunately, the two of them could only stay for 3 days, so we were quite busy during that time.

The three of us visited obvious famous places like Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya, Asakusa, and Akihabara. But I personally enjoyed going to a park where we did the tea ceremony in a tea house on the park's pond.

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The two of them found it strange that there were no chairs and the process to drink some tea was so formal. I guess I didn't really think about it, I have become so used to traditional tea ceremonies that they don't seem strange to me anymore. I guess I'm becoming a local :)

I also really enjoyed introducing my sister and brother-in-law to my co-workers at the office. Everyone was happy to see my family and of course, wanted to take pictures with them. It's was pretty interesting to introduce my family from America to my family in Japan. These people are from different parts of my life and I keep them in different boxes in my mind. It's pretty cool to mix people from separate parts of life.

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Although it was a short visit, I had a great time seeing my family. Never did I think that I would be living in Tokyo and showing my family around this awesome city.

Posted by DanPan 19:50 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

I'm 20

誕生日

Getting old - it's an inevitable part of life. But, on March 23, 2013, I had an amazing time getting old alongside my Japanese friends and family.

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I think the last time I celebrated my birthday was when I was 10 or 12 years old. I realized at a young age that big birthday bashes were a big hassle, and I didn't see the fun in planning, organizing, and then running around the party to make sure my guests were having a good time.

This year, however, my host family decided to throw a birthday party for me and invite all our HIPPO friends to participate. I was fine with that -- if someone else throws me a party, I wouldn't have to hassle myself or feel any pressure. Bring on the part-tay!

March 23rd, a Saturday, began like any other ordinary day. That quickly changed when the mailman came in the morning and presented me with a fatty surprise.

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Wow! International Mail Package #2!

My parents (with the help of some relatives this time) sent me yet another package filled with goodies from America. I guess I kinda-maybe-sometimes complain that fruit in Japan is too expensive, so the package was mostly composed of dried fruit. Oh, and lots of socks. My mom asked if it was cold and if I needed any socks before she sent the package, to which I replied "no". But, for some reason, I guess she still decided I need socks. Um, okay. I love my mom :)

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My par-tay wasn't until evening, so a few friends and I planned to go out for hanami before the par-tay started. In Spring, Japan is covered with beautiful pink cheery blossoms, and Japanese people enjoy having picnics under them -- an activity called hanami.

When I arrived, I was surprised to find not a few people (like we had planned) but a group of 11 friends! I guess word of my pre-par-tay hanami par-tay got out, and many friends decided to come and join. I love my friends :)

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We decided to go to Ueno Park, which is definitely the place to go if you find yourself in Tokyo and want to do some hanami. It has more than 1000 cherry blossoms and a long alleyway to walk under them.

...and just like everywhere in Japan, Ueno park was crazy crowded. I guess word about my pre-par-tay hanami par-tay in Ueno Park really got out, because ALL of Japan came to celebrate with us.

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After we couldn't find a place to sit in the crowded park, we finally settled in an off-limits area (oops), and started our hanami with the heaping mountain of snacks and drinks.

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After hanami-ing, we cleaned up and a group of us got ready for my real birthday par-tay that same evening.

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When we arrived, my friends were ushered in and I was told to wait outside of the door. I assumed to find a few HIPPO members inside, maybe some friends of my family, oh, and probably even some Russians who came to HIPPO the week before to participate in home-stays.

When I was finally let in, I realized that I was completely wrong. It was not a par-tay. It was an Ō-ban-buru-mai.

An Ō-ban-buru-mai is the Japanese word for a big, big lavish party - kinda like the parties thrown by Gatsby in The Great Gatsby.

[By the way, the word "Gatsby" has a completely different meaning in Japanese culture. In Japan, Gatsby is the name of a hair gel for men. Once, I asked my Japanese friends if they knew about The Great Gatsby, and they all simultaneously began singing and dancing to the song from the Gatsby hair gel commercial. It was quite funny.]

Anyway, the moment I walked into my Ō-ban-buru-mai, I was greeted by a parade of people who had gathered from all over the Tokyo area to celebrate my birthday with me.

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I was expecting my host family to throw me a small get-together, but I was shocked to find a big, beautifully decorated room and tons of people. A real Ō-ban-buru-mai.

I was so shocked that I couldn't find words to say. The below picture fully conveys the emotions I was feeling at that moment:

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Next, we began to eat. No! I'm sorry ... I mean feast. We began to feast. They do not eat at Ō-ban-buru-mai's. They feast.

There was a TON of food, and after eating it, my host mom rolled out a cart with a ginormous birthday cake that she had baked herself.

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The cake said "Daniel, Happy 20th Birthday" and included a drawing of my face in portrait. IT WAS HUGE! It made Costo look like it was selling cupcakes for kiddies. I can't believe my host mom baked that. I love my host mom :)

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After eating cake, we watched a slideshow of my time in Japan, danced to SADA, and listened to people give me birthday wishes. There were even video birthday wishes from friends who couldn't come to my Ō-ban-buru-mai, including last years Hippo intern, Sakkun, now currently in Canada. It was very touching - I even let some tears drop.

The mass of people who came to my Ō-ban-buru-mai also included two friends from my Japanese church. Seeing them was also a huge surprise - I keep HIPPO and church totally separate. How did church people come to my Ō-ban-buru-mai? I later found out that my host mom secretly contacted my church and invited them. And even though there was another church event that day, they still decided to come. I love my church :)

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After my Ō-ban-buru-mai ended and I returned home, I used all of the presents I had received to create a mini memorial for myself.

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It was difficult to wrap my head around the fact that March 23rd began like any other ordinary Saturday. By the time the day was over, I had received a package from America, hanami'ed at Ueno Park, celebrated an Ō-ban-buru-mai, and received enough presents to make myself a memorial. Wow.

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The entire day was an overload of surprises and emotions. I so blessed by my heavenly father for this opportunity. I am particularly grateful for such a wonderful host family, who took the time to plan something so wonderful for me. I am moved beyond words. I love my host family :)

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The Ō-ban-buru-mai was not the end of my birthday festivities. At the office on Monday, my co-workers surprised me with a cake that was covered in fruit, and a bag of some quality brown rice (my favorite Japanese food).

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But that's not all. The next day, some other HIPPO members took me out to a fancy French restaurant and surprised me with some fancy birthday dessert

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Oh wait. There's more. The day after that, during a HIPPO club meetings for college students, the members surprised me by singing "Happy Birthday" and giving me tons of my favorite thing in the world, FRUIT!

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Wow. I have never celebrated my birthday in a four day period before. Definitely the best birthday ever.

I love Japan. :)

I love everyone in Japan. :)

I love everything. :)

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Posted by DanPan 23:06 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Sakura

桜, 櫻

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Springtime in Japan is marked by the blooming of beautiful cherry blossoms, called sakura. For a couple of weeks in mid-March and early April, all of the cherry blossoms simultaneously bloom to transform the country into a wonderland of pink petals.

Sakura is an iconic symbol of Japanese culture, often found in anime, manga, Japanese art, film, and music. It is a symbol of the start of spring, of a rebirth of life. Unsurprisingly, this is also the time when Japanese schools and companies start their new year.

Explaining the beauty of the cherry blossoms is nearly impossible, so I've decided for the rest of this post to only include photos:

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Posted by DanPan 00:44 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Snowboarding & Soba

スノボ&そば

Guess what!

Not too long ago, I was surprised to find this while roaming the streets of Japan:

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It's springtime! The trees are blooming and Cherry Blossoms are beginning to sprout. BUT, before winter is officially over, I have another winter story I'd like to share...

My friend Tango, who took me up three mountains in the Okutama adventure back in November, invited me to go snowboarding in Niigata. The cold Siberian winds from Russia cross over to Niigata, hit the mountains, form thick rain clouds, and pour down snow all day long. That is why Niigata Prefecture is the best place for anything snow-related.

Tango's younger sister and last's years HIPPO intern, Sakkun, also came along on the adventure. The four of us met at Shinjuku late at night to catch the bus that would arrive in Niigata the next morning.

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The moment we stepped off the bus in Niigata, we were transported into a winter wonderland.

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Lots of snow also means lots of cold. We quickly changed out of our commoner peon clothing and put on some hardcore snowboard gear.

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Even though I live near the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, which gets tons of snow every year, this was the first time I had ever snowboarded in my life. As a result - I fell. A lot. Evidenced by this picture:

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The best thing was that we came on a weekday. The entire ski resort was practically empty. The ski lift had absolutely no line, so we could snowboard down the slope, quickly get on the ski lift, and snowboard down again.

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I had an awesome time snowboarding with my friends...
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... and forming a Snowboarder Rock Band!
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A couple of days later, while we were still sore from snowboarding, Sakkun and I decided visit Tango at his family's Soba restaurant in Okutama. I heard many good things about that restaurant, but never made time to check it out. Once I learned that it offered all you can eat soba and udon, I quickly found time. Sakkun and I were on our way to Okutama.

Not surprisingly, the morning of our trip, it unexpectedly began to snow and almost every single train was delayed. Because of heavy delays, we began to doubt if all you can eat soba and udon in Okutama was even worth it.

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After a few seconds of consideration, we decided all you can eat soba and udon in Okutama was worth it, and continued on our trek. All you can eat soba and udon in Okutama is always worth it.

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To our surprise, even though Okutama was the epicenter of snowfall, our train wasn't delayed once. In fact, our train car was completely empty! We had the whole car to ourselves.

WARNING: Do not leave the two of us in an empty train car.

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Okutama, which is covered in wild nature, is a beautiful place. When it's covered in snow, it is absolutely marvelous.

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Finally, we got to Tango and the Soba shop. And yes, all you can eat soba and udon in Okutama was very delicious. I ate four servings; soba and then udon and then more udon and then soba. It was quite pleasant.

After we finished eating, Sakkun and I stayed to help clean up. We changed out of our commoner peon clothing and put on some hardcore all you can eat soba and udon in Okutama gear.

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If you ever find yourself in Japan, and you happen to be hungry, I know a wonderful place. It has soba and udon. And it's in Okutama. And its all you can eat.

Posted by DanPan 19:22 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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