Tag Archives: castle

Busan to Fukuoka

Three weekends ago, during the Lunar New Year holiday, I took a trip across the East Sea to Japan. It’s been on my list of places to visit for a long time, so I was excited to finally go.

Instead of flying, I took the Beetle speed ferry from Busan to Fukuoka. A round trip ticket cost about 200,000 won ($185) and took just under three hours. The port worked much like an airport. Passengers go through security, show their passport, and present their ticket at the gate before boarding.

Port of Busan Security

Busan to Fukuoka Speed Ferry

The boat also felt like an airplane on the inside. It was a jet-ferry, so it even sounded like an airplane.

I naively expected Japan to be similar to Korea, but the two countries are quite different. The most obvious differences are cultural and not aesthetic. Japanese people seem to be more aware of the people around them, which makes public places in Japan much more pleasant than in Korea. There was a noticeable absence of pushing, spitting, and loud cell phone conversations. When I made an effort to be polite, like holding the door for people, they didn’t look at me like they caught me fingering a cat.

Escalator in Japan

People even follow the rules on escalators, keeping right so others can pass on the left.

I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see any of the weird sexual stuff for which the Japanese are so famous. With the exception of a few women in costumes and a baby-themed liquor bottle at the hotel bar, I didn’t see any weird stuff.

Weird baby bottle liquor in Japanese bar

The liquor bottle shaped like a baby’s milk bottle openly was the only hint that there might be some weird fetishes that don’t carry the same social stigma as in the west.

I stayed at the Crowne Plaza ANA hotel in downtown Fukuoka. Ordinarily out of my price range, I was able to stay at an upscale hotel by using credit card points. After checking in, I went out and explored the city. I tend to travel with a loose itinerary, so most of my time was spent wandering. I managed to incorporate a few of the heavily advertised local tourist attractions into the trip.

My favorite place was Maizuru Castle. This 400 year-old defensive structure was built on a hill in the center of town. It offers stunning views of the surrounding city. The original wooden buildings are gone, but the stone walls remain intact and some replicas wooden buildings have been constructed.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan Entrance

This is the castle’s main gate. The Naka river acts as a natural moat.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan Stairs

The castle is built in levels. To get from one level to the next, you must pass through a narrow stairway. This allowed for easier defense.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan house on wall

All along the walls are guard towers from which defenders could shoot arrows and drop stones.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan Panorama from top

The top level of the castle offers beautiful panoramic views of the city.

Not far from the castle was an indoor street market. I never learned the name of the market, but I spent over an hour walking around and checking out the shops. It stretched the length of six city blocks and included several hundred businesses. The shops ranged from fresh produce to traditional clothing to touristy trinkets.

Fukuoka Japan indoor street market

At the far end of the market was a Buddhist temple complex. I walked inside to look around and realized that I had seen the golden steeple of the temple’s shrine several times before. It is visible from several other places around town, including my hotel room.

Fukuoka Japan Buddhist Temple Entrance

The entrance appeared to be decorated for some celebration, but I have no idea what it might have been.

Woman worshiping Fukuoka Japan Buddhist Temple Entrance

The golden column atop the shrine is visible from miles away.

The most surprising thing I found while walking around Fukuoka was a familiar face.

James Brown statue in Fukuoka Japan

That face is pure nightmare fuel.

My only regret was that I didn’t have more time to spend exploring the city – especially the nightlife. I was so tired from walking that I wound up in bed early both nights. Next time, I”ll budget more time for relaxing during the day and hitting the town at night.

Until next time.


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Palgong Mountain Hiking

A few months ago, I went to a temple near Daegu called Dong Hwa Sa (동화사) with some friends.  The temple is located in a national park at Palgong Mountain (팔공산).  I enjoyed visiting the temple so much that I wrote a post about it.  So I was excited last week when all of the teachers at my school left mid-day to go to Palgong Mountain for a hiking trip.

We left school after lunch and drove to the park.  Our trip began on the opposite side of the mountain from Dong Hwa Sa, so I got to see a totally different area.  In the parking lot, each teacher was given a bag lunch, and then we started hiking immediately.  I was confused as usual, so I just followed a few other teachers onto the trail.

I picked the wrong group and wound up hiking to the top of the mountain at full speed.  The area to which we hiked is called Gasanbawi (가산바위), which is one of the highest points on the mountain.   A huge rock at the top overlooks the mountains and valleys below.  Most of the group got tired and slowed down as we hiked, so I reached the top with two other teachers about half an hour before the rest of the hikers arrived.  This gave me time to relax, eat and snap a few pictures from the top.

Needless to say, the views were pretty amazing.  We spent an hour on the rock, just soaking in the views.  When the time came to move on, I didn’t want to leave.  But we had to see one more thing before we left – the ruins of Gasan Castle (가산산성).  I don’t know much about the castle, because I didn’t come across any signs informing hikers of its history.  The only thing I could glean from the Konglish conversation I had with my fellow teachers is that the castle is the ruins of an ancient royal house/palace from a long time ago.

Most of the ruins have been refurbished in some way.  You can see in the picture above that the top of the wall is made of newer stone than the bottom.  Other sections of the castle walls, on the other hand, have been fully refurbished.

After we finished hiking, all of the teachers went to a restaurant near Palgong Mountain for dinner.  As usual, we went to a traditional Korean restaurant that had great food.  It was the normal spread – a few types of meat and lots of sides (mostly vegetables and mushrooms).  At the end of the meal, we were served beer and a dong-dong-ju (동동주), which is a traditional rice wine that is similar to makgeolli.  Like makgeolli, it is served in a bowl and has a sweet flavor without much alcohol taste.  The primary difference between the two drinks is that dong-dong-ju is made in homes or restaurants and makgeolli is made in large breweries.  It’s Korea’s traditional home-brew.

Until next time.


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