I have one class with only 2 girls in it – Cherry and Clara. I taught a lesson about money and to explain the difference between ‘bills’ and ‘coins,’ I pulled out a 1,000 won bill and a couple of 100 won coins from my wallet. Once I explained the difference, Cherry asked me, “Teacher, you use Korean money?!” 😂 Of course teacher has to use Korean money in South Korea, Cherry!
I’ve been living in South Korea for almost two years now but haven’t had the chance to go to Japan yet. My first year teaching in South Korea, I only traveled within the country. I’ve been to most places in South Korea so this year I plan on traveling more in other Asian countries – starting with Tokyo, Japan!
Saturday, February 2nd, 2019
My flight to Japan was at 7:15am and I knew that I wouldn’t make it to the airport in time if I took the first train at 5am. I left right after I finished work at 10pm and stayed up the whole night at the airport. At first, I regretted my decision to book such an early flight but it was worth it when the plane took off and I was able to see this beautiful sunrise.
I landed at Narita Airport around 10:30am. It took me about 2 hours finding my hostel in Shibuya. Tokyo is not easy to find your way around, especially if you’re not used to taking the subway. A lot of signs aren’t written in English or even romanized. I’m also reaaaally bad at reading maps so I’m always going the wrong way 😅 I highly recommend downloading the Tokyo subway app before going to Tokyo. It’s really helpful!
After dropping off my suitcase at the hostel, I went to explore Shibuya. My hostel was about a 10 minute walk from the south entrance of Yoyogi Park. I wanted to visit Meiji Temple first but there was no way to get there from the south entrance. I went to explore downtown Shibuya instead.
There are many things you can do in Shibuya but the two biggest things Shibuya is famous for is shopping and ramen. I really don’t like eating alone at restaurants. But in Japan, it’s very common! This is a heaven for solo travelers. I wanted to check out Tokyo’s famous ramen restaurant chain Ichiran but when I got there, there was a huge queue outside the shop. I was starving so I walked around and found a little shop close to Shibuya Crossing.
Another good thing about these ramen places is not having to speak to the servers. Upon entering, there is a vending-like machine that you place your order from. Insert money, choose your dish, take a seat, and someone will bring it to you. Simple as that! One thing to keep in mind is that slurping is very common when you’re eating ramen. It shows cooks that the food is delicious. The louder you slurp, the more delicious it is. I’ve always been a quiet eater and felt too embarrassed eating loudly and drawing attention to myself. But I was drawing attention to myself anyway by NOT eating loud enough. The server kept asking me if the food was good and even refilled my cup of water for me (water is self-served). So if you really want to avoid talking to people, eat loudly!
Sunday, February 3rd, 2019
On Sunday morning, I went back to Yoyogi Park. This time, I made sure to find the right entrance to get to Meiji Temple. The park is very beautiful and a refreshing place to take a walk in the early morning.
It’s about a 15 minute walk from the West entrance to the shrine. What I found very interesting is how visitors cleanse themselves before entering the shrine as a way to pay respect.
After cleansing themselves, I saw people walking up to the temple gate, bowing before it, then entering. Upon leaving, they did the same.
Japanese people don’t celebrate Lunar New Year so the temple was crowded with visitors from China and South Korea who do celebrate it. A lot of Japanese students come to the shrine before a major test and wish for a good score. I didn’t have anything specific to wish for but I made one anyway. Monks were selling these plaques for 1,000 yen at the temple.
After checking out the temple, I walked to the other side of the park towards Harajuku, the center of Japanese youth culture and fashion. There you will see many young Japanese in colorful and quirky fashion. I strolled through Takeshita Street and stumbled upon Calbee, a famous snack company in Japan. The Calbee location in Harajuku makes fresh potato snacks but if you’re unable to make it to Harajuku, you can buy packaged snacks at any convenience store in Japan.
After exploring Harajuku for a bit, I got on the subway to meet a friend at Tokyo Station. If you have a few hours to spare, Tokyo Station is a sight in itself to see. It’s basically a gigantic maze with many different shops and exits.
After finding my friend, we went to a soba restaurant close to the station. The soba was delicious but it was hard to eat! The noodles and the soup came separately. The correct way to eating this dish is to dip the noodles into the broth. I think it would’ve been easier to just pour the broth in haha.
After lunch, we walked to the Imperial Palace and the two gardens in the area – the Imperial Palace East Garden and the Kokyo Gaien Garden.
The Royal Family still lives in the castle here so you must book a tour in advance if you want to go into the palace. Otherwise the gardens in the area is open to the public.
My friends and I headed to Taito, Tokyo afterwards to check out Sensoji Temple and Tokyo Skytree. Sensoji Temple was a beautiful sight but it was extremely crowded. It was hard to take a decent picture with so many people there!
Definitely check out the market area leading up to the temple. The are lots of different food stands and it’s a great place to buy souvenirs.
We headed to the Tokyo Skytree afterwards but wasted about an hour trying to figure out how much the Skytree costs. There were 3 different prices listed on the sign: 2,000 yen, 3,000 yen, or 4,000 yen for adults. It took us a while to realize that the more you pay, the higher you can go up the tower (2,000 yen and 3,000 yen lets you go up 350m whereas 4,000 yen lets you go up 450m). What confused us most is why there were two different prices for going up 350m. It turns out that if you want to pay the cheapest price, you will most likely be waiting in line for an hour or two. You can skip the line if you pay more.
We decided that it wasn’t worth waiting for or paying about $40 just to see the city from a huge tower. There are many other places you can see the city from that is free – such as the Government Metropolitan Building or Roppongi Hills. We went to a park near the Skytree to take pictures instead.
Monday, February 4th, 2019
On Monday, I made plans to meet one of my American childhood friends in Shinjuku. We both moved to South Korea and Japan in 2016 so it’s been 3 years since we last saw each other. We met at 11am and had an early lunch at CoCo, a Japanese curry restaurant.
After eating, she took me around Shinjuku. We found a giant Godzilla’s head (12m) at the top of the Toho Building. Every hour, Godzilla roars and at night, laser beams shoots from its eyes which you can see from far away. You can’t see Godzilla up close unless you stay in the hotel or eat at the restaurant in the vicinity.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was taking pictures at the Purikura machines! It only costs 400 yen and you can customize everything in the photos. These machines are highly popular among young teenage girls but it’s fun to do with your friends or significant other. From the very beginning to the end, you can choose how you want your pictures to look. You can choose head shots or full body pictures, the background, layouts, and what stickers you want to add to your photos. One thing to keep in mind is that you have a time limit on editing your photos. At the end, you can choose to send one digital copy to your email. In the email, there is a link where you can buy the rest of the photos digitally.
After taking pictures, we walked to the Government Metropolitan Building in Western Shinjuku. Despite living in Japan for three years, it was my friend’s first time going there too. This is one of the spots you can go to in Tokyo where you can see the city without paying for anything. I find it amazing that Japan is such a small country yet it’s one of the most developed countries in the world. The view from the building would’ve been much nicer at night but it’s still a sight to see just how big Tokyo is during the day.
The last thing I did on my trip was head to Odaiba, a man made island in Tokyo. The island was originally created to protect Tokyo from attack during the 1600’s but transformed into a futuristic district during the 1980’s. The subway line to get there was quite expensive – about 400-600 yen depending which line you take.
Venus Fort is a mall in Odaiba but it is one of the fanciest malls in Tokyo. The interior is designed to look like Rome and there are many high end shops. Even if you don’t go shopping there, you can still spend an hour or two just walking around and taking pictures.
In the opposite direction of Venus Fort is Aqua City, another mall. Behind the mall there is a viewing dock where you can see Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo’s Statue of Liberty. Interestingly enough, Tokyo’s version has nothing to do with the famous American statue in New York. While it looks huge, this smaller version in Tokyo stands only 40 feet tall, about 1/7th the size of the one in New York. It was only supposed to be up for one year but it became so popular standing next to Rainbow Bridge and the city skyline that Tokyo made it permanent.
Tokyo is an amazing city and I definitely plan on going back to visit in the near future. Three days is definitely not enough to see all of the city. I loved it so much that I might actually move to Tokyo in a few years. Who knows?
Have you ever been to Tokyo? What did you like most about the city?
I’ve been living in South Korea for almost 2 years now but I must say that despite being so close to each other, Japan is very different from South Korea. Here are some cultural differences I learned about money in Japan and what you should keep in mind before traveling there.
Side note: all of the information listed here is simply from my own experience. Please feel free to add details and correct me if I’m wrong 😁
Money is one of the biggest cultural differences I noticed between Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. Japan is a large cash based society. But how money is used in South Korea and the U.S. is very similar. There are similar bills and similar coins:
When I was living in the U.S., I never carried any cash on me. I always feared getting robbed. I paid for everything using my debit card. In South Korea, I use a mix of cash and debit card. In Japan, expect to pay for most things with cash. Major chains will accept debit and credit cards, but most other places won’t. It’s really nice being able to use cash without worry in South Korea and Japan.
One thing that really shook me is how different the bills and coins are in Japan. My first purchase in Japan was a cup of coffee. I paid with a 1,000 yen bill but received a bunch of coins as change! 1,000 yen is about $10 and in the U.S. as well as South Korea, you would be getting 1 dollar and 1,000 won bills back as change. In Japan, I received four 100 yen coins. I didn’t know what to make of this and was really confused why I didn’t get bills back until I used Google to find out the currency exchange rate. Turns out, 100 yen is about $1 and 500 yen is about $5. Imagine my surprise when I found out that a coin can be worth $5! That is something you don’t see in the U.S.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Japanese believe it is very rude to hand money directly to people. There are money trays everywhere you go and you are expected to place money in the tray. Since Japan uses mostly cash, I’m assuming this is to help make it easier to pick up the coins. In South Korea, it is respectful to give money to others using both hands. In the U.S., no one cares about how money is given as long as they get their money 🤷♀️
One final thing to keep in mind in Japan is all of these Gacha Machines. Japan has these machines EVERYWHERE and while they look fun, they’re tourist traps. Remember that a 500 yen coin equals about $5. These machines can range anywhere from 100 yen to 500 yen. Before impulsively buying one, remind yourself: is it worth $2? $3? $4? As foreigners, it’s very easy to mistake these coins as measly 25 cent quarters.
It was very interesting to see how much Japan relies on cash despite it being one of the most advanced countries in the world. What is money like in your country?
The best part about being a teacher is getting to do crafts with my students. For New Year, I had all my students make kites and write their resolutions on them. So without further ado, here are some of my favorite ones!
Side note: All of the projects are ordered from lowest level to the highest level.
Seed 1 and 2
Sprout 1 and 2
Sprout 3 and Sapling 1
Mega and Tera
I spent the first 8 months living in the U.S. in 2018 before moving to South Korea in August. My travel map is really small this year but I’m really hoping to triple these numbers in 2019!
365 new days means 365 new opportunities. It’s okay to look back and appreciate but don’t let it stop you from doing what you really want to do. Keep going until you finally reach your goals.
Today I got to meet up with an old friend from college. She took me to this cute Vietnamese restaurant in Gangnam, Seoul in South Korea.
The first thing you see when you come in is the Vietnam Street Food Market concept, hence the name of the restaurant. The design is so cute! I haven’t been to Vietnam in my adulthood yet but I can imagine that this is what it would look like.
I also like that there is a huge variety of Vietnamese food in the menu. I’ve been to many Vietnamese restaurants in South Korea but there is usually a limited option. So the many food options is definitely a plus!
I’ve been trying to find the best pho in South Korea so of course that is what I ordered.
The restaurant is owned by Vietnamese people so the broth tasted amazing! Not like the canned broth you taste in the bigger chains like Phomein. My friend said that the pho they serve here taste just like the pho in Vietnam. I only know the taste of American pho so I can’t compare but I would say the broth is almost as good as my grandma’s (of course nothing can beat my grandma’s cooking).
For the meat lovers, the amount of meat you get is a huge plus. I noticed that most places will only give you 3-4 slices of meat but I honestly prefer it that way. After being vegetarian for so long, I don’t like to eat too much meat. Another thing I didn’t like is that bean sprouts are already added into the dish instead of given to you as a side dish. I like to add the bean sprouts in myself.
And not to mention the price! My friend and I ordered two bowls of pho, a sugar cane drink, and a calimansi drink. We paid 25,000 (about $24) altogether. Overall, I really like the restaurant and would definitely go back again. My favorite part of the restaurant is the street food concept!
Location: Gangnam Station
Take the green line (line 2) to Gangnam Station. Get out at exit 9, turn left, walk past the Mega Box and go straight down the alley. The restaurant is at the end of the alley, across the street from eight 8.
My co-teacher recently quit his job and was training a new teacher to replace him. It’s also the holidays so I got all my co-teachers Christmas gifts. The only thing I know about the new teacher is that he likes to read and doesn’t like to travel. I got him a box of Thai custard cakes 😅
The next day, he gave me a gift bag and explained that he didn’t know what to get me so he asked his mom to help him pick out a gift. I don’t know why but I thought that was really sweet. He’s two years older than me but I like that he still respects his mom and asks for her opinion when he wants to buy a gift for a girl.