“House of Hidden Treasures”

In one of my many days with nothing to do at work, I was browsing through some blogs written by people who had previously lived in Japan. In one, I found a post where the writer had written (upon returning home) his regrets of the things he didn’t get a chance to experience while living in The Land of the Rising Sun. One of these was: “Visit a Sex Museum”. As of last weekend, I will never be able to say I have that regret. This is the story of how many foreigners joined together in a journey to Uwajima, to visit (as it is directly translated): The House Of Hidden Treasures.

Uwajima is a town south of Matsuyama, and on one fine Saturday morning – actually it was raining – a few of us ALT’s set out in search of culture. We were met at the Uwajima train station by the local ALTs who were excited to show us the wonders of their town. We were taken down winding streets, met by local’s stares. In fact it was one of these kind locals who approached us and said, “If you are looking for the giant penis statue, it’s that way”… and pointed us in the correct direction. I guess it was obvious what we were here in this small town to see.. and see it we did.

penis statue.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

This is actually a shrine in which one comes to pray for fertility and childbirth and the like. There were instructions (in English & Japanese) on how to properly pay your respects. What amused me more than the statue itself was all the signs in English that read, “Please don’t laugh”, and “Be respectful”.

The museum itself was actually incredibly strange. It went from ancient images in which sex is portrayed from around the world to strange circus acts and eventually to horrific real photographs no one would ever want to see. Once we reached that point we all decided things had just taken a turn for the worse, and we’d better go and see what else Uwajima had to offer.

All in all, there was more to see in Uwajima than just the penis shrine. There were lovely temples which looked beautiful even in the rain. It was nice to see a lot of the other teachers who all came together for the occasion (what else but a giant penis statue to bring people together). Here are some other images of what Uwajima had to offer us.

penis statue.
Okay, here’s the temple, penis free.uwajima temple wishes
At the temple, people write their wishes on these pieces of wood and hang them. I don’t know what this says, so I can’t guarantee this is a penis free picture.

Check out the rest on flickr! Have a great weekend everyone! I am off on another adventure this weekend (possibly featuring monkeys) so stay tuned (too cheesy?)..



The One Where James & Rachel Travel to South Korea – Part III

Have you already read Part I and Part II? Because photos have been added! So even if you have, go back and look at the fantastic professional-quality photos I snapped. Or just go to my flickr.

Okay, I promised Cherry Blossom photos so let’s get that out of the way first. Here is my favourite photo of the bunch; taken at the temple in Busan:

Cherry Blossoms & TempleCherry Blossoms at the Busan Temple

Anyway, back to the adventure. To finish up, James and I awoke on Tuesday morning, the day we expected to be taking the Beetle back to our homeland away from home, only to discover that due to great winds blowing across Japan (and Korea as well), the Beetle would be unable to make its magnificent journey. We headed over to the port to exchange our tickets, where we were also informed of a “port fee” we would have to pay – of which we were unaware of before. Unfortunately, we had spent all of our money on clothes (surprised?) and thus were left cashless. But, fortunately, VISA exists, and James was able to take out some local currency with his card from the nearby convenience store (where we made best friends – at least in our minds – with the girl working there).

With cash back in hand, we were able to stay another night in the hostel, maintain our eating (and more importantly drinking) habits, and continue to live the high life in South Korea for another day! We spent the night rocking out to Korean Pop such as this gem (relax and let your eyes and ears enjoy):

After a good nights sleep, we awoke to take the Beetle and Sunflower back to Matsuyama. The adventure this time was less … adventurous.. we knew we would arrive back in Matsuyama at 5am and have to work in only a few hours, so we made sure to sleep this time on the ferry. We ended up making back without having to take any other time off work! Which was basically a Christmas miracle.

… and so ends our South Korean adventure. Perhaps anti-climatically, we made it back in one piece, soberly, and without getting lost. I had a great time seeing Nick & Danica again – and miraculously James and I maneuvered our way there and back without fault. Yay for Spring Break Adventures!

James with our bags at the train station in Fukuoka!
Believe it or not, this was all the luggage we had!

Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter Weekend! Wish I could have been in Canada to have a real Easter dinner and some real chocolate!


The One Where James & Rachel Travel to South Korea – Part II

Day Two – Four: Busan (Mis)Adventures

I last left our adventure with our arrival in Busan anticipating the meeting with Danica and Nick. While waiting, we decided to stop and get some food, where James’s few Korean phrases came in useful (and we laughed as we watched the poor Japanese family struggle to get the attention of the staff with their “すみません”’s – we couldn’t help it, they always laugh at our limited Japanese!). We were able to order and feast. Finally Danica and Nick arrived – picture the three of us running towards each other in slow motion with arms outstretched amongst an extremely busy street – because that’s exactly what happened. It was beautiful.

After meeting, we did a bit of shopping and then went back to what’s called a “minbak” to prepare for Danica’s birthday celebrations! Now, a minbak (a word I could not get enough of at the time, because it sounds so hilarious), is basically just a room with one bed, and then a bunch of blankets and cushions for everyone else. So, most of us ended up on the floor in a line like a can of sardines.

reunited in korea.
Reunited in Korea!

But before we returned for the night, Nick and I had an adventure trying to find our way there. Somehow, throughout the shenanigans of the night, Nick, Danica, and I ended up at a convenience store, probably in search of more food despite the delicious street food we had consumed earlier. Little did we know, however, it was all part of what I can only assume was Danica’s plan to abandon us so she could have first dibs of floor sleeping space. Danica literally fled the scene, taking with her Nick’s cell phone. Nick and I sauntered out of the convenience store, looking for Danica. At first we assumed she had wandered down the street, but after some searching we decided she had left us for dead. So we hailed a cab. One pulled over. We got in. But then we realized we didn’t know where we were, or where we wanted to be. Nick tried mumbling a few Korean phrases, and the taxi driver must have said “get out” because he didn’t move and out we got. So we walked a bit, hailed a few more cabs, got more confused, got out of cabs. Finally, Nick says “Rachel run!” and I didn’t know why or where, but since he was running I decided I’d better follow him lest I be trapped in the streets of Korea by myself in the early morning. Apparently Nick finally figured out where we were and in his state he thought running was the best way to get there, since (as he told me that night) “it’s so far that walking would take too long” – why we didn’t hail another cab is beyond me. Anyway, we arrived back at our minbak (hahaha) and found Danica, with Nick’s phone in hand, and pretending to be surprised that we had gotten lost in the first place… And that was Saturday night’s adventure.Sunday was spent sleeping in, eating a leisurely brunch, and lying on the beach. (It wasn’t bathing suit weather, but it was sunny and warm and it was a nice day to spend by the water.) Eventually we headed out for dinner, where Nick and James decided to have a few more drinks – and eventually head to another bar – but Danica and I were too tired, so went back to the minbak and claimed the bed (which wouldn’t stop Nick from getting into it once they got home anyway – leaving James to exclaim: “I see how it is. The Brit has to sleep on the floor while the Canadians get the bed. Fine.”) … And that about sums up Sunday.

Monday, what we thought would be our last full day in Korea, Nick left early for a class he had to teach later that day while Danica, James and I headed to a nearby temple for something “cultural”… since apparently drinking the local liquor didn’t count as fulfilling a “cultural” experience. It was beautiful, and very different from Japanese temples (I will let the photos speak for themselves).

busan temple.
Temple in Busan

beautiful colors at the temple.
Beautiful Colours at the Templeofferings at the temple
People left little offerings underneath a giant rock at the temple

From the temple, Danica caught her bus home, and James and I went to get a room at a hostel to spend “our last night” in Korea. But, not before spending our remaining funds (save subway fare) on clothes and gifts for friends. Little did we know we needed money for a “port fee” (equivalent to 30 Canadian each), money for an extra night in the hostel, and food money, as a storm was a-brewin’ over Japan and we would be forced to spend another 24-hours in SK. More on that later… because again, my workday is over and I need to save something to do that isn’t facebook while I’m stuck sitting at the desk without any classes to teach…

Until next time,


The One Where James & Rachel Travel to South Korea

Day One: Matsuyama – Busan

On Friday March 30, at exactly 3:45 pm, I literally danced my way out of the office, much to the amusement of my co-workers. I embarrassingly had to return 10 minutes later when I realized, in my excited haste, I had forgotten my phone. Regardless, I could not be brought down, as I was flying high on the anticipation of what I called “James & Rachel’s Spring Break 2012 Adventure to South Korea”. (It was appropriately named.)

We met up at 7:30 at Matsuyama JR station, which marked the official beginning of our trip. We had about an hour to spare before our bus to the ferry port, so what better way to start our vacation than with a few beers while waiting. We were too excited; we couldn’t wait to start celebrating. We caught the bus and off to the port we went! Our journey went exactly as planned and our motto was “God has blessed this trip!” (We came up with many mottos along the way.) We boarded our ferry with time to spare and despite the dreaded “Sunflower” ride – as our boat was named– it turned out to be okay… once we had a few more beers. Literally passing out on the ferry at God knows what time, we awoke to find everyone on the ship seemed to have already disembarked. Confused, I ran to the window to see what was going on. We appeared to be docked, so we gathered our things and stumbled to the exit. There seemed to be no problem, however, as the crew wished us a “good morning”. There seemed to be a few other passengers who had overslept as well, who were also wandering off. The time was 6:55 am on March 31st and it turned out the ferry had been docked for 2 hours. Oh well, we were in no rush. At this point we were in Kitakyushu on the island of Kyushu, far from our home of Ehime, but we still had a ways to go. We walked, bags in hand, to the station where we managed to catch the Shinkansen to Fukuoka. After riding the Shinkansen, and wandering around the wrong bus station for a while (before being given directions), we caught the bus to the Fukuoka International Port. Here we arrived in time to catch the mere 3 hour ferry (this time called “The Beetle”) to Busan! Woo!

The best part about this ferry was the fact that we could nap, and luckily we did because if one were ever going to feel sea-sick, it would happen on that boat. Fortunately I was feeling another type of “sickness”, which put me right to sleep and I managed to avoid any sea-sickness. “The Beetle” moves incredibly quickly and “only stops for whales” – as the introduction video informed us. (James claims he heard a whale while I was sleeping, however “The Beetle” must have avoided it as we kept on keeping on.) Three hours later we were pulling into Busan, South Korea, at approximately 1 pm.

hey beetle
THE BEETLE! (In case you couldn’t imagine what this ferry might have looked like.)

We were scheduled to meet Danica and Nick at 1:30 at a nearby subway station, and we could not have been more excited. We came out of the port, bags in hand, and started wandering into the city… or what we assumed was the city but was actually the wrong direction. If we had in fact turned left and not right we would have seen the subway station literally 50 meters from where we were standing and made it to our meeting place on time. Instead, we chose to go right, wander down the dead end street for about 15 minutes – we were convinced that we were “committed” at this point and if we kept going we would eventually come across something that wasn’t severed fish heads and men wish masks sitting creepily in the back of open vans… we were wrong. So, eventually (with a little help from some tunes on the ol’ iPhone) we mustered up the strength to return to where we started, and found the error in our ways. We hopped on the subway and headed to our meeting spot. Danica and Nick ended up running a little late themselves, so we put our bags in a locker and went to grab some food.

This pretty much sums up the first 24 hours of our journey, and since my day at work is almost done, and my hands tired of typing, I will save the rest for later.

Next up, the reunion of 3 residents (at one point or another) of 24 Union, my first night in a “minbak”, and the incredibly difficult journey to said “minbak” after Danica abandoned Nick and I at a convenience store without Nick’s phone or any idea where we were or where the “minbak” was. Thanks Danica.