We spent five days in Seoul, gallivanting and exploring the capital, but it was time to move on. After a train back to Busan, we made plans to meet up with our fellow Mongol Ralliers (Travelstache and Wanderlicious) who had followed us to South Korea a few days behind. They were in Busan! So we planned a beach day for our final day in the land of kimchi and KPOP. We finished the last of the Mongolian vodka from our trip, had a swim, I got a horrific sunburn because I fell asleep in the sun like a moron, had some Korean BBQ, and ended up having a waltz around Busan’s red light district. I didn’t even know Busan had a red light district until Sora and I accidentally stumbled upon it, confused as to why we were suddenly seeing women in these glass houses as if on display. It didn’t take long for it to click.
Turns out, Busan is the birthplace of Korea’s sex trade, mostly in part to the Japanese invasion and their establishment of brothels there. Prostitution is technically illegal in South Korea, but the sex trade amounts to 2% of the country’s GDP and there was nothing subtle about the area we had accidentally wandered into. Police have been cracking down on the industry in recent years, but it’s still very prevalent. I’m a firm believer that if a woman chooses to be a sex worker, she deserves the same respect as anyone. It’s a job just as any. If anything, I was just curious, even if I did feel uncomfortable with how the girls seemed to be on display as if in shop windows. But hey, that’s on me, not on them.
Anywho! We parted ways from Scott & Maartje as we were Japan bound (as were they a few days later ironically, though we didn’t meet up again). However, while they were flying into Osaka, we were going a different way… we were taking a boat. That’s right, we hadn’t had enough of boats on The Mongol Rally and were taking yet another one across the sea. So the next morning we got up early and found a cab to take us to Busan’s International Port. In my infinite wisdom, the address I found for the port was the domestic port, for boats heading to Jeju Island and such, and not the international port. It also didn’t help that our cab driver had NO IDEA about any of the ports. I offered my itinerary to him to try and emphasis we were heading to Japan, but he just complained it was in Japanese.
Yes Mr. Cabbie, I know. Because we’re going to Japan.
I saw the international port. I saw as it passed. And I really should have told him to turn around. He delivered us to the domestic port, but it was closed up as boats weren’t leaving this early. It was only when I said “Hakata” that he understood we were going to Japan (I had been saying “Fukuoka” before, but the port name in Japan is actually Hakata, while the city is Fukuoka. Suddenly it all clicked for him and a few minutes later we were finally at the international port. So, pro tip: tell cabbies Hakata instead of Fukuoka… or y’know, actually get the right address (which is 46, Chungjang-daero 9beon-gil Jung-gu, Busan 부산광역시 동구 충장대로 206 (초량동) btw).
Despite all this, we were early. So Sora and I wandered about and then saw a display about the sort of boat we were actually taking. And then laughed. Really hard. The JR Kyushu Ferry aka the Beetle and the KOBEE are superboats. Ok, that’s not the technical term, but it’s what I called it. I mean, LOOK AT THIS THING!
It’s a speed ferry that goes so fast it lifts out of the freaking water. It doesn’t seem like you’re going that fast while in it, but it’s a jet stream of a boat. Mostly it’s hilarious to look at, but it cuts the crossing down to just 2 hours and 55 minutes.
The ferry from Busan to Fukuoka (Hakata) is the best way to get between the two countries if you want to start at the southern tip of Japan, which is what we wanted to do. It’s only $50. That’s it, $50! We booked our tickets through A Ferry, but you can find tickets all over the web or buy them at the port, possibly for even cheaper. Otherwise there’s tons of flights every day between the two countries that are relatively inexpensive.
After checking in and getting our travel donuts (a tradition we’d picked up in Korea and is still going strong), we waited around for our boarding call. The interior of the superboat (I’m never going to stop calling it that btw) was straight out of the 80s, but it was cozy enough and the safety video was mildly entertaining. Having lived in Japan, it was suddenly very exciting to see and hear Japanese after two weeks in Korea. I could understand and read things again! Sora slept, as she always does, and I ordered us some snacks from the cart that wandered by a few times. The crossing was easy and smooth and before I really knew it we were in Japan.
After a friendly interaction with a customs agent who was pleased I could speak Japanese and had lived here before, we were through. I tried and failed to get money out of the pesky Japanese ATMs (PRO TIP: Japan is still a major cash society and most, if not all, Japanese bank ATMs only accept Japanese bank cards, even if they have an international option. Your best bet to get cash out is at tourist centers, major rail stations, or 7-11s and Lawsons convenience store). However, thankfully I had some left over Rubles and could exchange those for Yen at the terminal. With enough to get us on the bus to the main train station, we were off!
If you’re going to be wanting to see a lot of Japan, get a rail pass. It may seem expensive, but it’s going to save you a LOT of time and probably work out even in terms of expense as well. Transport is not cheap in Japan, even the slow trains cost more than you expect. We both got the 7-day rail pass which allowed us unlimited rides on JR trains and shinkansens aka bullet trains (as long as we didn’t use the Nozomi or Mizuho shinkansens). And this was great, because this meant we could immediately jump on a shink to Hiroshima, our first stop in Nippon!
We stayed at Hiroshima Hana Hostel in the city, which is right by the station but far enough away that it’s nice and quiet. And while I’ll do a full review later, I had booked us a traditional Japanese room with tatami and futons, to give Sora a bit of the authentic experience. After a bit of freshening up, we immediately set out to get food and ended up choosing an izakaya chain I was familiar with.
My Japanese skills were immediately put to the test however as there was no English to be found. It’d been six years since I lived here, but I was determined and remembered far more kanji and hiragana and katakana (the three Japanese “alphabets”) than I expected. True to expectations, the service was entirely automated with a touch screen menu and I ordered us a small feast. Sora had been looking forward to Japanese food the entire summer, and I could barely contain myself at getting to eat soba (cold buckwheat noodles) again.
We stuffed ourselves silly and decided to walk t off we’d go take in some of Hiroshima’s sights, as tomorrow would be busy as we were heading to Miyajima.
But that, my friends, is for next time.