Bikan and Bizen

We are spending a few days in the industrial city of Kurashiki to enjoy its non-industrial, historic, perfectly preserved village of Bikan. Bikan has been called “the Venice of Japan” (as if Japan needs Italy as a reference!) and “Japan’s most beautiful village.” It was once a merchant’s quarter in the Edo period, generally the 17th century. Its location on the road between western Japan and Tokyo (then called Edo) made it an essential asset in Japan’s national economy — so the Shogun himself managed it.

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Bunnies, Bikes and Bodhisattvas on Japan’s Inland Islands

Onomichi is so much fun. In addition to having its own set of charms, it is a staging point for nearby places with other charms. One of them is the Shimanami Kaido cycling course. Visitors, including serious cyclists, come from all over the world to ride the 50-mile course from Onomichi across six incredible inland islands. Most do it in a day and so did we. Except, er, we did 15 miles on one island. But they were great ones!

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The Funky Charm of Onomichi

Raffia woven sandals cover a temple wall representing the strong legs we will need for the journey of life.

If towns were family members, Japan’s Onomichi would probably be your eccentric aunt — the one who has cats, and an antique store that is only open on Thursdays, and sings along with Puccini arias, and drains her small bank balance to host elaborate dinner parties. Continue reading

Fukuoka: Land of Many Malls and Other Cool Stuff

This week in Japan — a new emperor, a new era, an earthquake, and Golden Week.  When I scheduled my visit to Fukuoka, Japan several months ago, I didn’t know it would be at such an auspicious time. Or that I would arrive on the weekend of the city’s Dontaku Festival. It was a great way to start my visit to Japan!

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10 Clues that South Korea is the Probably the Most People-Friendly Place on Earth

Photograph courtesy of Diane Lopez.

After a month in South Korea, we are aware of some distinct themes in our conversations. One is how much I don’t like the food. HAH!  Ok I will shut up now because everyone is tired of hearing it.  (Diane loves it)  The more important theme is the country’s many ways of telling you that you are honored. Not you the tourist, or you the powerful or rich person, but you whoever you are.

Imagine traveling through a country where you see things like this everywhere:

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Jeju Island’s Quiet Struggle for Peace

I treasure my life on the road and I remind myself every day that it must be more than an extended vacation. I am in it to learn and connect. The pyramids are breathtaking but slaves built them and climate change could destroy them. And worse and more. Fortunately, for every tragedy, there seems to be people pushing back on tragedy. Yesterday, I learned a little about both on the Island of Jeju, “South Korea’s Hawaii.”

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The Kindness of Strangers in South South Korea

Gate at ginseng vendor’s stall in Jeongju

From the standpoint of South Korea’s niceness, this week has been pretty typical. Monday stands out because it began with an 80-year old man walking us ten blocks toward our destination to a police station — where two police officers took us the rest of the way in their police car. (Really, that was so cool). Our coffee house hostesses took photos of us and then thanked us profusely while giggling. On my subway ride back to our hotel, a young man gave me his seat next to a group of women who shared their popcorn with me.

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