Good-bye Japan

I can’t believe my time in Japan is already over. 6 months seems to be a very long time far away from home, and that’s true. But when you get used to the new environment and you are fully settled down, time is just passing by. Nevertheless, I was just counting days the last month until I could finally pack my bags and go home. It was just time too leave. Right now, I am already at home in Germany. But not for a long time. A new chapter is going to start in 3 days. If I am excited? Yeah, quite a bit. Scared? Definitely. It’s always scary to start a new journey, when you don’t know how it will turn out to be. But well. This post is not about all that. To conclude my Japan diary, I have to tell you what happened during my last week in Kyoto. What I can tell you right away. I couldn’t have had a better farewell!

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I don’t even know where to start. It happened quite a lot. During my days off, I didn’t do much. I started packing, cleaning and souvenir shopping. I actually planned to go to Fuji for two days, but because of a Taifun, I cancelled my plans. Many trains got cancelled, it was super windy and rainy. Not the best weather to visit Fuji-san.

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On the 16thof August, one of the most famous and important festival, called Daimonji festival, was held in Kyoto. I don’t know if I already mentioned it, but Kyoto is a very spiritual and traditional town in Japan. The city is surrounded by mountains and hills. That’s why the weather is always so humid here, especially in summer. But the hidden location has also it’s positive sides. It is not a secret that Japan is often affected by natural disasters, like earthquakes, taifun and so on. Kyoto is one of those cities, that hasn’t experienced big damages in the past. Everyone says that Kyoto is protected by the many temples, as well as the mountains.

Kyoto celebrates the tradition by lighting large bonfires in symbolic kanji characters on the hills surrounding the city. Japan welcomes the spirits of ancestors back to the world of the living and mark their departure. It’s a very spiritual festival, but extremely important for Japanese.

I have never seen so many people, including tourists, sitting on the river and waiting for the fire up on the hill. I went there with Faustine, Alessia, Shiho and Saito. It was really cool and chilled evening!

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Then, two days after Daimonji festival we had our farewell party. First, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. We went again to the same izakaya and I didn’t even know who will come. But that evening turned out to be the best evening I had in Japan. It was so much fun. OMG! Just everyone came. All the interns of Locanda, including the new ones who just started this month. All Part timers came, our managers, as well as some interns from the Lobby Lounge and Guest Service. It was just too funny. Afterwards we went to a Photo Booth to do some of the famous Japanese pictures together. It was hilarious and such a nice memory. Afterwards we headed to Karaoke. Not everyone came to join, because it was already quite late. But we were still a few. We didn’t really care anymore that we had to work the next day and needed to wake up at 5am. But it was worth it and the last time we were all together in Japan. So sad! Especially this last month we got all so close and understood each other so well. But it’s always like that. It all comes to an end when you have the best time.

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The next day we had the farewell party from the hotel. All interns who started at the same time as I did come together, as well as the General Manager, our Managers and the HR team. It was really emotional. We watched a video of what happened those 6 months, how everything started with the Zen Ceremony and how all comes to an end. I just realized that this amazing experience really is over. So emotional and so sad. We all had to say some words to explain how we felt and what we think of this internship. I really appreciate that I had the opportunity to work in such an amazing hotel with the best team ever. That feeling, that it will never be the same and that you will probably never see most of the people again is painful. But that’s part of the hospitality world. You meet people every day, but you have to say goodbye to them as well. Everyone is spread out somewhere else in the world, but you are friends for life no matter what.

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After work there was the family party of The Ritz Carlton Kyoto, where families of employees came, but of course staff members as well. We actually just came to get food from the amazing buffet. Haha! But at the end it turned out to be a really nice event, not only because of the food. Different departments performed in front of the guests and the GM obviously held a speech. It was just super fun to be with everyone together.

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The next day I was off and just spend the whole day in bed. Around 3pm Faustine texted me that I should come to the hotel for another farewell. It was the last day of Tony and Alessia. Therefore, I came to the hotel and got surprised by the La Locanda team with cute little presents and Pierre Hérmes sweets. So kawaaaiiii! I will miss them a lot. We all got a Samurai T-Shirt, letters and so on. It was so sweet.

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In the evening, I met up with Faustine to experience a traditional Geisha show. A part timer recommended it so me and I really wanted to go before leaving Japan. It was super interesting and entertaining to see the different performances. It started all with a tea ceremony, a flower ceremony, Japanese harp music, Gagaku Court Music, Kyogen Theater show, Kyo-mai Dance and a Bunraku Pupper Theatre show. We really enjoyed most of the shows. It was sometimes a little weird and funny, but interesting to look at.

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Afterwards we met up with Saito, Mayo, Jicky, Tony, Alessia, Shiho and Christine. We went together eating Sushi and afterwards in a Pub. So many farewell parties! But it was again super cool and fun. The last day I saw Tony, Christine and Alessia. So sad!

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I was off the 21stand just chilles, packed, cleaned and went to Toji market to buy some more souvenirs. On the 22ndI worked as usual. It was Faustines last day. So weird to work when everyone already left or is about to leave. On the 23rdit was my last day. I worked a last time at A station together with Saito. It was a weird feeling to say goodbye to everyone, but because of all the farewell parties we had before, I was in my head already gone. I wrote some letters for friends and managers, gave my uniform as well as name tag and staff member card back and left the hotel now for real.

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On that last night in Kyoto, I had something special planned though. Because I made so many wow stories, I “won” a free kaiseki meal for 2 persons at the Japanese restaurant Mizuki. I always wanted to experience a kaiseki dinner in Japan, but the price is just extremely expensive, especially at dinner time. Kaiseki is the haut cuisine in Japan and consist of different small course representing seasonal Japanese products in the purest form. I met with Nadine around 7pm in front of the hotel. We had no expectations at all. But the moment we entered the restaurant, we were amazed. OMG! It felt so unreal sitting in that amazing restaurant. You saw the waterfall through the window. Such an amazing atmosphere! But the evening got better and better. Every course we got was so so soooo delicious. The best food and presentation I had in my life! I don’t exaggerate at all! It was Japanese cuisine as you would imagine. You taste the quality of the products so much. And the presentation! The moment those ice sculptures came to our table, we almost cried. Wow! It was amazingly presented and high-quality sashimi. I’ve never tasted something like that before. I can’t stop raving. Every course was a surprised and we didn’t even know how many courses we will get. We just hoped with every course it’s not the end. At the end we got 8 courses, plus a green tea at the end. Furthermore, we got surprised by a self-made fan with a picture of ours on it. It was the happiest evening I could have imagined. WOW! The chef is just so creative and tries to make every dinner experience special. Such a nice souvenir and memory. Even the smell of it will remind me of the Ritz Carlton Kyoto! The whole evening was perfect. Kaizuki was working and serving us as well. It couldn’t have been better. But I think I mentioned that before.

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The next day I packed and cleaned everything together and went for a last time shopping sp,e souvenirs. At 3pm the apartment owner came to check my room. Everything was okay. Thanks god! And then it was time for me to leave. I made my way with all the luggage to find a taxi, which wasn’t that easy. I felt so bad for all the taxi drivers who need to carry my luggage into the car. Soooo heavy. With the taxi I went to Kyoto station, where I took the bus to Itami Airport and from there with another taxi to a hostel nearby. Oh god. You should have seen this taxi driver. It was a horror story. The taxi driver was almost 100 years, half blind and deaf as well. I searched the address in Japanese, but he didn’t know where it is. Then he started looking through his huuuge atlas (yes he didn’t have a navi). I was dying at the back, trying to explain him where I wanted to go. Oh man! But at the end I kind of made it. The hostel wasn’t like something I’ve seen before. The owner was half drunk, but super friendly. I went to get some dinner and tried to sleep the night before my flight.

Oh. I think I didn’t tell you the story, that I almost went to the wrong airport. I thought I would fly from Kansai Airport Osaka, because that’s the only international airport in Osaka. I booked already my hotel there and planned to meet up with another intern flying on the same day. But then, my mum wrote me that she is surprised that my flight is from Itami Airport. Oh god. You had no idea how shocked I was. I imagined me, on the wrong airport, missing my flight back home with my visa expired, stuck in Japan! I cancelled the hotel, booked another one close to Itami Airport and was just so scared to miss my flight in some way. Thanks god my mum told me. But anyway!

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The owner drove me to the airport around 5:45am. I was standing in a huge queue to check in my luggage and was so scared that I have to pay extra for my overweight. But it was all fine! I changed the Japanese yen into Euro, gave my Wifi box to the post and almost ran to my gate. When I enteres the plain I was overwhelmed. I got a business class seat right at the window! OMG! Yay! I felt so rich. Hallelujah! I wished it would have been the long-distance flight to Zurich, instead of the 1-hour flight to Tokyo. But it was still nice to experience. Furthermore, I saw mount Fuji from the plain! What a coincidence!

In Tokyo I had 5 minutes time to change plain. Yes! 5 minutes. And then I needed to go to another security check and the passport control. What the hell? Of course, I had to give back my residence card as well. I was just running to my gate. And guess who I saw at the airport. Faustine! So funny! She took her plane to Brussel. I was so happy that I cached my plain. Now, nothing could go wrong. Zurich, here I come. The flight was looooong. 12,5 hours. But well! That’s when I realized again how far away Japan from Europe is. But I am sure I will be back someday. I arrived at the 25tharound 3pm in Zurich. My family picked me up at the airport and we drove straight back home. Wow! It’s so weird to be back. But nothing has changed. Therefore, it didn’t even feel like I wasn’t here for half a year. I just know it is going to be strange to live here again. Different people, different food, different weather, different everything! But hey! Life would be boring, if I would stay the whole time on the same place! Let’s see where I will be next year.

 

 

 

Kimono-rental in Kyoto

It is not much time left, until I go back home and leave Japan behind. It’s weird! So many mixed feelings and emotions when a chapter of your life ends and a new one begins. I did and explored Japan a lot during my time here. But there is something that I haven’t done yet. I couldn’t leave Kyoto without wearing a traditional Kimono/ Yukata. Since my first days in Kyoto I see every day ladies wearing the traditional Japanese clothing. If tourists, real Geishas or some colleagues at work. It is worn all over Japan, but there is no better place to have a Kimono experience than in Kyoto.

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It wasn’t that easy to organize a kimono day with some of my friends here. We are never off on the same day and many already rent a kimono for day. Therefore, I was even happier that we made it happen. Brittany, Nadine and I were all free for the day. We met each other at 9am for breakfast. Japan is famous for the food! I definitely had a whole list with things that I have to try during my time here. I ate a lot of things that I have never had before. But in general, Japan is not famous for their breakfast. Japanese usually eat savoury breakfast, which always includes rice, egg, soup, fish, pickled vegetables, etc. Not a common thing to eat for breakfast as a foreigner. But there was one thing still on my list, which I had to try before going back home. Japanese pancakes! Not a typical breakfast for Japanese, but that day we didn’t want anything else.

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Japanese pancakes are the most fluffy, soft and light pancakes in the world! At the moment there is a huge hype on social media, where everyone is eating and baking those jiggly stunning looking pastries. Originally, they are coming from Osaka, as well as the Japanese jiggly cheesecake. But there are all over Japan places where you can eat these pancakes. We decided to go to Micasadeco&Café.

We were the first once coming inside this beautiful place. It was a mixture of a traditional Japanese house and a very modern looking café. Amazing! We had a seat right next to a beautiful Japanese garden. Nadine ordered the ricotta pancakes with ice cream, where else Brittany decided to get the egg benedict with salmon roe. I picked the matcha pancakes. The presentation was so beautiful, that we couldn’t stop making pictures. It looked just picture perfect and too good to be real. I didn’t even want to destroy it, but I am glad that I did. So delicious! I didn’t expect it to taste that good, but it did! For sure the best breakfast that I have had in Japan so far. I was so full after that meal. Full, but happy!

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Afterwards we made our way to a Kimono/ Yukata Rental shop. We decided to go for Yukata, instead of Kimono. Yukata is just the summer version of a Kimono. Not so many layers and a more comfortable light material! Definitely the better choice for a hot day like this. We decided what colour and design we would like to have, as well as the accessories. Because of my height, I didn’t have as much choices as the others, but I found one that I really liked. It was too funny when we all got dressed next to each other. Because we all look so different anyway, it was hilarious to see us in those clothes. I felt like a typical tourist.

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After we got dressed some ladies made our hair. We could choose from different hair stylings. The ladies made amazing hair styles in such a short amount of time. I was really impressed and super happy with the end result. I never do anything special with my hair. Therefore, it was even more special and surprising for me. Then, our journey started for real. We decided to take a bus to the hotel to say everyone hello. They were all so surprised to see us. But it was really nice!

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From the Ritz Carlton we walked all the way to Gion and further to the Higashiyama district. It was incredible hot and humid, but I have to say that we were really lucky with the weather. It didn’t rain! After a while walking through the little streets and wandering around those cute shops, we decided to have a break in a coffee. There, I tried my first-time shaved ice, which is super popular all over Asia. Really refreshing and light. I liked it!

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Afterwards we walked to Kiyomizudera temple, where we got interviewed again from a school class. We made so many pictures! It’s probably the last time that I will be here.

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Then, we headed back through the Higashiyama district, where we looked through some shops and tried some Japanese snacks I never ate before. Afterwards we came to the Kamogawa river and walked straight to the Kimono rental shop. We made many pictures and had a lot of fun. It was already 5pm when we got back. We couldn’t wait to take those clothes off. We were just sweating as hell.  Nevertheless, it was such a fun experience and definitely recommended from my side. I would have regret it, if I wouldn’t have done it. It’s just part of being in Kyoto!

I took the bus back home, bought some food, cooked dinner and just chilled the rest of the evening. A perfect day!

Stylenanda Pink Hotel

Unfortunately, it was already our last day in Korea. We were very happy with what we saw and experienced the past days. We couldn’t have done it better. Therefore, we had time on our last half day to do what we were feeling like. We slept a little longer than the last days, got ready and checked out of our accommodation.

Afterwards we took the subway to Gyeongui Line Forest Park, because we thought we haven’t been there yet. At the end it was just the same thing, as when we went to Hondae. Nothing special and not worth the effort. Therefore, we decided to go straight to our breakfast/ lunch location. We both were craving for some healthy food. That’s really hard or almost impossible to find in Japan. Because the fruits and vegetables are so expensive and something luxurious there, you will not find many places that are offering smoothies or healthy lunch bowls. It is not so easy to find places like that in Korea either, but definitely more likely. We decided to give the restaurant “Plant” a chance and we weren’t disappointed at all.

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You wouldn’t find this place by just walking by. You have to know where it is located, because the entrance is so hidden. From the inside it’s just beautifully decorated with plants, which created a relaxing and fresh atmosphere. The menu was definitely exactly for what we were looking for. The whole restaurant served only vegan drinks and dishes. We could choose our drinks from a variety of coffee, tea, smoothies, juices or soda. I took a green smoothie, where else Elle drank an American coffee. The food menu had not only delicious salad, superfood or pasta bowls, but also sandwiches, wraps or even vegan cakes and desserts. Yummy! I took a superfood bowl with lentils, rice, avocado, “cheddar cheese”, tacos, salsa and so on. Elle ordered a salad with sweet potatoes and “feta cheese”, as well as a vegan pumpkin spice cake. Yuuuummy!

Our waitress was by the way German. She lived for one year in Japan and now already for two years in Korea. Crazy!

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After finishing our delicious meal, we headed to Seoul Station. From there you can walk across Seoullo 7017, which is a bridge above the city. The whole way is full of hundreds of plants. When walking to the end and following the street you come directly to Namdaemun Market. The market area is huge and has a lot to offer. It is mostly specialised in clothes, accessories, souvenirs, but also snacks. Probably the most famous snack are Almonds, which you will find here in any flavour you could possibly think of. The most popular flavour is the Honey Butter. But there are Almonds with Wasabi, Chilli, Cookies and Cream, Seaweed, Strawberry Yoghurt and so on. Thousands of flavour combinations!

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From the market we walked to Myeongdong, the centre of skin care. As you know, we went there on our second day around dinner time, to see the night market. Now it was time to get to see all those shops in detail. It is crazy how Koreans are fascinated about skin care. I feel like Asia in general is much more interested and hyped about caring their skin, in order to look as young as possible. In Europe I don’t really have the feeling that we care so much about it, which we maybe should. I am not really informed about all those products, but everyone told me that I have to buy Korean sheet masks. And that’s what I did. We went to Innisfree, well known for their natural ingredients. It was an experience just walking inside the store. They also have a lovely café on the first store.

Afterwards I needed to say goodbye to Elle. Her flight back to Tokyo was an hour earlier than mine. Furthermore, we flew from different airports back. Therefore, she went already back to the hotel to pick up her luggage, where else I spend a little bit longer in Myeongdong. I went in some other shops, like the Etude House, Olive young, Holika Holika, Tonymoly and so on. I bought more masks, until I figured that my credit card isn’t working. The whole time, I used the Japanese yen I had from Japan and changed them to Korean Won. But I ran out of cash and there wasn’t another Currency Exchange nearby. That’s why I needed my credit card. Maybe the card got blocked because I am in a different country again. Such a shame. I wished I could have bought some more products. On the other hand, I wasn’t even able too, because I was travelling with carry-on luggage, which means that I am not allowed to take liquids over 100ml with me. Well…

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Last but not least I had a look at Stylenanda. Stylenanda is especially famous on social media. But in my opinion, it’s worth the hype. The appearance on his own is just so extra and not comparable to something else that I have seen before. It is a small, but extremely tall, pink house in the middle of Myeongdong shopping street. Stylenanda is basicalla a normal shop, where you can buy clothes and make up. But the concept is phenomenal. It is made like a hotel. When you come inside you have the lobby and the reception. The second floor is the Spa and Make up room. Here you can buy obviously make up and spa products. The design is just so beautiful. In the third floor you find the Rooms. You will find mostly clothes here. The next floor is design like the laundry of the hotel. Last but not least you have the pool area on the top. Inside you find a café and on the top of the roof a chilling area, which was because of the inconsistent weather closed. Nevertheless, it was so fun to get to know the concept of Stylenanda. For girls, definitely a must visit when coming to Seoul.

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And that was it! I made my way back to the hotel, got my suitcase and took the subway to the airport. My flight got delayed again. Therefore, I arrived in Osaka very late. It was so weird when I went through the passport control. Because I have a residence card, I need to go through a different check than the tourists. Everyone thought I am at the wrong place, because I obviously do look like a tourist. They were so shocked when I showed them that I do have a residence card of Japan. So funny! I took the bus from Kansai Airport to Kyoto and from there a taxi back home. I have to say, that it almost feels like coming home when entering Kyoto. In kind of is! It was already 11pm when I arrived. I couldn’t believe that I have to work at 6am the next day. Great!

To sum up, I can definitely say that Korea overwhelmed me. I didn’t have any expectations or much knowledge about this country. And that’s probably why Korea wasn’t really on my list. But I am so glad that I took the chance to experience a country, that I can’t compare with any country that I have visited before. It was a mixture of Japan, Southeast Asia and Europe. The life there is much more relaxed and less strict than in Japan. In Japan it seems to be that the streets are perfectly clean, the people perfectly polite, the rules are perfectly followed, and the country perfectly safe… and that’s all good! But it feels sometimes a little bit too perfect… maybe fake? It is hard to describe, but I felt Korea is a good mix between the relaxed south east Asian atmosphere and the perfectionism of Japan. The food is delicious and has more spices, fruits and vegetables, which I love. Most of the people are speaking better English than they do in Japan. People are in my opinion not as friendly as they are in Japan, but much more direct. Furthermore, Korea is much more affordable. It is a great place to travel, but if it’s a great place to live as well? I don’t know. I definitely have to say, that I see Korea and Japan from two different perspectives. Because I live and work in Japan, I definitely see the country from a more local view. Korea was just a short and touristy trip. But at the end, both countries are worth a visit! Seoul was definitely good for my soul!

 

Train to Busan

Before deciding to come to Seoul, I thought about going to Busan instead. Busan is located on the sea, has therefore a totally different climate and atmosphere. But at the end, you think about Seoul when considering going to Korea. It seems to be impossible to make a day trip to Busan when looking at the map of South Korea. Seoul is located in the north, where else Busan is located in the south. That means, that you have to cross the whole country in order to visit Busan from Seoul. But in reality, it is actually possible and not as time consuming as we thought at first. Korea has, similar to Japan, a high-speed train line which connects the most important cities. A ride from Seoul to Busan takes only 2,5 hours and costs around 50€. That’s comparable to the ride from Tokyo to Kyoto, which takes 2,5 hours as well, but costs around 120€.

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Even though the ride takes “only” 2,5 hours, we wanted to be as early as possible at the train station Seoul. We woke up around 5:30am, took a taxi to the station and came perfect on time for the train leaving at 6:30am. It was quite a special moment to take a “Train to Busan”. I watched this movie together with my friends in Glion. The whole location and the train reminded me so much of it. Kind of creepy.

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After arriving in Busan, we immediately took a taxi to Gamcheon Cultural Village. The reason why we took a taxi was simply, that the public transportation in Busan is very limited. The main attractions are far away from any subway stations, because they are mostly located close to the sea or up the hill. The taxi drove us directly to the entrance of that beautiful little town. Gemcheon Cultural Village was originally the village for refugees. Nowadays it is called the “Santorini or the Macchu Picchu of Korea”. And that’s exactly what it reminded us of. It is nothing like I have seen before in an Asian country. The colourful houses, with beautiful alleys and an amazing view over the surrounding area and the sea is something that you would most likely see in a Mediterranean country, like Greece.

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